I opened my eyes and blinked against the sunlight pouring into the room. The sheets didn't actually block out daylight; they just hung against the glass like wide, glowing canvases, drifting slightly in time to the hum from the air conditioner.
I breathed in deep, feeling the faint pull of her. Maybe she's back. Maybe she's here…
Found her. Still on the other side of the country. I closed my eyes and scrubbed my palms hard against my face. My teeth tensed around the soft flesh of my lower lip.
Get up, Guerin. Get up.
The phone rang as I left. I know because I saw the red light flashing. I turned the ringer off three days after she left.
She was never the one calling.
"Don't call here anymore."
"Michael," Maria's voice said, getting louder and more intense. "Michael, you can't just-"
I pushed the receiver into the cradle. She wasn't listening. She didn't want to hear what I was saying. She never did.
I found the switch to stop the ringing, and haven't touched it since.
Max was sitting at the counter when I unlocked the door to the crashdown, his eyes dead and unmoving, his fingertips tracing the cracks in the firmica.
"What's up?" I asked.
He glanced over and shrugged. "Just waiting for Maria," He mumbled, looking back at the counter.
Waiting for Maria. He meant waiting to ask her if Liz called in the last 12 hours. Since the last time he asked her.
"Snap out of it, Maxwell," I muttered, moving past him, heading for the kitchen.
"Still breaking rocks?"
I turned around and glared at him. "At least I'm doing something," I said, my voice sharp. He was shaking his head before I finished the sentence, pushing himself away from the counter, turning for the door.
He wouldn't listen to me, either.
"Maxwell," I said. He didn't stop. "Look. We need to get ready. We need to -"
"When are you gonna drop this?" He hissed, turning on me. "No one's coming. There are no enemies. The only threat is the special unit, and Nasedo's taking care of -"
"You don't know that," I snapped, my blood heating up at the mention of his name, staring at Max's eyes, thinking it wasn't him. It wasn't Max. "You don't know anything -"
"Neither do you," He shot back.
I opened my mouth and closed it again, letting my head drop, running my hand through my hair. We'd had the same conversation for three months. I'd tell him that we were in danger, that our enemies were coming for us, and he'd challenge me to for proof, saying how do you know, Michael, how could you possibly know, how can you be sure?
And then the conversation would stop.
He'd claim my silence as victory, sometimes throwing in a barb about the downfalls of jumping to conclusions, of creating hysteria, sometimes muttering something about not wanting to have to save me from anything else. Typical Michael, he said to Isabel as they were leaving my apartment one night. Always stirring things up.
In a way, he was right. I was itching to do something. Anything. Anything to get out of my head, where I could still see her backing up, moving for the door…
"Fine," I snapped, shrugging and waving my hands. "Do what you want."
His body relaxed slightly. The discussion was over.
"I'm still working on it this afternoon," I muttered, maneuvering for the last word.
"That can't hurt," He said sarcastically. My eyes narrowed.
"I think Tess is gonna help," I said, sharper than I intended.
He locked eyes with me for a second and his face darkened, neither of us moving. He didn't like to talk about Tess. He didn't even like to hear her name...
"Fine," He said, his lips pressing tight against the word. He turned sharply, moving for the door and shoving it wide open, breaking into a run as soon as his feet hit the sidewalk. I stared after him for a second, wishing I could hit something, wishing for something to alleviate the tension and resentment that bristled between the two of us…
He wouldn't do anything. He wouldn't even admit that anything could happen.
I sighed, putting my hands on my hips. A lot of it was my fault. Hell, most of it. But sometimes I just looked at him and I heard that laugh, heard his voice telling me that I couldn't watch her all the time, that he'd find her just when I thought we were far enough away, when I thought she was safe…
I bit back a laugh. I bet he didn't think I'd look at Max and see him.
I went into the kitchen. Maria'd be here soon to open the restaurant. Her and some new waitress they'd hired.
He showed up at my house the night after Liz left, his eyes filled with panic, his breath short. "She's gone," He said, walking the length of the room and back again. "Liz. She's gone."
I pressed my hands together and stared down at the floor. "Did you hear me?" He demanded. "She's gone. She went to visit some aunt -"
"Max," I said, licking my lips and rising from the couch. "Look -"
"How could she do that? How could she just leave, without - without -"
I took a deep breath. "Maybe it's -" Not deep enough. I tried again. "Maybe it's better, like that." I swallowed hard. "If she's gone."
He stared at me for a second.
"You're not surprised," He said slowly.
I rubbed my hands over my face. "Max -"
"You knew?" He said, his voice sharp. "What, did Maria tell you?"
I pursed my lips. "Something like that," I said slowly.
"And you didn't tell me," He said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You didn't even…"
He turned suddenly, bolting from the room. I called after him but he didn't answer. When I got to the window I caught a glimpse of him running down the street, small splashes of water rising up around him, his arms and legs pumping to drown out the rythym of she's gone, she's gone…
It wouldn't help. But like I said.
He never did listen to me.
A week later, Is was getting worried.
"He gets up when it's still dark and he just disappears," She said anxiously. "He doesn't talk to us. He doesn't eat breakfast. And when he comes back, he doesn't say anything, just goes into his room and works out, and..." Her eyes flickered up to mine and then down again. "I don't even know where he goes," She whispered.
"He's just trying to deal," I mumbled vaguely. "That's all."
"That's not all, Michael," She said, her voice desperate. "He's not talking to me."
I looked over at her. She was biting down on her lip.
"We could always talk," She whispered, her eyes focused on the cup of coffee between her hands.
So I camped outside his house that night and followed him when he left, reporting back to Isabel the next day. "He's just running," I muttered. "He ran past the city limits. Out into the desert. Then he came back."
"The desert?" She asked nervously, her arms folded, pacing in my living room. Just like her brother. "That's all? Are you sure?"
"Yeah," I shrugged, turning away from her. "That's it."
I didn't tell her that he ran to the pod chamber.
I didn't tell her that he slammed his fists against the rock until his hands were ripped and bleeding, that his shoulders shook as he crumpled up on the ground and buried his face in his hands. I didn't tell her about the hollow look in his eyes when he healed the scarred flesh on his knuckles, when he erased the blood on the canyon wall.
I think that was the hardest part to watch.
He wanted to leave the scars. He wanted them to be seen so people would know, so they wouldn't be able to ignore what you were going through, so they'd have to acknowledge that you were in pain, that there was something you had lost …
I understood that.
When he'd healed his fists, he turned around and ran back the way he came, passing close by me. I crouched down closer to the ground behind some rocks and held my breath. I was sure he was going to see me.
I should have known better. He was so focused on getting back he didn't even see me. All I saw in his eyes was hope.
Maybe she's called. Maybe she's back. Maybe she's waiting for me…
"You're positive," Isabel said, her body and voice still tense.
"Yeah," I muttered. "He's fine."
"You're sure," She insisted, not believing me. "You're sure he's okay."
I shrugged and turned back to the grill.
"He's as good as I am," I said.
"Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and gray military vehicles cruise the streets. They knock on every door, asking whether any Jews live there… In the evenings when it's dark, I often see long lines of good, innocent people, accompanied by crying children, walking on and on, ordered about by a handful of men who bully and beat them until they nearly drop.
No one is spared. The sick, the elderly, children, babies and pregnant women - all are marched to their deaths…"
I blinked and looked up from the book, turning it over to stare at the dark-haired, smiling girl on the cover.
"She was so young," I whispered.
My mother looked over at me, her head craning to catch a glimpse of the paperback. "Anne Frank," She asked, a note of concern creeping into her voice. "You're reading Anne Frank?"
I nodded, staring at the girl, trying to understand her life.
She'd brought me the book. She brought me books every time she came to see me.
"Can we talk about Michael?"
"Just tell me something," I said, trying to keep the despair out of my voice. "Please? I mean, do we…"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Look, Liz, all I can tell you is that right now, you need to focus on you. Get your strength back. Your independence. Let yourself recover from everything. Let Michael do the same thing."
There was a silence. I stared up at the night sky. The wind from the ocean lifted my hair around my shoulders and across my face.
"I don't want to forget," I whispered.
I felt her gaze turn from the surf to me.
"You won't," She said simply.
I looked down at my hands, my fingertips tracing the ring. "I just wish I knew how to make things the way they were," I said. "I wish I could talk to Max…"
"You can't," She said, her voice edged with frustration. "You can't, Liz."
I closed my eyes, hugging my arms around me for a minute. I lifted my head and stared out at the ocean.
"I know," I whispered. "I just…"
"Maybe this is something you can't fix," She said slowly.
I looked over at her. I could barely make out her features in the moonlight. "What do you mean?"
Whiteotter took a deep breath and shrugged. "I mean that you spent most of last year fixing things," She said, waving her hands slightly. "Hiding stuff, leaving out things, making sure everyone was okay…"
"What else were we supposed to -"
"I'm not blaming you," She said quickly. "I'm not. I'm just saying that - for the most part - you and Michael found ways to get what you wanted, to make everything alright. Maybe this…" She sighed. "Maybe this is something you can't fix. Maybe you just have to trust it."
I pushed loose strands of hair out of my face and stared at the ocean for a minute. I didn't know if I could entrust my relationship with Michael to -
To what? Fate?
"Faith," Whiteotter said quietly. I looked over at her.
"Not fate. Faith."
I blinked, staring at her, feeling my throat tighten. "I don't know how to do that," I whispered.
She sighed and her head dropped. She stood up from her beach chair and moved over to mine, wrapping her arms around me. We stayed there for over an hour, the two of us staring out at the ocean, watching the waves circle up and back, the same rhythym pounding against the shore...
I focused back on the cover, looking at the young girl staring up at me.
She'd wanted to be a writer. She wanted to be famous, to inspire people to greatness.
And she'd achieved all of that. Not the way she expected. No one would ever want to go through the hell that she had to go through…but she did change the world.
And she was just a girl…
"We're home," my mom said.
I opened the door to my room slowly, setting my suitcase on the threshold. It looked unchanged since I left three months ago...
I shook my head. Three months, I thought. It seemed like forever, but it went so fast…
I still didn't know how I was going to handle this. It was bad enough being separated from him, but to be in the same room with him, to work with him, and not…not be with him, to not even communicate with him…
I didn't know how I was going to do that.
I walked past the bed and let my fingertips touch the window for a moment. My hands rose up and rested on the latch. It was locked. Just like I'd left it…
That doesn't mean anything. He could have opened it. He could have locked it when he left…
I might never know.
I think you just have to trust it. Get your strength back. Your independence…
I turned around. My dad was smiling at me. "Your mom said you guys had a good trip," He said.
"Yeah," I said, smiling and looking down. "We did."
"You look wonderful," He said, his voice bright, moving closer to me. "Is that a new dress?" I nodded.
"Well, it looks great," He said. "I'm glad you're feeling better, honey."
I blinked and looked up at him. He looked so happy. And relieved. He was so worried, I thought, Worried about me…
I licked my lips and felt the smile broaden a little. "Thanks, dad," I said, reaching up to hug him. His arms wrapped around me and he pulled me close to him.
"I'm glad you're back," He said. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too," I said, pressing my lips together. I felt like I was going to cry again.
This time, it didn't bother me.
He pulled back from the hug and smiled down at me. "Want to have a cherry coke with your old Dad?" He asked. "My treat."
I blinked. He looked so happy...
"Sure," I said finally. "Sure. I'll be there in a sec."
He smiled, nodding a little, leaving my room and closing the door behind him. I took a breath and sat down on the bed, letting my palms cover my hands.
Michael was down there. I could feel it. He was in the kitchen…
My hands dropped to the quilt next to me and I looked into the full-length mirror. He was right. I did look different.
Not just on the outside, although that had changed, too. Mom had taken me to this hairdresser and bought me a lot of new clothes… stuff that was a little more sexy than I usually wore, stuff that was more grown-up. I think she thought that might make me feel better. Shopping. Michael would have rolled his eyes and called it ridiculous. Probably would've made some comment about estrogen and shopping malls.
I frowned. I was still thinking about him. Three months nowhere near him, and I was still thinking about him just as much…
Maybe it would work itself out. Over time.
Maybe that was what faith was, I thought. Doing what you could, and hoping for the best…
I let my feet swing back and forth for a minute. I looked over to the window and took a deep breath, rising up from the bed and crossing over to it. The latch turned easily under my fingers. I lifted the lower panel of glass and paused, watching the curtains billow out with the draft, breathing in the warm air.
I was home. Finally.
I closed the door behind me as I left.
"You didn't return my message," Maria accused, her hand on her hip.
"I know," I said, putting a burger under the heating lamp. "Order up."
"Michael. You can't keep ignoring this. You have to talk to me at some point -"
"Fine," I muttered, glaring at her. "Sometime. Not now."
"What's your problem, Michael?" She demanded. "You're even more grouchy than usual, if that's even possible."
"It's nothing," I muttered, turning back to the kitchen. "I gotta check the fries."
"You know, fine," She said behind me. "Don't tell me. But don't come crying to me when you…oh, my God!"
"What?" I said, turning around. "What's -"
She was squealing, jumping up and down and holding on to someone -
"Oh my God, you're back! Oh my God," She said, pushing Liz back and holding her at arm's length. "Liz! You look amazing! What have you done to your hair, it's incredible -"
Liz grinned at her. "Me? What about you? When did this happen," She laughed, her fingers touching Maria's long, blond hair.
"Long story," Maria said confidentially, waving her hands. "Isabel and I were commiserating about men," She said, tossing a glare in my direction, "And I mentioned that blondes must have more success than I was, and she didn't agree, but she said she could help, so…"
God, she was beautiful.
I thought I missed her. I mean, I thought I knew it, that I felt it when I woke up, when I walked through the door to this place, when I passed by the fire escape to her room, but now that she was here, in front of me, it just…
I felt it all over again, the way I felt when I looked at her, the look on her face when I gave her the ring…
The ring. My eyes flickered to her hand. The one touching Maria's hair. She was wearing it.
My heart sped up. She was wearing it.
Maria was talking a mile a minute, something about Max, something about classes and Kyle and Tess and I didn't hear a word of it.
"…okay, that family is gonna kill me if I don't get their order," Maria finished, reaching for the plate I'd just put up. She paused and stared at Liz. "Do not move. I'll be right back."
"Okay," Liz said, smiling a little. Maria disappeared into the restaurant and Liz looked over at me.
"Hi," She said shyly. I swallowed. Just standing there, staring at her.
Say something, you idiot. Say something. Say something -
"Hi," I mumbled.
Her eyes flickered down. "I was, uhm -I was gonna have a cherry coke with my Dad," She said, looking around the room. "Have you seen him?"
I blinked. "He's at the counter," I said, pointing. "To your left."
She looked left and smiled. "Oh! Right," She said, waving a little. "Thanks."
I nodded. My mouth was dry. "Sure."
"Uhm - how are you?" She asked.
I pursed my lips. "I'm okay," I mumbled. "You?"
"Oh, I'm - I'm okay," She said, nodding. "Did, uhm - are you and Max..."
"Yeah," I interrupted suddenly. I didn't want to talk about Max.
She looked up. "That's - that's good," She said, surprise coloring her voice. "So he's, uhm... he's better?"
I blinked, staring at her. She looked hopeful. I opened my mouth to say something...
Maybe I'd just try to find Liz. In an alley. Or when you're off working, trying to pay the bills -
I pressed my lips together and nodded at the dining area. "I think Maria can probably fill you in," I said, my voice tight.
A shadow flickered across her face and her smile faded. "Oh," She said quietly. "Okay."
"I better get back," I muttered, turning back to the grill, looking for something to do. Something to break. Walk away. Just walk away…
There was a pause.
"I'll talk to you later," She said softly, and I heard her footsteps fade into the white noise of the restaurant. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe.
"Where is she?" Maria demanded behind me. "I swear, she comes back after the entire summer, and then she just disappears..."
I'll find you again if it takes a hundred years. Or maybe I'll just find Liz...
I opened my eyes, staring at the grill in front of me. I grabbed the apron around my waist, untying the knot and ripping it off, throwing it on the counter as I moved for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm on break," I snapped, pushing the door open and taking a deep breath. My hands came up to my hips and I paced in the alley, staring down to the street and then back at the door to the kitchen.
You can do this, Guerin.
You have to.
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|