“Well, there were some limits to what John was willing to show them at first. Remember, he still believed we were a bunch of ordinary kids, and he’d gone out on a limb for me already.”
“You mean the ninja and the ‘spy stuff’?” he asked.
“Right,” she confirmed. “He was quick, though. He figured out pretty quickly that there was something between Malcolm and I, and told me outright he’d be patient with him, which I appreciated. And then he asked how old Terry was,” she added, unable to resist a quick snicker at the admittedly self-serving way she encouraged his attentions toward the blonde alien. “You should have seen his eyes light up when I said she was a very mature eighteen!”
She paused, getting back on track. “Also, I’d spoken with him privately, explaining that once they found out, I thought my friends would all like to train with me, and it was really important to me that they learn from the best. It took some convincing to talk him into working with the lot of us personally, but finally he agreed to go along with my little scheme to bring them in, as a test of some of my skills. And then he would check them out, see what he could do for them.”
“And what did he decide?”
“Keep in mind, I was in another area working out, so most of I know is what I’ve heard from the others,” she warned him, but her voice suggested that what she did know was worth hearing.
“Well?” he asked immediately, dropping any pretence at indifference. “What did you hear, then?”
She smiled mischievously. “Pretty much what I expected.”
As leader, Max felt he should go first. ("And jealousy had nothing to do with it," he insisted later, much to everyone’s amusement.) Kyle was one thing, but this Jay guy was in a whole other class. Rationally, Max knew that he was just a mentor figure to Liz, and in his calmer moments he hoped that something might be happening between the man and Tess. But when he was face to face with him, he felt like hurting him.
Max was, of course, in excellent shape and Jay was impressed with his strength and tone, but he needed to work on flexibility and technique. To begin, the instructor recommended a number of exercises to loosen him up, as a good foundation for any martial art he chose to pursue. When Max pushed the matter, Jay demonstrated just why there was no substitute for training, and the young king gathered the shreds of his dignity and made his way over to a mat where he could stretch alone.
Maria quickly volunteered to go next, and found Jay both pleasant and engaging. Finally he said that while she was quick on her feet and agile, she needed to build some upper body strength and discipline. He decided to start her on weights and show her some defensive moves later, since she told him she was never going to end up "on any front lines" – to which Michael growled “You got that right” and stepped up to bat.
Michael had the strength, size and bullish temperament for close-contact brawling, but Jay thought he could use discipline and balance. He had the dumbstruck boy join a tai chi class, promising to start him on more aggressive programs the second he proved he could get through the entire series.
Alex went next, demonstrating a fairly good grasp of defensive fighting and making Jay laugh at his clever stories of fending off bullies in grade school and ‘subtle’ hints that simply learning about spy gadgets would make better use of his innate talents. Still, Jay explained that Alex needed to work on upper body strength and learn to use his hands and feet offensively, to put some real power behind them. So he matched Alex with Maria, and the two of them planned to spot each other at the weights and punching bags in between self-defence and the occasional hand-to-hand combat lessons which each requested in lieu of more formalized training styles.
Isabel admitted that while she ran, she wasn’t terribly athletic. To her and everyone else’s surprise, however, Jay pronounced her an excellent fighter in the making; she used her height well, jabbed effectively and straight from the shoulder, achieved full extension with her kicks and demonstrated excellent balance recovery. He placed her in an intermediate kickboxing class immediately, and she promised to consider branching out into at least one martial art soon.
Kyle was disgusted to find his strengths and weaknesses comparable to Max’s, but Jay paired them together anyway. Both boys glowered as they helped each other with some of the more difficult stretches. Each had the upper body strength to push the other to the limit, and took some malicious delight in sparring against each other afterwards. Thankfully, Max was a good enough sport to heal the injuries discretely afterwards. Well, most of them.
It had to look real, after all.
“So how did John find out about the aliens?” the priest asked, chuckling heartily at the mental images running through his head.
Liz didn’t respond right away, and he stopped laughing.
“He did, didn’t he?” he persisted, serious now.
“He did,” Liz admitted, her voice subdued. “And nothing was ever the same afterwards.”
She missed the fun they’d had together before he found out.
“Give it up!” she growled, to the delight of her audience, who cheered her on. Maria, Alex and Max were especially vocal.
“I don’t think so, little girl,” he snarled, and his supporters hooted. Tess, Isabel and Michael exchanged grins.
“There is blowing of the air, but there is no wind that does the blowing,” Kyle said to no one in particular.
“Come on,” she wheedled, changing tactics. “You don’t want a whole crowd of people to see you lose to a girl, do you?”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head about that,” he said through clenched teeth. “I just wonder how much longer you think I’m going to go easy on you.” The crowd ‘oohed’.
“Would either of you care for something to drink?” Both of them considered Nancy Parker’s offer.
“Iced tea, please, Mom,” Liz asked sweetly, not budging an inch.
“Sounds good. I’d love one myself,” Jay echoed pleasantly, muscles shaking with intensity. Nancy stepped back to the counter, where her husband was pretending to go over receipts instead of watching his daughter hold her own in, of all things, an arm wrestling contest.
“How long have they been at it now?” she asked.
“Twelve and a half minutes,” he said, without looking at the clock. “Look, she’s using her smaller size as an advantage,” Jeff pointed out in admiration. “She’s digging in and using his larger size against him, so in effect he’s working against himself.”
“Uh huh,” his wife answered, paying more attention to the glasses filling in front of her. “You know,” she murmured after a moment, more to herself than anyone else, “I really don’t think he is going easy on her. Those self-defence classes must be something else.”
"That was only one week before," Liz commented sadly.
“Sorry I’m late. I ran into an old friend,” Jay said, and automatically began his preparatory stretches. Liz had been stretching for several minutes already, and began some light aerobic exercise to keep her temperature and heart rate up while she waited.
When they stood across from each other, however, Liz paused to study his face. He was somewhere else.
“Spill, Jay,” she told him.
Finally he looked her in the eye, and she was shaken by the panic she saw there.
“Jay, what’s wrong?” she demanded, thinking that maybe something was wrong with his sister or nephew. “Is it Justine? Ben? Are they okay?”
“Huh?” he said, and her question sunk in. “No, they’re fine,” he said distantly. “Everyone’s okay.”
“Oh, good,” she relaxed visibly. Ben really was a treasure; just the day before she and Isabel had had a blast playing hide and seek with him. “Who knew Isabel would turn out to have such a soft spot for babies?” she murmured to herself, surprised by the insight. “But she’s great with him.”
“What?” he almost shrieked, shocking Liz. She hadn’t realized he was listening to her; he seemed pretty spaced out. “When was Isabel around Ben?”
“Jay!” she exclaimed. “Calm down!” She looked at him, utterly bewildered. “She joins Justine and me for tea sometimes after class, you know that.”
His voice roughened with emotion. “Oh god, maybe I should take them and leave,” he said, and once again Liz had the uncomfortable sensation that he had forgotten she was in the room.
“Jay? Jay!” she yelled, grabbing his arm to get his attention, stunned to find his skin clammy and his hands cold. “Jay, you’re scaring me. What happened?”
He didn’t speak, and she slapped him lightly on the arm. “C’mon, don’t do this to me now. We’re friends, you can tell me.”
Something in his eyes flickered then, and she knew she’d chosen the right approach. “Liz,” he said. “I ran into an old buddy from work today.”
“From the CIA?” she asked, encouraging him to speak.
“Actually, Tom’s with the FBI now,” he corrected her automatically, not really noticing when she drew back a little.
“Jay? What’s the FBI doing in Roswell?” she asked, trying to keep her tone light, to stay calm.
He looked at her then. “Surveillance,” he responded, and paused.
“Of what? Or who?” she inquired, as if it weren’t of great personal interest.
Instead of answering, he peered at her, studying her as if he’d never seen her before, as if they hadn’t spent months sparring daily and becoming a family. “Liz,” he asked, and she could see how hard it was for him to speak. “What do you know about your friends?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your friends, the ones you bring here.”
“Maria, Max, Isabel, Alex, Tess, Kyle and Michael?” she rattled off, and winced inwardly when he reacted to some of the names. But only some of them.
He asked again, very seriously: “What do you know about them?”
She spoke slowly and with great emphasis, refusing to break eye contact. “I know they’re good people. I trust them with my life. And I love some of them very much.” Very carefully, she asked, “What do you know about them?”
He looked down then, and she could tell he was struggling.
“I trust you,” he said, finally, and his she could see his jaw working as emotions and instinct warred within him. At that moment he looked very young and vulnerable, and she thought that maybe it cost him a great deal to say that.
“I trust you too,” she said honestly.
Meeting her gaze again, he looked pale but at peace.
“I don’t know much,” he started. “But while I was waiting for Tom I noticed some files labelled with some of their names on his desk. Files he put away when he saw me looking at them. And when I said that they were students of mine, he dragged me out of there and we went out for a drive while he told me to stay away from them. I argued, of course,” he said, and Liz was relieved to see a little of his colour returning to his cheeks.
Liz interrupted him then. “Come with me,” she commanded as she pulled on a jacket and gestured for him to do the same. She needed to talk with Max ... and maybe Valenti. And damn it, but she couldn’t see any way around what was going to happen. Jay was about to become a player in their secret lives, and she was determined that he end up in the right camp.
“You know, that’s really where the story, well, ‘my’ story ends,” Liz said, after a moment of reflection. “My childhood, my time of innocence ... everything changed after that and forever became the story of ‘us’, of how our little world suddenly exploded into something, well, intergalactic.”
“‘Your time of innocence’?” he echoed, picking up on the way her voice changed subtly as she uttered that phrase. She laughed, but it was a harsh sound, jarring in the solemn peacefulness of this small refuge.
“That night, listening to John tell his story to Malcolm and the Sheriff and then later, to the others, I ...” He could hear the grief she struggled so hard to hold inside. “Father, that night, I sat and watched their faces as they listened and argued and accepted and planned. They were afraid, Father. Afraid for their lives, and for the lives of the people they loved. And I realized ... for the first time I truly realized that not only did I have the capability to kill a person, but I also had the capacity.”
One lone tear escaped to run silently down her cheek. She didn’t wipe it away.
“I was seventeen and I was ready to kill to protect my family,” she said hoarsely, as though each word had to be ripped out of her.
“Child,” he said gently, “It’s a lesson no one should ever have to learn, at any age. But you said it yourself: you're at war. If you don’t take every advantage you get, you may die. And it’s never wrong to want to live, to embrace and protect the life you were given and the lives entrusted to your care.”
For some minutes they sat silently, deep in thought.
Suddenly a soft beep intruded upon their reverie, and Liz looked at her watch in alarm. “Oh my go – oodness, Father!” she exclaimed, her training reasserting itself. Within seconds she regained her natural composure, as the tears disappeared and she was ready for action. “Look at the time,” she said and started to stand. “You’re too good a listener, I could have talked all day and night!” she thanked him, but sat back down when he didn’t answer.
“But ...” his voice struggled to retain the equanimity she had found so soothing only moments earlier. “But you can’t stop there,” he protested. “What happened? Did John turn out to be a friend or an enemy? What happened with the aliens? Are – are they here now? Am I in danger? Is my family? What happened with the king and the war? Is he here on Earth? What–”
Liz interrupted the frantic stream of questions. His voice was getting louder, and she resisted the urge to ‘shush’ him like a child having a temper tantrum, because of course his fears were very real and his concerns justified. She berated herself for being so selfish and telling him as much as she had, aghast that she had taken advantage of his kindness so thoughtlessly, so callously, without thinking of the cost.
“It’s okay, Father,” she said calmly, once again in control and mentally organizing the facts as she knew them for maximum comfort value. “I believe you and your family are safe. As for the rest of it ... are you sure you really want to hear this? Can you ... will you be all right? Because it doesn’t get any more believable. And I can only tell you part of it, for your own safety.”
“Please,” he pleaded, and she closed her eyes to hear the naked need expressed in that one word.
“Well then, here is the last 8 years in a nutshell ...”
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