|Primary Characters:||Michael, Maria, Max, Liz|
|Description:||Maria wants Michael back, and Max wants Liz. Maria comes up with a plan to accomplish that. Michael and Maria are attacked by a skin, and Maria is able to help Michael in a number of ways.|
Maria dumped the glass on the table a little harder than necessary. She had just come from the kitchen where what had started as a friendly conversation, as usual had turned into a quarrel. Michael was as stubborn as ever. Guys. Or maybe it was aliens that were this impossible?
No. Max, who was the recipient of the glass, was as devoted to Liz as Michael was indifferent or so it seemed. Liz’ ex-boyfriend hardly seemed to notice the sound the glass made as it hit the table. Automatically, he reached out to grab it, and lifted it to his lips to take a sip. That finally caught his attention. It was plain soda, not the tabasco-enhanced drink that he and the other aliens preferred.
Maria happened to notice the look in his eyes and felt guilty. He was a decent guy, and though no one would ever get her to admit it, her best friend Liz was treating him unfairly and cruelly. They all knew by now how Tess had manipulated him to make it seem as if he was in love with her. She had done the same to Michael, to push him into Isabel’s arms, but Maria had long since forgiven him for having those weird dreams.
After all, she had weird dreams too, almost every night. She and Michael would – But she forced down that thought. He would never come back to her. There wasn’t another guy in the world as stubborn as he was. Never. Unless she found a way to make him. But now she had to deal with Max’s order. She knew what he had asked for and the least she could do was give it to him.
“Sorry about that. Michael and I had a little run-in just now, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.”
There were angry shouts from all over the , so obviously she had made mistakes with everyone’s orders. But now she was serving Max, so she would take his glass out back and top it off with the tabasco sauce he seemed to like so much, and the extra sugar. That wasn’t as hard to get, at least Maria thought so. She liked a bit of extra sugar too.
“Give it to me. I’ll fix it for you.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s ok.”
Max was already touching the glass and doing that weird alien thing of his. And this time when he took a sip, he appeared satisfied. But he still looked sad. Ignoring the complaints from the other customers, she sat down facing Max. Let the new girl deal with the cafe. Maria had had an idea. Maybe if she and Max worked together, they both might get what they wanted. She firmly believed that Liz and Max belonged together, just like she and Michael did. None of that crap about destiny impressed her much.
It was like in those old stories, parents promising girls to other men. But in the movies, the two people who loved each other always ended up together. That was how it should be. What did parents know anyway? Like her mom. Maria loved her mom more than anyone else in the entire world, including Michael, but she looked at her parent as a hopelessly old-fashioned and out-of-touch person. Maybe not as much as Liz’, Max’s and Alex’s parents, but close enough.
Now Max’s eyes looked into hers, pleadingly. She knew that look, but she would never have walked around displaying it in broad daylight for anyone to see. That kind of thing only came out at night, when she was alone. Not even mom knew how much she missed Michael. It seemed Max wanted to talk to her as much as she needed to discuss this new idea with him.
“She’s not coming, is she?”
“Doesn’t look that way. Probably studying for that test on Thursday. I don’t know why she bothers. She aced all the other tests, she’ll do great on this one too. I’m sorry. Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”
“Something about – you know what?”
“No. About Liz and Michael.”
“Liz and Michael?”
“You know what I mean. I want Michael, and you want Liz. So we need to get them back.”
“It’s not as if I haven’t tried. And, Maria, I have tried talking to Michael too, but it’s like he’s not listening to me half the time. Especially when I mention you.”
“Do you think he doesn’t love me?”
“No. I know he does. That’s why he feels he needs to protect you. I feel that way about Liz too. But if our enemies succeed, she’ll be in danger anyway, so us being together won’t change that. And if we are together, she might be able to help. I miss her.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Yes. I know. But I miss her input too. She still helps out, but it’s not the same. When we were – You know.”
“The visions and stuff?”
“So you know about that. Of course you do. That was stupid of me.”
“Let me ask you something. If you don’t see visions when you’re around Tess, but you do get them with Liz, doesn’t that mean the two of you are meant for each other?”
“Not necessarily. I don’t see the visions. I mean, not the same way Liz apparently does. So I have no way of knowing if Tess does. But I haven’t – You do know that I never really kissed her? It was just the way she made it look.”
“I know that. But I’m not sure Liz does.”
“Oh. Anyway, I don’t want to get you down, but for all we know, Michael and – and Isabel might get those visions too. He’s just never found out. But I agree with you. Liz isn’t the only girl I’ve kissed.”
“Oh, really? Does Liz know about that?”
Maria’s words were meant teasingly, but Max responded as if she had been scolding him fully seriously.
When she saw his reaction she was amazed. Aliens blushed! Just like ordinary Earth guys. Like Alex did whenever Isabel walked into the room, and lately Kyle when Tess appeared. But right now, she couldn’t care less about Alex and Kyle.
“I – It was at camp two years ago.”
“Come on, tell me everything. Anyone I know?”
“So talk to me. Who was it?”
“Maria, please. My point is just that I didn’t see any signs of her getting any visions. And I didn’t react the same way either. Not like with Liz.”
“Ok. Never mind who it was. Actually, don’t tell Michael this, but I’ve kind of kissed other guys too and there was nothing. Nada. Zip. That only happened with Michael. Of course, as far as I know the other guys weren’t – You know. But this is Roswell…”
“Right. So that could definitely mean that all that stuff Tess is telling us about destiny is wrong. I wish I could discuss this with Liz. She would know more about genetic engineering and things like that. Do you really think it’s possible to breed people to love certain persons and not others?”
“Don’t look at me. Science isn’t my thing. But I don’t see how they could. You love who you love.”
“That’s what I’m thinking too. And Nasedo told us we’re mostly human anyway. Just like you and Liz and Alex.”
“With a slight difference.”
Maria stared down at Max’s hands that were absently moving the glass around on the table.
“Yes. That’s actually things that you guys might get in the future. At least Nasedo said something like that. So we’re probably future people, rather than aliens. And then Nasedo was supposed to brain-wash us into taking on that fight. Not that he needed to. It’s our mission and there’s no getting out of that. Besides, if we don’t fight the skins, our other world, Earth, is going to lose too.”
“Yeah. It’s our world and we don’t want any hostile aliens plotting against us like in the X files. Wait, now you’ve side-tracked me. I have a plan.”
“What kind of plan?”
“One that can get you Liz back and me Michael. Are you interested?”
“Of course I am. Tell me about it.”
“Well, it might be a bit awkward, but I thought, how about making them a little jealous?”
“But Liz just left me, over that Tess thing. Who did you have in mind?”
Maria was giggling like mad and put a hand over her mouth. The customers, and the new girl were staring at her full of surprise.
“No. I’m just kidding around. Seriously though, how about moi?”
“You mean I try to seem interested in you and the Liz will get jealous and take me back?”
“Don’t look so shocked. You find me that unattractive?”
Max blushed again and looked away.
“No, of course not. Do you think it could work?”
“With Liz, yes. But you know Michael better than I do. Would he get jealous in a situation like that?”
“I think so. But it’s hard to tell with Michael. He never opened up to me in the past, and now he’s even harder to read.”
“Couldn’t you ask Isabel to go into his dreams or something? She could find out how he feels about me and -“
“No. We can’t do that to each other.”
“You can’t? But Tess -“
“First of all, Tess has more powers than the rest of us, and secondly I meant that we can’t get away with it. He’d know she’d been there, and under the circumstances that wouldn’t help at all.
“No, I guess not. I’ll just have to chance it. How about it? Are you prepared to give it a shot?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hey, do you think it would be so hard to act as if you’re in love with me?”
“No. Yes. That’s not what I meant. I’m no actor, but I could try. No, I meant that I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“Thanks a lot. What am I? Stupid and ugly?”
“No, of course not. I didn’t mean it like that. I just feel weird about this other girl thing. It’s Liz I love. No offence, you’re a fantastic girl, but -“
“That’s better. But you guys are so naive. If you want Liz you have to work at it. She’s being as stubborn as Michael in her own way. Don’t be such a chicken. It’s worth a try, isn’t it? Come on, say you will.”
“Alright. How do we start?”
“It shouldn’t be so hard. All summer you’ve been moping around me, asking about Liz. Half my friends think we’re an item already.”
Max looked vaguely scandalized at the thought.
“Never mind. We’ll just meet alone after the Crashdown closes. And when Liz or Michael shows up, we’ll kiss.”
“Wait a minute. You didn’t mention kissing. Is that really necessary?”
“Well, what else do you suggest? You want to give me a ring or something?”
“I guess it would be easiest that way. But are you sure Liz won’t end up even more distant from me if she sees me kissing another girl?”
“Trust me. I know Liz. Leave her to me. You just do your stuff. And I’ll do mine. We’ll make sure Michael doesn’t leave too early.”
“He won’t. Lately he’s taken to checking up on me. It’s almost as if he wants to see me screw up. He doesn’t like this leader thing.”
“Maybe it’s because guys don’t like to be led by other guys. You could let Isabel be the leader. She and I aren’t the best of friends, but she’s sure tough and smart. I’m not saying you’re not smart, I just meant -“
“I wish I could do that. Isabel would make a better leader than me any day. But orders are orders.”
“Then make her your deputy. She’s your sister, right? That would make it perfect. You’re her leader, but she’s Michael’s leader.”
“He’d hate that.”
“Like you said, you’re the leader. Make him accept it.”
“Maybe. We’ll see. Alright. I feel crazy accepting your plan, but I have no choice. Without Liz, I don’t see how I can go on. This had better work.”
Maria winked encouragingly at Max and went back to work. She wasn’t getting paid to sit with the guests making plans to betray her best friend. When the last guests had been ushered outside, Maria told the new girl to get out as well. She would close up the cafe. Max had retreated to the kitchen where he tried to talk to Michael. As usual these days, he wasn’t having much success.
Something about the moody boy seemed different these days. He had never been exactly open and cheerful, just like Max had told Maria earlier, but something was going on, underneath the deliberately tough exterior, something that Max didn’t quite understand.
Since they had learned about their origins and their mission, Michael seemed to have blown a fuse. It worried Max, and it was another reason why he wanted Michael back with Maria. She was the only one who had ever been able to reach him. While the two of them were together, Max had detected the only signs of happiness he had ever sensed from his troubled friend.
“Ok, I’m leaving. You can walk back to your place alone. See you tomorrow.”
“I didn’t mean to -“
“I know, Michael. It’s ok. I just want to go now. See you later.”
Again Max had misgivings about the plan. What if Michael really did see him and Maria together? How would he react? All Maria had been concerned about was getting back with Michael, but there was another aspect to the whole thing. Max’s and Michael’s friendship. What if Michael never forgave him? But Max was getting desperate. It was true, what he’d just told Maria. Without Liz he couldn’t go on.
Even when he was living with his secret for all those years, he hadn’t had the burden of coming to terms with his “destiny” or being a leader. Now, it was all getting too much for him. When he was with Liz, he had felt he could take on the world. Well, this world, another world, anything. But now – No, he wouldn’t question the plan. Like Maria had said, he had to trust her. She knew Liz better than anyone else. If she believed this would get them what they wanted, maybe it really would.
Outside, on the street, Max couldn’t see anyone. He walked a few steps uncertainly and turned the corner into the back alley with the garbage cans. The light was bad, but there she was – Maria. He felt odd, thinking about kissing her. She was an attractive girl, but not his type. He had never thought about her that way, but now so much more was at stake. By now he was desperate enough to do anything.
Even if Maria’s plan had involved kissing Alex instead, he thought he might have done it. His yearning for Liz was clouding his judgment. If one of the skins had appeared right now, asking him to betray his cause, in return for Liz, he wasn’t sure how he would react. But doing this – wouldn’t it be the same as betrayal? Betrayal of Liz and of his friend? But there was no time for doubts. He could sense Michael’s approach, and – he couldn’t stop the leap his heart made in his chest when he felt another person’s approach- Liz was coming. It was time.
When all his doubts had vanished it was easier than he had thought, to make himself take Maria in his arms, and cover her lips with his. But images of Liz kept intruding. In Max’s mind, he was really kissing the girl he loved, not her best friend. Maria did her part, as she tilted her head back and made the most of the passionate kiss. She was much more forceful than Liz.
Max almost couldn’t stop a small whimper of pain, when Maria nibbled his lower lip. That almost drew blood. Michael wasn’t into pain, was he? And as if the thought of Michael had brought the boy up to within a yard or so of them, he could hear the sound of the other boy’s indrawn breath. In fact, he could sense far more than that. Shock, betrayal, anger. And that was only from Michael. Max decided it was ok to let go of Maria. He turned first to Michael – Liz was still a few yards away, so normally, he wouldn’t have noticed her yet.
The hostility in his friend’s voice hurt. But more than that, the pain he could sense coming from Michael made him feel guilty. Maybe this scene had had its effect, but at what price? The intensity of the feelings Michael experienced made Max doubt his friend would ever forgive him.
“I’ll bet you are.”
Michael turned on his heel, and was about to stalk off home. Maria couldn’t let him go. If this backfired, she would lose him forever. And she couldn’t let that happen. So she drew in breath to call after him, leaving Max to deal with Liz’ reaction on his own. She would talk to Liz later. Now Michael was her first priority.
His voice was cold, hard, and exactly the way he’d always sounded, except for a few weeks when she had believed – But now she had to use all her imagination and willpower to get him back.
“We need to talk.”
This was going to be harder than she had expected. Much harder. But when was anything to do with Michael easy?
“About this. It wasn’t supposed to happen but -“
“I hope you’ll be very happy.”
He wasn’t even looking at her. No. This wasn’t turning out as she had hoped. In her desperation, Maria ran after Michael and put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back. He whirled around, and for a moment she thought he would strike her. If he did, she would hit him back. She wasn’t afraid of his alien powers. She would –
“Don’t you dare walk away from me.”
“Who’s going to stop me? You?”
And again, she grabbed him to make him face her again. His hands shot out and grabbed her by the arms and shook her. But she refused to be intimidated, and pushed him away.
“And don’t you dare do that to me again. Ever.”
This time Michael was lost for words. He just stared at her with a strange mixture of anger, sadness and desire. But he was still going to walk away, so Maria raised her hand and hit him. Her hand left an ugly red mark on his skin, but he didn’t appear to have felt it. When his hands shot out for her again, she experienced a moment of panic. What if he would fling across the street, killing her like that agent?
But instead he pulled her into his arms and began kissing her, more passionately than ever before. And there they were again, the visions. Maria pressed into Michael and took all he had to give. The kiss seemed to last forever, but eventually, Michael pulled back a little and looked into her eyes.
“Maria, please come back with me to my place. I can’t be alone again.”
She couldn’t believe she was hearing this. Her plan had worked! Trying hard not to show too much exultation, she began to think. Her mother would soon miss her, but they could surely take an hour. She would think of some lie to present to her mother. Something involving Liz and some homework. Yes. She would go. Michael – Michael was more important than anything else right now. He misread her silence and took a deep breath to steady himself.
“I’m sorry I shook you like that. It will never happen again. I would never hurt you.”
“Ok. I believe you. And I’ll go with you. Wait -“
The look in Michael’s eyes turned to such joy, that she felt she had to try and make things clear to him right away. He was setting himself up for such disappointment, if he began counting on her presence round the clock.
“I can’t stay long. My mom will miss me. But I’ll go with you now. Yes, he seemed disappointed, but not as much as she had feared. Now a smile began to touch his usually so sad features, and he held out his hand for her.”
“Ok. I understand. Stay as long as you can. Then I’ll walk you back. I won’t let anything happen to you. She let him take her hand and without even a backward glance, they walked off together. Max and Liz were forgotten. The mission was forgotten. For now, there was only Michael and Maria. Nothing else existed.”
Back in the alley, Max was staring helplessly at Liz. The look on her face conveyed stunned disbelief, shock, hurt. Maybe it had been a good idea, but if Liz ended up getting hurt, it wasn’t worth it. He struggled to find the right words to tell her. What could he tell her, after all? She had seen him do this. How could she interpret it in any other way than as betrayal? Michael might be able to forgive Maria, but it dawned on Max that girls probably didn’t forgive as easily as a boy, no matter how much in love they were.
“I have to go.”
And without another word, Liz turned and ran for her door. Max caught up with her, before she had time to open it, and he put a hand on her arm.
By now, Liz appeared to have pulled herself together. Max would give anything to know what was going on inside her head right at that moment. But her face was hard to read. And now that she had herself under control, Max wasn’t getting any of whatever emotions were hidden under that blank exterior.
“I have to go.”
Her words sounded final, but he couldn’t accept that. He began talking very quickly, trying to explain, trying to tell her that despite what she’d seen it was her he loved, no one else.
It was obvious she wasn’t listening. Her mind appeared to be on something else. And without another word, she slowly and deliberately took out her keys, unlocked the door and passed through. She didn’t look back, just shut the door behind her.
Max felt as if his entire world was crumbling around him. Why had he agreed to this mad plan? The truth was, he hadn’t been thinking clearly, and he certainly wasn’t now. He had no idea how long he was standing outside her door, before he finally made himself turn and start walking back home. Maybe Isabel would know what to do.
After an hour or more of kissing and visions and visions and kissing, Maria finally forced herself to stop. It was late. So late that nothing she could tell her mother would stop her from being grounded for months. She sighed a little. But it had been worth it. Michael noticed that her attention was wandering, and he too let go.
“I need to go. My mom will kill me.”
“I hope not. Maria -“
“Nothing. I’ll walk you back. Come on. I guess I have to get some sleep before school tomorrow.”
Outside, the air felt cool and refreshing after the heat inside Michael’s apartment. Everything was calm and quiet. Or was it? Suddenly, Maria could hear stealthy footsteps following them, and she could tell that Michael had noticed too. He froze and stood listening into the night like a guard dog. Maria almost thought she could see his ears pricking up.
Yes, someone was following them around. Now that someone caught up with them. It was a girl, about their own age, maybe a few years older. She was a stranger to them. There was something odd about her. She didn’t say a word, just stood and watched them. Michael snapped. For weeks now, since Nasedo’s death, his nerves had been tightly stretched and now he had had just about enough. The emotional upheaval from earlier that night hadn’t helped either.
“What do you want?”
Still the girl didn’t say anything. But she began to edge closer to them. It began to unnerve Maria. Could this be one of the skins? She hadn’t had any clear idea of how they would look. Apparently they looked exactly the same as a human.
But there was no mistaking this girl’s hostile purpose. Ignoring Maria, as if she was an unimportant object, not a person, she crouched, facing Michael. The way she held out her hands suggested some kind of attack, but they were empty. She wasn’t holding any kind of weapon. Wrong. The hands were the weapon. Some sort of energy beam shot out, and hit Michael squarely in the chest. He staggered backwards, and Maria thought she could feel the smell of singed flesh. Still, his only thoughts were for her safety.
“Maria, run. Go. Get Max and Isabel if you can but go.”
The creature didn’t pay any attention. Maria walked a few steps away, to get out of the line of fire, but she had no intention of leaving Michael alone with an enemy this powerful. Run and hide like a little kid? Not her. This alien was after her man, and she wouldn’t stand for it.
She began looking around for something she could use as a kind of weapon. Luck was with her. She found a rock on the ground not far from where she stood. It was heavy, but not too heavy for her to lift. It rested comfortably in her hand. Yes, she could use it to hit that creature, but she needed to get closer. She turned into a sideroad and circled back to come up behind the creature.
Maybe it had superior senses, but it was completely focused on the attack on Michael. Taking in the scene before her, Maria hung back, behind a corner of a building. Michael was fighting back. The creature was flung backwards repeatedly, but it didn’t appear to have been wounded. It just got up again and kept up its constant attack on Michael.
Even from this distance, Maria could see that Michael was hurt. He was bleeding from a wound on his forehead, and the way he was moving suggested that he had taken some bad hits to other parts of his body too. He was limping and each time he hit the ground he had a harder time of getting up.
There was no way she could go and leave him. By the time she was back, even assuming she could get Max and Isabel to come out at this time of night without their parents waking up and making difficulties, Michael would be dead. As dead as Nasedo. She couldn’t accept that.
Trying to walk as quietly as possible, Maria sneaked up on the creature, as it landed on the tarmac. This time, Michael didn’t get up. He was still conscious, because Maria could see the streetlight glitter in his eyes, but he couldn’t make himself stand up again. If he called her name at that point, she didn’t hear it.
Through the red haze, all she could focus on was the girl lying at her feet. So like a human girl. But Maria knew it wasn’t a girl. It was an alien, and an enemy. She had been trying to kill Michael. Maybe she had succeeded. No. That thought was unacceptable. He would be ok. Max would fix him up. Or those rocks or whatever they had out in the desert.
Now the creature was aware of her presence and turned swiftly to deal with her. Maria couldn’t give her time to get to her feet. With more force than she’d ever thought she was capable of, she brought the stone down on her enemy’s head. Once, twice, three times. Maybe many more times. Afterwards she couldn’t remember. The first time was the worst. There was a sound, a dull, nasty sound as of wood breaking, then a horrible screech that didn’t sound human. And still the creature was moving, trying to get its hands up to fire those energy beams on Maria. One such beam grazed her arm, but she was so filled with adrenaline she hardly noticed.
She couldn’t let the creature get up. Hitting it for far longer than necessary, Maria finally became aware of two things. One, the creature wasn’t moving anymore. It was just a bloody, mangled mess on the street at her feet. Two, Michael was calling to her. Filled with revulsion, Maria dropped the rock and ran to Michael’s side.
He looked awful. Like that time when he had become sick from that Indian ritual. But this time, it was worse. There was blood everywhere, and his eyes didn’t seem to be able to focus properly.
Maria felt slightly sick and had to sit down. Now she became aware of a sharp pain in her arm. She looked down to find that she was bleeding quite profusely, from a large cut. Michael was saying something to her and she forced herself to pay attention. She didn’t like the way his voice was coming and going.
“You. Shouldn’t. Have. Come. Back.”
“Yeah? If I hadn’t you would have been dead.”
“But you’re hurt.”
His voice was barely more than a whisper, and this told Maria they were running out of time. There was something she needed to do. What was it? Something to do with Max. They had kissed tonight. But it seemed like days ago. Yes. She needed to get Max here to heal Michael.
But getting to her feet was harder than she had thought. She couldn’t let that stop her. Somehow she was able to stand, and though her head was spinning, (from the blood loss?), she ignored her own discomfort and pressed on. Michael wasn’t talking anymore. His strength was ebbing fast. Faster. If she couldn’t get Max in time it –
Where was she? For a second she didn’t even know what street she was in, in this town where she had lived all her life. Shaking her head to clear it, she forced herself to pay attention. Yes. Now she knew where she was. It wasn’t as far from the Evans’ house as she had feared. But she didn’t get that far.
She heard footsteps and whirled around. Another one? No. Her relief almost overwhelmed her. It was Max. The look on his face was so sad, Maria realized that no matter how well her plan had worked for her, it seemed to have backfired for Max and Liz. But that wasn’t important right now. She had to get him to go to Michael.
“What’s wrong? You’re hurt. Let me -“
“No. I’ll be ok. Just go to Michael. He’s a lot worse.”
“No time. Just go. He’s in Franklin Street. Near the corner of Wilson and -“
“Ok. Sit down and wait here. I’ll help you as soon as I can.”
Max began to run. This had to be the skins. Everywhere they turned, everytime they tried to snatch a few moments for themselves, the enemy was there, attacking them at every point.
If Michael should die – No, he couldn’t bear to even consider that possibility. After what he’d done to Michael tonight, he needed time to make things right between them. And he couldn’t lose his friend. He and Isabel and Tess were his only family in this world. They couldn’t do without each other.
Now he could see Michael lying on the street. He couldn’t believe no cars had passed and alerted the authorities to the fact that a boy was lying on the ground, bleeding from several wounds. But it was lucky no one had noticed. Max couldn’t let Michael be taken away by an ambulance.
Kneeling in front of his friend, Max pressed his hands to his chest and released the healing energy. He could tell right away that he was very late. Michael was almost not alive anymore. But he couldn’t accept that. Pouring out more and more of his own life force into his friend, Max finally felt that he had pulled him back from the darkness.
He almost blacked out. The weakness he felt told him he had drained himself too much. But this was no time to pass out. Maria was wounded too and she needed his help. He would only sit for a few more seconds to get his breath back. But the darkness rose up to claim him and he didn’t remember anything until he felt Isabel’s touch on his mind.
“Max. Wake up.”
He heard the voice before he felt his sister’s touch on his skin. It was so hard to open his eyes. Finally, he managed it. Isabel was standing over him, hastily dressed, with a wild look in her eyes.
“Are you ok?”
“I think so.”
“What happened? I know about the alien, but what happened here? With you and Michael?”
“He was so badly injured I almost couldn’t -“
There was a pause, and Max knew what impact his words had had on Isabel, but when she spoke, her voice betrayed nothing of her concern.
“Just relax for a few minutes. I’ll get you home. I just need to patch Maria up a bit.”
She was speaking to herself. Max had blacked out again. But Isabel knew that he would be ok. It had been close but he was going to be fine. She wasn’t quite as sure about Michael. They would need to get him to the cave and use those rocks on him. But first she had to heal Maria’s wounds. It wasn’t easy. In the past Max had been the only one to be able to work the healing. Isabel wasn’t quite sure how to do it. But she could try.
“Sit down, Maria. You’ll fall over. I think you’ve lost a lot of blood.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I’ll tell you later. First I need to stop that bleeding.”
“You know the thing Max does -“
“You know how to do it?”
“Yes. No. I haven’t tried. But I can do it.”
“No. Thanks, but no thanks. If you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s no way I’m going to let you experiment on me. Wait.”
“I can do it. Don’t worry about it. I won’t hurt you.”
“No. Look. Why don’t we use something to tie around my arm. That should stop the bleeding. I’ve seen it on tv -“
“Yeah. Me too. But it won’t close the wound. You’ll need an ambulance and we don’t have time for that. We need to get Michael to that cave.”
“I’m going to regret this. But ok. Go ahead. But don’t you dare make some kind of awful mistake and turn my arm into a a piece of wood or something.”
“I promise. Sit back and relax.”
Isabel considered how she would go about it. When she’d found Tess after the girl had been attacked by the skin masquerading as a congress woman, she hadn’t been able to do anything. But Tess hadn’t been anywhere near as severely wounded as Michael was.
Still, Maria wasn’t seriously hurt either. All she needed to do was make the bleeding stop. She could do it. Max had told her a thousand times what he did. Careful not to get a too strong reaction, she let her hand hover over the wound on Maria’s arm. She could feel her hand heating up and releasing some of the energy.
“Whoa. Was that it? It felt hot.”
“Did it hurt?”
“No. It’s ok now. Thanks. I guess you really did know how to do it.”
“You’re welcome. Now, do you have a cell phone? I didn’t have time to bring anything when I got those visions about Max and Michael.”
“Yes. Wait. Here it is.”
“Good. Please call Valenti’s house. I need to get Tess here. We’ll take you home and -“
“No way. If you’re going to get Michael to that cave, I want to come too.”
“Maria, please. I’m not going to order you, but please listen to me. You’re hurt. And your mom is worried about you, I’m sure.”
“I know. I’ll deal with mom later. And I’m not wounded anymore. Look.”
“You’ve still lost a lot of blood.”
“I’ll be ok. I want to come.”
“Fine. I don’t have time to argue. And I’m tired of it always being the four of us alone with this. If you want to help, that’s ok. I hope you won’t live to regret it.”
“My life’s in danger anyway. Your enemies are our enemies. They won’t hesitate to hurt us too, I know that now. So I might as well be a part of it.”
Isabel looked hard at Maria for a second, then nodded. Yes, maybe the girl could be of help.
“Make that call now. Kyle answered the phone after about five signals. He sounded newly awakened and grumpy.”
“Yeah? The Sheriff isn’t at home.”
“That’s ok. I need to speak to Tess. Is she there?”
“Here? On the sofa with me? I wish. Hang on a sec. It’s Maria, right?”
Maria could hear Kyle shouting for Tess in the background and it seemed to take that tiresome girl forever to get to the phone. Isabel held out her hand for the phone and Maria handed it over.
“Tess, it’s me. Max and Michael have been hurt. Michael’s badly hurt so we need to get him to the cave.”
“Where are you?”
Isabel told her. There was what sounded like a quarrel in the background, then Tess returned to the phone.
“I’m coming, but Kyle’s going to drive me. He wouldn’t let me go on my own.”
“Ok. Whatever. Just tell him to hurry.”
After she finished the call, Isabel remained standing with the phone still in her hand, a faraway look on her face. Finally she seemed to realize that Maria was talking to her.
“I said, can I have my phone back?”
“Oh. Sorry. Sure.”
Still lost in her own thoughts, Isabel only caught the end of Maria’s phone conversation. Had she called and asked Liz here? This thing was getting out of hand.
“What did you do?”
“I just called Liz. I knew she’d want to be here.”
“She’s coming here?”
“I told you. Yes.”
“Why did you have to do that?”
“Why not? You could use her help too.”
Isabel bit back the sharp reply she had on her tongue. Yes, unfortunately, Maria was right again. Liz could be useful. The girl had a quick, scientific mind. But to have so many people coming only increased the risks of being discovered. She couldn’t believe that they’d been this lucky so far. No cars driving by and no one in the houses surrounding them had made a sound.
Now she could hear the sound of a car engine, and she whirled around. To her relief, she recognized Kyle’s car. Tess, at last. Almost before Kyle had had time to step on the breaks, the blonde girl was out and running towards Isabel and Maria. But she wasn’t looking at them, she was anxiously scanning the street and when she found Max and Michael she gasped.
“We’ll tell you on the road. Let’s go.”
“We? There’s no room in the car for all of us. Maria can’t come.”
Isabel didn’t want to handle this now, but she knew she had to.
“Yes. I said she could. And now that Max is unconscious, I’m the leader.”
“Says who? I think that since I was living with Nasedo -“
“If Max is our leader, and I’m his sister, then that makes me the second-in-command -“
By now Kyle had caught up with them and he was studying this feminine power struggle with interest.
“Just tell me, my leader, how we’ll all fit into Kyle’s car.”
Isabel didn’t have the answer to that one, and she knew Tess knew that too, but she didn’t have to say anything. Another car approached and it turned out to contain Liz and Alex. Alex? This kept getting more and more complicated. She especially didn’t want to see Alex right now.
But it was too late. If she hadn’t been too caught up in her worries about her brother and Michael, she might have noticed something odd in the way Maria and her best friend greeted each other. As it was, she merely moved over to where Michael was lying stretched out on the tarmac, far too immobile. He couldn’t be –
“I asked Alex to drive me. I hope that’s ok. It’s not as if I could tell my parents I’m going out at this hour. Where’s that alien?”
“It’s over there. What’s left of it. She – it – started dissolving almost right away. After I -“
Maria didn’t want to dwell on the fact that she had actually killed something. Not now. What was Liz doing now? She was kneeling beside the remains of that alien. What on earth for? Gross.
But Liz had an idea that if she could analyze the remains, she might be able to create a toxin or some other weapon to use against the enemy. She returned to the car and got two plastic bags. Using one of them she scooped up the remains and deposited them in the other. In the meantime, the others began to organize the move of the two wounded boys.
It dawned on Isabel that she would have had trouble getting both guys into a car, even with Maria’s help. Now Kyle and Alex got Max into Alex’s car, then walked over to Michael’s still form. Neither one of them appeared anxious to touch him.
Finally, gingerly, Alex reached down and took one of Michael’s arms. Kyle did the same with the other arm and between them they were able to, very slowly, move Michael to Kyle’s car. They put him down on the back seat, and Tess got in next to him, while Isabel squeezed in too. Alex, Liz and Maria walked over to Alex’s car.
Following Isabel’s instructions, Kyle got them out of town as fast as possible. But all the while he kept a lookout for a police car. He didn’t want his dad to catch him speeding. Seeing Michael like that shook him. Kyle would never willingly have expressed his affection for anyone, but in the past couple of months he had gained a grudging respect for the defiant boy. It chilled Kyle to reflect on what the fact that Max hadn’t been able to heal him might mean.
In the other car, Maria didn’t know what to say to Liz, but since her friend didn’t demand an explanation of her behavior earlier that night, Maria was happy to leave the problem for later. Alex had kept quiet while they transferred the wounded guys to the cars, but now he wanted to know what had happened.
“Maria? Can you tell me how this happened?”
“Ok. Michael was walking me back from his place, and this skin attacked us. It almost killed him. And then I killed it.”
“You did what?”
“You heard me.”
“Michael couldn’t kill it, but you could? How?”
“With a rock. Excuse me, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Ok. Did it hurt you?”
“Yes. But Isabel stopped the bleeding, and I’m ok now.”
It was obvious from the way Alex’s voice sounded, how he felt about Isabel, and learning about her new talent only increased the respect he felt for her.
“Yes, Isabel. She hadn’t done it before, but it worked.”
“Do you know what happened to Max?”
“No. But I think he tried to heal Michael, and it was just too much for him.”
“Then Michael has to be really badly hurt.”
After that, no one felt like continuing the conversation. Alex just concentrated on not losing sight of Kyle’s car. At this time of night, there was practically no traffic. All they encountered was a truck driving in the opposite direction. It was still dark, so they were forced to depend on Isabel’s and Tess’ superior senses to guide them to the cave.
Isabel insisted on bringing Max into the cave with them, with some vague idea of working the healing on him as well. When they brought him out into the cool night air, he came to, and was able to walk, supported by Liz and Isabel. Alex and Kyle again had to carry Michael, with Maria anxiously hovering nearby. Tess led the way.
Inside, they lay Michael out in the exact spot indicated by Isabel. She and Tess brought out the crystals, and gave the two remaining ones to Liz and Maria. The four girls spread out into the familiar pattern, and began holding up the stones. It took so long for them to begin working, everyone began to fear that they had been too late to save Michael. But eventually, Isabel declared that they were done. Maria scanned her face for any signs of concern.
“Are you sure he’s going to be ok now?”
“Yes. Look. He’s breathing ok now. What do you say, Tess?”
“It worked. He’ll be fine now. Do you want to work them on Max now?”
Max was lying in a corner, with Alex watching over him. Throughout the procedure, Kyle had remained in the background, his eyes never leaving the scene played out before his eyes. Even now, he was silent and thoughtful. At the mention of his name, Max tried to sit up. Aided by Alex, he was able to lean on the cave wall.
“No. I don’t need them. It’s ok now. I’m getting my strength back.”
Now that they knew both boys would be ok, Isabel couldn’t stop herself from venting the pent up strain.
“What were you thinking, exerting yourself like that? You could have died.”
“I know. But I couldn’t let Michael die either, could I? Wouldn’t you have done the same?”
Isabel didn’t reply. She knew Max was right, but the shock of finding the two people who meant the most to her in the entire world, lying pale and unconscious had hit her badly. Max and Michael. Life without them didn’t bear thinking about.
Now Kyle spoke up.
“Does anyone want to fill me in on what’s been going on tonight? Or maybe I’m not on the list?”
To his surprise, Tess answered him without hesitation.
“Michael and Maria were attacked by one of the skins. That’s our enemies. Yours too. It almost killed Michael, but in the end Maria was able to kill it. I haven’t thanked you for that yet, Maria. It was very brave of you. I’m not even sure I could have done what you did.”
Isabel realized that she hadn’t thanked Maria either. So she hurriedly amended that oversight.
“Yes, I owe you too, Maria. Thanks.”
Kyle was still figuring out the whole situation. He couldn’t let it go. Somewhere deep inside he felt content, knowing that they didn’t try to exclude him anymore. Tess had talked to him without teasing or being evasive. There was something about that girl that was getting to him, and it wasn’t her sensational looks.
“Our enemies? What do you mean?”
This time, Isabel decided to step in.
“They’re here among us, disguised as humans. And you can be sure they won’t stop at anything, to defeat us. That includes bringing this civilization down.”
Normally, Kyle would have had trouble accepting such a statement, but now that he knew he was being included, and respected as a member of their group, he was anxious not to question his luck.
“So what can I do to help?”
Isabel hadn’t even considered that so far, and by now she was tired, extremely tired. All she wanted was to get her family and friends back home and get some rest. She had trouble thinking straight.
“I don’t know yet, Kyle, but I appreciate the offer. We’ll have to let you know later.”
“Does this mean I’m in?”
Tess shot him an amused look, but she didn’t taunt him.
“I guess so. I hope you won’t live to regret it, but anyway I’ll protect you as much as I can.”
“You’ll protect me?”
That wasn’t what Kyle had wanted to hear, but he thought he could detect some warmth, even affection in her voice so he bit back his comment and merely smiled back at her. She wasn’t going to push him away anymore. He would be a member of their group. Isabel was right, the rest could wait.
Now Isabel and Tess began organizing the return to Roswell. They travelled in the same cars as they had on the way out. After tonight’s upheaval no one was in a mood for more conversation. Everyone just wanted to get home and to bed. Any more questions and discussions could wait. Michael and Max were ok. That was all that mattered.
They all had a hard time explaining why they were so tired the next morning.
Maria also faced a difficult time, explaining why she had failed to come back at all. Her explanation about ending up spending the night with Liz, after a late night of homework only half convinced her mother. But she didn’t have to go to school, and for the time being she wasn’t grounded either. Her injury had left her shaken and flustered, a condition which her mother interpreted as a slight fever.
Max, and Isabel were able to avoid going to school by explaining to their mother that Max wasn’t feeling well, and that Isabel wanted to stay at home to see to him. Their mother was touched by her daughter’s devotion to her brother, and allowed it.
Kyle and Tess quite simply reported the incident to Kyle’s father, who proved surprisingly understanding.
Unfortunately, Liz and Alex were unable to think of any excuse not to go, and ended up almost falling asleep in the class room.
They spent the rest of that day catching up on everyone’s much needed sleep, but the day after they met in school. With all the other students around, it was impossible to refer to the matter at hand in any way, so they decided to meet at the Crashdown cafe after school.
Since neither Maria nor Liz were on duty that day, they met in Liz’ room upstairs. It was a bit crowded, and it was lucky for her that her parents weren’t at home. She would have had a hard time explaining the gathering in her room.
What everyone most wanted was to be able to get some time alone with their respective boyfriends and girlfriends, or in Kyle’s case, Tess. But he on the other hand had had all day before for that. The blonde girl had played elusive again, and he hadn’t been able to get much out of her. Even so, he still felt that she was beginning to care about him, and wasn’t bothered by silence.
Liz was still avoiding Max, but when he wasn’t looking, her eyes followed him anxiously about the room.
What Alex thought, no one knew. Since Isabel had chosen to shut him out of her life, his pride prevented him from making any further moves. He decided that if Isabel was ever going to come back to him, it would be on her own, without any pressure from him.
Michael and Maria still hadn’t been able to discuss the incident with the alien. For the time being, it didn’t matter. They were together again. Talk could wait.
The discussion in Liz’ room only served to confirm the decision to allow the human kids into the situation. Despite the risks, there was no other choice. Maria had had an idea, so she turned to Kyle. She had to repeat her question three times, before the athletic boy could tear his gaze away from Tess’ blonde curls and focus on the other girl.
“I said, you know karate and stuff like that, don’t you?”
“Karate? Sure. Why?”
“I want you to teach me.”
This finally got his full attention. He stared in disbelief at the girl he had known since kindergarten.
“You want me to teach you karate. Why?”
“So I can defend myself, naturally. What did you think?”
“Oh. You mean you want to be able to defend yourself against those aliens?”
“Ok. You seemed to be doing ok the other night, but I guess you’re right. Anyone else?”
The others, too, were staring in disbelief at Maria. Of anything the temperamental girl might have said, this was the most unexpected. The aliens didn’t feel as if they were included in the question, but no one else spoke up either. Finally, Liz seemed to realize that she was being asked something.
“No, thanks. I think I’d better focus on analyzing the remains of that alien. If I’m lucky, I might be able to develop some kind of weapon against them.”
This met with approval from everyone, including Max. Kyle turned to Alex, with an inquiring look on his face.
“Me? No way. Fighting isn’t my thing. I was thinking I could work at my computer. You know, search for all kinds of information we might need.”
That too seemed a useful suggestion, so he got no argument from Max or any of the others. To everyone’s surprise, Tess gave her encouragement to the idea of working together against the aliens.
“I think it’s a great idea. We can’t always be watching you guys. There’s other work to be done.”
Maria wasn’t done yet with her plan.
“That reminds me, Kyle. Could you teach me how to shoot?”
“Shoot? You mean like rifles or hand guns?”
Kyle looked a lot less than enthusiastic.
“Well – That’s dad’s department.”
“But I thought -“
“I know. But since I was – shot – myself, I haven’t really felt like it.”
“Oh. Could I ask him to teach me about that stuff?”
Again, Kyle stared at Maria as if he’d never seen her before. He appeared to be thinking the matter over carefully. After a while, he seemed to come to a decision.
“Sure, you can ask. In fact, the way things are now, I might get into it again. We’re obviously not safe here, neither one of us.”
Up until now, Michael had remained silent. But now he couldn’t contain himself anymore.
“Are you out of your mind, Maria? This is far too dangerous for you. Let me – let us protect you.”
“I don’t think that’s enough. And if you remember, the other night, I was the one who managed to finish off that alien. So I’m going to do this, whether you like it or not. I’m sorry if you don’t agree.”
“Michael, please. We’re in too deep now. We might as well be able to protect ourselves.”
Seeing that it was useless to continue arguing, Michael shut up but was in no way reassured by Maria’s arguments.
There seemed to be nothing more to discuss. The kids began to disperse.
To Alex’ surprise, Isabel wanted them to walk together. He wasn’t about to question his luck, so he just followed her out of Liz’ room.
Kyle, without being asked, followed Tess with a dog-like devotion, more typical of Alex. He didn’t notice her indulgent smile as she sneaked a look at him out the corner of her eye.
Maria and Michael were the last to leave, except for Max. He needed to speak to Liz in private, and finally it appeared that he would get his chance.
Liz did nothing to throw him out of her room. She sat watching him, as if she knew what he was about to say. And when he began his halting explanation, she didn’t interrupt him, and even appeared to be listening thoughtfully. Max finished lamely by repeating his need for her, and his wish for them to get back together again.
“Are you done?”
“Well – Yes, I guess so. What do you say? Please, Liz, I can’t manage without you.”
“You have a funny way of showing it.”
“I know. I’m really sorry. It was a crazy plan from the start.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
“I realized what you and Maria were doing as soon as I caught sight of you in that alley. She’s my best friend, remember? I know her and how her mind works.”
“Then why did you -“
“What? Give you the silent treatment?”
“Because this thing with Maria isn’t the only problem.”
“But I told you that Tess and I aren’t -“
“That’s not was I meant. This whole mission you were born to. Destiny or not, there are too many things going on in your life for me to feel comfortable getting involved again.”
“I’ll always have time for you.”
At that Liz smiled a little, but she wouldn’t be sidetracked. There was something she needed to tell Max, and at the same time to work it out in her own mind.
“What I meant was, I don’t want to stand in your way. Or confuse you or distract you. You need to be focused on your goals. Not caught up in – in a relationship.”
“Perhaps you could be right, but it’s not working out like this. I’m not concentrating on the job, I’m thinking about you. All the time.”
“So you mean that if I let you come back to me, you’d work better?”
“Maybe. But that’s hardly the way I want it to be between us. Just some therapeutic remedy for your -“
“It’s not like that, Liz. Please -“
“Alright, I’ll think about it.”
“You will? Oh, Liz, you don’t know what it means to me.”
“Really? Think again. No, wait. No kissing. I said, I’d think about it. Kissing isn’t exactly helpful when it comes to thinking something out.”
But Max was too happy to let her refusal to kiss him spoil his mood. For once, his smile reached his eyes, and at that moment, he had no doubts at all about his eventual victory against his enemies.
Outside in the street, Maria and Michael were taking a very long time to get where they were going. In fact, they hadn’t moved for about 15 minutes.
“Are you really ok? The truth this time.”
“What do you mean, this time?”
“You kept telling me that you were sure we couldn’t be together, and that you didn’t want to.”
“Wait. I never said I didn’t want to. I just said it was too risky.”
“Whatever. But I knew you were lying.”
“Oh, really? How?”
“I could see it in your eyes. If you knew you’d made the right decision, how come you were so sad all the time?”
That was something Michael didn’t want to discuss, so he tried to change the subject.
“Are you really serious about that self-defence stuff?”
“Of course. You think I can’t be serious about anything?”
“No. Yes. I just don’t like it. But I guess you’re right about something. I might be able to kill humans, but I don’t seem to be able to defend myself against the skins. And you could. So how can I tell you not to do what you have in mind?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
“How to kill them.”
That didn’t make Michael any happier.
“Yes, I’m sure I will. After all, that’s my job. I’m the killer.”
“You are? What about Isabel or me?”
“What’s your point?”
“I’m serious, Michael. It’s killing that agent that’s been bothering you all this time, isn’t it? I knew it. Remember what I did the other night? Sure, it was disgusting. Really creepy. But I’d much rather have that thing dead, than you or me. And if someone was going to kill my mom, what do you think I’d do? My point is that people do that. We kill if it’s necessary to protect the ones we love. It’s horrible, but it’s better than losing someone you love. Isn’t it?”
Michael silently pondered her words. It was true that she and Isabel didn’t appear nearly as distraught over killing someone as he had been. But then they had killed their enemies, aliens, not a human. But he had been their enemy too. He would have killed them all, if he hadn’t gotten there first. In fact, the guy had killed Kyle, or close enough. So there really hadn’t been any choice. Maria might be right. Eventually, he might be able to learn to live with what he had done. But part of him didn’t want to.
And he wasn’t sure what to think about this new and tougher Maria. Part of him admired her endlessly for saving his life and her own the way she had. He had never considered for a moment that the girl would stay and fight. But another part of him was just a bit shocked. She had crushed the creature’s scull. Or whatever those things had underneath their human masks. Now she was standing here calmly outlining her reasons to kill.
But he suspected she wasn’t nearly as confident about the incident as she wanted him to believe. That helped a bit. They shared an experience and one day they might be able to talk about it. In a way it had ended up bringing them closer together. It felt good.
Whatever Tess had told them about destiny, he knew that he and Maria belonged together. Even if he hadn’t grown up thinking of Isabel as his sister, he would never be able to love anyone but Maria. If the fight would take over their lives, at least they would defend their right to love whoever they wanted. No one had a right to demand more than they were already giving.
So he put an arm around Maria, and together they started walking back to his place. The fight was far from over, but at that moment, they felt strong enough to take on anything or anyone. Love didn’t make you weaker as Michael had believed. It was making them all stronger. He wouldn’t let himself be torn from Maria. Nothing could separate them now. They didn’t notice the eyes that were following them from inside the Crashdown cafe.