Chapter 1: Prologue
Welcome to A Safe Place by yours truly. The plot of this is very loosely based off of CBS Scorpion and the life of Walter O'Brien. Enjoy! -J3
They were a mismatched, haphazard bunch. Three men and a lone lady that couldn't find their place—apart from with each other.
Venser was a mathematical genius, a human calculator if you will. A monster intelligence quotient of one hundred and seventy-four, he was an asset to their team. Scared of everything from germs to heights, Jace had found him after he'd been kicked out of Dartmouth, before that Harvard, and prior to that, Cornell. Rejected by the Ivy League professors and researchers because he was flat-out smarter than they were. They did not appreciate being outsmarted by a child, because that's all he was at that point. Upon his acceptance at Cornell, Venser was fifteen years old. Sixteen at Harvard and a mere eighteen at Dartmouth. A statistician of the highest order, a mathematician like no eyes had ever seen before. If it could be solved, Venser could solve it. Jace had helped him achieve a doctorate in both statistics and calculus. Venser was loyal to Jace to a fault, just like they all were.
Jace was the reason they were here, after all.
And then there was Kaalia. The redheaded bombshell who was as smart as she was beautiful. She had beauty and brains, which only helped her with her role for the team. Kaalia who refused to tell anyone about her past, Kaalia who could read humans like Webster's dictionary. Her IQ was nothing to be quibbled over, either. She soared off the charts at one hundred and eighty-one. Jace had found her at her lowest, when she was stuck at the bottom of a bottle after losing her fourth job in the year. Kaalia was what they called a behaviorist—smarter than Skinner and Pavlov put together. She thought herself invincible, that she could manipulate her way out of any situation put in front of her. Most of the time, she could. She knew when people were taking advantage of Jace's kindness or Venser's fears. She worked as a profiler, a therapist, and got banned at every casino in Atlantic City—because she knew when to bet and when to hold. Kaalia took walls that humans created and turned them to dust. With the exception of one person, one man. Which brings us to the fourth part of the team.
Josu. Josu Vess was a mechanical prodigy with the fifth highest IQ ever recorded: one hundred and eighty-four. Josu could fix anything that moved; he could create anything to any certain specifications. He invented an engine that ran on nothing but pure water—and for that reason, he had to go to ground. The moguls of the oil industry wanted nothing more than Josu's head on a platter. Nearly six-and-a-half feet tall with a ponytail going halfway down his back, he was the perfect match of brains and brawn. Like all of them, he had his faults. Josu's sister was his downfall. His twin sister, Liliana, was kidnapped at sixteen. His obsession is finding her. He "knows" she's still alive, he said he can feel it in his bones. While Jace doesn't understand twin bonds, he knows they exist and helps Josu as much as he can. Josu has a secret that he thinks no one knows, but shortly after Liliana was kidnapped, he tried to commit suicide by wrapping his car around a powerline. He shattered his right leg and just is getting his walk back to normal. The pain pills are always in his back pocket. Jace knew that if they could find his sister, it would be one step closer to getting his best friend back to normal.
Jace is the head of this team. He had the second highest Intellegence Quotient that's ever been seen. Jace's IQ was 197. He could be in the computer of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with nothing more than a few keystrokes. In fact, he did so at age seven because he wanted the blueprints of a shuttle that they were building. That's how he met Sorin.
Sorin was a federal agent who worked on a secret taskforce to bring down any type of criminal- terrorists, both foreign and domestic, murderers, traitors, you name it. If no one else could solve it, you could bet that Sorin could. Sorin needed their help now, because he had been pushed out of the Quantico office of the FBI into some po-dunk town in New Jersey. Sorin had been there with his wife for two weeks, completely miserable when Avacyn approached him with some news that could be the break he needed.
"Jace contacted me today," she said, her singsong voice was always the light of Sorin's life.
"Really? I thought he was done- after the debacle with Kallist, the broken promise with Emmara.."
"He and his team think that they could help you."
"Team? Since when does Jace have a 'team,' Avacyn?"
"I don't know, but you should go see what he wants, because I know you are suspended in your own misery and I hate seeing you this way. It's not fair to Aloria and Lucien. They want their father back. And Sorin, well Jace told me something else."
"And what was that," he said, kissing his wife's hand.
"Kaalia, she's on the team too. Though he doesn't know that she's yours."
"Kaalia- our daughter Kaalia?"
Mrs. Markov had just nodded.
Kaalia was the product of a torrid affair, months before Avacyn. Olivia Voldaren had put her on Sorin's front steps when she was merely three days old. Sorin had been at work, naturally. Avacyn went to get her mail and there was a sleeping bundle on her front steps. Sorin never understood how to care for her- but damn it did he try. He wanted his daughter back- and this oppurtunity seemed to good to be true. He had a chance to reconnect with Kaalia and to regain some sembelence of respect at the Bureau.
What Sorin didn't know is that Kaalia had lost contact with her family because she just knew that she would be their biggest disappointment, so she found solace with people who are just like her.
Sorin Markov didn't know that the reason that Kaalia had lost contact with her parents and her beloved siblings is because she knew that she was her father's biggest disappointment. She thought that he had never wanted her, that she was nothing but a ghost from his past that haunted him both night and day. Kaalia loved Sorin, Avacyn, and the twins more than her own life, but by distancing herself, she could no longer hurt them. Sorin just wanted his child back, his old job back, and it seemed he had a chance. He sipped the tea, just mulling it all over.
But when would he stop owing Jace Beleren?
Sorin had tasked Jace, over Skype of course, to get his team ready for the government overhaul. Jace was driving to "work," if one could call it that. Their headquarters was a dimly lit warehouse that some how had survived the hurricane. Josu had gotten up early and went to therapy, leaving him in their apartment alone. The three bedroom apartment that Josu had insisted on getting, because "Jace, she's going to come back. She will." Jace had simply nodded, his thoughts first of Kallist and then of Emmara. He couldn't bring himself to take away Josu's only sliver of hope. Just as Jace still relentlessly researched, doctors, new medicines, everything. He could still hear Emmara's voice, soft, yet resolute, in his head. This isn't your fight, Jace. It's mine. Please take care of yourself, bubba. I can't lose you both.
That's how he felt too. His "Emmy" had always protected her brothers. Kallist just went and got himself slaughtered; Jace couldn't help but think he had something to do with it. If he could take that day back, just that one day, it would change everything. Jace and Josu had grew close over a common bond. They could be brothers now, too. Emmara had even taking to nagging Josu about, well, everything. Same with Jace's mother. They had seen that he had no family that was present, so they took him into theirs.
Jace pulled into the parking lot and everyone was here. Kaalia's SUV, Josu's bike. Venser, terrified of the road, always rode with either Kaalia or Jace. However, a black and purple Mustang pulled up, spinning the gravel of the drive to the warehouse. It was one of the two thousand models, squared off body shape. Jace stood, frozen. Who could this possibly be? No one knew the location, not even Sorin, yet. She's probably lost, Jace had thought to himself. Her eyes looked like they had seen horrors, but they were the most vibrant shade of green Jace had ever seen. Her long, black hair hit her waist and she had on a simple shirt that had a raven on it. The skinny jeans accentuated her hips. She looked underfed but she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Jace had found it hard not to stare. He tried to smile, forgetting that his mouth was full of apple juice. Now, his front was covered in it. Great, he had thought. His only solace was that he'd probably never see the beautiful girl again. Josu could give her directions. Quickly, he averted his eyes and walked into the warehouse. No one looked up from their work, Jace was always the last one in.
"Guys, the prettiest girl I have ever seen in my life is outside." Josu's ears perked up, of course. He was the ladies man. "She's in a black and purple Mustang and has long black hair. She's pale. She's probably lost-" but he didn't get to finish. Josu was a blur of grease and ponytail as he blew by Jace to get outside. Spooked, Jace wrenches the door open.
Chapter 2: Bridges
Josu's gargantuan hands flew to the girl's face, cupping her cheeks as if they were precious china. Tears came from Liliana's eyes like rain comes from thunderclouds, slowly and then all at once. He pulled her tiny frame into his chest and his hair flew over her shoulder. Jace could hear him repeating the same word over and over. The only speech he could muster was her name, again and again. Lili, Lili, Liliana. The girl was shaking all over and sobbing into her brother's shirt.
"She's going into shock," Venser mumbled. Jace shushed him. The team was gathered around, just watching. Josu had told them that this day would come, after all. He knew that somehow, she would con her way out and when she did, he knew that she'd look for him.
Josu had been from a tight knit family. After his sister disappeared, her father had given up and succumbed to the bottle, drunk driving, and subsequently taking his own life. Shortly after that, his mother found out about the cancer. She lasted six months. Since then, Josu had to find his own way, running into Jace by chance. The two boys had automatically taken to each other and had been best friends since they met. Jace knew what it was like to obsess over the well being of a sibling, after all.
She stepped back, Josu refusing to let go of his sister's hand. She gave him a shaky smile and a slight laugh.
"There's someone you need to meet, Su."
"What do you mean?! You didn't bring him with you, did you?" Josu's fists tightened into angry balls. Liliana nods.
"No. He left today and I ran. As fast as I could. I don't know how I'm going to protect us."
"You won't be five feet away from me is how," Josu said, as if waiting on someone to challenge him. None of them did.
"It's not just me anymore, Osu."
Josu raised an eyebrow in confusion. Liliana moved with deliberation to the back seat of her car. A few movements and Josu's jaw dropped.
"Toby, this is your Uncle Osu."
There was a little boy with long black hair and the same vibrant, green eyes. His hair was pulled into a tight, low ponytail just like Josu's. His skin was dark, and there was some curl to his hair, but other than that, he looked like his mother and his uncle. The little boy tapped Josu around his hip area, and Josu looked down at him, completely flabbergasted.
"My mama named me after you, because she said that you loved her more than anyone ever had. My name is Tobias just like yours."
Jace was stunned. This little boy couldn't be more than four years old and he spoke like he was much older. He swallowed his questions and let the family have their moment.
"He's just like you, Josu. He reads, he taught himself math. But he was the one that helped us get out. He hacked his way into the phone lines and caused a malfunction that caused him to have to leave the house. And then we left. He's saved my life. More than once, Su. I knew that he had to get it from you—because you know it's not from me."
Jace stepped over into the space where Josu and his sister were standing. He got down on Toby's level and cleared his throat. Liliana was startled at first, but Josu braced her shoulder, telling her it's okay.
"Hi, Toby. My name is Jace. I'm your uncle's friend. If I let you use my laptop, will you show your Uncle and I what you can do?"
"As long as it's okay with my mommy," Toby said, looking up at his mother. Liliana looked to still be a teenager. According to Josu, she was twenty-one, but she looked severely underfed and like she'd been through hell. But her son was respectful and loving. Jace could see that even within the circumstances, she had expectations for him.
Jace cleared his throat again and stood up. He looked the young woman directly in the face for the first time, and he couldn't bring himself to look into her eyes. They were beautiful.
"So, um... I... I'm Jace. Th-Thi-this is my team," Jace swallowed.
Liliana put her hand underneath Jace's chin. She tipped his face up to meet hers. The only thing he could think was about her smile.
"I'm Liliana, Jace. And I'm nothing to be scared of—but if you want to teach my son anything, you should look me in the eyes."
"Your b-brother's a good man."
"I know. Thank you for taking care of him."
Without thinking, Liliana pulled the young man into a hug, one that she hoped was full of gratitude. Jace was floored, but patted her back. When he did so, when he touched her skin, it was electric. She felt it, too, and pulled back quickly.
Josu was down on eye-level with his namesake. Toby gave his uncle a smile. Josu pulled his nephew onto his shoulders and the young boy was grinning, like he knew that he was home.
"You… um... You know. Josu and I we, um..."
Liliana smiled and encouraged Jace to keep talking. He cleared his throat and did so.
"We, well, we share an apartment. And he insisted on getting a three bedroom because he knew you were clever enough to somehow find your way back. So you don't have to worry about a, um, place to stay."
She smiled, like she knew her brother would never give up on her. He never did. Every free moment Josu had, Liliana consumed it. Jace looked down at his feet again.
Softly, Liliana tipped his head up again and gave him a smile.
"You said this was your team? What kind of work do you do?"
"Um, well. I'm a hacker, Josu is a mechanic," Jace said. Liliana smiled.
"Josu is a mechanic," Liliana laughed.
"By the loosest definition," Jace said. "Lia, the r-redhead you'll see, she's a b-behaviorist. And Venser, h-he's a human calculator. If it c-can be solved, Venser will solve it. And w-we have our government l-liason, Sorin. We work for the FBI, tentatively. We're looking for one more spot on our team."
Liliana poised herself to ask what, but doesn't. They walked in comfortable silence for a moment.
"So you guys are just, what? A team of super geniuses?"
"Pretty much," Jace stated, slightly amused. He continued on. "S-so tell me about your s-son. What should I b-be exp-expecting?"
"My Toby," Liliana's face lit up when she began to talk about her son. "He's so special. He's smart and everything I never knew that I needed. He's been reading since he was two and when he got his first computer at three, I knew that there was something else there. But that's not all. He figures out equations without help. Toby started picking up on my moods a few months ago. He asked me why I was so sad, why I didn't smile like the moms on TV. He asked me what would make me happy. I told him that we didn't belong here, and that finding his uncle would make me happy. So Toby did. He found Josu and then he hacked his way into his iPhone and he left. He took the keys to my car and we left, ran as far away as I could as fast as I could. But my Toby, my precious jelly bean, he's the only reason I hung on all that time. I knew that one day the opportunity would present itself for us to run, and it did. I know my parents think I left, but I will get to explain to them what really happened that day."
Liliana doesn't know of her parents fate, and Jace doesn't think he should be the one to tell her, even though he was there, holding her other hand as Lucille had expired. However, the raven-haired girl noticed Jace's expression change.
"They won't get to meet Toby, will they?"
Jace just simply nodded his head and cleared his throat.
"It wasn't your fault, what happened to them. To your dad especially. But you didn't l-leave, did you? Josu was r-right, wasn't he?"
"What do you mean, Jace? Do you want to get to know me or something?"
"I m-mean of course I want to k-know you! You're going to be part of my l-life because you're part of h-his! Josu talks about you all the time. But he never mentioned how b-beautiful you are."
Jace grimaced. He'd barely known the girl ten minutes and he was already verbal vomiting all over her about how beautiful she was. This, he thought, this was why he couldn't get a girlfriend. However, it warmed Liliana's heart, all the way into her belly. She never knew how badly she ached for someone who wasn't him, even though she couldn't place the feeling. Not yet. She merely gave him a small smile as they took a pause behind the door.
"I haven't been called beautiful since—since that day, Jace. That morning. Since the last time I was with Josu. Thank you."
When she looked back on this moment, she wouldn't realize what made her do this, but she took Jace's shaking hand in hers and gave him a small smile.
"We're going to be great friends, Jace."
They were all sitting in the foyer of the headquarters as Josu made Lili's introductions. She recognized the glint in Kaalia's eye as something that she had as well, merely exchanging a sly smile with her. Even though Venser had refused to shake her hand, he had still given her a warm smile. Josu would explain to her later that physical contact frightened him, because of the germs that could be present on human hands and arms. However, much to Jace's surprise, Lili seemed to understand that he was scared, and just gave him a smile in return.
"I know that we were supposed to meet with our government liaison today," Jace started. Liliana was surprised that he wasn't stammering. She thought that the stammer was a thing that Jace couldn't help, but it seemed to only present itself when he was talking to her. Liliana was no stranger to men falling all over her, but something about Jace intrigued her. She wouldn't acknowledge it, not yet, but something in her was nervous about being in such close quarters with him. She tried not to think of this when he spoke.
"But I'm going to push that back until tomorrow, given the events that have transpired today, because we all need to get to know the new member of our team," he gestured to Liliana. Venser, Kaalia, and Josu all looked confused, but Liliana looked downright shocked.
"I just, I assumed that it would be best for all of us. Because our government liaison said that we needed someone that had people skills, which we all lack." Jace looked around at his team and no one countered anything he was saying. "And Liliana has been around geniuses her whole life. We've already ran off two potential liaisons in two weeks, and we can't go before him without the one part of the team that he said was key." Jace cleared his throat again and turned toward Lili. "And w-we can help you. And T-toby. You will both be protected by the FBI and us. And we can push Toby mentally, b-better than any school can."
Lili nodded, "We'll figure something out." She was slightly irritated that he assumed that was what she would want, even if it was. Lili knew that when Toby was old enough, she wanted him to go to school. I won't stunt his social growth, even if he is a genius, she thought. She smiled at Jace, who, oddly, was now her boss. Her brother came to them and wrapped his arm around her shoulders and held Toby's hand. She couldn't believe her family was dead, that her parents would never meet their grandchild. The death of her mother wasn't her fault, but her father…
She shook the unwelcome thought out of her head. She watched Jace move about, setting up his computer to test Toby. He would underestimate him, Lili's brain told her. They always underestimated Josu. She'd walked that road with her brother, and it looked like she would be walking it with her baby boy, too. She noticed that her son's face was looking around at the place in wonder, all the computers, the math problems on the chalkboard, Kaalia's vast collection of books. The little boy pulled on his mother's jeans, asking if he could walk over to where Jace and Josu were standing. Liliana nodded, just as Jace finished tittering around on his computer. He looked at Liliana, asking for her permission. She nodded. Jace coukd hardly pull his eyes away, but Toby tapped him on the leg. He needed help up. Jace had set up a very simple series of firewalls, just to see where Toby stood. If Liliana was correct that he had hacked his way into an iPhone with a household computer, this should be nothing.
Toby took in a deep breath and punched in a couple of keystrokes. Jace was astounded. He knew, rather than hacking his way through each wall, to find out how many there were and blow through them all at once. He looked at Liliana with a smile on his face. She gave him the warmest look in return.
"Got it, Mommy,"
Jace gave the little boy a smile. Liliana was right. This boy, he was something special. Jace set up another program to see if Toby could override the software. He did, without a problem. He justknew. Jace had never seen a kid like this, not since himself. Toby looked at Jace expectantly.
"Do you know how to code, Toby?"
"I've looked some things up, so I've been reading about it. I'm learning."
"I can show you. I live with your Uncle Su, so we'll be seeing a lot of each other. But can you come and sit with me for a few minutes and let me ask you a few questions?"
"She can sit with you, if you want."
Liliana picked up her son and walked across the room with him. She and Jace took a seat across from each other.
"Is it o-okay if I give him the IQ test, Liliana?"
"I don't want him to just be another number to you and these people, Jace. That's my baby. The way you just assumed that I would want to help you and your team, you didn't see me, you saw me as an opportunity."
"I-I-oh god, Liliana. I didn't t-think about it like that. I didn't. I'm so sorry, I just thought that…"
"I will help you, that's not the point. The point is that, you should have asked me instead of assuming I would do it."
Jace wanted to kick himself in the teeth, how could he be so thoughtless? She was right, of course. This is why they needed her on the team, because all of their people skills were complete shit.
"I understand that you didn't mean it to come across like that, I've been around Josu for my whole life, née the past four years, but that's how anyone else would take it. You don't seem like the type of man that would look at someone and see nothing but an advantage. You seem like you only want the best for your friends and that you're trying to help them. And the fact that you want to put your talents to use by helping people shows me that you're a good man. But if I let you do this, that means I'm putting my greatest gift into your hands. And my baby is not a number. And I need to know that you know that."
Jace had never once in his life felt like he did in that moment. He looked at this girl, the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen, and the little boy. She was right. That baby was her everything, and in that moment, Jace realized that he was acting like everything he professed to hate. He wanted everyone to see his friends as people—and that was all Liliana wanted for Toby.
Jace took her hand in his like she had done earlier. He breathed a shaky sigh and looked at Liliana.
"I promise that regardless of what this test says, that little boy found a family today. Liliana, I promise."
Chapter 3: Speak the Language
He'd never been in a place like this before. It was huge, no, gargantuan, he thought to himself. Toby had read that word earlier, and he always liked using his new words. He wasn't scared, Mommy had told him that as long as he was with her, there was nothing to be scared of. He inhaled a deep breath and looked into his mother's eyes. They were green, just like his. Uncle Josu had green eyes too. Mommy had talked about him a lot. He was my best friend before you were born, Toby. That's who you're named after, Liliana had said. When Toby asked who her best friend was now, she just smiled and answered one word. You. Mommy had smiled more in the past few minutes than she had in a really long time. Toby knew that things were not good in their house. Mommy insisted that the long-haired man who lived with them was nothing to Toby. He believed her.
Liliana looked down at her son, sitting on her lap, looking at Jace expectantly. She gave him a smile and then gave Jace one too, to which the brunette looked down at his feet. She felt an almost happy pull in her tummy. Still got it, she thought to herself. Jace started his barrage of questions. Liliana had done this herself as she progressed, though she never excelled like Josu did. Her IQ was not low, one forty-eight, to be exact. She was well above the average intellect. She didn't do well in school; she was scared. She watched the teachers push her brother around or to the side like he didn't matter, so she didn't try. In fact, Liliana's reading disability wasn't diagnosed until she was fourteen.
Liliana was dead sure her son was blowing this off the charts. She may not have been a behaviorist, but she could tell that Jace was impressed. The entire team had gathered around the man and the smaller boy. Venser looked as if he had seen the second coming with his own two eyes.
"It doesn't usually go in families," he said as Josu nodded his head. Jace closed the question book and placed his pen back behind his ear.
"Lil-Liliana, can I talk to you for a second?"
Liliana got on eye-level with her son. She tucked his long, black, insanely curly hair behind his ear and cupped her hand on his face.
"I bet that if you asked your Uncle Su really nicely, he'd put on the gummy bear song for you,"
The little boy's face lit up at this. Jace looked down at the number on his paper and then at the little boy. Genius or not, he was four—maybe five. Jace would ask Liliana. If they were going to help Toby, then he had to be more than a number. In that second, Jace imagined what it would be like to be in Liliana's shoes: young, with a child, basically shut out from the world for half a decade. She's strong, Jace thought to himself. And she loves her son. Jace thought for a moment about how it would be if he had children. That would never be possible, he thought. For a multitude of reasons: he was a twenty-six year old virgin, firstly. He was so socially awkward, painfully so. They all were, except for Kaalia. Lia was just clumsy. But there were other reasons, too. Jace could barely remember to pay their electric bill, to stop working long enough to bathe. But on top of that was Emmara's plight, not one that he was eager to pass on to the next generation.
He cleared his throat and looked down at his paper, rifling them through his fingers. Liliana breathed in a sharp breath through her nose.
"Jace, all of you have photographic memories. You know what it says, please look at me in the face if you're going to talk to me about my child. I know that you have social anxiety. But I'm not going to hurt you. And please look at me when I say this," Liliana breathed. "I think you're handsome, too."
"Wh-what?" he stammered, looking into the girl's emerald eyes. It looked like there were flecks of gold in them too. He heard Kallist's voice in the back of his head, Don't stare. Don't be weird.Jace shook his head and turned his attention to the papers again. He's not a number, Liliana's voice rang in his brain, loud and clear. "H-he's brilliant."
"I know he is."
"From an un-bi-biased outsider. I've never tested someone that high. And that includes Venser, J-Josu, and Lia."
"This, this is when you give me a number."
"He has the third-highest IQ ever recorded. T-Teferi, he was first—and then me. And then Toby. His IQ is 195, Liliana. He is well into the profound category for IQ, calling him a genius is almost doing him a disservice. B-but my question is, what are your plans? What are you planning on doing? And not just with T-Toby."
"I don't know," Liliana said, and for the first time, Jace didn't either.
Both Jace and Josu wished that their apartment was clean. But it was far from that. There were papers upon papers; Jace's research littered every flat surface of their humble abode, Josu's half-built prototypes were strewn haphazardly over the tables, the counters, everywhere. Liliana nodded her head and snorted. The best, however, was Toby's reaction.
"What a mess!" the little boy shouted, flummoxed. The thought that Liliana must not have kept their—wherever they lived in a constant state of undone flitted across Jace's mind.
"It's—er, kind of a halfway house. We work on here what we're not ready to bring into the workshop."
They had stayed at the workshop almost all day. They were all starving. Liliana had said that she would cook, Jace had assured her that that was not expected of her, and Josu had elbowed him in the ribs. My mother taught her how to cook, shut the fuck up, he had said. Toby at her heels, Liliana started padding around the kitchen, looking for something to cook. Jace couldn't help but think that she would be sorely disappointed in what she was going to find.
"I want macaroni and cheese," Toby said.
"You had macaroni and cheese last night, you have to eat your vegetables tonight," Liliana explained to him. "You can't have just pasta."
"Do you want to stay up and science with Uncle Su," she paused, looking at the other man in the apartment—her new home, she thought. Jace gave her what he was sure was a goofy-looking smile. "And Jace?" Oh, he thought. She was asking if I wanted to be included.
"Then you're going to eat your vegetables, and something that's not a potato," Liliana told her son. He looked as if he knew better than to argue with her.
After her rather fruitless meander around the kitchen, Liliana looked at the three young men in the living room.
"Where's the closest grocery store?"
Josu's voice, a deep throttle, much deeper than it was the last time his sister had spoken to him before today, rung out. "It's like three miles down the road. We can all go. You're not going alone, that's for damn sure."
"Josu, I am not a child," Liliana started, but he cut her off.
"I am aware. But you never know where he could be. Just like we never thought he'd do what he did," Josu said, through his teeth. That was five years of Liliana's life that he missed and that they could never get back, he'd missed the birth of his nephew because of him. There wouldn't be a nephew if he hadn't... Josu shook the thought from his head. Liliana and Toby, they were here now. And they wouldn't be taken away from him again. "I just got you back." Jace noticed that Josu's voice was quieter than he'd ever heard it.
Liliana nodded and embraced her brother's side, squeezing his hand and pulling the end of his long hair.
"Come on, Tobias Anthony," Liliana reached down to her son as he clambered into her arms.
Later, Liliana was pounding out chicken breasts and even though she said she wouldn't, boiling pasta. However, Josu had begged for chicken parm. She didn't have the heart to tell him no. Toby smiled at the fact that he wouldn't have to eat any vegetables other than marinara sauce, which the toddler was perfectly fine with.
He's so impressionable, Jace thought. We could teach him anything. He seems to be astute in both engineering and computers. Jace tried to swallow the thought. He wanted to get to know the child in front of him as more than just a number and a few arbitrary talents.
"Hey, Toby?" Jace said as Josu fiddled around with his graph paper. The little boy looked up from the book he was reading. Liliana had mentioned how selective she was about the things that Toby could read. She said it was one of the hardest things about being his parent. Jace had given her a puzzled look, wondering what she could possibly mean. I guess she doesn't like restricting his flow of knowledge, Jace had pondered. That's really respectable. We have more in common than I thought.
Before Jace could get anything out, there was a knocking at the door. "That's Lia," he said. Liliana gave him a knowing look. "You should invite Venser, too." Liliana said with a serene smile on her face. Jace pulled out his phone and asked if Venser wanted to come, and it only took a few seconds for him to reply.
"We can go get him," Kaalia said, an evilness to her smile. Of course, Jace's mind said to him. She knows. Jace, however, continued to scribble down a few activities that he thought Toby would be good at.
Toby picked up one of the schematics for Josu's plans. Josu and Jace had actually worked on this one quite a bit, trying to figure out what was causing the overheating. They didn't want to make it any bigger was the problem, but they couldn't find a metal that wouldn't overheat after a few minutes.
"Do you need help reading it, Toby?"
"No," he chirped as he shook his head. "Is this supposed to be to override something?" The words seemed so strange coming out of his mouth. He was still supposed to be babbling right now.
"How old are you, buddy?"
A smile cracked Toby's face when he heard the last part. His little cheeks got red as he answered Jace's question.
"Four," he answered him.
"C'mere," Jace gestured, and without any fear whatsoever, Toby climbed into his lap. Jace couldn't help but smile. If he could help him and his mom, then he would. Liliana glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the smile on her son's face. She knew she couldn't push him, but maybe, just maybe she'd found the people that could.
"You should use the alloy, J-J.."
"He has trouble with the hard J," Liliana says. "Only thing that he's ever had trouble with. But that's just the Vess in him," she laughed. "We all did. That's why he's my Osu instead of JT or something," Jace couldn't stop staring. How could a person that had been through so much still smile like that?
"How about Ace, Toby?"
"Well, Ace. Can it be pounded into a flat sheet?"
"The alloy? Yes. I'm sure it can."
"So give it more surface area. Bend it into folds. Like mitochondria," Toby said.
Jace stared at him in awestruck wonder. How did he learn this on his own? I guess we all did, though. But Liliana, she loved her son. She loved Toby. Jace swallowed the lump in his throat. He was lucky. His mom never gave up on him, but Venser wasn't as lucky, and Kaalia—that was a situation that changed daily.
"Toby," Liliana said; the little boy looked into his mother's eyes. "Why don't you show Jace your journal?" she asked him with a smile on her face.
"I'm sure he doesn't want to see it," Toby said to Liliana.
"I do," Jace said, but then he looked into the eyes of the little boy. He's scared. "But whenever you want to show me. Will you do me a favor?"
Toby nodded his head at Jace. Liliana looked down at her son. He was always so eager to please. She hoped that the next few years wouldn't steal her boy's spark, his love for learning.
"Can you draw how you would do it?" Jace laid a pencil and a piece of graph paper in front of Toby. Toby's smile made Jace's heart warm. He handed him a compass and a ruler and Toby set to work.
"Lili is fine, Jace. what's up?"
"I just, I just want to say that I really think you're doing a great job. He's so kind, he's so much more than any en-enabled child that I've ever seen."
Jace never thought that someone smiling at him could make his heart jump like that. But it lit up her eyes. And he couldn't help but want to see it again, and again.
The redhead sat in the Volkswagen bug, waiting on the six-foot-six giant to adjust the seat so he wouldn't be snacking on his knees. She carefully pulled out of the drive of Jace's and Josu's apartment.
"I'm so happy for you, Josu," Kaalia said, very genuinely. Her heart ached for the twins. She missed them so badly. She missed her father, she missed Avacyn, the woman she called her mother, she swallowed.
"You should call them, Lia," Josu said. He always pushed her to do it. Their biggest falling out, one that Jace had to mediate for, had been about Kaalia's family. I'd do anything to have Liliana back, Josu had snarled. And you're just letting them grow up like you did. Kaalia had very nearly left the team that day. They had since made up and gotten closer, Josu knew a few things about why Kaalia was the way that she was. But in that very moment, Josu had called Kaalia out on her own selfishness and she did not like that.
Kaalia would never admit it, but she had a recurring fantasy about the dark-haired, gruff, but oh-so-loving man. The rolled up sleeves of the flannel shirt… Kaalia stopped the thought in its tracks. She could feel the blood flooding to her cheeks and her lower belly. She sniffed and shook her head.
"I thought about going over there this weekend," she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.
Josu cleared his throat. He pushed himself. He had Liliana back. There was no longer an excuse to take up all of his free time. He couldn't push her away any longer.
"I can come with you, if you want. If you need the support."
"Su, you don't have to do that. I know you want to spend time with Liliana and Toby."
"You're important to me too." He patted her hand and then busied himself with his building blocks. Kaalia couldn't help but feel that odd, swooping feeling in her belly. She pushed it away.
People let you down. The mind is a beautiful thing, but an oddly cynical one, a professor had once told her. Could she trust him? More importantly, could she trust herself?
Liliana rolled out of bed, sluggish from the night of bad dreams. Josu had offered to sleep with her and Toby, but she had declined. She didn't want him to see her like that, gasping for air, drenched in her own sweat. Toby had climbed next to her and allowed her to hold him close to her chest. She thought that he might have a hard time too. Children, especially children like Toby, disliked change. She let her son sleep, safe in his dreams. She put herself in the shower and allowed the warm water to soothe her bones. Josu had come in from his ride with Kaalia blushing and not at all talkative, and Liliana wanted to know what their deal was. When she worked her way into their kitchen, Jace was already there, looking like he was working on sheer caffeine and willpower.
"Hey," she said, causing him to look up from his computer screen. He smiled, like he was happy to see her.
"Good morning, big day today. We're meeting with our FBI consort today."
"I need to start interviewing baby sitters," Liliana sighed. It was obvious that was the last thing she wanted to do.
"Unless we're out shooting people, which none of us can actually do, Toby is fine," Jace said.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm the boss, aren't I?"
"God complex, much?"
"Not me," Jace laughed, though Liliana could tell there was something beneath the surface.
"Thank you, Jace. You've been unbelievably kind, I've never met someone like you."
"I'm still a million miles from normal, Lili. But what you said about Toby was like a punch in the gut." Jace looked down at his feet, addressing his shoe laces. Liliana hated that with everything in her. She tipped his head up, again.
"What do you mean?"
"About him being more than a number. Because it was a wake-up for me. I just- I-I know how family can go with people like me, like Toby. I was lucky, so is Toby, but so-some people aren't. Because no-normal people just don't get us. Because people like us have a low emotional quotient—I don't have feelings. I haven't had fe-feelings for a long time, Liliana. My mom, she loved me the best way she knew how, but it was so much easier to not care. Not after the kids at school. But that's not healthy. I know it's not, but I can't bring myself to feel again."
"You should let me help you, Jace, you need a friend that's not like you."
"They don't get more not l-like me than yo-you, Liliana," Jace squeaked.
Jace didn't realize that that came off as him calling her dumb, he backed up once he saw her expression.
"J-just, nothing. I wasn't calling you d-dumb. But l-look at you, Liliana. Just, I don't understand why you'd even offer that."
"No one has ever treated Josu like you do. He's never had people like you and this team. And I need to kn..." Liliana trailed off, not looking Jace in the face. Her stomach twisted itself into what seemed like Jacob's ladder. Jace felt a pull, too. He didn't know what to do. She always tipped his head up, though. That's what I'll do, he thought to himself. He turned her face toward his, but she jumped. When she did, Jace did.
"I'm sorry. It's nothing you did," she cleared her throat. "I just-I I want to know how to communicate with my son."
"I'll teach you how to speak our language, if you translate yours for me."
Chapter 4: The Fault in Our Minds
"Why are you so willing to help me, Jace?" Liliana asked.
He didn't know. The same way he had no idea how he built this team from the ground up. He had ideas and they happened. He couldn't tell about the process, but he knew that they had somehow got here, together. They had all come together. He saw something in her. Her potential seemed like it had been ripped from her, but when she was given Toby, an event that would have caused Jace to break down, she rose up and she flew. She did the right thing. Jace barely knew her, but he knew how much she loved that little boy. Jace had never seen a love as pure as what she had for her son.
"I think you'll thrive with us, my team. I haven't been wrong about a person yet."
"You looked me in the eyes when you said that, Jace. Thank you," Lili smiled.
"See, y-you're translating your world, t-too."
"Is that what I need to do?"
"Y-yes, Josu and L-Lia don't have as much t-trouble as Venser and I do," Jace cleared his throat.
"Because Josu had me growing up," Liliana said, as she poured an obscene amount of cream in her coffee.
"You can't even taste it when you do t-that,"
"I like to keep my bitterness to a minimum, Jace."
Liliana pulled her long hair back over her shoulder as she sat in front of Jace. He looked up at her. For the first time, Jace felt a pull in his stomach. He had honestly never felt anything like the feelings he felt over the past few days. It was like her eyes could see into his soul. She pulled her knees to her chest with a smile. She started to pull her black tresses into a braid as Jace looked up at her, trying to place the tight feeling inside him...
The sight that greeted him bore a whole new monster in Jace's heart. The tight feeling was replaced with a clawing demon, an angry lion. The bubbling feeling that Liliana stirred up inside him was being pushed back by bitter anger. His eyes looked like tea saucers, he was sure. Liliana didn't realize what she had done, the bruises were just part of her appearance- they had been for such a long while.
"What's wrong, Jace? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Jace didn't know what possessed him to do this, but he couldn't stop it. The magnetism that he studied was in action here. He brushed his fingers across the skin of her neck, causing goose flesh to erupt. She closed her eyes and pulled the braid out, letting the black strands cover them.
"He-he liked to- nothing. He was sadistic. Don't worry about me. Just help me with my boy. Please."
Jace couldn't stop himself. She was too young, too beautiful, too good for this. How could someone hurt her? She loved so fiercely. He knew that, it was as clear as day. He blurted out his only thought before he could help it. She dropped her head.
"How could he do this to you?"
"Jace, please. Don't do this to me. I'm free. I don't want to have relive the past five years. I'm not ready."
Toby walked toward Jace, clutching his journal. Toby didn't know how intrigued Jace was, by both him and his mother. He was just nervous. He knew that being with his uncle made Mommy happy. She had protected him, Toby wasn't dumb, he knew that the man was hurting her. Toby had been hiding on that day that things had gotten far worse than they had ever been.
They had went to one of those things that the ladies in their neighborhood always had, it was the only time that Toby and Liliana were allowed out of the house. Toby was trying to play with some of the younger boys, but he knew, even then, how different he was. He knew that if he could just get himself and his mother out that things would be different. He had been there to dry his mother's tears on the nights that it was the worst. He knew she thought she was a bad mother because she couldn't get them out. One of the children had said something about his mother, and Toby lost it. He called the kid every foul name that he could fathom and infuriated the boy's mother. Liliana had went toe-to-toe with her, defending her son. He knew that he and Mommy both would be in trouble. Liliana knew that her job was to be seen but not heard. But Liliana would kill anyone who dared raise a hand to her boy. She knew that just like she knew that Josu and Ral were waiting on her.
They walked into their house, a small one. One that Liliana hated, the walls of that house were her prison. She told Toby to go into the room and not come out regardless of what he said. Toby did as his mother asked as the man rounded on his mother.
"WHY ARE YOU NOT CONTROLLING HIM? DO I NEED TO SHOW YOU HOW?"
He yanked on her hair, hard, throwing her against the wall. Liliana gritted her teeth and faced him.
"You can't control me, Xenagos. You can't even do that. You knew I would never have anything to do with your pathetic ass, and this is the only way you could ever get any semblance of a relationship."
"Oh, is that the best you've got, Xenagos?"
"I'm going to go punish my child," Xenagos roared at her.
"If you raise a hand to my boy, you won't wake up."
"You live in my good graces, Liliana Vess. Remember who you belong to. Your brother has given up on you. You think Ral actually loved you? You're wrong. He was only interested in one thing. So why don't you just shut up and remember your place? On your back."
"I hope you're happy with the fact that you'll never be anything to us, you'll never be his father and I will make sure of that."
Toby heard the sickening crunch of bone and scampered out, just in time to see his mom spit her blood at him. Toby resolved, in that moment, that this would never happen to his Mommy again.
"What's up, buddy?"
"I researched that alloy last night and figured out that it can be pounded down to a quarter inch and folded. Do you think we could work on it today?" Toby asked Jace.
"Of course! I'm sure we've got the stuff we need around here."
"If you want to look at this, you can."
The boy handed over his journal and Jace opened up his arms. Toby smiled and walked over to him.
"We're going to meet our boss today, so you need to be on your best tip-top behavior. But I wanted to talk to you."
"Okay, about what?"
"Is Liliana okay? Does she need anything?"
"Mommy's okay. We've had a few rough nights but we're okay."
"Okay, Toby. You know you can come to me if you guys need anything. I'm here for you and your mom and uncle."
The young boy smiled. He walked away, prancing into his mother's arms. He leaned into her ear and whispered something, and Liliana looked at Jace, simply mouthing two words.
Liliana's eyes danced across the room. She saw her son working with her brother and them developing new theories, Kaalia studyng, reading. She wondered just how she would fit into this world,why people of far superior intellect needed her help. She did know that Toby had never looked this happy, he finally didn't feel like an outcast and she knew that her son needed that. Venser called to the young boy and wrote an equation on the board that he had.
Toby solved it in less than five seconds.
The letters and numbers were always backwards and swimmy. She knew about the dyslexia, and so did Su, but she hoped that she would be able to keep that to themselves. She didn't want their pity or their judgmental glances. Liliana felt a sharp pain in her abdomen, probably the fault of the fact that she had overeaten last night. She was happy to finally be with Josu. Things would be okay now that they were back together. They always were.
It would be a lie to say that she hadn't looked for Ral. She was too scared to bring it up with her brother, she knew that some sort of falling out must have happened. Had he just left? Had he just given up? She needed to know, she had to find out. But she knew that she couldn't bring it up with Josu. Josu's emotions were passionate and she knew that he would have a meltdown. She would have to do her own sleuthing.
It had been like a kick in the gut for him not to be there. She had expected him to wait. But if he had, she knew that he would have been with Josu, that Su would have mentioned him already. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Her eyes darted across the room again, and this time, they landed on the black-haired hacker. The tension between them was unmistakable, when he had touched her neck this morning, it had set her whole body aflame. Did she want to hold on to that past, that future they had planned?
Everything was so different now. She had Toby to think of, and that would be enough. She didn't need anyone if she had him. They were free.
The young boy crawled into her lap, yawning. It was thirty minutes before their boss got there, just enough time for her to put him to sleep.
Sorin's stomach was in knots. He knew that dealing with genuises, while he had done it all his life, was not his forte. He knew that seeing her would be hard, would be the hardest thing he had done in many years. Two years had passed since she'd spoken to him. She came by to visit when he wasn't there.
How much had Jace told her? Did she know that they would be working together, that Jace had afforded them this oppurtunity? Did he even put two and two together as to who Kaalia was? Was Kaalia happy, was she safe?
There was a fierce knocking at the door. Jace knew who it had to be. He breathed in. He knew that Kaalia was going to be angry, but this is what his team needed. It wasn't about him, or Lia, or Su, or Venser. It was about the whole group. Plus, maybe this would give Kaalia a reason to vent. He saw how his two friends looked at one another. He knew that this would be a long time coming. In fact, right now, Josu was spinning the short redhead on his shoulders. Her father was going to see that, and Jace couldn't help but snigger.
Jace swung the door wide. Sorin Markov stood in front of him after five years. Four years since he had used Jace's weapon to kill innocent people in Iraq, three years since one of Jace's missiles killed Kallist in friendly fire. He swore he'd never speak to him again, but after doing some digging, he was what Jace needed. He was what the team needed. He greeted him with a smile, but it wasn't more than a second before Kaalia screeched at him.
"JACE ANTHONY BELEREN!"
"Kaalia. Calm down, it was what the-"
"No, Jace, fuck off."
The redhead was gone in a flash of curls, slamming the door to the upstairs part of the warehouse. Josu looked at Jace, completely aghast.
"Jace, of all the things, of all the people. And don't say you didn't know. We both know you did. How could you do this to her, how could you be so selfish?!"
"Su, I was doing the best I-"
Josu turned on his heel and headed up the stairs. Jace had expected a bad reaction from Lia, but Su? Su always took his side. In everything.
"Come in, Sorin. This is Liliana, she's Josu's sister and she's agreed to be our real-world translator as long as you are amicable. She's been on team genius for a while," Jace said, looking back at her with a smile.
Liliana shook the older man's hand, though she wondered what exactly had possessed Jace to reach out to someone that Lia very obviously didn't like. She didn't know what kind of strings this man could pull, but he was obviously very powerful.
"This team is going to be solving serious crimes Miss-"
"Vess," Liliana smiled at Sorin.
"Terrorism, biowarfare, this isn't for the faint of heart, in fact, I worry for Jace and my daughter as well."
"Lia is your daughter?" Lili said, sounding surprised.
"She is, but the years have not been easy on us," Sorin coughed.
"I told Jace I would help him, Sorin. I owe my brother my life. So I'm in," Liliana looked at the agent, never breaking her gaze. He gave her a curt nod and handed Jace what looked like a case file.
"We're going to look into a few things concerning Governor Erebos- I need all five of you to be up to date by tomorrow at eight AM. My being here is not going to help you mend any fences with Lia, so I'm going to go-"
"Sorin," Jace started, "Things aren't going to be easy for us so I really need you to read these," as Jace handed him files as well. "Those are profiles for all of us, even Lia and Lili. I need you to be familiar with my people too. We're different and I'm not asking you to pander to us, but I need you to know us."
"Fair enough, Jace." Sorin nodded again, turning the door and leaving.
When the car pulled out, Su walked out with Kaalia. She gave Jace a venomous glare and Josu just dropped his head. Jace went to speak, but Liliana's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Let her cool down, you were very much in the wrong, you saying anything isn't going to help her anger."
Josu nodded at his sister and walked out the door with the ginger girl.
Jace put his head in his hands and Liliana, after checking on Toby, went and sat next to him.
"So I'm going to ask you a few questions, Mister Beleren-"
"Doctor-" Damn it, he thought, why did it matter? But Liliana just snorted.
"Alright, then, Doc." Liliana laughed at him. "Firstly, and it's completely irrelevant to the case, how long has my brother liked Lia?"
"He won't admit it, but a really long while. They've dodged each other for a couple of years," Jace said, looking Lili in the eyes for once.
She nodded and looked happy. Jace guessed she could relate to Lia somehow.
"My second question is why did you think it was okay to contact her father if you knew they didn't have a good relationship?"
"Because I have to get the team off the ground. Sorin and I have our own problems, but we have to start getting our name out there if this is going to work, Liliana."
"That's fair, but why didn't you tell her, why did you spring it on her?"
"I-I didn't know how, Lili."
"See, that's not okay. I know you have social anxiety- most people like you do. But you can't fuck over your friends like that, Jace. That's not what a real leader does. That's not going to bind you together. That's driving a wedge between you and her, and I know that's the last thing you want."
"What should I do?"
"You owe Kaalia an apology, a big one. That was not fair to her. She has every right to be pissed off."
Jace's phone buzzed. He looked down at it. It was Su.
She's talking about quitting, leaving the team. You fucked up. I'm staying with her tonight. Keep an eye on my sister and Toby. She can cook so you won't starve. Your dumb ass needs to be groveling, Jace. If I lose her because of you, I swear to the gods.
"Su isn't coming home t-tonight," Jace stated. A-Also, what's your number? I need to know because, w-well, reasons."
"Being held captive doesn't lend itself well to communication," Liliana laughed.
"Oh, gods- yeah. So, it's a team expense-"
"I may or may not have taken quite a bit of money from him. What's he going to do? The girl I held against her will for five years took my entire life's savings as a comeuppance?"
"Why was he stupid enough to keep cash?"
"He was Greek," Liliana says it like an expletive, rather than an explanation.
"Right," Jace stated, as Liliana went to wake up her sleeping son.
Josu waited for Kaalia to pull out her keys, but she didn't do so. She looked at him, anger in her eyes, not for him, but for her father. And Jace. How could he do this?
"Let's take the bike," Lia offered, a mischievous smirk on her face. She wanted to wrap her hands around his waist. She wanted to have her face to his strong shoulders. I'm done fighting this, fighting him. I want him. He wouldn't be here if he didn't want me, right? Breathe, Lia. Analyze his behavior. You're a genius. Use your talents, she thought to herself.
"Okay. I've wanted to for a while," he said. He pulled two helmets out of the garage, rolled up his sleeves and revved the engine of his blacked-out Harley.
Holy fuck, Kaalia thought. Blood colored her cheeks and he cleared his throat.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and without having thought about it, placed her lips on the back of his neck, right where his hair was pulled into the ponytail. She felt his whole body tense. Josu had not a clue what to do, so he backed out of the driveway. Was there a way to put any feeling into this? His thoughts were a million miles an hour. He didn't know what to say, or how to react. He was beyond lost. Little did Josu Vess know, he was going to be lost with her. In her-her thoughts, not her body.
45-55-60-70-75-80. She could lose herself in this, in the speed, in the smell of his hair, in the tautness of his shoulder muscles. She saw it ahead of her, and it seemed, so did Josu. He revved the engine, just once, for her. Josu then increased the speed of his motorcycle to blow by the black-very-obviously-government-issued Chevrolet Tahoe.
Sorin saw the bike with the redhead blow by him and he thought for a second that his daughter, his Liabug, would never be as reckless as that. She was scared of speed, after all. Then he saw it. The tag. There's no way that wasn't her. Because the tag was only four letters, and a name that he had heard not ten minutes earlier. Vess.
I don't give a damn who he thinks he is, he will not endanger the life of my child like that. sorin sped up too. This was not going to happen. Not under his eyes. No matter how long it had been since Lia spoke to him, she was his. His baby. His child. And he wasn't about to let some cretin with a motorcycle and a ponytail kill his baby girl.
He stayed a safe distance back, but turned when they did. Into an apartment complex. Is this where Lia was? Or was this his place? Sorin fought the anger building inside of him. He wasn't going ANYWHERE with his daughter.
Just as they were hopping off the bike, Lia was going to wrap her arms around Josu, but an abrupt slamming knocked them down from their speed-adrenaline-danger induced high. Kaalia whipped her curls around and saw her father, looking at Josu with nothing but malice in his eyes.
"Firstly, I'm going to slap you with a ticket for reckless driving, and you're lucky it's not an arrest. Where do you think you were going with my child?"
"She's not a child-" Josu started, but Lia cut him off.
"You didn't think about how this would effect me, did you, daddy? You just saw your chance to rule- or 'lead' as you call it. That's fine. I'm leaving the team. You and Jace can go circle jerk each other but I won't have any part of it."
"Lia- please don't," Josu pleaded, looking at Sorin angrily. "I just got Lili back. Don't let me lose you now," Josu bit down on his lip and started pulling at his hair. The tics were coming, he had to get this anxiety under control.
"Kaalia- he's not good for you."
"You know NOTHING about him, nothing! He's kind and he's funny and he's never once let me down, he's my best friend," Kaalia spat at her father. "Can't say the same for you."
"Anyone who would endanger your life like that, Kaalia Claire-"
"I could drive that bike with one arm tied behind my back and my eyes closed, I would never hurt her. Not physically, not emotionally, in fact I've spent the last four years trying to heal her scars that you left."
"Don't speak about things that you have no idea about, son-"
"Don't call me that. Don't."
"Kaalia, you won't leave the team because he won't leave the team. He's not going to leave his sister high and dry. So grow up. I'll see you tomorrow."
Sorin got in the car, slammed the door, spinning tires as he left.
"Don't leave me tonight," Kaalia's voice was no more than a squeak. He nodded, and let her lead his way in.
When she asked what he wanted for dinner, he'd replied with burgers, and her son couldn't have been happier. Toby couldn't believe that he'd gotten out of vegetables two nights in a row. Jace and Lili had stayed up after she put him to sleep, just talking. When they started reading through the case files, Liliana blushed. The blood rushing to her cheeks did something to Jace, something he had never felt, something he couldn't place.
"Nothing," she said. "I'm just not a great reader."
"Well, why not? Piss poor instruction? I know your parents read to you."
"They did. Just, it never stuck with me. The words are always backwards," she said to him.
"Liliana, will you answer me this honestly?"
"Do you feel like you can't tell me things?"
"I don't really know you, Jace."
"Well, I know. But you need to tell me if you have a reading disability. It's kind of relevant to our team. You can trust me. I'm not going to judge you. People have judged me my whole life. It's not a good feeling. I've been on the receiving end of slurs-like fag, or pansy, or some other one too much to make fun of you."
She clenched her teeth and looked at him. He was right.
"I'm dyslexic. And dysgraphic. That's why I'm so selective with Toby. It takes me forever to get through things."
"I'll help you. I'll read the case files to you and you can just take notes. And as far as Toby goes, I'll help there too. There's no need for you to struggle when I'm right here."
She had to accept his help. There would be no other way for her to get through these without him. She nodded, and he cracked the first one open.
Insomnia was a common thing for geniuses. Jace couldn't sleep, as per usual. He worked on some coding, looked up strategies to help with Lili's problem, texted Emmara to make sure she was okay, and was still no closer to slumber. He heard the door creak open, and expected to see Lili. He was wrong. Tobias stood in front of him, drenched in sweat and shaking.
"Toby?! What's wrong? Do I need to wake up your mom?"
"No! No. She's asleep and she almost never sleeps. I j-just had a bad dream."
Jace gave the toddler a long look. It wasn't fair what he had been through, the things he had seen. On top of it, he was different. He was bi-racial. He didn't have an easy road ahead of him.
"Wanna talk about it?"
"Wanna build a circuit board?" This was what Jace did when he was a child and his anxiety got out of whack. His father, Jeremiah Beleren, had been an electrician and Jace was fascinated by it. Toby smiled, brushed his sweaty hair out of his face, and sat down beside Jace, who pulled the kit out of the cabinet.
It worked. It calmed Toby down in a few minutes, Jace just watched him piece the pieces together, figuring out on his own what worked and what didn't.
"ACE! I can make the sound flip the switch on!"
"I know, buddy! Isn't it cool?"
"Thank you. I heard what you told Mommy earlier," Toby said.
"She's never told anyone that she's not a very good reader, but she still tries for me."
"That's what we do. We help each other. You, me, your mom, your uncle, Lia, and Venser. And Sorin. We're a team. And that's what teams do. Your mom, she knows how to talk to people, how to act. We don't. We need you guys."
Toby kept fooling around with different circuits. He didn't talk a lot. An hour passed of them building before he spoke again.
"I had a really bad dream of that day."
"What? What day?"
"The day when the boy said something about Mommy. And I had a meltdown-"
"Toby, your IQ is so high, so that makes your Emotional Quotient low. All of us are that way. It's not your fault."
"That wasn't the bad part, I know that. Sometimes it is hard for me to feel things. The bad part is when he got mad at Mommy for helping me. He hit her. A lot. It was my fault. He did really bad things to her, I couldn't help her. It took too long to get out of there."
"Toby- that wasn't your fault... " Jace opened his arms, because it seemed like the right thing to do. Toby didn't hesitate to crawl into his lap. Jace didn't know what to say, and then to make the situation worse, the raven-haired girl was standing in the hallway, her eyes wide, biting her lip, fighting back tears. Jace didn't know how much Liliana had heard.
"It was his fault. And that's what our team does. We catch bad guys. I bet Sorin will help us catch him and he will have to answer for what he did to your Mommy." Toby leaned against Jace. Liliana was still standing in the hallway, watching the new man interact with her son. He was asleep in seconds. Jace walked over to Liliana and handed her sleeping baby back to her.
"Because that's what we do. People like us. We protect each other. He's having trouble connecting. So let us help, Lili, or he won't connect with you or anyone who isn't like him." She nodded, averting her eyes. Jace walked over to the couch and made to put up the circuit board.
"No," she said.
Chapter 5: If I Go
Her lips met his in a way that conveyed more than any doctoral dissertation did, more than any word he'd ever said, more than any book he'd ever read. It seemed as though he had been waiting for this day for years, his whole life even. His wife, he thought. He always assumed he would be married to the books, he never thought that he'd be wedded with a child, especially one as perfect as Toby was. The blush colored formal gown drug the floor of the suite as he lifted her tiny body over the threshold. His body was on fire, he ached for her in a way he never knew was possible, his eyes drank her in as she unlaced the corset bodice of the gown. The tulle and silk fell gracefully to the floor as his eyes cherished every moment of this. She was his, and he hadn't even known he was waiting for her, but it seemed like the eternity of doing so was over. He wrapped his arms around his wife, wanting to live in this moment forever. As it were, it seemed he couldn't. There was a loud crash and Jace had no idea where it was coming from.
"Jace, you've got to wake up. Fuck it," she mumbled under her breath. Liliana was indeed standing there, but it was in a pair of jeans and a blouse. She was shaking him awake. It had all been a dream. How embarrassing.
"I'm awake, I'm coming," he muttered, getting his bearings about him.
"No big, you and Toby had a late one last night. I made chocolate chip muffins if you want some," she said, exiting his room.
At least there was no morning wood, he said in his mind. With the dream he'd been having, it was a surprise that he didn't. He pulled on his khakis, a blue pastel shirt, and a tie and walked into the room,
"Hey- have you thought about what you're gonna say to Kaalia?"
"No, any ideas?" Jace said, just as Toby ran up and hugged him around the middle. He returned it and poured himself some milk. Everything she makes is good, Jace thought. He pushed the dream further back in his mind. He couldn't come off as weird. They were co-workers. Get real, screamed his mind. You thought you were asexual until last year. You don't know how to do a relationship. And what makes you think that you even stand a chance with someone like her?
"Just say you're sorry and that you didn't think. That you should have told her when you did it and that you were trying to figure out how."
"Josu is going to punch me in the face. I'll bet you ten bucks that they've made up a plan on how to off me. They've had all night to brainstorm," Jace said, swallowing.
"Suffice it to say, if I know my brother, and I do, they didn't plan shit last night. Besides, I won't let him punch you in the face. Let's go. Write down what you think you should say and read it to me. I'll drive. I need more get up and go than your little electric go-kart provides."
"Hey, you be nice to her," Jace said, playfully. Liliana couldn't help but notice the stammer was going away.
"Yes, my jellybean?"
"Am I going with you today?"
"Yes, baby. You wouldn't be going anywhere else." She kissed her son's curly locks.
"Can I bring the circuit board?"
"Of course, buddy."
Jace's phone started ringing, he looked right at it but then decided to finish his muffin. It was Sorin, and he could wait a second. But not one second after, Josu and Sorin were both trying to call again. He picked up the phone and said hello.
"Jace? It's me. The case with the governor has been pushed back, we have a new problem," his voice sounded dead. Jace knew by the tone and pitch that something was wrong.
"Sorin?" Jace's stomach was going to come out through his mouth. The last time he had heard Sorin sound this way is when he hand-delivered Kallist's flag to his Mama's doorstep. "What's wrong? Is Lia okay? Are Avy and the twins okay?"
"J-Jace, I went out to get breakfast and when I got back my wife and children, they-they were shot. Execution style. My seven year olds. I know you said that Liliana's son would be coming but he can't see this."
"W-what a-about Lia?" Tears welled up in Jace's eyes. He had known Avy, Aloria and Lucien for pretty much his whole life. After his father died, Sorin had become a stand-in. Until Kallist.
What on earth had happened, Liliana thought. Jace said that his emotional quotient was low, but yet here he was, tears in his eyes, Something horrible had happened. Josu, Liliana thought. They had only been back together three days. She couldn't lose Su. She needed him. Jace himself had told her that he didn't care about a whole lot, but he cared about his team. He had verbalized that this team was more like a family.
Her brother was in love with Kaalia Markov. Even if he didn't know it, she did. She couldn't bear to see him lose anymore than he already had in the past few years. Ral had been his best friend, both of their parents were gone. Josu deserves Lia, he deserves happiness.
Jace hung up the phone and put his head in his hands, wiping his eyes. He swallowed, hard, looking Liliana in the face.
"The-they found Kaalia's mother and siblings this morning. In Sorin's house. Execution style. We need to go there rather than to the governor's house. T-Toby, something has changed. You can't come with us today," Jace said.
"I need to stay with him, then. He's not old enough to stay alone. I'm not comfortable with that."
"I know someone. Because we need you," Jace whispered.
"Jace-I don't know this person, regardless. I-Toby, he comes first. I'm sorry."
"Liliana, do you trust me?"
"I really- Jace, I want to trust you- I do. But,"
"Lili, it's my mom. Even if you don't trust me, you can call Su. He trusts her,"
Liliana cleared her throat and bit her lip. She didn't know these people, how could she trust them with her baby? She also didn't have much of a choice. Jace was right- this was her job now.
"Let me at least meet her first."
Toby was terrified. He'd never been with anyone that wasn't his mommy. Even when he and Jace were building the circuit board, he knew that Mommy was just a few feet away. He knew that they were allowed out now, and that things would be changing. That was his mommy, he thought possseively. Toby quickly expelled the sentiment from his mind. Mommy said that he couldn't be selfish. They had talked about how much their lives were going to change. Mommy had to help Jace and Uncle Osu catch the bad guys. Toby knew that something bad had happened to Lia, the red-haired lady that always smiled when she saw Uncle Su's eyes flicked in her direction. He breathed out and laid his head on Mommy's shoulder. He was comforted by her lips on the top of his head.
Liliana clutched her son to her chest. She could feel his little body shake. He pulled at the ends of her hair like he always did when he got nervous. Josu did it to his own hair. Liliana wasn't surprised at all. Josu's motorcycle was already sitting in the driveway when Liliana pulled up. Jace had helped her out of the car, gathering Toby's things. He had already texted his mother what had happened to Avacyn and the twins,
He had briefly told his mother about Liliana and what had happened. Josu had already told her many, many moons ago that his sister had been kidnapped when they were sixteen. Jace had told Emmara and Rose that she had escaped and she had a son. Rose had, of course, demanded to meet them. Jace had planned on asking her to go to the Sunday lunch with team, but this would do. Jace grabbed the door for her and ushered her into their kitchen.
Jace braced Liliana's shoulders. She looked like she was going to start crying.
Liliana put Toby down in the small room. Toby touched her shoulder and she pulled him into her.
"M-mommy," he started. He buried his head in her shoulder.
Liliana had never been away from her boy. She had never entrusted him to anyone.
"Sweetheart, he'll be okay. I'll take care of him," the black-and-grey haired woman said. She pulled Lili into a hug. "I raised three. He'll be in one piece when you get back. Just take care of my son too."
Liliana kissed Toby on the head, nodded at Rose, and walked out. Jace's mother looked at her son and gave him a very pointed look. He gave her a befuddled one in return, and she pointed to the door.
Rose had never seen Jace initiate physical contact with anyone before, apart from his brother and sister. When he touched the small of her back- it had taken her off guard. She looked down at the small boy in front of her. Very real, very big, crocodile tears were flowing from his eyes, like a dam had burst. She got down on his level and wiped them away.
"Hi, Miss Ace's Mommy,"
"That's what he said I could call him," he said, sniffling. Rose gathered Toby into her arms and the settled in front of the TV where Emmara sat, smiling.
"What do you like, sweetheart?"
Liliana didn't want to look at Jace. Her eyes were crying the same big crocodile tears her son was. "Do you need me to drive?" He asked her, his voice barely a whisper.
"Can you drive a manual, Jace?"
"It's not a big hurry, just l-let's sit here a second. Jace patted her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting way. She turned toward him and grabbed his hand. This was what she and Su always did when things got bad. He stroked the top of her hand the same way he did Emmara when she was having a bad day. Jace's stomach was queasy and seeing her cry hurt his heart.
"Am I doing this right?" Jace whispered.
"Mhmm," Liliana pulled her hand away and wiped her face. Her boy was strong. and so was she. Hopefully they wouldn't be gone too long.
Liliana pulled off with directions to go get Venser. She didn't understand why her hand felt almost as empty as her heart did.
Sorin was sitting outside of his house, waiting on his team. Who hated him enough to kill his children? Sorin had no idea. Sure, he had made enemies working for the bureau, but he didn't think that anyone was after them, or he would have put his wife and twins into protective custody and stowed them away very far away from here. Jace and Liliana- he thought her name was, pulled up first. Sorin was highly interested in meeting her son, but he could not see this. It would scar him, scare him.
Jace's jaw was taut. He had known Avacyn just as long as he'd known Sorin. The twins, they were so young...
Kaalia didn't speak after she had got the phone call. She heard her father's voice, barely a whisper, far from his usual loud one. She felt as though she was being stabbed repeatedly. She wanted Josu's arms but had no idea how to ask for them. Su wanted to wrap her up so she wouldn't have to hurt, He grit his teeth and put his arms around her shoulders. She grabbed onto the hem of his shirt and didn't let go.
Josu saw Jace and his sister waiting for him, Venser by their side. No one said anything to Lia. No one knew what to say. Liliana walked to the redhead and laced her fingers through hers. She was startled at first, but she appreciated the comforting gesture none the less. Her father was sitting on the front steps of the house she had grew up in, She didn't know what to do, to hug him or hit him. This wasn't his fault and Kaalia knew it, but was it not his job to know this was going on?
The tears welled up in her eyes. Before she could stop them, she was bawling. Her father wanted to comfort her, but he didn't. The last person that she wanted was him and Sorin knew it. Josu's eyes grew to the size of tea saucers, and his sister gave him a look. Wrap your arms around her, you idiot, Liliana thought. His jaw was sharp enough to cut a diamond on, Lili could tell he was sweating. Josu was having an internal meltdown. He didn't like to be touched when he was upset, he figured it was the same for Lia. That was the problem that his genius mind couldn't figure out. However, it was soon figured out for him.
Kaalia leaned her head onto him without thinking. He pulled her shoulders into his chest.
"S-Su," she said. "W-we were su-supposed to go th-this weekend.
"I know, Lia. I know."
Kaalia had opted not to see them. She couldn't bear the thought of someone putting a gun to her mother's neck. Her mother's face, always so kind and full of life, was now smattered with blood and devoid of any emotions. And her brother and sister. They were just babies.
Sorin couldn't bring himself to cry, he just sat with her and held her hand for what he knew would be the last time. He clenched his jaw and unclenched it, the emotions coming over him in waves. My angel of hope, my reason to keep going is now my guardian angel. Sorin placed a kiss on Avacyn's lips and pulled her blanket that she had loved over her. He kissed each of his twins on their foreheads and joined their hands with their mother's.
She saw something in me when no one else did, when I was barely human. She saw Kaalia for more than a number and embraced Jace like he was their flesh and blood. They had fought everyday for their twins, struggled for them, and loved them more than life. Avacyn was the reason Sorin wanted these geniuses treated like people. Because that's what she did.
He would find who did this, if it was the last thing he did.
Sorin walked out with Avacyn's laptop and phone in hand, his arms clenched tightly over them. He fiddled arbitrarely with his wedding band, without realizing that's what he was doing. He handed the electronics over to Jace with nothing more than a nod.
Kaalia walked over and kissed her father on the cheek. She hoped that it was enough because that was all she could bring herself to do. He touched his cheek and then touched hers, smiling.
Liliana had no idea what to say. She felt almost out of place. Sorin, however, tasked her with something.
"While Jace dissects the hard and software of that computer, I'd appreciate it if you could scour social media for clues. I've written down all of my wife's passwords. As far as we- I know, the twins didn't have any social media presence."
"Of course, Sorin. Why don't you come over to the apartment and eat dinner with us? You don't need to be alone right now," Liliana said, giving him a small smile. Sorin just looked at his daughter, who nodded.
"Instead of trying to cram all of us in our apartment, we can go to Mama's. I know she wants to see all of you," Jace suggested. "It's more efficient and it's closer."
"There's not much else we can do until we get a lead and we won't be able to do much until they've done the forensics. Sorin said, his voice still dead and hollow.
"It's been a long while since I've seen your mother or Emmara, Jace. How is she?"
"Sorin- I don't-" Jace started stammering.
"You know how that goes," Josu said. It was the first time that he had spoken since he comforted Kaalia earlier. Sorin simply nodded. "Sorin," Josu said. "I'm going to go sweep the house for anything they could have planted."
"They have people-" the older man started, but Josu just walked away.
"He's better than any of them, Daddy," Lia said, in a very small voice. "Besides, he's not doing forensics. He's looking for mechanical things that could be left for when you go back in. Something that could hurt you." Kaalia continued, "Su's a prodigy, if there's something in there, he can find it."
"She's not wrong, Sorin. Josu is on this team for a reason. I don't understand why you're being so hostile with him." Jace said. Liliana just had a look like she was trying to swallow a diatribe about Sorin, she was being respectful of his grief.
"Is he a literal boy named Sue?"
"It's short for Josu," Kaalia snapped.
The mountain of a man had finished the sweep of Sorin's house. He didn't like the man, but Kaalia couldn't lose anyone else, He noticed so many pictures of her while she was growing, it was like she never left. Josu made the mistake of looking at her mother. She looked so innocent and so very young. When his own mother had died, she bore signs of her fight against her own body. Avacyn looked like she could be sleeping.
Josu didn't look at the twins. He knew what it was like to lose a sibling. He knew that pain. He knew the anguish, the nightmares. He knew that if he looked, he'd latch on to Liliana and never let go. He knew that he'd see his nephew, his namesake. So Josu turned and walked out, feeling guilty but thankful that his Lili was back with him, safe and sound.
Liliana bounded up the stairs faster than a lightning strike. When she got there, her son was helping stir up cookie dough and Rose had been letting him help shred lettuce.
"MOMMY!" He nearly broke his neck trying to get off the stool he was standing on. His little arms reached up for hers and she peppered the top of his ebony hair with kisses. The sight made Jace smile. Jace walked over to his mother and wrapped an arm around her.
Liliana put her son down and he yanked on her hand.
"Em and I are going to build soapbox cars to beat you and Ace, she said so," Toby said excitedly. "Where is he? Ace?"
"Coming, squirt, just talking to your uncle," Jace said as he and Josu walked into the room.
"So, Josu," Emmara said conspiratorially. "I've got a proposition for you, no offence, Lia," she laughed. "Toby and I are going to build a soapbox derby car to beat one that Jace and his Mama are going to build and we want you for our team."
"That is not fair, Josu should have to sit this one out," Liliana said, dramatically. Her heart was so happy that Toby had taken to these ladies. "What's Jace going to do? Hack into a wooden car?"
"You think you're cute," Jace said. Emmara was giving Jace an incredulous look. Jace did not women. Jace did not know how to women.
"Say that when you can look me in the eyes," Liliana laughed.
"Fine," Jace said, "But we get Venser on our team. You, Toby, Sorin, and Su. And me, Lili, Mama, and Lia and Venser. You have an unfair advantage plus Josu's big enough to be two people anyways."
"It's a date, baby brother," Emmara sniggered. She leaned on her cane and laughed. Jace couldn't help but relish in the sound, it'd been so long since he'd heard it.
Liliana walked in to the kitchen to help Rose. The older woman gave her a smile.
"He's a pistol- he reminds me so much of my two boys. Like someone mashed them together."
"Jace had a brother, Kallist. He doesn't like to talk about it," Rose said.
Liliana let the subject drop. She didn't want to pry into his personal life.
"Thank you. He's so excited, Toby, that is," Liliana told her.
"He talked about Mommy this and Mommy that all day, sweet girl. You're doing a great job."
"How much do I owe you?"
Rose ignored her. She was just happy to have a baby back in her house.
Rose just gave her a pointed look. Jace meandered into the kitchen, holding Toby, Josu close behind them. Liliana turned around and gave him a radiant smile. Jace coughed and spit apple juice everywhere-again. Liliana snorted and turned her attention back to Rose.
"Can I at least help you with dinner?"
Rose looked at Liliana and handed her a whisk. Jace and Rose may have just stumbled onto something, someone, but it was too soon to tell. Sorin walked in holding a bottle of wine, trying to lose himself in the hubbub of the house. Kaalia came and sat beside him and Josu sat beside her. Rose thought to herself that something in the dynamic had changed. Something was pulling them together.
But it was too soon to tell.
Chapter 6: The Eighteenth Hour
Jace sat at his desk, quiet. He hadn't spoken very much all night, he was absorbed with dissecting Avy's computer. Josu sat, tinkering with one of his engines, Toby sitting next to him, drafting a plan for what looked like his next project. The little boy intrigued Jace as much as his mother did, the light in his eyes was something that Jace wished he had. The light had disappeared from his when he watched his father expire in front of him, his mother, his brother and his sister. Jace didn't understand why Papa couldn't get better, why the doctor's couldn't do their jobs. Doctors were supposed to make people better, and in Jace's overactive but still immature mind, they had failed. Then when Emmy was diagnosed, they hadn't done much to even alleviate her symptoms. Ever since then, he had refused medical treatment, even check-ups. The one exception was when he had broken his arm when he was fourteen, and that was only because his mom authorized some strong pain killers to knock him out. A punk kid had literally snapped it at the elbow. When Kallist found out-Jace just shook his head. Kallist had been expelled from that school and Mama never gave it a second thought.
Everything you did for me, Kal. And then you die by my hand. By my creation. Jace felt sick. He bit back the bile in his throat, but it was no use at all. The thought had already taken up residence and caused the sick feeling that it always did. Jace clapped a hand over his mouth and flew to the bathroom. The blueberry pancakes, part of the "breakfast for dinner' Saturday. wonderful the first time, were now making an appearance. Ugh. This was why he didn't have feelings. Because they made him sick.
"Hey Doc, you okay?"
He turned around to see Liliana standing there, still in her sleep shorts, Toby padding along behind her. Josu could sleep through a tornado, he was sure. Lili, not so much. Lili had become attuned to hearing even the smallest noises, because when Xenagos came in at night, she moved her sleeping son. She refused to let him be anywhere near her when it happened. Toby knew there were nights when Mommy couldn't stop crying so he just kissed her cheeks like she did for him when he was sad.
"Tobias, can you get Ace a bottle of water?"
"You're stressed, you need to decompress or you're gonna stay sick. Doctor Beleren," Liliana said. She went over to the sink and wet a washcloth, and knelt beside Jace. She wiped his mouth and gave him a small smile. Jace turned his head to the side, wondering what could be going on inside of her mind right now. Lili looked down at him and tried to quell the feelings rising in her.It's been seven days, we've dealt with a major death, he's sick, and I can't control my hormones.
Toby came in with the bottle of water and handed it to Jace. After they worked today, they were going to go back over to Rose's for their Sunday dinner. Rose had a pool and Toby had been begging to go back since they left a couple days ago. Liliana hadn't found much in the way of clues on social media, but she had only really scoured through Facebook. That was the only one she still knew how to work. She needed to get Jace to show her how to work the smartphone that he said was necessary. They'd all been absorbed in their own things, Liliana trying to power her way through the online school she'd enrolled in. She'd never admit it to her house full of geniuses, but the reading was starting to get to her. She'd went to bed and woke up with a pounding headache.
"Yeah. I'm f-fine. Just kinda had a moment."
"I know we're not super close or anything, but you can talk to me if you need to. I can help you sort through your feelings," Liliana said with a smile. "Sometimes that's what Toby and I do. We just talk through it." Liliana whispered. "I can tell you are so, so very important to my brother. Therefore, you're important to me. Can I call you my friend?"
"Of course," Jace stated. When he said this, he realized that there was distinct pull in his lower belly. Jace had thought he was asexual for the longest time. When he would get a stubborn hard-on, he found it even harder to get down. Mama had brought up the word demisexual, and it meant that he needed to have an emotional connection to be sexually aroused. Jace had a hard enough time with fostering emotional connections- he had told Rose that the only non-family woman he was close to was Kaalia, but it was impossible for him to see her that way. But from the moment he laid eyes on Liliana, he saw something in her that he had never felt before. Jace shouldn't be thinking how soft her lips looked . There's a burning feeling near his waist, he ached to kiss those bruises. Not that he knew how to kiss, or fuck, or even talk to her. She was light years out of his league. She would never, ever see him that way. Girls like Lili didn't go for guys like Jace.
"If I tell you one, do I get a story in return?"
"Mommy?" Toby said.
"Can I go lay back down? I'm sleepy."
"Of course, my precious angel. It's too early for those baby eyes to be up anyways," Liliana smiled.
"I'm not a baby, Mommy! Tobias said, disgruntled.
"You'll always be my baby. Now go lay back down. I'll wake you when it's time for breakfast, okay?"
"Can we have snickerdoodle muffins? Toby asked.
"Those are for special occasions, Toby."
"My birthday is in three weeks! Plus they will make Ace feel better. He's my friend and I want him to feel good," Toby petitioned.
"If you go lay down and go back to sleep, not play on Ace's computer he let you use, then yes. Go get some rest, sweet love."
Toby wrapped his blankie around his shoulders and didn't waste a second more. Liliana sat next to Jace and patted his shoulder. Jace hung his head, the sick feeling gone, only to be replaced by one of anguish.
"Nothing, it's just, I don't know."
"Your mom told me about your brother, Jace. Do you want to start there?"
"Most everything that has went wrong in my life goes back to my siblings, " he started, Liliana giving him an incredulous look .
"No, no. That came out wrong. I love my siblings. I mean, I've never had anyone else as far as that goes, until the team. But the reason why Sorin and I didn't speak for so long was.. it was..."
Liliana patted him on the back to reassure him, much like he did when she had to leave Toby. He wiped his mouth again.
"Sorin used a program that I created to create a bomb to use against terrorists. Well, my brother, he was a Marine. It just so happens that one of my bombs was used too close to where he was and he was one of the American casualities. I as good as killed the one person who knew the real me and didn't care what I was. Mama, she doesn't know that it was one of mine. The only people who know are Sorin and I. And now you, even though I shouldn't have unloaded this all upon you. It's not fair."
"Jace, you listened to my four-year-old tell you about the only thing I have nightmares about and you didn't make him feel like a child, " Liliana started. "You didn't kill your brother. That wasn't your fault. It was a mistake, one on Sorin's part, honestly."
"He knew that they were creating things based on the program but he didn't know the details. I hated Sorin for so long, but it's really not his fault either. If I never would have written the program, Liliana, Kallist would still be here."
"You can't beat yourself up over what might have been, Jace. You didn't wake and say you were going to write a program to kill people. I'm sorry, so sorry for your loss. But it isn't your fault." Liliana sighed and then continued, very quietly. "If I had just listened to Su, I never would have been kidnapped. But I didn't. Does that make what he did to me my fault, my choice?"
"No, of course not." Jace could see the parallel Lili was trying to make. He didn't know if it made him feel any better, though. "That was his choice, not yours," he finished.
"Exactly. That was Sorin and Homeland Security's choice, not yours. I know it won't bring your brother back, but neither will blaming yourself."
"I didn't exactly hire you to be my personal shrink, Liliana."
"You said you wanted me to help translate the world, and that's what I'm doing. But I'm not doing this because you're my boss. I'm doing this because you're my friend. Is there anywhere in your job description that says you have to be kind to my son, to foster his creativity, to help me learn how to parent him? No. There isn' you do it anyways. So, don't think you're overstepping your boundaries. We're both learning. About the world and about each other. So let's get to know each other. That's the only way this is going to work. So I'm going to ask you a question."
Jace raised his eyebrows and nodded at Liliana, ready for whatever she may ask. Surely, it's going to be something that Jace didn't want to talk about, like Kallist. Or Emmara. Or his father. Or Sorin.
"So what do you like to do for fun?"
"Oh god, now you're prying into my personal life, completely overstepping the line there, Liliana."
She smiled and waited for him to answer, he bit his lip in thought. He really wasn't sure.
"I guess building computers could count as fun," Jace said. It was the closest thing he could come up with to a normal's idea of 'fun.' "I like to do that, a lot. The circuit board is pretty fun too."
"So things that stimulate your brain are your idea of fun."
"Pretty much," Jace sighed. "I know that makes me lame. And nerdy, but hey, that's me."
"I don't think it's lame," Liliana countered. "It was kinda cool the other night," she finished.
"What about you, tell me something about you."
"I don't know, Liliana, anything." Jace said. He couldn't think of anything off of the top of his head. She made his thoughts all weird and jumbled. Jace wasn't used to it and he wasn't sure if he liked it.
"I'm actually a succubus, I lure unsuspecting men to their deaths," Liliana laughed.
"Oh my god, I thought we were being serious."
"As a Peek Frean," Liliana snorted.
"I'm just going to ignore you, because we need to be ready for our first case in like thirty minutes," Jace said.
"Oh, lighten up, Doc. It's supposed to be funny. Normals laugh."
"How did you know that we call people normals?" Jace asked, slightly taken aback.
"I grew up with a genius, remember, Mis-Doctor Beleren? Besides, I am now normal-in-chief of this group of mentally enabled people."
"What are we doing today?" Liliana asked.
"Well, we haven't made any headway with Avy and Sorin thinks it'll be best for Kaalia to move on to a different case. So we're headed to the governor's house. His daughter is sick. We're going to meet at his house in an hour," Jace explained
"I knew you were a doctor, but I didn't think that you were that kind of doctor, Jace."
"I-I'm not. But Sorin thinks we stand a chance of solving it, so off we go."
"I don't want Toby sick " Liliana started.
"Of course, Mom said he could come back anytime. Besides, he's been talking about his soapbox car non-stop. We're all also going over there to swim, it's Sunday. I'll call her."
Liliana took a steadying breath. Rose was a good person. Emmara was a good person. Jace was, too. She had to start trusting people with Toby. Obviously, her first choice of babysitter would have been Su, but he wasn't an option. She wasn't going to cry again today. Toby was going to be safe and having fun. She breathed again, trying her best to get her emotions in check.
Kaalia hadn't slept in three days. The last thing she wanted to do was drag herself off of this couch to go investigate some sick kid. Surely they could do it without her, she thought. But she didn't want Josu to be grilled by her father. It was probably best that she got up and got ready anyways. They'd needed her skill set, obviously. She was there to be seen but not heard, observing everything from behaviors to placement of things in the house. She pulled on her jeans and her favorite green top, fixed herself a cup of coffee, and headed out the door.
She swung by Venser's house and picked him up, he was already shaking. She was sure Jace had told him what they would be doing, and his mind was in overdrive. When you had a mind like Venser's, one that ran every single possibility that could happen you were bound to develop fears, irrational ones. Or you end up like Kaalia. Angry. Or paranoid like Josu. Or a condescending dick, like Jace.
"Dad- Er- Sorin, said that she'd be in quarantine. So there's nothing you need to worry about, Venser. Do you think Jace would lead you into something if he knew that you were going to be in trouble?"
"I mean of course not Kaalia. We all trust Jace," Venser said, in a small voice. "But I honestly don't understand why Liliana is here, she's not like us-"
Lia cut him off. She breathed in. She knew why Liliana was here. They desperately needed a normal to translate for them. The team couldn't do it alone. But Venser wouldn't get that and Kaalia knew it.
"She's here to make things easy for us, Venser. You can't talk to people, none of us can. I know that doesn't seem important to you, but for the team to take on clients, we have to be able to speak with the normals, but we do have to make money."
"Money makes me nervous," Venser said.
"And that's why we need a normal. Besides, Jace saw something in all of us. Something worth rescuing. He obviously sees something in her, too." His dick, Kaalia thought to herself. She was happy for Jace though. She'd never seen him so nervous. Ever.
Her father had tried for many, many years to push her and Jace together, but neither of them had that sort of feelings for each other. Jace maintained that he didn't have feelings, but his eyes gave him away. His body language was almost protective, already, it was like they gravitated toward each other. Besides, when she met Josu, she was gone. Jace knew it, and had tried ever since to push the two into each other's arms.
Josu just understood her, and sometimes, that was their biggest problem. He understood her and she pushed him away. She understood his pain but he pushed her away. Now that Sorin was back in the picture, in their daily lives, it was going to be that much harder.
She and Venser got out at the governor's house, and Jace, Josu, and Liliana were already there, waiting. As she thought they would be, they were sitting next to each other. Kaalia smiled to herself, happy with the analysis. Josu walked up to her and asked if she was okay.
"I haven't heard from you in two damn days," he said, almost angry. She just hung her head. "Have you been drinking?"
"Can you even judge me for that, Josu Vess? Still have the opiates that I prescribe for you?"
"Don't fucking start with me," Josu hissed. "Liliana will flip her damn lid,"
"Maybe that's what you need, you're just as bad of an addict as I am!"
"Kaalia, I swear to The Eternities,"
"Lover's Quarrel?" Jace said, laughing. "Come on, guys. we have to get up two stalling is going to cause Venser to piss his pants, and Lili can't keep him distracted much longer."
Liliana had told Venser that she was taking an algebra course because she had been kidnapped in the middle of high school. He started going on and on about parabolas and different theories. He had lost Liliana at "quadratics," but her plan to keep him distracted seemed to be working.
"Thanks," Jace whispered to her as they walked in. "Liliana, come up here with me , I need your skill set," Jace said in his best official voice. Josu watched his sister walk gracefully beside Jace, in her very stereotypical blush blouse and nude stiletto heels. Josu heard Kaalia snort from behind him, and he couldn't help but turn around.
"Skill set, my ass," she mouthed at Su. He smiled at her, regardless. He couldn't help it.
Jace turned the knob of the huge mansion, reminding his team to pull their masks over their faces.
"Governor," Jace started. "This is my team. Where can we start?"
"Markov said that if there was a way to solve this, you would do it. She, Anthousa, has been tested for everything- Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, TB, Ebola, all clean. The only thing she's tested positive for is the common cold." Governor Erebos was obviously very distraught.
"Can I speak with you? Privately?" Jace said, "Liliana, you too."
The two followed him into a room, leaving Lia, Venser, and Josu. They knew what they were supposed to be doing. Lilana was jotting down notes but nothing too elaborate. She didn't need to. Her hearing made up for her piss-poor writing and reading skills. She'd be able to dictate all of this to Jace later.
"We need information, is there anything you could provide us with? What are your hot button issues? What about opposition? Where are your computers? Is there anything odd about them?"
"Not that I am aware of, Anthousa said that she needed to show me something, but as she did, she collapsed. That was almost five hours ago and I hadn't paid it any attention," The governor said, wondering why the genius was chasing rabbits.
"Have any of your other computers been acting strange?"
"No, why does this matter, I thought we were focused on curing her?" Erebos' voice was shaking.
"I have a hunch. I just hope I'm not right. I won't know till I see her computer. I hacked my way into your network with nothing but my phone. This needs to be more secure. But it got me to thinking, before you quarantined her, you all had contact with Anthousa, but no one is sick. No other computer has anything wrong with it. Anthousa is being targeted."
Erebos nodded at one of his employees who returned with it seconds later. Jace opened up the computer, Liliana almost in awe of this intensity. A couple of keystrokes and Jace was in. The computer was blinking a message of the old adage, An Eye for an Eye. Then, it blinked again. Tick, Tock, Governor...
"Damn it!" Jace growled. He was right and he hated himself for it.
"Bio-hacking. They've engineered a virus that will only affect Anthousa! Josu! She's probably burning up. Let her get some air."
"How do you even-" Erebos started.
"Erebos, just listen to him. He knows and he's Anthousa's best bet. You've had your doctors come out. He knows, I promise you that, I wouldn't have brought them here if they weren't. Especially after what had happened," Sorin said. Erebos steadied himself and nodded.
Jace looked over to his team. He knew that Venser could figure out the question that he didn't want to ask. But he was in charge. This was his team and he nwas the leader. So he had to lead.
"How long, Venser?"
"Jace.. I'm not comfortable with this..."
"Venser, how long?!"
"My best guess is.."
But by the time that Venser had the gumption to answer, the solution to the question was already posted. On Anthousa's computer.
Chapter 7: All Is Well That Ends Well
Governor Erebos' face slid into an expression of sheer panic; he didn't think it would be that severe. Besides, Anthousa had only been ill around a few hours before the team arrived. He heaved a shaky breath and sat down, head in his hands.
"Take whatever you need, the resources are all yours, just please help," he choked. His voice was barely a whisper, little more than a crack against the beeping machines and hububb of the house.
"Do you have any political opponents that you think could have been responsible for this?"
"That hate me enough to kill my child?"
Sorin's heart hammered against his chest. There was a ripping feeling, as he thought about his twins and his wife. If he could help it, he would not let another child die on his watch. Jace was busy tearing apart Anthousa's computer, Kaalia watching, waiting. Josu was hacking another computer, and while he was not as fast as Jace, he was adept. Both of them were sending things to print and Venser was memorizing them before handing them off to Liliana.
"I've got something, Jace!"
Jace looked over at the mountains of code on the laptop Josu was tearing to shreds. "Look, just there. It's corrupt, but the computer doesn't have a virus. Look and see if that same line of code is on Anthousa's computer."
Jace did so, and sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the same corrupt file was on Anthousa's computer. Jace tore the IP address and used his own laptop to triangulate a location.
"I know this place," Jace said, angry. He had been there on the days that he was most desperate for cash. After he had almost gotten jail time, he swore off it.
"How, Jace? You don't partake in criminal activity."
"I did when I was pissed off at the government for killing my brother," Jace said through his teeth, still mad that the pile of rubbish that was this place had taken to killing children.
Kaalia looked like she had seen a ghost, but that was only because she had never, ever heard Jace speak of Kallist. Josu knew that he was dead, and how much it affected Jace, but he didn't know the circumstances of Kal's death. He didn't want to. What he didn't know was how much Kallist's death affected Kaalia. Sorin and Jace did, though.
"Jace, not now," Sorin started, but a menacing look from Jace quieted him.
Lili thought on her feet. Jace had to be calm in order to do what he needed to do, and what calmed Tobias down? Something else to focus on. He made a fist but Liliana took his hand in hers, smoothing out his knuckles.
"Calm. And lead. You being angry is only going to make the situation worse," she said in her best soothing, sing-song voice.
Jace tried to focus on the pressure Liliana was exerting on his hand rather than the angry impulses that his brain was sending to his psyche. He swallowed and then nodded, handing Sorin the address.
Lili thought it was a rather dodgy looking place, herself. On the way over, Jace had explained that it was basically where all the B-List hackers went to make an extra buck. It was harder to trace than doing it from one place, because there were multiple servers that it could bounce off of. The likelihood of getting caught was far less, according to Jace. Most hackers, he said, had nothing but contempt for the government, and they were all paranoid. Those who did work for the government were often shunted to the side, like the "geeks" on the playground.
"Stick close to me or Su, please. These greasy neckbeards have never seen a woman in their lives," Jace said.
"I can handle myself," Liliana assured him.
"Lia, you need to come up here with me so you can tell me who looks the guiltiest of the rats."
Lia peeled herself away from the hushed conversation she was having with Josu, and walked up to stand beside Jace, who was oblivious to what had been going on behind him. In reality, Jace wanted Josu and Sorin behind them and he in front in case one of the vermin tried to hurt them. He sighed a breath of relief that Liliana had left Toby at home. Jace didn't want Toby to think this is how mentally-enabled people were supposed to act. In fact, they were the nonexample for people like them. You're not his father, Jace's brain told him.
He turned the knob of the place where he had once been "employed," and walked through the door. Liliana was overwhelmed with the stench of bad pizza and sweat, the very odor turned her stomach and twisted it into knots. She hoped Jace and Sorin would be quick.
"All right, which one of you weasels sent the bugged email to the governor's daughter?" None of them raised their hand or volunteered information. All just tittered away on their computers, as if they had never entered, but Kaalia observed the eyes of one and gestured to her father to push him.
"I will arrest every one of you if the guilty bastard does not come forward right now. You will ALL be considered acessories to an act of domestic terror, and assault with intent to kill. At that moment, the one Kaalia had gestured to went to run, but as he did Jace clotheslined him. He fell, huffing and puffing. Jace looked down at him with loathing and disgust.
"Not a chance, not today, Luke. Don't act like you don't know I'm ten times the hacker you are,"
Sorin pushed the guy into the chair and told the team to fall back. They did so.
"You don't look like a killer, son, so you're going to tell me what happened and I might just turn the other cheek as to what you and all your friends are doing here. You're below my pay grade to be honest," Sorin started.
"Killer? I didn't kill anyone! I sent three bugged emails and pocketed five grand."
"How were you paid?!"
"Cash," the hacker said.
"Of course, it's untraceable. You techy types always think you're so much smarter. Well, I'm going to tell you what you're going to do, son. You tell that blackhaired boy right there in the glasses the exact IP addresses that you used to send those emails, and how the request came to you, or I'm going to arrest you. If you're a good little boy, and do as I ask, I won't have Homeland shut you down."
"How many emails did you say you sent?" Sorin asked the man.
"Three," he repeated.
Sorin looked at Jace and the color drained from both of them. They both knew what it meant.
There were more.
"Miss Ace's Mommy?"
"Yes, Toby? You know you can call me Rose, right?"
"You know that your mommy and I talked about your birthday that's coming up, right? Five whole years!"
"Yes, that is 1,826 days and 2,625,000 minutes."
"And we talked about having the soapbox race on that day and letting you guys swim," Rose said to the little boy.
Toby's eyes lit up like the fourth of July. He was so young and so innocent, Rose couldn't bear to watch another child go through what they had put Jace through, even though they thought they were acting for the best. He'd have to be evaluated for school soon, she knew it. Maybe once Liliana had been around a little longer, Jace would share some of his experiences, and she was sure that Lili had seen Josu's first hand.
Mentally-enabled kids do not belong in school. They aren't challenged, they aren't pushed, and they are often put there for "social" reasons. Most of the time, mentally-enabled students had social disabilities. Rose hoped beyond all hope that Liliana knew that, and if she didn't, that they could convince her. Because if it had not been for his siblings and Kaalia, she was sure Jace wouldn't have made it through high school. The suicide rate among mentally-enabled people was staggering. Most of them struggled with addiction, as well.
Rose couldn't help but look at the team as her own. She knew that Josu's parents were gone, Kaalia wouldn't speak to Sorin for reasons unbeknownst to her, and Venser hadn't spoken with his family in almost ten years. Then she thought about the Liliana. While she wasn't like Jace and the others, she was what they needed. And she had been through sc much, and still came out one of the best mothers that Rose had ever seen. Toby knew his mom loved him. Toby loved his mommy. She just hoped that Lili could keep that connection going.
There was another thing about Liliana that Rose couldn't help but like. She brought out a side in her son that she'd never seen. She couldn't place what exactly it was about her, but Jace couldn't keep his eyes off of her. When he wasn't looking at her, she was stealing glances. After this morning, Rose had sensed something had happened with them, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
Toby was fiddling with the circuit board and sitting next to Emmara. He kept blinking and nodding off, tired. Emmara couldn't help but laugh to herself. When he was there, it was like Emmara was ten years younger. They did wonders for each other. He loved hearing her play the piano and she loved doing the same circuits she'd done with Jace with him.
"I'm kinda sleepy," Toby said to Emmara.
Emmara patted her lap and wrapped his blanket around him, softly humming the same Irish lullaby Rose had hummed to her. Toby smiled as his eyes fluttered closed, and both Emmara and Rose wondered what they'd done to bring this little ball of of life into their everyday.
Rose looked at Toby and then at her daughter, but for once, it wasn't her that she feared for. What would happen to her son if he got attached and then they were gone, probably taking Josu with them? She didn't like to think about it.
When they got back to the governor's house, Erebos was still there, in a panic.
"Did you get them?"
"No, but we are one step closer. I need you to tell me if you know these people; Danielle Riley and Lukas Jones."
"Yes, I used to work with them before I got into politics, what could this possibly be about? Have they been targeted too? Does this have nothing to do with political gain?"
"What did you work with them on, Erebos? I need you to be truthful, or my team can't do their jobs." Sorin said. "And we want to save Anthousa."
"Nothing, I have never been involved in corrupt politics, Sorin. We worked together for Merck. The pharmaceutical company. We all headed up a drug trial one for various autoimmune disorders, Crohn's and lupus, mainly. We had to pull the plug on the trial because there were told not enough people had the the disease."
"She doesn't have enough time for me to get a warrant," Sorin said. A warrant would take hours, maybe even days. Anthousa's time was down to fifteen and half hours.
"Come on, geniuses, we have to come up with something," Sorin nearly yelled. Both Venser and Kaalia shut down, Liliana could tell.
"Sorin, don't scream. They don't take well to that. Too much sensory stimulation."
Sorin turned to Lili, a yell on his lip, but Josu gave him a menacing look. Liliana was right, Sorin knew it. He heaved a sigh.
"I'm sorry," he looked around at his team. He wished he had known that as Kaalia was growing up.
Liliana cleared her throat. The team turned their dejected faces toward her.
"Jace, can you make me a fake ID?"
"What? What are you getting at?"
"Get me into Merck. I'll make my way to the record closet and come out with the trial. Just make sure that the security can't find me. Make sure they're distracted. Give me ten minutes," Liliana said, looking Jace in his eyes.
"If you're caught you could lose Toby, Liliana." The color drained from Lili's face. "Jace, we can't let her die," Lili said. "We're her only chance."
"She won't," Sorin said. "I'll make sure of that. I've got you. Your son is safe."
"The Tahoe has WiFi. Come on, team. Move out. We're this girl's only chance," Jace said. He was in awe of her. She could think on her feet. She was risking everything to help the dying girl in front of them. Jace didn't know that he'd stumbled into a woman, not a girl. Not the scared, uneducated mother that she thought she was. Jace saw her in that moment.
He saw her.
Josu and Kaalia were the distraction. Jace ran Liliana a false identification. Josu picked the lock on an older truck and he and Lia climbed in.
"Buckle up, I would never forgive myself if I hurt you, Lia."
"Su, about earlier. We need to work on it. Both of us. We can't bring that around Tobias. You're right in the fact that Liliana would freak out. She has every right."
"I... we can't tell her, Kaalia. I can't disappoint her. I just got her back."
"We won't. I can't tell my father. We can do it together, Su."
Josu swallowed and spoke under his breath. "That's really all I want," he said, no louder than a breath.
"What?" Kaalia said, a tightness was in her chest. She'd heard him. She just didn't know what to say. She wanted him too. Every part of her wanted Josu Vess. He stimulated her brain, made her heart smile. And he turned her on. Everything about him drove her crazy. He was the stuff that her dreams were made of. When would they stop fighting this?
As Josu rammed the truck into the fancy security car, she felt his arm brace her so that the impact wouldn't jostle her. She wasn't focused on the case. On her father, on her dead boyfriend, on her dead family. The only thing that Kaalia Marie was focused on in that moment was that intense, burning hope that that wouldn't be the last time that Josu Vess' arms were around her.
Jace got the signal from Josu that security was distracted. Liliana put the earpiece in, shaking. She wasn't sure that this had been the greatest idea. She tried to focus on Jace, on Toby, on anything but the task at hand. Jace looked at her and cleared his throat.
"Remember. In, downstairs, to the left. Case number 726," Jace said.
"That's Tobias' birthday," Lili said.
Jace gave her a small smile. There was no denying the stirring she caused in him. It was like electricity. He pushed the feeling deeper, and tried to look her in the face.
"You're a rockstar, you're going to be this girl's hero, " Jace said.
She didn't know him, how could he do this to her? She had lived in that house for five years with Xenagos and never knew anything about him other than to pretend to like what he did. Everything with Jace felt intimate. He made her heart flutter in her chest. Everytime she saw him with her son, she couldn't help but think of him filling that role for Toby. Her thoughts, once of Ral, have been replaced with Jace. In a week. She couldn't find it her heart to be upset over this.
"I, when we get through this, we should, maybe, nothing. Just remember. 726. I'll see you when you get here."
Jace brought his hand up to Liliana's face to brush the stray strand back behind her ear. He didn't know why. He needed to feel her cheek. She closed her eyes and leaned into his hand. His thumb stroked her blush, and She bit into her lip. He dropped his hand quickly at the expression. Jace wasn't asexual. He knew that now.
She walked in, he finally understood Josu's old adage. He didn't want her to go, but he could watch her leave every day.
Liliana walked in and breathed while scanning the fake ID. She was a great actress, Xenagos had assured that. Liliana looked like she belonged. She meandered through the white collar workers, making eye contact and smiling. She walked directly into the file room. LIliana pushed into her earpiece.
"Jace, can you see me?"
"Yeah," Jace said, "What's up?"
"The letters," She said, miserably. "They're swimming. I'm so nervous and..."
"Go to the Sevens, Liliana." Jace's eyes scanned until he found it. "Third one from the floor, fifth from the right." She found the right row but the columns were giving her a run for her money. "Other way, other way!" Jace and Lili both heard the door creak and knew that she had to get out soon. She froze. "Liliana. Listen to my voice. Right. It's right under your foot. Grab it. I've unlocked the back. I'm waiting for you. We're her only hope. Go, Liliana. Listen to my voice. You are doing great."
Liliana grabbed the box and headed straight out the door where Jace waited.
"Oh my god, oh my god," she was having a bit of a panic attack.
"Focus. We've got to get to Sorin and get the hell out of dodge."
She grabbed the stilettos off of her feet, and ran like hell, Jace behind her.
Venser was waiting for them in the Tahoe. He began to rifle off names that meant nothing to Jace. There were too many.
"God damn it, where is Lia?!"
"Jace, chill, you kiss your mother with that mouth. Slow down on the GD, okay?"
Jace rolled his eyes at Sorin, just as they saw Josu and Lia arguing with the security guy.
"Sorin Markov, Homeland Security. They're with me. We'll be going now."
"BUT, WAIT," the security guard spluttered. Lia and Su climbed in.
"Lili. Are you okay? You look like you're going to be sick," Josu said, sliding between Jace and Liliana. Jace felt a stab of annoyance but swallowed it quickly.
"I'm fine, Josu. We have to focus at the task at hand."
"Kaalia," Jace said. "I need your full attention. Tell me what to cross reference. We have to get this down to one person."
"Middle age. Anyone with a background in medicine or biology, especially something that revolves around being technologically forward. Cross out anyone who makes six figures. They wouldn't risk it."
"Doll," Sorin said. Josu wanted to punch him for it and he had no idea why. "What could make them desperate enough to kill a child?"
"Losing a child," Liliana said before Kaalia could. "I would murder anyone who tried to take Toby from me."
Jace crossed the final criteria and it came up with one name.
"Cameron Page, Biology professor. His daughter was hospitalized for a Crohn's flare back in October of last year. She didn't make it out, which is exactly why I don't trust hospitals," Jace said "Contact Erebos and tell him not to respond to anyone or to go anywhere until we've got the situation handled."
Liliana picked up the phone and dialed the governor's number. She couldn't get him. Slightly puzzled, she tried his office. Jace looked over just as the expression of contentment on Liliana's face was replaced with one of sheer terror. She hung up the phone.
"Cameron Page promised a cure to Erebos and he's meeting him at the mall in five minutes," Liliana said, her voice shaky. They had to be at least ten minutes away.
"I sent the file from Cameron Page's IP address mapping out the disease already. The CDC has the cure manufacturing right now!"
"You hacked his computer without having it?" Liliana said, surprised and impressed. "With nothing but a name?"
"I am computer Jesus, Liliana." He did have a few IP addresses too, but he was able to do it through satellite.
"Confidence looks damn good on you, Beleren."
Yeah, well, everything looks damn good on you, Liliana Vess... he thought. He smiled despite the gargantuan task they had at hand. Sorin was flying through traffic, weaving in and out, trying to make it to the mall before Erebos had a chance to even get out of his car. They weren't so lucky, naturally.
"SPLIT UP," Sorin said.
"He's not going to be out in the open, so check back and side nooks and crannies," Lia shouted to the team. Lili's thought was that next time, she'd at least bring another pair of shoes. Jace couldn't see them, see anything, but what he did see didn't surprise him in the least. Josu tackled Cameron Page to the ground, just as he found Erebos. Su wrestled with him for a second and got the vial that had a sprayer on the end out of his hand. He had engineered a virus for Erebos, probably to kill on contact, Liliana thought. When Jace voiced that Liliana was right, according to the spray patterns, he thought that he probably should have said it earlier.
"Yankee Doodle damn you Son," Sorin said with a smile. Liliana could tell he'd said this to Jace before. "But all is well that ends well, Beleren. Don't forget again."
Sorin turned around and smiled at Kaalia. It was the first time he'd done so in a week, since Avacyn. Sorin knew he couldn't lose her too. He was sure of that.
"Are you coming to Rose's?"
Her heart was in her throat. For a couple of reasons. The first one was that her baby had never been around water, other than baths. She didn't know if he would like it, because it was so much sensation and it could overload him. The second reason was that her pasty white ass needed some sun, desperately. Toby was so excited. He couldn't wait.
"Mommy! Rose and Ace and Uncle Su and Lia are out there. I'll be fine!"
Jace's voice popped out from around the corner. "He's fine, Liliana," Jace said. "Go ahead and get dressed."
She sighed and allowed her son to go out. The purple-and-pearl bathing suit she had ordered last week fit her well. She just wished her hips weren't as bony as they were, and that she looked like she hadn't been inside for the past five years.
She put the towel around her and walked outside to see Toby happily splashing around with Jace and Josu. How Toby managed to click right in with them made her happier than anything ever could have. Kaalia and Sorin were sitting on the edge of the pool talking, Rose and Emmara were attempting to do the same thing Liliana was, catch some rays.
Rose looked around her house. It had been a long time since any of them had been this happy. Rose had sensed for a long time that something was missing from their team, but she knew that they had found it now. Liliana and Toby, she bound them. She's what they needed. She looked at her son. She knew that something would come of that, just like she knew that Kallist wouldn't come back, that Emmara had had her father's plight. She could just feel it. And for the first time, the feeling made her happy, rather than sick.
Jace looked at Liliana as she walked out from the house. Her long black hair was falling haphazardly around her shoulders, her cream skin glistened in the sun. You could tell by the way she was walking that she was self-conscious, but Jace didn't want to take his eyes off of her. He heard his mother clear her throat and he looked, which which what she was getting at. He'd apparently been staring. Emmara sniggered under her breath.
Liliana sat with her feet in the water and chanced her first glance at Jace. He wasn't exactly ripped, but he wasn't skinny. What got Liliana were the tattoos. Jace had two half sleeves and a partial piece done on his back. She couldn't see what they were, but they took her by surprise. They set her on fire more than she'd like to admit. She had a strange urge to go trace them, but she knew she couldn't. She'd sort out her feelings later, this day wasn't about that.
"Mommmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyy!" Toby yelled "C'mere!"
And Liliana Vess had done just that.
Liliana, Jace and Toby were driving back toward the warehouse to get a few things that Jace needed when her phone buzzed. It was a strange number, so she didn't pick it up. She was enjoying her conversation about why Percy Jackson and the Olympians wasn't an accurate depiction of Greece. So much so, that she didn't tie it back to Xenagos. Lia and Su were slightly behind them, Liliana, Jace and Toby had left first, but it was only by a couple of minutes.
"C-can I ask you a question, Lili?"
"Sure. Shoot." Why did she have this odd leaping feeling in her belly?
"Can I-um, t-take you and Toby to a movie?" Phew, Jace thought. At least I got it out without the verbal vomit.
"Whatcha think, Tobias? I think that sounds great." But Lili didn't get a response. Toby was in the back. In his carseat, dead asleep.
"It's a date," Liliana smiled.
"I, um, it is?" Jace spluttered out. Liliana just kept smiling serenely.
They made their way into the garage, just as Lia and Su jump. They had left Toby in the car with the AC running, this was going to be a short trip, or so they thought. They all heard the knock on the door, but Liliana was the closest. It was probably a good thing.
Because Ral Zarek was standing there, basking in the porch light, his arrogant smile still the same.
Chapter 8: Say My Name
Liliana breathed in a sharp breath. This was the last thing that she wanted, but more importantly, Ral was the last thing that Tobias needed. They'd finally found a home and where they both fit in. Ral was part of past that Lili couldn't connect to anymore. She just stood in the awkward lighting of the front porch of the garage with her arms crossed. But you don't know if Ral is Toby's father or not, her mind said. She tried to shake the thought. Toby had her and a male role model in Josu. And Jace, her overactive brain told her. She sighed at herself.
"She's got a name," Jace said, and Liliana glanced over her shoulder at her friend. He wasn't smiling or laughing like she expected him to be. Jace's jaw was clenched and it did strange things to her.
"Yeah, I know, Einstein" Ral said, nothing but contempt in his voice.
"Einstein's IQ, that stands for Intelligence Quotient, in case you didn't know, was 160. Mine's 197."
"Are you some sort of genius, then?" Ral spat at Jace.
"Genius. Prodigy. Computer god, and Liliana's boss. Is there a reason you're here, at my company? Because I don't really like it when people speak to my friends the way you just did."
"You sound like a lot more than her friend, buddy."
"And what's it to you if I am?"
Liliana's heart jumped into her throat. This Jace seemed a 180 degree jump from the one that she had met just a few days ago. Her body was getting warm all over, a feeling she hadn't felt it such a long time. She bit into her lip and shut her eyes.
"I know that face," Ral spit. "Are you shitting me?"
"Don't you dare curse at her," Jace started, but right as he did, the deafening roar of Josu's motorcycle came to a stop behind them. The sound caused Toby to jump and wake up.
"Mommy? Ace? Su?" Toby said, very obviously scared.
Both Liliana and Jace moved to get Tobias out of the back seat of this car. He was already unbuckled and moving as Jace touched Liliana's arm, saying that he'd get him. Jace wanted this prick to know that he had a relationship with Toby.
"You have a kid with this little nerd? You sure forgot about where you came from after that guy let you go. I mean, I always knew you'd run straight back to Josu, but I thought you'd at least spare-" Ral sounded disgusted. But he couldn't get out another word as Josu grabbed his collar.
"Take Toby inside, Jace. This is about to be handled," Josu snarled. Kaalia touched his arm, trying to calm him. "Lia, this is older than we are. I'll explain." Kaalia just nodded.
Liliana had had enough. She looked at her brother and Ral and said, in Spanish, that they both needed to calm down. Toby rubbed his eyes and buried his head in Jace's shoulder. Liliana reached out to him and he came, but he whispered in Jace's ear first. The color drained from Jace's face and his jaw clenched even tighter.
"You don't know what he did when you left, Liliana. What he thought was okay," Josu growled.
"Shut up, Su, you're acting like the overactive drama king you are," Ral said.
"Get stuffed, pretty boy," Kaalia said, not caring who heard her. "She's barely been back a week and he's protecting her from the likes of you. And don't call him Su."
"Awh, you finally got off Karen's jock long enough to hook someone?"
"Leave Karen out of this, Ral," Liliana said. Jace didn't know who Karen was, but Liliana only got this defensive about people she really cared about.
"Look, sweetheart-" Ral started. Jace's eyes glowed a brilliant shade of green in that moment. There was a monster in his chest that took over every part of his mind. Jace didn't have emotions. He'd never felt like this before. It's like his whole body was on fire and it wasn't in the good way.
"I am not your sweetheart," Liliana said in a mixture of Spanish and English. She then switched over to her native language. "If you had wanted to be with me, you would have been with Josu when I got back. The only reason that I am entertaining your presence is that you could be my son's father. I was expecting you to be here and you weren't , Ral. You're nothing but a dead promise."
Tobias translated for Kaalia and Jace. Jace couldn't help but smirk at the last part, but then the smile slid off his face. If he was Tobias' father- then that meant that everything he had been thinking of over the past few days was for naught. Kaalia looked at Jace and then squeezed his hand reassuringly.
"I might be your son's father? Are you aware of how that makes you sound?"
"Raphael Alejandro," Liliana started, but then she stopped. She hugged Toby close to her and walked into the garage.
"I know you didn't call my sister a whore," Josu said, angrily. "You know what happened to her, Ral! How dare you," Josu said.
"Yeah. How do we even know that? I don't. Because she runs off with some geek as soon as she's back-" Ral turned to Jace. "You best hope that boy's not mine. Because if he is, you won't see either of them," He shot an evil glare at Josu. "Neither of you will."
"He has a name too. It's Tobias," Jace growled. "You won't take her son from her," Jace snarled. "Not if any of us can help it. I don't give a damn if you're his dad or not. She raised that boy on her own. And he's not yours to take away. Because even if you created him, Lili, she made Toby."
"Damn son, if you were sucking up any more, your head would be between her legs," Ral said, a fresh wave of contempt washing over him. "This has nothing to do with you, Besides, you know nothing about Liliana."
"I do," Josu said, "And you have no place here. And I've seen my sister smile more in the past two weeks than in the entire two years you dated."
Jace didn't believe that, he was sure that his best friend was padding his feelings while still taking a jab at Ral. However, he couldn't help but think that if it might be true, the feelings that he pushed back might not all be unrequited.
"I didn't need to make her smile when I could make her moan instead," Ral spat at Su. Su had had enough. He picked Ral up by the collar and threw him bodily across the pavement.
"She is more than a piece of ass," Josu said. "She's a sister and she's a friend and she's a damn good mom. So until you can learn how to speak to her with respect, you can leave."
"Or I'll call the police," Jace said. "And have you removed from my company."
"You haven't seen the last of me, Vess," Ral said. "I'll find out if that boy is mine," he started, but Jace cut him off.
"Either call him Toby or don't refer to him at all," Jace said. With that, he turned around and walked into the garage, Josu in his wake.
"Ral and I have some things to solve," Liliana said when they walked in. "But I'm not ready to deal with that right now, Osu. Thank you, and thank you too, Jace. You didn't have to do that."
"You're my friend, Liliana. You're part of our cyclone now," Jace said.
"Cyclone?" Liliana inquired.
"Way back when I first started this, I was looking for names. I was listening to Rock You Like a Hurricane, and we decided that we wanted to be called Scorpion. A group of scorpions is called a cyclone. They are fiercely loyal to their group And that's what we are. Together, we are Scorpion. We're a cyclone."
Josu drummed his fingers on the desk, waiting on Karen to pick up. Due to everything that had been happening, their biweekly Skype call had been postponed. Twice. Karen was supposed to meet Kaalia today. Karen was the only person he'd out and out told about his feelings for the redhead, and she had been begging to meet her for months. Josu was scared that Kaalia and Karen wouldn't get along, so he generally kept his mouth shut.
Karen and Su had been down that road, trying to date. It didn't work out. Their relationship was too reminiscent of his relationship with Liliana. They thought because they had so much in common that they would be a good fit for one another. It was actually the opposite. They loved each other fiercely as friends, but when they tried to be more, painfully awkward was an understatement. Josu texted Karen every day, they were still best friends. Karen had been the only person that stayed with Josu through all of Liliana's disappearance. When they had found out what had happened and who was at fault, Josu told Karen to run. To get herself out of the city, because he knew that they were coming for her, and that they'd use him to track her. Josu couldn't have that on his conscience. If he had just been there, he could have stopped it. Lili would have never been through what she had.
Karen was nervous for a couple of reasons. The first was that ever since she'd moved down South, back to where she was from, she had never went this long without talking to Su. He still texted her daily, and that was the only reason that she hadn't called the police and headed back toward DC. However, she could tell that something was going on. He never went this long without talking to her. It could be something with that girl he liked, she thought. She couldn't bear to think that something had happened to Lili. That was something that Su would keep from her, because he had no idea how to cope with it. He had a hard time talking, even to her and Lili. She couldn't get in touch with Jace, either, but that was not atypical, he could barely keep his head on straight and remember to tell Josu he'd be late. The second reason, was not nearly as serious. She was just nervous that Josu and her boyfriend, Will, wouldn't get along.
She'd only been seeing him for a few months, but she knew that he was the one. In fact, he'd moved in with her last week. Her father and brother approved of him, even if they acted otherwise. Josu was the last person whose "approval" she needed before they could be serious. She knew he was going to be in her life regardless of what Josu thought, but she wanted them to like each other. It was important to her.
Karen missed Liliana every single day. They had grown up like sisters, their mothers had been life long friends. Their fathers owned one of the biggest chain restaurants in the country. They had built the Grits and Groceries franchise from the ground up. Her father still met with Josu. He always made sure that he was taken care of and he had a share of what his father had built. He had lost a daughter, just like Josu and Liliana's parents, Nicolai and Lucille. It had been hard on him. Karen still called Giovanni nightly, because he was so terrified that somehow, the two men that were responsible for Liliana's disappearance, and murder- because Giovanni, like most, didn't believe that Liliana was still alive, that she could endure five years of torment, could still some how hurt Karen, even though she was far away, just having completed law school at Brown University.
So when she received a FaceTime call from Josu, relief showered over her. Will looked nervous sitting there, like he was when he met Silver and her father. She patted his leg reassuringly, which she was sure she'd have to keep doing once Will saw her best friend. Su was not the sweetest-looking person, though his personality made him exactly that.
"What if he doesn't like me? What if something is wrong, like you said it might be? "His eyes were darting all over, like they did when he got nervous.
She'd noticed, in the three short months that they'd been together, that Will was prone to worrying. He couldn't help it. Like Josu, Will was enabled. He could create and spin worlds like no other. Will was published at age fourteen, because his overactive mind couldn't stop writing. He had hypergraphia, which is the innate desire to keep writing. Because of this, he was a highly sought after transcriber. But because his IQ was so high, they couldn't keep him busy enough. He got bored and wrote for leisure, and he had zero people skills. Therefore, he had problems keeping a job. Will had been the professor of a creative writing class Karen had took for her final elective credit. When they had fallen in love, he handed in his resignation and was now on the hunt for a new job as a publicist.
Karen had come to his office one night, clutching a piece that she and Liliana had worked on. She was nervous because no one had seen it; he read it and said that it should be expanded on. When Karen explained it wasn't hers alone, Will had asked about who the coauthor was, and she had unloaded upon him.
Karen didn't know that Will had known Grimsley. But he did, and he vowed right then and there to keep her safe. He had no idea how to keep a girl interested, but he requested a second meeting with her.
When she showed up at his office, he decided to distract her with pieces if his own writing. It worked. She had fallen in love with the way he wove the worlds he did, and they hit it off, just two weeks into the semester.
From that point on, Karen Voss never missed a single office hour. It was the first time she had felt safe since she'd left Josu in DC.
What she didn't know is that Will Sullivan only made the target on her back much larger.
And he couldn't bring himself to tell her.
Kaalia was nervous. She had met Josu's mother, but she was so far gone that it was like they hadn't met at all. She and Liliana had fallen into an easy relationship as well, so why was this so nerve racking to her? Was it because Josu had been in too much pain to talk about Liliana, but he could talk about Karen because she was safe and well? He had always talked about her. Kaalia wasn't jealous per say, it was obvious that they had been nothing more than what Jace and Lia had been. Pushed together by their parents, only to find other people. Lia had never told anyone about Kallist. The only one that knew was Jace. The only one who knew the real reason why she had went so long without speaking to her father, why she had dodged her feelings, and Josu's, for that matter, for the past two years.
Jace couldn't help but smile at Liliana's excitement. She deserved for something to be the same as it used to be, and he hoped that this was it. Every single time he thought about how soft her cheek had been in his hand, he would blush and try to push the desire to kiss her into the back of his mind.
Jace didn't feel like this. As a matter of fact, Jace's first kiss had been Kaalia, and he just did not engage. It was awkward and slimy and he didn't like it at all. But every time he looked at Liliana, he wanted to know how soft her lips would feel against his, if her mouth tasted like the strawberry candy she was obsessed with. She distracted him. His thoughts had never been disjointed, but now they were errant at best, because of the space that Liliana and her little boy had taken up in his mind. He wanted nothing more than to be the source of her smile.
Seeing him, Ral or whatever he was called, come in and try to lead his Liliana away from him… Jace stopped the thought in its tracks. Liliana wasn't his, regardless of what Jace wanted. But seeing Ral try to take her, threaten to take her, made Jace angry. But what made Jace the most angry was the disrespect that he had for her, and the fact that he threw away the truth, and he completely minimalized that Liliana had raised this amazing boy with no help from anyone. She didn't deny his genius, which was something that normals tried to do, but she fostered it and tried to connect with Toby on every single level.
"No reference intended, but what's up, Doc? You've got an awful big smile over there," Liliana said as the Skype call was dialing.
"Nothing, just thinking about the past few weeks. You're such a good Mom," Jace said to her. The grin that crossed Lili's lips was so beautiful, at least to Jace. Before she could say anything, Josu shushed them and patted the seat beside him, so Lia could come sit down.
Karen had an entire diatribe she was going to use to verbally abuse Josu, because he needed to know this- this eerie silence, was not okay, given everything they'd been through with Grimsley and Xenagos- she called them the Greek Freaks in her mind. Even though he was texting, who's to say that they hadn't forced him to send those texts, because they had been intermittent at best. He better have a damn good reason, she thought to herself. She couldn't deal with losing him, too.
Relief washed over Karen when she saw Josu's fair, Spainard features color the screen of her MacBook. If she had been in DC, she would have hugged him, and then slapped him, and then hugged him again. Her brother bear was fine.
"Hey, babycakes. What's up, buttercup?" Jace didn't really raise his head. This is how they always were. Kaalia's eyes, however, got huge, and even though Josu was oblivious to it, Will's hand clenched into a fist.
"Not much, how are you holding up, big sexy?"
Liliana thought that the look on Kaalia's face was priceless. She wanted to laugh, but she couldn't give herself away. However, she couldn't hold it in. She did her trademark giggle-snort-giggle. Karen had heard. She knew her ears were playing tricks on her, though.
"So no offence, William, but I think we should save our introductions," Josu said.
Karen was taken aback. She knew this would be hard for Josu, for both of them, really, but it couldn't be postponed much longer. It was important to her.
"What? Why, Su-Su?" Karen said.
That nickname made Kaalia want to vomit where she stood. Lia had already decided that she couldn't get along with this girl.
Will's eyes were the size of saucers, too. She had told him about how they were beforehand, but it didn't mean he liked it. At least the gentleman wasn't going in blind, like Kaalia was.
"Because you're going to be coming for a visit, soon."
"Yeah?" she swallowed. "Who died?"
"No one," Josu said, a huge grin on his face.
Josu turned his computer around and let Karen see his sister for the first time in five years.
The way they started to jabber warmed both Josu and Will's hearts.
It was like she never left.
Josu was right that his introduction to Will would be made in person. Karen had called Giovanni and Giovanni had set up a plane for all of them to come see Liliana and Toby.
Karen was Toby's godmother. She just didn't know it yet. She had fallen in love with Tobias just like everyone did, with nothing more than a smile and a "hi." Toby had no interest in Skype, he wanted to science with Jace. Karen saw the way that Liliana looked at her brother's best friend. She knew. Even if they didn't, yet.
Kaalia tried to be happy that they were coming, but things had finally been set into some form of order, and now it would be messed up again. It drove her completely bonkers. She tried to be happy, but she was mostly jealous. That was her Su. She didn't mind sharing him with Lili, but this other girl, this girl who had kissed him was completely different story. She didn't understand. She'd never been like this before, with anyone, even Kallist. She was never possessive. Sighing, she tried to set her mind to the task at hand. They had been given files for their next case, one at an art museum, and were told to be reading up on them before they started the new case next week.
Maybe she'd go Skype her dad, Kaalia thought. She really didn't want to, though. Text was fine for now. She just slung her feet over Josu's knees and continued to read. He held onto her ankle, and in that moment, that other bitch didn't matter. She knew Josu was hers.
They'd agreed to do this whilst Tobias was taking his nap. She didn't want to do it in front of anyone, so they'd retired to Jace's room with a shut door. As he was reading to her, she started to tune out and listen to the melodic cadence of his voice.
"Hey, Lili- Liliiiiii-LiliPad!"
The last word had snapped her out of her reverie. She had been listening, but more to the rhythmic sound of his voice.
Jace smiled. "Yeah," he said.
"I love it," Liliana said. "But what did you need?"
"Just wanted to make sure I hadn't lost you. You looked like you had phased out on me."
"No, I just like the sound of your voice. It's almost musical. You're a beautiful reader. And I wish I had that talent."
"You have your own talents," Jace said.
"Like what?" Liliana scoffed at Jace. She wasn't talented.
"You can cook like a mad woman, you're great with people, you're funny, and I don't even get humor." Jace ticked off on his fingers. "I heard you sing to Toby the other day, which brings me to two things. Firstly, when you sing, you made time stand still. It's so beautiful that nightmares don't stand a chance," Jace said. "But you are the best mother I have ever witnessed.. And that's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. If I'm ever one quarter of the parent you are, then my child will be so very, very lucky."
Liliana dropped the file she was holding onto. He was right for her and she knew it. She cupped his face as he had done to her, slowly running her thumb across his cheekbone. She tilted her head slightly as they both leaned in. Was this really going to happen? Jace's mind was going crazy. Her lips, her smell, it was too much. Her nose brushed his and just as their lips were about to meet, the door crashed open.
"Josu! Back up! They were about to kiss!" Emmara's overjoyed, triumphant voice rang out.
Shit, Jace thought to himself. Liliana also thought a very unkind expletive.
"Mommy," Toby said, "I had a bad dream."
Chapter 9: Baggage Claim
Liliana had tossed and turned almost all night. She'd woke up with a cough and woke Toby up, it was an ordeal trying to get him back to sleep. When she woke up in her second coughing fit, Tobias was irked enough to go sleep with his uncle, leaving Liliana freezing; her whole body was cold. She didn't have time for this.
Stress was making her sick. Ral had been up her ass about Toby, wanting to see him, claiming that he was his father. Liliana had obliged, much to Jace's, Josu's, and her own chagrin. She didn't enjoy his company anymore. The years had not been kind to his already self-absorbed personality. He couldn't engage Tobias at all, he was too worried about trying to get into Liliana's pants. It had been almost two months since she arrived at Scorpion's headquarters, barely enough time for her to get adjusted. Then, Ral had come onto the scene and Liliana was just so over him.
They had went to the park, and he had sent Toby over to the swingset and when Liliana made to follow, Ral grabbed her arm.
"I am going over here with my son," Liliana snapped at him.
"Our son," Ral said.
"My Son,"" she said. Even if he was Toby's father, she had raised him. Alone.
"Why do you need to even be over there, we can see him, Liliana?"
Liliana had given Ral a look of utmost disgust, and walked over to her child. Ral swaggered over, and tried to push him on the swing, and Toby had had a meltdown.
"Don't touch me!" he had screeched. She had seen Toby get like this with Xenagos, it meant that he was uncomfortable with the person. He hadn't been like that with Jace or Josu because they made him feel at ease.
"What's his problem?" Ral said. He knew the kid had issues. He had to put up with the kid if he wanted Liliana back though, so he tried to smile.
It came off as an arrogant smirk. Liliana just rolled her eyes.
"He has no emotional quotient and he doesn't know you, you don't make him feel at ease. You scared him when you yelled at me the other night."
"Oh, so this is my new judge and jury when it comes to you?"
"Yes," Liliana had said. "He is."
Liliana's whole body was quivering. She was freezing, her back was aching, her throat hurt, she was sure she was getting the flu. She went into the kitchen to brew some tea. Jace was sitting at the kitchen table, playing League of Legends. Liliana put the kettle on, letting her water boil.
"Hey, Lilipad. What's up?"
She coughed and sniffled before sitting across from Jace. He wanted to pat her back, but he knew that she had been stressed and he didn't know how she would react to his touch.
Jace didn't know where all of these feelings had come from all of a sudden, but he knew that they were the strongest emotions he had felt since Kallist died. Every time Liliana walked into the room, it was like a magnet pulled him to her. Her laugh was the most beautiful thing Jace had ever heard.
"Nothing, Jace. I think I just have a cold."
"You don't sound great. No offense."
Jace closed his laptop and walked over to the kettle. Lili put her head down and willed the headache to go away, Ral was coming again today. I'd really have a migraine, then, she thought.
Liliana's body was still shaking from the chills. Jace couldn't watch any longer.. He walked behind her and slowly ran his hands up and down her bare arms, creating friction. She's so soft, he thought. Lili should have been fighting the primal need that was rising in her- but it wasn't arousal. It was a need to needed, the need to be held by someone who your body and mind craved. She couldn't help but relax into Jace's grasp.
"Any better?" he asked her, though he had felt her relax.
"So much," she said.
Lili tried to infuse the feelings that Jace had shaken awake inside her into those two words. Her cheeks grew the palest pink though, and she hoped he wouldn't notice. He did, though.
He didn't want to admit how that blush made him feel, and he blushed, too, when he realized that she was enjoying him touching her.
Liliana Vess needed Jace Beleren in that moment. Her desires were selfish, she knew, but it had been so long since she'd felt that at ease.
Since Silver, really. She wouldn't admit it, but he had been the last interest that she had had that made her feel human. But it was nothing like that now.
Jace, he lit a fire inside of her that she'd never felt, she wanted to know him, underneath his 197 IQ, underneath the hacker. She was sure of how he made her feel, she just wasn't sure that he'd return them.
Jace remembered his childhood shrink that his teachers had said he needed, he remembered being ten years old and this woman telling him that he had no emotional quotient, that he couldn't form relationships, that he wouldn't be able to feel love. But Jace Beleren knew that he'd never felt like this, and he'd never feel like this again. He also knew that it wasn't just her that he felt a love, a need to protect, a possessiveness for. Tobias was his as far as he was concerned. It scared him, and for the first time, he had no idea how to stop it.
"Jace, can I ask you a favor?" Liliana's voice startled Jace out of his reverie.
"Of course, you know that."
"Just- Never mind. Don't worry about it."
"Liliana. What do you need? I don't mind watching Toby while you sleep. You look like you feel like shit, you're obviously sick."
"No, no. It isn't that…" she trailed off.
"I'm just going to bug you until you tell me."
Liliana looked up at Jace, his eyes earnest, he really did want to help her, whatever it was.
"It's a little forward, honestly."
"I don't have people skills. I appreciate being forward," Jace said, standing his ground.
"It's just, I'm aching to be held, and-and- I know you don't get attached to people, but I just, I need, it would be weird to ask Josu, and it's not his arms that I want anyways," she said, all in one breath.
"I'm already attached to you. Come on."
Jace felt like he was going to throw up, honestly. He didn't know if he could mess this up, but he was sure that he could, somehow.
Jace took off his shirt and put it beside Liliana's bed, but not before turning to ask where Toby was.
"My coughing was keeping him up, and he went to sleep with Su," Liliana said. "That's why I asked."
Like the first time she had seen him shirtless that day at the pool. Holy Eternities, she thought. She wanted to touch them, trace their patterns. He was just, he was so…
She's staring, holy shit. Jace wasn't about to call attention to it, either. He loved it. She sat down on her bed and he hit the lights, much to Lili's dismay.
"I… Lili. I don't know how to do this, to touch a woman anyways, but I don't want to trigger you…"
Jace could feel his face growing red, thankful she couldn't see it. She put her head right on his heart, listening to the steady beating. She wrapped her tiny, cold hands around his torso, and brought his hands down to her hips, letting his fingers intertwine at the small of her back. She was still cold and shaky, so Jace drew the blanket over them,
"Thank you, so much," she said. "Not just for this, but for what you've done for my baby in the past eight weeks, he loves you so much, Jace. He wants to be just like you."
"I love him, Liliana. I want to shield him from everything we've all been through. He's the most perfect child I've ever met. He's so kind and he absorbs knowledge like a sponge. You have done an amazing job. I'm glad to be there for him, to be his mentor. Because he's just like me," Jace said. "Is that odd for me to say?"
"It's true, I just wish Ral would leave him alone, leave us alone. I've done fine with him for four years and I just, Ral could be destructive for Tobias. And me. I thought that I was in love, and I gave him something I can't give back, something that I wish I still had.
"Virginity is a social construct, really, if that's what you're talking about. Can I put my hand on your head?"
"I don't really care where you put your hands, as long as you would put them there in front of Toby," Liliana said, coughing.
Jace kept one hand on the small of her back and cradled her head with the other one. Her eyes began to droop, as Jace rubbed her hair. He felt her lips on his collarbone as she drifted off to sleep. Jace followed her soon after.
He awoke to her sweaty, shaky form. She was whimpering in her sleep, very obviously having a bad dream. He didn't want to shake her awake, it had only been about thirty minutes. He did however, text Josu as to their location and Josu said that he would get breakfast with his nephew and Lia before they went to go pick up Karen, and Will from the airport.
Unknowingly, Liliana murmured Jace's name in her sleep, and he thought that was hearing things, but the second time, it was unmistakable. Her arms were reaching out and he curled himself back into them. A smile ghosted across her lips, as he allowed the clutches of sleep to overtake him once more.
When he awoke again, her black hair was strewn across his chest. It had been nearly three hours, but he didn't want to move. She needed to rest, especially if they were going to start their new case on Wednesday.
A few minutes later, as Jace was reading articles on his Kindle, Liliana's body shook against his. She was thrashing, the bad dream from earlier had made a comeback, obviously. He could go see if Josu was here, but he didn't want to. He wanted to take care of her himself. He very gently tried to shake her from her slumber, and as he did so, her arms flew around him.
"You're okay, Toby is okay, we're all okay. You're dreaming. You're here with me, remember?"
Liliana rolled over so that she was facing Jace, as he stroked her sweaty, matted hair. Jace leaned in so that their foreheads were touching, and that electric feeling started again. Liliana wanted to show him how she felt, how he made her feel. For once, she was in control of her own destiny.
Just do it, he thought. But he wasn't sure. He was still so insecure in himself, that it was a relief when their lips met. Jace didn't know what to do, where to put his hands, She tastes like she smells. Her lips are so soft, he thought, and as they began to move in tandem, Jace didn't think that anything could be more perfect than this.
She touched his pectorals as they kissed, scooting closer to him. It had been so long since she'd felt like this, since she had been kissed with care. When Xenagos had kissed her, she fought against it at first, but then learned that she'd better kiss back, and it better be believable. This was different, though. It was effortless. She could kiss him and kiss him and never get tired of it.
She didn't have to fear what would happen to Toby if she didn't. It had been so long since she'd kissed a man that she wanted to kiss, a man that stirred up feelings inside of her.
He put his hand on the side of her face, never wanting this to stop. She was so into this, Jace thought. When he kissed Lia that one time, because that's what teens did, it had felt forced. This felt as natural as quadratics did to him.
He let his hand trace over her back, denying the overwhelming want to touch her backside. She moaned into their kiss, and Jace, thinking that he had done something wrong, pulled back
"Don't stop," she said. "Please, I haven't felt like this in so long," she finished.
He let his lips meld back into Liliana's, as they kissed, she hooked one leg over his and he clutched her closer, but she groaned and rolled over.
"Did I do something wrong?" he said, worried.
"Everything but," she said. "That was amazing."
"Where does this leave us?"
"Jace, I, I like you, but I'm not about to saddle you with all of my baggage."
He rolled over to face her and put his head to hers.
"Just know that it doesn't matter to me. I, I want this. This is me saying it. But please don't rush if you're not ready. Take all the time you need."
It was all Liliana could do not to kiss him.
Toby was excited that he was spending time with his uncle and then headed over to Rose's to work on his derby car. He poured syrup on his waffle.
Lia thought she was hearing things. She turned toward Tobias and he was smiling.
"Can you help me cut this?"
"Yes, sir I can."
"I love your hair," Tobias said as he ran his fingers through the bright red locks. "You're pretty like mommy," Toby said as Lia blushed.
"I think you are the most handsome boy in the world, Tobias. Are you excited to meet your godmother?"
"Yes, Mommy has showed me her picture, and I am just so glad that Mommy isn't alone anymore. She likes Ace and he makes her smile. And so do you and Uncle Su. I like to science and read with you guys. I think hanging out with you guys is so much fun. You never make Mommy feel like he did. He was never very nice to my mommy. And he said that I looked like you, Uncle Su."
Kaalia could tell that Toby's innocent words were getting to Su. She did what she had saw Lili do to Jace, reaching across the table and smoothing out his knuckles. Josu was grateful for her touch. He wished more than anything he could get his hands on the man-men- that had done this to her. He loved his nephew, more than words could say. But his sister didn't deserve what happened to her.
"I hope she likes me," Lia said, fiddling with her hashbrowns.
"She will,"Josu grunted, his mouth full. It was important to him that they got along. Lia and Karen would like each other, though. They had so much in common.
"Can I come sit on your lap?"
"Of course, buddy. Is everything okay?"
"I just wanted to talk to you and Aunt Lia about the boy who says he's my daddy. I don't like him. He grabbed Mommy's arm the other day and it scared me. It didn't make me feel good like you and Aunt Lia and Uncle V and Ace do. I was scared he was going to hit Mommy like the other boy used to," Toby said, putting his head on his uncle's shoulder.
"You and Mommy are safe from him. I'll talk to Mommy about it. And you can tell Ral that if he puts his hands on your or your mommy again, your Uncle Su said that his head would roll," Josu finished, as calmly as he possibly could.
Lia gave Josu a look but Toby just nodded. He went over to his seat to finish his waffle. He kissed Kaalia on the cheek as he ate his breakfast. Josu wrapped his foot around Kaalia's, and she couldn't help but think that this might be them, with their own child one day.
For the first time in a very long time, Kaalia hoped.
Karen was so excited. She'd been heartbroken to learn that Liliana wasn't going to be able to make it because she was sick. She dropped her purse, her bags, everything when she saw Josu. It had been too long since she'd seen him, and even longer since she'd seen him this well. Her arms flew around his neck, he kissed her on the cheek and hugged her fiercely, Will felt a distinct pang inside him, one of jealousy, but he'd known to expect this. He'd seen the pictures of him, Liliana, Silver and her. He didn't like to look at them, and he hoped Karen couldn't tell, but he felt like he had failed the raven-haired girl and her son, and then he went and fell in love with the little boy's godmother. He had yet to think of how he was going to explain Tobias knowing him to Karen- and he was shaking in his boots of what he thought Josu was going to do to him. He couldn't blame him, but he wasn't about to give up the only girl who understood him, who got him, who saw him for who he was- and by some miracle, she liked what she saw. He'd just have to plead his case with Josu, and probably Silver and Giovanni, too.
Kaalia was sulking. At least in her own mind, she was. She didn't want anyone who wasn't her- or Lili- to hug him like that. Especially one that he'd tried to be in a relationship with. She ached for him, his closeness, but she didn't know how to ask for it. She looked at the features of Karen's boyfriend, Will, and saw the same emotions that she was having on his visage. Good, she thought. Maybe he'd call her off.
It made as much sense for Kaalia to be jealous of Karen as it did for Josu to be jealous of Jace, because that's how he felt about her. They were family and they had been their whole lives,
She was slightly reassured when Josu touched the small of her back as they were walking out. She knew that Josu was working up the nerve to ask her out, but she wasn't going to jump the gun and do it herself. She'd waited this long for him and it wouldn't kill her to wait a bit longer.
Or at least she hoped it wouldn't.
When they got to the apartment, an unwelcome surprise was standing at the door.
"Liliana!" Ral was shouting. "I know you're in there."
"Maybe she doesn't want to see you, prick." Karen said, How dare he show up here, after what he did after she went missing, she thought to herself.
"Oh if the bitch isn't back in town," Ral said "Still too stuck up to give anyone who isn't Josu a chance?"
"Fuck off, Ral," Karen started.
"He's stalking Lili, now,"Josu said. "He's disgusting."
"I am trying to see my kid!"
"You are trying to get into my sister's pants, and you think Toby's going to help you get there. Newsflash, cholo. He doesn't like you!"
"Because Liliana forces him to like the-" But Josu's shoulder comes into contact with Ral's chin before he can finish the sentence.
Josu pushed him out of the way and unlocked the door
"Where is he?" Ral said, but Josu knew that Ral wasn't looking for Toby. He was looking for Lili, because she was usually sitting on the couch with Jace, or in the kitchen. That's where his eyes went, not to the floor where Toby played or to the table where he sat so that he could "science."
"He's at Jace's mom's house," Josu spit. "Get out, Raphael. Before I remove you."
"Liliana Paige!" Ral shouted. "Why, is he over there, I don't-"
Liliana flew out of her room. Her hair was a matted mess, her shirt was still pulled up from their kiss, and she could barely breathe over the amount of snot in her nose, but she found a way to yell at Ral.
"YOU DON'T GET TO TELL ME HOW TO RAISE MY CHILD! IT ISN'T UP TO YOU WHERE HE GOES OR DOESN'T GO! HE IS MINE, DO YOU HEAR ME, RAPHAEL?!"
Jace walked out from Liliana's room, after having a fierce internal debate about his shirt, he decided to leave it off, so that it would look like they had been doing more than they were. As it was, this was not Jace's most brilliant idea.
"You will put out for anyone who gives you a second look, won't you?"
Jace got nose to nose with Ral. He wasn't about to let her be disrespected.
"You're not his dad." Ral said.
"And neither are you."
Liliana's heart stopped in her chest as Jace rammed his shoulder into Ral's. Since when does Jace get physical? Liliana thought. She was suddenly so thankful for this man who felt it was necessary to defend her honor. She just barely brushed his hand, but she knew he felt it. He breathed in a sharp breath in response.
"You think just because you're fucking her this week that she's yours? Tell me this, Einstein, do you know who Silver is? Because when he comes back, and he will, you'll be old news." Ral seethed at Jace, and as the latter went to speak, he was cut off by Liliana.
"Ral, shut up, Silver and I were over a long time ago, before we even started dating, he was dating someone and I was dating you! He's long since moved on! I see Silver more like a brother than anything! I'm interested in someone else and you are the only factor that continues to muck up my life-" She spat at him.
"I'm the best thing that's ever happened to you! You think that a guy like me would ever give you the time of day when you went and fucked some other guy for five years?"
"Yes, Ral. That's what we will call the my repeated rape and the mental and physical abuse of my child and myself. Me just having a grand old time fucking someone else," Liliana spat at him. "You obviously think I'm some kind of whore, so why are you here?"
"If you had been with me, like you were supposed to be, it never would have happened!"
Ral rolled his eyes and grabbed Lili's arm.
"You don't own me, Raphael!"
She turned on her heel and Jace heard a sob wrack her body, and he had no idea what to do. He hated seeing her cry, he hated it more than anything in the whole wide world. He thought about their kiss earlier- she said that she hadn't felt like that in so long, and he'd never felt like that. Maybe he could help her- maybe not by kissing her but he'd be damned if he didn't try.
Liliana spun on her heel and walked into her room, slamming the door. She wished Tobias wasn't at Rose's. She needed him right now. She looked down at the photograph of her and her jelly bean, one that Jace had snapped and then been thoughtful enough to have printed for her, because she didn't have any. She had told him that all of his baby pictures were there so he had thought to get one that printed for her. She couldn't get her life back, but she could make new memories. Emmara had always said that. SHe said that while she couldn't get back what her disease had taken from her, but she could make memories everyday.
Liliana ran her finger over the picture. She didn't know how someone as unintellegent as her and someone as cruel as Xenagos could make someone as smart, as kind, as beautiful as Tobias was.
There was a hard lump in her throat. She never wanted Toby to feel like she did right now. SHe wanted him to have autonomy. That was the only thing that Lili wanted. For once, she wanted to be able to make her own decisions. And the first one that she would make would be to kick Ral out of her son's life.
Ral spoke to Lili like she was damaged goods and she should be happy that someone, especially someone like him, in his self-absorbed mind, was giving her a chance. At sixteen, she would have taken him at his word, dropped her head and held his hand. But she had had enough. She wasn't going to let anyone- man or woman disrespect her anymore, especially in front of her son.
There was a sharp knock at the door, and Liliana quickly wiped away the tears that had fallen.
"Come in, Su," Lili sighed.
"It's me, Lilipad," another deep voice said from outside of the door. "You decent?"
Her heart leapt into her throat, but she creaked the door open for him, not bothering to wipe any more stray tears.
Josu had his eyes locked on Ral's. He was done with Raphael. He was done with the way he treated Liliana, treated Karen, and he wouldn't let him damage Toby.
"You are not welcome here. YOu've done nothing but disrupt her healing. Toby has more than enough support, so go back to your D-List celebrities you abandoned her for. YOu are not in this family, you are not part of this cyclone. You are not welcome here. She doesn't want your money, your fame, or you! She just wants to work and raise her son! She's not yours or anyone else's damaged goods!"
"She's not yours, Josu."
"She is my sister, my blood, not yours. She is part of this team, this family, and she doesn't need you. And I think you hate that. You hate that because when she left, the sun rose and set because you said it did. ANd then it burns you up that she looked for me first, and not you. And you thought that because she was upset with me when it happened that if she ever did get out, she would choose you. And you were dead wrong. She came home, to me. And I think that the only reason that you are here is because when she got back, you saw that she was happy here with me, with Lia, with Venser, and especially with Jace, because I won't lie. I see how happy just being with Jace makes her. And that eats at you. If she had run back to you, you wouldn't have given her the time of day. And it's because of that you are here. So I'm going to give you the chance to walk away. Get away from my Lili and stop trying to destroy Tobias, because no father would do that. They are not your damaged goods or your charity case, and you will not treat them as such.
Ral was rendered speechless. He spluttered on but Lia sniggered at him, which set him off.
"I don't care if you're a girl, I will fuck you up," He laughs.
"Try me," Josu said, a knife out of his belt without a second look. "Touch her, motherfucker, I dare you. And you think I'm going to let Lili be with someone like you? Fuck no. Fuck off, Raphael, before you leave in a body bag."
"Hey, don't cry. He obviously doesn't know shit about you, and you are so much more than what he makes you," Jace said to Lili, trying his best to soothe her. "Do you want me to put a shirt on?" Jace said, realizing that he still had it off.
"No. Just. I love your tattoos, I want to touch them, usually. I Know how geniuses are about being touched, though. Just, they're so intriguing."
"If I let you trace my tattoos, will you tell me what's up so I can help you? I won't let you flounder here, helpless."
"I just don't understand why men think they own me, own my body, and most importantly, that they own my boy. Because I don't even do that. He's his own person, and I just want to have autonomy," Liliana said through her tears. She ran her hand over the design of koi fish on on his back. He shivered a little. He was becoming addicted to touching her.
"Do.. Do I treat you that way?" Jace was scared. He didn't want to make Lili feel like some sort of lesser person because she was a woman, because she was a single mom, he wanted to make her feel like the person that everyone saw that she was. Because everyone on this team knew that Lili was what glued them together.
"No, absolutely not. Do you think I would have kissed you and begged you not to stop if I thought that? Because I wouldn't have. Ral, he just, before everything happened I thought that he was the only way to be happy. Because I didn't love myself. And now, I try to love myself the way I want Toby to love himself. I don't want him to grow up self-loathing because he saw that from his mom. He's already special, challenged, whatever. I just want to be a good mom to him, and if I'm that then my life will be okay," Liliana said.
"Liliana, you love that boy with all of your heart, but you have to take care of you, too. You need to get out there and take him head on, and if you need me to, I'll be there and so will Josu and Lia, and Venser. Because that man doesn't have the right to push you around. You are no one's possession, Liliana. You are far more than that. You're a huge asset to this team and you're a damn good mom and a great sister. You, you make me feel things I've never felt before. I don't know what they mean, or what I should do, but you just, you make me feel.
"Me too," Lili said. "You make me feel so much at one time. You set my body on fire when you kissed me, Jace," She cupped his face in her hand. Her hand smelled like lavender and freesia flowers.
"He's the only thing holding me back, because I'd like to try if you want to try, Jace," Liliana said, before looking down at the ground.
Lili should have expected this. She masked her chuckle and took Jace's hand in hers. He felt calm spread through him like he always did when she held his hand.
"My son loves you, my brother loves you, and you are the kindest man I've ever met, even if you say you have no emotional quotient. I was saying I'd like to try a relationship if.. If that's what you want. I just need him out of my baby's life."
And in that moment, Jace made his decision. He committed without a second look.
Karen knocked on Liliana's bedroom door with some trepidation. Though she had hoped beyond hope that this day would come, what was she going to say? I know I abandoned you and now I have a law degree and a life, while you're here just trying to get some breathing room?
Jace's voice answered. Karen wouldn't have her answer tonight. A new emotion rose up in her, Liliana had fallen asleep against this man's chest, a man that she had spoken to in passing but it had been nothing more than a hello, a wave here or there. Now, it wasn't her arms that Lili sought out like she used to. It wasn't even Josu's like anyone expected. When she was sick and needed somewhere to fall, she chose this man that she had known for little more than a few weeks? It didn't even happen to her, and for months, Karen was scared of men that weren't Su or Silver. How could this be happening to her, why was she so terrified? Why did Liliana choose for this person, this man to be her safe place when she could have went back to Silver, back to her, and everything could have been the same? She could have came and got Su and her Daddy would have taken care of Lili. But now, everything had changed…
"Wake her up," Karen told Jace. She used the voice she always used when getting people to do things she wanted.
"Absolutely not, she's probably got the flu and she hasn't slept in weeks," Jace said. "She's up with her son a lot. But he's not here and she needs to rest."
Karen was irked. Didn't he understand that there were things that needed to be said?
LIa walked past Jace, as they were now standing in the hall way. She went to get herself a coke- with something stiff in it, and she was the only person who knew where exactly Josu's oxycodone was. She turned around when she heard their hushed whispers, studying the young woman.
"Guilt, jealousy, questioning." Lia said to Jace, not caring that she heard. She already didn't like her. "She's got something to say."
"Oh, and who are you, Sigmund Freud?"
"My name is Doctor Kaalia Markov, Cornell University, graduated when I was fifteen, and smarter than you," Lia snapped back.
"What a hoot of a girlfriend you'd make, no wonder he hasn't asked you out yet," Karen fired off.
Jace let out a low whistle and tried to turn around. He wanted to get back to Lili. Just as he did so, they heard a blood curdling scream from her room.
BUt it wasn't for Karen, and it wasn't for Su. It was for the one, who in his mind, had failed, because he wasn't there when it happened.
Chapter 11: Efialtis
Liliana's shrieks tore the silent night into shreds. She shook earlier, but now she was thrashing violently. For the first time ever, any training for this left Jace's mind. This was personal. Jace had watched his software malfunction in front of his eyes. In an airstrike that he learned was the one that killed his brother. But this wasn't an aftershock. Whatever Lili was seeing, it was hurting her now.
Lia and Karen were both shocked into silence as Josu nearly shattered the collection of vintage growlers and pint glasses that he had inherited from both Nicolai and Giovanni as he tried to get to his sister.
Jace didn't know how to wake her, or even if he should, but he knew that when he had had nightmares, his mother would steady him, even hold him until they were gone. Jace had told her earlier he would try. He only stated facts. He wasn't a liar. He pulled Liliana into his lap, close to his chest and pulled Toby's blanket over them. Josu was rocking on his heels, reaching for Lia's hand.
"Jace, either wake her up or I am," Josu said, and his voice made him remember the tattoo that was across his back: you are my sunshine.
Jace slowly rocked his knee back and forth. She was still whimpering, but it was coherent words.
"No, please, just don't hurt him, whatever you want, just leave my baby alone.."
Jace didn't have to wonder what she was seeing. He knew, they all did. He bit back bile in his throat. He had to be strong for her.
"You are my sunshine," he began to sing.
Just please wake up, Lilipad, please. Jace thought.
"My only sunshine,"
How do I need you so much when I was fine before?
"You make me happy,"
So let me make you happy too. Please.
"When my skies are grey,"
If I have to make ten million Tesla coils, It'll never be dark in your world again.
"You'll never know, dear,"
Sometimes, I think I'll wake up and you'll be gone.
"How much I love you,"
Is that what this is?
"Please don't take my sunshine away,"
Because I don't know how to not feel this.
How can I stop what she's seeing? Jace thought. Lili didn't seem like she was going to wake up any time soon. Jace heard Su rush back down the hall and the contents of his stomach hit the sink. Lia rushed in after him and after a pointed look from Jace, Karen followed. Lili's lower body clenched and her leg wrapped around his, as tight as a vice. Her nails found their way into his hip bone, and Jace's tiny jolt of pain, the almost silent gasp, was enough to wake her from the wicked nightmare. She was shivering, and Jace wrapped his arms and the blanket tighter around her. He wasn't about to waver in his decision.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Is it honestly important?" She wanted his answer more than she wanted to talk about it, in reality.
"Everything about you is important to me, Liliana," Jace said, his voice sure.
"I don't like him, Su." Karen said, just as Josu was looking up from throwing up.
"Shut the fuck up, bitch. You don't know shit about Jace. He's never been like this with anybody and you aren't going to take this away from him. And besides, if you care so much, where were you when Josu spent every free moment he had looking for her? Oh, that's right. You went to college. You moved on. You don't fucking get to make decisions for her."
Will walked calmly over to Karen. He held her hand as her other went across the bar, shattering a glass that was sitting there.
"You can't fault her for moving on with her life," Will started.
"Oh yes the hell I can," Kaalia screeched. Josu had started pulling at his hair. "You didn't see him every night looking for her, devastated to come up empty handed again, you weren't here when we had to drag him out of a rabbit hole so deep that I thought he was going to die. You didn't see him just staring at the phone, praying it would be her. You didn't see him lose the faith that he grew up on because the only thing he ever really loved had been taken from him," Kaalia seethed. "You must not know a lot about us, about geniuses, because we don't have a lot of fucking emotions, so when we do, we can't let go of them! My first love has been dead for nigh five years and it still hurts every single day, I have tortured myself over it, wept, cursed, everything. My mother is dead and it's all I can think about. So don't you dare tell me I can't fault her for moving on when I've watched the man that I love, love more than I've ever knew was possible, the man that finally made me all right again drown because his lifeline, his twin was taken away from him and his supposed "best friend," was gone! Do you know where Jace found Josu? Broke, living in a run down apartment, paying people to stand in for him at mechanical shows because he was too busy drowning himself. And do you know who was there to fish him out? Jace was! I was! You were at law school living off of Daddy's money while he chased a ghost and Jace and I watched him slowly kill himself! So don't you dare talk about my brother, don't you dare try to sabotage what he has with Liliana. You will not take this from him! And she hasn't had anyone for five years, and now you're jealous because it's not you?! You weren't there! Neither was he! So your little, pathetic, scrawny ass boyfriend needs to keep his comments to himself about a demographic of people he doesn't understand!"
"He's one of you! You don't know shit about him," Karen started. Josu had started to rock and drop his head.
"He may be mentally enabled but he'll never be one of us," Kaalia said. "This is a cyclone, a family, and Jace has to believe in you, so don't get your hopes up."
"Please stop, please stop, for me, for Lili, please stop," the tears that were flowing from Josu's eyes were breaking Lia's heart.
"Su, don't please, you know that I'd never hurt either of you," Karen said. "I love you! And Lili! Please don't cry, Su, please!"
"Just, please, for me, and for her," as he continued to rock back on his heels.
Kaalia had only seen Josu cry twice. Once, when his mother died. And once more when he thought Liliana was dead, because he had no more faith in himself. This was killing her. This hurt her worse than Jace's tears over Kallist, watching Rose clutch at the flag that was the only thing they had left of him, her father stroking the bracelet that he wore with their three birthstones. She didn't want to see Su in pain, and knowing that she had been a catalyst, well, that might as well have killed her.
"Stop doing this to him," Karen said.
Kaalia turned on her heel and walked out the door. She wouldn't hurt him anymore.
"Lia!" Josu said, following her out of the door, "Please don't leave, I need you!"
"How dare he," Karen seethed.
"He loves her. You'd do the same," Will gently reminded her.
"These two are bad for them!" Karen said.
"I don't think so," Will said "He was cradling her and singing to her. How is that bad?"
"Because it should have been Josu! It should have been me!"
"She wanted Jace," Will said. "And there's nothing wrong with that. They obviously have something," Will reasoned.
Karen huffed a moody breath of air and sank down on the couch next to her boyfriend. This is not how I wanted this to go, she said to herself.
This is only going to get worse, Will thought. Toby would recognize him and he knew it. How could he not? Then, how could he possibly explain that he knew their location and didn't tell Karen or Josu? Being terrified was the reason, he told himself. Somehow, he didn't think that that would be enough for Josu. Or the redhead, who seemed to be protective of Liliana already. And what about Jace? Will had been excited when she told him about the team of geniuses that Jace was head of. Now, he had endangered the person that he was very obviously in love with.
He also knew that he wasn't going to volunteer any information. He just wouldn't- it was nothing against any of them, but he didn't trust Josu and he really didn't trust Homeland. And his mother was still there. Despite all her mistakes, she was still his mother. And she knew that Josu and Jace and probably their government handler were going to go in and clean house.
Did that make him a coward? Probably.
"This isn't some daydream that spooked me, Jace. This is an ugly, wretched part of who I am."
"There's no part of you that's ugly, Lili. None," Jace said, "Even if the action was ugly, it doesn't make you ugly or any less valuable."
Liliana looked deeply into the man's eyes, drinking in the words and the tender look he was giving her. She wanted to try so badly, and she guessed this was the first step..
"Ca-Can I hold your hand?" Liliana asked, unsure of why she was so scared. She hadn't held hands with someone since Ral.
Jace braided their hands together and put another one on that tattoo that she loved, the number 197 on his forearm. She stroked it with her thumb.
"It, it was one specific night. I will always remember this one. I had only been there a few months, maybe six .I had just found out I was pregnant. I didn't really keep track of the days until Toby. I had been sent to bed, I always was before him. He always slept in the room with me before Tobias was born so I couldn't escape," Liliana started. Jace felt sick at his stomach already. "I guess after Toby, he didn't want to hear him cry. Anyways, I was just lying there, playing a few of the mental games that Josu and I used to do on long trips. When I started thinking about him, about Su, and how he'd never meet him, meet Toby, because I honestly believed that my life was over, that I was stuck, I just, I started to cry. I balled up in a little blanket and cried because I missed Josu, I missed my parents, I missed Karen and Silver, and I missed Ral. I wanted to go home. I wanted my baby to be safe. Anyways, I was laying there, crying when Xenagos came in. I knew that it was going to set him off, it always did. He asked me why I was crying now and I told him that I was pregnant. He, he grabbed my arm and slapped me across the face, so I knew what was coming. I begged and pleaded with him not to hurt Toby. Because he was going to try to kill my baby while he was still inside of me," Liliana said, tears flowing freely from her eyes.
Jace took his hand and wiped them away, feeling helpless. He kissed the apples of her cheeks where they had fallen, drying her eyes. He assumed this was the first time she'd recanted anything, and his heart was shattered for what his love had to go through.
"I told him that I would do anything, anything at all to protect Toby. I didn't care what it was, if I had to marry him legally, if I had to give myself to Grimsley, which was a constant threat. I didn't care, as long as my baby was okay. He didn't say anything, just grabbed my throat and undid his pants. You can fill in the rest. Every hole in my body was torn, I couldn't walk the next day. But my baby was okay, and I knew it. Because as I was lying there, in more pain than I could have ever imagined, my jellybean kicked. I wasn't alone," Liliana finished. "And that was fine with me."
"Liliana, I, I just, I hope I can be half the person you are one day," Jace said.
"I was so selfish before I got pregnant with Toby. But I realized that I didn't want people to treat my son like that, so I made an effort to change," Liliana told him.
"I love you so much," Jace said. "I just want you to know how you have affected me, what you have done to me. I, I love you."
"I love you," he said again. "I only state facts. Seeing you in so much pain made me realize. You don't have to say it back. But I love you," Jace told her.
"I really want to love you," Liliana said, laying her head on his shoulder. "Please just give me time," Lili pleaded. "I don't want to lose you."
"Take everything you need, LiliPad."
"You deserve all of me, not just a part," Lili said. "You deserve more than me anyways."
"Don't ever say that," Jace said, almost angry.
"Just help me get rid of him," Liliana begged.
Gladly, Jace thought.
He bolted down the hallway after her, thankful that they weren't in the garage, as she would have already been in her car. He was able to catch her in the middle of the flight of stairs.
"Please don't leave. It's been two and a half years, almost three that we've been fighting this. Just don't leave. Kaalia, you never gave up on me when I was at my lowest. You helped me chase someone that both you and Jace thought were dead. You didn't give up on me and you didn't give up on Lili," Josu said through tears. "So please don't do it now! She loves you, so much, Lia. Toby loves you, and I- I love you. I've loved you for damn near two years and haven't told you because I couldn't love you right, well, now I can and I will, so please don't walk away from me now. Because you're walking away from the cyclone and I- we- need you."
"Su, I- she-"
"She will come around if you give her a chance to," Josu told Kaalia. "She is important to me. But you, I can't lose you. I'm begging you not to give up on me," Josu continued. "You and Jace never have. I know I can't bring Avacyn back or your brother and sister. But I know that there is a little boy in there who loves you with all of his heart, a heart that hasn't been hardened like ours has. I know- I know about Kallist, Kaalia. Jace told me," Josu said. "And I can't be him. But I can love you, too."
"I don't want you to be him," Kaalia said. "I just want you to be you."
"You never gave up on me, Kaalia Claire. I won't give up on you, either."
Josu pulled her waist to his and put his hand on the back of her neck. and looked into her eyes, as green as an emerald, but so soft, just staring back up at him. Her lips were slightly parted and he wasn't denying this anymore. Karen would have to get over it, because this woman was what he was missing all along. She had never given up on him- and that was exactly what he needed.
"Kiss me," Kaalia breathed into him. She knew that that's what he was trying to do, but was probably having a mental breakdown trying to do it. He brought his lips to hers, trying to be soft, but Kaalia didn't want soft. She wanted the three years of pent up tension to break right now. She didn't need soft. She needed Josu to be himself, passion and all.
He backed her hips into the wall and she buried her hand in his hair. He was bending nearly half his height to reach down to her. When he put his hands on her thighs she jumped, both literally and figuratively- into his arms. She wanted him, she wanted to feel his heart beat, she needed him, needed his touch. Before she could communicate this, an unwanted person shoved their way into Kaalia's perfect moment.
"I need the team, now," Sorin said as he was coming up the stairs. He had to be on the phone with Jace. He hadn't seen them, but they jumped apart as if they had been burned. Kaalia's shirt was hiked up and she jerked it back down, Sorin's disapproving stare was boring holes into her. Josu just stepped in front of her, facing Sorin fully.
"Problem?" Josu smirked.
"Lili," Jace said. "You are so beautiful, you are so much more than you let on, and I'm so glad you're letting me help you. And I love my little buddy," Jace said. "I just want you two to be happy," he finished.
"You make us happy," Lili said. "He talks about you all the time. Ace said this, and Ace said that... and I just want him to thrive. And you help him do that. And I'm so thankful," Lili said.
"Can I kiss you?" Jace blurted out before he thought about it. Why did she do this to him? "I-I didn't," but he faltered.
"Please..." Lili had never been like this, either. She had never begged for anyone.
Their lips met, softly, because Jace was scared and so was Lili. What were they even doing? She wasn't ready, she had told him so, but it was like they were drawn together like magnets, they couldn't get away from the pull. Her heart felt so full when she thought about him, how he was with Toby, that someone finally saw her baby and was helping him grow. And Jace was so passionate about helping him. He knew how much Sorin had helped him, and he wanted to do the same with Toby. A mentor, a father figure, because Toby was going to grow up without one otherwise.
Her body was so soft next to his, he loved the way that he felt next to her, the way they just fit together. To her, it was all perfect. And this man, he loved her so purely. It was beautiful.
Jace's phone started to buzz on the side table. He didn't want to pull away from Lili, he didn't want to end this, but he knew that when he got a call, it was serious, because everything defaulted to email or text.
Jace put his hand on Lili's jawline and picked up his phone. It was Sorin.
"I need the team. Now."
"Because a man showed up south of the nuclear reactor here, asking for you. Saying he was a part of Scorpion," Sorin said.
"He said his name was Tezzeret, and he'd only speak to Jace Beleren."
Chapter 12: Past or Present?
Jace laid the iPhone on the side table and gathered Liliana's cheek and some of her hair in his left hand. Jace pressed his lips back to hers, and she sighed into him. She loved kissing him, she loved the way he held her. When she put pressure on his bottom lip, Jace groaned audibly into the kiss; but returned it with a squeeze to her left hip. He pulled back and put his forehead to hers.
"What was that for?" Liliana asked as she brushed her errant hairs out of her face.
"Because I'm going to need it," Jace said. He pulled a black shirt on and began to lace up his shoes. "We have to go, Lili. Sorin needs the team," he finished.
"Why?" Liliana pulled a short sleeved shirt over the tank top she was wearing and started to pull a brush through her matted tresses. Jace's face, full of emotion before was now devoid of any. Liliana knew this didn't bode well. She'd seen it happen with both Toby and Su, and sat Jace down.
"I can't help you unless you tell me, Jace. I need you to work with me," Liliana told him as she sat down next to him.
"Can you, um, s-sit here?" Jace gestured to his lap. He didn't know how, but he somehow knew that holding her her would help him.
Liliana nodded and sat on Jace's knee. She liked it too, that Jace was starting to need her. He hugged her to him and breathed in and out.
"Someone has trespassed at the nuclear reactor here in DC, and is demanding to talk to me," Jace started. "His name is Tezzeret. He was on the team for a short period of time after we got all of us together, and he was a poison. To all of us. Josu and Venser especially. That's why we can't tell them what we are doing or who we are going to help."
"Jace, we are a family, a cyclone, and we don't need to keep secrets. I tell you all everything. I understand you don't want to rattle them, but going in blind isn't fair to any of them."
"I can't! Sorin said that we had to take the case- or we would have to disband. But I know that none of them are going to help if they know it's him and that's not an option."
"Jace, I know you're the boss, but I'm telling you, that is not the way to go. Josu and Kaalia are already hostile right now, and that is not going to go over well with any of them and I will not say that I put my "liaison," stamp on it, because I didn't. You need to be upfront. Do you know how angry you would be if they kept information pertinent to something we are supposed to be doing together a secret? You would be furious! And if this is your final decision, then know that you deserve every adverse reaction that you get."
"You are supposed to be on my side," Jace said miserably.
"I am on the team's side, Jace."
"Fair enough," he said. "I guess we need to pack up the cat fight and her boyfriend. They can't be here alone, too much stuff that could blow up or get messed up and I don't want people here when I am not. They're just going to have to stay away."
"Her boyfriend is apparently mentally enabled too, and Karen's a lawyer, maybe they can be of some help," Liliana said.
"I don't know them," Jace said flatly.
"I know, I do though."
Liliana couldn't exactly lecture Jace about being clouded, because she was hiding the fact that Will knew her, her son, and even Xenagos and Grimsley. She had told him prior that she wouldn't say anything to anyone but she wasn't teaching her son to lie, and it was on him if Toby recognized him, and they both knew that he would, because Toby is Toby. Liliana hoped that he would at least be upfront with Karen, but she wasn't getting her hopes up. She knew that Will was soft spoken, he had never asked to be put into that poisonous community, much like Lili never did. But he did maintain silence, and it would be a lie for Liliana to say that she hadn't hoped he would go for help for her and Toby, even if she understood why he didn't. She thought he was truly over them, better than them, but his silence made Liliana think slightly otherwise. She wasn't angry, only slightly disappointed.
She thought that she would never see him again, though. And yet, he was standing here, in her life again. Liliana looked at Jace and wrapped her arms around him as he kissed the top of her head. They had to get moving.
"Get out so I can change," Liliana told him, Jace exiting the room, his head hung over the decision he was being forced to make.
Liliana was right, of course, it would be better to just be upfront with them; just let Sorin take the fall for this, but that wasn't Jace's style.
Liliana came out and she looked beautiful, but Jace had to keep his mind busy. He pulled out his phone and texted Josu, who was already on his way to the reactor. He and Lia would meet them there, after she and Josu picked up Venser. They decided to take Lili's car, because it could reach higher speeds if they needed to leave in a hurry.
"Do you think your Mom would mind if we had Toby's party over at her house?" Lili asked, trying to make conversation.
Jace had ordered Toby's present about a week ago and it should be arriving any day now. Liliana had settled on getting him his own lab in the garage, as soon as Jace had okayed it. Of course, he wanted to do anything to make Tobias happy, so he just smiled and told Lili that she was free to make whatever decisions she wanted.
"I think she would love that, Liliana. You know that she loves him so much. She wanted to tell Toby he could call her Nana, but she didn't want to offend you."
Liliana smiled and told Jace that Rose was a miracle for her and her boy.
"Have you heard from Ral?"
"Unfortunately, after that little fiasco, he wants a paternity test so he can tell you and Josu to fuck off," Liliana sighed. "And I want a restraining order so he can't tell me how to raise my child."
"I can help you falsify one if we need to," Jace said. He didn't want Ral around any longer. He was nothing more than a roadblock to their happiness and was stopping what they both wanted. But then the question that had been weighing at the back of Jace's mind, eating at him, finally got the best of him.
"Is he Toby's father?"
"No. I am pretty sure he's not, as I was still on birth control the one time we had sex," Liliana said. "And I don't think the days line up right, either. Toby is Xenag- Toby is mine. That's all that matters. And I wish I never would have let Ral talk me into it, but what's done is done. I suppose it would have hurt me even more, both physically and emotionally if Xe- he had been the one to take it."
She looked out the window, slightly red, but Jace didn't know if it was from embarrassment, or shame, or something else entirely.
"I have a fundamental understanding of how sex works, but that's about all," Jace said, clearing his throat.
"Not a bad thing, really," Liliana told him. She knew he was trying to make her feel better about herself sexually, so she just picked up his hand and squeezed it.
"It means the world to me that you are concerned about us, Jace," Liliana told him, her eyes earnest. "To me and him."
When they arrived at the reactor, Josu was pacing outside, flanked by Lia and Karen and Will; the former of the two immediately headed off Jace asking why they were here and why they were here. Jace pulled Lia over to the side while Lili hugged her brother.
"They are here because he is like us. I know of him, and I want to see him in action. I know you don't like her, Lia, but we have to try. Su's yours, you know that."
"This isn't just about Su anymore, Jace. Something is wrong. He's hiding something, something big, and I don't like it."
"Do you have any inkling as to what it could be?"
"Of course not, he's on her jock constantly, how am I supposed to talk to him," Lia seethed.
"I'll pair you off, okay? You know I trust your judgement better than anyones."
"Jace, he keeps looking at Liliana and it's starting to bother me. Please stay with her," Kaalia said. "I know that you have feelings for her. But Su, he can't lose her again."
Jace hadn't noticed, but it was Kaalia's speciality, and she wouldn't fabricate something like that, no matter how much she disliked the person. Jace walked behind Lili, meeting Will's eyes, his gaze was definitely on her.
"Lia, Su, Venser," Jace called to them. "Sorin gave us this case for a reason."
Both Kaalia and Josu looked puzzled, but Jace didn't want to keep it from them, it was only detrimental. Venser, who he thought would be terrified, had a determined look on his face.
"Tezzeret is in there," he choked out.
"I'm not doing this," Josu said. Kaalia was shocked into silence. "And you can't do this to yourself, Jace! We need you to be the leader. We need you sane, and Tezzeret makes you anything but," Josu said.
"Why?" Venser questioned.
"Sorin said that Tezzeret found something wrong with the reactor, and he won't tell them anything and was demanding to talk to me. Can you run a diagnostic on the computer, Su?"
"Can I run a diagnostic," Su scoffed. Liliana walked over from where she was standing and stood by Jace. "Lia, go with Su. He'll need help and you're an adept hacker when you need to be."
"Remember what I said, Jace," Kaalia said.
"Venser, I want you to use every ability you have to find out who exactly this new man is. Liliana and Josu know Karen, and trust her, but Lia's getting an off vibe. Meet up with Su if he needs you, okay?" Venser nodded.
"We need to go meet Sorin," Jace said to Liliana. She walked next to him.
"Are you scared?" Liliana asked him. His face was cryptic. She was normally good at reading him, but he was giving off a very bad vibe right now.
"Not scared," Jace told her. "Apprehensive might be a better word."
"I'll stay with you," Liliana said.
"No, no, I don't want him in your head, manipulating you." Jace told her.
"I'm a big girl," she said to him. "I can handle it. Besides, I'm a pro at manipulation. He was good at it."
"Kaalia is getting a very off read about this new guy," Jace said.
Liliana got red around the ears but shrugged. Jace didn't know if she was hiding something or not. He went with not.
"Hasn't made a peep other than asking for you, son," Sorin said. Nothing. "Where is my daughter?"
"Seeing if his claims are actually true. She and Josu went to run a diagnostic. Venser is with the other two, feeling out his abilities. He doesn't need to be around him."
"He's all yours, Beleren."
Jace entered the room with Liliana behind him. The man, dark skinned with dreadlocks, didn't look much older than Jace. His blue eyes almost glowed.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't my favorite prodigy," Tezzeret cackled.
"Jace knows of you," Venser said. "What do you do?"
"What do you mean, what do I do? I do a lot of linguistics, a lot of teaching." Will told him. He tried to not let his IQ be his defining factor, and that was something that made he and Jace Beleren very, very different.
"He's reached out to a lot of the mentally enabled around here. Why not you?" Venser said.
"I kept to myself and my family, I never sought out any other geniuses," Will told him.
"Strange, because we all like to keep company together. Even Josu sought out people, he actually met Tezzeret before Jace did. They worked together on a few projects, and then Josu came to Scorpion."
"I grew up differently than you," Will said, almost angry. Karen didn't know much about how Will grew up, he was silent about it. She had told him about Giovanni, and Silver, and they had even talked on the phone a few times. Karen had lived a privileged childhood, to say the least.
Will's father died when he was young and his mother remarried almost immediately, and he and his brother had grown up with Xenagos and Grimsley as their cousins. Will didn't know a lot about what happened to Liliana, but he did know that Xenagos mistreated her, whether she was there willingly or not.
Will had felt guilty, because Tobias had come to him, before Liliana had even said anything to him. He begged Will for a way to get him and Liliana out. That was part of the reason he was so scared to meet Toby. He had failed as an uncle. Liliana had came to him later, and told him what was going on. Will was sure she wasn't telling all of the gory details, but he knew enough.
It made him even more scared, because if that's what Xenagos was capable of, he didn't want to cross him, even if it meant not helping him or his mother. He felt guilty, but he had long since accepted that he was a bit of a coward.
"Is there anything I can do to help? With the case?"
"Let me call Jace and find out," Venser said, though his tone said that there was nothing.
"What are we going to do? Tezzeret? He's just going to manipulate us. And what is the likelihood that he just shows up a day after someone that none of us know? And I just, I can't get a good read on him, and he just,he keeps looking at Lili. And it's unnerving me."
|What are you getting at, Lia?"
"I don't know, Su. You know that this isn't exact," Kaalia said, kind of irritated. "Just run the diagnostic."
"You know how I am, Lia. Machines don't let you down, people do."
"Just, what are the odds that someone that is mentally enabled, just like me, just like you, and just like Jace and Venser, shows up, and then the next day Tezzeret shows up, demanding to talk to Jace? How many people like us do you know that don't reach out to other people like us?"
"You're right," Josu said. "Let's get this done so we can go talk to Jace. Will your dad be enough to keep her safe?"
"Without a doubt," Kaalia said. "Don't worry. She's going to be fine," she continued. "She's strong. And she has all of us."
"Hello, Jace," Tezzeret said, a smirk on his lips.
"What are you doing here?" Jace said, Sorin and Liliana flanking him.
"I'm here to get my comeuppance," he said.
"Comeuppance for what, Tezzeret?"
"You know what you've done, Jace, you know what you have gotten yourself into," the man said through an evil grin. "And it seems like you've drug your pretty little lady friend into it. Funny, I think, you always swore by celibacy. I guess it took someone prettier than me or Josu to change your mind," Tezzeret laughed. "But that's not all. I knew you were selfish, but I didn't think you'd bring a four-year-old into this," Tezzeret shot Jace a smile.
"How, how-" Jace spluttered.
"He's manipulating you, Doc. Don't listen to him!" Liliana told him. She put her hand on his shoulder to try and steady him.
"I know everything about you, Jace..."
"Oh no. No, no, no." Josu said. "Lia, call Jace. Now!"
Startled, she did , pressing the phone to Josu's ear, but Jace didn't answer on the first ring. He knew Tezzeret was manipulating him, and when Tezzeret got in Jace's head, it was impossible to get him out. Josu tried again, but no dice. Fumbling, Josu took Lia's phone and dialed Liliana's number. Come on, Lilya, pick up,
"Kaalia. Listen to me. You find your dad and get everyone out. I think this thing is going to blow," Josu said to Kaalia. He didn't want to leave her, he had only just let himself fall last night, but he had to save his friends, and he had to save his sister.
"You have to go too, Su," Lia said, frantic.
"I think I can stop it, but just in case, run. Lia, please. If you love me."
"I'm staying here because I love you," Kaalia said.
"He lured us here, trying to kill us all." Josu said. " I can't believe this."
Liliana picked up the phone. She sounded scared too, but she couldn't have any idea what was going on below her.
"Lili. You have to get out here, now. This thing is going to blow up if I can't stop it. Don't ask questions. Just run. Please, Liliana. Just run," Josu pushed Kaalia out of the door and gave her no choice. Just like all those days in the garage, it was just him, God, and a wrench.
And for the first time, Josu Tobias Vess didn't know that it was going to be enough.
Chapter 13: The Hanging Tree
I did not write The Hanging Tree. That is the intellectual property of Suzanne Collins and Lionsgate. I don't own MtG, Pokemon, or any of the characters. They are the property of WOTC, LLC.
Are you, are you coming to the tree?
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three,
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it seem if we met up at midnight at the hanging tree…
He knew he should have taken care of the little parasite on his and Liliana's marriage. Letting her keep him had been his biggest misgiving, he should have known that he was going to be just as insufferable as her brother. Now, she was gone because the little rat had tricked him. Liliana wasn't smart enough to keep herself off of the internet, but he knew that getting to her again would be near impossible, it was very unlikely that her overprotective brother would let her be alone. Xenagos had tried to stop torturing himself with things he could have done differently, and he had stayed off the web.
But that time was up. It was down to him and Grimsley to plan this and execute it again. And this time, Tobias would be left with his namesake. He had to start gathering information.
He had no idea how to find her, but he started with Josu. He'd never changed his handle, and she'd be easy enough to find from his accounts. With some trepidation, Xeangos typed intheboynamedsu and waited. He was greeted with the usual, mostly pictures of engines sprinkled with pictures of him and a redhead- and then he found what he was looking for. The caption wasmi hermanita; and there was a picture of the woman that had abandoned him.
He clicked on her profile, and it was pictures of Tobias, sans one. Xenagos saw the man that frequented his restaurant staring back up at him, with the caption Doc is my favorite.
He couldn't believe his eyes. Furious, he clicked on Jace's profile. The last ten pictures were either of Liliana, or Liliana and Toby. There was a picture of Liliana cooking, her favorite thing to do, with the caption How lucky are we? theboynamedsu & shortshrink & LiliPadLife
He'd found the weak link. And now he just had to exploit it.
Josu didn't have time for emotions right now. He had to figure out how to stop this place from exploding. Papa, if you're looking down right now, I need you. help me fix this. She's finally back, and I can't lose her again.
It was probably just his mind, but Josu felt a peace go over him. He went over to the control panel and starting punching in codes, but he couldn't figure out the right one. He knew he had less than four to five minutes before things started spewing radioactive chemicals. If he could start now, he might be able to manually shut it off before everything went to hell. He could keep guessing, or he could try to get it done. Tezzeret had planned this, he knew. He started loosening bolts and praying that it would be enough.
Kaalia stood in the control room, in front of computers that were older than her siblings would have been, almost as old as she was. She started coding, thankful that she had paid attention to Jace for this long. She couldn't let Su do this alone. If she could shut down the operating systems, maybe it wouldn't overheat. If she could stop the overheating, it would buy Josu more time.
Are you, are you coming to the tree
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee,
Strange things did happen here, no stranger it would it seem if we met up at midnight in the hanging tree…
Kaalia's frantic voice rang out over anything Jace was saying to Sorin.
"Leave, Lili! Now. There's going to be a nuclear explosion and you need to get Tobias and run."
"Kaalia! Where is my brother?"
"He's trying to fix it, Lili. Get Toby and run! Tell Jace and Daddy to get out!"
Jace looked over his shoulder at Sorin, and as he did, Tezzeret blindsided them both. Liliana ducked, but they hadn't been smart enough to cuff him to the table. Liliana tore off after him, but before she could even get out the door, Jace held her fast around the stomach.
"He could kill you or worse," Jace said. "He meant to miss you He meant for you to chase him. Stay with me, LiliPad. You have to trust me."
"I do, But Su, Jace, Su and Lia are down there! They can't die! Venser and Will and Karen don't even know! Jace!"
"Go to Venser and Will and Karen. I'm going to help Su."
"Stay with me, princess," Sorin said as he pinched his bloody nose.
"Jace! Get back here! Jace! I can't lose all of you!" Liliana screeched as Sorin picked her up and removed her bodily from the room. Her voice was sore, but she didn't stop fighting them. They had to get out, they had to leave. Luckily, William and Karen along with Venser saw Sorin running, got up and tore after them. Alarms had started to blare, the place was only two minutes out from exploding. There was no way that they could even come close to getting far enough away.
My baby, Liliana thought. There would be no one to keep him from his biological father. Jace's face danced in her mind's eye. We were so close to being a family. She braced for the noise that would be the last thing she heard, instead, she was greeted with silence.
She and Sorin looked at each other and went into the reactor, where they were greeted with familiar faces. Sorin scooped up his daughter before Lili could even get there, so she ran into the arms of her boys. Her brother and her-her- friend, both embraced her fiercely. She felt Jace's lips on her neck and then the tears came. She couldn't let him wait any longer- she just didn't know how to say it. So she just collapsed into him and her brother, glad to be in the arms of the men that loved her
"Where's Tezzeret?" Josu asked, looking around
"He was able to get away, he evaded capture and I can only imagine that he's out here somewhere Or that he's got an accomplice to back him up. Or maybe he knew nothing was going to happen. He probably knew that if he gave you all the pieces, Su, that you would figure it out. Maybe he just wanted to manipulate us all, put on a power show for us. But the fact of the matter is that we need to find them and find a long term-strategy for this reactor," Sorin said, looking at his team.
"The operating systems are so outdated, Daddy, that if something breaks within the computer, it would be near impossible to find the parts and then find someone that had the know how to fix it," Kaalia said. "Jace was able to shut down the thing that was causing it to overheat and Su was able to fix whatever it was that Tezzeret screwed with in the system. So we're going to have to overhaul all of it, shut this place down until it's safe," Kaalia said, grabbing Josu's hand.
"I'll take care of it, doll."
Jace walked over to Venser and pulled him to the side. "Thank you for what you did today, it wouldn't have been possible without you stopping all of their meddling. But I'm worried about you. You haven't been coming to dinner when we invite you, you haven't been hanging out with us. Kaalia told me that you had some qualms about Liliana, but V, you've got to give her a chance. Toby looks up to you so much and has been asking where you have been these past few weeks."
"I actually wanted to talk to you about that, Jace. I-I-um, it' nothing to do with Lili. I think she's great. She's nice and she can cook and she's a good mom."
"So what's the problem?" Jace sighed with relief. It was hard to force someone who was mentally enabled to like someone that they didn't like. Jace was glad that he wouldn't have to. Although, he had no idea what Venser could possibly be doing. He worried that he was all alone in his apartment, but Jace had offered to come get him so he could hang out, but he always declined, saying he was working.
He wasn't working. He had actually been spending the most of his nights over at Rose's. He and Emmara had actually connected on a Huntington's support group forum, without knowing it was the other. Venser didn't have Huntington's that he knew of, but his mother had and he refused to get tested. Jace couldn't fault him for that, as he refused to get tested too. They had exchanged numbers, talking for nights on end. When they finally got up the gall to trade pictures, neither of them could believe their eyes. Neither one of them knew how to tell Jace, or how he would take it.
"I'm, uh, I'm actually seeing someone." Venser told Jace. One of the hard parts was over.
"Really? What's her name?" Jace couldn't be more excited for Venser. How he'd actually managed to talk to a woman was beyond Jace, but he knew that Venser wouldn't lie about this.
"Emmara," Venser said.
Jace was pouting when he and Lili got into the car. Emmara couldn't be dating Venser. It was too weird! What kind of friend does that? He voiced this to Liliana.
"Um, you, silly," she chuckled. The smile slid off of his face, and was replaced by a dumbfounded look, She was right, of course. He cleared his throat.
"I don't know, LiliPad. I think Josu's sister is playing a little hard to get," he said, trying to joke with her. "But she can take however long she needs."
"Man, I heard that girl likes the thrill of the chase," Liliana said. "But she's getting a little tired. She might even need to see the doctor, she's worn herself out that much."
"Do you think she's gonna stop running soon? Jace said as they turned into Rose's driveway. The rest of the team, and Karen and Will behind them.
"As long as someone promises to catch her," Liliana said, leaning into Jace's ear.
"There's something I need to do first."
Em was outside waiting on them, Jace had texted that they were coming. She was holding Toby and leaning on the guardrail, who was holding two prototypes of the derby car he'd been working on. He was literally itching to show Ace and Uncle Su, and he just wanted to see the look on Mommy's face when they won.
Toby couldn't help but notice that when they got out of the car, Ace and Mommy were holding hands. His heart beat fast in his chest, did this mean what he thought it did? Was Ace going to be part of their family? He put his head in Emmara's shoulder, he had almost started to cry when he saw it. He and Mommy were just so happy now.
When Toby looked back up, the happy balloon inside of him suffered a puncture. How did he get here? Why was he here behind Mommy? Was he going to take them back? Toby jumped down from his aunt's arms and headed toward his Mommy, terrified.
Will was going to be sick. This was it. He was about to watch his relationship with Karen unravel at the seams. It was extremely selfish of him , he knew, but part of him blamed Tobias. If he wasn't enabled, this wouldn't be a problem.
He couldn't give her up. He was in love with her, of that much he was sure. Real, true, passionate, burning love. I'd rather die than lose her, Will thought to himself. His overactive brain told him that he might actually die once Josu, Giovanni, and Silver found out, and moreover, found out he wasn't going to give them any information. He wiped the perspiration off of his brow, and murmured the words "I'm sorry," his sentiment barely louder than a breath. He wasn't sure who he was talking to, whether it be Karen, Lili, or Tobias. When Karen turned to him and ask what he had said, he just nodded. He knew he couldn't come clean, even in these last moments. He squeezed her hand, hoping it wouldn't be the last time she let him do so.
They all made their way into the living room. Jace smelled his favorite meal- or one of- fettuccine alfredo on the stove. Normally, Toby would be jumping around, asking a million questions. Whenever they came in, he was always so excited to see them. Jace guess he wasn't feeling well, and walked over to Tobias and Liliana. He planted a kiss on Toby's head and then on his mother's lips. Liliana walked into the kitchen, poised to ask Rose about the party, but she just smiled at her and said that it was already underway, and to just send links to the decorations she wanted.
"You're a saint," Liliana told Jace's mother, hugging her.
"I don't know what's up with him." She gestured to Toby, who was on Lili's hip, sucking his thumb. "He was bouncing off the walls not ten minutes ago. He was so excited to see Jace so he could show him the car. And he's never done that," nodding at Toby's thumb.
"Did something spook him? He usually does that when he's scared," Liliana told Rose.
"No, he went out with Emmara and came in like this. So if something did, you'd've had to have seen it too," Rose said.
And then Lili put two and two together. She couldn't do anything about it now, other than hold her baby tight.
"Do you want to help Nana cook, baby?" Rose said, stroking his hair, trying to soothe him.
"No, I just want to talk to Ace," Toby said.
Jace walked over and took Toby out of Liliana's arms and sat down with him.
"Can I ask you something, buddy?"
Toby just nodded into Jace's shoulder.
"Can I take you and Mommy out on a date tomorrow? We're gonna make our own pizzas and there is a hummus bar," Jace said, hoping it would cheer him.
"Don't you have to be mommy's boyfriend first?" Toby asked, quietly. He was still terrified.
"I'd like that very much," Jace said. Toby just nodded again. Jace couldn't figure out what was wrong. Toby started to cry silent tears onto his shoulder, he felt his lip quivering.
Liliana's blood pressure was rising, and she felt nauseated. She knew what was about to happen, but she was scared, terrified of making Will angry, he could very well just call Xenagos if he wanted to and tell him exactly where they were. She knew that Will was different from them, but if this ruined his relationship with Karen, she didn't know what his reaction would be.
But Jace and Josu would protect them, of that much she was sure. Sorin would even put them in protective custody he needed to. She breathed deep and told herself that nothing was going to happen to her or her son.
She knew that she couldn't go back there. Jace had shown her what more there was, and she wasn't going to give that up. Even in the brief moments that she thought she had feelings for him, when he had manipulated her into thinking so, she had never felt the depth of feelings she had for the hacker. For her doc.
Will was making to walk out, he didn't want to see Karen's face. He knew it was coming. He knew that Lili would be quiet, but Jace had no reason to be.
"Wh-Where's Uncle Su?"
"I'm right here, buddy. Tell Uncle Su what's wrong," he said. putting his hand on Tobias' shoulder.
"Come sit by me," he said. "Please."
Jace bounced his knee slightly, as to comfort him. That's what his Mom and Dad had done for him, He leaned into Jace's shoulder. He could feel Tobias literally shaking with fear.
"What's wrong, Jellybean?" Jace said. He didn't know what could cause such a reaction in Toby. His EQ was far less developed because of how young he was. The fact that he was shaking in fear is something that was making Jace deeply worried. Had Tezzeret tried to contact him? Did he see someone he knew? What on earth could be wrong to make Toby react like this? Jace had no idea. So he just bounced his- he didn't know what Toby was to him. He certainly wasn't his nephew, like Venser looked at him, he was much more. He looked at Tobias like a son- he just wasn't ready to admit it yet.
Toby leaned into Jace's ear and whispered. But Jace couldn't make it out. He hugged Toby tighter and asked him to repeat himself, teling him that Ace couldn't hear.
"He- he was there. With me and Mommy and he's one of my uncles. He's going to take us back there!"
"Wha-What? No one is taking you anywhere, buddy."
"Ace! Please don't let him take me and Mommy!"
"What on earth is he talking about, Jace?" Josu said. Tobias wasn't making any sense at all.
"He- he says that Will is one of his Uncles. From his- his- father's side. That he was there all those years," Jace said to the room at large. Rose dropped the glass that she was holding,
"What," Josu raged. This was impossible.
"He has to be lying!" Karen said.
Liliana started, but Jace was louder. "Don't you dare accuse my boy of lying. He is FOUR! He is MENTALLY ENABLED! He doesn't even know HOW to lie."
"He's not," Will said miserably, refusing to meet Karen's eyes. "He's not lying."
"What?" Karen said, looking at her boyfriend, astonished.
"Karen- you always accused me of being the one to take a man's side, but you just accused my son of lying about the most traumatic event in his life," Liliana said.
Liliana felt like someone was stabbing her, repeatedly, in the back and stomach. A wave of pain crashed over her like a tidal wave. She gripped Jace's knee far too hard as she fought for breath.
"LiliPad? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Just stress, it gives me stomach pain a lot."
Before anything else could be said, Josu was across the room. He had stewed for a minute and had made his decision.
"Su! " Lia said, but everyone knew it was half hearted. She had had a bad feeling about Will from the get go and he needed to get his.
"You little worm," Josu yelled at him. "You are going to tell me where the beast that did this to my sister is!"
"I- I can't, Josu," Will said.
"Oh, you will," Josu raged. " I don't care who you feel like you have to protect in that group of goatbangers, you have one last chance to help my sister before I snap your pathetic little neck," Josu said, cherry red and spit flying everywhere.
"You'll have to kill me then," Will said. He wasn't going to let anything happen to his mother.
"JOSU TOBIAS! SIT DOWN!" Karen yelled.
Toby started to cry audibly. Jace knew that he didn't need to see this, so he took him onto the porch. Lili was still sitting, doubled over in pain. Rose had the good sense to grab a trashcan, and it was just in time, because Lili threw up the next second.
"You know what, you little rat?! I'm not going to deal with you. I'm going to let someone else do it. Someone else who needs to know exactly how dirty of a rodent you are."
Josu picked up the phone, and dialed a number.
"Hey, Giovanni. It's Su. Can I come see you? We need to talk."
Are you, are you coming to the tree,
Where I told you to run so we'd both be free
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be if we met up at midnight at the hanging tree...
Liliana could barely move. How was she going to get out to her son when she couldn't stand? She felt as though someone was ripping her insides out, she'd only ever felt like this when she was in labor with Toby.
"Lili, baby, you're having a panic attack, okay?" She grabbed Rose's hand and held it fast. Emmara jumped onto her crutches and headed outside.
"Something is wrong with Liliana, bubba. You need to take her to the hospital."
Jace had just gotten Toby settled. He held onto Jace for dear life, leaving him here wasn't an option. Not after what they'd just found out.
"We've got to take Mommy to the doctor. Can you walk with Aunt Em to the car or do you want Nana to take you? Ace has to go see about Mommy-"
"No, I want you!"
At that exact moment, Josu came out, carrying Liliana bridal style. She was weak and woozy, not sure what was going on. Jace picked up Tobias and went into survival mode.
"Where are you going, Su?" Jace said as Josu put Liliana in the seat. She was still out of it.
"To go get our fath-our second father. He needs to be here This is as much his problem as it is ours. .Take her to the hospital. She's probably just having a panic attack because the past few weeks has been such a change, since she's been back. Just get her checked out from head to toe. Sorin is going to follow you in the FBI car. She's AB+ and her drivers liscense number is 10131341. Date of Birth is October 30th, 1993. Call me when you know something. Take care of my girls, Jace."
He looked over at Lili, who was grimacing in pain, almost writhing. He place a sweet kiss to his girlfriend's head as he began to back out, thinking that he'd never been this scared in his life.
He was wrong.
He heard her strangled cry and saw the most terrifying thing he'd ever seen.
His LiliPad was sitting in a puddle of her own blood.
Are you, are you coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope side by side with me
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it seem if we met up at midnight at the hanging tree...
Chapter 14: I Won't Give Up
"Sit down," Kaalia said. "You aren't going anywhere. This, this is your fault. If he wrecks his bike and dies, you'll have another person's life on your conscience. Because Liliana and Toby weren't enough for you, apparently." Kaalia was shaking with anger, she felt as if this-this- could she even call him a person? Kallist went out and laid down his life for people he didn't even know- and this rat couldn't even help his own family. Unless they were his blood. Well Kaalia Claire Markov knew family wasn't about blood.
"He didn't make Josu storm off like that! You don't get to blame him for Josu having a temper!" Karen seethed at her.
"Josu wouldn't have had to storm off if he wasn't a LIAR! How do you even know that he's not reporting back to his brother? Josu lost everything because of those people! His sister, his father-"
"Don't you dare throw Nicolai in my face, he was like my father!"
"Couldn't tell, you weren't at his funeral. Your father and brother were but where were you?"
Rose came up behind Kaalia and smoothed her hair down and planted a kiss on top of her ginger locks. Kaalia looked up at the woman who had helped raise her. This was the place where she'd had half of her firsts: her first kiss, her first fight- with Jace, of course. She'd lost her virginity to Rose's oldest son in that back bedroom. She'd cooked many meals with this woman, laughed and cried at her kitchen table. She'd been in the living room when they found out about Kallist. She'd been here. For all intents and purposes, she had been there for her as much as Avacyn was. How fitting was it that she felt as if she'd lose Kal and Su in this room, on this couch.
Lia put her head in her hands and fell to the couch in a heap of tears. Rose looked at the pair of people in her living room and subsequently excused them to the porch. Karen wasn't stupid enough to leave, if Josu got here with her father and they weren't here then it would hell to pay for the pair of them. The only time that Giovanni had been truly angry with her was when she and Liliana had snuck out at the age of fifteen to go hang out with Grimsley and Xenagos, and with good reason. They were three years shy of a decade their seniors and Giovanni and Nicolai had hated their father, Pryce. With good reason, too. They had no idea what went on in that combine of Grecian people. Karen's heart was shattering into a hundred million pieces knowing that Will had kept this from her.
She knew how menacing they were. She had been there when Xenagos had wanted to go further than kissing and Liliana told him no- he just continued anyways. She had been the one to explain to Nicolai how she got those bruises because Liliana was too embarrassed. They'd seen how outwardly cruel they were to people who weren't like them. She understood that he was scared, but how could he just not tell her? She had told him what had happened, but never that she was their other target. She had never told him how she had ran for her life, leaving her best friend to plead for hers.
She knew that Giovanni was upset with her for sneaking out to be with them, because he knew how dangerous they could be. Karen had never thought in a million years that something like this would happen to Liliana and her, but Giovanni was right to be wary. Because after the episode with them sneaking out, it was a mere two weeks before she went missing. They all knew what has happened, who it was. Karen had been there, after all.
The last time he had been here it had been with Emmara, and he wasn't eager to repeat that, as his sister had very nearly died that day. They wouldn't take her symptoms seriously and she went into kidney failure. Jace was not about to let that happen to his Lilipad.
"I'm fine Jace, we can go back home. Toby doesn't need to be around all these sick people," Liliana said to him.
"Tobias is fine, just lay on my shoulder please," Jace said. He could see that she was in pain. Jace had gotten here faster than he ever had when he saw his girlfriend bleeding. His overactive brain was running every single possibility from a kidney stone to a perforated bowel.
He stroked Liliana's hair and held Toby close to his chest. Jace could tell that it was killing him not to crawl into Lili's lap, but Jace explained that she was sick and Toby understood; he could see it on his mother's face. So, he sat against Jace's chest, thumb in his mouth until he fell asleep. After what had seemed like hours, the nurse moved them to a room there in the ER.
"We are going to get her some pain medicine, and then run a CT. It could be a while before the doctor comes in, she's relatively low on the trauma list. Let us know if she gets any worse, or has any lower back pain. It could be her appendix."
"Don't have one," Liliana said, very obviously miserable. Jace still had Toby on his lap, but he reached for her hand and squeezed it.
"Medicine should be working soon, sweetie." The nurse patted her feet and walked out the door.
"I promise I'm not usually this high maintenance," Liliana said to her boyfriend, rolling onto her side.
Jace carefully sat Tobias down in the chair and covered him with one of the warm blankets that the nurse had brought. He sat on the edge of Lili's bed and put his hand on the small of her back, where she said the majority of her pain was radiating from. He then made soft kneading motions, hopefully easing some of it. This was what Mom did when Emmara's muscles seized up.
"C'mere," Liliana told him, wrapping his arms around her waist, trying to pull him in tighter. Jace didn't know what she was doing but he went with it. She pushed her hair over the side of her shoulder, exposing her bare neck. She scooted even closer to him, thinking that she was being obvious, but Jace's mind was in ten different places at that moment. He just kept putting steady pressure on the small of her back, as he was trying to stave off a mental breakdown.
She smelled so good, like lavender, freesia , and orange blossoms all mixed into one. She rolled her back flush with his chest. Their skin was touching, just barely, and he felt something start to happen that hadn't happened in over a year. He begged his body to stop, this was the last place this needed to happen. He groaned and tried to pull away, but Liliana pulled his hands back in, and rather than rolling out, he in rolled toward her.
"Oh, hello," she sniggered. Whether on purpose or not, Jace had no idea, but she scooted closer to him, closing the distance. She then flipped so she was lying on her other side, and kissed his still-open-in embarrassment mouth.
"Why is it that my body decides to go and get hard when you are like this?"
"Is it because you think I'm preeeeeeeeetty?
"You know I think you are beautiful," Jace said as Lili planted kisses on his neck. She then moved back up to his mouth, but brought his hips back up to her. "The most beautiful girl in the world," Jace said through the onslaught of kisses.
"You know, I like the way your mouth tastes," Liliana told him seriously. "It makes me wonder how you taste," she finished with a wink. It took Jace a second to garner what she was saying, but when he did, his eyes went wide.
"Lili, it's time to go to sleep while we wait for the doctor," Jace said, cradling his girlfriend to his chest. She didn't contest him, she let the medicine take over, and for the first time in forever, Liliana rested.
Josu was lucky. Giovanni and Silver, and Silver's little daughter, Laney, were all at his DC office. He had known they planned on coming up a few days after Karen and Will, and Giovanni didn't disappoint. He never did. If he said he would, he did. It had been a few months since he'd seen all of them. When the door swung wide, his second father hugged him fiercely. They hadn't been able to speak at any sort of length since they told him that Liliana was back. He was ready to see his adopted son, and he was beyond ready to see Liliana for the first time in five years.
Giovanni hadn't been part of the investigation the Metro DC Police had conducted, because apart from them being indifferent to their family's pain, it had been essentially fruitless. Giovanni had connections to some less than savory types. However, that didn't stop him. Giovanni Voss never sat idly. He had conducted his own investigation, of course.
There were nights when Josu and Giovanni just watched, patrolled, and waited. Neither of them knew how they could keep her as hidden as they did; they expected that she was being hidden in plain sight. Giovanni kept tabs on the public record, but neither of them expected much from that.
Just like Josu, Giovanni didn't move on. He knew his family was still in trouble, and Nicolai's untimely death still unsettled him, even if the fuzz did label it as an accident. He didn't buy it. Josu didn't mess up while driving. And Giovanni didn't sleep on that information. He was always on the move, looking.
He was worried when Josu had demanded to speak to him and Silver face-to-face and away from Karen. It was very atypical from the way that they would do things. It was opposite from the way that Giovanni held dear. They never kept secrets from their inner circle, ever.
"Papa," Josu said, chagrin and anger still thick in his voice. "How much do you know about KK's new boyfriend? Have you ran background on him yet?"
"Karen found I was doing so with a couple of her college friends and boyfriends ago and she asked me to stop and trust her judgment as an adult, so I did," Giovanni said, arching one of his eyebrows in questioning.
"Have you met him yet?"
"Not at any sort of length, Josu, what are you getting at, son?"
"He's brothers or cousins or some shit with Grimsley and Xenagos," Josu said, anger still thick in his voice.
"Silver," Giovanni said, his voice low and deadly. "Let's go."
Jace was the only one awake, and he was painfully so. Tobias was asleep on his lap, and his mother was tucked away in a pleasant dream, or at least Jace hoped so. He was still terrified, the relationship was so new- but he'd never been surer of anything. What he wasn't sure of were the medical professionals. What if it was something that couldn't be cured? What if it was something that could take her away from him-and Tobias-forever? Jace pushed the haunting thoughts to the back of his mind and snapped a photo of them-his family, his cyclone. He kissed Liliana on her brow.
"I won't let anything bad happen to you, or him," Jace promised.
There was a sound of the breeze swooshing through the door as it swung wide. The little bit of light and sound was enough to wake Lili up. He couldn't help but think of Ivan Pavlov and his classical conditioning. A single stimulus causes a single reaction. It took Lili a second to adjust to where she was. The first thing she did was look around for Tobias, and then sigh with relief. After she adjusted and sighed, Jace saw her whole body slump with assuagement. Again, he gently laid the slumbering boy in the chair and walked over to his girlfriend; her tiny hand was outstretched for him. He smoothed her hair down and kissed her forehead, to which she sighed, again.
"We're going to need to run a couple tests on you blood, we think it could be a bad UTI, because there is not enough blood to make us think that it's anything more than a bad panic attack triggered by pain," the doctor said .
"I want to see her results for myself," Jace said. "The original lab report."
"Miss Vess has to give you that right-" the doctor started.
"He's fine," Liliana said. "I trust him."
Jace leaned down and pecked Lili on her lips, cradling Lili's face to his. "I love you," he said to her.
"Me too," she smiled. She couldn't say it yet, but she would. She wanted to.
"We are also going to run a CT," the doctor continued, "Is there any chance you could be pregnant? Because a miscarriage isn't outside the realm of possibility given the nature of the pain."
Not again, Lili thought. Her hand flew down to her abdomen as the color drained from her face. She drew a shaky breath and dropped her head, unable to look her man in the eyes.
"I suppose there is a chance," Liliana said, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
Karen sat with her knees pulled up to her chest on the front porch swing of a woman that she didn't know. She was so angry, angry at Josu's bitch, angry at Josu himself, angry at Liliana for choosing someone over her family, but mostly, she was angry at Will. She knew that her father was going to commit a murder right here, but as angry as she was, she still loved him, she would stand in between Giovanni and Will.
"Why did you lie to me?"
"I never wanted to, Karen, but I had - have to protect my mother! You think that Lili looked bad? Do you know what they would do to her and to me if I show you anything that has anything to do with them?"
"You're protecting a rapist! We're sure he killed Nicolai and tried to murder Josu just so that Lili had no where to go - and I was there! I was able to get away from Grimsley- but Lili, she wasn't as lucky. You knew who she was a week after dating me! Why couldn't you tell me? My dad can protect you!" Karen screamed.
"I don't want his conditional protection, Karen," Will said.
"But you'll protect someone who raped my sister," she spit at him.
"Karen, I for one know it was far more complicated than that," Will said
"I don't give a damn how complicated it was, how could you lie to me?"
"I was scared, and embarrassed," he said, dropping his head.
"You know who was scared? Liliana was. I was. I was scared of men for nearly four years,"Karen said. "I thought you were different than them," she said, as hot tears stung at her eyes.
"I am, they aren't me, Karen, please, just give me the benefit of the doubt," Will was begging. He couldn't tell her where, but he wasn't going to stand in their way. He owed it to Karen, but he especially owed it to Liliana and Toby.
"Are you helping them? Your brothers?" Karen asked him.
"What? Of course not," Will said. "When I left, I was dead to them. I was held against my will just like Liliana was- Josu thinks it was as easy as just telling but it was so much more than that," Will said through tears. "He played it up like they were married and I had no idea for a lot of the time, she did seem happy," Will said.
"Stop! I know you can't comprehend emotion, but don't play this off," Karen screeched at him.
"Why can't I make you understand?! I wasn't trying to, but you have no idea, just please listen to me," Will said.
"You're asking me to choose you," she said.
"I chose you, didn't I?"
"Then rather than running a CT on your abdomen, we'll do an ultrasound and look at your kidneys and ovaries the tests take time, and I can do this now, I just have to go get the machine." She exited the room and Liliana lost control.
She yanked the blanket over her head and Jace could hear her sobbing, and Toby just shifted in his sleep.
"We are in this together, regardless, Liliana." He climbed into the bed behind her and tried to soothe her, kissing her head and hair, rubbing up and down her arms. "Shh, Lilipad. Everything is going to be okay."
"I don't know what I feel, I don't want to lose him, but I can't do this alone," Liliana said. "I'm not even good enough for Tobias, I can't be responsible for anyone else," Liliana bawled.
Just as Jace was going to say that she wouldn't be doing this alone, the doctor came in with the sonogram machine. He sat on the edge, next to her, holding her hand. The doctor asked Liliana to roll on her side, and she couldn't help it. She buried her head into Jace's shoulder and hoped that he would stay with her, though she couldn't blame him if he left, because this life was too much for her. She couldn't force him to love another child that wasn't his.
"Your kidneys are fine, but the blood was caused by a cyst that ruptured on your ovaries, which you have quite a few of. Some women do, but you need to ingest as much water as you can - potassium too. Can you flip over to your stomach, Miss Vess?"
She couldn't. She felt Jace walking out, it was all she could see, the only outcome that she could fathom. Jace never released her hand. He kept his forehead pressed to hers, but rolled her gently to her back. And then he heard it. There was a steady swishing sound that neither one of them had ever heard. There was a beating heart. Liliana hugged her boyfriend to her, and in that moment, when he heard it, his heart changed too. He looked around him, at the woman, the little boy, and the picture on the screen. He planted a kiss on Lili's tearstained lips. How could Jace love something so much, when he had never even knew he wanted them? He took Lili's shaking hand in his and dropped them to her abdomen. Through tears, Jace only managed to choke out one word.
"I'm not asking you to abandon your family. I'm just asking you to stand by me. I am asking you to let me have the rest of my life to show you that I can make it up to Toby, Liliana, but mostly to you. I don't blame you if you want to walk out. But I'm begging you not to." Will was not too proud to beg. He knew that Karen was it for him. He loved her wholly. But he was so terrified.
"I would choose you, even if I had a million other choices, but I can't turn my back on Liliana. Not again." Karen said. "I can't watch Josu break. I can't do this again," Karen said. "Are you being honest with me?"
"Karen, I don't have anything else to lie about, I have nothing left to lose."
She gathered his hands in hers and made a promise to somehow bridge this gap between the two loves of her life, to make them into one family. She didn't know how, but she knew that that was her only option. She wasn't going to let go. Not again.
Liliana sat in the passenger side of Jace's car, looking out the window. She couldn't look at him, she just knew that she was going to lose him, she knew that Toby was going to lose him, and she had no idea how to explain that to Toby. He wouldn't let go of her hand, he hadn't released it since the hospital. She didn't want to let go either- she was scared that if she did, she'd never feel his hands against hers again. Liliana's eyes started stinging again, so when she went to wipe the tears away, Jace could feel the moisture on the back of his hand.
"LiliPad, what's wrong? You should be happy. You're an amazing mother and we're going to have an amazing child."
Liliana could barely believe her ears. After five years of being told that she couldn't parent, that she didn't love her son, that she didn't know what was best for him, the man that made her feel, the man that made her happy was telling her she was a good mother. She squeezed his hand.
"I love you too much to saddle you with another child that isn't even yours," Liliana said, her tears staining the front of her shirt.
"DNA doesn't make a family. I won't let a group of arbitrary acids dictate how I feel about my family."
"I am twenty-one years old, I had a child at seventeen, I haven't finished high school, I'm dyslexic- I basically can't read, and I have somehow made a genius love me and my son. I don't know how I got so lucky. I thought, and still think that you are far too good for me. But I'm having another child -"
"We. We are having another child."
"You still want to stay?"
Jace closed the gap between him and Liliana, kissing her softly and slowly, trying to mend the brokenness that that monster had created. He saw her for everything that she was, and everything that she wasn't, and he loved every bit of her.
"I love you, I love you," Liliana said. "I know I don't deserve you but I love you," She said against his lips. "I'm sorry," she said.
"You are my life- and I will work every single day to make sure that I'm the parent that these babies deserve. You will have to help me and show me how to parent and how to be a boyfriend and a husband, but please just give me the chance, give us the chance, and I'm making the promise to be what they need, the parent that you are. I will never let go. I won't give up on us," Jace said.
Liliana wasn't even coherent by that point. She looked at her sleeping son and at the man next to her, the man that showed her what a real man was, the man that her father would have been proud of, that loved her and her brother and loved her son- her children like they were his.
"You love them like they're yours," she managed.
"Ours," Jace said as he reached back to the boy that would be his son. "Ours."
"I won't give up on us, even if the skies get rough,
I'm giving you all my love, I'm still looking up
I won't give up on us, God knows I'm tough enough,
We've got a lot to learn, God knows we're worth it...
Chapter 15: Something Wicked this Way Comes
Kaalia heard the Harley pull into the driveway and nearly tripped over her too-long jeans trying to get to him. She was angry at his outburst but understood the necessity of it, Josu's inherent need to protect his twin. She always did the same, she had wanted her siblings to grow up like she did. She sought to understand them like she wanted to be understood. But right now, Kaalia Claire only had eyes for her man.
"About time," Rose said to Emmara under her breath. The latter of the women elbowed her mother to be quiet, to let Lia and Su have their moment.
He scooped her off of her feet, hugging her to him. He felt her warm lips across the side of his face, but he also felt the almost dry tears on the side of hers.
"Su," Kaalia said. "You terrified me."
"I'm here, I'm right here, and I am fine. I'm so sorry. I had to, I can't let anything happen to her, and now you're a target too, I have to protect my girls and my nephew."
"I'm not going to hurt her, Josu," Will stepped inside to Rose's kitchen with Karen's hand in his. He knew that there wasn't a good way to do this, but he had to stand up to Josu eventually, somehow, and it had to start today.
"You had no qualms about hurting my sister or my nephew and then lying about it," Josu spat at him. Kaalia just grabbed his hand and tried her best to pull him into the sitting room, but she knew that he wasn't going anywhere until Giovanni showed up.
"I never hurt Liliana or Tobias, Josu! Do I look like I could hurt someone? I weigh 135 pounds soaking wet!"
"There is more than one way to hurt someone, idiot," Josu seethed. "You knew exactly who I was the first time your pasty ass talked to me, and you fucking lied for three months, I could have had her back, My father might not be dead if you had had the sack to speak the fuck up. Do you think you're still going to be around? I will end you right here and now."
"It's not down to you, Josu," Karen said.
"Next time you say something to Lia, keep that in mind, especially if you want to act like a bitch," Josu said
"Your father's turning in his grave, knowing you just said that to me," Karen fired back.
"And your father is very appalled at your judgement, Karen Isabelle," Giovanni said to the room, and everyone fell silent.
Jace and Lili both decided their first order of business should be to telling Tobias that he was going to be a big brother. Jace was the youngest, so he had no idea how Toby would react to this. He knew that any sort of change was going to be hard for him, as it usually was.
"Are you sure this is what you want, Jace? I'm not going to force you to stay. It's not fair," Liliana started but Jace cut her off.
"I want to be their father," he said, gesturing to her tummy, where he laid his hand.
"And Toby?" she asked him.
"It goes without saying. Whenever he's ready, and you're ready."
"When did you decide this?"
"Do you remember when I held you because you had had that nightmare about him, and you were crying?"
Liliana nodded. Of course she remembered him holding her that night. He had told her that it was going to be okay, and for the first time, she thought that it might really be.
"I thought that my world was ending. I knew that Mama had been right, that one day, I'd find the person that changed everything. And even when I assured her that that person was Nikola Tesla, she'd say that one day, Jace, you'll find the person that makes the whole world stop," Jace said. "And I'm the luckiest man in the world, because I didn't just get one. I got two. Two people that shook me to the core. Because I've never wanted a family. Outside of the one I was born with, and Josu and Venser. Until you showed up. I wanted to change the world. But now, I'm content if I just change yours."
"I just don't want to take anything from you," Liliana said, unable to look Jace in the face.
"You're giving me everything," Jace said to her. "I'm the one who can't take away your pain. And I wish I could, I wish I could make the hurt go away."
"I'm not ready to face this, not ready at all," Liliana said.
"What? Mom and Em? They are gonna be so excited!"
"No, Jace. Karen and Will, it's nothing but a mess that I don't need right now. I'm scared of losing him," Liliana drummed her fingers on her lower abdomen. "I can't go through that again," she said, barely audible. But she didn't think Jace heard.
"She is going to be beautiful, I am sure," Jace grinned. "Come on. Let's get some food for my babies," he finished.
"You know, you might just be a really great father when you grow up, Doc."
They pulled up at Jace's favorite spot for pizza, as per Tobias' request. When Jace lifted his sleeping son out of the car, he rubbed his eyes and stretched.
"Where are we? Nana?"
"No buddy, it's Ace and Mommy, Did you have a good nap?"
"Yeah," he said. "Do we have to go back with him?" Tobias was terrified, Jace and Liliana could both tell in his voice.
"Nothing's gonna happen, buddy," Jace assured him.
"I don't wanna go back, Mommy!" Toby said, very obviously scared. He was clinging to Liliana's leg now, and she picked him up.
Jace faced Liliana and Toby and pushed his dark black locks out of the toddler's face. Genius or not, he was having trouble emotionally coping with the things that had happened to him, and Jace couldn't blame him.
"I will never, ever let anything happen to you or your mommy ever again," Jace said. "I promise. I will not let him or anyone else hurt you. Uncle Su and I are not going to let you get hurt. And that includes any of your other uncles, Ral, or that awful man. I promise, Tobias. I promise."
"Scoop?" Toby said to Jace, holding out his pinky.
Jace looked to his girlfriend, who couldn't seem to get the tears out of her eyes today. She was smiling through them this time, though. She kissed her baby boy and then she pecked her lips to Jace's cheek.
"It's the strongest promise he can make, it was always a promise between us that I would give him ice cream if he followed through with doing what he was asked," Liliana said to him. To Jace, it was far more than that. Not only was he asking Jace to make a vow with him, it was something that no one besides the most important person in his life-It was including him on something that had only ever been him and his mother. Not even Josu had gotten that privilege yet. Jace locked pinkies with the little boy and then smiled at him, putting a kiss on the top of his head.
"Scoop," Jace said, smoothing his hair back.
"Daddy, you're not being fair," Karen said. "You haven't even heard his-" Giovanni held up a hand and silenced her. She knew better than to give him any lip, she knew that she was to show respect to her father, especially right now.
"I'm not interested in his side, Karen, not that I would believe it anyway. All that I need to know I've heard from Josu," Giovanni said. He looked calm, but Karen knew better. Silver was standing in the door way, Melanie asleep on his shoulder.
Giovanni moved across the room with deliberation. Rose knew that there was a storm coming in her kitchen and she was thankful that her grandson wasn't here, but she was scared for Liliana- she felt that something wasn't quite right. She shouldn't have to go through this, she shouldn't have to see this, her family fighting amongst itself is the last thing she needed. She could and would put a stop to it the second that her son and his girlfriend, and more importantly, her grandson, walked through that door.
"Give me one reason why I shouldn't pop your head like a goddamn grape?!" Giovanni picked the young man up like he was a rag doll, and he shook him as such. "You lied to me, and you lied to my son, and you lied to my daughter, and Josu finds out from my grandson who you are? I will kill you and hang your body from the rafters of the house where he kept her! You will be the example!"
"Daddy!" Karen started. Giovanni turned to her, knowing that he could silence her with little more than a look, but it wouldn't be good enough this time. Karen stood in between her boyfriend and her father, and Giovanni Voss nearly came unglued at the hinges.
"Silver," but then Giovanni realized that he was holding his granddaughter, so he turned to Josu. "Move her."
"Josu, don't put your hands on her-" Will started, angry.
"Couldn't have said that to the man who raped my sister for five years, so you damn sure won't say it to me," Josu growled.
Before he could even get his arms fully around her to move her out of Giovanni's way, Karen had headbutted him in the nose. But Josu wasn't as easily shaken. She kicked, she screamed, but he held her fast. Josu didn't even understand why she was putting herself in that situation, he was the one that was in the wrong here, not Giovanni. Giovanni was doing what Giovanni did, protecting his family.
Kaalia was just angry that she had hurt her Su, and both Rose and Sorin were sitting, speechless.
"You've got to be some sort of parasite to protect those people," Giovanni spat.
Will was angry, he'd had enough. Giovanni was doing the exact same thing he had tried to do when he had kept the secret.
"It's no different than you threatening to murder a man you don't know to protect someone that isn't even your blood," He fired back.
"Can you help?" Toby turned to Jace at the hummus bar, and he couldn't help but smile. Liliana was trying to decide between buffalo chicken pizza and gyros- of course, she thought to herself. I craved hummus with Toby. Biology wins this, I guess. But when she looked over her shoulder to see that Jace was lifting Toby on his knee to get the hummus he wanted, Lili knew that however many gyros she ate, it wouldn't make her baby Xenagos'. She was scared, terrified even. But she was excited. She didn't know that she'd even wanted this five years ago, but she was glad she had it now. It would be the same with this baby, too. She walked behind her man and her son, and kissed the back of his neck, to which he let out a hiss of air. He intoxicated her in a way she never knew was possible.
"Toby, Mommy and Ace need to tell you something," Jace said.
Well, Lili thought. He is all about efficiency, so I shouldn't be surprised. Lili just nodded at Jace, asking him to continue. It would be easier that way, after all.
"Mommy and Ace are having a baby, Toby. He or she will be here in April," Jace said.
"I told you you'd put out for anyone who'd give you a second look," A snarling, snively voice rang out from behind Jace.
"Can't he see we are on a date?" Tobias said, angry.
"Leave my girlfriend alone, Ral," Jace said.
"Get out of my son's life," he shot back.
"I'm not your son! I am my mommy's son." Toby quipped at him, angry. "And Ace is my buddy." He finished, squeezing Jace's hand.
"You heard him," Liliana said, her voice strong.
"He's five, he doesn't get to make his own decisions," Ral barked at Lili.
Jace dropped his pizza and stood up. He wasn't going to let this happen. He was her protector, even if she could protect herself. And they both had to protect their boy.
"Leave, Ral," Jace said. He wasn't going to waver. She didn't need the stress. You want a paternity test? Fine. Come back to the garage and I'll give you one. But she's pregnant, and I'm going to protect my girlfriend and my children."
"He's not yours," Ral said.
"Yet," Jace says. "And it's not down to me or you whether you get to see him or not. That is Liliana's decision. She has raised him on her own, with no help from anyone. You don't make Toby or Ral's decisions. And neither do I. She's her own woman, her own person. She's his mother. But Ral," Jace laughed. He probably was being cocky, but he didn't care. Ral was a fuckboy. "I won. She chose me. Not you. Not Silver. Me. And I'm gonna make damn sure she keeps choosing me. That she knows how loved she is. Every single day. For the rest of her life. Because that's what she deserves." Jace was almost laughing at him. "And he will know he has a friend, a father, whatever he needs me to be. Because this is my choice, they are my choice, and they always will be."
"When it comes back that the goddamned Greek isn't his dad, you can get away from them."
"Raphael," Liliana said, throwing her napkin in her lap. "I am not yours. I haven't been for years. I did miss you. But then I got strong. My boy is my priority and you can't stand that. And I chose Jace. He's right. You won't manipulate my child to try to get into my pants. You just won't. I'm not interested you sexually, I'm not interested in you personally. I have everything I need at this table, apart from my brother. Do not make me get my papa to get rid of you."
"Still all about throwing Giovanni's weight around, aren't ya, bitch?" Ral said. He knows he's lost, though. But Jace wasn't having it. He pushed Ral away from the table.
"Leave, motherfucker," Jace said. He probably shouldn't have said that in front of Tobias. But it slipped.
"Not without the test, gringo." Ral said.
"Call her a bitch in front of her son again and I'll make sure that everyone knows you got your ass beat by a nerd with a 197 IQ," Jace said.
"Come on then," Ral said.
Jace wasn't kidding. He was done with the bullshit. He wasn't going to let anyone push her around ever again.
"Jace. Sit down. Let's go do this," Liliana said, finishing her food. Toby was so over today already. How was he even supposed to be happy about having someone to science with when Ral wouldn't leave them alone?
"Let me tell you something, boy," Giovanni raged as he threw Will across Rose's living room.
"MY family, THIS family, is not about blood. Josu is my son and Liliana is my daughter just like Karen and Silver. Do you know the name Nicolai, does it mean anything to you?"
Karen was fervently nodding for Will to not say anything but he didn't see her. Much to her chagrin, Giovanni did, however.
"Say one word and I will slap the taste out of your mouth, Karen Isabelle," he said. Rose gasped, but she guessed she would have done the same. When it came to the safety of her family, she would make sacrifices, even if it did make one of them angry.
"No you-" Will started, but Giovanni did exactly what he promised Karen, and he didn't feel bad about it in the slightest. Karen could see his eye already starting to swell, but she knew that crossing Giovanni right now would be the worst thing for both herself and Will.
"Those greasy goatbangers as good as killed my brother and tore apart my family, and you sit here defending them. You will never have my approval. You will never be my son. And you had best hope that you don't cross me again. Because I'll kill you and keep your scalp as a trophy."
He didn't physically hurt Karen, but his words struck deeper, pained her more than any slap to the face ever could have.
"I'm disappointed in you."
Chapter 16: The Old Rugged Cross
She remembered this day like it was yesterday, and it haunted her. It would until the day she died. Even in slumber, her mind plagued her with these terrible visions, there was no escape. Xenagos had made sure of that.
Her son had been just barely four, and he was curled up in her lap, reading to her. When they had heard the door shut, they tried their best to ignore it, but whether she was able to or not often depended on the mood her "husband," as he forced her to call him, was in. She prayed for both of their sakes that it was a good one, and she wasn't disappointed. She was always thankful for the nights when he didn't come in with a mood like poisoned honey, and she smiled her best smile at him and averted her eyes back down to Tobias and his book.
"I thought you might want to read this instead, lamb."
Liliana wasn't sure what this was about, after all, Xenagos knew that she was dyslexic and hated reading. But she didn't want to anger him over something simple. She knew she had to pick her battles. She took it from him, and automatically knew what it was the second she saw it. Her daddy's bald head and smile was staring back up at her. It was the last picture they'd had taken. She was there, and so was Su.
"Go on," he said. Her lips were quivering already. Toby felt a surge of hate bubble up in his heart. He knew who that was. That was his papa, Mommy had always talked about him and told him that he would be his papa's pride and joy. He held his Mommy's shaking hand in his.
"Let me, Mommy..." Toby said. He knew that she wouldn't be able to get through it.
"Daddy," Lili said. She wanted to vomit. Her voice shook, but she owed it to her father to read this to Tobias. She wasn't reading for Xenagos. She was reading for her son.
It looked less like an obituary and more like an actual article, but Liliana wasn't surprised. It was probably what the church wanted.
"Nicolai Silver Vess, age sixty-two, was involved in a two-car collision on Saturday. He was a man of God and led many down the straight and narrow through his ministries with Agape Church. He had one brother, not by blood, but by choice. He was a husband to Lucille Davenport, they were married for nearly four decades. But his biggest honor by far was raising his twins Josu Tobias and Liliana Paige, alongside the love of his life. After her disappearance, he never ceased looking for her. And we want her to know, as her family, when she sees this, that we will never stop looking. We love you, and so did he.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Grits and Groceries scholarship fund."
It was obvious that Xenagos didn't read this. He saw the headline and expected an obituary. Or he wouldn't have let her read it for herself. She clutched the paper to her chest, but he grabbed the top of her arm. Toby knew what was about to happen. He just buried his head in the blanket and hoped that Mommy wouldn't cry too badly tonight.
"Come on," Xenagos said, just realizing the grave mistake he had made.
"LiliPad," Jace said. He hated that he couldn't stop her nightmares from coming. He shook her awake, he had heard her whimpering from the kitchen. Her eyes flew open and she panted for a moment, her breaths short.
"Love," she said. He moved her into his lap, clutching her to his chest. Neither could sleep, so Jace and Toby decided to work on coding, Jace had been teaching him, and Toby was working on a complicated wall Jace had set up for him, he was engaged, so Jace was writing, he had decided to start a blog. He had been working on his first entry when he'd heard her.
"Hey, beautiful." He smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead, her breath still unsteady.
"Please kiss me," Liliana said. "Not to be needy..."
Jace placed a finger to her mouth and let his lips encase hers. She clutched him closer to her, her body curving into his, but only for a moment. It wasn't long before they heard the shuffling of tiny feet, and they scooted apart to let their boy sit in between them.
"Got it!" Toby said, proud. Liliana smiled at her son and kissed him on the head.
"Look at my boy," Jace said, a smile on his face too. Lili stretched out and looked at her boys. She got up and walked over to the closet.
"We're going to church, Tobias. Ace?"
Jace disliked church. He disliked religion, he thought it was the mark of sheeple. He didn't believe in the existence of a God, but one look in Liliana's eyes told him exactly how important this was to her. Jace was sure that this was less about God and more about her father, so he just squeezed her hip, walked out of the room, in search of the Darwin tie. Lili was combing through the messy mop of raven-colored tangles when Jace walked into the bathroom. She'd already texted Kaalia and Josu to wake them, and Karen and Will were coming too. She was just ready to see Giovanni, because after yesterday, her boyfriend had insisted that she go home and go back to sleep, which she had been grateful for. Apparently, there was a shitstorm in Rose's kitchen- one that she was glad that she missed.
"Mama wants to come too, LiliPad. She and Em said they would meet us there."
"Did you pack their presents for lunch today?" Liliana queried.
"I did," Jace said as he he put the gel in his messy hair.
"It kills me that this is the closest you'll get to meeting my daddy," Liliana said, looking down at her feet and then back up at Jace,
Jace wrapped his arms around his girlfriend's waist. He kissed her on the back of her neck as she pulled her black locks into a high ponytail. Jace saw her smile in the mirror and tickled her neck with his eyelashes.
"I knew Nicolai," Jace said. "Quite well, actually. Giovanni and Josu asked me to speak at his memorial."
"Yeah. After you'd been well, gone, for about a year, is when I met Josu. I knew both of your parents. It's kind of funny now that I think about what Nicolai said..."
Liliana was hanging on to every word that came from Jace's mouth. She couldn't believe that Jace had actually known her father and mother. She urged him to go on, but he didn't know if he wanted to. He didn't want Liliana to cry. He hated seeing her tears more than he hated Edison.
"He always used to tell me, nearly every time I saw the man, in this big booming voice, because he really only had that one volume, that when-" Jace stopped mid-sentence. He had to tell her though, the look on her face was happier than he'd seen her in such a long time. So he inhaled. "That when his daughter came back, that I'd end up married to her."
When they pulled up to the church, Giovanni was sitting on the hood of a car that cost more than Jace made in a year.
"PAPA!" Liliana screeched. He knew that they were all very close, but he didn't know that she called him her father too. Giovanni scooped Lili up like she was made of feathers and spun her around, crushing her to his chest. Jace was nervous, he was terrified that it would jostle the baby.
"I'm so sorry, I couldn't save him..."
"Papa, stop. This isn't your fault. You loved him like I did. Like Su did. You always did your best to protect me. I love you, so much. Please just don't do this to yourself. It isn't your fault. If it's anyone's, it's mine. If I had just listened to you and Daddy..."
"You don't get to blame yourself for what he did to you, Liliana."
"Then you don't get to blame yourself for Daddy." Liliana said, stubborn.
Jace gathered Liliana's hand in his. He knew how hard this was going to be for her. He put Tobias higher up on his hip as they met Emmara and Rose at the entrance. He heaved a heavy sigh as they opened the door.
Both Liliana and Josu thought that nothing had changed, right down to the almost musty smell of the lower floors. Kaalia held tight to Josu's hands, and this was one of the only times that Kaalia felt his normally steady, sure hands shake in hers. Losing Nicolai had been the trigger- the trigger that had started the pills. He'd purposely burnt his leg on the tailpipe of the bike, and not a sissy burn. A burn that he held there until it burn almost down to the bone. Kaalia was the only person that knew that it had been purposeful. She knew that unless she was a successful distraction, that this day could and would be destructive for him. Her breath was steady in her chest, but his was shaky. The closer they got to the sanctuary, the shallower his got. Kaalia stopped short of going up the stairs and stood on her tip toes to pat Josu's cheek.
"We're all right here, Su."
As it were, Liliana was also having the same mental breakdown. She kept her son on her hip and Jace's hand was at the small of her back, but she felt sick. Sicker than she'd felt in a very long time. Maybe this wasn't a good idea. She leaned into her brother's back and noticed that Su was pouring sweat too. Toby kissed his mother's forehead.
Behind them, Silver was holding Laney close to his chest. Nicolai had been like a father to him, too. This wasn't easy. In fact, it made him want to throw up. He also knew that he needed to take Laney down to the nursery, but he couldn't bring himself to do it yet.
Giovanni had done William the favor of the cold shoulder, which was the best they could have hoped for. Karen was crying silent tears into their hands, she sorely missed Nicolai and everything that he had been to her. He and Lucile had been a second set of parents to her, and she knew that she could go to them under any circumstances. But Karen knew as well as Liliana knew what had happened that day, and that she should have been there. And that broke her heart. Nicolai had never blamed Karen, nor did Lili, not in the least, but she still felt as though she had betrayed her family. Will's hand traced from her shoulders to the dimples in her back,trying to soothe her.
More than anything, Will felt out of place. He'd heard Xenagos and Grimsley talk about the plan to trap the road on the way that they knew Josu and Nicolai went, but as it were, Josu had decided to stay with Jace that day. He shouldn't be here, this was intruding. But then he felt Karen's hand shake against his. He wanted to vomit for everything that his family had done to hers. She hadn't asked for this, and she hadn't asked to fall for him. He felt as if he was leading her right back into the trap that his step-brother had tried and failed to lead her into five years prior.
He had no idea that she was the girl that Grimsley was so angry about all the time. He didn't know what had went on in that house with Liliana, but he was glad that it hadn't been Karen. And that made him sicker still. He should have done more for Liliana. But he should have done even more than that for Toby. He had absolutely no right to call the little boy his nephew. He hadn't earned it.
Melanie pulled on her father's shirt tail. She pointed to the room down the hall where it looked like there were children playing. Silver smiled and swallowed, but then looked at the little boy that was standing next to him.
"Toby? Will you do your Uncle Silver a favor?"
"Mhmm." he nodded.
"Will you stay in here with Laney? Will you make sure she's okay?"
Jace got down on his level. He smiled at the little guy in front of him. "This means that your Uncle Silver trusts you to do your best," he said. "And we both know how good you are. Mommy and Ace will be back as soon as we are done. Why don't you draw something to make Mommy happy? I bet she'd like that," he planted a kiss on his son's head. Toby nodded and took Laney by the hand, leading the way.
Liliana decided to sit in the seat she had as a child; Josu next to her. As they entered, it seemed to be standard procedure that the entire congregation turned around to look and see who was coming in, and as they did so, many of the members let out audible gasps. Jace was sure that it wasn't him, but it was Josu, Lili, Silver, Karen and Giovanni that were garnering this reaction. The mob boss gave them a curt nod and motioned for them to turn around. Jace curled his hands with Liliana's in the pew and clapped Josu on the shoulder in a show of solidarity. On the bulletin, the picture that he'd seen a million times was present.
"Look how adorable you were, LiliPad. And look how ugly Josu was," Jace said under his breath. Josu shot him a mean look and Kaalia snorted. Jace touched the loose cotton of Liliana's dress as the sermon started. Liliana didn't recognize the man that was speaking, but most of the deacons were still the same.
Love is Patient...
As the pastor droned on and on about these words in a religious sense, about how the body of Christ was called to wait on things, whether it be the second coming or a brother and sister in Christ. Jace thought about them in a more practical sense. Love Is Patient. He understood that. He would wait as long as Liliana needed him to as long as he got to keep her.
Will thought about them in a more practical sense too. He was willing to wait for the right moment to exact justice on the people that ruined so many lives as long as it meant his mother would be spared. And if any of the team thought about that, then they would probably agree.
Kaalia and Josu understood too. Kaalia knew that she wanted him, but her heart was still broken. Josu knew that he loved her but couldn't love her right until he had closure about Liliana.
Jace tuned out after that. It wasn't until the service was nearing an end that the pastor garnered his attention again.
"I know I speak for everyone in this church and your father especially when I ask this of you, Miss Vess..."
Liliana arched an eyebrow but then realized what the man in the pulpit was saying. She drew a shaky breath and squeezed Jace's hand. She nodded, but then looked to Silver, who nodded back. They both vacated their seats and as they walked, Silver took Liliana's hand. It wasn't that he was trying to be anything more than a steady place, yet another safe place of Liliana, but Jace couldn't help the pang of envy. He brushed it away and then settled in, wondering what the man had asked of his girlfriend.
Liliana's hands shook as she sat down at the ivory keys. It had been so long since she'd sat at a piano. It had been since the day before she'd been taken. She thought about that day for little more than a second when she and Silver locked gazes. They both knew what they were going to do.
On a hill, far away, stood an old, rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame...
Liliana ran her hand over one of the many scars that Xenagos had given her over the years. She knew that it was more than that, it showed how strong she was.
And I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain...
Tears started to pour from her eyes. She thought about what the song really meant, and then she started thinking about her daddy, and how he died for her and because of her. Because she didn't listen to him when she should have. And they'd all paid the price.
And I'll cherish the old rugged cross, until my trophies at last I lay down, I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.
Daddy had lived his life by the Bible and the Bible had lived by the bed. She knew where Nicolai was. But it hadn't hit her until she was sitting at this piano, playing this song, choking through the words. Her daddy was gone. He wasn't here. Because he would have never missed this.
To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear, and they'll call me someday to my home far away, where his glory forever I'll share.
In that article, it had said in black and white that her daddy never forgot her, and that he never stopped looking for her. But she'd been too late. And she'd wear that as her scarlet letter for the rest of her life. Liliana couldn't see, the tears were blinding her. She had to finish it, for him.
And I'll cherish the old rugged cross, until my trophies at last I lay down, I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown..
Jace sat with his hand over his mouth. He'd never heard anything like her voice. She was nearly choking on her tears, so the pastor quietly dismissed while Liliana and Silver sat. Jace nearly bowled over half the congregation trying to get to her. When he did, he folded her into his arms.
"Nicolai is proud of you. And I am proud of you. You are such a good daughter. And a good mom. And he's looking down on you smiling right now."
"Y-you don't even b-believe in heaven," she sputtered.
Liliana finally let herself go, let herself cry into Jace's shirt. Mama Rose patted her on the back soothingly, to which she pulled her into a hug.
"Thank you for all that you do for us," she sniffled into Rose's blouse. "You and Emmara."
"I think you've proved that family is family Liliana. You've given him so much and us so much more than we can never repay you for. I never thought I'd see the day when my son was really, truly whole after his brother died. But the day has come, and I have to thank you for that." Rose patted her face and they went down stairs to go see Toby.
When they made it, Toby was clutching two pictures that looked nearly identical. Rose got down on his level and asked what it was. Toby had depicted everybone in their family, but Rose found something odd.
"Toby? Who's that, baby?"
"Nana! That's my baby brother!"
Miles away, in a sterile room, Ral Zarek was getting his mouth swabbed, for a test that would change the course of Jace Beleren's life forever. And when pushed came to shove, the four of them were ready.
Come what may.
Chapter 17: Five
Today was Jace's first big day as Tobias' "father," even if he wasn't being called such yet. It was his fifth birthday, but the first he'd ever get to celebrate. Jace didn't sleep well last night; he'd been far too excited, and he'd spent the majority of the wee hours of the morning cuddled up to Liliana's tummy on their couch. This morning, he pecked Lili on the cheek and set off earlier than usual to get the nine people in his apartment breakfast.
It seemed he communicated with Will and Karen in contemptuous looks and dirty expressions. He was firmly on Josu and Kaalia's side- and as far as he was concerned, that was Liliana and Tobias' side too. The man was little more than a coward for not being up front with the supposed "love of his life," and withholding information from Josu, Giovanni, and him. How could anyone that was mentally enabled withhold such pertinent information from those who needed it, craved it the most, Jace thought. That was the cardinal sin of their cyclone.
He pulled into the familiar diner, just as the lights within the establishment flickered on. The smell of fried dough and cinnamon greeted Jace's nose and a smile was present on the face of the acquaintance he'd often had coffee with. Jace hurried along as he held the door open.
"Good morning, Jace," the man smiled.
"Hey! Long time, Nico!"
"You haven't been by," Nico told Jace, the smile still present.
Xenagos had never, ever been more thankful for the fact that he'd chosen an alias for this job, even before Liliana was relevant. He was sure that Jace knew his real name, because the bitch couldn't keep her mouth shut.
"New job, beautiful girlfriend, and she has the best, most amazing little boy," Jace grinned. "Just been really busy."
Xenagos gripped his knee under the table, he couldn't afford to show any trace of anger, he couldn't mess this up.
"Damn," he smiled. "Are you happy? I thought that wasn't your jive, Jace."
"It never was before, but then she came into my life, and she just.. she rocked my world. " Jace couldn't stop smiling.
Xenagos didn't like the sound of that, what it implied, it made him want to slap Jace, but he knew he couldn't.
"Did she just show up out of the blue?" He prompted Jace.
Xenagos was going to be sick if the smile didn't get wiped off of this smug, pretty boy, know-it-all's face. Jace's smile did fade, but then he smiled again, as if he'd banished the unhappy thought.
"I mean, I knew of Lili for a long time because I've been friends with her brother for four years now, and I knew her parents. We've always looked for her, I mean, you know what happened, I've told you. But she escaped with the help of her little boy." Jace picked up his donut and chewed, still happy. "This little boy, Tobias, my Toby, he's just like me, just like his uncle. But he and his mom, they.. they just.." Jace paused again. "They're perfect. And Lili, she's everything that I never even knew I needed. She makes me a better man," Jace smiled.
Xenagos' knee shook and his nails dug furiously into the palm of his hand. This was why he never should have let Tobias live, he was far too smart for his own good, and Xenagos should have been smart enough to know that he would've been. Liliana was far too idiotic and vapid to formulate her own escape plan on her own, Xenagos knew. He had to mask the emotions that were coursing through him right now, he couldn't give himself away. Jace was smarter even than Tobias, having had time to grow into his intellect. But as smart as Jace was, he was far mightier.
"I'm happy for you," Xenagos laughed.
"Yeah," Jace smiled. "But Toby, he.. he's the most challenging person, he's just, so… He's a sponge. I can't wait to be his dad."
"What makes you so sure you will be?" Xenagos said, struggling to keep calm.
"Lili and I, I know we haven't been together long, but I just.. I know. I've never been more sure of anything in my life. And we're expecting another baby. So I'm going to ask her to marry me soon. I know she's going to say yes, but just, I hate that I can't ask her dad. So I'll talk to Giovanni and Josu I guess," Jace said. "I'd do it even if we weren't expecting. But the adoption process is so long, and I'm going to be there for everything with our new baby," Jace said.
"Damn. Jace, that was quick. How'd you go from not liking girls to knocking one up?" Xenagos' whole lower body was shaking. He was furious.
"I..I didn't. But that doesn't matter. Blood doesn't make a family," Jace nodded. "Can I get some hummus and donuts to go? Baby mama wants donuts and my son wants hummus," he grinned.
"Ye-yeah of course. You'll have to bring them in one day," Xenagos said. And oh the day of reckoning that will be, he thought.
"Maybe," Jace said, still smiling his little insolent smile. "She's not the biggest fan of Greek," Jace finished, exiting the diner with a wave and a smile and him and Grimsley.
That child was his, and so was Tobias, and Liliana belonged to him, Xenagos thought. How dare she think otherwise? How she give something that belonged to him to another man?! Just as he saw the familiar Prius leave the parking lot, he sent pots and pans flying.
Blood doesn't make a family, he seethed. It did when they were his.
Jace walked into their apartment, holding the things to decorate Toby's room. Liliana was up and making his favorite muffins, and Jace pecked her on the cheek. He wrapped his hand around her belly, wishing the baby a good morning too.
"Mmm.. good morning, daddy.." Liliana cooed at him. "He's happy to see you. So is your big one," she nuzzled his neck.
"Good morning," Jace said. "Is that how you see m-me? To h-her and Toby?"
"I do," Liliana said. "You've more than proved yourself to him."
Jace was rendered speechless, of course. As they inflated the balloons and Liliana made the topping for Tobias' muffins, Jace regained his composure and then sniffed.
"There's something I wanted to talk to you about," Jace said.
"Yeah?" She gave him a smile over her shoulder.
"This- this isn't working. Liliana's heart nearly jumped out of her chest, of course, had she scared him away when she said that he was her equal when it came to Toby? Even though she hadn't said it in so many words. However, Jace interrupted Liliana's errant thoughts with the continuation of his own.
"We've got a case tomorrow but after it's done, do you want to think about looking at a house- because obviously Will and Karen are staying-"
Liliana went to speak but didn't, she just sat on Jace's lap and pulled his jaw to hers and peppered his soft lips with kisses. She never thought in a million years that this life would be hers when she was trapped and Jace was offering her something she never even knew she needed. His mouth tasted like fried dough and sugar and her mind and body hungered for him. He gripped her hips and pulled them to his- he was getting better at this, unf... Liliana thought. Just as she was losing herself, there was a sharp knock at their door.
Jace handed Liliana the decorations for Toby's door and answered their front one- it was certified mail, a letter that he had to sign for, but it was addressed to Liliana. One look at the return address and they both knew what it was- the results of Ral's paternity test. Liliana nodded at Jace, she didn't want to open it. It would take her far too long to even try to read it. As Jace himself would say, this was more efficient.
As it were, the letter shook in the genius' hands. Liliana saw him as a father figure to Toby, and this had the potential to muck everything up, to make it insanely more difficult, harder than it already was. Jace didn't know if his or Liliana's psyche could take that- but they both knew, that in that moment, it wouldn't change their feelings and they would fight him if he tried to interject himself into their family, their cyclone.
To Whom It May Concern:
This letter was written to inform you of the results of the paternity test that was given on behalf of your son, Tobias Anthony, and Mister Raphael Zarek. The test confirms that Tobias has less than a ten percent DNA match with Mister Zarek, allowing us to say with certainty that Mister Zarek did not father Tobias.
We appreciate that you contracted our service, and would would love to help you with any of your needs.
Firemind Family Services
Jace didn't cry. He never cried. But in that moment, he saw something coming together that he had never even knew he wanted. He pulled Liliana to his chest; she was sobbing too. This meant that they could live their lives, that he was gone, and while it meant that Tobias was conceived out of rape, it meant that Jace could be the father that Tobias deserved and the man Liliana wanted to be with, without any interruption from anyone. So he let himself cry. He crushed Liliana- and their baby, to his chest and soaked the top of her head. He knew that Tobias was going to wake up soon and tried to pull himself together, but they were both a mess.
Jace placed another sloppy kiss on Liliana's lips, it was like they couldn't get close enough fast enough, but just as they were, Karen and Will walked out of their room- Jace's old room and the former of the two scoffed.
"You're one to talk," Jace said, angrily.
"I haven't done anything to you, what the hell is your problem?"
"Yeah, fuck with Lia, fuck with me." Jace said.
"Jace.." Liliana started, but Karen just rolled her eyes and sat down at the table. Before any of them could argue any more, their reverie was startled, however by the excited sounds of "Mommy! Ace!" So, in that moment, that's the only thing that mattered, the only title that mattered. Jace grabbed his love's hand they walked to their son's room, who looked happier than they'd ever seen him.
Rose and Emmara had spent quite a while planning this with Jace and Liliana's help, and Emmara was glad for the distraction. Venser came over early to set up the decorations.
"Have you talked to Jace yet?" Emmara asked
"I told him before all the stuff with Liliana and the baby happened that we'd been seeing each other and he actually got really pouty about it, so I haven't brought it back up-" Venser started. Emmara just huffed a moody breath of air and nodded, she'd talk to Jace herself. They were both adults and consenting adults at that. Besides, how was it any different from what he'd done to Josu? Emmara clucked to herself.
She wasn't going to let her Huntington's control her. She'd stopped that long ago. Her time on this earth was finite, and she would live it to the fullest. And part of that was finding love. She did worry about what would happen to him when she did… die, but he refused to accept that it would happen, but perhaps that was what Jace was worrying about after all. He was worrying about how it would affect him, because he couldn't and didn't cope. But Emmara pushed that to the back of her mind. This day was about Tobias. They'd finally get to have the long anticipated derby race; Josu had come up with ten different prototypes with Toby, and they thought that they had one that was going to be strong enough to win.
Tobias had never had a day like this. When he'd woken up, Mommy and Ace had decorated the whole house, starting with his bed, his door, his ceiling. Mommy had always made sure that he knew how much he was loved, but parties didn't happen. Jace had picked him up and spun him around, obviously happy about something. Mommy had made his favorite muffins, and then they had started with the gifts. Toby hadn't had many in his life, so the newness was hard for him.
Mommy had asked Ace to be able to set up a lab for Toby in the garage. The more Toby researched, the more he wanted to figure out how he could help his aunt, pharmaceuticals interested him. Chemistry. So, Mommy had outfitted one of the upstairs parts of the garage with every manner of lab equipment she could think of. Toby had clung to Liliana, unsure of how to react.
Jace had wrapped his arm around her waist, saying that it was a perfectly normal. He knew that a lot of mentally enabled people had trouble with newness; and this was very, very new to Tobias.
"Are you excited, Jellybean? I know how hard you've been working on this," Liliana said as she smoothed his hair back to his head.
"H-he's not going to be here is he? I don't want him here," Toby said.
There were a few people that he could be talking about. Will and Karen were on their way, and though they were trying to patch things up, things weren't going so well. The night before, there had been yet another argument concerning Liliana and Toby's past.
"What are you writing?"
Will had smiled to himself. He knew that this was hard for Toby. He didn't know if he was trying to get to know him or if he was just curious, but either way WIll would take it.
"It's a story about a girl and her family," Will had told him.
"Oh. I don't like fiction," Tobias had said, quite matter of factly.
"Then I don't think you should be hanging out with him, jelly bean," Josu had said, lifting Toby deftly from Will's lap, Jace just looked up from his work, but then looked back down.
Karen looked highly affronted but Will put a hand up to silence her. She would yell, it would throw everything off, it wasn't a good thing.
"Why was that necessary," Will said, in the calmest voice he could muster. Josu was going to be in his life, unless Karen just up and left her family. Which Will didn't think was going to happen, nor did he want it to.
"You don't belong here," Josu said, without the tiniest amount of regret in his voice. He didn't care if he hurt Karen's feelings. Karen's feelings had ceased to matter when she chose him over Liliana's safety, when she'd screamed at Kaalia for taking up for him, and for Jace.
"Josu, I swear to God," Karen started. "He's just as much a part of our family as your fucking shrink is," Karen screeched. Lia was with a patient, far away from the scene of this mess.
"My 'shrink' never fucking hid anything from me, she's never lied to me, she's never enabled me to hurt my family!"
Jace walked calmly over and gathered Tobias from Su. The yelling wasn't good for him.
"You're not his only uncle, Josu!" Will said, angry.
"You're damned right, he had another one and his name was Kallist!"
From the back room, Jace smiled. Su had acknowledged what he and Lili were doing, what they were trying to give Tobias. That meant more to the hacker than anything could, except maybe Nicolai's approval. Jace heaved a sigh, and pulled up the model for his son's party.
"Why does he always act like this toward me?" Will queried, trying not to get emotional.
"Because he's being a fucking dick, and Jace got in his head."
"I don't think it has much to do with Jace, honestly," Will said, thoughtfully.
"Well, Josu never acted like this before.." Karen said, stubborn. She was red around her cheeks, angry. "He's the only new factor."
"Maybe, but I don't know, Karen.. I think this runs deeper than that…"
don't go breaking my heart
The little boy was bouncing up and down. He didn't know what today was all about, but he knew that his whole family would be together celebrating his birthday- even if he had no clue what that really meant. The various teams had worked on the cars for the derby race and Tobias couldn't be more excited for this, he'd plotted out every possible bump in the road, every single thing that could go right and wrong.
"Mommy, you and Ace are going to lose," Tobias grinned at his mother.
"What makes you so sure, jellybean? How do you and Emmy know that Jace and I haven't been working hard on it?"
"Too busy kissing," Tobias said, matter of factly.
Jace snorted. It's not like little man was wrong. They had built it, yes, with Venser in the quiet moments in the garage. They both wanted to make this day perfect for Tobias. Jace had purposely left out the prints where he knew Toby could see them, letting him access more information.
Jace had also told Will and Karen what they planned on doing for his birthday. They had decided to do their own, along with Silver, who the latter wasn't happy about. He was about as happy as Josu was with Will, but Tobias mattered to him, too. Giovanni and Nicolai had taught him that family did for family, and this wasn't about the Grecian worm. This was about Toby, the little boy that his Laney was already so enamored with.
So Rose and Emmara had prepared everything that the little boy could have ever wanted, pasta and cake and four types of hummus; it was elaborate, but he deserved it. He deserved to have four birthdays missed crammed into this one. Emmara had always been stubborn about the fact that even though she was sick, she could make new memories. Well, his Auntie Em wanted to teach him that. That even though he had been robbed of the first five years of his life, he could make new memories now. They wanted him, they all did. Jace had been broken since Kallist died. He knew that no one would ever understand him like his brother did, challenge him like he did, but that was before he met Toby and Liliana.
They had saved him from himself. He was spiraling in his own loneliness, but when Liliana had told Jace to teach her, it was like that hole in his heart was healed. She challenged him. She kept him in line. But mostly, Liliana Vess loved Jace Beleren, and none of them had thought that would ever happen. Liliana had given them so much more than she could ever know, but they had given her just as much in return.
They swam and they ate, and Tobias cried when his presents were given to him, there were so many. He knew that he didn't deserve these people, but they wanted him anyway, and Toby had never known that before. He'd always felt like he was his Mommy's biggest burden, until today, until right now, he felt loved. He felt celebrated. So when it came time for them to race, he felt like his heart was going to burst. This day, it had been perfect.
Jace put Toby on his shoulders, and let Liliana launch off theirs.
"Can you see, buddy? When they get to the bottom, Uncle Su's gonna catch Mommy's, your uncle Silver has aunt KK's, and Emmy has yours."
"Yes, Dad-Ace. I can see."
Jace felt like his heart was going to explode upon hearing him say that. He was scared, of course. But Jace wasn't. He knew what he was to Toby, and to Lili, and he knew what he had to do next.
Four slices of cake, four cups of Mountain Dew, and two race wins later, Tobias was passed out on Rose's couch. Jace and Liliana were also nodding off. It had been more than a successful day. Toby had smiled more than he had cried, which was more than Liliana could have asked for. Jace had prepared her for something that didn't happen, and for that Lili was thankful. For both of them. She went to scoop up her sleeping baby, but Rose stopped her.
"You and Jace take a night, you haven't ever had one, and you deserve it. He's fine with me," Rose said.
Lili nodded, as did her boyfriend. He needed this, and so did she. So they did.
Three hours later, passed out on the couch at the garage, Jace and Liliana slept. She snuggled into him as she woke, and he did the same. Jace had called in Liliana's favorite curry, and pulled out the leftover cake out of the icebox. She sauntered over, hair still a mess, barefoot, and placed her lips on Jace's neck.
"I love you," she breathed into his ear. "Thank you," she said.
"For loving my boy, Doc." Liliana said in his ear.
"Our," he said, shivering. "Our boy."
"You know, I never knew how much I loved you until I saw how much you loved him, Jace. Kiss me…"
Liliana didn't wait for him to respond, she started to pepper his neck and ear with kisses, and as he turned around, she braided her hands in his black hair and took his glasses off.
Jace had thought of this moment a lot lately. He had never really got to kiss his girlfriend, just a peck here and there, and now that Toby was sleeping with them, it was nothing more than a peck on the cheek, or if they were lucky, a stolen kiss in the middle of the night. This is why Jace needed to get this ball rolling. He was sure, Lili was sure, and so was Tobias. He made a mental note to start looking as soon as he got a chance.
Liliana crushed her hips against him, he could feel himself growing hard at the taste of her mouth, the pressure of her hips on his…
"F-fuck… Lili, baby.."
"Jace...don't stop, please.."
He moved his lips down to her neck and then to her collarbone, unsure of what he wanted to do next, and Liliana decided to help him, placing his hands on what she felt was her best feature, and the hacker moaned under his breath. Her breath itself was staccato in her chest and before they knew it, they were tumbling to the floor in the small kitchen. Liliana curled her body around him, her lips never leaving his. His hands got hungrier, taking every single inch of her body for sustenance, and she was his willing source; their needs melded in that moment, both of them starved for the other.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," Jace said into her lips. He moved his lips back to her neck, and when she arched her back into him, he couldn't bring himself to stop.
"Jace! J-Jace, don't stop…" Liliana pleaded. She felt the years of forced interactions, fake feelings, and lies falling off of her body. Jace was making her his and that was what she needed. "I love you, Doc.. I love you…" Her fingertips dug into his hips and he ached for more, he needed her, but he knew that they weren't ready, either.
She was blushing and his heart was flying in his chest. He placed her head to his chest, cradling her close.
"F-fuck…" Liliana breathed.
Jace's phone buzzed in his pocket and Liliana knew that their short date night was over. Jace blanched when he looked at it.
"Lead on Avy. All hands on deck."
Chapter 18: The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power
Scorpion Computer Services- Three years prior
"Something is eating at him,he's keeping something, and we don't do that." Kaalia said, in her usual high pitched, sing song voice.
"Maybe he doesn't like Halloween, Kaalia, most of us don't like holidays unless there is some sort of intellectual stimulation."
"Do you think that I would have even come to you if I thought it was over a holiday, Jace? No. I wouldn't have, something is going on. Something is wrong, Jace, and I can't put my finger onwhat. I can't read him for shit."
"Why don't you go ask him then, LIa?" Jace said, trying to be reasonable. Josu had stayed on top of his work and hadn't come to him with any problems thus far. It had been nearly two years since he'd joined the team.
"Jace, I'm pretty sure he hates me. I don't want anything happening to you, or Venser or him. I'm attached to him too. Haven't we lost enough, me and you? Isn't it worth asking?" Kaalia asked, a certain edge to her voice. It was one Jace recognized, but he couldn't exactly place.
"You care about him, don't you, LIa?" Jace said, trying his best not sound accusatory. "You have feelings for him?" He didn't want her thinking that this had anything to do with Kallist. It didn't. If she did, great, if she didn't, that was good too.
"He's part of us," Kaalia snapped at Jace. "OF course I care about him!" She seethed, but then continued on. "He's my friend, too! It's been a long two years, Jace! He.. We talk sometimes and he makes me laugh and he makes it not hurt so bad, okay? Please don't be…"
"Stop. I'm not."
Lia was right. It had been a long few years and Josu did numb the pain of Kal leaving, a lot, in a lot of ways. He had become Jace's fast friend, but there was so much that both of them refused to even broach.
Jace had met Josu nearly two years ago, surfing the dark internet, a place few knew existed and even fewer could navigate. It was a first person shooter game that they had been on teams with at first, then pulled over to a private chat. When Jace pinged Josu's IP address for being nearby, they had met up for coffee.
Josu hadn't been much older than seventeen at the time, but Jace remembered thinking that he was a hulk of a man, absolutely gargantuan. He fiddled around with something, be it blocks, or a rubik's cube, or a stress ball; they all did. Kaalia did, Venser did, Jace did. They sat, drank some coffee, and chatted. About mechanics and physics and engineering and computers.
After one chat with him, Jace asked him to be part of their team, grabbing a handful of the small stirsticks on the side table. Josu, surprised, agreed to go back with him. He knew he could take him if he had to, and even if he had more people waiting, what did Josu have left? Karen was leaving. Silver was already gone. They had ran as far and as fast as they could from the small town where it happened, from the reality that she really was gone. Not that Josu or NIcolai could blame them at all. They had refuge and resources and they took advantage of them. Josu and his parents decided not to. They wouldn't, he couldn't. Even if he had went, he wouldn't rest. He would never rest until she was no longer a ghost.
So with all of this in his mind, Jace nodded at the redhead who then jumped in her Beetle and drove off. Jace hadn't a clue where she was even going, but he just nodded to himself. Josu was under his project at the time, the engine that ran off nothing but pure water and steam, and Jace tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hey man, can we talk for a second?"
"Yeah, what's up?"
"Kaalia and I have both noticed that something has been bothering you, you've been acting erratically and we're just worried that something could be wrong. And Josu, you're- you're my best friend. I know that we don't forge relationships easily, but the fact that you are here two years after I met you tells me something. You help me, you know. My brother died about four years ago and you've really helped- whether you know you did or not. But I just wanted to make sure that you're okay. Kaalia is worried, too. She thinks you hate her," Jace said.
Josu grabbed the towel from the side table and wiped the sweat off of his face.
"FIrstly, nothing is further from the truth about that, I do not hate her, I just don't know how to talk to her. Secondly, it's- it's just, my birthday is tomorrow and-"
"I know we don't like a lot of parties and birthdays but I think what you're talking about runs deeper than that, Josu."
"Ye-yeah. It does. I lost someone. The most important person to ever exist in my world. I don't know if she's alive or dead, if she's okay, where she is or what she's doing. I couldn't protect her."
"Can you call her, Josu? I'm sure she'd be willing to give you another chance if you would just establish contact with her."
"It's not that kind of girl, Jace. I don't need another chance. I just need to find her. And I've looked and I've looked and I have no idea where she could be! She was stolen from me, from my family! M-my twin sister!" Josu started to pull at the ends of his hair. He hadn't confronted the reality that Lili really was gone in a very long time. He still expected her to walk through the door and sit down for dinner. Even their mother and father still sat a place for them at their daily dinners.
"Why can't you find her? What on e-earth happened to her?" But before Josu could even wipe the tears away, he remembered the story on the news from two years ago, the kidnapping. The girl who had just narrowly escaped and the one who didn.t He wracked his brain for a second.
"Liliana Vess? The girl from the bus stop nearly two years ago?"
Josu just nodded in anguish. When he heard her name spoken aloud for the first time in a few weeks, it was like the hole in his heart was ripped asunder.
"W-we'll find her, I'll help you, I promise, I'll pour every resource I have into finding her. We will find her."
"Th-then there's someone I need you to meet," Josu stumbled out.
"Of course. Have you hired someone?"
"N-no, Jace. My parents."
Kaalia stood at the door, waiting on Rose to come answer. She was pounding relentlessly on it. She knew it might take her a second, but the redhead stood there, tears pouring down her face. Jace had just forced her to come to grips with something that she never had before. The possibility that she was moving on, letting go of Kallist. She hated the pain but didn't want to forget his memory, but she didn't know if one could be present without the other. Her heart was in a hundred thousand pieces. She didn't think she could ever love anyone who wasn't Kallist. But she felt something for the Josu that was far more than friendship; it was how she felt when she looked at Kallist, and she hated it. She knew that if she moved on, she was going to lose Rose- and Rose was all she had at this point.
It wasn't like she could walk back to her house. Her father was the man that killed kallist, using software that Jace had created to drop bombs instead of aid packages. It just so happened that Kallist was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was struck by one of the bombs and didn't survive the blast. She knew that she would never forgive her father for what he did to Kallist, for using Jace the way he did. As soon as she found out, she had left, staying with Rose until she could get on her feet. Rose didn't ask Kaalia for reasons, she just opened her door.
"Baby, what on earth is wrong?" Rose said as she wrenched her front door open, Emmara not far behind her. Rose was startled at the tears flowing freely from Kaalia's eyes. Kaalia didn't cry. Kaalia put up her armor when things got real. She would go stony-faced and not speak, but the only time she had ever seen Kaalia cry is when she found out that Kallist wouldn't be coming back. She still wore his tags under her shirt, even now.
Rose knew what Kaalia was talking about. She'd watched the two interact at her family dinners. She knew what was growing underneath the surface for both of them, and Kaalia just acknowledged it.
"I know you have feelings for him sweetheart, it's okay, you're okay, no one is mad at you.. I've known for months. Baby, it's okay, it's okay to move on with your life. You don't have to hang on to the pain to hang on to the memory," Rose said, soothing Kaalia, pushing her long curly locks down her back.
"H-he H-he would h-hate me," Kaalia choked out.
"N-no, baby. Kallist would want you to be happy, and so do I, and so does Emmy. And Josu deserves to be happy, too. There's something inside him that's broken, maybe you can help fix it. Kaalia Claire, you will always be a part of my family. You will always have a place to come stay whenever you need. And I want nothing but the best for you. I know you're never going to forget him, but you can't keep doing this, sweetie. Let the pain leave. Let someone help you. I love you, Kaalia, but killing yourself like this won't bring Kallist back. So go, Lia. Be happy. Please."
"But not tonight," Lia hiccuped, taking one of the cookies Rose had pulled out of the oven.
"Not tonight," Mama Rose echoed.
well here comes the sad train here we go
Greek Community, Four years prior
Liliana had a hand on her belly, and lowered herself into the tub. This was it. The baby was coming. She had felt the gush of fluid down her leg, and his reaction had been to scream at her, but Liliana just breathed and stumbled her way to the bathroom.
Xenagos didn't know whether he was going to allow her to keep him or not. He did believe that she would try to kill him if he tried to take her baby from her. He didn't want to kill her, he loved her and in a way it was beautiful that they had created something together, something to show how they'd been together.
He knew that if he did kill him or her, Liliana would not stop her fighting until one of them were dead. He didn't want her dead, and by default, he guessed he would let the child live. She'd told him throughout her pregnancy that he would never be its father, but there was nothing she could do stop him from filling that role. There was no one else here, not even Grimsley. They would be the family that his mother had begged him for. He heard her wails of anguish from the bathroom, and was almost happy for the birth of their child.
It had only been thirty minutes. Her mother had never talked about this with her, she didn't know how long that it would last, but she knew this pain was unbearable. She bit down on a towel and gripped the edge of the bathtub, but after a few minutes, the pain passed.
Two hours passed and then three, the pain getting closer together. She knew that it would be there soon. She had no way of knowing the baby's gender, she didn't want to guess and be wrong, she didn't care. She wouldn't be alone anymore and her and her baby would somehow find a way out. She had to, now, it wasn't just her. She had her baby to protect.
Finally, she knew that it was time. The pain would be over soon. Blood started coloring the water of the bath and she gripped the bar and couldn't contain her screams- She could feel it for the first time. Liliana pushed with every force she had in her body and felt hair, and pushed harder, her little baby was almost here. She felt a head and then shoulders and pulled, the pressure was gone. The baby was here. Liliana tapped the baby lightly on the back and when she heard it cry, tears of her own fell. She turned the baby over on its belly- it was a little boy, with a head full of Vess hair. Liliana stood on her wobbly legs, and cut the cord that linked them- there was no way that she was letting Xenagos do it.
She heard the door creak open and couldn't contain her emotion.
"GET OUT! HE IS MINE! HE BELONGS TO ME! GET OUT OR I WILL KILL YOU!" Liliana screeched.
He did so, knowing that it was true, but she would have to face him eventually. She would have to look him in the face every single day now, because they had created a child. together. He smirked to himself, knowing that they would forever be linked.
Liliana grabbed Josu's old hoodie, she had had it on, it was the only thing that fit over her pregnant belly. She looked at her son as he opened his eyes for the first time. They were green, just like hers, just like Josu's.
She wrapped her son in it, just as the head full of hair gathered in the back in a small, tiny bunch, like he's uncle's ponytail.
"Tobias," she said. "Tobias."
Chapter 19: Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave
Jace swallowed and heaved a heavy sigh, breath catching in his chest. A lead on Avy? Everything that they had looked through had turned up cold, and now just a random murder that seemed to be connected? Who could it be, Jace thought, and he was coming up completely empty.
"We've got another body, it's that man, than man who was claiming to be Tobias' father. I've only heard the report, I'm on my way. He was shot execution style just like Avacyn and the twins, but he's been strung up from the rafters of his apartment. There are a crazy amount of eerie similarities with both of the scenes. I don't know if Liliana wants or needs to see all of this, but you definitely need to bring the other two, there are a lot of things here that are distinctly Grecian. I need you to talk to Lili and make a decision because I need you here in thirty." The line went dead, Sorin's voice was dead, and Jace felt like he was going to be dead. He was floored. If he, this man, was picking off people close to Toby and Lili, all of them were in mortal peril. He clutched at Liliana's hand frantically, which scared her. She knew Jace didn't freak out over just anything. He barely had any emotions, after all. Liliana squeezed back, trying to reassure her boyfriend that she was here and they were all going to be okay.
Jace knew that it wouldn't be very wise to keep it from her, and he didn't see how he could for very long. This was her, no, their son's life hanging in the balance. He couldn't keep that from her, regardless of how scared she may be. The cardinal sin of the cyclone. When had he ever lied to anyone to try and save their emotions? He told Emmara she was dying. He would tell Kallist the odds of him getting blown apart in combat, he would just tell his mother how he felt about God and going to church, and yet here he was, trying to decide whether or not to lie to Liliana. He breathed in again as he took the phone down from his face; Liliana was holding him fast around the waist.
"W-what?" She stammered. She knew by the look on her boyfriend's face that it couldn't be good. She knew him, his emotions.
"S-Sorin... He, well... They have a lead on Avacyn. But it's not a good thing, in fact it's the worst possible thing that could ever happen to us," Jace said. "T-they found Ral's body. W-which makes us think..."
"Xenagos…" Liliana said, as Jace realized that this was the first time she'd ever spoken the man's name out loud. "This is my fault! This is all my fault! Avacyn is dead because of me and Ral is dead because of me! And now I've put e-everyone in danger! M-my baby! O-our..." her hand flew down to her tummy in a fit. "Our babies... He's going to hurt him just like he tried to with T-toby and…"
Liliana sat down on the edge of her bed with her head in her hands. Jace made the calls to bring everyone else up to speed, Josu and Lia were leaving Rose's and bringing Venser, and with great reluctance, Jace called the other two people who had taken up residence in his apartment.
"C-call Giovanni," Liliana stammered at Jace. "P-please!"
"Shhh, I will, come here. It's okay, my LiliPad, he's not going to get near us. Or our family, I promise… I promise... "
"H-he won't stop until he finds me… He won't quit, Jace."
"And I'm not stopping until he's dead," Jace said. It was quite the statement to make, but Jace had never felt such a hatred for another human being in his life. Jace didn't feel anything, ever, but right now, he felt everything. He felt every inch of him start to burn and a primal instinct kick in- someone was trying to hurt what was his. And he hated it, hated him.
Liliana grabbed Jace's hand and held it fast, trying not to think that her son, their son, might not be as safe in the arms of his Nana as they once thought he was.
The ride over there was essentially silent, Jace didn't let her go for a second, and he didn't plan on doing so once they got to the scene. He took in the place around him, just your everyday, average apartment complex, Ral's Camaro parked outside, and crime tape everywhere. Liliana heaved a shaky breath; as much as she disliked him and wanted him out of Tobias' life, this is not how she wanted that accomplished. She didn't want this for him, or anyone, for that matter. She didn't even want Xenagos dead; she wanted him imprisoned just like she was, just like her son was. Spiteful? Yes, probably. But Liliana didn't care. She just wanted him to pay for what he did to her, what he did to Toby. He manipulated her for so long, controlled her by any means he could, and this was him just trying to get her back in his clutches. Well, she wasn't doing it. She would never put her son back in that environment.
Josu watched everything, like he always did. He watched Kaalia. She hadn't seen her mother and her siblings, but she had to see this, they needed all the eyes they had, and unfortunate as that was, that included Will and Karen. Josu never thought he could harbor so much anger toward his other sister. He hadn't been angry when she'd left, when she lived the life that Liliana was supposed to have. But now? Now, she'd betrayed him and her and their father. And Josu wasn't taking it lightly. Sure, he'd chosen Kaalia; but it hadn't been at the expense of half their family, she was just bring someone new in. When he saw their car at the scene, he gripped at the oh-shit bar in Kaalia's bug, her tiny hand wrapped around his on the gearshift, she knew the best way to calm him was to start with his hands and slowly work the knots out. She'd picked that up from Rose and Jace. She pecked a kiss on his cheek and Venser coughed.
"Su, it's fine, you know he knows more about them, if it is them, the people you think it is."
"Did someone call Papa? I don't trust him here with Liliana otherwise, we could be being lead into a trap," Josu said through clenched teeth.
"J-Jace did, Su, Liliana said she wasn't going anywhere without him either," Kaalia said. "You two are safe, I promise, she's going to be safe. They've already got uniformed guard at Rose's house just a precaution too, at least until we can figure out this crime scene," Kaalia said, trying to soothe his worries. She couldn't imagine the scene she was about to look in the face. It was hard to fathom that the same man that had ruined Josu's life had ripped out a part of her own, and was threatening to take it all away. The love that she finally found with Su, her new sister, her nephew, and even Rose, the woman that treated her like her own child, the one that raised her after she removed herself from Sorin and Avacyn's life. She swallowed the growing knot in her throat with some difficulty; as hard as this was for her, it had to be ten times, twenty times harder for Su. She kissed his furrowed brow and they both exhaled. They had to get out of this car, the job that they had chosen was waiting.
Karen and Will pulled up too. The latter of the two had his head in his hands, fighting off a panic attack. His chest was closing in, he couldn't breathe. He didn't want to believe that the two men that he had grown up with had become kidnappers, rapists, and murderers. They were jerks, sure, but this? It was sometimes hard for Will to believe. It was even harder to believe that he'd somehow lucked out that Karen believed that he wasn't with them, that he wasn't in on it, and that he did care for Tobias and Liliana, even if he couldn't reveal the location. Will had a sinking feeling, though, that once they proved or had any sort of evidence, circumstantial even, that keeping his mother safe would become obstruction of justice; and he didn't want to go to prison. He couldn't just leave Karen. He loved his mother but he loved her more. There had to be a way to get them both out without them harming her, but he wasn't willing to share the location because of Josu. He didn't trust Jace, either. But Josu's temper was much like Giovanni's, he had gathered, and he didn't want to be on the receiving end of it, ever again. But it was what it was. As of right now, Will's mouth was kept shut. Tight. And it would be until Sorin or someone served him with a warrant. Or Karen gave him an ultimatum. For some odd reason, the former of those seemed preferable to the genius. He had a journal open on his lap; twirling a pen in between his fingers. All of them, except for Liliana and Karen had photographic memories, but Will wrote down every little detail he could about the scene outside, hoping that it would be of some help later. Karen sat, wondering if this was somehow going to get her disbarred, from the way Liliana, Jace, Josu, and the bitch talked, they didn't care much for the law because Sorin could get them out of trouble. For some reason, she didn't think that the agent would readily go to bat for her like she would the others. She knew that he didn't care for Josu, but Kaalia did, so Sorin would protect him. She had her father, sure, but would he so readily use his connections to protect her and Will if it meant keeping Xenagos and Grimsley safe too? Her head ached. She didn't want to be here. She had never asked for this life. It was supposed to be her and Silver and Lili and Su. If it had not been for the other two- Jace and Kaalia, Will would have been accepted into the fold like family. And Karen, like Will was irritated that a four year old had been the reason that she had so nearly incurred the wrath of her father. She didn't understand why Lili loved him so much, he looked like his father- his biological father, a daily reminder of what had happened to her. She knew that the feelings were irrational, that Toby had never asked to be conceived of rape, but how was it that Liliana just moved on like nothing else had ever happened? Was that her coping mechanism? It didn't make sense. She'd so easily fell into a routine with Jace, with her brother, it was like it didn't happen. But it did, and it infuriated her that she acted like it didn't. With a heavy sigh and a squeeze to her boyfriend's hand, Karen got out of the car and stepped across the crime tape. She knew that Josu would blame Will for this if he didn't confess the location. Even if he did, Xenagos and Grimsley weren't stupid. They would have already moved by now, given that Liliana could possibly lead them back, with a lot more than a uniformed LEO on her side. Karen had seen crime scene photos before, but nothing could have prepared her- or any of them for the sight that they were about to behold.
Will and Karen got there before everyone else did, due to her fast driving habits and the fact that they had been eating dinner in a nearby restaurant and had been ordered by Jace, which Karen hated, to show up a certain address. When she heard what it was, she rolled her eyes, she couldn't believe that he had the audacity to throw his weight and his badge around. Ral, while annoying, would never hurt Liliana, and he really should have been putting more effort into finding Grimsley. She clenched her teeth. Things weren't good in her family because Will still refused to tell him where they were, where this community was. But he did have a point. Neither Grim nor Xenagos was stupid; they would have moved by now, to a place where Liliana couldn't take them, even if she wasn't scared to.
They pulled up to the edge of the scene and hiked the stairs to the second floor of Ral's apartment complex. Will saw the massive amount of poker chips lying at the foot of the stairs and then another trail of them leading into Ral's apartment. Will blanched. They, as in Team Scorpion, may have thought that they had a lead, but Will knew what was going on. Liliana would too, as soon as she saw it.
"Stay here, don't you dare move, don't move a muscle until the rest of the team gets here," Will said, shoving Karen into the nearest utility closet. He normally was not demanding, or physical, but if they stayed here, he knew that Grimsley, if he was here, was going to try to take her- and possibly Liliana again, back to them. His heart pounded like wildfire against the back of his throat, fear burning like acid against his tongue. There was no time to wait for Sorin or the rest of the team. He shouldered open the door and like clockwork, there he was, dispersing more poker chips onto the floor. He barely registered the man's body hanging from the rafters as his step-brother was on him.
Will pushed as hard as he could against Grimsley's onslaught, he was obviously aiming for his neck- to kill- but he didn't have a gun, thankfully. The only weapon that Grimsley had was a knife, and unfortunately, Will had seen many small animals tortured with the same instrument that he knew was about to be his demise.
At least now her father would never question if he really did love her, he thought.
Liliana and Jace pulled up to the scene with Sorin, Lia and Su fresh on their heels, and when Liliana saw the mess of poker chips, she lost it. He had been in there, one of the men that tortured her and her baby and had kept her against her Will, one of the men responsible for many of the physical and emotional scars that Liliana had. She couldn't help it. Her breathing got short and her body clenched up. It was just like before when she found out a about Koga. She felt as if she was going to pass out, she couldn't breathe, and she felt woozy. She grabbed for Jace's hand as she fought the Vertigo. He held her fast- he had to anchor her here, to this scene, right now, as much as it hurt them both for her to be here.
He pushed him away again, hearing Karen coming up the stairs. He knew she had heard the struggle and was coming, but then there was a distinctly male voice.
"LiliPad, baby, calm down, we need you coherent!" Jace's voice rang out. Grimsley's eyes went wide.
"This won't be the last time you see me, runt, mark my words, you think it was funny to leave and then take the one thing that I wanted.." And with that, Will felt a sharp pain in his hip and a twist, as he fell to the floor, Grimsley jumped out of the window and was surely gone before he could even call for help.
His vision was hazy, he was losing more and more blood by the minute, it looked like gallons were pouring out of him. His voice was weak and tired, but he wanted to make sure that if it were to end right here, right now, that the last thing he ever said was…
"KAREN!" Will called, and then it all was black.
Chapter 20: Cyclone
The mere calling of her name was enough for Karen Voss to know that something was terribly wrong; he wouldn't have acted the way he did- physical, pushy, angry if it wasn't. Furthermore, he would never call her into a situation where he knew that she could get hurt unless it was dire. So she pushed the door with all of her strength, knowing that he probably pushed something in front of the door. She took the stairs two at a time, pushing past the taken aback face of Jace Beleren. She tried futilely to stop the bleeding on his side, knowing that if she didn't, she would lose him.
The salty smell of the blood was almost too much for Karen, this was why she practiced law and not medicine, but she knew that there was no other option. She fought the screaming cry in her throat, the horrible fear that she would lose him to Grimsley.
This is what I get for escaping. I lose the love of my life. Karen thought. She could barely apply pressure for her shaking hands. Will''s eyes began to flutter shut, Karen shook him violently, she knew enough about human anatomy that if he did close his eyes, she'd never see them open again.
"No, no, you stay with me, William James," she pleaded. Before she could say much else, she was being pushed out of the way by the short redhead, and Karen couldn't believe the audacity of her, taking him away in this moment.
"What the fuck are you doing?!" Karen screeched at Lia.
Lia bit back the anger that was rumbling in her tummy, trying to infuse calm into her voice.
"I'm a doctor, do you want to let him die, or do you want to move so I can save his life?"
Karen collapsed into a pile at Will's head, trying to keep him awake. She didn't know what Kaalia was doing, but when Will reached for her hand, trying to comfort her, she knew that it was working. Will would always try to comfort her, even when he was the one who needed it desperately.
Meanwhile, Kaalia packed the wound with all the gauze she had. She didn't think that the stabber hit an artery, or he'd already be dead.
Kaalia had to close the wound. She had no liquid stitches, either. So she looked at Will, determination thick in her voice.
"This is going to hurt," Kaalia told him. "A lot. Josu is going to have to hold you down, and try not to fight him. You aren't going to die here, I'm not going to let you die, I promise," Kaalia said.
In that moment, Kaalia didn't see the person that she thought he had been. She saw the fear that consumed him from the inside out, the very real fright that these people would find him, Liliana and Tobias, harm his mother, and probably kill all of them. If they raided that house on an impulse, it could kill them all. She remembered how scared she was that something was going to happen to Sorin in the field, but his mother, his mother lived with that threat every single day. She couldn't help but think of Kallist when he was overseas, how she worried day in and day out, until the horrible news came. She couldn't let someone else feel that, because it was a feeling she understood too well.
Kaalia opened up the bag she had begun carrying with her just in case something like this happened. She took a deep breath and let her medical training kick in.
Anesthetic. Not that it was going to help much, she pushed the medicine as fast as she could and willed it to work. He was already thrashing against Josu- this was going to be the hardest thing she'd ever done.
"Su," Kaalia said. "He can't move. He can't move at all. He has to be still or it could be worse," she finished.
Deliberately, Kaalia started to close the wound. She couldn't risk nicking something else, if he lost any more blood, he'd be a goner. Kaalia wasn't trying to drag it out, she hated people in physical pain, that's why she chose psychiatry. His screams were far too much stimulation for all of them- and she knew it because her hands started to shake. Josu grabbed his beanie and pushed it between Will's teeth- silencing him as much as he could. Kaalia moved quickly; but with intense purpose, Every single time the needle pierced his skin, Will fought Josu's grasp. Tears stained the front of Karen's shirt because she was bent over him, whispering to him. Kaalia couldn't quite make out what she was saying, but it wasn't important. What was important is that he didn't move.
Karen couldn't move, she was paralyzed with fear; she was terrified that what Kaalia did wasn't going to be enough, and it would be another life lost to these two evil people, their kill count was growing and growing, and affecting every aspect of their lives. Liliana, Nicolai, Avacyn, and even Ral, it seemed like the rodents were hunting them until they could get Lili and Toby alone; she wasn't sure if she was a target for murder or kidnapping, but she knew that they would have to shelve whatever grudge they had to achieve the justice that they all deserved. It seemed that each of them now had a hand in the pot of someone hurt by these menaces; some more so than others. They'd lost a mother, a sister, and Karen could lose the love of her life. Nothing else was important. They had to catch them. She never knew the scope of what they could do, but if Grimsley had done this to his own family, what had he and Xenagos done to Liliana? She didn't blame Liliana for being scared to even speak his name, much less take them to the place that they'd been held. They could all die if they made one wrong move.
Kaalia had stopped the worst of the bleeding just in time for the ambulance to arrive, but she was unsure of whether or not she should leave him to the care of unqualified, normal paramedics. They could rip the stitches out and have him bleed out everywhere, so Kaalia gave Su a nod and a small kiss as she boarded with them.
Karen collapsed onto the ambulance as well, a sobbing mess, something that did not bode well for Kaalia at all. She dug her nails into her hand, trying to get some other stimulus.
"You saved him, you saved him, and you didn't even… I'm sorry, I'm sorry for ever saying you were bad for Su, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, thank you," Karen bawled as Will squeezed her hands.
"You didn't have to do that," he croaked weakly "But you chose to," he said. "Why?"
"Because that's what a family does," Kaalia answered. "Don't close your eyes, you're still not in the clear." she warned William, trying to be stern, but in reality, she was relieved. Toby didn't deserve to watch them fight amongst themselves, that was all he'd ever been around. All of them wanted to make his life better, easier, and fighting against each other instead of the evil that was plaguing them. That's what he deserved. So in that very second, Kaalia made a vow to herself to stop the fighting- because they were all better than that. They needed to meld together to start being the family Tobias deserved, and this was one of the many stepping stones that could do that.
Liliana sat on the stairs, knees pulled to her chest, rocking back and forth. She had finally freed herself from him, but he was going to come back to take everything away. Jace and Toby, her brother, the team, Emmara. Rose. Silver and Karen. They were all on a hit list, and the unprovoked attack on Will and the brutal murder of Ral proved that they would kill any who stood in their path. Her chest hurt, she couldn't breathe, She could only think about how this was going to destroy the only semblance of a family that she and Toby had ever had. Jace crushed her to his chest, smoothing her hair down, mumbling encouragement into her hair.
"You're okay, you're safe. He's safe. I just talked to Mom, nothing can happen to him. He's safe, Liliana. You have to calm down. Remember what happened last time? We don't want anything to happen to him or her," he said, lightly brushing his fingertips across her tummy. Liliana swallowed and held tight to her boyfriend's hand.
She clapped one hand over her mouth, she could feel and taste the bitter vomit making its way to her mouth, she breathed in, fighting it. Even if Grimsley wasn't here when Will and Karen showed up, Liliana would have known it was his handywork. She knew that the sight of blood made Xenagos sick. The medical examiner pulled what looked to be gauze from Ral's wound- but why would he even patch him up, Liliana thought to herself. As the white material was extracted, Liliana felt woozy, like she couldn't move. It was no gauze. It was a stuffed lamb.
"Oh god, oh god, oh my god!" Liliana very nearly shrieked. There was no denying it. He was after them, they both were.
"LiliPad? What? What is it?" Jace said, trying to shake her from the near comatose stare that she was giving Ral.
"T-that's what he c-called me, J-Jace, his little lamb," Liliana said, squeezing her fists together. "H-he, h-he's going t-to kill a-all of us," She finished.
Jace looked helplessly over to Josu, who in turn grabbed Liliana's other hand.
"Nothing is going to happen to you, hermanita, because we are prepared now, he will not take us off guard, he will not come anywhere near us. He had to do it like a coward in the night, because that's all he is and all he truly will ever be, is a coward. Look at the man standing next to you. You saved him. Look at me, in the eyes. You have saved me every single day for twenty-one years, Liliana, and I promise you, on our mother's ashes and our father's grave that I will protect you and Tobias. And I know that Jace will too- you are his family."
"You are the love of my life, Liliana Paige, and I promise you that I will protect our son- our children-" he corrected himself. "from the evil that lies beneath us. Nothing will ever, ever happen to you again. I promise."
"I never wanted anyone to die," she said to both of them. "But now Avacyn is dead and Ral is dead and it's my fault."
"The only thing that could have prevented these senseless killings is you and Tobias staying, and that was never an option," Jace said. "This is not your fault. This is the work of two sick and twisted, evil men. You are not to blame for this,"
"Jace," Venser said, as he was examining the rooms "Come here," Venser was holding a photograph, but Jace could only see the back from where he was standing.
My good graces have ran out. You will regret taking what belongs to me, Liliana.
Jace flipped the picture over in his hands, it was a picture of Liliana and Toby. He, that man, had not been stupid enough to leave a picture of himself lying around, because he knew that Jace and Josu would hunt him down, but he was making a point to all of them that he was watching. But Josu was right. The man-men were cowards and would only strike when he knew that there would be no chance of an altercation that they couldn't handle.
Fear gripped itself at Jace's heart, fear for his love, for his children, for the team. These men were relentless killers, and there was nothing else to describe them.
"C'mon, Lili, Jace," Josu beckoned to them. "We can't do much until forensics gives us something to work with. Because right now we only have what they give us, which is not much. We know what happened here. Liliana and Will can confirm it. "We need to get to the hospital."
Kaalia hated hospitals. Which was odd, because when she wasn't working on cases with the team, this is where she spent to majority of her time, counseling people who needed it. But now she and Karen were sitting out in the waiting room, waiting on the surgeon to come out of the operating room, Neither one of them spoke much, they didn't really have to. She had said all that she had to when she was on their way here. Josu had just texted her, telling them they were on their way, and Karen had broke down into tears. She hadn't expected Josu, Jace, or Liliana to even show up, after Will's decision. But they did, and she was thankful. Kaalia was right, that's what family did. Karen did wonder if Jace and Josu were still expecting Will to divulge this information. They were all terrified of what the brutal attack meant for them. All of them were in this fight together now, she reminded herself. Like they should have been in the first place, instead of fighting like children amongst themselves.
She knew that was what Xenagos and Grimsley wanted to do, divide them so that the collapsed in upon themselves, making Liliana and Tobias easier targets. She also knew that they couldn't let this happen. They had been divided for far too long.
"He's awake," the doctor said, "He's going to be fine."
Jace turned the ring over and over again in his hand. Would this have been any easier with Nicolai? Probably not, he breathed. At least he could level with Nicolai. Talking to Giovanni was like talking to the Italian mob.
"I know why you're here, Beleren, and I know her father is smiling right now. I know that you have had some rough patches assimilating my daughters with the rest of the team but I want to say thank you for trying, and protecting them, both of them. We have lived in a constant state of fear for the past six years and it doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. You were right when we chatted at the hospital the other day. These men seek to divide us, and we cannot let that happen. I know you love her, and I know that you are trying to create a solid foundation where she can raise her children- your children, and make us one cohesive unit. It has only been a few days and I am working on forgiving the boy, still. But we cannot let them divide us, Jace. Not anymore. Silver and I are relocating permanently to DC. The old adage is true, there is strength in numbers."
"She's the love of my life. This isn't about appearing solid to the outside. It's about her. And my son. I want them to have the security they never had. That's all I want. Her, and our babies. The rest scarcely matters. I welcome you and Silver to the team, if that's what you want. But I know I want Liliana. And Tobias. And my daughter which she keeps calling a boy," Jace smiled.
"Good boy," Gio smiled. "Nicolai would have been proud. And I am, too."
"Josu," Jace called, his voice shaky. They had planned on welcoming Will home today with a small gathering at Rose's,
"I'm asking Liliana to marry me today," Jace said. "I know what I want and so does she. And that's to be solid as a family, I- I just wanted you to k-know before I did anything. You're the closest I can get to Nicolai. I talked to Giovanni, too, who thinks I'm right. But I just wanted to l-let you know."
"You've been my brother for a long time, Jace. You take care of them, okay?" Josu said, a nod barely noticeable. They really did have more emotional quotient than they let themselves show.
Toby had been hanging around Rose, whispering a lot, which only meant that they were planning something. Which made Jace even more nervous about what he was about to do. He should probably go talk to Tobias first, but before he could even act on it, Toby had come over to him, hands shaking. He climbed into his mother's lap but pulled on Jace's sleeve.
Rose pulled Toby over to the side, away from everyone. "He's not going to say no, baby. None of us would ever. He loves you. He loves your mommy. I promise he's not going to say no." Rose comforted him.
"I've got to ask you s-something," Tobias managed to stutter out.
"Hey, there's no reason to be nervous, you know you can ask me anything, that's what mommy and I, and all your aunts and uncles are here for. To protect you, To help you learn. Don't be nervous." Jace said.
"It' s not even a science question."
Liliana wondered to herself what Tobias could be on about, she thought that she'd always been open enough for him to not be scared of questions. She smoothed his hair down and kissed the top of his head. He'd get there, whatever it was he was trying to get to. Liliana had no idea.
"C-can, I, I mean, I w-want to…"
"You want to what, buddy?"
Liliana knew that this was an emotional question. She hugged Toby tighter. She'd always tried for him not to be scared of his emotions, but here they sat, again, Toby terrified of emotional hurt. She knew that Jace wouldn't hurt him, in fact, he'd do the opposite, he tried to nurture Toby's genius and his feelings, something that was very important to Liliana.
"It's just, you and Mommy, are the b-best and I-I was j-just wondering if I-I could c-call you…" Toby choked on the last word, but Jace knew what the last word was going to be. He smiled at Toby and took both of his hands in his. It was now or never. There would never be a more perfect moment.
"Of course, but I do have one condition," Jace said. Liliana was absolutely flabbergasted, Jace was not the type of man to do anything conditionally, especially when it came to Tobias. Tobias raised his eyebrows too.
"You can call me daddy if.." Jace pulled the box out of his back pocket that he had deftly been covering with a shirt for the past few days that they were in the hospital. Liliana saw Jace getting down on one knee and the tears were flowing like a river from her eyes. She had done nothing to deserve this- this family, this man, this job, her perfect child, anything. But Jace saw something. Jace saw everything.
"I can marry your mommy."
Chapter 21: He Came Looking for Me
Nicolai Vess felt like he'd scoured the entirety of this godforsaken Mediterranean shit hole and it all, truthfully, was for naught. She wasn't here. He'd looked from Athens to Mykonos to Santorini and back, for any trace of either of them. He went underground after the car accident to protect Josu the best that he could. He surely would be angry with him when he found out, that he'd lied to him, but Nicolai felt that it was the best way to keep his son safe from any further harm at the hands of the greasy, disgusting excuses for human filth that had taken his daughter from him. Nearly two years had passed, and Nicolai had no where to go but home.
He clutched at the keychain in his pocket, an intricate one that his children had made for him, the names Liliana and Josu intertwined together, they'd given it to him the last Father's Day they'd all been together, just a few months after their mother was diagnosed and mere weeks before Liliana was taken. It had been one of the only relics that had gotten him through this: the endless searching, the countless dead ends. But now, he knew that he had to get back to his son. Regardless of what was happening, she, his beautiful daughter, was not here, and hiding from Josu would not help him any longer. His son had dealt with the pain of loss far too much over the past five years, losing nearly everyone who meant anything to him. So even if they still could not find Liliana, it wasn't fair to Josu to keep hiding, to keep up the relentless pace of this chase that ultimately, was the biggest failure of Nicolai's life.
He had abandoned Josu to come up empty-handed, to come back with nothing. Sure, he did it in the interest of his safety. He knew the target on his back was much bigger than the one on his son's, but he'd always promised himself—and their mother—that being away from Josu for a period of time was okay if it meant that he came back with Liliana in his arms.
But he didn't. He had failed in every sense of the word.
"I, Jace—yes, of course," she could barely see through the tears that were flooding the front of her shirt. She was far from able to stop them, she never did anything to deserve him or the family that he had given her, the security that he afforded her with. Before Jace or Liliana could say anything, Toby wrapped himself around Jace's neck like a vice and refused to let go. Jace squeezed him as tightly as he could.
"Daddy loves you, buddy, so much," Jace whispered, but Liliana could hear, and it only caused her to cry harder. She put her head in her lap as slowly, deliberately, Jace took her face in his hands, gently kissing away the tears that refused to stop coming.
"I know you say that I saved you. But you've given me everything I could've ever dreamed of if I had dared to let myself dream. You are the light of my life; you gave me the most beautiful son. I knew from the first time I kissed you that I would never, ever be the same. So, please, Liliana Paige Vess—will you marry me?
"Mhmm," was all she could manage, but Jace wrapped her up, safe in his arms and picked up Tobias with the other. This was his family, and he'd be damned if he let anyone take it from him.
A few nights later, there was an angry monster of guilt pulling at the strings in Liliana's chest, making her nauseous. She knew she couldn't keep it from Jace much longer, but she was scared of losing him. All Toby had talked about since Liliana had accepted was Daddy said this and Daddy told me this,. It wasn't that it had changed from when it was Ace said this, Ace said that, but Tobias finally had a father—a real man to look up to. And how was she going to explain to Toby that Jace decided he didn't want to marry Mommy after all if he reacted badly? Because right now, Liliana did not feel like a good wife. She didn't even feel like a good person. She knew, that if she was going to do it, it had to be before they were married. And if she prolonged it much longer, she was going to bleed to death, because that's all it was. An open, festering wound right on Liliana's conscious.
Her heart felt like it was going to rip itself out of her chest. She looked down at Jace and Tobias, in the floor, playing some sort of game, but more just content being together. She had put dinner in the oven for all of the nine people that lived with them and should have went to join her fiancé and her son, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She breathed in, sat down at the piano, and began to practice for this Sunday's song.
Jace's heart started to smile. He loved to hear Liliana sing. Even though their belief systems didn't align perfectly, her voice was beautiful. If she wanted to sing about faith, she could. He wasn't going to tell her she couldn't do or have anything she wanted. He wasn't him. And besides, he knew that her faith was more about her father than anything else. Jace knew enough about the human psyche to understand that faith, church, and Christianity was the strongest she had to her father, just like Kallist's old truck was the closest link he had to her brother. He'd meant for Josu to take a look at it for a long time, but he couldn't, especially now. Liliana's voice rang beautifully through the apartment. Just as it did, Jace heard a knock at their front door.
Nicolai wasn't sure where to go. He knew that Josu wouldn't torture himself in the house where he grew up, but he also knew that he would never leave this area until someone or something found his sister. The only friend he had had around this area was Jace, because Giovanni, Silver, and Karen had relocated after the incident. He remembered the other genius fondly, how he legitimately cared for Josu and wanted to see him grow as a genius as well as a person. Nicolai swallowed. He'd only ever seen the garage once, but he knew they didn't live there, and that they wouldn't be there this late at night. The sun had already set and it was closing in on dinner time.
He knew Jace used to rent a one-bedroom apartment in one of the many complexes around the area, so he started there. It seemed feasible that Josu moved in with him after the untimely "death," of his father. Fall was encroaching on them, but it wasn't cold, just unseasonably cool for the first week in October in DC. Thankfully, he had no trouble securing a car as soon as he got there, so he heaved a heavy sigh as he pulled up to the complex.
Thankfully, there was someone at the desk, and when he inquired if there was a Jace Beleren or a Josu Vess here, the young lady smiled brightly.
"Yes!" she answered. "They always have lots of people coming and going. Though she's not on the lease, Josu's sister lives there, too. And her—"
Nicolai cut the girl off. "What number?"
"Thank you," Nicolai said, hurriedly, without waiting for a response.
One night while on life's raging sea it looked as if I would suffer defeat.
As the blackness of night closed off the light my heart sank with fear.
My desperate cry rang out with fright; all I could see was no hope in sight.
With faith all but gone I met the one who came looking for me.
His heart clenched in his chest. He was standing at her door after nearly six years; they were in there. Both of them were. He balled his hand into a fist and knocked on the door, hearing the familiar voice of Jace Beleren answer before anyone else's. He should have known that they would be here. He was all he'd had, after all. And the girl, the redhead.
"Tobias! Do not answer that door. Every single person you know is here," Jace's voice rang out, authoritative. Tobias… It could not be. It wasn't possible.
"Daddy! I'm big! I've got it," the boy's voice rang out.
"Tobias! Listen to your father," Lili's voice said. Nicolai started to choke in that moment. It was real. She was here, and so was Josu, and he'd been right. Jace and Liliana had chosen each other… Nicolai heard the familiar sound that was none other than his youngest striking the keys of the piano. Just as she began, Jace opened the door.
Jace couldn't believe his eyes. The dark-haired, tall Russian man stood in front of him. His breath stopped in his chest and he looked as if he was going to faint.
"Hello, Jace. What did I say?" Nicolai said with a smile. Jace clamped a hand over his mouth, tears stinging at his eyes. His Lili… "It's been a long time, son…"
"Daddy! I-is that…"
Toby was bewildered, but it was nothing close the state that his grandfather was in. Liliana was alive and well, and had managed to raise a child in that environment? Josu was here, Jace was making sure that his daughter was taken care of and raising a child that wasn't his? For a man that said he had no emotion, to Nicolai, it seemed that he was wrong. Because when Jace looked over at his daughter, and the little boy who he presumed to be his grandson, all he could see was love.
"Y-yeah, buddy… it is, he is…" Jace managed to stammer out.
Nicolai patted Tobias on the cheek, and Jace was terrified that he would react badly, but he just smiled. Apparently, Liliana had told him about Nicolai.
Nicolai wrapped his too-big-for-his-body arms around Jace and Tobias, obvious that he was trying to hold back tears.
"Thank you for taking care of them…" Nicolai managed.
At that moment, Liliana's voice continued to permeate throughout their tiny apartment. Tears sprang to the man of God's eyes as he heard the sound that he thought he would never again, the sound that he had missed, the one that had been snatched from him.
He clapped his son-in-law on the shoulder and walked by, past the pretty woman in the kitchen, past the other man doing the calculations and Jace's sister, and he saw his daughter's hair falling in the same loose curls she'd always worn…
Satan had already picked out my grave, his plan was to foil and put me away.
I'd drifted so far, would anyone care that I'd soon be lost.
I knew my destruction was a matter of time…. "
Liliana's voice had only gotten stronger and more beautiful. He walked behind his daughter and brushed her hair, and as she turned around, he sang the next line of the song that they'd sung together so many times on the stage of Nicolai's small church.
"But then he appeared, and said, this one is mine…"
That voice was one that she'd only remembered in her dreams, and even to this day, it grew vaguer and vaguer, no matter how hard she tried to hold on. She didn't know what kind of tricks her mind was playing on her this time, but a lump grew in her throat. It's just the song. We used to do this one sometimes.
There was a soft brush across her shoulder that didn't feel like her fiance's touch; it was too rough. it was familiar, but she couldn't bring herself to look. She had to be dreaming. Before she could turn around, Nicolai sat down next to his daughter.
Now I'm safe from all harm, for he walked through the storm; he came looking for me
"D-Daddy..." she started, but Nicolai just put her hand on top of his, like he did when he was teaching her to play.
"Sing, dove." Nicolai pressed his lips to the side of Liliana's head. "I'm so proud of you," he said. "So proud."
He came looking for me, yes he came looking for me, he made a way when there was no way that I could see.. when I drifted far, yes he was near, to rescue my soul and calm all my fears
Chapter 22: Daddy's Hands
I remember Daddy's hands,
how they held my Mama tight
And patted my back,
for something done right
There are things that I've forgotten,
that I loved about the man
But I'll always remember
the love in Daddy's hands
Liliana's breath was heavy in her chest, she felt what she thought the long gone embrace of her father's strong arms wrap around her, and the tears that seemed to be unstoppable over the past few days started again. Her growing tummy caused somewhat of a barrier between them
, but Nicolai placed kisses on the top of his youngest's head regardless, Tobias scurried over and Jace followed slowly behind him. Nicolai broke away from Liliana to pick up Toby, but wrapped his arms around Jace first.
Jace felt his throat closing around the tears- his family, this broken, disjointed unit that they had created was slowly healing itself, and even though he'd never have his father back, he was watching the shadow of a man that had held Liliana and Josu together for so very long become reality, and in that moment, he knew that Nicolai, regardless of what would have happened between him and Liliana, would have been part of his life.
"Mommy was right," Tobias said to his father. Jace quietly got down on Toby's level. "About what, son?"
"I do look like him," Toby just smiled.
"That's silly," Jace smoothed Tobias' hair down. "You look like me, of course."
Josu stroked the side of Kaalia's face as he cradled her close to his chest. The song that Liliana was singing was ringing throughout the apartment, and it was tearing the little bit of emotional quotient Josu had to shreds. He let his hair fall down by his shoulders. He was so emotionally done with the past few days, and he knew that his sister and his nephew and his girlfriend all needed him, but it was all that Josu could do to keep himself from being a blubbering mess. When he cried, he often would pull at his hair and then he would end up vomiting. He didn't want to go there, not again. He'd seen too many dead bodies in two months, his father's anniversary was coming up, and Liliana was singing that stupid fucking song that they'd always sang in church. Josu had half a mind to go out there and tell her to can it, but he didn't have the strength. Kaalia didn't need to know that, though. He was her wall, and her protector. He couldn't afford to be weak right now.
Kaalia herself, however, knew what was going on. She could read humans, any of them. And though she had trouble with Josu at first, now that they were together, they had finally stopped fighting each other and just let things be.
"You're going to be okay, we all will. We're working together now…" Kaalia said. She ran her small hands through his soft hair, from his scalp to his shoulders, placing small kisses on the sensitive skin of his neck. He buried his head in the pillow and let her do it, willing himself not to fall apart.
"I love you, Su," Kaalia quietly said into his ear.
"I love you," he breathed, just barely above a whisper, his voice cracked like the foundation of the house that he'd grew up in.
Jace got up and walked to the back part of the apartment. Josu and Kaalia were in his room, and he didn't know what he was interrupting, but he knocked gingerly on the door. He didn't know what he was going to say at all.
"Josu," Jace said. "I need you out here, now," Jace started.
He sounded slightly upset- which Jace was more comfortable with, somehow, than interrupting something of a more intimate nature.
"I can't, not right now, Jace," he croaked. Kaalia wrapped her tiny legs and arms around her boyfriend. Neither of them had the heart to tell Liliana she couldn't remember her father in the way that she wanted, but she'd comfort him in the way that she could.
"Josu, seriously," Jace implored. He didn't know how to get him out with telling him what was going on, and he knew that wasn't fair to Nicolai, he wanted Josu to be able to see him without the thought that Jace was playing some sort of cruel trick on him.
"Not right now, Beleren," Josu's voice was a dangerous growl. Kaalia was slightly conflicted, it could be very important, but it could be nothing, so she just did her usual and clammed up, continuously running her fingers through Josu's hair, this time for her own comfort as much as his.
Jace grimaced. It would be unfair to get Toby over here, It would be even more unfair to tear Liliana away. So he did the only thing his brain could think of, it was not true, but he was sure it would get Jace out of that bed.
"Sorin's here," Jace lied.
Josu groaned and sat up, pulling his hair back into a ponytail, his hoodie over his pajama pants.
"Fucking," Josu groaned.
"No, Su…" Kaalia said.
"Come on, Lia," Su said. "This isn't the position I wanted your father to catch me in," Josu finished lamely. He was getting closer to his tipping point. His breath caught up in his chest; he wasn't ready for another case or an argument with Sorin about what he and Lia had been doing when they'd done nothing more than kiss.
"Daddy," Liliana said "How? Josu and Jace both said you were w-were…"
"I went underground to protect your brother and to try and see if you'd been taken out of the country." He wasn't going to share more than he had to, because he felt as if he'd failed them both already. Liliana had somehow gotten herself out and Josu was here because of Jace. Nothing he, as a father had done to help them. He grabbed his daughter's hand and they walked up behind Jace and Toby.
The first thing Nicolai saw was a tiny girl, a mass of red curls pulled onto her head in a messy bun.
"Oh.. My.. God.. Su!" Lia said.
Josu wondered what they all could be on about. He struggled to pull a decent shirt over his head, this had to be a case.
"What the fuck do you w-" Josu started, aggravated at Jace.
"My son," neither Jace nor Lia understood, but Su did…
"P-papa…." Josu struggled. "PAPA!"
For the first time in many years, Nicolai Vess had his family back together. Liliana bawled into her brother's chest as he wrapped his arms around them both, Lia grabbed Jace's hand and squeezed it before the mountain of a man roped both of them in, along with Tobias.
"Poppy," Toby said, his voice slightly grumpy. "You're squishing my head."
Nicolai smiled down at the boy that he knew was going to be his pride and joy. He hadn't felt such an upsurge of love since the first time he held Josu and Liliana, and though he missed that moment- the initial moment, he'd make it up to all of them. He would make it up to Liliana that he'd missed her homecoming, and he'd make up lying to Josu. He hadn't the slightest idea how, but he would glue this family as he had before he'd left.
He turned to Jace and Kaalia with a warm smile, Jace obviously trying not to cry and Kaalia looking slightly scared. and said the sincerest words that he had ever in his life.
Josu cleared his throat and looked down at Liliana and Toby, and over at Jace. Nicolai knew that Kaalia and Jace had saved his children. He didn't need to say anything else.
"P-papa," Josu stammered. "There really is someone else who kept us all together. Who never let me give up on Liliana, who made sure I didn't starve and took me in as her son when she didn't have to.
"Josu," Rose chided him. "You are my son. You saved my child. You save Kaalia everyday."
"Poppy," Toby echoed. "Uncle Su is right. We'd all be lost without Nana."
Rose blushed and kissed the top of her grandson's head. Without a second thought, Nicolai pulled Rose into a hug that he hoped said the gratitude of thanks that he'd never be able to repay.
Jace wrapped his arms around his fiancee's waist, lacing them together, touching her tummy. She nestled her head into his shoulder and he held onto her tighter, watching Toby sit on his grandfather's knee. Liliana was so overcome with emotions in this moment that she was leaning on Jace for support. At the same time, they both felt it. It was like a butterfly movement for Liliana, just a tiny bit of pressure against his hand for Jace.
"He did," Liliana said slyly. As sure as Jace was that she was a girl, Liliana knew it was a little boy. Like a tidal wave, all of the emotions hit Jace at once. Liliana pulled him into their room, placing a kiss on his lips. Jace allowed himself to linger before resting his head on her shoulders and willing their baby to kick again. They did, just a tiny flutter against Jace's hand. Liliana made a giggling noise and kissed Jace's cheek.
"You've got this," she assured him.
Later that night, Liliana had exhausted herself, her second trimester of pregnancy was making her extremely tired, Both she and Tobias had passed out during his story, and he left his fiance and his son to their dreams, kissing them on their foreheads and promising to be back. Josu and Lia went on a mission to retrieve Giovanni, Emmara had left with Venser, so Jace was just sitting on his laptop getting ready to play another game of league when Nicolai came to sit next to him.
Jace heaved a heavy sigh and let the breath hit the open air like a ton of bricks. There was something weighing on him, something he couldn't even tell Liliana. He was too scared it would shatter her, and he didn't want the extra stress on her.
He was scared. Absolutely terrified.
He had never had a father figure, Kallist didn't qualify, he was barely five years his senior.
Sorin, he blinked. Sorin had been distancing himself again, they didn't see him unless they had a case. He was hurting Lia again and making Jace feel like he couldn't come to him with woes of this nature. He wanted to, every fiber of him did, just because he had known Sorin the longest. He knew he couldn't, though.
He looked at the man sitting across from him, drinking apple cider to knock off the October chill. He was arguable the best father Jace had ever had contact with and to his left was the woman he knew to be the best mother in the world, apart from the one he was about to marry.
"N-Nicolai.. Mama…" Jace said.
"What's wrong, baby?" Rose said, quietly stroking her son's chestnut locks.
"I-I don't know how to do this… I'm going to fail.. What if I turn into him? What if they hate me?"
Before Rose could speak, Nicolai cleared his throat. He had been brought up to speed on the past few years by Jace, Josu, Rose, and Liliana. He was out for blood, to say the least. He didn't know that the baby wasn't Jace's, he hadn't told him yet. Not that it would matter, but they didn't want to make anything worse.
"Jace, you took a child that had known nothing but abuse at the hands of a man- dare I call him that- a child who was different, at that, and had always been made to feel as if he were unlovable and showed him the opposite. You showed him love and you became his father. You show him every day how a real man treats his family. You won't fail because you are already succeeding in every aspect of the job, of a father and a husband. Remember that, Jace. Tobias didn't have to let you in. Tobias chose you.
Those words echoed throughout the room, through Jace's ears, resonating deep into his psyche.
"He chose you."
Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin'
Daddy's hands, were hard as steel
when I'd done wrong
Daddy's hands, weren't always gentle
But I've come to understand
There was always love
in Daddy's hands
Chapter 23: Oh, Brother
A/N: Wow, so I know I suck, like a lot, but here is the next chapter of ASP. This particular story is and will always be my favorite, my baby, but it also caused me a lot of mental anguish, because I worked on it with a former best friend and former boyfriend, and both of those relationships are now over. However, this family is my favorite incarnation of the Jaciana/Kosu family dynamic and I’ll continue to write it because these characters are my world. I hope you guys forgive my long absence and enjoy the chapter , it’s a lot of fluff but it was mainly to stretch my writing fingers with this universe again!
Life went on. After everything, Liliana knew that much. That the world still spun on its axis, the carousel never stopped turning. Her life was shaping up the way she’d always thought it would, but the nightmares were persistant in their nightly visits. Sleep constantly eluded her, and it was showing. Lili was keen to blame it on pregnancy, but it felt like more.
She sat across the table from her father; Nicolai, Toby, Jace and Josu had some grand plan today that they were being secretive about; Liliana didn’t have the heart to tell him that it made her anxious. However, Liliana didn’t know that Rose also had something up her sleeve. Today was a day for all of them to unwind from the chaos that seemed to inundate their lives; today would be easy, or so everyone hoped.
Jace walked into the kitchen, his eyes still blurry from sleep and kissed his fiancee on the top of her head. The gesture was everything to her, it made her feel secure, safe. After everything that had happened to her, it was a miracle that Jace was able to make her feel secure at all.
It seemed their whole family had converged upon this three bedroom apartment, it was barely 9:30 in the morning and everyone was here. After years of isolation, most of the time it made Liliana happy. But now, it seemed like she had to look over her shoulder all of the time. Between the death of Kaalia’s mother and the mental picture of Ral’s dead body in her mind’s eye, Liliana was rattled everywhere she went. She’d talked to Sorin about it, who thought they she ought to be in WitSec, but she refused it. She wouldn’t let Xenagos take the only family she had left, and split them all up. She wouldn’t be treated like a prisoner any longer.
They’d poured all of their resources into finding who killed Avacyn and Ral. Xenagos, however, seemed to be in the wind. Liliana, Karen and Will all seemed to think that after having such a close brush with Homeland Security that they would go abroad. Sorin had friends in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s International Response Team, or the IRT looking for him in Greece, though Nicolai said that he hadn’t found a speck of the family’s existence in country.
It was frustrating, Liliana was scared. She was scared that she couldn’t protect Tobias and the new baby the way that they needed to be protected, and that, terrified her beyond anything else. Toby, who could probably sleep through a hurricane, was snoring in between Josu and Kaalia, so Jace pulled Liliana into their room.
“You okay?” he said, not entirely sure there was something wrong, but she did seem a bit off. Not mad, not scared, but just off. Jace, who couldn’t read people any more than Liliana could read Mandarin, couldn’t tell what.
“Yeah- I’m fine. Just tired. Second trimester type of tired,” she fibbed. It was true enough, but a half-truth at best. Jace narrowed his eyes, unsure that that was it, but decided to drop it. He had something he needed to talk to her about.
“Can we talk?” Jace sighed. He wasn’t sure why he was nervous. He guessed it was his first time actually bringing an issue about Tobias to the table. Liliana’s son- their son he corrected himself.
“Mhmm,” Liliana nodded.
“I want to homeschool Toby,” Jace said, all in one breath. Like he knew that Liliana was going to hate the very idea but he knew it was best.
“No- I told you that was one of my non-negotiables.” Liliana gritted her teeth. She was all about letting Jace make parenting decisions with her, but she didn’t want her- their son stuck in this garage all of the time. He hadn’t found his genius “niche,” and the only people he cared about talking to were his family. He needed to make friends his own age.
“Liliana- the climate for a genius child in a school is-”
“Hostile at best. You’ve told me. So has Su. It wasn’t any better for me, Jace. the opposite end of the spectrum. He will be okay- he’s survived worse. It’s school. He needs people who aren’t us. People his own age. Laney is going too-” Jace cut Liliana off with a huff.
“She’s not like him-” Jace said.
“And I’m not like you,” Liliana snipped. Jace shut up. Quickly. “We can table this for now. There’s some sort of compromise that doesn’t involve us turning our son into a hermit.” Liliana said, just to pacify him. “We don’t have to make a decision now. We have a month.”
Jace didn’t say anything. He wasn’t used to not getting his way, and he didn’t like this at all. However, as Kaalia had told him in one of their therapy sessions, that sometimes it was best to just leave it. Liliana, however, could tell something was wrong and put her head on Jace’s shoulder.
“I love you,” she said, playfully kissing his neck.
“I love you, too.” he said, and he couldn’t help himself from smiling.
When Jace, Liliana and Toby pulled up to the garage, it seemed as if every single person that they knew was there. Jace’s mother and Liliana’s father, the whole team, Will and Karen,Emmara, Giovanni, Laney and Silver- everyone. Wondering what could possibly have gone wrong now, Liliana heaved a sigh and opened the door. The whole garage was decorated. Streamers, confetti, the works. Startled, Liliana wracked her brains, trying to think of whose birthday she could have possibly missed.
Much to Liliana’s surprise, Tobias walked right up to Laney and started throwing a ball with her. As uncoordinated as Toby was, Laney wasn’t. She beaned him right in the head, but he just seemed to take it, working on his aim.
Kaalia walked up to her. “The party’s for you two. We know how stressed you’ve been, and we just wanted to let you know how much you and the kids are loved. Plus, everyone wants to know the gender of the baby. So, I took the liberty of reading your ultrasound.”
“Lia!” Jace said, “Isn’t there a law against that?”
“Many, but I know a guy.” She said, wrapping her arm around her father. Josu smiled at them, like he’d finally made his peace with Sorin.
Kaalia shoved a wrapped gift into Liliana’s arms and one into Jace’s. Jace began to tear into his but Kaalia screeched. “LIli First!”
She opened it. Inside, was a white X. With a smile, Liliana realized what was happening, and in that moment, was thankful for all the people she was surrounded by, all the people that loved her, and all the growth she’d witnessed over the past few months. She looked to her fiance, eagerly awaiting what was in the box. Jace’s hands were shaking. He couldn’t believe, that in just four short months, he’d garnered everything he never knew he wanted. He smiled, struggling with the paper. When he finally did get the box open, he stared for a second before pulling out a blue Y.
“It’s a brother!” yelled Toby.