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When the Bough Breaks

By Caro Roberts

What do you know when you know me?
Don't file me under categories you're deceived
You don't know me
I'm not only a surface, a country
What you don't know about me is, I'm a

Double agent on my momma's side
The sh-t I hear you say just blows my mind
Every time, recognize
Who I am to you is not a lie
I don't have to volunteer and say
That I was born a particular way
I got no uniform I'm camouflaged in any light
Obvious you can't tell
I'm a double agent on my momma's side
-- "Double Agent", Amanda Marshall

Rio couldn't stay focused on what she was doing. The diagrams and files she needed for the heist she supposed to be planning were all right in front of her, open on her computer screen and spread across her desk, but they couldn't hold her attention for more than a few minutes at a time. Instead she kept turning back to the email she was writing, typing a few lines at a time before trying to go back to work.

Someone knocked on her door, and she jumped, clicking off it and making sure it was hidden behind other windows before calling, "Yeah, c'me in!"

She hoped she didn't look at tense as she felt, but evidently the strain didn't show, because Kerry didn't comment on it as she walked in. And Kerry always said something when she thought there might be a problem. "Good morning. I missed you at breakfast."

"Yeah, I had some work ta do." Rio indicated the stacks of papers lying across her desk with one hand, after taking another quick glance at her screen to make sure the email was completely out of sight. "Tryin' ta put tagether this heist, but it's a bitch. Security like..." She stopped, remembering that this was a side of Brotherhood life that Kerry had never really gotten used to. She accepted it behind she had to, but she still wasn't comfortable with it. "Yeah, anyway. What's up?"

"Nothing, I just saw the strangest article in the morning paper, I thought I'd bring it by so you could see it. "

"What it is?" Rio took the piece of paper Kerry held out to her, skimming it.

"You remember that pre-Invasion database they were building at the Athenaeum?"

Rio thought for a moment, then nodded. "What was it called, Project Heritage 'r somethin'?" It was an attempt to compile all the documents and records from before the Invasion; it had taken years to complete, and she still remembered the excitement when it was finally finished. She hadn't seen what the fuss was all about then, and she still didn't. "They finished it, what, five years ago?"

"Yes, and that's what the article's about. Finish it, the interesting part's at the end."

Rio shrugged and went back to reading, skimming down to see what Kerry thought was so exciting. The article was about the database, about how the survivors from the families in it had five years to come forward and claim what was left of the family estate, or it would be liquidated. An'... why do I care about this? Finally, there at the end, was a list of the first group of family estates to be sold off. And there, fourth from the top, was the reason Kerry had thought she should see it.

deJeneiro. Randolph A. and Marcia K., found dead.
Daughter Riaelcha S., missing and presumed dead.

Rio felt the blood draining out of her face as she stared at the article, her nails tearing through the paper as she clutched it. Oh gods... oh gods... She didn't dare look up. She ducked her head down a little more, letting her hair fall forward to hide her expression. Pull it tagether... pull it tagether. Look up, look her in the eye, get rid a' her. Say somethin', say anythin', make her go away. "Uh... Ker, this is... this..."

"It's strange, isn't it? I wouldn't have thought that anyone could have your last name, it's so unusual. Do you think that you're related?"

"I... gods, I..." Don't say anythin', don' say anythin', don' say-- But her mouth was working before her brain could stop it. "Ker, what the hell is this? Ya think this is some kind a' sick joke? I didn't need ta know this, I didn't need ta think about this. Why would ya think I want ta be reminded about that, ya know how--" She cut herself off as Kerry's expression went from shocked to confused to horrified, and belated remembered that no, Querida didn't know. Rio never told anyone to truth about her history if she could avoid it; over the years she'd carefully concocted a cover story that she told anyone who asked. Jedar and Gina were the only ones who knew the truth, Jedar because she'd never been able to lie to him, and Gina hadn't given her the option of lying. But Kerry -- Rio had given her the cover story years ago, when she hadn't been ready to tell the truth yet, and then she'd never changed that. It had just seemed too hard to pull Kerry aside and tell her the truth. The situation had never really come up, and Rio never wanted to discuss the issue if she didn't have to. Now she was wishing she'd forced herself to be honest. "Ker... I..."

"You what?" Querida asked quietly. "You have something you need to tell me? You've been lying to me for three years?" Rio winced as the eerie echo of her own thoughts. "What, Rio?"

"Ker, I'm... I'm sorry. The article was just kinda a shock, ya -- well, no, ya don't know. But it was, an' I jus' didn't have time ta think..."

"That's you, isn't it? Riaelcha S., that's you?"

"Yeah... yeah, that's me. 'R was me, a long time ago."

"So everything you've told me about your family, did you just make that up completely?"

"Pretty much, yeah. I've always had my cover story ta hand out, an' I gave that ta you... c'me on, I barely knew ya then, ya can't expect--"

"You to be truthful with me? I'd known you for three years, and you still 'barely knew me'?" Querida was getting genuinely angry, something that happened so rarely Rio thought she could count on one hand the times she'd ever seen it happen. "How do you expect me to react to this? Not only that you lied to me then, maybe I would be able to get over that, but that you never bothered to tell me the truth."

"Oh, an' how was that supposed ta work? It woulda been so much better if I'd just showed up at your door one day out a' the blue ta say 'Hi, guess what, everythin' ya think ya know about me, that was a lie. Sorry.' How would that have been any better?"

"That would have been better than finding out like this! I mean, gods, Rio..."

"An' ya've always been so honest wit' me! Like ya were jus' so eager ta tell the world ya were anorexic, that ya can't have children -- ya honestly expect me ta believe that ya just couldn't wait fer everyone ta find that out? Everyone has shit in their past that they don't want ta talk about. I lied, you lied, we all lied, so don' act like this is somethin' ya've never felt like ya had ta do!"

The instant the words were out of her mouth, Rio regretted them. That had been harsh, way too harsh, and had probably hurt. Kerry just stood there for a moment and looked at her, then shook her head and turned away. "I have to get back to work."

"Ker... no, wait, listen..."

"Goodbye, Rio. Enjoy the article."

"Ker--"

The door shut behind her.

Rio sat there for a moment, staring after her, trying to decide if she should run after her friend and try to apologize again. She started to get up, then stopped as she put a hand on the desk and felt the paper again. She picked it back up and looked it, then took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to keep the tears down. She sat back down at her desk, bringing the email up and deleting the last paragraph she'd written, typing in something else.

"Never mind, change of plans. I have to come to the Metro to take care of something, I hope you can get away for awhile. I'll stay in the usual place under the usual name. If you can, meet me there tonight. Call me if you have a chance.

See you soon. R."

*****

"Jed... Jed! Wait up!"

Jedar stopped and turned, waiting for Rio to catch up with him. She tried to force a smile as she walked up, but she wasn't fooling him. "What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" She seemed edgy, nervous, and she wasn't looking him in the eye. Usually she was a much better liar than this; he had to assume that meant she wanted him to pry. "Nothin's wrong... I just have a favor I need ta ask her."

That wasn't a good way to start the conversation. "What favor?"

"Nothin' dangerous, don' look at me like that. I jus' need ta run ta the Metro fer a few days, an' I need ya ta cover fer me in case anyone asks."

"The Metro again? Rio, you just got back last week."

"I know... an' I told everyone the heist failed. So now I can say I'm goin' back ta try again." She caught his look and held up her hands defensively. "I ain't goin' back fer the usual reason, I swear. Yeah, I'll probably take advantage a' the opportunity, but that ain't why I have ta go."

"Then why do you?"

"I... I can't tell ya right now. I'll tell you when I get back, but right now... An' I know what ye're thinkin', but I'll be okay. There's jus' somethin' I have ta go do."

"Rio..." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Should I come with you?"

"No!" She jerked back from him, then forcibly calmed herself and tried to smile. "No... no, I gotta do this alone."

"And yet you want me to believe that this isn't dangerous, it's just an errand, but you won't tell me what it is, you won't let me go with you, and you're asking me to lie to anyone who asks about it. Now why don't I believe that this isn't dangerous?"

"Please, Jed... ye're gonna have ta trust me. It'll be okay, an' I will come back, I promise, but it's... personal."

"Is anyone going with you?"

"No."

"Does anyone else know you're going?"

"No. Ye're the only one I trust wit' this. Please, Jed. Ya know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."

"You wouldn't beg if it wasn't important, you mean," he corrected dryly. It was against his better judgment, but what could he do? Lock her in her room unless she told him what was going on? He was suspicious, but he couldn't prove anything. He sighed. "All right, all right. I'll cover for you."

"Thanks, Jed." She smiled and touched his arm briefly. "I promise I'll tell ya everythin' when I get back." She started to walk away, then hesitated. "Oh, an' one more thing..."

"Yes?"

"If Ker asks... ya don' know anythin'."

Jedar blinked, surprised. That definitely wasn't a good sign, but he'd promised. He couldn't go back on that now. "All right... I don't like it, but all right. Are you going to tell her everything when you come back, too?"

Another hesitation. "Maybe... maybe. I don' know yet. It depends on what happens." She started edging away from him. "I really need ta get goin', Jed... but I'll let ya know if anythin' happens an' I get in over my head."

"Is that the best in the way of an 'I'll be careful' that I'm going to get from you?"

"Pretty much."

"Then I'll take it. Good luck, Rio."

"Thanks, Jed. See ya in a couple days."

*****

The Metro should have been two hours away, but Rio had perfected the technique of getting there in under an hour without getting pulled over. And on the off chance a cop did catch her someday, she had a phony license and registration all ready to give him before she roared off again, and a change of license plates in the trunk, just in case. It was a road that she had gotten very familiar with in the last two years, and she still hated every mile of it.

This time she hated it even more than she usually did; usually the road just seemed long because she couldn't wait to get to the end of it. But now she was dreading what she would have to do when she actually got to the Metro. She still wasn't really sure what she was going to do... she had a few ideas, but none of them were really good, and all of them had the potential to backfire, badly. She'd packed up and left without really thinking any plans through; she just knew she had to get to the Metro and do something about the information they had at Project Heritage. Act on it, destroy it, claim it... she didn't know.

She almost wished she'd asked Jedar to come with her; he would have, and she knew it. She also knew she'd only gotten away because he'd decided to let her. If he'd really pressed her, she would have cracked and told him everything. She appreciated him trusting her enough to let her go, but at the same time, it would have been nice to talk to someone, even have him come with her...

But that ain't gonna work, an' I know it. I have ta do this alone, or I'll never be able ta go through wit' it. I jus' wanna get this over wit'.

So she sped up just a little as duCaine Metropolis started to appear on the horizon.

*****

"Damn it!" Frustrated, Rio slammed a hand against the closed and locked door, staring at the posted hours that announced the Athenaeum had closed for the day just half an hour earlier. Normally entering buildings after hours wasn't a problem for her, but she just didn't dare this time. She'd never cased the Athenaeum and had no idea what kind of security it had, although considering what was stored inside, it was probably not the kind of system she could try to break cold. And even if she did manage to get in, she didn't know what she was looking for; it would take her all night to sort through all the files and find what she needed, and that was assuming she'd be able to recognize them right off.

Cal could help me, he used ta work here... But Hunter wasn't with her right then. She could take all the risks anyway and just chance it-- An' then I could get caught over somethin' stupid that I couldn't even explain ta anyone. It's still gonna be here tomorrow, nothin's changin' overnight. If I'm here first thing... It wasn't what she wanted, but it was all she could do. Reluctantly, she backed up a few steps, still staring at the door, before turning around and heading back to her car.

The walk back, and then the drive to her hotel, seemed impossibly long, but she spent the time going over her plans in her mind. She'd spent the drive over trying to decide what she was going to do with the information once she hadn't, and she hadn't been able to choose, but after some more thought she knew what she had to do. I have ta get it an' destroy it, I have ta wipe out every record that links me wit' who I used ta be... this is my chance ta make everythin' a clean slate, no paper trail, an' if I don't take it now... Who knows when it might come back after me again. She still wasn't sure how, exactly, she'd be able to destroy the records without getting caught, that would probably have to wait until she'd actually seen how the Project was set up and how the information was stored. If nothin' else, I can case it tamorrow an' come back tamorrow night wit' a better idea a' what's goin' on... She knew she had to wipe out the evidence, make sure no one else ever found it, it was for her own good. But why did thinking about it make her feel so sick?

It's just shock, that's all. I didn't even know there was anythin' left, an' now in one day I find out that the government has gods know how much information on me, an' I have a fight wit' one a' my best friends, an' now I'm here... I jus' haven't had time ta sort through it all yet. Maybe it's a good thing I can't get in there tanight, I need the time ta get ready fer this.

She pushed those thoughts out of her mind as she reached her hotel, sitting in the parking lot for a few minutes to calm down and change personas. It took a few moments longer than it usually did, but finally Alle Featherwalker got out of the car and walked into the lobby.

After the -- incident -- with Crimson a year ago, when Alle Featherwalker had 'died,' Rio had been a little nervous about using her favorite alter-ego again. The chances that something would 'pop' were slim, but she hadn't been eager to end up in an Enforcer prison again. She'd let it lie for a few months, using a few other aliases, and then had made a few discrete changes to her persona. The 'new' Alle Featherwalker had a different birthday, a different background, a different social security number, and as many other different details as she'd been able to change with relative ease. Her physical appearance was still essentially the same, but short of major surgery, there was really nothing she could do about that.

The clerk behind the desk didn't remember her, which was good, and didn't waste any time in making small talk, which was even better. Rio was beginning to feel edgy, eager to get out of the open, especially when she realized she was being watched. She didn't turn around or look over her shoulder, but she could feel her shadow staring at her intensely as she stood at the desk, getting up to follow her as she walked to the elevator. She managed to get on without seeing anyone, but she knew they were still there as she rode up to her floor and found her room.

She didn't lock the door behind her; even if she had, that wouldn't have been much of an obstacle for very long, and she saw no reason to bother. Instead she lugged her suitcase over the rack, unzipping it and starting to unpack. She was in the closet and out of sight of the door when she heard it open and close, then very faintly heard the click of the dead bolt sliding into position. She let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding, calling without turning around, "Anybody try ta track ya up here?"

"No. I went to two other floors first to make sure."

"Good." She finished hanging up the clothes she was holding... and then her self control exhausted itself, and she ran to greet her lover.

She finally, reluctantly, had to pull back, grinning a little hazily up at him. "Hey ba -- ah, no, no sunglasses, ya know how much I hate them."

"I know." Hunter -- now Calhoun -- let her reach up and pull the shades off. "And you know how much I need them. Now are you sure no one's going to remark on your absence?"

"Taken care of. Jed's coverin' fer me, he's gonna tell anyone who asks that I came ta have another try at the heist I couldn't finish last week. I jus' need ta make sure I actually go back wit' somethin' this time."

Calhoun sighed; she knew he wasn't exactly pleased that Jedar knew about their relationship, but he also knew there was nothing he could do about it. They'd already had this 'discussion,' and neither one intended to get into again it. "And it should be something that would have been worth all this trouble. Rio, I'm not trying to get rid of you, but I am getting concerned. You were just here last week, someone in the Brotherhood is going to start noticing a pattern soon, if they haven't already."

"I know, but I couldn't do anythin' about that this time, it was an emergency. I had a real reason fer runnin' over here... unfortunately, I can't tell anyone about this one, either." He just raised an eyebrow and looked at her, waiting for some kind of explanation. Rio went to sit on the bed and waved him over, bracing herself for what would have to come next. She wasn't looking forward to this, but after what had happened with Kerry, she wasn't prepared to lie to anyone else she cared about and then risk a blow up later. And with everything she was already risking with Calhoun, it wasn't as if knowing one more secret about her would matter. "Ya know about Project Heritage, right?"

He nodded. "I worked on it occasionally before I... had to leave the Athenaeum. Why?"

The newspaper clipping was still in Rio's purse. She pulled it out and handed it to him. "Read the bottom. Fourth from the top."

He took it and looked at it for a moment, then up at her. "I take it that's you."

"Yeah. Ker found it fer me this mornin' and showed it ta me, thought it was a 'weird coincidence.'" She laughed a little, bitterly. "Damn, I wish it was that simple."

He was quiet for a moment, then asked, "What are you going to do?"

"The only thing I can do. I have ta get ta those files and destroy 'em." He didn't say anything to that, but she knew the librarian in him was twitching at the idea of destroying any kind of records, especially ones that couldn't be replaced. "I'm sorry, baby, I know ya didn't want ta hear that, but I have ta do it. I... I can't take the chance, I have ta get rid a' 'em completely."

"Why?"

Even in spite of the situation, Rio had to smile a little at that. Leave it to her lover to ask a thousand questions in just one word. "I... I'm not really... who I say I am. Who I act like I am. I give everyone who asks the same damn cover story about havin' lived like this my whole life, but... that's not... quite how it happened." She shifted uncomfortably, suddenly not sure she was ready to go into this. "Look, it's really long story an' it's been a really bad day. Can we... can we go inta all this later?"

He looked at her for a moment, and she could feel him weighing whether or not to push her. But then he nodded. "All right. For now, what can I do?"

She exhaled, relieved. That was a question that she could answer. "C'me wit' me ta the Athenaeum, help me find what I need. I'd never be able to find the right records wit'out help, an' I have no idea what the security system is like..." He was shaking his head, and she felt her heart starting to sink. "What?"

"I might be able to help you find the records, but I know what Athenaeum security is like, and we would not be able to break in without weeks of planning and more equipment than you would have brought with you."

"An' ya can't go in wit' me when it's actually open, in case someone recognizes ya... ya can't really help me, can ya?"

"Not the way you want me to. I'm sorry, dear, but there's not much I can do."

"Okay... no, it's okay, baby. I can do this, I'll jus' go in tamorrow... get a researcher ta help me. It'll be okay." She forced a smile, trying to hide how scared she suddenly felt. Even though she'd left the Lair telling herself that she had to do this alone, she'd been counting on having Calhoun to get her through. Now that she realized that she would have to do it alone, really alone, she almost wanted to give up. "Well, if I can't get anythin' done 'til tamorrow anyway... ya have time fer dinner before ya have ta get back?"

"I think I can find the time." Rio let him take her hand and lead her out the door, determined to forget why she'd actually come to the Metro and enjoy her lover's company for as long as she could.

*****

That determination got her through dinner, even let her say goodbye to him afterwards, and was the only thing that helped her get up the next morning, dress like the business lady that she should have been, and go down to the Athenaeum.

It deserted her when she actually reached the front door.

At first Rio tried to tell herself that her pause on the front steps was just to review the story she'd concocted and remind herself of how to act like the person she used to be, but when she realized that her hands were shaking, she had to admit that she was just stalling. She didn't want to go in there and face the past, she wanted to turn around and run, and just assume that no one would ever have the time or resources to trace her history all the way back to... Before.

This is stupid. After everythin' ya've been through, after everythin' ya did ta get here, ye're gonna ferget all that an' walk away? Ya fought wit' Ker, ya had Jed lie fer ya, ya risked havin' someone look a little closer at why ye're always in the Metro... an' now ya want ta walk away? No way. No way in hell. That gave her the final push she needed to walk inside, and then there was no turning back.

The staccato click of her heels as she crossed the hard stone floor brought back a memory she hadn't been expecting -- her mother had always loved the sound her heels made on hard surfaces, so all their floors had been tile or hard wood. So what if it was a bitch to clean; that was what the maids were for. There were stone floors in the Lair, but the acoustics there were different; the Athenaeum entranceway was huge and vaulted, and the sound echoed in a way that was very... like... home...

Damn it, no! The first few steps had made her hesitate, come to a stop, and the clerk at the information desk was giving her a very strange look. The desk wasn't too far away; if she could just make it to that, she could make it the rest of the way. I can do this... I will do this. She forced herself forward, one step at a time, until her momentum finally picked up enough that she made it to the desk.

The receptionist was still giving her a weird look, but that was all right. Being the bereaved survivor would play into her story. "Can I help you... ma'am?"

"Yes, I'm here about Project Heritage. I just read about it in the paper yesterday that I was presumed dead and they were going to get rid of everything, I came here as fast as I could."

The confused look slid into something midway between sympathy and skepticism; he was probably prepared to feel sorry for her, once he validated her story. "I see. You never received any notification?"

"I was presumed dead. I didn't know there was anything left, and no one knew to contact me... I was in Thrain when the Invasion hit, and I suppose everyone who knew I was there died. I assumed everything was gone, I couldn't find anyone when the Occupation ended and I managed to get back here. I didn't know there was anything left and I never heard anything differently until I was reading the paper yesterday and found out that not only was there something left, but I'd never known because everyone thought I was dead. It was... it was..." She managed a convincing sniff, looking down for a moment.

There was a pause, probably the clerk giving her a moment to collect herself, before he asked, "What's your name, ma'am?"

"Riaelcha Featherwalker. My parents were Randolph and Marcia. I knew they must have been dead, but seeing their names in print had..." Had done nothing like this, which was making it hard to judge how much grief would be believable and when she would be going just a little over the top. How did someone who loved their parents act when she lost them? How much was still appropriate all this time later? Rio's reaction to her parent's names had had nothing to do with affection and everything to do with fear, and so she didn't think her real reactions would be quite appropriate.

"Do you have any ID?"

Without looking at him, she dug through her purse, pulling out the fake ID she'd had made years ago, but that she'd never thought she'd actually have to use. Why would she ever want to pretend to be who she actually was? But now, at least, she was thankful for it as she pushed it across the table at him. She heard him take it, then heard him typing something into the computer. She kept her head down, rubbing at her eyes like she was trying not to cry, hoping that she'd remembered to cover all her bases. This had been a snap decision, and there might be some kind of background material she'd forgotten to make sure was in place--

"Everything checks out, Ms. deJeneiro. I'm sorry for the wait, but we have to go through the authentication process, you understand."

"Yes... yes, of course I understand. Who knows what crazy people might try to get in here." She looked up and managed to force a smile, which she knew probably looked strained, but not for the reason he'd expect. He nodded, pressing some button on the desk that made the security doors behind him slide open.

"If you'll follow me, please."

Within a few seconds, Rio realized that it was a very good thing she hadn't tried to do this on her own. Even with no preparation, she might have been able to get through security, but she would never have been able to navigate the maze he lead her through. She would still have been wandering in circles when the workers showed up the next morning and called the police. Her guide lead her down some stairs, around some tunnels, then down again. She memorized the route he took, just in case, noting any potential exits or short cuts on the way, but retracing her steps would probably be all she could do if she had to get out in a hurry. Not a good situation.

Finally, on the second sublevel, he stopped at a door that as far as she could tell was identical to all the others except for the number on it. He slid a security card through the side of the lock, then pressed his hand onto the touch pad, stood still for a retina scan, and provided a voice print. Rio was impressed; she usually didn't see security this good around priceless jewelry. It made her wonder what was waiting for her when she got inside, though; were all the protections external, or was there something nasty waiting for her inside, too?

The door slid open and the clerk gestured her inside. "Your information will be on this computer, Ms. deJeneiro." He sat down in front of it, entered some kind of login -- another thing Rio was grateful she didn't have to provide -- then typed a few moments before a file popped up. "This is all the copies we have. It looks like everything is on here... there were no hard copies."

"I see." She managed to sound disappointed, even though she was anything but. One less thing to have to either destroy or take with her. "Could you... give me a moment?"

"Of course. Take all the time you need. I'll be right outside if you need me."

Yeah, I just bet you will. He stepped outside and cracked the door behind him; maybe so he wouldn't have to go through the complicated unlocking procedure again, or maybe to watch her. That was okay; Rio had assumed he'd do that and had planned, she hoped, accordingly.

First, though, she figured she might as well look at the evidence she was about to erase forever, for morbid curiosity's sake if for no other reason. The first file she clicked on brought up some financial records; nothing too interesting there, since that was all gone, but it would kill some time so she started paging through them. About five minutes into her 'search,' she heard the door open behind her and spun around in her chair, automatically tensing. It was just the clerk, though, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry, Ms. deJeneiro, but I have to leave you alone for a minute. I just got a call that I'm needed back on the the first floor, will you be all right?"

What the hell is going on? It didn't make sense for him to leave her alone with all these files. What was going on that was so urgent? Weren't there any other people in the building to take care of it? She felt her suspicions rising; had her ID failed? But if he knew who she was, he wouldn't let her in here. This wasn't making any sense... "I'll be fine, thank you. It will take me awhile to go through all of this, anyway, I hardly know where to start and it wouldn't be fair to make you wait while I go searching. I'll call if I need anything."

"You... might want to stay down here until someone comes to get you. These hallways can be pretty confusing unless you're used to them. Press the green button next to the door if you need help, and if you leave, remember, you won't be able to get back in without someone's help."

"Of course." If this was a setup, it was an awfully elaborate one. She watched him go, then went back to her files. She was starting to feel a sense of urgency, a feeling of "get what you need and go," but she kept staring at the bank statements, just in case he was still watching her somehow. She'd give him a moment to decide she wasn't doing anything horrible before she did what she really needed to do.

Only a minute or so later, she heard the door open behind her, and she turned automatically. The cautiously polite question she'd been formulated died on her lips, though, when she saw Hunter standing in the doorway.

"Cal! What the -- how did ya... ?"

"I arranged a little... distraction... upstairs, and let myself down here in the commotion. I knew you wanted help." He didn't say anything else, but that was enough for her. She gave him a smile, relieved past speech, and reached out to take his hand while she kept clicking open files with her other hand. The next thing in the folder was her parents' medical files, which she was skimming without much interest until something clicked. "Wait... wait a second. What the hell... ?"

"Rio? What is it?"

She didn't respond, busy reading. Under her mother's name there was a list of all the recent medical procedures she'd had. The first few came as no surprise; face lifts and tummy tucks and breast enhancements, nothing Rio hadn't at least guessed at, but further back, the last procedure dated about a year before Rio had been born and stretching back for a few years before that, were several trips to fertility clinics. Each time a different method had been used, and each time next to it was the notice failed. Finally, next to the last fertility treatment, was a word that at first Rio couldn't understand, because it made no sense.

Sterile.

That... that doesn't make any sense... she can't be sterile, she had me, that's... that's gotta be a mistake, 'r somethin'...

Then she noticed something else: her parents' blood types were also listed, and there was no way those types could have combined to make hers. What... the hell... Paging faster down through the record, now, more and more discrepancies started to pop up. After the last failed fertility treatment, there were no other visits to doctors or hospitals beside routine checkups and the cosmetic surgeries; nothing to indicate a pregnancy or birth. Rio closed that window and went to another, frantically opening and closing files, trying to find some kind of explanation -- then came to a freezing stop when she found what she'd been looking for and afraid to find. "Oh, gods... oh gods..."

"Rio, what is it? Rio?"

For a moment, she couldn't answer. She couldn't speak, she couldn't think, she could only stare at the screen. Oh, gods... "Cal, do ya have a disk?"

"A what?"

"A disk, I need a disk!"

"Why would I have--"

"No, wait, I think I might have one." Rio grabbed her purse and started rooting through it. There was a disk with some plans on it that she'd been meaning to give to Jedar and she'd dropped it in her purse, then forgotten to take it out again. With any luck, it was still in there -- and there it was, lying at the bottom. Rio grabbed it and shoved it into the computer, copying every file she could find onto it, recklessly overwriting months of work. She had a hardcopy of those plans on her computer, somewhere, she thought, but even if she didn't, she could do the work again. This was more important.

Once the files were safely loaded on, she started trying to erase the hard copies, overriding the system's failsafes against someone doing that exact thing. "Rio," Hunter said warning as she watched the progress bar crawl toward deletion, "we need to leave. That distraction isn't going to hold for much longer, and we need to be gone before anyone comes back."

"Yeah, almost done..." Finally the files disappeared, wiped from every part of the database she'd had time to search. But there was one more name she had to look up before she could leave. "I jus' have one more thing ta look at..."

"Rio, we have to go."

"In a minute, Cal." She hunted frantically through the database, looking for the one she needed. It should be on this computer, it should be, it had to be--

"Now, Rio. We're out of time." Before she could react, he reached over and took her by the wrist, pulling up to her feet. She started to fight him, and then her thief's instincts took over and reminded her that getting caught wouldn't solve anything.

"All right, all right." She shoved the disk back in her purse, then automatically started toward the door she'd come in, but he pulled her in the opposite direction.

"There's another entrance only the researchers are supposed to know about, so the security isn't quite as heavy. We'll go that way."

"Okay." She let him lead, pulling her along the tunnels that were even more of a labyrinth than the maze she'd gone through earlier, if that were even possible. That time she didn't even try to memorize the way; remembering how to walk was taking all of her concentration. They didn't say anything until they made it outside. Rio noted that the front of the Athenaeum was crowded with fire trucks and ambulances, and wondered vaguely just what this 'distraction' Hunter had come up with was; then wondered if she wanted to know. As he guided her toward the parking lot and she followed on autopilot, she finally said, "My car..."

"We shouldn't leave yours in the parking lot, it's much more noticeable than mine. We'll take it and come back for mine."

"Okay," she said again, handing him her keys. They didn't speak again until they were safely in the car and driving away. Rio stared down at the disk she was holding, turning it over and over in her hands. She'd almost forgotten Hunter was there until he reached over and touched her arm.

"Rio? What happened back there?"

"Nothin'... no, not nothin', I just... can't talk about it right now. I'll tell ya when we get back ta the hotel."

"All right." His hand lingered for a moment before withdrawing, and they spent the rest of the ride in silence.

*****

Neither of them said a word until they'd made it back to the hotel and the door was safely shut and locked behind them. Rio went straight over to the window, staring out it as she tried to collect her thoughts. She knew what she'd seen, but she almost couldn't understand it, it made no sense. She couldn't believe it -- no, she could, but she didn't want to.

"Rio?" Hunter had come up behind her, putting a hand on her back to let her know he was there. "Are you ready to talk to me now?"

"Yeah... yeah, sure, I guess. Yeah." She knew that wasn't very enthusiastic, but it was all she could do. "Ya know, it's ironic. I've had my little cover story that I've told anyone who ever got too close... only Jed, an' Gina, an' after last night at dinner, you, knew what I thought was the truth. I never even told Ker. Turns out all this time the joke's been on me. Kinda funny when ya think about it." There was uncomfortable silence from behind her, so she went ahead rather than make him think of something to say. "I never loved my parents, Cal, not really. I mean, yeah, I probably did when I was a kid, when I still thought that maybe there was a chance that someday if I did somethin' just right they'd be happy they had me. But I was never perfect, an' that was what they wanted, an' they let me know what a disappointment I was every damn day. An' it never used ta make sense ta me, ya know? If they really didn't want me, if they really thought I was such an accident an' a mistake, why had they had me at all? I knew I wasn't what they'd wanted, but I was their own kid, I thought that should at least count fer somethin'." She looked down at the disk in her hands and laughed bitterly. "Yeah, that all makes a lot more sense now."

She turned around to face him, leaning back against the wall and folding her arms. "I wasn't theirs. They couldn't have kids -- if I believed in signs, I'd think that was Drake tellin' 'em that maybe they shouldn't screw wit' nature, since they obviously weren't cut out fer it. But I know they wanted their little poster child, so they... went out an' got one. An' so why shouldn't they expect ta get their money's worth from me? They paid good money ta buy me, I should've lived up ta what they wanted. Damn shame I was such a disappointment, they should've taken me back an' tried fer a refund, at least then they would have had their precious money back."

He started to say something then, but she held up a hand to stop him. "No, Cal, let me finish. Ya know the damn funniest part about this... I never really loved them, but at least I knew 'em, I at least thought I understood 'em... I had somethin' ta go offa. An' now I realize that I've got nothin'... nothin'. I have a name on one a' these documents that says who my parents really were, that was what I was tryin' ta look fer when we had ta leave. So all I've got fer who I really was is a name. Not a picture 'r anythin', just a name."

"I'm sorry we had to leave, dear," he said quitely. "I didn't know that was what you were looking for, but we didn't have time to do anything else."

"I know... I know, it wasn't yer fault, baby. You made sure I had as long as I did in there. An' if I ever really want ta find out, I can find a way ta go back. But what would be the point? So then I have more than a name, I have a file on people who're probably dead, an' even if they're alive, they got rid a' me because they didn't want me, I doubt they'd want me ta show up on their doorstep thirty-some years later. An' even if I could find 'em and even if they actually wanted ta see me... I'm part a' the Brotherhood now, I couldn't go back there, I don' think I'd want ta even if I had the chance. It's just -- there's nothin' I can do about it now, but knowin' everythin' I thought I was basin' my life off of was a lie... that's... not what I expected." She looked down at the disk again, feeling a drop of moisture slid down her face, splashing onto the surface of the disk. She felt her shoulders starting to shake and sobs starting to push their way out. She fought them for a moment, then when she felt Hunter reach out and pull her over so she could cry on his shoulder, she gave up and let them come, for a very long time.

*****

Someone was knocking the door.

Rio almost didn't answer; she didn't feel ready to see anyone yet. After finding out -- what she'd found out -- at the Athenaeum, she hadn't been able to come back to the Lair so soon, and she'd spent the following day searching for something to steal that would explain her three-day absence. She'd finally found something that would allay some suspicions for awhile, although she'd had to embroider the story a little to make it seem like the heist might conceivably taken three days instead of one afternoon without making her sound like a rookie.

So her tracks were covered, but she didn't want to face anyone, especially not Querida. So she ignored the knock at first, until it came again. Finally, on the third time, when it was clear that whoever it was wasn't going away, she yelled, "All right! Who is it?"

"Jedar," came through, and she exhaled, relieved. He was someone she could talk to.

"Jus' a sec." She got up and went to unlock the door, stepping back to let him in. She didn't miss his quick glance around the room as he came in; probably checking to see if she'd been throwing furniture or something. And it wasn't that she hadn't been tempted, but she didn't have that much energy back yet. "What's up, Jed?"

"Did you get what you went for at the Metro?"

"I'm guessin' ya don't mean the heist. Yeah... more'r less." Automatically, she went back to her desk and picked up the desk, twisting it around in her hands. It was a nervous habit she was picking up; she'd have to break herself of it eventually, but right then she kept needing to handle it, like she was proving to herself that it was really real.

"You're going to tell me about it?"

"A' course. But... but not right now. I need some more time ta figure it all out fer myself first... ya know?"

"I know." He was looking at her like he didn't know whether he should push or not, so she decided to reassure him.

"I'll be fine, Jed, I jus' need ta think about things fer awhile before I talk about what happened. I promise I'll talk ta ya... soon. Jus' not now."

Jedar just looked at her for a moment, then reluctantly nodded. "All right, Rio, if you're sure I won't force you."

"Thanks. I appreciate that. Maybe... tamorrow."

"All right. I'll see you at dinner?"

She had no appetite, but she said, "Maybe," just to make him feel better. He didn't look convinced, but touched her arm briefly and left.

Rio looked back at the disk, then shook her head and threw it in the garbage can with much more force than necessary.

After a moment, she dug it back out and shoved it in one of her desk drawers, covered up by papers and notebooks and hidden safely out of sight. She slammed the drawer shut, then ran back for her door and jerked it open. "Hey, Jed! Wait..." She stepped out in the hall, and let the door close behind her.

 

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