Author's Note: Daria Morgendorffer and her fellow characters from Daria are owned by MTV/Viacom. The characters of Archangel and Valkyrie are the property of Brother Grimace and used with his gracious permission. Any other characters in this story are the property of Doggieboy. This is fan fiction and no money or other items of value have been exchanged for this story.
A Little Vacation
Part Five: Reset
After Helen left Daria's room, she walked down the stairway and opened her cellular phone. She dialed a preset number, waited as it rang twice, and listened to a male voice on the other end as it said, "Stevens."
"John, this is Helen Morgendorffer."
Several seconds passed and then he asked, his voice wary, "What can I do for you, Helen?"
"I have a job for you."
"You tell that idiot Schrecter to kiss my ass!" he said quickly. "It's Friday night! If he can put off what he needed until now, he can put it off until Monday morning. I may do this kind of thing all the time for Mr. Vitale or Mr. Horowitz, but he's not in their league. He never will be."
Helen smiled as the private detective ranted. "This isn't for the firm, John," she finally said. "This is a personal job...for me."
There was another brief silence, then he said, "Helen, can't it wait until Monday?"
"I know you charge more for weekend work." She reached the bottom of the stairs, looked up towards Daria's room and moved back into the kitchen. "This is important, however, and I will pay the extra charge. It concerns my daughter."
"Oh," he said. "O.K. Which one?"
"I remember her. The sarcastic one. What problem are you having with her?"
"She's gotten herself involved with an older man," Helen said. "I want you to check him out - find out what you can about him."
"Since you're asking me to do this now, I take it you want the information as quickly as I can get it, right?"
She nodded and said into the phone, "I would appreciate it, John."
"O.K., Helen, tell me what you already know about him."
She looked back up the stairs, then said, "His name is Robert Nelson, and he's from Fostoria, Ohio. He says that he's 31 years old, but he could be older."
After another brief silence, he said, "I see. Does he have any family that you know about?"
"A wife and three children. All dead, the exact circumstances unknown."
After another silence, the detective said, "I have a cousin who's with the Ohio State Police. She's on duty this weekend. I'll contact her and have her dig up what she can."
"One thing, John. Can it be done quietly? I don't want to ruffle any feathers - especially Daria's."
"No problem. Helen, do you suspect something about this man? Something that could help my search?"
"I don't know. Right now, I'm just protecting my daughter. She's smart, but that doesn't mean that she can't be fooled by a con artist, if that's what he is."
"I'm on it. I'll call you when I find out something."
"Thank you, John." She exhaled and closed her phone, then looked back up the staircase. "I'm sorry, Daria," she whispered. "I trust you. I really do. But I love you, too. I'll trust and verify, anyway."
Daria looked at Robert's photo and smiled briefly at the thought of being alone with him. It feels weird being away from him tonight, she thought. Then she looked around the room and sighed. I never thought I'd see my room ever again.
She laid on the bed, still fully dressed and stared up at the ceiling.
- You act as if he's your man, Jane's voice said in her head. Well, is he?
She groaned and closed her eyes.
Who do you think you're kidding, Morgendorffer? The only reason he was interested in you was because you were the only 'game' in town. Now, he's in your world - and it's full of beautiful women - who aren't you. Besides, you've only known him for three days. Three. Freaking. Days.
Why would he be interested in you? You're a small-built, plain-looking, seventeen-year-old "brain." He was a football player in middle and high school. His late wife looked like a cheerleader, and you look like mud.
Daria took off her glasses and pressed her pillow down on her face. I hate this, she thought.
She finally pulled the pillow off her face and sat up. The family portrait laid beside her and she picked it up. I wonder if he'll still want a picture of me. She blinked and swallowed. I hope so.
It was more than an hour later when Jake arrived home and got ready for bed. Helen was already in her pajamas and waited for him to join her in the bed.
Jake saw her expression and grimaced as he brushed his teeth. Darn it, she wants to talk. Is it about Daria? Is it about Quinn? Is it about me? Is it about us? Gahhhh! I can't stand it!
Finally, he rinsed out his mouth, took a deep breath and walked in the bedroom.
"Jake, we need to talk," Helen said.
O.K., not her sexy voice and not her angry voice, either. Whew! More sleep time for old Jakey! He got under the covers and laid his head on his pillow. "What about, Helen?"
Yay! It's not me! That's two down. "What's wrong with Daria? She seemed O.K. to me."
Helen rolled her eyes. "Oh, really? When did you talk to her?"
"Well...I didn't. It's just...her door was closed and her light was on. That's O.K. for Daria, isn't it?"
"Jake, someone tried to attack Daria and Jane after school today."
He suddenly sat up. "What? Someone attacked Daria and Jane?"
"She's O.K., Jake. She's O.K." She touched his right arm and lightly squeezed his bicep. "A man who was nearby stopped the attacker and helped the girls."
"Oh, thank God! You're sure she's O.K.? What about Jane?"
"Yes, Jake, they're both O.K. But he's new to the area...and homeless and Daria wants us to help him."
"I'll give him a reward, Helen. Never let it be said that Jake Morgendorffer is a skinflint, no, sir. But since he's homeless, wouldn't he just blow it all on booze?"
"Jake!" Helen sighed, then continued, "He's needs a job, plus help in getting set up around here."
"We should be able to help him with that," he said. "Does he have a family?"
She took a deep breath. "They're dead, according to Daria. She talked with him and found out that they were killed more than a year ago." She took another deep breath. "He's coming here tomorrow morning at eleven to meet us."
"Since you've been wanting to cook out, I thought that it would be a good idea to grill some steaks and burgers and see what we can do for him."
"Why do we need to do all that?" he asked. "Couldn't we just work behind the curtain, like that guy on The Wizard of Oz?"
Helen closed her eyes. "Daria wants us to meet him. She invited him here."
"That sounds nice," he said. "You're right. I have been wanting to cook out." He licked his lips and settled down on his pillow. "Mmmm, I can taste those steaks already." Within a minute, he fell fast asleep and snored.
Helen looked down at her husband and shook her head. "There are times I'm never sure of what you're thinking," she whispered. She laid down and looked at him again. "There are times I'm never sure if you're thinking."
Sometime later, Daria walked towards the bathroom. As she passed Quinn's bedroom, she saw that the door was slightly open and looked inside.
Her younger sister laid on her side and Daria snuck up on the bed. "Time to make her jump," she whispered, a small smile on her face.
Carefully, she tapped Quinn on her left shoulder.
Quinn turned around and Daria was the one to jump instead. The redhead's left cheek had been torn away and the exposed teeth were all covered in dried blood. All the color was missing in her eyes and her skin was mottled blue and gray color. She reached out for her older sister with blood-covered hands.
Daria sat up quickly and blinked several times as she breathed hard. "Dammit! I hate these nightmares!" As she laid back down, she closed her eyes and thought, I wonder if Robert's having any nightmares?
At nearly four in the morning, Jake sat up quickly in bed, his eyes wide open and his face white. In his mind, he heard Helen's voice say, Daria wants us to meet him. She invited him here.
He looked at Helen's sleeping form, nearly shook her left shoulder, but backed his hand away from her at the last second.
As he laid back on his pillow, he thought, Why does Daria want us to meet some guy? Who is he? What is going on here? How many steaks should I fix? Should I fix steak fries with them? What about salad? Gahhhh!
Early the next morning, Jake cleaned the grill in the back yard, while Helen looked over the food in the freezer.
Quinn was dressed as she walked in the kitchen and looked at Helen in shock. Then she saw Jake through the kitchen window. "Mom, what are you and Dad doing home?" she asked. "Aren't you two usually at work right now?"
"We both took the day off and we're having a cook out." She looked over the clothes Quinn had on, nodded and said, "You're dressed just right for it."
"But, Mo-om, I'm supposed to meet the Fashion Club at the mall today."
"No buts, Quinn. You get to meet the man who saved your sister's life yesterday."
Confusion showed up on the young teen's face. "Saved her life? What are you talking about? What happened to Daria?"
Helen closed the freezer door and looked at Quinn. "Yesterday, someone, we don't know who yet, tried to attack Daria and Jane. This other man, who was nearby, stopped the attack."
"You don't need me here, then, Mom. You and Daddy can give him a reward and send him on his way and I can meet my friends. Oh, and I need a credit card for today."
"Daria invited him here - to meet us."
Quinn blinked and looked at Helen. "Daria invited him here?"
A small smile appeared on the teen's face. "I'll call Stacy and tell her I can't make it until later. This I have to see."
Just then, Daria walked into the kitchen. She noticed that both Helen and Quinn looked at her and said nothing. She asked, "What?"
Helen blinked and said, "Nothing, sweetie, just getting out something to grill." She opened the freezer door again and turned her attention back to the frozen foods.
Quinn, however, smiled at Daria and asked, "So, who is this man?"
"Who is what man?"
She leaned on the table. "The man who rescued you, Daria."
Daria blushed, blinked and said, "Uh, I'll be back. I have to go to Jane's." Then she saw Helen look at her quickly and added, "I know, Mom. I know. I'll bring back a dessert for the cookout." She quickly left the house through the back door.
Quinn looked at Helen and asked, "What was that about?"
"Robert is staying at Jane's house. He's doesn't have a home here, yet."
A look of horror appeared on Quinn's face. "A homeless man? Oh, no, he'll have on old clothes, smell of cheap wine and mutter. I won't be able to show my face in public again, not if he's seen here."
"Quinn! His family was murdered in Ohio more than a year ago. He moved to this area to get a fresh start in life. Which reminds me, do not mention his family to him. I want this visit to be pleasant - for Daria's sake."
"Does Daria have a boyfriend now, Mom? And this is our way of meeting him?"
Oh, God, I hope not, Helen thought. She sighed and closed her eyes. "I don't know, Quinn. I don't know."
"Maybe I can leave the cookout early in time to go to the mall then," the redhead said.
Outside, Daria saw Jake the same time he saw her. She blushed and he turned white. "Uh, Daria," he said quickly. "Hi, kiddo."
"Hi, Dad," she said
"No time to talk. Gotta clean the old grill off." He ran into the garage.
"O.K. I have to go, too," she said and walked quickly around the front of the house.
Daria reached the Lane house a few minutes later and before she could knock on it, Robert opened the front door. "Oh!" she said, startled. "I didn't know you were watching me."
"I just happened to look outside," he said. "I've been up awhile and I want to go outside, but I don't want to wake up Trent or Jane." He smiled at her. "I missed you last night when I went to bed."
She blushed and stared at him. "What?"
He blushed as well and closed his eyes. "I did not mean that the way it sounded," he said quickly. "It's just that we spent the last three days together - and the night before last we slept in the same room. But last night, I found myself...lonely." He looked back up at her. "I really did miss you."
"I missed you, too." Daria blinked and swallowed. "Since we're both up, I thought that we could go out for coffee. If that's O.K. with you, that is."
He smiled at her. "I'd love it," he said. "I'm ready, then. Shall we?"
They left the house together and walked to the street.
Daria pointed to the right and said, "We'll go this way. There's a cafe downtown that is supposed to have the best coffee in town."
"You don't know for certain?" he asked.
"I'm usually not up this early," she replied, "and they close at two p.m. on weekdays." They walked past a large shrub and a large dog ran down the street, followed by two smaller dogs. "I miss Buster. I wonder how he's doing."
"I miss him, too," Robert said. "Last night, I felt like I was all alone."
"How did you sleep?"
He sighed and they stopped at a street crossing. As they waited for several cars to pass, he said, "I woke up several times, but went back to sleep. Had a weird dream that I was suddenly back in Fostoria, unarmed and surrounded by the dead. Even with that dream, last night was the first relaxing night of sleep I've had since the winter storms."
"You do look more relaxed...more calm," she said. "I like it."
"Thank you," he said, "but I don't feel that calm. The more I think about meeting your parents, the more nervous I get."
"Be yourself, Robert. You're polite and kind. Don't be worried about it." She looked at him for a few seconds, then said, "You've told me that I'm pretty. Were you just being polite?"
"I'm being honest," he replied. "You are very pretty." A blush appeared on his face and he smiled. "I'm pleased - and surprised - that you're even with me today."
"Why wouldn't I be with you?"
"We're not in danger anymore, Daria. You're home. You could have just had me go away and leave you alone. I would have, and understood. After all, I look 'old' and I know it."
"I like being with you, Robert Nelson," she said quickly. "I wouldn't treat you that way, anyway. Not after what you've done for me. Like I said before, you're polite and kind. Besides that, you are a very handsome man."
"Thank you." His smile widened and he laughed. "But I do need to get my hair cut. Before the dead...well, you know, before that time, I always kept it cut short."
Daria stopped and Robert stopped with her. She looked his head over and shook hers. "I don't think so - not yet, at least," she said. "I like it the way it is. It's the right length and it looks good on you."
"Thank you again." He ran his hand through it briefly. "I'll leave it the way it is, then."
After they reached the cafe, Robert and Daria sat in a booth near the middle and drank coffee. Most of the patrons were older couples and they mainly gathered in groups to laugh and talk.
"I think this is more a social center than a cafe," he said and sipped his coffee.
"It's a little of both," she said. "I have another question - about Lauren and Janelle."
He sighed and looked at her. "You're pretty curious about them, I've noticed."
"I'm curious about you. I want to learn more about you." She blushed, looked down briefly, then looked back up at him. "I want to know you better."
He swallowed. "I want to know you better, too," he said.
"Do you still want a picture of me?"
"Yes, I do, Daria. I would love to have one."
She reached inside her purse briefly, pulled out a school portrait of herself and handed it to him. "I'm not that pretty, I know..."
"Stop doing that," he said as he interrupted her.
"Quit putting yourself down. Maggie used to do the same thing and it drove me nuts."
"Maggie was a beautiful woman."
"She didn't think so, herself. She always kept putting herself down."
"Well, she was beautiful, Robert."
"So are you," he said quickly.
Daria had just sipped her coffee and swallowed it wrong. She coughed several times and looked at her companion. Her face was totally red in color and sweat appeared on her forehead.
"Are you O.K.?" he asked, concern in his voice.
"Yes," she said, her voice slightly hoarse. "Swallowed wrong."
"Now, what did you want to know about Lauren and Janelle?"
Daria wiped her forehead off with a napkin and leaned back in the booth seat. "I know you said that Fostoria was your home and all that."
"Yes, that's right."
"Why didn't you go to Montana with them? You don't just stay in a dead city because of some outdated 'hometown' concept."
Robert smiled at her and watched her as he sipped his coffee. "You don't believe me, huh?"
"Let's just say that it rings a little - false."
"O.K. Like I said before, you're very perceptive. I told you last night that my secrets really don't matter, anymore. Here goes. I was told that I wasn't going with them."
"Which one told you that?" she asked.
"Both of them," he said. "But it was mostly Janelle. Towards the end of...you know..."
"Yes, I know," she said. "That blows my mind, by the way."
"It seems like a bad dream to me, and I went through it. Well, Janelle got very jealous. She believed that Lauren fell in love with me and that I wanted to steal her woman from her." He laughed, but it was short and bitter. "If I were to have shown up in Montana later, Janelle would've shot me. I'm fairly certain of that."
He raised one eyebrow. "Did I what?" he asked.
"Did you want Lauren?"
Robert shook his head. "No. Understand this. I don't mean to be so...forward in the way I'm discussing this with you, but you want to know and I'm willing to tell you. There is more to lovemaking than just intercourse alone. Much more. There's foreplay, simple touch, looks and kissing. Most importantly, talking intimately with your lover. With Lauren, there was no foreplay, no kissing, no talking and very little touch. What I did with her was very...mechanical. It was also very damned boring."
Daria blushed. "I'm sorry if I hit a nerve."
"You know, as long as the three of us stayed together, I only got one kiss from each of them. Once from Janelle when Lauren realized that she really was pregnant. Then once from Lauren when they left for Montana." He leaned back and sipped more coffee. "Now, why don't you tell me about your love life. I'm curious to hear about it."
She snorted and looked down at her coffee. "What is there to tell? I don't have one - I never have. If you don't count best friends, that is."
"You never had a boyfriend?" he asked.
"Well, yes, I almost did once, but it didn't work out." She still looked at her coffee.
Robert looked at her for several seconds, then he reached his left hand towards her.
Daria looked at his hand silently, then looked back up at his face and said, "You can do better than me."
"You could also do better than me," he replied. "After what we've been through together, I'm willing to bet on you, however."
She reached her right hand out and took hold of his. When she felt him grip her firmly, she smiled. "We need to be...subtle," she said. "I'm not sure how Dad will take it."
"What about your mother?"
Daria laughed shortly. "I already know how she's taking it. I told her last night that we...liked each other."
Robert smiled. "How loud did she scream?"
"She didn't scream," she said. "At least, not yet. But she hasn't forbidden it, either."
"What about your sister? Quinn, isn't it?"
She closed her eyes and groaned. "She's going to enjoy it - at my expense." She looked up at him. "Be prepared to be grilled - intensely. The fact that you're a former football player will count some, in her books."
He squeezed her hand slightly and asked, "This isn't going to be a problem, is it?"
"Oh, it will be," she admitted, "but I'm willing to deal with it, if you are."
"Four days ago, you were terrified of me," he said. "Obviously, you're not now."
"No, I'm not." She looked down briefly. "You protected me and took care of me over there. The idea you had for getting me back home...I would have thought of that eventually. But you thought of it right away. You could have tried to keep me there, as your...but instead you risked everything to get me home." She looked back up at him. "I trust you and I feel safe with you."
"I'm actually a bit scared of Lawndale, myself," he said.
Confusion showed up in Daria's features. "Why?"
"I'm not used to this many living people. Daria, I remember the sounds of dogs yelping, children screaming and car tires screeching. For nearly three weeks those sounds were constant. Then they faded away to be replaced by the moaning of the dead."
She shivered and briefly closed her eyes.
Robert then said, "Several times, I've reached for my guns and felt my mouth dry up when they're not there. I'm not used to being unarmed."
She squeezed his hand and said, "I'm here with you. I'll protect you here."
After they left the cafe, they walked beside each other, but avoided holding hands on the street. They passed a bakery and Daria said, "We need to stop here. I told Mom that I'd get us a dessert for the cookout."
They went inside and Robert waited as she picked out a large red velvet cake and paid for it.
When they left, he said nothing for a few minutes. Then, he asked, "Why did you buy a red velvet cake?"
"It's a nice way to introduce you to Lawndale," she said. "Don't you like red velvet cake?"
"I love it," he said. "But how did you know I did?"
"I didn't," she lied and looked ahead. "I took a chance on the belief that you would like it."
He looked at her as they walked on, his expression slightly skeptical.
When they reached the Lane home, Daria turned to Robert and said, "Do not tell my family about Lauren or Janelle...or their baby. Don't tell Dad or my sister about the teleportation, the zombies or the other Earth. I told Mom about what we went through together, but she feels that we should keep quiet about it."
"Did she believe your story?" he asked.
Daria sighed and shrugged. "She said she did...but I don't know, for sure. She may still wonder if you're some sort of crook...or sex fiend."
Robert winced. "I'll watch my manners at your house."
She smiled at him. "You'd better."
They briefly joined hands and he returned her smile.
"I'll see you at eleven," he said.
"You'd better," she said again. "I'll call Jane at ten or ten-thirty to make sure she's up." She let go of his hand. "See you later, Robert."
"I'm looking forward to it, Daria."
Helen looked out the front window and saw Daria walk up with a cake, apparently from the bakery downtown. Her cellular phone rang and she automatically answered it, "Hello."
"Helen, it's John Stevens," the voice on the other end said.
She sighed and smiled as she asked, "What did you find out, John?"
"There are four Robert Nelsons in Fostoria, Ohio, and its immediate area," he said. "One is an eleven-year-old boy and a second one is sixty-six and in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's. The third is twenty-one years old, but left the area rather suddenly a month ago, after his girlfriend's death. He's rumored to be in either the Baltimore, Wilmington or Philadelphia areas."
"How did his girlfriend die?" she asked.
Stevens sighed over the phone. "Her father tried to outrun a train - and failed. The whole family died in the accident."
"He's too young, anyway, John. What about the fourth one?"
"He died five months ago. Industrial accident. Left behind a wife and two children. He was thirty."
Helen frowned and silently cursed, but said calmly, "Thank you for your work, John. Send Marianne a bill and I'll send you the payment."
"Sorry it was a bust, Helen. I could expand the search, if you want."
"I'll wait until Monday and let you know. I'll see how this weekend goes first." She hung up the phone and sighed.
Daria walked inside and said, "Here's the cake, Mom."
Helen looked at it and frowned. "Why did you get a red velvet cake?" she asked.
"It sounded good."
"For a cookout?"
"I paid for it, Mom, and besides, Robert likes red velvet cakes."
"Oh." Helen put her right hand over her eyes and asked, "How well do you really know Robert, sweetie?"
Daria looked at her and shrugged. "I've only known him for three days, but after what we went through together, it feels like it's been a lot longer. My life was in his hands on his world, and now he's relying on me to help him in mine...ours, since he's here now, too."
She set the cake on the table and left to go to her room.
Helen watched her leave the room. "I want to stop this, Daria," she said, "but I'm afraid that if I do, I'll lose you." She turned to walk outside and sighed.
At eleven, Daria answered the front door to find Jane and Robert standing there. "Trent didn't come?" she asked, a small smile on her face.
"You know that he won't be up for four or five more hours," Jane said.
"If that early," Daria replied. She saw the nervousness in Robert's face and reached her right hand out to him. She touched his left arm, smiled at him and said, "Come on, I'll introduce you to my family." Then, she whispered, "Calm down. They don't bite - at least not until they know you a little better."
"Oh, that's really comforting," he whispered back. "But do you bite?"
She looked at him and blushed.
Quinn looked at how they whispered to each other and also noticed how Daria blushed after he whispered. "Oh, this is going to be fun," she said to herself. "Daria and an older man. He's kind of handsome, too, for his age. Maybe I don't want to leave at all. I can't wait to tell Stacy about this." She approached them. "Ahem. Daaaria, who's your...friend?"
Daria's blush deepened as she said, "Um, Quinn, this is Robert Nelson. He...helped me and Jane out yesterday."
"Pleased to meet you," he said and shook her hand.
"How old are you?" Quinn asked Robert as he let go of her hand.
"It's O.K., Daria. I anticipated this. I'm thirty-one."
"You look much older than that."
He returned her look - straight in the eyes. "I've had...some bad experiences and let's leave it at that," he said, his voice even.
"Did you play sports in school?" she asked. "You look like a football player."
"Yes, I did."
"Did you date all the cheerleaders?" she asked. "Or the popular girls?"
Robert laughed and shook his head. "I dated three girls - and the last one I ended up marrying. None of them were cheerleaders. As far as popularity goes, I didn't follow that. It wasn't important to me."
Quinn sighed and shook her head. "That partly explains why you're with Daria, then," she said. "If you weren't popular, how did you get on the football team?"
He crossed his arms over his chest. "Because I was good at it. I knew what offense was - and made the opposing quarterback scared when he saw me coming for him. I never was quarterback or the team captain, but that didn't matter. For three years our team was unbeatable - until graduation caught up with us and split us up."
"Are you wanting to sleep with Daria or something?" she asked quickly. "Why else would you be interested in someone her age?"
"Quinn!" Daria said and moved in front of Robert. "How dare you!"
Jane looked from Daria to Quinn to Robert and stood back to watch, a small smile on her face.
"I found Daria to be a kindred spirit as I talked to her," he said and smiled. He then put his hand on Daria's right shoulder. "Calm down, Daria." He looked back at the redhead. "I respect your sister, Quinn, and there are boundaries in our relationship, as there should be in any good relationship. I care for her, I want to know her better, and I want her to get to know me better."
Helen walked in the living room then and looked at Robert. She took a deep breath, walked up and held out her right hand. "You must be Robert Nelson," she said. "I'm Helen Morgendorffer, Daria's mother."
Robert took her hand and she gripped him - hard. He looked at her and said calmly, "I'm pleased to meet you."
Her gaze seemed to bore into his eyes and she asked, "You're thirty-one?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am. I know I look older, but I really am thirty-one."
"Daria is just seventeen, Mr. Nelson," she said. "A child."
"Mom!" Daria cried out.
Robert kept his gaze on Helen as he nodded and said, "Actually, she's a lot more mature than a lot of the so-called adults I once worked with."
"I see," she said. "Is that why you want to be involved with my daughter? Because she acts 'mature'?"
"Like I told Quinn, ma'am, I found Daria to be a kindred spirit. She told you about our situation when I rescued her?"
"Yes," Helen said, "she did."
"Well, she taught me that there is a reason to keep on going, to not give up. I'll always appreciate that."
"Well, thank you, anyway, for helping the girls." The older woman released his hand and gave him a forced smile. "Why don't you have a seat while I talk to Daria a minute?"
Jane led Robert to the couch as Daria followed her mother to the kitchen. "Well said," she whispered to him. "But really, I have the same question that Quinn asked you. How do we know you just don't want to jump Daria's bones?"
He looked at the brunette. "Did Daria tell you about where I'm from?" he asked as they sat down. "About what it was like?"
"Yeah, it was pretty freaky from the way she described it."
"I had ample opportunity to 'jump her bones' there," he whispered back. "I'm not saying I'm some sort of saint, because yes, it would've been fun, and I definitely would've enjoyed it. But it's way too early for that. All good things come in their own time. Since Daria's body is her own, then it's up to her to decide when she's ready for that step."
"And I'll bet you'll be ready then, huh?" Jane asked.
Robert simply smiled at her.
In the kitchen, Helen turned to Daria and said, "My God, Daria, he looks like he's in his forties."
"He's thirty-one, Mom. You don't believe him...or me, do you?"
"I'm not saying that!" Helen said. "It's just that..."
"You think he's a pedophile," the teen said, frowned, and crossed her arms over her chest.
"You told me he was a gentleman and a perfect host, sweetie. I believe you. It's just that...what if he really is a pedophile...or just gets too excited at the wrong time? Just because he's 'thirty-one' doesn't mean that he will control himself when the temptation hits."
Daria sighed and said, "Mom, he could have...attacked me anytime over there. I couldn't have stopped him. You can see how strong he is. He could have kept me there as his prisoner and I'd still be there now. But he didn't. He respected my privacy, did what he could to calm my fear of him and helped me to get home. He protected me. I trust him." She moved up to Helen and hugged her briefly. "I'm not going to be taken advantage of. I promise you that."
"I still think he's too old for you," Helen said and returned the hug, "and I don't like you two being a couple. Why don't you take him outside to meet your father. See what he has to say about all this?"
The look on Daria's face reflected the teen's sudden worry and she broke the hug.
Helen gave her a small, victorious smile and added, "You two will have to work hard to earn our approval for this, Daria. I know you think your father is 'easy' to handle, but you don't want to back him into a corner. He might just surprise you. Now take Robert out there and sacrifice him...I mean, introduce him to your dad. I'll watch the...scene from the window."
"Your mom doesn't trust me," Robert said as they walked outside together. Jane and Quinn followed close enough to listen in on their conversation.
"No, she doesn't," Daria admitted.
He glanced back at Jane and Quinn and said, "I don't think Jane or Quinn totally approve of me, either."
She looked back at the two, a warning glare on her face and they backed up slightly.
"I can understand that," he said calmly. "After all, I do look old enough to be a 'dirty old man'. Even if I looked my actual age, I could still be accused of 'robbing the cradle'."
She stopped, glanced at the two girls behind them and then looked up at him. "But I'm not a baby," she said loudly. "I am old enough to make my own decisions as far as relationships go. And I choose you." She smiled. "People will get used to it. As if this affected them in any way. If they don't, then that's their problem."
In the yard, Jake looked at the man with Daria and froze. He blinked as he looked at him and thought for several seconds. Then a look of recognition appeared on his face and he paled. "My God," he whispered. "It's true. It really is true."
In the kitchen, a predatory smile appeared on Helen's face and she said, "Go get him, Jake. Be your usual, over-excited self. Scare the wildlife off in the process."
Outside, Robert whispered to Daria, "Might as well get this part over with." He moved towards Jake.
Jake quickly walked from the grill and met Robert halfway. He held out his hand and said, "You must be Robert Nelson. I'm Jake Morgendorffer. Welcome to our home. Have you been given something to drink yet?"
The reaction caught both Robert and Daria off guard and he briefly glanced at his girlfriend as he said, "Uh, not yet, Mr. Morgendorffer." He took the offered hand and was surprised at the firmness of the grip.
"Call me Jake. There's no need for formalities here."
"Thank you, Jake. In that case, just call me Robert."
Jake released Robert's hand and motioned towards the grill. "Come on, Robert. Let's talk while I grill lunch." He turned to his still astonished daughter. "Daria, why don't you get Robert something to drink and see when your mother is going to bring out the hamburger patties? The steaks will be done in another five or ten minutes."
"Uh, O.K.," she said and quickly went inside. Jane and Quinn stared at Jake for several seconds, then turned to look at each other, their mouths open.
"I didn't expect to see that happen," Jane whispered to Quinn. "I expected to see the blood and fur fly."
"Tell me about it," the redhead replied. "He's treating Daria's boyfriend like he's some sort of client, or someone popular or famous."
Helen gawked at the window and watched as Jake and Robert walked to the grill and talked. "Jake Morgendorffer, what in the hell do you think you are doing?" she whispered and closed her eyes. "That man is going to be the death of me yet."
Daria came inside, opened the refrigerator and grabbed two 20-ounce plastic bottles of Ultra Cola. As she closed the door, she said, "Mom, Dad wants to know when the hamburger patties will be ready for him to grill."
The older woman regained her composure and cleared her throat. "I'll bring the burgers out in a few minutes, sweetie," she said. "How are Robert and your father getting along?"
"Great," Daria said and blinked. Her voice reflected her shock. "I'm waiting for the lightning to strike us - or the sun to turn blood red - or both." She went back outside.
At the grill, Jake lowered his voice and said, "Robert, I know about what happened to your family, and you have my sympathy and condolences. It's a tough thing to have to go through, and I hope I never do, myself."
Robert was touched by his concern and swallowed as he fought the urge to break down. "I hope you don't, either," he said, his voice shaky. "I keep thinking that it's all my fault."
Jake patted his left shoulder gently and said, "I understand. But, there are some things that are beyond our control. Oh, here comes Daria."
"If I may, Jake, you don't seem to be bothered by..."
"If Daria trusts you, then I trust you," Jake interrupted him. "She likes you. Considering her standards, that means a lot. That settles it for me." He smiled. "Which reminds me, thank you especially for protecting and taking care of our daughter. We can never repay you fully for what you've done, though we'll try."
Robert blinked and looked at him silently for a few seconds. Then he said, "I'm hoping to find a good job."
Jake smiled at him and said, "Trust me, you'll be in a good job and a good home before you know it."
Daria arrived and handed Robert a bottle of Ultra Cola. "Did you want the other one, Dad?" she asked. "I can share with Robert, if you want one, too."
"Thank you, kiddo," he said and took the offered bottle.
Inside, Helen watched as Jake took the offered bottle and drank. She then saw Robert drink from his bottle. When Daria grabbed the bottle from him and took a drink as well, she gripped the sink and took a deep breath. "No, no, no, no, no."
Then she watched as Daria took Robert's left hand in her right and smiled up at his face. She felt the blood drain from her face as he smiled back at the auburn-haired teen and gripped her hand tightly.
When Helen came outside, everyone looked at her. Mainly because she yelled something incomprehensible as she rushed through the door. Even the squirrels in the nearby trees stopped their play and stared at the woman.
"Uh, oh," Jane said and smiled. "I think your mom just came unglued."
"Oh, gawd," Quinn said and covered her face with her hands.
Jake, Daria and Robert looked at her as she walked quickly towards them.
"Let go of her hand!" she ordered. "Let go of Daria's hand, right now!"
Robert obeyed, but Daria grabbed his hand again and gripped it tightly. She stared at her mother and moved between her and Robert as the woman rushed towards them.
"Helen, stop it!" Jake said loudly. "Calm down and shut up, right now!"
Helen stopped and looked at her husband in shock.
Robert noticed that not only Helen stared at Jake, but so did everyone else. "I take it he's not usually this...forceful," he whispered to Daria.
"No, he isn't," she replied. "Mom was right. He did surprise me - just not the way she expected, or wanted."
Jake moved up to Helen and said, "Robert is our guest and we will treat him with respect and dignity. Do I make myself clear? He helped Daria out when nobody else could - at the risk of his own safety. I doubt we could ever fully repay him for that."
Robert and Daria moved back slightly and he whispered in her right ear, "Why is your dad treating me like royalty? Did you tell him about my world?"
"No." She shook her head. "Mom said that she wasn't going to, either. I really don't know what's going on, but he likes you, that's obvious."
"I think he also approves of us."
She smiled and laid her head on his left shoulder. "I didn't expect it, but I'm glad."
In the trees behind them, the squirrels continued to watch the humans in action. Their nemesis was present, but he wasn't the one to jump around or yell this time. After several seconds of seeing them talk, they scampered off on other tasks.
The meal went off without a hitch - except for Helen's slow simmer. Jake grilled steaks and burgers and she served everyone silently.
Jake took charge of the conversation and quizzed Robert on what kind of job he wanted to have and whether he wanted a house or an apartment to live in. He also asked about Robert's interests and hobbies.
In fact, the conversation was mostly a three-way one, between Jake, Robert and Daria, with a few words here and there by Jane. Helen gave only one-word answers and Quinn looked somewhat uncomfortable, as she sat within her mother's reach.
After the cookout ended, Daria and Robert walked Jane back to her house.
"Thanks for having me over," Jane said as she led them into the living room. "It was worth it to see your dad tell off your mom."
Daria shook her head. "I have a feeling that the house is going to be really...tense and uncomfortable tonight," she said.
"That's my fault," Robert said. "I'm sorry."
She gripped his left arm and said, "Hey, now, this was my doing, too. If we're going to make this work, we'll have to smooth out the rough spots."
He smiled at her. "Agreed. Shall we go back outside and continue on our walk?"
"Wait a minute!" Jane said. "Remember that instant camera I got last week, Daria?"
"Now, just a minute," Daria said and held up her left hand.
"Oh, hush," Jane said. "Let me take a picture of you two together - as a couple."
Robert nodded and looked at Daria. "I have no problem with that. How about you?"
Daria smiled and said, "O.K., I like that, too, then. All right, Jane. Go for it."
Jane ran to her room, then came back with the camera. She made them stand outside near the sculpture and prepared herself.
"How do you want us to pose?" he asked.
"Put your arm around her," Jane suggested and he did so. "O.K. Now give Daria a big, wet kiss."
"Jane!" Daria said quickly to the laughter of her friend.
"Stand still, now...that's it...got it!" A print ran out of the machine and they stood around as it developed before their eyes. "Awww, aren't you two the cute couple?"
Daria took the print and said, "I'll keep this. 'Cute couple', my eye."
Jane laughed and said, "Get back in position and I'll take another one for myself."
Robert and Daria moved back beside each other near the sculpture. He put his right arm around her shoulders and she leaned slightly against him, the same pose they did before.
Jane aimed the camera, took the photo and said, "Got it!"
Robert turned to Daria and said, "I need to use the restroom before our walk. How about you?"
She shook her head. "I'll wait with Jane inside for you."
Inside the house, as Jane put up the camera and Robert did his business, Daria walked into Wind's room and looked at Robert's belongings. She picked up his diary, which sat near the bed. "I need to talk with you about this," she said quietly, then pocketed the book.
As she walked back to the living room, she looked at the picture again. I really do like this. She smiled and placed the photo in the pocket with the diary.
Jane smiled at her and asked, "Admiring the scenery?"
"I thought you were peeking in the bathroom, Daria."
Daria crossed her arms over her chest and asked, "Where do you keep your tools, Jane? I need a hammer for a minute or two."
Jane laughed and Robert walked in the room.
"Did I miss something?" he asked.
"Oh, Jane just tried to be funny and failed," Daria said. "Are you ready now?"
"Yes, I am." He looked at Jane. "We'll be back in a little bit. Have to walk off that steak and the burgers."
"Be good, you two," Jane said and waved as the two stepped outside and continued their walk, hand in hand.
Quinn took Jake's credit card (at his suggestion), then took off quickly to catch her friends at the mall. She didn't want to be near her mother when the explosion finally came.
Jake and Helen, however, stayed behind to clean up after the meal. Nothing was said as they worked, but he could feel the anger radiating out from her.
Finally, she stopped in front of him and said, "Jake, what in the hell happened out here today? What were you doing with Robert? Having a mutual admiration society meeting?"
"Helen..." he started to say.
"He is fourteen years older than Daria and you virtually threw her into his arms," she interrupted him. "What is he is some sociopathic pedophile? What if he's...."
Jake put his right hand over her mouth and said, "Come with me."
She pulled his hand off of her mouth and glared at him through narrowed eyes. "Oh, this better be good, Jacob Morgendorffer."
"We have nothing to fear from Robert," he said and led her into the house.
"You told me to 'shut up' in front of everyone!"
He stopped at the stairway. "You came close to screwing up everything. It was the only way I could think of to stop you."
"Screwing up what?" Helen asked her voice loud. "He's too old for Daria!"
He led her upstairs and into their bedroom. Then he moved to a cabinet and searched his videotape collection.
As he searched the tapes, she crossed her arms over her chest. "Jake, I do not have time to see one of your silly shows - or some 'sexy' film in some lame attempt to apologize to me."
Jake turned to look at her quickly. "Do you really want to know what's happening here?"
"Yes, I do," she said, "and I already know more about it than you."
"Good," he replied. "Then you can explain why you didn't tell me that Robert's family was killed by zombies - on an alternate Earth."
Helen paled and steadied herself by grabbing the nearby dresser. "Daria talked to you," she finally said.
"No, she didn't," he said and pulled out a tape. "Neither did Robert. Here it is. I saw this several months ago, after I had taped it at my office."
"What? What did you see?"
He held up the tape. "An episode of The Outer Limits. In fact, it was one of my favorite episodes." He led her to the bed, sat her down and set up the TV and VCR for the show.
Helen stood back up and asked, "Is this going to take long? I really don't have the time for this."
Jake turned back and pointed at the bed. "Sit down!" he ordered her. "If you really want to know about Robert and calm your fears for Daria, then you will sit down and watch this with me."
She looked at him, saw how serious he was and sat down. He started the tape and moved beside her on the bed.
"Trust me, Helen, things will be all right. In the end, this will work out."
"What if Robert gets Daria pregnant? What will we do then?"
"How do you know this?" she asked.
"Watch the tape."
The film showed a man as he walked down the center of a street, in what was apparently a dead city. Buildings looked abandoned and/or badly damaged. Many cars were abandoned in the street, and some were wrecked. Lawns were overgrown and neglected.
The man himself wore a thick coat with a hood, even though the green of the leaves and the bright sunshine indicated that it was summertime.
The skeletal remains of a human laid near the front of one car. Wild animals of some sort had separated the bones in a spread out direction of several feet.
The man ignored the remains and looked around carefully. He stood in front of what had once been a restaurant.
The sound of an animal whine could be heard and the man pulled off his coat hood, then removed what looked like a chain mail hood as well.
Helen's mouth dropped open and she gawked at the television. "That's Robert!" she said quickly.
"Yes, it is," he said.
On the TV, "Robert" looked behind a rusted dumpster and found a very terrified and emaciated beagle. "Hello there, boy," he said quietly and held out his hands. "Come here. I won't hurt you. Come on."
The dog cautiously sniffed one of his outstretched hand for several seconds, then came to him.
He carefully picked up the dog and carried him away.
Helen sat in stunned silence as the show progressed. Most of the dialogue was Robert talking as the narrator, except the flashbacks of his life before the disaster - and the experiences with Lauren and Janelle."
"You taped this off of TV?" Helen asked as she watched the scenes of Robert and Lauren together.
"It's on Showtime," he said. "They cut it up when it ends up on The Sci-Fi Channel later."
Then there were the people from "the other place" and Robert tried to figure out what was happening. His encounters with Kay Daniels and Billy Smithson were played out - with different names. Their deaths and eventual reanimations were also played out.
After the scene with Billy's death, Helen asked, "Why couldn't he have just waited at that place until the next one showed up? He could have saved Kelly and Bart before they were even bitten."
"It's not safe outside his shelter," Jake answered. "The zombies are everywhere in this place - in fact, they're all over his world. Pay attention to the next scene. It's important."
The next scene centered on the next person from "the other place." A teen girl, dressed in an orange pullover, black pleated skirt, green jacket, Doc Martens and glasses suddenly appeared on the sidewalk and looked around. A book bag was in place on her shoulders and she looked bewildered.
The camera centered on the girl's face and Helen gasped. "That's Daria!"
"When I first saw this, I thought it was just an uncanny resemblance," Jake said. "But when I saw Robert with her in the yard today, everything on this show came back to me. I realized right then that what happened on this show really happened - on Robert's world."
On the TV, the girl walked down the streets until her encounter with the zombies.
"Run, Daria!" Helen cried out as the girl froze. "Don't just stand there! Run!"
Then Robert ran up in time. Daria dropped as he shot one zombie after another and was nearly bitten himself. His run - with her on his shoulder - and their small talk during a rest was shown as well.
The episode ended as the couple reached his shelter and he introduced himself and she identified herself as "Anne Dorffman".
"Anne," Jake said. "Daria's middle name."
The last words, however, was in Robert's narration. "I finally saved one. She's a pretty girl - and also scared - but maybe together, we can figure out how she got here and how to get her back. But if she's stuck here for good, then I'll take care of her - along with Buster."
Jake shut off the tape and looked at Helen. "This episode won a Hugo award and they made a sequel. I saw it when it first aired, but the timer on my VCR got shut off that day. It should be repeated sometime soon and we can watch it when I get it taped. That episode dealt with Robert's and Anne's adventures on his world - and their trip to her world. He met Anne's family and had a picnic with them."
"What about Robert and Daria?" she asked. "What are we going to do?"
"Nothing," Jake said. "Anything we do to interfere will only mess up things. Helen, we have to let this play out, for things to work out. Please, trust me on this one."
Her response was to hug Jake and hold him tight against her. "I'm afraid, Jake, and I don't like that feeling."
"Just trust me on this one, Helen. Things will work out for the best."
As the couple walked, the sounds of some church hymn played on bell chimes could be heard from somewhere in the distance.
"I missed those sounds," he said. "In Fostoria, there was a church that played that kind of thing every weekday at four."
"I tend to ignore it, myself," she said. "But it is pleasant sounding."
Daria wrapped her right arm in Robert's left arm then and looked at his face briefly.
He smiled at her and she returned his smile, then looked forward as they walked.
"You started to say something before we stepped into the light yesterday," she said.
He said nothing for a couple of seconds, then replied, "I know."
"I know what it was, Robert," she said. "I'm sorry, but I can't say that to you - not yet."
"I kind of jumped the gun a little bit," he said. "I'm sorry if it put pressure on you. It's just that I thought I was about to die then. That's really lame, I know, for those to be my last words."
She turned her head slightly to the right and looked at his face. "What would you have preferred to be your last words, then?"
"'Are you saying that coconuts migrate?'"
Daria stopped and he stopped with her. She shook her head and covered her eyes with her left hand.
"Did I say something wrong?" he asked.
In response, she laughed and covered her mouth. After a couple of seconds, she asked, "What's wrong with 'I've come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum'?"
Robert smiled at her and said, "Not a thing. In fact, that's even better."
Daria blinked and looked into his eyes. She exhaled, then moved her face to his and kissed him quickly.
He nodded and returned her kiss. Then they walked on down the sidewalk.
As they passed an empty lot, a well-groomed dark-haired man in a conservative business suit and dark, reflective sunglasses stepped out in front of them. At the same time, a blonde-haired woman, also in a conservative business suit and dark, reflective sunglasses came towards them from their right.
"Robert..." Daria said and gripped his arm tightly.
Robert moved to put himself between the two and Daria.
Then to their left, a tall black man, dressed totally in white, walked towards them with the aid of a cane. He and the others stopped in a semi-circle around the couple and each of them held up identification cards.
"Department of Homeland Security," the black man said and smiled. "I believe you know why we're here."
"What are your names?" Daria asked. "Tell us who you are!"
The woman smiled and said, "Call me Valkyrie."
The white man didn't smile, but said, "Tiberius."
The black man smiled and said, "Call me Archangel."
Daria bit her lower lip and dug her nails into Robert's upper left arm. The sounds of the bell chimes continued as she pressed against him and closed her eyes.
Robert smiled at the man who called himself Archangel. He put his left arm around Daria and said, "I'm glad to meet you folks. My name is...Tom Jones, and this is my friend, Mary Ann Summers. If you'll excuse us, we have to go to Vegas right now." He started to lead Daria away from them.
"Tom Jones?" Tiberius said, his expression skeptical. "That's an odd name to choose."
"Oh, it's not unusual," Robert said as he and Daria moved.
"Mr. 'Jones'," Archangel said and the two stopped. "You are not from this Earth - we do know it and can prove it. I would just as soon handle this amicably and with as little fuss as possible. But if you two do not cooperate with us, then Valkyrie and Tiberius will restrain you - and that can be painful. Then you will cooperate with us."
Daria kept her grip tight on Robert as she looked at the three agents. "What do you want with us?" she asked. "We're just a plain, ordinary couple going about our plain, ordinary business. We aren't harming anyone."
"There is little plain or ordinary about someone who isn't from your Earth, Miss," Archangel said. "You do not belong here...Robert."
Daria winced then. Good one, Morgendorffer. Say his name in front of government agents.
Valkyrie then crossed her arms over her chest and said, "We've been to your Earth, Mr. 'Jones'. It's pretty messed up."
Robert looked at Daria and asked, "Did you know that this 'Department of Homeland Security' had the ability to travel between universes?"
"First time I've heard of it," she said.
"That shouldn't be much of a surprise to you," Tiberius said. "After all, if our readings are right, and they are, then both of you have done it, as well, in the last twenty-four hours."
"That is the main reason we're here," Archangel said. "The machine you two used to travel between the two Earths. Where is it?"
Neither one said anything right away and Valkyrie moved slightly closer. "Look," she said, "we can appreciate the scientific knowledge that went into building the device. But travel between universes can and does cause problems. In the wrong hands, such a machine can be - and has been - a horrible weapon. Now, where is your device?"
"It's not 'our' device," Daria said. "I was sent to the other Earth without my consent. That was Dr. Stone's doing."
"Dr. Stone?" all three agents asked at once.
"He's the one who started all this." Daria blushed and asked, "You know that I was sent to another Earth? How?"
Tiberius held up a device that resembled a portable radio. "Modern technology," he said. "Your signature matches that of this Earth, though you have fading traces of another signature. That signature matches your friend's."
"How do I even know that you three are even from this Earth and not another one?" Daria asked.
"Daria," Robert said and patted her hand.
"I'm serious, Robert. How do we even know you three are for real?"
Archangel sighed and said, "Whether you believe us or not, it is our job to keep cross-dimensional contamination to a minimum. It is also our job to eliminate the threat of what is called 'Extinction Level Events' as best as we can. Robert's world has been overrun with zombies, and unless we intervene, what happened on his Earth can spread to others."
"If we give you all of Stone's stuff, can we go on our way?" Daria asked.
"It's not that simple, I'm afraid," Archangel said.
"You have to go back to your own world, Robert," Tiberius said.
"There's nothing on that world to go back to," Robert replied. "It's dead to me - and if you send me back there, then I'll be dead, too."
Tiberius moved towards him, but Archangel held up his hand. The younger agent stopped and the black man turned towards Robert. "We can 'fix' your world, Robert. We can go back in time to right before the zombie crisis exploded - and by helping our counterparts there - end it quickly, with a minimal loss of life. You can have your life back - and your family, too."
Robert paled and nearly stumbled, but Daria gripped him and helped him to stay steady. "Why would you do this for me?" he asked. "No government agency is that...that..."
"Benevolent," Daria said.
"Thank you, Daria. I couldn't remember the word."
For the first time, the smile left Archangel's face. "For your information, this has nothing to do with 'benevolence' or some happy, glad-handing shit that some politicians promise their constituents. This is about security, plain and simple." He looked at Daria. "You were right, young lady, we aren't from your Earth, either. However, we are still U.S. Government employees and we have a job to do."
"Do you always have to 'fix' Earths when you encounter zombies?" Robert asked.
"No," Valkyrie said. "With a Class I or II event, or even a Class III event, it's easier to supply our counterparts with the latest in weaponry and...other things, if they don't already have it, and to help them eliminate the threat. Your world suffered a Class IV event - and that's only the second one we've ever come across."
Robert blinked and stood there as what she said sunk in. Then he shook his head. "Why didn't you show up on my world a lot earlier?" he asked. "If you were able to help those other worlds, then why didn't you help us when we really needed it?"
"We were unaware of your world," Archangel said, "until the repeated 'transports' performed by this Stone person. Robert, the multiverse is a big place - with an infinite number of universes - and we're only aware of...a limited number, so far."
"You said that there was another world that suffered a Class IV event," Daria said. "Did you reset it?"
The three agents looked at each other, then Valkyrie said, "No. We found it probably a century after it had happened. In order to do a reset, we have to know exactly when the crisis started. Failing that, we need to be able to find historical records of some sort. There were none that mentioned the crisis. There were no humans, either, except for skeletal remains. The animal kingdom on that world is still recovering, but it is returning."
"How do you know that they suffered a zombie crisis?" Robert asked.
"Lab work on the remains," Tiberius said. He looked at Robert and said, "We need to talk with you and find out how you survived. We were able to find some of our counterparts on your Earth. They're barely holding their own, but we were able to find out when the crisis started. We can reset your world, but we still need your story. Anything you can help us with can help people in the future survive. It could even help Daria's world in the future, if they were to suffer such a crisis."
"If you can reset this, what about my memories of what I've been through?" Robert asked. "Will I remember any of this?"
"It wouldn't have happened," Valkyrie said. "Your life will have gone on without the effects of the crisis. Your memories will be more like a dream than anything."
Robert blinked and sighed. "I don't know what to say."
Daria looked up at him and thought, I'm going to lose you. She bit her lip and kept her grip on his arm.
Archangel motioned to his right. "If you two would come with us," he said. "This will take awhile."
Daria and Robert were taken to a large recreational vehicle by the agents.
As they arrived at the Lane house, Daria turned to look at Valkyrie. "You guys knew the machine was here, didn't you?" she asked.
The agent nodded and smiled. "It's easier if you take us in to get it," she said. "I really don't like to bust into people's homes with guns drawn. It gets the wrong kind of attention."
"I can imagine," Daria said as she left the vehicle with Valkyrie and Tiberius. "Interesting code names, by the way."
"They serve a purpose," the male agent said. "Despite what you may think, this isn't play acting."
"Whatever." Daria knocked on the front door, but nobody answered. She looked at the agents and said, "They must be out. We'll have to wait for them to return."
"Not really," the female agent said. She took a device from her suit pocket, touched it to the door; it unlocked and opened slightly.
"How did you do that?" Daria asked.
The agent pocketed the device, opened the door wider, smiled at her and said, "Modern technology. Take us to the machine."
Daria led them into the house.
In the RV, now parked in the Food Lord parking lot, the three agents looked over the device that Stone used to transport Daria and the others to Robert's world. "Unbelievably primitive," Archangel said. "How he even got it to work is beyond me."
"These notes are strange," Tiberius said as he looked over Stone's papers. "It's as though he was...compelled to build this."
The three agents looked at the box warily, then at each other. Valkyrie said, her voice shaky, "You don't think..."
"No," Archangel said quickly. "He couldn't have. It's impossible."
Daria and Robert looked at the agents and noticed their reaction to Stone's machine. They looked at each other in confusion, and she asked, "What? What's wrong?"
The black agent looked at them, forced a smile on his face and said, "It's O.K. It's just that this device is potentially dangerous."
"In what way?" Robert asked.
"It could have exploded during the transport," Archangel said, "or even sent you to a worse place than your original Earth. With this, it's hard to tell." He turned to Tiberius and said, "Put this in the Conex container - carefully - and make sure it's secure. Put all of his notes together and then you and Valkyrie can get everyone some sandwiches. We'll eat lunch, then go to this Stone person's house."
"We don't know where he lives," Daria said.
Tiberius held up his scanner and said, "We do. What we don't know is if he's there. If he knows he's being looked for, he could be even more dangerous than his machine."
"He's probably dead," Robert said. "We sent him to my world."
"What?" the agents asked in unison.
Daria blushed and Robert kept his gaze forward as he said, "Knowing about the people he killed for his experiments, we gave him a taste of his own medicine."
"All the people he's killed?" the younger male agent and looked at his counterparts.
Archangel turned to Valkyrie and said, "Let's get to his house first. I have a bad feeling about this."
"What?" Daria asked. "What do you mean?"
The black man looked at her and said, "If he was compelled to build this...machine, and he's killed people in his experiments...then God alone knows what else he's done. Your world may be in danger right now, Daria. If it is, then we're the point team to stop it." He cleared his throat. "If we can."
The female agent drove off while being directed by Tiberius on where to go.
As the vehicle moved down the road, Daria moved next to Robert and laid her head on his left shoulder. He moved his arm around her and rubbed her left arm. "I'm scared," she whispered.
He kissed her forehead, then when she looked up at him, he kissed her lips gently. "I'm here," he whispered back. "It'll be O.K."
Stone's house was a three-story brick home set back off the street in an older section of Lawndale. While the RV slowly cruised by on the street, Archangel aimed a high-powered microphone at the house and listened on headphones. "I don't hear any talking," he said. "But there's people in there moving around. At least three, maybe more."
"They aren't talking?" Valkyrie asked and glanced back at him. "Not even one or two words?"
"All I hear are grunts and moans."
Robert sat up, suddenly alert, and the three agents noticed his reaction. "Grunts and moans?" he asked.
Robert then made grunting and moaning sounds. "Like that?" he asked and the black man nodded again.
"Oh, shit. Here I am without my weapons and you folks look unarmed, too."
"What?" Valkyrie and Tiberius asked at the same time.
Robert stood up and said, "Those sounds are the sounds that zombies make as they move around. When they see...prey, the moans get louder and more agitated."
"Remember what you told me back on your world," Daria said. "What if he brought zombies onto my world?"
Archangel turned off the microphone and nodded at Valkyrie. She turned the RV in the driveway and pulled up to the house.
Then the senior agent turned to Robert. "We are armed, Robert, and very able to take care of ourselves."
"Give me a high-powered pistol and I can help you," Robert said.
The three agents looked at him, smiles on their faces.
"What?" he asked.
In response, the agents all held up items that looked like sci-fi toys. "Pistols make a lot of noise," Tiberius said. "These, and other weapons we possess, do not. Modern technology. What setting, Archangel?"
"Seven. All head shots - make them count. Put on body armor, too."
As the agents donned odd-looking body armor, Robert said, "Reminds me of the chain mail I wore on my world."
"This is lighter," Archangel replied. "It's also quieter and more...effective, plus has a few good surprises in it. Any advice you can give us right now would be appreciated."
Robert thought and said, "They're very good at working together when they chase a victim. All bites are fatal - and scratches are, too." He tapped the base of his skull, near the top of his backbone. "You have to destroy this area, or you won't stop them."
"You mean that a simple head-shot isn't effective?" Valkyrie asked.
Robert shook his head. "I've seen too many revive after being shot through the top of the head," he said. "I can give you backup - if you arm me."
"You haven't been trained with our weaponry," Archangel said. "But you can keep watch near the door while we're inside."
"Have you got a crowbar or something heavy?" Robert asked. "I am good with those."
"He's not lying about that," Daria said and shuddered. "I've seen him use one before."
Robert stood outside the RV beside Daria, a tire iron in his right hand. Archangel looked at the couple and said, "Do not come in the house unless one of us comes out to get you. Let us do what we've been trained to do." He looked at Valkyrie and said, "Do it."
The blonde agent opened the door the same way she did at the Lane household and the door opened.
To Daria it was like watching a police show, with the blonde on one side of the door and the younger agent on the other side, while the black man waited behind the woman.
The man called Tiberius pushed open the door and a loud moan sounded from inside the house.
"They know we're here," Robert said and hefted his tire iron.
Valkyrie nodded at Tiberius and the young man went inside the doorway. She followed and Archangel followed her a couple of seconds later. He still used his walking cane as he moved.
A couple of seconds later, the two outside could hear weird, hissing sounds, then the sound of a body as it hit the floor.
Inside the house's kitchen, Tiberius stepped over the body, a man with distinctive blue-gray color to his skin and moved on inside the house, followed by his partners.
On the other side of a closed door, a scratching sound could be heard and Valkyrie aimed her weapon at it. "Open it," she said and Tiberius quickly opened the door then stepped back.
A female zombie rushed into the room and turned to the younger agent. Before she could reach him, the blonde fired her weapon with a hiss and the head disintegrated.
The room had been a bedroom at one time. Inside it, seven zombies sat around one corner as they fed on what had once been a living person. They ignored the agents at the doorway and continued to eat. Tiberius stood guard outside the room as Archangel and Valkyrie moved into the room; the two leveled their weapons and began firing.
Archangel appeared at the door a few minutes later and said, "You can come in if you want - but it's a real mess. There were nine zombies in here. Apparently this Stone person was creating his own zombies. I have no idea why - yet."
Daria grabbed Robert's left arm and said, "We'll wait here." When he looked at her, his eyes raised, she said, "Please."
"O.K.," Robert said and waited with her.
Daria was amazed that the agents could easily eat their sandwiches after what had happened. As they ate, they questioned the two, especially Robert, on their experiences in Fostoria. She and Robert also ate, but she felt that this was going to be her last meal with him.
They ignored Daria's questions on how Stone created his zombies, however. But they took copious notes, as well as digital recordings, of the interview.
She looked at Robert and he glanced at her. It really figures, she thought. Just when I find somebody and we hit it off, I lose him. It's so unfair.
Robert smiled at her and winked. She smiled and looked down.
As the interview came to an end, Archangel looked at them and said, "It's time to do the reset. You'll go first, Robert, then we'll reset Daria's world."
Not now, Daria thought. "Can we have a few minutes alone?" she asked quickly. "Please?"
Tiberius shook his head and stood up. "We don't have time for this non--"
Archangel grabbed the younger agent's right arm in a firm grip - it made Tiberius wince - and said, "Come on, 'emperor', lets go outside and stretch our legs." He stood up and looked at Daria and Robert. "Take your time." They left the RV.
Valkyrie lingered slightly and said, "We'll be just outside. Knock when you're ready for us to come back in." Then she stepped outside with the others.
Robert pulled Daria to him and wrapped his arms around her. For the next several minutes, they sat there in their silent embrace.
Daria felt her eyes water up, but held it in and closed them tightly. She said to Robert, her voice quiet, "You started to say something to me before we stepped into the light yesterday."
A small smile appeared on his face and he closed his own eyes as a tear ran down his left cheek. "I know," he said.
"Tell me now," she said. "Please. Even if it's not really true yet, tell me, anyway."
He kissed her forehead and said, "I love you, Daria Morgendorffer."
Her chin quivered and she took a deep breath. "This is so damned unfair," she said, her voice a mutter.
"Life is unfair, Daria," he whispered. "You know that."
She looked up at his face through tear-blurred eyes, blinked and said, "Look at me." He did so and said, "The way they talked, you won't have any memories of me - or our time together."
"Actually, they said it might seem like a dream to me," he said. "Some dreams I've had seemed unbelievably real. One time, I dreamed that I had a chest full of gold. To this day, I can see the gold coins fall out of my hands as I pulled them out of the chest." He sighed. "I have wondered, more than once, if some of my 'dreams' were actually pieces of reality that were...reset by some powerful force. Looks like I just got my answer."
He then smiled at Daria. "I hope my memories of our time together will seem like that dream."
"That wouldn't be fair to Maggie," Daria said quickly.
"That illustrates my dilemma, Daria. If I choose you, I betray Maggie and the kids. If I choose them, I betray you."
"There's nothing to betray here, Robert. You and I haven't even had a week together yet. You and Maggie had a decade together - maybe even longer. She was the winner before there was even a competition." She moved slightly and kissed his neck. "Besides, from the way they talk, neither of us really have a choice in this matter."
"It still hurts like hell," he said and moved his face to hers. "I will say this, Daria, and it is the truth. I would have loved you - eventually. I was looking forward to our first Christmas together - and our first Valentine's Day." He sighed. "The scary thing is what if they're lying about the reset? What if they put me down in the middle of a group of zombies back home? My dream last night could be an omen of things to come."
She moved closer to him and kissed him. His words stopped and he held her still as they kissed. When she broke the kiss, she said quickly, "You are a survivor, Robert Nelson. Don't think like that - don't talk like that. Your old life will return and you will be...be where you belong."
Then they kissed some more.
After several minutes, they stopped kissing, but remained in an embrace. "I have a confession to make," she said.
"Yeah. I read your diary."
Robert chuckled and kissed the side of her face. "I thought so," he said. "I suspected it when you kept questioning me about Lauren and Janelle. When you bought the red velvet cake, it clinched it." He ran his right hand over her back. "I also have a confession to make."
"Yeah. I really liked it those times when I got to touch your legs."
Daria smiled and looked up at him. "And here I thought you liked me for my wit and charisma."
Then they kissed some more.
Nearly a half-hour later, Robert moved to the spot in the middle of the RV's interior , as he was directed.
Archangel approached him and shook his hand. "Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Nelson," he said. "The information you provided us with will help us in fighting zombies - wherever we encounter them."
"A pity I won't remember it," Robert said, his voice slightly sarcastic.
"That can't be helped," Valkyrie said.
The black man moved to Daria and shook her hand as well. "Thank you for your assistance, as well, Miss Morgendorffer."
Daria looked confused. "I'm not the zombie expert that Robert is," she said.
"I'm referring to the fact that you two aren't fighting this."
"I'm not happy about it," the teen admitted, "but if Robert can have his family back, then it's worth it." She moved up to her soon-to-be former companion and held up her left hand towards the agents. "Please, wait a few seconds."
Tiberius looked irritated and Valkyrie rolled her eyes, but Archangel said, "Go ahead, but this is the last time, young lady."
"O.K." She embraced Robert tightly and laid her head on his left shoulder. "You take good care of Maggie and your children," she said, her voice a whisper. "Be the best husband and father that you can be."
"You make sure that you take that self-defense course," he replied and returned her embrace. "We could have made a good team, Daria."
"I know, Robert, I know." They kissed one last time, then Daria moved back beside the agents.
When Archangel pressed the button, Robert sighed and vanished.
Daria's shoulders slumped and she looked down at the floor. "Well, when is it--" She vanished as well.
"O.K., why did you skip out of class?" Daria Morgendorffer asked as she and her best friend, Jane Lane, walked down the street.
"Ah...Ms. Li had me in the office for awhile," Jane replied, her expression blank.
Daria stared at her silently for several seconds as they walked, and closed her eyes.
Jane stopped and looked at Daria. "Amiga, what's wrong?"
"We've done this before," the smaller teen said.
The brunette blinked and nodded, "Now that you mention it, we have done this before. You were going to ask about hidden porn in my locker, then say something about painting smiley faces on the security camera lenses."
Daria opened her eyes, looked down at the sidewalk and said, "Robert."
Jane paled and said, "Oh, hell, that really happened. I thought I dreamed it. Wait a minute! How did we end up back here again?"
Daria swallowed and shook her head as she thought over all that had happened. "Government agents - they came and took Stone's machine and all his stuff. They questioned Robert over what his world was like." She touched her forehead and took a deep breath. "Then they sent him back to his world. Then they sent us back in time."
"They sent him back? To a dead world?"
Daria bit her lower lip and briefly closed her eyes. Then she said, "They claimed that they could fix his world - bring back his family." She sighed. "I hope they weren't lying about that."
"Does that mean that we'll have to deal with Stone again?"
"No. They said that they'll...take care of him." She took another deep breath. "Shit."
Jane lightly touched Daria's shoulder and the smaller teen looked at her, a sad expression on her face. "Why don't we go get a pizza? It might make us feel better."
"I just want to go home and go to my room," Daria said and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Jane, I just don't feel like being out right now." She then turned and walked on down the sidewalk.
Nearly a minute later, she passed Trent on the sidewalk, but said nothing.
"Hey, Daria," he said and she stopped and looked at him. "Why aren't you with Jane? Is something wrong?"
"Do you remember what happened?" she asked. "Do you remember Robert?"
Trent blinked and stared at the teen. "Whoa. I thought that was a dream."
"It really happened, Trent," Daria said. "But we're the only ones who'll remember it." She turned and walked off, her gaze on the sidewalk as she moved.
Trent watched her disappear down the sidewalk.
"Hey, bro," Jane said from behind him.
He looked around at his sister and asked, "What happened?"
"The government got involved," she said. "They sent Robert back to his world and moved us back in time."
"What about that scientist guy? Won't we run into him again?"
Jane shook her head. "Apparently, they got him, too."
"You think Daria will be O.K.?"
The girl blinked and shrugged. "I hope so."
In her bedroom, Daria laid on her bed fully dressed as she stared at the ceiling. She blinked on occasion and every so often, lightly shook her head.
She didn't know how much time had passed, but when her door was opened, the sun had set. She heard her mother ask, "Daria, are you O.K.?"
"I'm fine, Mom," she said, her voice a monotone.
"How did your day go at school?"
Daria lifted her head, looked at her and asked, "Do you remember the cookout?"
"That's been several months ago, sweetie. I think it was October. Why do you ask?"
"No reason. I just wanted to know if you remembered." She laid her head back down and closed her eyes.
Helen looked at Daria for several seconds, then stepped out of the room as her cell phone rang.
It was the next morning when Quinn came downstairs as Jake finished his coffee. Daria had left earlier and told nobody where she was headed. "Oh, I'm glad I caught you, Daddy," she said. "I need to go to the mall today and meet the rest of the Fashion Club there."
Jake looked at her, smiled and said, "You know, Quinn, I've been thinking that a cookout would be real nice today."
The redhead laughed and shook her head. "I can't do that today, Daddy. I really have to go to the mall."
"Oh, well, I can drop you off," he said. "That's no problem."
"I'm glad," she said. "Can I also borrow your credit card?"
He looked at her briefly and said, "I have to stop by my office first. If you help me there, I'll let you have the card."
A small frown appeared on Quinn's face, but she said, "Sure, I'll help you if it won't take too long."
At Jake's office, he said, "I want you to go through my magazines and pull out any that are more than three months old. I'll buy some new ones today. Got to keep my magazines current."
"You need better magazines, too, Daddy," she said. "Like Waif or Savvy Teen."
Jake laughed. "My customers don't read those magazines, Quinn. I'll be right back. I have to see John McGruder at his sandwich shop about his account."
When he left, Quinn picked up one magazine. "Ewww! Field and Stream. Oh, my goodness, Branding Today. Those poor cows!"
Jake's office had a TV and videocassette recorder set up in a corner. When the VCR kicked on, Quinn looked at it for several seconds. "Well, might as well see what's on while I do this," she said and turned on the set.
She gathered several magazines and checked the dates as the show played. She looked at the man on the set and stared at him briefly. Looks familiar, she thought. Wonder what show he's been on?
Then she saw the teen female lead and gawked. Gawd! That looks like Daria. Except she's dressed better.
The action showed the couple surviving on a world full of zombies and then somehow traveling to the teen's world. The two had dinner with two of the teen's friends, then they became a couple. As they held hands, Quinn said, "He needs to, like, get better clothes."
Then the next scene showed the man meeting the teen's parents and her younger redhead sister. She looks good, Quinn thought, but those shoes totally do not match her top.
The episode continued with government agents stopping the couple, sending the man back to his world and resetting the time on the teen's world. Except the teen remembered everything and was sad. "Poor girl," Quinn muttered.
The episode ended with the teen's younger sister watching everything on TV - in her father's office. The girl on the TV started to turn around, stopped, then turned off the TV.
The credits came on and Quinn froze, her face pale. This has happened before. But when? She started to turn around, but stopped. No. Don't do it.
Quinn lifted the remote control and turned off the TV.
Executive Producer - Frank Robertson
Author's Notes: This comprises parts seventeen through nineteen of A Little Vacation, as it was originally posted on various message boards and on fanfiction.net.
From the Paperpusher's Message Board, thanks go out to vlademir1, Mr. Orange, smk, LSauchelli, The Sidhe, Derek, Brother Grimace, NightGoblyn, Gouka Ryuu, waldnorm, The Angst Guy, DigiSim, ikaa, legendeld and Staren for their comments and suggestions.
Others I want to thank for their comments include eltf177, cmanuk and nabikineum from fanfiction.net,