"Careful," Valenti muttered as we opened the back doors of the patrol car.
I watched my fingers reach out and clutch the heavy black fabric, my hands closing into fists and hefting the weight up, off the floor of the car. Max pulled with me from the other side. Valenti stood close to the car as walked it out, catching the end in his hands, falling into step with us as we moved across the canyon floor, under the open expanse of the night sky. Our footsteps were the only sounds in the canyon.
I felt the contents shift and settle and tried to remember to breathe.
"You alright?" Max asked quietly.
I blinked, focusing on the final steps in front of us. He didn't press me for an answer.
We stopped next to the stack of wood, our hands lowering and then releasing the black fabric. I stepped back, my hands open. I clenched and flexed them again.
I wasn't carrying it anymore, but I could still feel the weight in my hands.
Valenti moved around quickly, kneeling close to the ground, his hand settling on the silver tab at the top. He looked up at me. "You might want to -"
"I'm alright," I interrupted quickly, my voice tight. There was a lot of dust around us.
Soon there'd be some more.
He stared at me for a second and then nodded, turning back to silver tab and pulling it down in one fluid motion.
Pierce stared up at us.
"Damnit," Valenti snapped in a low voice, his hands moving quickly over the eyes. "They used to use pennies to hold them down -"
I turned around, staring out at the horizon. The sun had gone down hours ago. The stars were coming out.
I raised my head and stared at the glimmering pinpoints I'd memorized over the years. They looked exactly the same.
One, I counted. Two. Three. Four -
"Michael," Max said behind me. I turned around. His hand was out.
"The lighter," He said quietly.
I blinked at him for a second, fighting the nausea in my throat. My hands fumbled through the contents of my pockets, closing around the lighter and handing it to him. He stared at it, the metal top glinting in his palm, then stared up at me before turning and moving back to Valenti.
I took a deep breath of air and looked up at the stars. Then I moved to join them by the funeral pyre. You could dress it up a lot of ways - call it the best way to destroy the evidence - but that's really what it was.
We were his pallbearers, I thought, staring down at his body.
We stood there for hours, watching his skin turn grey, then black, his eyes open and staring up at the sky, watching tiny scales and flakes of his skin taking flight into the air like inverted snowflakes, drifting onto the canyon floor, going into our lungs, until all that was left was bone.
We buried him in silence, the sounds of our shovels echoing across the canyon, until Valenti told us it was deep enough.
He said it three times before I heard him.
We filled in the hole, and then we drove home.
I opened the car door and started to get out when Valenti stopped me. "Michael -"
"Yeah," I muttered, not turning around.
There was a pause and then I heard him sigh. He shifted the car into park. "I didn't -" He paused again. "I didn't thank you, Michael."
I stared out at the street and swallowed.
"You may have killed Pierce, but you did it to save me and everyone else," He said slowly. "It was self-defense, Michael."
I closed my eyes and looked down at my hands.
It wasn't self-defense.
I made the decision.
Yes, you sonofabitch. Yes -
"Yeah," I said, my voice breaking through the memory, clearing my vision. "That makes it alright."
I heard him take a deep breath.
"No, Michael," He said slowly. "That makes you alive. You and the people you care about. Instead of him."
I blinked. My hand came up to my face, rubbing my eyes.
"Pierce wouldn't have thought twice about killing you," Valenti said.
My hand dropped to the door handle and I stared out the window for a second before getting out.
"I know," I said, looking at him as I shut the door. "And neither did I."
I was sitting on the window ledge, one leg out on the rooftop, one leg dangling in my room.
Come back and free us -
It was a clear night. The stars were so close. Even here in the city, with all the lights, they were close enough to touch...
I just didn't know how important it was -
There were thousands of them. Millions. All of them surrounded by toxic gases and vapors, atmospheres that my body could never tolerate, air that would choke and drown me in poisons if I opened my mouth to take a breath -
My daughter, and the man you were betrothed to -
Maria's voice rose up in my ears again. What does that mean, what are you saying, Liz, what are you saying, Liz -
My lower lip trembled. I pulled the quilt tight around my shoulders and closed my eyes, feeling the tears slipping over my eyelashes, driving the same tracks down my face. I was sick of crying. I was so. Sick. Of crying. I wished I could just stop...
He'd watched me leave, crying and scrambling over the dust and rocks. He didn't stop me. He didn't communicate with me, then or since.
I just didn't know how important it was -
Was it more important than me?
It was a stupid question. It was a stupid question. Of course it was more important than me, it was his home, it was his everything, everything he'd ever been looking for -
The man you were betrothed to -
The knock was soft against my door. I opened my eyes, my hands brushing over my cheeks quickly.
"Come in," I said quietly. My voice was hoarse, from the walk back and from the crying. My mom opened the door slowly, carrying a bowl of chicken soup out in front of her, walking gingerly so she wouldn't spill it.
"How are you feeling?" She asked quietly.
Terrible. Horrible. Like my heart's being ripped out -
"Fine," I whispered. "I'm not really hungry, Mom."
"Liz, you have to eat something -"
I didn't answer, turning again to look up at the stars. I heard her sigh, moving closer to me. "Maria looked pretty upset when she left."
I nodded, biting down on my lip and looking down at the quilt. "Yeah," I whispered, my voice thin and ragged. "She was."
"Honey, maybe -" She cleared her throat. "Maybe you should come down to Florida with me."
I closed my eyes and shook my head.
"Liz," She said, her voice more urgent, "This isn't healthy. You know that. He's calling all the time -"
I looked at her quickly. "Who," I breathed. "Who's calling -"
"Well - Max," She said, blinking. "He called last night, he called this morning -"
"I don't want to talk to him," I said quickly, feeling the despair spreading through my body. For a second, I thought it could have been Michael. It could have been -
"Okay," She said quietly, coming closer to me. "You don't have to. Do you want to talk about what -"
I shook my head, watching the stars blur and pool together, the individual pinpoints of light drowning in the black blur of empty space.
"Okay," She whispered, her hands settling on me gently, one on my shoulder, the other moving softly across my hair.
It was such a simple gesture. She was just stroking my hair.
"Mom," I whispered, the word choking my throat, turning around to her, feeling her arms circle me gently, pulling me close to the soft, reassuring warmth of her.
"It's okay," She whispered firmly as I cried against the soft cloth of her robe, her voice strained and determined.
"You're home now. You're okay."
I glared at the contents of my refrigerator. The baking soda Is insisted on bringing over. A caked-shut bottle of tobasco. An almost-empty jug of old milk.
You're nothing. You're a waste -
I shut the door harder than I intended, cringing a little at the slam. Easy, Guerin. Easy -
I looked around the apartment. A torn-up couch. The only table covered with pages and sketchpads. A rusty old compass I'd lifted from a local hardware store so I could try and find some correlation between the symbols -
This is your house, I thought. This is what the house of a murderer looks like.
I shouldn't be surprised that it was mine.
There was nothing in it.
I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. I felt sick to my stomach.
I didn't want to be here anymore.
I grabbed my jacket on the way out and slammed the door behind me.
I pressed my hand against the door, my hand glowing briefly against the metal. I heard the click of the lock and pushed it open.
It was dark inside. No one around. Why would they be, Guerin?
I stood at the top of the stairs, looking at the floor below. My eyes drifted to the metal shelves inside the room.
I know you didn't mean to kill him -
That's just it. I wanted to kill him. I mean, that's all that I could think about.
I. Wanted. Him. Dead. And knowing that, I just did it.
What kind of person does that make me?
I closed my eyes and tried to breathe, my head dropping. I rubbed my eyes.
It's never been safe. What difference does it -
No. No, I'm not safe.
I don't want you to be around for what's going to happen -
I opened my eyes, staring at the bottom of the stairwell, the last place I'd seen Maria. I told her I didn't want her to go through this, that I didn't want to put her in danger, that I didn't want what happened to Pierce to -
I bit down on my lip. My eyes were itching to look at where he'd been sitting when I lashed out.
Call it what it is, Guerin.
Where you killed him.
I tasted blood in my mouth. My hands dropped to my hips.
Is that what we are now? Monsters?
No, Guerin. Just you.
I took a breath and then a step forward, walking down the stairs, my feet taking me back to the exact spot where I'd shot his body back in that arc - Was it here? No, a few steps over, I think it was here - staring up at the wall where his body had hit, blinking when I noticed the wall was dented slightly, flakes of paint peeling off -
We were his pallbearers, I thought, staring down at his body, watching his skin blacken and crisp, the flakes of skin floating up like inverted snowflakes -
It was self-defense, Michael.
No. It wasn't.
"Damnit," I whispered, my voice constricted like a snake in my throat. The sound of my voice echoed faintly in the cavernous room.
I stood there as long as I could, staring up at the cracked plaster, the chipped paint hanging perilously by its edges, swaying slightly and trying to swallow past the disgust in my throat, trying to understand who he was, who I was, what I had done.
I wanted him to die. I wanted to kill him.
And then I did.
What did that make me?
You know the answer to that, Guerin.
The cracks faded and blurred together, making the wall look whole again. Complete. Undamaged. Every time I blinked, the cracks resurfaced.
They'd never go away. No one would ever fix them. The damage was too high up, too faint to be noticed with the human eye.
No one would ever know it was there.
No one except me.
Mom had left my room over an hour ago. She was probably fast asleep. Her and everyone else in Roswell.
I sat at my desk, staring out the window as if I could wish Michael into existence on the rooftop, the reflection of his ring glinting silver as he pulled himself up the fire escape, the determination in his walk to the window...
I let the fantasy evaporate before my eyes and focused on the rooftop.
I shut my eyes. Maybe he wasn't coming. Maybe he was never coming back -
I turned away from the window and stared at the clutter on my desk, all of it covered in a thin layer of dust. Books. Papers. SAT prep tests.
What did any of it matter?
My eyes fell on a small wooden carving on top of the desk, nestled in a dark silk chain. My breath caught.
It was a pendant Grandma Claudia gave me years ago.
I felt a thin silver of cold slide down the back of my throat. I wish I could talk to you, Grandma, I thought, I really wish I could talk to you right now...
Follow your heart wherever it takes you. Trust it.
Will you do that?
I worked my hand out from under the blanket, reaching out for the pendant, my fingers circling the wood rubbed smooth under years of fingertips...
It was a circle-shaped pendant, the length of my thumb. A figure-eight symbol, horizontally aligned, was carved into the center. The eternity symbol.
She carved it out of a tree we'd planted together when I was little, too young to really help. She always smiled when she told me how I'd followed her when she was carrying water to it, her arms carrying full buckets of water and me walking carefully behind her, my little cup held gingerly in my hands, walking slowly so I wouldn't spill the water that threatened to slosh over the top...
"Ohhh, grandma," I said, staring down at the pendant. "It's beautiful."
"You like it?" She asked, beaming. "I carved it from that tree we planted."
I looked over at her, my hands raising the thin silk necklace to my neck. "The one in the park?" I asked.
"Yup," She said, nodding. "The Ash tree. Here, let me help you with that," She said, reaching to help me put it on. I turned around and lifted up my hair.
"It's the only one in the park, isn't it?" I asked.
"Hmm? Oh. Yes. It's not native to this area, really. It's done well, though. There," She said, her hands moving away from my shoulders. "Turn around, let me see -"
"I like it," I said, smiling, my fingers tracing the eternity symbol. "It's beautiful."
"Good," She said, smiling. "The Norwegians would have been proud."
I blinked and then laughed at her. "Norwegians," I said. "What difference would it make to -"
"That's a very special tree," She said, smiling and moving closer to me. She paused for a minute.
"Do you, ah - do you remember that summer when I went to Europe?"
I nodded, my fingers still on the pendant. "Yeah. You were - you were studying Vikings, or something like that."
"Well, yes, I was studying their mythology," She said, nodding. "I was thinking about a career change from archeology."
I blinked, surprised. "But you love archeology," I said.
"That's true," She said. "I do. But the reason I love archeology is that it helps me to understand the past, what people thought and what they thought was important. There's a lot of wisdom in those cultures. And part of understanding a culture is looking at what they believed, their faith. Their mythology."
I looked back at the pendant. "I never really thought of it that way," I said slowly. "I thought they were just... you know..."
"Stories?" She asked, smiling. "Well, you could see it that way, but why did they have those stories? What did the stories give them?" She nodded her head at the pendant. "People believe in things for a reason. Maybe there's truth in the things they believed. Who are we to say?"
I licked my lips. "So you - you were studying their mythology," I said.
She nodded. "Yep. And that tree, that type of tree is crucial to who they were as a people. It was kind of surprising to realize that so many of their ideas were very similar to some native american tribes."
She smiled. "They had a high respect for nature," She said. "I suppose that's easy to develop when you're living by the ocean and hundreds of men go lost in battle every year. But that," She said, pointing to the pendant, "That's the most important thing."
I frowned and smiled at the same time. "A tree? That's the most important thing?"
"It's not just any tree, dear," She said quietly. "It's the tree of life."
I blinked. "The tree of - what?"
"The Norsemen believed that our world was just one of many," She said, her hands waving. "They believed that all worlds - nine of them, to be exact - existed in the branches and trunk and roots of a giant tree, the tree of life. They called it Yggdrasil."
"Yggdrasil," She repeated, nudging me playfully. "It's the tree that connects all worlds. It's the universe, really, filled with magic. It connects the heavens, the earth, the underworld... everything."
I looked down at the pendant in my hands, at the eternity symbol carved into its center.
"Some of the Celts believed that the ash tree was a symbol of a shaman's willpower," She continued. "And with many tribes, the seeds were often used in love divination - finding out who your husband would be, for example, or if your love was requited. All sorts of things.
There's a folk story in Norway about two lovers who were never a couple in life - they didn't act upon their feelings toward each other - but upon their deaths, they were buried close to each other, and an Ash tree was planted on each grave. As the trees grew to the same height the branches inclined and became entwined.
"Everything from that tree, from the ash tree, it's - larger than life. It's unique. Special.
It's magic, Liz."
I looked up at her. "So this pendant is -"
"Magic," She said, smiling at me. "Of course."
"Grandma," I said, tilting my head. "You know I don't believe in that stuff."
She sighed and waved her hands. "I know. I know. Science is the modern mythology," She said, shaking her head. "Don't get me wrong, Liz, without science I wouldn't have a career in archeology. It's an important field, and our world would be very different without it.
"But it's also a different world without this," She said, touching the pendant. "Without magic. Magic gives people hope. It gives them meaning. It connects them to the world, and to each other."
"And magic is just as important as science, Liz."
I looked at her closely. "You don't believe in that stuff," I said slowly.
She shrugged. "I've seen a lot of things, Liz," She said, smiling and leaning back against the couch. "Science can't explain all of it."
She folded her arms and looked at me evenly. "Like love," She said. "That's magic. Where's the science in love? Is it pheromones? Is it a mandate of evolution? No. And we wouldn't want it to be. It's just magic."
I smiled and shook my head.
"Don't worry, honey," She said, smiling. "Your time will come."
I blinked, staring at her. "How do you know?" I asked.
She smiled. I rolled my eyes. "Right," I said, shaking my head. "Magic."
I reached out my arms to hug her. "I like it, Grandma," I said. "Thank you."
She wrapped her arms around me, sighing as she hugged me. "So young, and you know so much," She said quietly. I squeezed her tight, and then let go, leaning back against the couch.
"Liz, at some point you're going to have to give that away," She said quietly.
I blinked. "What? Why?"
She shrugged. "Turn it over," She said, a quiet smile hovering at the edges of her lips.
I frowned and turned the pendant over for the first time, my eyes flickering over the faint inscription.
"From now until the end of time," I read aloud. "I am yours, and you are mine."
I looked up at her. "What - who do I give this to?"
She shrugged. "That's up to you, Liz," She said, her eyes locked on me. "You'll eventually pass it on."
I turned the pendant over and back again. "You gave it to me," I said slowly. "Am I supposed to give it to my children? Or my grandchildren?"
She smiled. "Maybe," She said, her hand patting my leg gently. "Maybe someone else. You'll know, honey," She said, pushing herself up off the couch. "You'll know."
I stared at the pendant for a minute.
Magic gives people hope. It gives them meaning. It connects them to each other -
It connected the heavens. And the earth.
I moved my arms quickly, raising the silk chain to my neck, the blanket falling from my shoulders.
Thank you, Grandma. Thank you.
I stared at her through the window, my body pressed against the wall, hidden in the shadows. She hadn't noticed me when I climbed onto the rooftop; she was staring at something in her hands. The quilt the grandmother made for her was wrapped around her shoulders.
I don't know why I came here, I thought, I can't control it, I can't risk her life -
It broke my heart that the pulse, something that personal, that real between the two of us...
It was actually meant to kill someone. I was meant to kill. Programmed for it.
Is that what we are now? Murderers?
No, Guerin, just you -
A sudden sound snapped me out of it. Her window was opening. She stepped through it, climbing out onto the rooftop, moving quickly toward the fire escape - she's looking for me, I thought, she's going to talk to me -
"Liz," I whispered.
She turned around, seeing me for the first time, squinting a little to see me in the shadows. We both stood there for a second, neither of us wanting to be the first move, to break the silence -
And then she was walking toward me quickly, her hands moving up to touch me and I tried to back up but the wall was against me and then her hands were raising my hand, moving it to her lips, her breath soft and deep and warm against my skin, kissing the center of my hand softly before lowering it to her body, just above her heart -
"You didn't mean to," She whispered, her hands lighting softly on my face, her breath warm on my lips. "You didn't mean to."
I blinked and tried to breathe, looking up at the sky, my mouth open, feeling her heartbeat pounding through her skin, trying to explain I did, I meant it, I wanted him to die -
"Michael," She said, her hands moving my face to look at her. "You. Didn't. Know. And you didn't mean to."
I shook my head, trying to look anywhere but at her. "I did," I whispered, my voice ragged against my throat. My hands circled her wrists, trying to pull her arms down, to get her away from me. She wouldn't move, locking her arms in place. "I wanted him to die," I whispered. "I wanted him -"
"Michael," She whispered, shaking her head, "If you truly wanted to kill him, you wouldn't be this upset."
I froze, my eyes locked on the stars above us.
I breathed in and frowned, looking back at her. "What -"
"If you really wanted him dead, Michael, you wouldn't be upset," She whispered, shaking her head. "You wouldn't care. You'd be happy about it.
"You were trying to protect us," She whispered, "And you did. You did it the only way you knew how to do it. He never would have stopped coming for us, Michael, he wouldn't have stopped coming after Max, after you, Isabel, me - all of us. And I know you're upset. I know you hate it, but - you saved us, Michael. You saved all of us."
"I'm sorry you killed him," She said, shaking her head. "I'm sorry you have to carry that.
"But I'm not sorry he's dead.
"I saw what he was, what he was capable of doing, when Max kissed me," She said, her voice rising in a quavering pitch. "I can't - I can't tell you how scared he was, Michael, how much it hurt him -"
I stared at her, my mouth slightly open. How did she do that, I wondered, how did she always know what to say to me?
"Shhh," I whispered, pulling her closer to me. She pressed her face against my shirt and it took a moment before I felt the warmth of her tears bleed through my shirt and into my skin.
"It's okay," I whispered, barying my face in her hair, feeling her arms come up, clutching my shoulders. She was shaking. "It's okay," I whispered again.
"I don't want anything like that to ever happen to you," She whispered fiercely, clutching me closer.
"I know," I said quietly. "It won't."
She pulled back, looking up at me. "You won't let it," She said quietly, looking at me. "You wouldn't let it happen."
I stared back at her and shook my head. She smiled weakly and bit down on her lip, nodding. "Good," She whispered. "That's good."
Her hands left me, going behind her neck, each hand coming back into view with a thin, black strap. She was taking off some - jewelry, or something. She raised her hands, lifting a necklace out from behind her shirt. She let it settle in her hands before holding it out to me.
"This is for you," She whispered. "Take it."
I stared at her, then at the pendant in her hand. It looked like a small piece of wood.
"It's yours," She whispered. "Take it."
I picked it up, staring at the wooden pendant on the thin strand of black silk. "What is it?"
"It's a talisman," She whispered. "It's something you give to the person you love."
I explained about Grandma Claudia, about the Ash tree we'd planted and what she'd said when she gave me the pendant.
"So she gave this to you," He said slowly. "She made this for you."
"She gave it to me to give away to someone else," I whispered, staring at the pendant. "Someday you'll give it away, too."
"Liz. I'm never gonna give this away," He said, staring at the pendant. "No one's ever given me anything."
I stared at him for a second before that sunk in. No one's ever given me anything -
"Michael," I said slowly. "When's your birthday?"
He shrugged. "Don't know," He muttered, turning the necklace over in his fingers.
"No, I mean -" I licked my lips. "I mean, when do you celebrate your birthday?"
He paused, staring at the necklace in his hands.
His eyes closed briefly and then he looked up at me wordlessly.
I stared at him, my mouth open, shaking my head.
"Nothing?" I whispered. "Nobody ever -"
He blinked and held up the necklace, the pendant swaying.
"I wouldn't say 'ever'," He said, smiling weakly.
I hugged him tight, my arms circling his body and crushing him to me, wishing I could hug him until he knew what it was like to feel loved all the time, to have a home, to have a family -
My daughter, the man you were betrothed to -
I stepped back.
"What," He whispered, this voice thick, arms reaching out for me, trying to pull me back to him. "What -"
"What about her," I asked, stepping out of his reach, my heart pounding. It didn't matter what he said. I still loved him. I'd always love him -
I blinked. Who? "Isabel," I whispered.
He stared at me. "Isa - Liz. Liz, we have been over this. There's nothing between -"
"Michael. She said it. You heard what she said, that - that hologram, their mother, what you were -"
He moved quickly, faster than I expected, his hands gentle on my face and his lips warm against my mouth, kissing me softly, insistently, my breath catching in my throat -
He broke the kiss and looked at me. "I think the key word there is 'were'," He whispered. "I don't. Want. Her."
He stared at me. "I only want you, Liz."
I blinked up at him, trying to breathe, trying to believe him, feeling the sting of tears welling up in my eyes.
"Are you sure," I whispered. "Michael, are you sure you don't -"
"You're my first love," He whispered. "You're my only love. There's never been anyone else. There never will be, Liz. There's only you."
I stared up at him, the two of us unmoving in the moonlight, his touch warm, his eyes absolute and unwavering.
"There will never be anyone like you," He whispered. "I don't care what she said. I love you."
I felt my breath leave my body, my arms sudden clumsy movements, pulling at his shirt, bringing him closer to kiss me.
"I love you," I whispered against his lips as he leaned in to kiss me softly, gently, and I tried to keep control, keep from moaning into his mouth, thinking I need him, God I need him, I'd be lost without him -
"Thank you," He whispered. "For the present."
I shook my head, moving back to kiss him again. He almost laughed and leaned in to kiss me again, his hands sliding into my hair and over my face, tracing soft, gentle swirls over my skin.
"How'd I get this lucky?" He whispered softly against my lips.
He thinks he's lucky, I thought, leaning up to kiss him again, tasting the sweet warmth of his mouth, relief and happiness flooding my body, resisting the urge to laugh.
He was here. With me. I wrapped my arms around him tighter, pulling his as close to me as I could.
Michael Guerin was the best thing that had ever happened to me. He hadn't left me. He never would. My heart was so full, I felt like it would burst.
Grandma Claudia was right, I thought.
Love is magic.
next... (To Trilogy)
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|