AN: This one's for my creepy brother and for Big Zek.
"Nevertheless," Flaga said, seeming to assume that the one word conveyed an entirely cogent argument.
"Nevertheless what?" Shepard asked in high dudgeon. "Nevertheless we should not protect ourselves – our children – our very way of life, our homes?"
Tara knew what the girl meant. "Nevertheless, there has to be a better way." Tara's voice was high and fine, breaking to lyrical e's from unpredictable vowels, and only served to accent her foreignness to Shepard.
"You know there isn't," Shepard said to Tara, galled. "If anyone does, you know it."
"But it doesn't make me blood-hungry, or happy of it," Tara answered, and then, knowing he'd explode, "I don't say you are, Shepard Dovey, don't fight me."
"Defending what I love – this makes me a bloodthirsty monster," Shepard explained sarcastically to Flaga. "They killed my mother and my father, Tara, they killed my wife and my little son!"
"They killed my brothers, Shepard, the only kin I had left. I make bombs for you; I study building plans and I follow orders in your little army. But in exacting our revenge we die. Do not blame me for wishing for a better way."
"There is none, you know that," Shepard said sullenly.
"Aye," Tara said, the common strange on her tongue, and sighed. "This is all we have, child, nevertheless nothing."
Her parents, both active in the Front, were laying low from the law. In the interim, 15-year-old Flaga Bailey was to stay with Shepard Dovey, who had gone to school with her parents. She'd known him as her parents' close friend, as familiar to Flaga as an uncle. She'd had no suspicions of Dovey's or her parents' involvement in the Front until just days before. She had been raised on her classmates' peace culture while her parents hoped it was just another phase; whether a phase or not, Flaga was still in the heart of it and having a hard time adjusting. Meanwhile, gruff Mr. Dovey planned an attack.
"You oughtn't work while the child is here," Tara told Shepard. She'd told him so before. "What if the worst should happen? You owe it to James to keep her safe."
"We will miss opportunities, Tara, opportunities that will not come again. We may never get another like this. You know it as well as I."
"They killed your little one, Shepard. Don't give them a chance at James's."
"I can take care of her. The child is not going in harm's way."
"I'm not a child," Flaga put in sullenly.
"You're yet a little one to jaded troops like us," Tara said. "How will you keep her out of it? You live the struggle, you breathe it and wear it and you bring it home with you."
"Is that a crime, dedication?"
"I don't lack it. But moderate yours to save the little one, for the sake of another so dedicated as your fine self." Her sarcasm was slight but Shepard caught it.
"You will not impugn James Bailey under this roof, or mock him."
"I would never impugn him."
"You would see all fathers weak and timid, wouldn't you? For the sake of their children. It is for the sake of our children that we fight."
"You leave your wars to us when you die," Flaga said, an old piece of peace movement rhetoric. "Some inheritance."
"I would see you take care of this little one until she goes back to her family."
"I will take care of her. It doesn't necessitate me abandoning my work."
"Don't call it my crusade."
"Our crusade." They glared at each other.
"You're both sick," Flaga said. "You think you'll be some kind of martyrs –"
"I think there is nothing else for a person of conscience to do," Tara answered sadly. Shepard snorted.
"People of conscience are pacifists," Flaga asserted.
"Pacifists get nothing done," Tara said. "Way of the world."
"But we have!"
"The media doesn't see us, child. The world doesn't care what Shepard Dovey says. The occupation won't pull out because Tara Byella nearly starves to death."
Flaga, her next argument precluded, closed her mouth slowly. Then, acidly, "The world doesn't care about Shepard Dovey because he throws bombs onto crowded school buses."
Shepard exploded. Tara kept him from striking the girl and was hit hard in the stomach for her trouble. "You smug little witch," he cried, fighting Tara's grim hold. "No child of James Bailey, no daughter of my friend!"
"Never in his life, Flaga," Tara grated over Shepard's threats, voice full of warning. "No children, no one blameless."
"Where do you draw the line?" Flaga demanded. She'd leapt back from her chair, stumbling and frightened, and had her back against the kitchen wall, but leaned forward shouting with all the savagery and scorn in her teenage heart. "Fifteen? Twelve? Eight years old on their first day of third grade?"
"He was not involved," Tara said.
"Were you? You perfect angel, Miz Byella, did you help kill nine third-graders and injure six other children?"
Tara didn't look down. "I built six bombs in August. Two of those were used on September second."
Flaga gaped at her, then turned and fled the kitchen. They heard her crash through the house and out onto the street. Shepard shook free of Tara's hold. "She'll go to the police," he said and stumped out after her. Tara stood still, shaken, and looked down at her long-fingered hands while Dovey picked up speed in the hall and loped out through the closing wooden door.
"For the sake of your father, Flaga," Shepard shouted as he chased the girl, always rounding a corner just in time to see her duck into another. "The police will want to know how you are involved!" he tried. Some time later, "You don't want to do this!"
He barely noticed as he followed her into a more official part of the city. He sprinted unheeding past old posters with his face printed among the hunted. Pretentious stone buildings replaced the wooden shacks but he was catching up.
"For the love of your father, stop!" he cried.
Flaga slowed, then stopped dead and turned to face him. "Were my parents involved? Did my mother trace out the route of that school bus? Did my father throw the two bombs Ms. Byella made?" she asked desperately.
"No, not that," he panted. "Come –" there was movement along the crenellated top of the building behind her. Shepard froze, slowly realizing where he was. "My God – get out!" Flaga's face was furrowed, uncomprehending, until the first bullet struck through her back. Shepard had crouched instinctively to run away; he turned around when he heard her scream. Another bullet ripped through his palm; he turned away again and fled.