Rating/classification: PG-13, Mi/L, futurefic
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: This is NOT a PN fic, so none of the concepts from that story apply.
This fic was nominated Best Short Story and Best Angst in the Roswell Undercover Awards.
It's dark in the water. And cold.
The surface is too flat to be the ocean, but the waters are infinitely deep. I can't see the bottom when I look down, which scares me, so I've stopped looking. I'm afraid enough already.
It's nighttime, but I can't see a shoreline. I can't even see where the water ends and the sky begins, because there's no moon or stars...
Above me, there's a blinding column of white, cold light, shining directly on me, keeping my eyes from adjusting. It illuminates the water around me, about a foot beyond my reach, and maybe six feet below me. But after that, it's complete blackness in all directions.
I call out, but no one answers. I'm getting tired. I can't tread water forever. But I don't know which way to swim. If I move, the light will disappear, and then I'll be lost in the darkness.
If I don't move, I'll drown.
I churn my naked body in the water, working my legs and arms to turn me around in an endless circle, trying to think, trying to see something. An island. A light. Anything.
There's nothing here but me.
My right leg starts to cramp, the pain sudden and swift, throwing my equilibrium off. My head goes under and the water rocks around me as my arms flail to pull me up to the surface again. I break the surface and breathe in quickly, trying to suffocate the panic that's rushing into my chest. The muscle screams out again and I'm under the surface, water rushing into my mouth and down into my lungs in mouthfuls as I start to fall into the depths.
I stare up at the retreating line between water and air, at the trail of precious bubbles escaping from my mouth like rats running from a sinking ship, watching the ripple of water flow through the column of light. The cold is creeping into my body and the water pressure increases, strong enough to pop my ears once and then again, and soon it will be strong enough to crush my lungs as I fall further and further and -
I blink twice and stare at the thin patches of color in front of me. My heartbeat slows and I push my body free, breathing in slowly.
Sunlight spills in generous waves through my curtains.
I close my eyes and touch my face with one hand, clutching my tangled sheets with the other. The dream is always the same. I can't shake it.
I wait for the trembling to stop before I take a deep breath and get out of bed.
"Good morning, Liz," Dr. Gray said, walking past me brusquely, picking up the pot of coffee I made this morning. He turned around to face me as he poured the dark liquid into his cup. The one that reads Number One Dad. "Could you pull Myer's new shark file? I want to double-check some of his numbers."
"Sure, Dr. Gray," I said quietly. He loves that cup. It's the only one he uses. "I'll bring them in to your office."
He dropped one fat-free creamer into his cup. No sugar. If you asked him, he'd tell you about his cholesterol, how his wife and kids made him promise he'd start eating better. He'd grin and shake his head in mock humiliation. And then he'd ask you if you have kids. I know because he's asked me. Twice.
"Well, back to the forest," He said, winking. He's the leading scientist on the kelp forest exhibit.
I nod and look down as he passes, not wanting to see the half-grimace, half-smile he always delivers as he leaves. It's a common movement here, a signal between co-workers, and I wonder if it's true for every office. I don't know exactly what it means, although I think he's trying to imply that he's smiling. But it's more a quirk of the lips, as if each side of his mouth has a different agenda. Maybe it means that he would smile if he could take the time to do it.
He breezes past me and pushes the door open. I listen to his footsteps, all hurried efficiency against the tiled floor, click, clack, click, clack, disappearing down the hallway until the door drifts closed, muffling the sound.
I probably seem just as strange to him, I think suddenly, feeling the insecurity rise up to the surface and bob there, like a piece of driftwood that won't stay down. Someone who doesn't smile back...
I sigh and close my eyes, shaking my head, and look down at my notepad. I'd been doodling all morning.
A cartoon fish with bubbles coming out of its mouths. A dolphin with no side fins. A crooked version of the golden gate bridge.
And the four-square symbol.
It's in the middle of the page, the lines even and sure. I must have drawn it while Dr. Gray was talking
I run my pen over it, pressing down as I draw the deep, jagged lines again and again. I can hear my breath coming in short, shallow gulps until I feel the felt tip break and stare down at the ink spilling in harsh, expansive spatters over the image, drowning it in a dark blue blotch. My fingertips reach out, trembling, and I touch it gently, letting the ink stain my hands like blood droplets the wrong color...
I pick the page up and turn it over, ignoring the tiny trails of blue ink trailing down the page. The back, like the front, is indecipherable. I'd dug the lines so deep that the face of the paper was raised up where I'd scratched the image out, almost gouging the paper...
I reached out and traced the damp, dark ridges lightly with a fingertip, feeling the familiar rush of regret and relief swelling through me.
I crumpled the paper up into a tiny ball, threw it in the trash can and got up to find the file.
" even jellyfish that have washed on shore should not be handled," I said, pointing the remote control at the slide carousel. An image of a large, medusa jellyfish slowly sharpened into focus. "The nematocysts those long tendrils you see there, that's why we call it a medusa-type jelly they may still fire if they're moist, and the stings of some jellyfish may really hurt. They can cause mild reactions, like rashes, or results as severe as death." I looked around the auditorium. A hundred enraptured faces stared up at the screen.
I pushed the remote again. "This is the most dangerous jellyfish," I continued, walking across the stage to look at the multi-colored image suspended on the screen. "The australian box jelly."
I stared up at it wistfully for a moment before resuming. "It has toxin more potent than a cobra's venom, and can kill a person in less than five minutes," I said, turning around to face the crowd, waiting for the rumble of whoa's to subside.
"Despite its stinging cells," I said, making my way back to the podium, "some animals do eat jellyfish." Click. "The ocean sunfish, and" click "- leatherback sea turtles are two kinds of animals that feed primarily on jellyfish. Some people even consider jellyfish quite a delicacy." I finished, looking out over the sea of faces. "Lights, please."
"That concludes today's presentation," I said, raising my voice over the rustling of backpacks and low voices. "If you have any questions about the Dangers of the Deep series, or our other programs at the aquarium, I'll be at the edge of the stage."
The quick, swelling sound of a hundred elementary school kids gathering their belongings filled the auditorium. I gathered up the slide remote and my laser pointer, placing them in my jacket pockets before moving down to the front. A small girl with serious eyes and a purple backpack was waiting for me.
"Hi there," I said, smiling down at her, crouching by the edge of the stage. "What's your name?"
"Kyleigh," She said quietly, frowning a little. She had big, brown eyes, and I felt my smile broaden.
"Well, Kyleigh, do you have a question?"
She shook her head from side to side. "Oh," I said. "Well, did you want to tell me something?"
She looked up at the screen. "It was really scary," She said.
"Oh," I said after a moment, taken aback. "Well, yes. I mean yes, there's some scary stuff, but most jellyfish don't ever hurt humans," I said confidentially, leaning in. "And if they do, well, they certainly don't mean to."
She stared up at me. "That doesn't make it better, though," She said thoughtfully.
I stared into her deep, dark eyes. They were so wide, and trusting, and -
"No," I said, blinking hard, my voice suddenly a cracked whisper. My heart hurt and it felt like something was fading, that something important was happening and I had to hold on, I had to pay attention..."It doesn't."
She frowned and nodded slowly, staring at me.
"Okay," She said finally, turning away and walking up the stairs, through the throng of students racing around and past her.
The sound of chaos suddenly swelled around me on all sides. I'd tuned it all out during our conversation. I stood up slowly and watched the crowd swallow her up, staring at her purple backpack until I lost it in the sea of colors.
I bet she'll be a scientist, I thought before I could repress it.
The lump was sudden and harsh in my throat, and I turned back to the podium to gather my notes.
The speedometer was on zero.
I stared at the dashboard in front of me. I'd have to take it to the mechanic soon. It needed an oil change, and I thought the transmission was acting up. I raised the soda can to my mouth and took a drink, thinking about the car. My car, I thought, correcting myself. I never thought of it as mine.
"Ms. Deluca "
"You're a graduate, Liz. You are officially a grownup. So for God's sake, call me Amy."
I sighed. "Ms. Amy. Okay, thank you, but I can't take the Jetta."
"Liz, Maria doesn't need a car. Do you know how much it costs to own a car in Manhattan? I mean, the parking alone is - look. You have been like a daughter to me. A very - stubborn daughter, a daughter who at times has been ridiculously smart, but... look, Jim and I can share the truck until I get a new one. And I've talked to your parents about it, so they're okay with it, and..." She sighed. "Oh, come on. It's a rustbucket, anyway. Just take it."
I stared at her for a moment. She was holding out the keys and shifting her weight anxiously, and there was this sort of frantic look in her eyes. She wasn't saying that she was worried about me. She wasn't saying that she didn't understand why my grades dropped, why I hadn't applied to college, why I'd gone gray from the inside out during my senior year.
But that was what she meant.
I knew people talked about it, but it was always this low murmur, like this frequency I could never completely hear. I caught bits and pieces when I walked into a room too quickly. Maybe I was upset, maybe I was depressed, had my parents considered counseling? It was a shame, she was always such a nice girl...
I glanced at the sheriff, standing next to Ms. Deluca. He smiled vaguely and nodded a little before staring down at the ground.
I took a deep breath and shrugged a little. "Okay," I mumbled.
She smiled, one of those huge, beaming smiles that almost made me hurt, and grabbed me in a giant bear hug. I had to grab my graduation cap so she wouldn't push it off. She just wants you to smile back, I thought. That's all she wants...
I couldn't do it.
The sheriff waved his hat to get my attention, mouthing the word "thanks" and smiling a little over her shoulder.
"You ever want to come home, or you need anything, you just call," She whispered fiercely into my hair before pulling back and holding me at arms length. "Okay?"
I nodded mutely and felt the corners of my mouth quirk a little. She put the keys in my hand and kissed me on the cheek.
She was right about it being a rustbucket, but she was wrong when she thought it was going to fall apart. The Jetta made it to the California coast in the dead of summer, not just once but a couple of times. The air conditioning was long gone and I'd had to replace the alternator twice, but it kept running.
My parents were confused after graduation. My dad kept insisting that I had to get a safer mode of transportation, pushing cell phones and AAA memberships. Every once in a while he'd ask about college, if I wanted to apply to Santa Fe State, and I'd just shake my head no. My mom seemed to always be folding laundry, mountains of it, too much for just the two of them and I'd wonder, who is she doing that for?
I must have been just as strange to her. She'd look at me sometimes with this vague, confused look... but she never asked me anything. Maybe she didn't want to. Maybe she didn't want to know why I'd changed, why I'd become this woman who worked in the basement of the Monterey Bay aquarium and filed other people's research, in the same room as the coffeemakers, volunteering to lead the school presentations because everyone else was too busy doing Their Work.
Late at night, when I could hear the pounding of the ocean outside my window, I thought maybe she suspected that her real little girl was out there, somewhere, lost and looking for her. That she'd been replaced with an older version that didn't quite get it right, someone who looked like her, but didn't feel like her...
Maybe she was right.
I didn't go home much the second year. I thought it would help, leaving Roswell, being gone that it would let me figure things out, learn how to breathe again, learn how to feel. But when I went back, it was just me sitting with Kyle, talking vaguely about Maria and her next audition, listening to the sheriff and Amy laughing in the kitchen.
We didn't talk about them.
And no one ever mentioned Tess.
We drove out to Alex's grave once, and Kyle sat next to me while I cried against the steering wheel, his left hand pressed gently against my back, his other hand tight and awkward over mine.
He kept saying, "It's okay. It's okay. We can stay until you're ready."
When I dropped him off at home, he said we could try again when I came back, that he understood it was hard. I nodded mutely and drove back to California the same night, and I haven't been back since.
After a while, Roswell seemed like this place where I used to live. Someplace where I used to be alive. Some place where everything that would ever matter had already happened.
Roswell was a giant dust bowl surrounded by ghosts on all sides. I saw them everywhere I went. Grandma Claudia. Alex. Whatever I was to Max before he told me that he and Michael and Isabel had to go and find a way back. Before Maria went to New York to perform, acting or singing or whatever she could find, waiting tables and waiting for her big break. She sent letters, and then postcards, and then stopped writing because I never wrote back. I didn't know what to say.
And then, one day, I looked around my apartment and realized that this was home. A one-bedroom in Pacifica. A little town that the tour buses sped through to on their way to LA, or Carmel, or Monterey. A place that you go through on your way to something else.
I looked up at the simple white building in front of me. The couple I rented from lived on the first floor, and I had the second story all to myself. It wasn't much. But it was a small town, quiet, and the people were nice enough. Everyone kept their business to themselves.
I blinked and turned to the side window, staring out at the ocean. It was getting dark, and the waves were high. I could see the crests from the car.
I closed my eyes and I breathed in the salt air slowly before leaning my shoulder against the door and nudging hard twice. The door protested, like it always did, but it jerked open. I stood up, feeling the stretch in my legs, slamming the door behind me.
I felt like this before. Prom would have been one of the worst nights of my life if it hadn't been for Sean. He told me that we were both suffocating, and it was true.
Except now, I felt like I was drowning.
I didn't expect my life to be like this. I thought I was stronger than this, but... I wasn't. I'm not.
Sometimes, when I'm watching the people I work with, I want to laugh out loud, loud enough so the sound will shock them, stop them in their tracks, stop their mouths from working so much. Maybe then they'd stop moving so fast, stop rushing to finish a grant, stop complaining funding and traffic jams and corporate politics.
Maybe they'd shut up and just stop.
And then, maybe they'd be like me. Just a little.
I work, I drive the Jetta, and I wait to wake up.
The stars were out as I drove home. The high school presentation had run longer than I expected - teenagers are always fascinated by danger, they had dozens of questions for me once I was done. The sun had gone down hours ago, and the moon was just a sliver.
I parked the car by my house and walked over to the ocean, breathing in the salt air and looking up at the sky. The wind was coming in giant gusts over the ocean, whipping my hair around my face, chilling my fingertips until I stuffed my hands in my jacket pockets. It was early winter, and quiet. The tour buses only ran twice a week now -
I froze in place, my eyes locked on the horizon before me. My stomach turned to ice.
It wasn't a voice from this place. I knew it, I knew the voice, but...
I hadn't heard it in six years.
I closed my eyes for a moment. You're crazy, I thought. You're losing it. They're gone. They left-
"Liz," The voice said gently.
I closed my eyes and turned around to face him. He was standing a few feet back, his hands in his pockets, a silhouette against the floodlight from one of the neighbor's houses.
"Michael?" I whispered.
He shook his head when I said his name, like one of those animatronic robots that responds to voice activation, his face turned down to the ground, feet shuffling slightly in the damp grass. "You're the first person here to call me that. Since I told them I was coming here." He said.
What else would I call you, I wondered, and then I remembered that he didn't live here, that he had a whole other life somewhere else... Idiot. "Michael," I said again, tasting the sound in my mouth, blinking against the light. "How - how did you "
"I told Max I wanted to come back," He said evenly.
I stared at him and brought my hand up over my eyes, letting his features rise into focus. He looked exactly the same, but - different, in a way I couldn't place yet. "You you wanted to come back?" I repeated. "But it's been "
"Six years," He said, nodding. He looked up at the sky, at the thousands of stars overhead. "Yeah."
I'm not dreaming, I thought. And I'm not crazy...
He looked around at the buildings behind him, assessing the area. "So," He said. "Nice place."
I felt a hot rush of shame, and blood running to my face. "Are you making fun of me?" I demanded.
"What?" He said, facing me. "No. I didn't "
"Because I don't need that, Michael."
He stared at me for a minute and I squinted, trying to make out his expression. It didn't work. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle, and a little sad.
"Yeah," He said quietly. "I understand."
I frowned and dropped my hand, turning around to face the ocean. I hated that sound in his voice.
I heard it whenever I went home.
"So, uh... so that's your place, huh?"
I closed my eyes and waited for the questions. What are you doing here, Liz, we thought you'd be a profesor by now, what happened to Harvard, what happened to you?
"Yeah," I said, feeling the familiar tension in my voice. "This is where I live."
I heard the sound of shuffling behind me. "Nice view," He said.
I choked back a laugh and looked down, shaking my head. I turned around, lips pursed, eyes glaring, waiting to see the smirk.
He was looking away from me now, over to the foothills, at the road that went straight to San Francisco, a quiet, contemplative look on his face. No smirk. Nothing at all.
I blinked and frowned a little. "Oh," I said slowly. "Well thanks."
He looked back at me and nodded. "This place of yours..."
I felt my eyes narrow. Here it comes. He was saving the smart remark. Typical Michael -
"Does it have an inside?"He finished.
I stared at him. "That's it?" I asked.
He looked over at me and shrugged brusquely. "What's that mean?"
I fumbled for words, staring at him. "Nothing," I finally mumbled, staring at him in confusion. I walked past him quickly. "Come on."
The stairway creaked under the weight of two footsteps all the way to the top.
"You want a beer?" I asked, staring at the contents of my fridge. "Oh. No, you don't. I have water, tea, some sodas "
"Coke," He said quickly, turning around to face me, some of my papers in his hands. He turned back to it immediately. "They don't have that..."
I shook my head and grabbed one of the cans from the fridge. They don't have that on my home planet, I thought, popping it open as I walked over to him. The metal edge caught my fingertip and a thin strip of red rose to the surface.
"Ouch," I muttered, slipping the tip of my finger into my mouth and sucking on it briefly. I looked at it again and then glanced up at Michael. He was staring at me.
He reached out his hand. "If you want, I can "
"No," I said quickly, shaking my head and my hand, hiding it behind my back. "It's fine. It's nothing."
He nodded slowly and looked back at my papers, putting them back on the table before taking a drink of the coke. I watched his adam's apple work and rubbed my fingertip with my thumb.
"You, uhm - you want to sit?" I asked, pointing at the couch.
"Sure," He said, his voice quiet. We moved to the couch, sitting on the edge, each of us waiting for the other to speak. He took another sip of the Coke and set it down on the coffee table.
I resisted the urge to get a coaster. He'd probably just say he could alien-superpower the ring away, or something. This is surreal, I thought frantically. He shouldn't be here. They left, they all went home, why is he -
"How have you been?" He asked suddenly.
I stared at him, surprised by the question. "How have I been?" I repeated. "I'm fine, Michael."
He licked his lips and looked down. "Really."
"Yeah," I said, feeling the tension returning to my voice. "In fact, we're great."
"What " I shook my head and looked around the apartment for a moment. "What do you want?"
He frowned and looked at the drink on the coffee table. "I don't " He pursed his lips and looked away from me. "I guess I just wanted to see how everyone was. How everything worked out back here."
"Maria's in New York," I blurted out suddenly.
He laced his fingers together and looked down at the floor. I immediately felt worse. I'd hurt him with that.
"I know," He said, nodding. "Her mom told me."
"You talked to Amy?"
He smiled a little. "Yeah. Well. She talked to me, mostly. About Maria. About how happy she is." He looked over at me for a moment. "She was pretty clear about that."
"What did - I mean, what did you tell her?" I asked.
He shrugged. "That I'd missed the five-year reunion," He said. "That I wanted to catch up."
I rolled my eyes and looked away. He picked up the coke and took another drink.
"You didn't go," He said quietly.
"To what?" I asked, turning back to him.
"The reunion," He said quietly. "Amy told me."
"The reunion?" I repeated, looking back at him. "What for?"
He set the coke down on the coffee table heavily, placing the can next to a thin circle of condensation, lighter than the rest of the table. Damnit.
"I don't know," He shrugged, the movement too big, his voice growing sharp. "Maybe to see Kyle. See Valenti."
"Look, it's not -" I began before stopping, closing my eyes and running my hands over my face. "It's not that simple, Michael."
"Why not?" He demanded, his voice sharp and deliberate now. "You trusted them, Liz. They knew about the three of us. They knew everything "
"Maybe that's why, alright?"
He stared at me. I listened to my words, resonating through the room. My voice sounded sharp, and angry, and -
He licked his lips and looked down.
"Michael," I whispered. My hands were trembling. "I didn't mean to "
"Yeah," He interrupted, his voice quiet again, and heavy, staring at the coffee table. "You did."
I couldn't move. A chill cut through my body, breaking through the numbness. I closed my eyes.
Why did he have to come here?
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
I heard him breathe out slowly.
I opened my eyes. He was looking at me with this careful look in his eyes. "You have a right to think that," He said.
We stared at each other, neither of us moving. His gaze finally dropped to the space between us and then back to the coffee table. I'd hurt him twice in five minutes. I didn't want to. I didn't mean to...
"I don't want to think that," I whispered.
He turned back to me quickly, his face surprised. And grateful, I think. Maybe he needed to hear that as much as I needed to say it.
"When are you " I frowned and started over. "When are you going back?"
He pursed his lips and shrugged. "I don't know," He said. "Maybe never."
"Maybe never?" I said. "But what about "
"Max doesn't need me anymore," He said, shaking his head. "He kind of came into his own, you know. Figured stuff out." He waved his hands and shrugged. "I think he'll be okay."
"What about Isabel," I said carefully.
He rolled his eyes. "Well, she's, uhm she's okay," He said slowly, looking across the room. "It took her a long time, but I think she's happy."
I blinked. Isabel was happy. She was the one who never wanted to leave, who wanted to stay more than anything else...
"I think it just took her a while to get used to it. To let herself be happy," He said, looking over at me. "You know?"
I blinked and stared back. I opened my mouth to say something and closed it again.
"No," I whispered, my voice cracking a little. "I don't."
He was staring at me, watching me with this look of sorrow on his face. I couldn't take it. I stood up and walked to the kitchen. "I should, uhm I should make us some dinner," I stammered, reaching for the refrigerator door and pulling it open.
"You want me to stay?" He asked, his voice drifting across the room.
I didn't move.
No, I thought. Go home. Go away. I understand things here. I'm safe here
"Yes," I said.
There was a pause, and then I heard movement behind me. He stood behind me and put his hand over mine on the refrigerator door.
He was close. He was too close. No one had been this close in years
"Then lemme cook," He said gently.
Without looking at him, I heard the smile in his voice.
"So what's this aquarium about?" He asked, turning his fork in the spaghetti. "Ms. Deluca kept talking about it."
"Oh. It's, uhm I don't know, it's kind of interesting," I shrugged, twirling my fork.
"Okay," He said. "So what do you do?"
"Just stuff," I mumbled.
"Right," He said, smiling. "You probably run the place."
I put my fork down. "Not - exactly," I mumbled, putting my napkin on the table. "You want another coke?"
"Yeah," He said, nodding. "Thanks."
I got up and moved to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door and taking out a bottle of wine. I stared down at the contents in the fridge. A chicken caesar salad. A jar of pickles. Some dijon mustard...
"What are you doing here, Michael?" I asked quietly.
I turned around. He stared at me, the napkin raised halfway to his mouth. He swallowed the food in his mouth before answering.
"I told you," He muttered, looking away. "I just wanted to see how everyone was."
"Why now?" I demanded, moving to the counter and setting the bottle down, hard. "Why here?"
"Would you just calm down?"
"Why aren't you in New York, Michael?" I asked. He closed his eyes for a moment and then looked at his plate, defeated.
"She missed you," I whispered. "She talked about you for years, Michael, why aren't you -"
"Could we just - could we not talk about this?" He demanded suddenly. "I haven't eaten food, I mean real food, in six years, and -"
"Michael. You're - you're in my house, you're eating spaghetti, for God's sake, we haven't seen you, haven't heard from you in six years, we never expected to, now you're back, you may never go back and you're here?" I shook my head. "That's - that doesn't make any sense. God, you could be a shapeshifter for all I know. Some crazy, renegade, evil alien come to kill another human, and you know what, if that's it, then just get it over with."
"Liz. It's me," He said, standing up carefully. "Okay, it's Michael. You know me-"
"No, I don't," I shouted, watching him blur into the shadow of a man. "I don't know you. Maria knew you."
He pursed his lips for a moment and looked down, his hands on his hips.
"I knew Max," I said, feeling the wetness spill down my cheeks, spattering on my shirt, watching his image swim back into focus.
He didn't move for a moment. When he looked at me, I felt a shock of regret.
"I can't go to New York," He said huskily, his voice rough and quiet. He turned away from me and moved to my window, the one that looked out over the ocean.
"Why not," I whispered.
He didn't look back. "Because it would hurt too much," He said simply.
I felt the cold in the back of my neck, the goosebumps prickling up and down my arms. This was too much. It was too real
"I don't get you, Parker," He muttered.
I closed my eyes. "Yes, you do," I whispered. "We're more alike than you thought."
Silence filled the room for a second. "What're you talking about?" He asked suddenly, his voice stronger.
"Look around," I whispered, gesturing around the room. "What does it remind you of, Michael?"
He frowned at the apartment, at the small dining table with two chairs. The couch with an old coffee table. Notes and pages we'd moved from the table to the floor.
"The layout's different," I whispered, shaking my head and shrugging helplessly. "But it's still your apartment."
He stepped away from the wall, his eyes locked on me.
"I can't believe I didn't see it," I whispered. "Before now. I mean I even put the couch in the same place that you -"
"Liz," He murmured, moving closer. "Don't."
"Don't what?" I asked, looking up at him. "Don't you think it's ironic?"
He was shaking his head, reaching out for me. "Liz..."
I moved out of reach and turned away, staring down at the sink, my hands against the stainless steel, shiny and cool to the touch. After a moment I heard him move back to the table and sit down heavily.
"Maybe I should go," He said slowly. "Maybe this was a mistake."
I took a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling.
Yes. Go. Get out. Leave me alone...
"Michael," I whispered, turning my face to him. He looked up, the lines etched deep on his forehead, his lips pursed, ready to bolt.
"Let's get out of here," I whispered.
"I don't want to get you in trouble."
"You're not," I murmured, fumbling with my keys. "I know one of these opens the door "
"Look, it's okay if you want to bail," He said for the third time. I shook my head.
"Michael Guerin, upstanding citizen," I muttered, selecting a key and opening the door. The alarm went off immediately.
"Great," Michael yelled out over the noise, reaching for my arm. "Come on -"
"Just gimme a sec," I said, wresting my arm free and running into the room. It took a few seconds to punch the code into the alarm box, and then lights went off and the alarm fell silent.
"Nice," He muttered behind me. I turned around and watched a smirk playing at his mouth.
"Well, you gonna stand there, or are we gonna see something?" I asked, smiling a little.
"You still haven't told me what we're doing here," He muttered.
I didn't answer him. I turned to the right, to the door that read employees only. "Watch your step," I said quietly. "There's a railing at the top. Hold on to it."
He mumbled something I couldn't hear, and a moment later, I heard his footsteps following me.
I stared up at him, waiting for his reaction. He stood next to me. "Wow. This is..."
"Yeah," I whispered, turning to face the glass below us. "It is."
The window of dark blue stretched out before us, curving in a wide circle. A wide, gentle light from above illuminated the thin, transparent creatures that dotted the water, dozens of them drifting by in an endless parade of color, their bodies opening and closing gently to propel them through the water. Tiny refractions of blue and gold and pink spiraled off their bodies in a constantly changing rainbow spectrum played out before us and on us, a slow light show rising up from deep, blue waters. It felt like we were dappled with light.
"It's the drifter collection," I whispered. "The biggest collection of jellyfish in the states. It opens up into the bay. Look, that one's an egg-yolk jelly, for obvious reasons, and that's a sea nettle," I said, pointing at a jellyfish rising into view slowly from the blue darkness.
"The ones that are I mean "
"The rainbow ones are called comb jellies," I said, smiling. I looked up at him for a second. "You like it?"
"Well like seems like a weird word," He said, frowning. "I mean I've never seen anything like it."
I nodded and looked back at the glass, watching the soft bodies rising and falling in the light, making their way through the water. "They're so beautiful," I murmured. "And elegant. You know?"
"They're deadly," Michael said suddenly. "Right?"
I stared up at him.
"What?" He asked, looking over at me when I didn't answer. "I mean, you're science girl, but I thought you couldn't touch jellyfish. That they were poisonous. Right?"
"Well yeah," I said, taken back by the comment. I thought he would understand, I thought, looking down. That he would appreciate why -
"So... this what you're doing?" He asked, confused. "Jellyfish?"
"No. I mean " I frowned and looked back down at the exhibit. "Yes, I do a lecture series on them, but I don't do research on them."
"You don't," He said slowly.
"No," I snapped, folding my arms in front of me and looking away.
"Okay, so - what's it called?" He asked. "Your lecture series."
I looked up at him and down again, letting my arms drop to my sides before anwering. "Dangers of the deep," I said quickly.
I could feel him staring at me. I shifted my weight and felt the rush of blood surging to my face again. "What?" I demanded, looking up at him.
His eyebrows went up. "Nothing," He shrugged. "Just - that's it? Jellyfish, and what - sharks?"
"And stingrays, and manta rays, and electric eels, yes," I snapped. "So what?"
He pursed his lips. "That's all deadly to humans," He said evenly, looking at me strangely.
"And?" I snapped. "Look, people need to know about that, Michael."
"Right," He said, nodding, his voice quiet and sarcastic. "And you're the one who has to tell them."
"Michael, it's called science. It's interesting."
He looked back at the window. "Alright. Fine. So you're warning them." He shrugged. "I just thought you wanted to get away from that."
"From what?" I demanded. "What is wrong with -"
"From life-threatening stuff. From dangerous stuff," He snapped. "From things that can kill you. Isn't that why you left Roswell?"
I stared at him in disbelief. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it in my eardrums. "Who told you that?" I whispered.
"Forget it," He muttered, turning away.
"No, I want to know," I snapped, reaching up and shoving hard against his chest, catching him off guard. He stumbled back from the exhibit.
"What's your problem-"
"That is not why I left," I shouted, moving closer to him. "Who told you that?"
"Nobody had to tell me," He shot back, glaring at me. "It doesn't take a genius, Parker."
I stared up at him. "You don't know what you're talking about," I whispered finally. I turned away, walking down the long, metal walkway. I have to get outside, I thought. I have to get away from him. I have to breathe -
"Like hell I don't," He growled suddenly, next to me. "You're doing exactly what I did."
"Shut up," I whispered. He stopped and I walked faster, leaving the drifter exhibit behind me, edging past the kelp forest. I just had to get past it and the exit was around the corner -
"You're hiding, Parker," He called out.
I stopped on the scaffolding, my hand on the railing, cool and smooth under my right hand. I stared down at it, my breath caught in the back of my throat, my heartbeat pounding in my ears.
"You're good at it," He said quietly. "We gave you lots of practice. Lots of secrets. Late-night chases. The FBI ..."
I closed my eyes and heard his footsteps on the metal walkway, moving closer to me.
"And then you lost us," He said quietly. "You lost Max. And me, and Isabel."
Don't say it. Don't say it...
"After you'd lost Alex..."
"Stop it," I whispered.
"And we left," He said, stopping next to me. "We just... left. And we assumed you'd be okay.
"But you're not," He whispered gently, right behind me. "Are you?"
I opened my eyes and tried to bolt, tried to get away from him and his hands were on my arms, trying to catch me and I twisted away, bracing my feet against the metal walkway and pushing hard until his grip and the walkway fell away from me and I was falling -
Michael yelled my name, and then the water swallowed me.
It was cold, colder than I expected and I tried to gasp, choking against the mouthfuls of water that rushed into my mouth, the panic already strong and surging in my chest when something large and rubbery brushed against my body and I thrashed against it, kicking and flailing to get it off me, my vision clouded by a swarm of bubbles and it kept crowding me, wrapping itself around me so I couldn't swim and I couldn't breathe and and I know this part, I thought, the panic triumphant and my heartbeat hammering in my chest, my body screaming for air and I know what happens now, I know what happens next -
Something on my face, something pulling me around and then warmth against my lips, a shock in the coldness that enveloped me, warmth and softness and then air rushing into my mouth and down into my lungs -
I opened my eyes. Michael was holding my face in his hands, looking terrified and relieved, his eyes locked on mine. He held me with one hand and cupped the other over his mouth and a slow glimmer of silver light escaped his fingertips. He let his hand drop and moved to me again, his lips on mine, pushing them apart until fresh air rushed into my mouth again....
His mouth left mine and I stared at him, unbelieving. His hands fell to my sides, brushing the giant branches of the kelp forest away from me in sweeping motions, unwrapping me like a present until there was nothing holding me down. He pulled me up against his body, his arm wrapping around my waist and he kicked hard with his legs, the movement swift and powerful, driving us up and up until we broke the surface...
I gasped for air, kicking hard to stay afloat. "I've got you," He whispered, his arm still locked around my waist, dragging me to the edge of the exhibit. "I've got you."
I held on to the edge, coughing hard as he pulled himself out of the water, his hands reaching down around my arms, pulling me up and onto the walkway with him. I felt the pebbled tread of the walkway against my face and laid there for a moment, catching my breath, looking at the pool of water rocking with the force of our movements, watching it slow and still to a quiet surface, ripples slowly dancing across it...
"You coulda drowned," He muttered behind me.
The stalks rose to the surface again, slowly, their trailing branches moving back and forth gently with the fading ripples of the water. I blinked and sat up, coughing again at the water still lodged in my lungs...
The light of the moon filtered through a nearby window, lighting on the water's surface, making shafts of soft light, reflecting off of small schools of brightly colored fish.
"Hey," He said behind me.
I twisted around to look at him. He was soaked, his shirt clinging to his skin. His eyes looked angry. And concerned.
"You saved my life," I whispered.
He frowned and looked down.
I moved closer to him. "I couldn't breathe," I whispered. "I didn't even know how to get to the surface..."
He didn't move.
He looked up, his gaze settling on my eyes. He stared at me for a moment and then his hand reached out, slowly brushing strands of hair from my face...
I stared back at him, wondering why his fingertips were still on my cheek, why he was looking at me like that...
His gaze moved down to my lips. His hand was a slow, gentle fist in my hair. He started to lean in, slowly, and I watched him move, thinking I can stop this. I can stop this. I can...
His lips brushed against mine for a moment, more of a touch than a kiss, the movement hesitant and gentle. I waited for the softness to return, for the pressure to increase, to feel him pull me closer...
He moved back, just a little, and waited. His breath was warm against my lips...
I can stop this.
I don't want to.
I whispered his name again and closed the distance between us, my mouth covering his, feeling the shock of his body next to me, underneath me, above me and his hand was a gentle fist tangled in the hair at the nape of my neck, his fingers releasing their grip and cradling my head gently against the walkway, his mouth closing against mine softly, the warm swift sweep of his tongue against mine...
I wonder what happens next, I thought.
He whispered my name against my lips, and then I knew.
"Good morning, Liz," Dr. Gray said, walking into the office and making a beeline for the coffeemaker.
"Good morning," I said, standing up. "Dr. Gray, I was wondering -"
"Just a minute," He said quickly. "Don't want to spill my coffee... yes, go ahead."
"Well - the job opening. In your department. I was thinking of applying," I said.
"Really?" He said, his eyes widening. "I thought you liked the jellies."
"Oh, I do. I mean, I did, but -" I shrugged. "But I think it might be time to try something else."
"Like coral reefs," He said. "Hm. Well - I know you have a strong scientific background, but... this is a research position, Liz."
"Well, I've started my applications for the UCSF," I said quickly. "And I have a very strong science background, I took several advanced courses when I was in high school..."
"You have? Hm." He stared at me for a moment and blinked twice. "Well... I'll admit, we've had a terrible time filling this position. It's a lot of interaction with the public. And you'd have to balance it with school..."
"I think I could handle it," I said, hoping he believed me.
He pursed his lips and stirred his coffee thoughtfully. "Alright," He said suddenly. "Tell you what. Drop by a resume this afternoon, and we'll talk in the morning."
"Thank you," I said. "Thank you. You won't regret it."
He stared at me for a moment and nodded, smiling slightly and moving to the door, coffee cup in hand.
"You should do that more often," He said.
"What?" I asked.
He turned around to face me. "Smile," He said warmly, and the door shut behind him.
The dream is always the same.
I'm at the surface of a large body of water, in the darkness. A large column of light illuminates the waters around me.
I take a breath and dive, down through the watery column of light, until it disappates into a faint, dusky glow. I twist myself in the water until I see him, rising up from the darkness, a smile playing on his lips until they close over mine, soft and gentle, his breath rushing into me...
He breaks away and takes my hand, tugging gently, wanting me to come with him, to explore the ocean, to find something new and beautiful under the waves.
I wonder what we'll find this time.
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|