Categories > Movies > Monsters, Inc. > Homecoming

Change of Luck?

by Light-Rises 1 review

The Human World: A nice place to visit. But for some monsters -- and depending on where they live, for some humans -- it most certainly ISN'T a nice place to stay...

Category: Monsters, Inc. - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama - Characters: Randall Boggs - Published: 2005-05-27 - Updated: 2005-05-27 - 9489 words


Author's Note: One day off-schedule (not to mention various edits made this morning due to some HTML issues, for which I apologize)...but the update still made it! Yays.^^ There's more exposition to be found here -- set in the Human World as this chapter is -- but we're finally going to get into the plot.

rubs hands together Alrighty, then...let's get this chappie rolling!

Disclaimer: The reverse of what I said in the Prologue is true here -- I own just about everything (characters, setting, etc...although I don't own California, but you get the idea) except one character (copyright, of course, of Disney/PIXAR). And if you can't tell who that certain somebody is by the end of this chapter, then I pity you. ;)

Time: This segment takes place on Friday, April 11, 2003.


Chapter 1 - Change of Luck?

"Stand down! I tell you -- "


Devon tried a grab at the girl, but her bangs fell like a partition over her eyes, forcing her to jerk to a stop. Through the sticky strands she could just make out a small, stout figure standing near the family room couch.

Off-handedly, she brushed them aside. "Get off it," she tried again. "I'm entitled to this turn and you know it! Just stand down and deal, okay?" Right now, her voice sounded more like a small child's than usual.


Devon caught a snarl from coming through her teeth. It's no good. She herself was the only one losing her cool, getting mad and letting it show. This was Alex's way, she was convinced; this was how the little brat always won without raising a fist. Well, not if I can help it. Not this time.

She let the tenseness seep into her clenched fists. "Now come on, Alex, dear," Devon said, her voice sweet. "Let's be reasonable about this -- "

Sprawled out on the couch now, Alex let out a dubious laugh. "Ha! Fat chance /you'll /be 'reasonable' 'til you stop actin' like the weirdo they say you are!"

In the back of her head, something snapped. Devon sprung forward with that suppressed snarl and brought down all her wiry strength on the smug little figure. Alex easily slipped away, though, and her sister fell as a tangled clump of limbs on top of the coach. She could hear the girl's snigger through the faint, squeaky sound the cushions made as her weight sunk into them.

Devon let out a low, loud growl before pouncing again, and this time caught Alex with a hollow /smack /against the floor rug. She tried wrapping and pinioning the girl into submission, but she squirmed and strained too much to hold down under her own power for long. She felt a hand grab at her shirt collar, her glasses, her hair. The last incited even more rage, and Devon reached out her arms, savagely batting and clawing at the air in hopes of grabbing something of Alex's in return.

"Hey -- stop it, the both of you! Move a-/way/."

A stock of raven black hair interposed itself between them. Devon felt a strong arm pry her away and she came loose from the scuffle, still flailing some, blindly. After a moment she looked up through her bangs to see Alex, huffing and puffing similarly and held back by another arm. The referee (also known as their mother) glared at the two sternly before standing back somewhat, not daring to let go of either lest they go at it again.

"Okay," said Mrs. Vega, breathing out. "Now would you two /please /tell me what this is all about -- this time?" She added the last as much as an emphasis as an afterthought.

Devon opened her mouth, but Alex's voice cut in. "What happened is /she /went batty" -- an accusing finger was shot at Devon -- "'cause I wouldn't let her bully me around!"

"Hunh! /That's /a likely story." If anything, sarcasm kept Devon from trying to take sucker punches whenever the urge seized her.

Alex seemed to hold back a pout at this. "I'm not that stupid, Dev. Not stupid enough to let you take /my /turn when I /know /it's mine."

"Your turn for what?" Mrs. Vega prodded her, gently.

The younger girl took in a breath. Devon would have much rather given testimony herself, but if Alex was /that /set on portraying herself as the angel, what could she do? Besides, there was the chance that Alex would royally slip up in the telling and thus screw herself over.

"Morgan's coming down for the weekend," Alex bubbled, "and Friday's the only night she can fit in time to spend with us. You know, special time."

Mrs. Vega nodded solemnly, and Devon understood why: their oldest sister was a college student who dearly loved her paychecks, even if it meant working crazy hours on Saturdays and Sundays part-time. "I don't see the problem in that," their mother commented.

Alex took in another breath, her round face flushing. "The problem is," she enunciated, "that we /a-greed /to take turns: she'd get one Friday, I'd get the next. Dev got Morg to herself last time, and I was just tellin' her it was my night and she went nuts on me!"

Mrs. Vega arched an eyebrow. "You 'told' her, huh? Now that doesn't exactly sound polite, does it?"

Alex let out an exaggerated sigh. Her sister was sure she was rolling her eyes under the closed lids. "'Kay, I more like /reminded /her. I swear."

Their mother nodded in confirmation, the suspicion not completely gone from her gaze. She turned to Devon. "Can you confirm all that, hon?"

Devon internally winced at the tenderness of the inquiry. Why does she always make me feel like that? "Mostly, yeah," she answered sullenly.

It was Mrs. Vega's turn to sigh -- a weary, slightly sad one. "Unless I'm mistaken, Dev -- and if forty-odd years on this planet means anything -- I'd have to question whether that was really worth a fight over."

Looking up at her mother for the first time, Devon caught her eyes and the disappointment lining her striking features. She couldn't help but feel a mix of shame and resentment at the sight, at the woman who tried so hard to be understanding. /"Tried" being the operative word/, the thought came pointedly.

A long moment passed before she answered. "Maybe it wasn't."

"'Maybe'?" Mrs. Vega asked. Confusion and concern edged her voice. "Why's that?"

Anger roiled in Devon anew, tensing her insides in a sweeping wave. "Because she called me a 'weirdo'." Her tone was dark, almost dangerous.

"Hey, that's not right!" Alex piped up, stepping forward. "All I said was that kids at my /school /were calling her that. Besides," she added, crossing her arms and affecting haughtiness, "whether or not I agree with them is my own business -- "

The "ness" had barely gotten out when Alex found Devon lunging at her again, only this time restrained by their mother. And UNlike last time, Mrs. Vega was having a hard time of it.

"I'll kill you! " Devon roared, rage dripping from her words. "I swear I will!"

Alex glanced at Mrs. Vega with panicked eyes. "See! See! I told ya she was a nutcase!" she squealed, partially hiding behind her mother.

Another snarl curled Devon's lips. Her glasses slipped down her nose and she pushed them back up in a gesture wrought by both nerves and fury. "That was out of line," she said, quieter and a little hoarse. "That was out of line and you know it!"

Alex's counter was crisp. "Well it's not like you're /doin' /anything to stop making everybody think you're a freak!"

"Alex!" Now Mrs. Vega's voice had dangerous undertones to it.

The little girl shot impetuous glares at them both. But it was clear now she'd been defeated. "FINE!" She stomped out of the family room, slamming that door and the one to her bedroom in quick succession.

Devon didn't make a move to give chase, so her mother's grip slid off. Mrs. Vega looked after the shut door, then slowly drew a hand up, pressing her fingertips to her forehead. The look she gave her older daughter as she turned around was pained, though veiled by aggravation.

"Devon Marie Vega," she said in a firm, hushed voice, "you know so much /better /than that."

Devon sniffled, convulsively. This was horrid, so awful and churning to let down this beautiful woman -- a lovely person, really. But for all that/, she thought with a wave of bitter realization, /she doesn't get it/. The girl looked to the floor, shaking her head almost imperceptibly. /She just doesn't get it...

With a blast of noise, music began to boom behind the door. Mrs. Vega started then furrowed her brows with a frustrated grunt. "/Ay/, my..." She gave Devon a no-nonsense look and shook a finger at her. "You'll be dealt with later," she said before turning heel and disappearing through the door, letting its knob thump gently against the wall.

In the quiet, Devon stood stone still, as if uncertain of what to do. Then the lazy cawing of a crow set off something in her head and she took off, sprinting in long, ungainly strides through the kitchen, the den, the sun-filled hallway. She was already screaming in her mind's eye and she had to let it out, holler it into the closed air of her room -- even a cushion, a pillow would do. /That's it, a pillow/, she thought feverishly. /Then maybe no one'll hear me and give me those strange, sad looks like I'm some kind of sick animal /--

She pushed through the door and its exposed frame into dimness. Her footsteps tread, thudding, across floor and area rug as she reached for her bed and one of the pillows lying on top. But something out of the corner of her eye stopped Devon short, and she pivoted to look. A cool glow was emanating from the far corner of her room, tucked away alongside a cluttered bookcase. It came from a tall-ish terrarium, which was furnished with all the amenities that made domestic life perfectly suitable for exotic critters; and as she stepped towards it, she spotted such a particular resident, squatting on a mini log and looking as content as she guessed one of his kind could be...

"Hey, Reggie-kins," came her soft greeting.

A smile touched the corners of her mouth as the pale, plump belly of a large White's Tree frog turned to her, almost as if he had understood and was answering her call. Taking a cue from that, Devon got down on her belly before the terrarium, perching her chin atop two fists as she peered into Reggie's luminous, safe world. She couldn't explain it for beans, but just that quiet sight of seeing the frog's throat pulsate, puffing in and out rhythmically, brought her a kind of incredible, simple joy. Here, she could just watch on and simply /be/...never have to worry about anyone being judgmental, in whatever many forms that would come. And they came, all right.

"Least I don't have to worry about /you /gagging at my ugly mug," she muttered. Even with the near lack of light in the room, Devon's reflection still mirrored cleanly and clearly enough for self-appraisal: a broad, stubby nose, with thin lips drawn in a long line underneath, followed by a tiny chin that made her laugh at its near nonexistence. She stared blandly into what she considered alien eyes behind those thick lenses, though they were her mother's deep, expressive brown. Her hair -- no, she wouldn't even get started on /that/. And thank heavens she could see little to nothing of it, anyway. With an urge spurred by self-loathing, Devon made an exaggerated grimace at the transparent image, looking what she thought -- with grim satisfaction -- terribly monstrous.


"Is Miss Farnsworth in?"

She perked up at the familiar, teasing voice; she was a bit surprised since she hadn't heard him come in the house, but the interruption was welcome. Without missing a beat she played along. "Yes, sir. What business brings you here?"

"The colonel ordered an envoy to come negotiate a possible 'ceasefire' in this household. I've got the papers to confirm it."

Devon rolled her eyes. Always says he's got the papers... "All right, you may enter," was her bored reply.

A small but solid figure stepped into the bedroom. He squinted in the darkness a bit before finding Devon herself, who still lay on the floor in front of the terrarium. "If you don't mind me asking," said Mr. Vega, his voice warmed with amusement, "I'd like to know when you started shunning the daylight."

Devon gave him a sidelong glance, stifling a giggle. "I haven't. I just forgot to pull the blinds up this morning."

Mr. Vega shrugged one shoulder. "All right. Just checkin'," he replied, fully switched out of "cavalry" mode. With a brief reflective look, he eased his back onto the doorframe, leaning all his weight against it so he could stretch out his legs across the doorway. He extracted a small, rectangular block of wood from his pocket before glancing at her again. "And I guess I can suppose you aren't in a big hurry to fix that, are you?" he drawled, flipping open a pocketknife.

She shook her head with the reply. " /Nnnnope/."

Again he shrugged. "Suit yourself." With that, he started whittling away at the soft block, a silent whistle blowing through his lips.

Devon gave him an odd, vaguely admiring look. There /had /to be laws against fathers acting so casual -- at least around their kids. And she supposed hers had to be the biggest culprit of them all; under normal circumstances, he simply /despised /carrying around the stuffy airs everyone expected a settled-down family man to have. But the fact was that he had something important to do now, and when he'd finally get around to it...

"I know you two were fighting again. Believe me -- I saw the evidence." Mr. Vega looked her way, his eyes hardening. "So before we lose another five hundred in damages, I want to hear what you've got and settle this once and for all."

Yep. That was it: Father Mode.

He'd only dropped the casualness from his voice; he was still leaning against the doorframe, shoulders slack. But the firm intent shone through. "Would you care to explain your actions?"

From the floor, Devon stiffened, feeling a defensive tenseness rake her insides. Even if this /was /her dad, she wanted nothing more than to be left alone now. Why couldn't they just get off her back?

"I don't wanna talk about it," she told him flatly.

Mr. Vega stared back for a long moment before nodding. "I see." Looking down, he slipped the wood block and pocketknife into their respective pockets, patting them unceremoniously once the tools were put away. His eyes suddenly glittered as they locked back into hers. "You know, it's not looking too bad out there today. Why don't we go take a walk? Just us two?"

Despite her mood, she found herself warming up to the suggestion. A walk sounded nice -- so long as it wasn't packed with philosophical, life-lesson gobbledygook. And that simply wasn't something you'd get from her father.

Devon answered him with a slight shrug. "Sure. Why not?" Awkwardly, she picked herself off the floor, helped up the rest of the way by Mr. Vega when he saw she was having some trouble. She looked up at him and smiled with a faint twinge of jealousy at his eyes. Now why couldn't I get /that /from him? /she questioned, admiring the green-dominated hazel of his irises. /It figures I'd get all the common, plain stuff from my folks...

They stepped into the hallway outside her room, heading for the den and a door leading outside. Mr. Vega undid the lock and swung the door outward, so that they presently stood at the right side of the house in an enclosure with a squat lemon tree. As they left the fenced-in area for the sidewalk, Devon looked around and back, spotting the tree and the yellow roses rearing up before it. It felt good to be out, though it was surprisingly cold for this time of year in Southern California. Well, so much for being prepared; at least her father had the right mind to /leave /his jacket on instead of bothering to shuck it off once inside the house's stuffiness...

Then it hit her. He KNEW it would come to this all along! That little so-and-so --

She shot Mr. Vega a snappish glare. He seemed to know what she was thinking, for a slow, almost evil smirk curled his lips. He suddenly sped up by a couple strides and she hastened to match his step, out of instinct. The two were only about forty yards from the house when he stopped, prompting Devon to give him a puzzled look. Without pretense, her father plopped down onto the curb, then patted the spot next to him as an invitation. /What kind of a walk is this supposed to be? /she wondered. Not so at ease with the world around her, Devon slowly hunkered down onto the offered seat, then gave him a look as if to say, "What now?"

Mr. Vega had his gaze focused across the street. "You know what you did was wrong," he stated simply.

Aw, great. He's starting with /that/? She wrapped her arms around her knees, furrowing her brows at him. "Dad, you can't -- "

"Can't what? I can't talk with you about something serious because you're afraid of what the 'father' would think?" He turned to her, his eyes gleaming with the challenge in his tone. Then the look became sober.

"Then what about the 'outcast', Dev? Can you deal with /him/?"

Devon bit her lip, shifted uneasily in the grass and cement. If her father was willing to bring /that /up, then he must mean business. For that, she at least owed him something of an explanation.

"I...couldn't help it," she began, haltingly. "When people look my way funny, I...I sends chills and it's /horrible/. Then I have to /do /something -- I'll implode otherwise, I know it. I'll just fall apart, and..." She glanced up suddenly, a resolute scowl forming. "And I won't let /them /see it!"

Mr. Vega nodded in understanding. "Hey, I wouldn't want them to have the pleasure, either," he agreed. "But why take it out on Alex? She's your sister -- "

"And she's one of them," she cut him off. "She's normal and /hates /that she has to deal with a stupid and ugly sister like me." A heavy, sad sigh overcame her, so that she forgot the bleakness for an instant. "So she'll never get it...and neither can Mom."

Her father had balked and opened his mouth to protest, but stopped short. Devon knew what'd upset him: it was natural, considering she /was /his daughter, thus making it his job to tell her she was pretty and perfect. But he seemed to realize she wasn't buying it anymore. So instead, Mr. Vega regarded her a moment as he thought through what he should say next.

"You know, your mom understands better than you give her credit for," he said kindly. "Why do you think /I'm /the one lecturing you instead of her?"

Devon smiled down at her feet. "It's not a lecture. At least not when you do it."

"The point exactly." He smiled too, then let out a strange, bittersweet chuckle. "Besides, it's pretty crazy otherwise to think of a gorgeous gal like her goin' for a guy like me..."

He became very quiet. Devon turned back to him as a cool, fitful breeze blew against them; it ruffled his russet-colored hair and forced him to squint a little as the air assaulted his eyes. It was in moments like these that she could plainly see the years of street-roughness in his features, especially around the eyes and corners of the mouth. Her gaze naturally followed down the jaw line facing towards her to a white, jagged streak along his throat. That fight had nearly killed him, she was told...and he seemed to remember these painful things more often than he let on. Several times already -- like just now -- his clean, "educated" dialect lapsed into Bronx, which he always overlooked whenever thinking about the old days. And it was that kind of vulnerability that made Devon uncomfortable -- as if her father /couldn't /face everything the world was throwing at her. As if one day, perhaps, he might not be able to make it all better...

"Hey," Mr. Vega spoke up. "Isn't that the soccer team practicing over there -- at the school?"

Devon narrowed her eyes at the place her father was pointing towards. They were looking down the street, away from the house to where their street was cut off by the back of a junior high school. Behind the chain link fence were clothed specks running around a large, grassy field.

"Hmmm...I doubt it," she answered, shaking her head. "Not on the Friday before Spring Break, at least."

"Then a picnic, maybe," he guessed. He suddenly looked to her, curious. "Think there's anyone out there you know from last year?"

Devon snorted softly. "Not that I'd /care /about."

She averted her face from the field, a familiar, sour feeling welling up. Junior high had been a nightmare -- and only partly because no one there had known /what /to make of a girl like her. The normal kids had tried a whole gamut of labels: "tomboy", "geek", "loner", even "goth", though the last was more ill-fitting than all the others combined. And life at Edgewood High wasn't shaping up to be any better. By day three of the new school year, one smart-aleck had tried "retard" on Devon -- and found himself in no condition to return for two weeks once she was "through" with him. But even these brief moments of triumph weren't so satisfying anymore. At the end of the day -- everyday -- they still pointed at her, they still talked behind her back, and they still /laughed/...

"School's all wrong," she said aloud. Mr. Vega watched her steadily as she continued. "No one wants me around -- they know I don't belong -- but nobody has the backbone to say any of that outright. Even my /teachers /won't humor me with the truth; maybe they just hate my guts too much to do me that favor." She suddenly ran out of bitterness, leaving that tender spot inside her exposed and vulnerable. Devon tried to choke down the lump growing in her throat with her next words. "I...I really don't know if I can take much more of it. I just.../want out/." She looked up at her father, her lips trembling. "Dad -- "

"I know, Sweets," he said softly. Mr. Vega wrapped an arm around her, holding the girl gently as Devon buried her head in his shoulder. She couldn't bring herself to cry, not even dry sobs. All she could manage were low, strangled breaths as the warmth against her cheek already started to calm her. It was one of those rare moments when she felt totally safe -- protected and cared for beyond any reasonable doubt. She was wondering why it couldn't always feel like this when she felt her father stir. As she looked up she saw his face was heavenward, and that a faraway look was in his eyes. "I wish..." he began, then stopped himself. "No." His brows were furrowed resolutely. "I can't fight your battles, Dev, and neither can anyone else." He finished with a sigh, "I'm afraid this is something you're gonna have to figure out on your own."

To say the least, this was NOT an answer Devon liked. She pressed up against him momentarily before drawing away, then blew a silent sigh through her lips. The truth was, she couldn't hate him for being frank -- actually something to be admired, she guessed. And coming from him, there just /had /to be something to that kind of advice, no matter how sucky it sounded right now.

As she pondered this, an inspired look warmed Mr. Vega's features. His green-bronze eyes glittered like they had earlier as he cocked his head towards her conspiratorially.

"I haven't told Mom this yet," he said in a low voice, "and she'd probably have my tail if she ever found out...but I think there's something seriously /weird /going on in this neighborhood."

Devon blinked at him, her curiosity roused. "How so?"

Mr. Vega was doing all he could to hold back an eager grin. "Have you noticed all the crows and possums that haven't been around here lately?"

She half-shrugged. "I guess. It's not something I really pay attention to."

"Well, then how about the Renquists' rabbits?" he tried. "How two of 'em went missing last week?"

She let out a laugh. "Oh, yeah! Finny and Mrs. Porter, the little buggers..." Something dawned on her and she suddenly looked to her father, searchingly. "So...what about them?"

Mr. Vega grimaced slightly, though it didn't overshadow his quiet excitement. "This morning I found Mrs. Porter -- or at least what's left of her -- out in the shed."

After a moment, Devon's eyes widened. "But that means -- "

"Yep." He straightened, beaming down at her more with his eyes than his mouth. "It looks like whatever's responsible is staked out in our backyard."

The way he'd said this sent a chill through her, but not a bad one. It was more like a buzz -- something to be excited /about rather than frightened, and without any real reason for feeling that way. /Maybe it's just because the idea's thrilling HIM/, she thought, trying to be logical before getting her hopes up. /But then why?

"How can you be sure?" she asked aloud. Try as she might, Devon couldn't cover the eagerness in her own voice.

Mr. Vega scratched the back of his head absently. "Well, Finny was a little guy, and unless there's a possum as big as /that /old hare..." He shook his head. "Nope. It's gotta be Mrs. Porter."

Devon started eyeing her father suspiciously. Okay; she'd buy that. But it wasn't what she meant by the question in the first place and he'd /known /it. On top of that, Mr. Vega seemed to be holding back somehow, and about something /very /important in the whole scheme of things.

So she tried a different angle. "But maybe Darby got to her. I mean sure, Mrs. Porter was huge, but in comparison our dog's a /monster/."

Her father arched an eyebrow at her dubiously. "You think Darby's clever enough to hide the bones in an old soup can? With the lid closed?"

That stopped Devon short. He had a point there: though she could very well kill a rabbit, Darby wasn't exactly a smart cookie -- even in canine terms. And one dog couldn't account for all those missing animals anyway, and NOT without being caught. So...

"So we're dealing with something that might be.../intelligent/?"

Mr. Vega leaned back on his arms, rolling his eyes heavenward. "At least more so than /we've /ever heard of."


The internal buzz was getting stronger, along with her excitement. Finally -- something BIG might be happening around here! And in her backyard, of all places! But there was still one thing that didn't quite sit right with her, and she was going to find out about it if possible.

"Dad...why tell /me /all this?"

Mr. Vega breathed out. "Looks like you've got me there," he admitted. "I mean, I guess it /would've /made more sense to tell Mom first, and I'd wager that after a couple minutes of convincing she wouldn't be as panicky as most folks. But still -- " He paused, grunting softly as he searched his mind for the right words. "I don't know. For some reason, I just can't see sharing this with anyone else."

He gave a half-smile, and Devon grinned back at him. It wasn't often that being thought of as "different" had its rewards.

"You know, it really /could /be nothing," she goaded, though not without some real doubts behind the thought.

Mr. Vega shrugged. "It's a possibility," he said lightly. "All the same, this 'critter-killer' feels like something we should watch out for -- to see how the situation develops, that is." He suddenly straightened again. "Say, I just figured out how to kill two birds with one stone."

Devon knew this didn't always bode well for her, but she was in too good a mood to care much. "How'll you do that?" she asked.

He picked himself from the curb, standing upright. "I'll make you a deal," he said, offering a hand to help her up. "You try being a little nicer to Alex, and I'll make sure this thing stays between the two of us. As our little secret."

Once standing, the girl tilted her head at him, eyes narrowed. "Even what happened to Mrs. Porter?"

"Even Mrs. Porter," he answered with a nod. "So what do you say?"

Devon stuck a tongue in her cheek, lowering her lashes against the late afternoon light. It'll be like pulling teeth, but...

"Okay. I'll do it."

Mr. Vega lent her a hand again, looking at her cockeyed. "Then put 'er there, pardner!"

Devon burst into laughter as she took it. "You kill me," she managed, shaking her head.

The bizarre exchange was interrupted by the on-coming droning of an engine. Seconds later a small, gray car appeared around the corner of their street, its windshield winking at them with reflected sunlight.

"That'd be Morgan," Mr. Vega announced. "And not a moment too soon, I'd guess."

Devon pulled at his arm eagerly. "Come on. Let's say hello."

"Okay, okay!" he relented, chuckling. "But for the record, I'll bet the /real /party won't start 'til those sisters of yours are gone."

They started back towards the house as Morgan's car backed into its usual parking space right in front. But Devon noticed little of this activity; the mystery of the shed had flared up in her mind again, and its possible implications for herself -- for everything -- wouldn't let her alone. But who was /she /to suppose it would change anything?

It has to/, she insisted mentally. She leaned against her father as they walked, as if seeking support. /Because...

Because something might actually go RIGHT around here for once!


Later that night, once Morgan and Alex had left for their "night on the town", the rest of the family sat at the kitchen table finishing up dinner. So far for Devon, the evening had gone by rather swimmingly: deep-dish pizza was the entrée, while her Grandma Lita had brought over a batch of meat-filled /croquetas /to round off the meal. Conversation at the dinner table had been pleasant, too -- all the usual topics were covered, and without any strain on either the parents' or the child's part. Devon's mother even managed to restrain herself from bringing up the fight, and most likely due to some delicate negotiations on Mr. Vega's part earlier on.

The view outside the kitchen window was silent, deep with the night's settling darkness. The three Vegas presently stood up and gathered their dirtied paper plates to throw away. The first one finished with this task, Mrs. Vega made her way back to the table and shot the others a playful, inquiring look. "So what'll it be tonight?"

Mr. Vega shrugged disinterestedly as he dumped his plate into the wastebasket. "Quite frankly, I dunno if I'm in the /mood /for anything we've got here."

Devon nodded. "Ditto."

"Really? Well, how about I give it a shot?" She started rolling up the tablecloth as she thought a moment. "Let's does 'Yahtzee' sound?"

"/Meh/," he muttered.

"Ditto again," said Devon. "We've prob'bly had enough of it to last us till Doomsday."

Mrs. Vega leaned against the table's edge with one arm, her other hand at her hip. Apparently, she wasn't about to be perturbed by the lack of enthusiasm. "Okay, then. What about 'Clue'?"

Devon scowled. "You /always /win at 'Clue'."

" -- and are a sore loser when you don't," Mr. Vega added.

Her mother gave them a smug grin. "/I /think the only sore losers here are you two," she said teasingly.

Mr. Vega raised his brows at this. "And what makes you think that?"

"Oh, a number of things," she answered lightly, giving a gentle massage on her husband's shoulders as he sat back down. "Not the least of which was that charades fiasco a couple weeks ago."

There were disgusted shudders all around.

"Blech! But we /all /stunk that night, Vick," he pointed out, voice a bit higher than normal.

"I know." Mrs. Vega seated herself as Devon did the same. "But you have to admit -- it /was /terribly entertaining."

Her husband held back a snort. "Yeah-huh. Just don't go expecting me to take another crack at it 'til we get a decent player or two," he told her.

"Now /that /I'll agree with!" Mrs. Vega's cheerful look suddenly faded, replaced with something more reflective. " two wouldn't mind clarifying why you've been acting so secretive today, would you?"

Devon jerked her head upright, glancing at her father. But he only blinked, his eyes going large and round with phony innocence. "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied smoothly.

His wife quirked an eyebrow, lowering her lids. "Uh-huh. So then you don't mind if I tear the house apart finding this so-called 'nothing'?"

Mr. Vega grimaced indifferently. "Be my guest. But just remember that /you /called it a 'nothing' first." He gave his daughter a quick wink.

Devon covered her mouth, hiding a smile. It was unfortunate wording on her mom's part; after all, there technically was nothing secretive /in /the house, and thus nothing to hide as far as she had specified. But Devon's amusement died as she saw her mother's expression change again. This time, though, Mrs. Vega put on a look her daughter had never seen before -- a deep, deep yearning now permeated her brown eyes, something she'd never thought /her /mom, of all people, could know about or understand. But it was there; subtle, but there.

Unconsciously, Mrs. Vega started twisting at her wedding ring. "Look, you guys," she began with an uncharacteristic stammer. "I know how you two are in on some things that aren't for me or the other girls. And I can accept that -- you need those kinds of breaks. But..." She worked her lower jaw, then stiffened it doggedly. "Well, just this once, is it too much to ask to let /me /in on -- ?"


Everyone jumped, then exchanged startled, somewhat hesitant glances.

"What was that?" asked Mrs. Vega.

Her husband pursed his lips, staring with suspicion at the ceiling. "Dunno. Probably just a possum or cat, though. No biggie."

Mrs. Vega's eyes were incredulous. "But that sounded -- "

"Bigger?" Devon finished. Her voice had gotten very small.

Mr. Vega shook his head. "It's nothing," he stated. "We're just makin' ourselves jumpy." He turned to Devon, and she noted a look of desperation in his eyes that didn't match his firm voice. She could almost hear him thinking, Not now...

The night suddenly resounded with a series of gruff, punctuated barks. Their familiarity traced an icy finger along Devon's spine.

Mrs. Vega drew her brows together as she looked out the window. "Darby never barks like that -- even over a cat."

Decisively, Mr. Vega brought his palms down on the table. "I'll go check out back," he said before moving towards the back door.

Mrs. Vega started after him, but before she could take two steps a cheery /ding-dong /froze her in her tracks. She glanced to the front then turned back, choosing to ignore it, only to find her husband through the door and gone. She sighed in exasperation as the bell rang again.

"Guess I'll get that," she muttered, stalking off to answer the door.

Alone and still sitting at the kitchen table, Devon wavered over what to do. She clenched her jaw and drummed her fingers briefly before soon she, too, slammed a hand against the table...though not nearly with so much resolve. Her knees felt watery as she stood up, but she managed to push the chair back and hobble towards the back door, biting her lower lip at the unpleasant sensation.

What a wuss! /she scolded herself, head bent. /This could be THE most important thing to ever happen to you, and look! You're shaking like a leaf! With a sigh, Devon sluggishly blinked at the doorknob. At least out of all the things that made her dad different from everyone else, he had one redeeming quality: bravery. Something she'd bet vital organs that she hadn't a whit of.

-- There's my label, then/, she thought sourly. "Coward."/

With a heavy gulp, Devon cracked open the door to peek into the darkness beyond, then nudged it the rest of the way. Her feet touched cool concrete as she descended a couple stair steps into the backyard, which was all cemented save the pool and some small dirt areas where unkempt fruit trees and miscellaneous plants grew. Crickets chirped warmly, and a few of the stronger, brighter stars flecked the night sky through the city's ambient light. As she surveyed the scene, everything bathed in moonlight, an out-of-place detail made her do a double take: several shingles lay on the ground near the house, with another caught in the rain gutter and a whole slew jostled around on the roof itself. One more hung precariously on the roof's lip, swaying slightly in the wind and making Devon frown. Well, if she'd wanted something BIG to happen, it looked like she was gonna get it -- and tonight.

She realized that Darby's barking had died down, and she looked to see the large, black dog trotting about and sniffing nervously at a ramshackle shed at the yard's far corner. The shed's wooden door lay against one side, its hinges having rusted through long ago, and hunkered down in front of the black entryway was her father.

Curiosity overwhelming any sense of caution, she ran across the yard to join him. "Dad!" she called, voice hushed.

Mr. Vega turned as she came up to him. His distracted expression suddenly became alarmed. " Dev! What're you -- ?"

"It's in there, isn't it?" she interrupted. Her tone was soft, fraught with awe and dread.

He started glaring at the girl, making his irritation -- a rarity for him -- obvious. "This is /not /a good time, Dev. Now just /please /head back -- "

Devon's widened, frightened eyes cut him off. Her glasses glinted as she covered her mouth with both hands, letting out a strangled gasp. She'd seen something /move /in there!

Mr. Vega gripped one of her raised forearms, bringing a finger to his lips as he gave her a half-stern, half-pleading look that she knew couldn't be questioned. After nodding in understanding, she was released. He wasted no time in turning back to the doorway.

In spite of herself, Devon arched her brows in interest as her father started clicking his tongue. He had leaned forward slightly, one fist on the ground to brace his hunched-down body and his expression open, reassuring.

"It's okay, fella," he coaxed gently. "It's all right. We're not gonna hurt ya."

Peering around into the shed, to where Mr. Vega's head was tilted, she finally discerned a dark form in the gloom. It was in the far corner, huddled up, its outline heaving with each breath. Mr. Vega continued his encouragements until it seemed to respond with a sudden yet non-threatening stir. Heartened at this, he leaned forward a bit more, making a welcoming gesture with his free hand.

"That's it. Come on now, little fella..."

It was then, though, that they realized it WASN'T a little fellow at all. The form visibly uncurled into something longer, something /much /larger than either of them had expected. Devon stepped back, mouth agape, her sense of horror only compounded by a brief, white glint from within the shed. Could that have been.../teeth/?

Her father's face had gone pale, completely staggered. A moment's recovery peeled the look away, though, now replaced by a grim purposefulness. Slowly, he reached into one pants pocket and slipped out something, his intense but faintly reluctant gaze hidden from Devon as she watched a blade flick out between his fingers. She hadn't the faintest idea why, but she had a prickling, nagging feeling that that /wasn't /the best thing to do right then...

Mr. Vega held the knife away from the opening, trying to hide it from their "visitor" as long as possible. "Easy there, pops," he said. "Easy..."

The thing, however, seemed aware that something else was going on. It growled at the two in a tone Devon had never heard before -- at least from an animal -- and bared its many gleaming teeth. Mr. Vega seemed to take the hint, for he allowed the pocketknife to come into plain view, the blade flashing with moonlight. "Easy, now. Just come out quietly, and -- "

He stopped with a gasp, and Devon felt the blood rush away from her cheeks. The thing had simply...vanished. But how? Where -- ?

That was answered presently. The knife was wrested out of Mr. Vega's grasp and he looked on in bewildered terror as it hovered before him, a few feet above the ground. It was tossed aside, and as he watched it sail through the air he suddenly recoiled, a shocked, sick look on his face as he sunk onto his rear. Devon rushed to help him, but her ankles caught and twisted in a bright orange extension cord, which had been lying around loose in front of the shed. She jerked forward and with a small cry fell hard onto the ground next to him. Her knees scraped and stinging, she gritted her teeth and squinted upward through askew glasses.

But she saw then why /the cord had been taut in the first place. Apparently, a loop in the cord had caught through one of the invisible thing's legs as it made a break for the block wall that enclosed the backyard. So when she'd tripped, the floating loop had snapped back, wrenching the thing off the wall and onto the ground with an uncomfortable-sounding /thwack/. What caught her eye was that upon impact, the thing had revealed itself for what it really was: some kind of...lizard-creature? Yes, it had to be! Scaled and long and purple and...all those /limbs!

She was so engrossed in what she was seeing that she hadn't noticed her father regaining his feet. With a grunt he lunged onto the dazed lizard-creature, trying to pin down as many of the legs and whatsits as he could. It quickly responded with a solid punch on his left cheek, stunning Mr. Vega long enough for the lizard-creature to flip him onto his back, switching the advantage. The human stared up into the intense, strangely intelligent green eyes as if at a past acquaintance, and /not /a pleasant one at that. He strained against the eight limbs that held him down, his own eyes burning with anger as he grappled for the discarded knife -- just out of reach by inches. His opponent spotted this and knocked the weapon farther away with its tail, then shot him a look as if to say, "No trying any funny stuff. Got it?" The two began to stare daggers at each other, snarling savagely.

Watching all this and on her feet again, Devon couldn't help but notice how much /this /fight resembled the one she had been in earlier. The difference being, of course, that these two seemed to actually know what the heck they were doing.

Meanwhile, a voice in the back of her head screamed at her to DO something, to help her father, but the girl stood petrified by fear. What could she do, anyway? She was just a kid -- and a scrawny, stringy one at that! If her /dad /was having trouble, what kind of a chance did she possibly stand against such a beast?

But the fretful thoughts soon evaporated. The lizard-creature had busied one of its rear feet with undoing the loop still around its leg, and it now slipped off the loosened cord with a quick shake. Without further ado, the creature's pigments and form dissolved into the surrounding air and it was gone. Mr. Vega stared warily at the empty space in front of him for a few seconds before motioning to sit up. Devon came to his side, offering a hand and pulling him to his feet.

Mr. Vega's gaze was still incensed. " That little..." He started stalking away, his eyes flicking around the yard. "Where is it? Where'd it go?"

Devon tugged at his arm. "Dad, please no," she said, voice imploring. "It's gone now, okay? Just let it go -- "

"No!" She stepped back at his tone, watching as he surveyed the area again, heavy breathing shaking him. "There!" he said, pointing. He started off in that direction.

Devon gawked after him in confusion. What was he talking about? This thing could become /invisible/, for Pete's sake! But upon closer inspection, she realized there /was /something to be seen...just barely. The wrought iron fence surrounding the pool jittered and swayed, and on top she could just make out the shape of something that didn't quite match the scenery. It was almost like looking through a giant lens -- transparent, but causing a faint distortion between what was seen through it and everything else. Her father was following this outline, which by now had reached the fence's end and leapt onto the block wall inside the pool area. Mr. Vega swung the gate open and ran with all haste to the wall.

"Oh, no you don't!" he called after it, reaching his arms out. By some lucky chance he actually grabbed hold of something and yanked. The lizard-creature shifted into view again, looking back with marked astonishment at the man who now had a firm grip on its tail. In the end, though, the situation proved mere child's play: with an annoyed look, it swung the tail out of his hands then -- for good measure -- struck in an uppercut motion with a thicker section of tail (not quite the whip end) right under the chin. This sent the man staggering backward, propelling him so he couldn't stop himself before slipping on the pool's ledge and falling in, spraying sheets and droplets of water into the night air.

Devon came to the fence and gripped the bars, watching the water as her father's head broke surface. He sputtered and sloshed about -- all in once piece, it seemed. She then trained her wide eyes on the lizard-creature, who presently ascended the wooden power pole at the wall's back end, using the metal rungs. The entire scene had sparked peculiar but welcome eagerness in her: this thing had defeated her father -- /twice /-- and was probably capable of so many other remarkable things she couldn't even imagine, even alongside the ability to become invisible. But what blew her away most was the strong, persistent feeling that it could've done a lot worse to Mr. Vega if it had wanted. In fact, it very well could've /destroyed /him in the heat of the moment.

...So then why didn't it?

She frowned at the question, then glanced up to see that the lizard-creature had made it to the top. It leaned out a moment as it took in the view and then hugged its body against the pole, its thin chest heaving and head fronds slack. Any sense of exhaustion on its part hadn't dawned on her till then, and it was only growing more apparent with each passing second --


Her head whipped around along with the creature's to something near the transformer. A disheveled ball of fur was balanced on a nearby electrical wire, staring back with beady eyes and coiling a rat-like tail in hostility. The lizard-creature seemed thunderstruck by this imp's nerve, and so snarled back and bared its teeth when the possum started up its hissing again. The two might've stayed that way for a long while and left it at that if the possum hadn't suddenly gotten a fancy, IMMENSELY stupid idea in its tiny brain. With a bizarre, bark-like noise, it sprung off the wire and onto the lizard-creature's face, showing its yellow teeth and trying to bite at the fronds while clawing away at scaly skin. The creature jerked in surprise at this and loosened several rungs out of their holes, so that it and the possum began to fall towards the humming transformer --


Devon turned her head away, covering her eyes as a jarring, electric pulse infected the air. Cold nausea swept over her -- Why did she even /care/? The very idea of what'd just happened was sickening, yes, but what exactly had possessed her to cry out like that she didn't know. Once the noise had died, she heard a rustling as something heavy fell through the orange tree near the power pole, and then a dull /thud /as it struck cement. For a few seconds she refused to look, for fear of what she'd see and the nightmares the sight might give her.

Then, hesitantly, she lowered her hands.

Through the bars she could see a long, dark form sprawled out beneath the orange tree, deathly still. Devon passed through the open gate and stopped just short of being at an uncomfortable proximity, then inclined her head at the motionless body, her expression touched with sympathy. Suddenly, the limp fronds perked up ever so slightly, and the lizard-creature let out a weak, strangely human-sounding moan. The girl's jaw dropped open, the thought again striking her of How -- ? A singed, burning stench suddenly reached her nose and she turned to its source among some overgrown weeds, where a faint trail of smoke emerged between four scabby, upward-turned feet.


Back under the tree, the lizard-creature was attempting to get up. It pushed with its uppermost pair of limbs, both shaking under the weight as the creature clenched its lower jaw in dull pain. Devon had started to edge towards it, eyes blinking inquisitively, when a foot came down on the creature's upper back. It exhaled sharply then looked to see its recent human rival, sopping wet but back with a vengeance. Resentful, it half-bared its teeth and growled as Mr. Vega twisted back its four upper limbs and held the thin wrists together, and then sat on the creature's lower half and straddled his legs so as to keep the other four limbs from trying any funny business. It twisted and squirmed a bit in protest, but it was too winded to give much of a struggle -- or at least one the human couldn't handle.

"Dev, get the knife, will ya?" her father instructed.

She obeyed wordlessly, walking to where the pocketknife had been slid near the fence. She reached an arm between the cool bars and closed her hand around it, pulling back and briefly eyeing the blade before standing up. /This is wrong somehow/, she thought. But what else could be done? After all, this thing /had /attacked her father, and was obviously dangerous. So they couldn't simply let it run loose -- not after all it'd done. Devon tried to comfort herself with this reasoning as she returned to the tree and the two underneath it.

Mr. Vega looked up as she approached. "Good. Now just hold it out in front of 'im."

A little skeptical at this, she stretched the armed hand to it, blade pointing near the head/neck area. The creature's stark green eyes narrowed at her and then it yelped as the man pulled on its fronds with his free hand, the other still binding its four wrists. He then clamped his fingers around its throat, forcing its head to turn towards him as it gasped for breath. Mr. Vega's eyes bore into its own, his face grimacing in controlled fury. "Let's get one thing straight," he hissed between his teeth. "No one -- no/thing /-- EVER threatens my family." He paused, then sneered the last: "Especially a miserable little worm like /you/."

Devon winced internally at the last word's contempt. But it was what happened next that floored her.

Scowling and its fronds raised, the lizard-creature shot back at the man hoarsely. "/I am no worm/."

Devon nearly dropped the knife, her face ashen and flabbergasted. This thing could TALK?!

In shock, Mr. Vega released his chokehold around its neck and the creature coughed and wheezed, recovering its breath. The fit was short, and it soon turned back to the man with its own share of contempt. "Not so high-and-mighty now, huh?" it taunted. "And you really disappointed me with the whole 'knife' thing; I was starting to hope for good things back there before you went all Errol Flynn. But hey -- who was /I /to expect that much from someone so utterly dense?" It paused, glancing at and regarding Devon before going on. "So just who /is /the coward here, pal? But if that's your angle anyway and you're gonna let Runt Jr. do your dirty work, then it's fine by me. I'm obviously in no position to argue." The creature craned back its head, exposing its throat and giving the girl a lopsided, challenging look.

"Go ahead, kid," it said. "Maybe /you'll /have a sense of compassion about it and make it quick."

Torn and nerve-racked, Devon looked to the blade, then at the creature again. Its ribcage clearly pressed against skin with each intake of breath, and a distinctive, slanting scar running from its left eye to near its upper lip seemed fairly fresh. Then with sudden, rising defiance, she chucked the knife into the pool and straightened with tightened lips -- showing the creature that she hadn't done so out of fear. Upon seeing this, it lowered its head and gawked at her, quite openly taken aback. Its stare was soon touched by baffled yet subtly appreciative wonder, and the tenseness in Devon's posture faded away, the girl now mirroring a look similar to the creature's.


The humans turned to see Darby on the other side of the fence, barking wildly at their intruder from behind the bars. Recognizing the opportunity, the lizard-creature curled its tail and hooked it onto Mr. Vega's collar, yanking him backwards and off balance. It easily slipped from beneath the fallen human and slithered on all eights a short distance before blending out of sight. Darby whimpered, gave one last uneasy bark, then trotted away.

Devon quirked an eyebrow at the irony of what'd just happened. So...we forgot about the dog /and /the tail. Fancy that.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see her father. His hazel eyes were large and sad, veiled with shame.

"I'm a Class-A screw-up," he muttered miserably.

Knowing that he wasn't talking about his inability to take the creature down, Devon frowned at Mr. Vega's sincerity. She started rubbing her arms, sucking in her lips. That strange, silent moment she'd just shared with the creature was still fresh in her mind.

"You're not, Dad," she said quietly. "You just...didn't know any better."

"But I /should've/, Dev," he insisted bitterly. He gritted his teeth, then with a sigh ran a hand over his face and through his damp hair. "In any case, I jumped the gun back there and now I've made a royal mess of things."

Devon blinked up at him. "So, what I did with the knife and all's okay with you?"

After regarding her a moment, Mr. Vega allowed a faint smile. "It's more than okay," he told her, brushing aside her bangs affectionately. He squinted up at the night sky, suddenly thoughtful. "One thing we know for sure now, though," he stated. "We're on to something a heck of a lot bigger than ourselves."

"I'd say so," a voice commented.

The two whirled about to face Mrs. Vega, who stood inside the fence gate and did /not /look very pleased at all.

Seemingly unable to come up with anything less transparent, Mr. Vega shot his wife a nervous smile. "So, long've you been standing there, hon?"

His wife crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Long enough," she said simply, leaning against the fence. Her gaze was equal parts amused and infuriated.

Looking at his daughter, Mr. Vega's nervousness infected his laughter. "Heh heh...looks like the jig is up."

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