It hadn't rained in weeks.
The ground under my feet was cracked. The dust swirled up around me as I sat down and reached into my jacket, pulling out the bottle I'd brought with me.
The girl at the liquor store didn't ask for an ID and I didn't ask for change. Just walked in and jerked my head at the display case behind her with the "clearance" sign over it, tossing some wadded-up bills down on the counter and leaving with the bottle.
She'd given me rum. I wanted to believe that if she'd handed me whiskey I would've said no, asked for something else.
Whiskey was Hank's drink.
But honestly - I didn't know if I would have. For the first time, I understood why he drank all the time.
Because he wanted to stop thinking.
I cradled the bottle in my hands, staring at the dark, promising liquid just beneath the glass. I rolled the bottle gently with my fingers, watching the rum ripple and slosh, back and forth…
It would be easy.
I could just let go. Let go of everything. And all it would take is one sip...
I pressed my palms closer to the glass, feeling the soft clink of my rings against the bottle, watching the vibrations slip through the liquid and flow back upon each other…
I spent most of my time here while she was gone, coming here at night, after Max came back from bleeding on stones, after Maria left another ten messages I wouldn't listen to. The park was kind of a sanctuary. No one came here after dark.
I was here when I realized Nasedo had a point.
It didn't make me hate him less. I actually think I hated him more for it, if that was possible… but he was right about my loyalties not being with Max. Max didn't come first. He came second.
And we'd never win a war like that.
So far, the strongest power he had was healing, a defense strategy at best. Something that could work only after Isabel or Tess or I got hurt, and that couldn't be an option.
We were still so weak. I was sure we were barely scratching the surface with our powers. Not that Max was remotely interested in our powers at the moment. Or what might be coming up behind us right now…
I blinked and leaned back until I felt the trunk of the tree against my back, glancing both ways. I didn't hear anything. Hadn't seen anything. But I didn't know how good they were. They could already be in Roswell, right now, watching us, waiting for us to screw up…
And all Max could talk about - when he wasn't issuing orders - was Liz.
It was like all he cared about was getting her back. Even when he wasn't talking about her, I knew it was all he was thinking about, like she was his link to his humanity. As if he could get back with her, and then being alien, the war, being the leader - then all of that would just go away…
I stared down at the bottle.
We don't belong here, Maxwell, I thought. We never did.
We were screwed. I'd done some reading on military strategies and practiced with Tess over the summer, and I was able to do a lot of things I couldn't do before, but none of that meant anything when we had a leader who refused to lead.
The only attack force we had - aside from Tess' mindwarp - was me. One person out of four. And Max wouldn't talk about it, and Isabel kept siding with him because he was her brother and she wanted him to be right and she was afraid of losing him, and neither one of them wanted to talk to Tess…
I scowled, running my hand over my face, scrubbing at the skin. It was so hard to keep everything straight. It was so much easier when I could talk to Liz…
Those days were over.
You're a soldier. You're the warrior. The protector.
I took a breath and opened my eyes, focusing on bottle, on the dark liquid. It was tempting. It was really tempting. Especially after that dream. God, just thinking about it…
I missed her so much I could feel her skin against my fingertips. I could taste her on my mouth. It ached so deep I could feel it in my bones.
Thinking about her hurt. Everything hurt. And it was only worse since she'd come back…
I swallowed, took a deep breath, and lifted the bottle, turning the cap until it came off in my hand and brought it closer. Sniffed once.
It smelled sweet. Musky. Like some exotic, far-off country I'd never see.
I could see the appeal of it. Getting lost at the bottom of a bottle, just letting everything blur together until you forgot about how you'd wasted your life, your chances, until everything you'd lost just blurred and faded away…
Everything you'd lost…
I blinked and let my fingers slide up the neck of the bottle.
It would be so easy…
I held it out at arm's length and poured it out, watching the liquid snake through the moonlit ground, flooding the grass before sinking and disappearing into the cracks in the earth. When the last of it was gone I stood up, clutching the empty bottle in my hands.
It was stupid, buying it. I don't know why I did it. Max had already proven we had zero tolerance for alcohol, and me getting drunk and stupid would just wind up in a lot of screaming and blood…
Maybe you just did it to pretend you had a choice.
I blinked and turned the empty bottle over in my hands. Yeah. Maybe.
You're not ready, Max's voice whispered in my head.
Look at you. One kill, and you're useless. Afraid to fight back. We don't have time for ethical dilemmas. You have to work together. You have to trust each other…
He was right. If I didn't get Max to start doing something, we were all going to die. I'd had months to get my act together, and the war, our enemies, it…
It still wasn't my top priority.
I had to change that.
I thought I could control how I felt about her. That I'd buried it where no one could get to it, but… seeing her back… having that dream…
The same thing that binds you together, that helps you, can hurt you, Michael…
I felt the heat searing up through my veins -
Whatever you feel, she feels. If I kill you, she feels it. Every second of it. Every heartbeat, the last breath, the fluttering of the lungs, everything.
Could he kill her through me? Could anybody?
It sounded crazy, but if something happened and I wasn't fast enough or ready, and I was killed, then…
Did that mean Liz's heart would stop?
Her breath was coming in short gasps and wheezes, her hand clutched over her heart, screaming make it stop - make it stop -
Michael, make it stop -
The light raged out through my hands, cracking the glass and I felt my arm draw back and then forward, sending the bottle flying in a violent arc, the howling just audible over the roar in my head and my blood, watching the bottle disappear over the grass and the trees until it shattered on the desert rocks below.
Breathe, Guerin. Breathe…
I had no idea what he could do, or what might happen. I had to pull back. Shut her out completely.
I breathed in the cool night air and scowled up at the stars.
It shouldn't be hard to go back to. That's your life, Guerin, you lived it for years. Just shut her out. Shut everyone out.
It was no big deal. I'd just do what I'd been doing all my life.
I turned around and stared at the ash tree, the only one in the park. The one Liz planted with her grandmother.
She'd be hurt. Confused. Upset. And I couldn't explain it to her.
Maybe she'd hate me for it.
I could live with that.
I couldn't live with her being hurt because of me.
In the end, what I wanted didn't matter.
Maybe it never did.
"…so we're gonna be right downstairs. You know, if you want to talk to him," Maria said, fluffing her hair and examining the results in my full-length mirror.
"What?" She asked innocently, turning around. "I mean, what is so -"
"Why here?" I demanded. "Maria, I told you, I didn't want to see him."
"She's on a mission," Alex said sympathetically, sitting next to me on my bed and flipping through my Florida pictures. "You know how she gets. Hey, is that a dolphin?"
"Okay, first of all, that is not what you said!" Maria said, shaking her head. "You said you didn't want to talk about him, which is totally different."
"But okay," She interrupted, shrugging. "Fine! Fine. You don't want to talk to the one true love of your life, that's fine. I'm just telling you we'll be downstairs. If you happen to come down."
"I'm not coming down," I insisted, plucking at the quilt on my bed, thinking about Michael. Alex glanced over at me and nudged me, smiling. I smiled back weakly.
Michael wouldn't be downstairs. I knew he wouldn't. He wouldn't want to be in the same room with Max and me…
"Of course not," Maria said sympathetically. "But, you know… just in case you do…"
I sighed loudly. "Maria, why here? Why? Why not at your house, or at Alex's, or -"
"Because my shift starts, like, halfway through the hearing!" She said, waving her hands and laughing. "Liz, look. I know you're worried about seeing him again. I understand that. But you can't avoid him forever."
I can try, I thought. I wasn't ready yet. I didn't want to see him. I didn't know what to say…
Michael had said it was alright. That he wouldn't hurt me. And he wouldn't lie about that…but he didn't hear the way Max talked to you that night, either, the voice in my head argued.
I bit my lip and looked out my bedroom window.
We don't discuss this. Not tomorrow, not next week, not in ten years. The only way I can stand to look at either of you is to pretend it never happened…
Alex's hand on my shoulder snapped me back to reality. "Liz? You alright?"
"What?" I asked, looking at him. He looked worried. "I'm sorry. What did you -"
"God, you've got it bad," Maria said. "Not that I can blame you."
We both looked up at her.
"What?" She asked, shrugging. "I told you he's been working out."
"Alright, you know what?" I said, standing up and moving her toward the door. "I have an interview in two hours. So I'm gonna take a shower and you guys can watch all the C-SPAN you want. Downstairs." I opened the door. "See ya."
She shrugged. "You're only postponing the inevitable, you know," She said, walking into the hallway.
"Goodbye, Maria," I said, rolling my eyes. Alex stood up and walked over to me.
"Sorry about that," He said. "She means well."
"Yeah. I know," I said, sighing a little. "I can make my own decisions, though."
"Right," He said, nodding and walking through the door, turning around suddenly. "Look, Liz -"
"If you, uhm -" He frowned and looked down the hallway again. "If you need to talk, or something… you know you can trust me. Right?"
My lips parted and I hesitated before pressing them together again. "Sure. Yeah. Thanks," I said, smiling weakly.
"No, I mean, if you -" He paused. "If you need anything. Or you wanna talk. Just call me. OK?"
I looked up at him. "Yeah," I said softly, smiling, a real smile this time. "Thanks, Alex."
He nodded. "Okay. See you later."
I watched him walk down the hallway and down the stairs, shutting the door behind him and leaning against it, taking a deep breath.
I didn't want Max here. I didn't want him in my house...
You're only postponing the inevitable.
Fine. As far as I was concerned, he could wait a little longer.
I couldn't forget the look on Max's face in Michael's apartment. Or the scorch marks over Michael's shirt…
I'm sorry I saved your life.
My eyes closed and I took a ragged breath. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the phone rang.
Suddenly a hot shower sounded like a great idea. I was halfway to my bathroom door when I heard Mom calling out that the phone was for me.
"Okay," I called back, picking up the cordless phone in my room and pausing just before I pushed the button.
Who was calling for me? Maria and Alex were the only ones who knew I was back. And Michael…
But Michael never called. And Alex and Maria were downstairs…
It wouldn't be Max, I thought, not believing it. He wouldn't call me…
I could always hang up. Somehow that made me feel better. I took a breath and picked it up. "Hello?" I said quietly.
"Elizabeth Parker?" A woman's voice. One I didn't recognize.
"Please hold for Congresswoman Whitaker."
"Oh," I said. "Sure, I'll -"
There was a click, and a pause before the connection went through.
"Liz Parker?" A new voice said.
"Congresswoman Whitaker!" I said. "Hello, how are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks," She said. She was on a cell phone. I could hear the cars driving by. "Listen, I have a congressional hearing to attend, so I need to reschedule our interview."
A hearing? The one on the special unit? "Oh, sure! That's - that's fine." I pushed some scraps of paper around, looking for a calendar. "When is good for you?"
"Tomorrow afternoon?" She asked. "Same time? We can meet at my office."
"That'd be great," I said. "Fine. Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you."
She laughed, a deep, husky sound. "Good. Well, I'm late. I'll see you then."
"Okay," I said. "Well -"
I heard the sound of the connection severing, and then the dial tone. I laid the receiver back in the cradle and sat down heavily on the bed.
I'd been looking forward to the interview. It kept me from thinking about Michael…
"Stop it," I mumbled to myself. Isabel should be arriving soon.
I bit down on my lip and opened the door to my room, heading for the living room down the hall.
"Oh, hey, honey," Mom said, sounding surprised. "Don't you have your interview soon?"
"She postponed until tomorrow," I explained, pushing the buttons on the remote. "Hey - what channel is C-SPAN?"
"C-SPAN?" She asked, frowning and smiling at the same time. "I guess you really are getting interested in politics."
"Oh, I -" I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm just curious. She's part of a hearing, and I thought I'd watch."
"I think it's 34," She said, reaching out and smoothing my hair absently before picking up some bills.
"Thanks, Mom," I said, pushing the number in. She smiled.
"Sure, honey," She said, walking down the hall.
"Mr. Pierce. How much of that spending was authorized by your superiors?"
I turned back to the TV. Nasedo stood at the podium, staring blankly at the speaker. "None," He said.
I blinked. I'd only caught glimpses of Pierce from Max's mind, but he looked just like him. He moved like him. The same voice, the same eyes…
It's not just that he looks like other people, I thought. He becomes them. He must - study their mannerisms. Not just how they look, but also their reactions, figuring out what they'd say in certain situations, how they think…
A shiver ran down my spine like a sliver of ice, and I kept watching.
I paced around my apartment, staring at the TV. Get to the vote. Just get to the vote -
"Ladies and gentlemen, I move for the immediate disbandment of that component of the FBI known as the special unit. All those in favor, say aye."
The chorus was deafening.
I felt my body relax and reached for the remote. At least we wouldn't have to worry about that anymore -
"Nay," One person said.
"The committee recognizes Congresswoman Whitaker."
What the hell?
The camera moved to focus on a woman with shoulder-length hair. I didn't recognize her. But then I didn't recognize any of them. They were just a bunch of suits…
"Members of the committee," She said evenly, "In 1972, the special unit of the FBI investigated a murder. Several curiosities surrounded the event. No murder weapon. No entry wound, other than the presence of silver markings left on the skin, which subsequently vanished, yet the internal organs and tissues of the victim were completely decimated."
I can phase through things, Michael. Lots of things. Things like rock. Like wood.
Like your heart -
He was standing right in front of her, and he didn't even flinch.
"Nuclear analysis of the victim's bones showed traces of a substance dubbed cadmium-x, an element which doesn't exist on earth," She continued. "It is, simply put...not human."I scowled.
Cadmium what? What the hell was she talking about?
They know more about you than you do. They've been studying us for fifty years -
One of the suits frowned. "Mr. Pierce, in all records, materials, and other findings appropriated from your offices, we have found no mention of anything known as cadmium-x. Can you explain that to us?"
Nasedo looked at the congresswoman. "There is no record in our files of the substance called cadmium-x because there is no substance called cadmium-x," He said evenly.
Her eyes flickered.
"Cadmium-x is a hoax that we invented," He continued.
A smile played at his lips. I remembered that smile...
I reached for the remote quickly, and shut it off.
"Great," I muttered. Just what I needed.
Everything has a breaking point.
All you have to do is find it.
I stared at the rocks on the table and took a deep breath, choosing the one on the left. I tried to concentrate, threading my way into the organic material, slipping down to the atoms and then even deeper until I found the electrons spinning incessantly, orbiting around the center.
When I got close enough, I could hear them humming. Everything makes noise. When you're inside, it's almost deafening. It's the frequency that everything has. A table. A rock. A body...
It's like everything's singing, or screaming, and you just can't hear it.
I blinked, sharpening my focus, willing the electrons to speed up, flinching under the intensity and the change in the pitch, forcing the molecular structure to speed up and build upon itself until the buzzing was a roar and I could feel the vibrations in my teeth and in my blood -
And then I just let go.
The pulse spiraled inward for a millisecond, into the absolute center of the stone, and when it found nothing, it pulsed back out -
The rock shattered into dust, a small cloud hanging in the air, reflecting sunlight like tiny diamonds before settling to rest on the table.
Next to me, Tess nodded in approval. I was going faster than she expected. She called me a quick study. A natural. She didn't know about Nasedo's crash course for wayward alien soldiers.
I shifted uneasily, concentrating on the next rock. I had to be faster than this. I should be able to hit them all at once. Except all the frequencies were slightly different -
I took a breath and another stone shattered.
"Next one," Tess said quietly. "Keep your focus -"
We both turned at the sound of the door opening. I started to raise my hand when Max and Is walked in. I slipped my hand into my pockets.
"No rock is safe around Michael Guerin," Max said quietly, the smirk skirting his lips.
My eyes narrowed. He'd started doing that over the summer. Sarcastic jab and retreat.
Like no one would call him on it.
"Our fearless leader," I shot back, pursing my lips. He glared at me for a second.
I knew it pissed him off. That's why I said it. Maybe if he gets mad enough, he'll inadvertently trip and actually make a decision.
Tess said hello. He barely looked at her.
"I think Nasedo's finished with D.C.," He said. "He'll probably be headed back soon."
Tess' voice was soft next to me, saying something, but I wasn't paying attention. My eyes flickered over to the couch.
You know I'll kill you for this, I whispered, staring up at Max.
Not Max. Nasedo.
Fair enough. We can address that after the special unit's closed down.
Not soon enough -
I swallowed. My gaze settled on the table, on the remaining rocks, on the pile of dust. I'd been practicing for when our enemies arrived.
Or when he came back.
Whichever came first.
And then Max told me someone had dug up the bones.
I leaned into the curve of the road, gunning the engine as I came out of it.
Everything I'd kept buried for the last three months was screaming to the surface.
We'd buried him in the middle of the desert, away from the roads, away from any kind of civilization. We were careful. Valenti said no one would think of looking there -
Valenti's handling the investigation, Max had said. He was shrugging when he said it. As if everything were fine. As if this were totally normal. We already took care of it, and we botched it. Max kept talking like Valenti could take care of us forever. As if that wasn't going to have a price someday…
I'll decide when we call Nasedo. Don't do anything until I tell you.
He was going to get all of us killed. Isabel. Tess. All of us. We had a leader who refused to lead. And Tess and Is just kept staring at him like he'd just gone through this coronation ceremony, like his word was law...
Not this time, Maxwell. If someone didn't do something, we were all gonna die.
And I didn't even want to think about Liz getting hurt. Not after what I'd gone through to protect her. Not after what she was having to go through…
I was close. I hadn't been back since we buried him, but it didn't matter. I knew exactly where I was going.
Some things you never forget.
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|