The Canon



We were lying on her bed. Something we'd done dozens of times.

But it was different this time.

I was lying flat on my back, my left arm stretched out, underneath her neck. She was curled up. Facing away from me. Looking out the window.

I let out the breath I'd been holding in my lungs, sliding my arm out from under her, my hands covering my face, rubbing my eyes. I whispered her name. She didn't move.

I dropped my hands and rolled over onto my side, propping myself up on my elbow, my body mirroring hers. I draped my arm over her, caressing her arms, her hair that was falling loose over her shoulder.

She'd hardly talked to me since I suggested we try to get to the babe magnet. Her eyes were open, staring at the window, at the night sky that was slipping by so quickly. It'd be dawn soon. And I couldn't be here when that happened -

She was afraid to fall back asleep. I felt like an idiot as soon as I realized it. She'd seen me kissing Isabel in that dream and she didn't want to see it again -

I smoothed her hair back. "Hey," I said. "I won't go to sleep, Liz."

Her eyes flickered slightly to me, and then back to the window.

"Just go to sleep, and I'll follow you," I whispered against her skin. "Alright?"

There was a pause and then she nodded slightly. I wrapped my arms around her, breathing in the scent of her hair and her skin, pulling her closer, feeling the warmth radiate out from each of us into the other's body. She stiffened for a second and then I felt her relax, snuggling back against me. She reached up and took the hand I'd draped over her body, pulling it up and tucking it under her chin, between her hands.

I waited, watching the stars flickering outside her room, trying not to breathe, trying not to think.

After a while, her body relaxed and I heard her breathing deepen, the tell-tale soft rythym that meant she was asleep. I could feel her heartbeat, through her body, echoing through mine, the sound magnified because both beats were the same....

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and tried to relax.

***********************

"Can somebody light the candles, please -"

"Here's some matches -"

"Tissues? Hellooo? Who was supposed to bring the -"

"Oh, wonderful, thank you -"

"Are we late? We didn't think -"

"Alright, everybody scootch over, make room for everyone -"

"I'm so sorry - was that your foot? This isn't -"

"Everybody, calm down. They're almost - wait. Wait-"

"What is it?"

"Something's happening -"

**************************

I opened my eyes. We were in front of the Babe Magnet.

Liz was standing next to me, gripping my hand. She must have waited for me, I thought.

I looked down at her, staring at the door, not looking at me. We'd been able to talk about everything since I'd come back. We didn't talk all the time - there were nights when we just held each other until one of us fell asleep. I was shocked the first time I woke up and she was just smiling at me, saying hi, whispering my name, leaning in to kiss me.

I couldn't remember falling asleep with anyone else before her. I wondered if I'd ever be able to sleep if she was gone -

I blinked, snapping out of it. Where did that come from? Liz wasn't going anywhere.

Why didn't I know what to say to her?

It was just a dream. I could tell her that -

Except every time I'd tried, my throat had closed up.

"Liz," I said gently. "You ready?"

She bit down on her lip and nodded. Her eyes were fixed on the door. I straightened and placed my hand out, pushing the door open.

We walked through together.

*************************

It was more crowded than the last time I was here. About a dozen people were near the bar or sitting at tables.

All of them were looking at us.

The room was dimly lit. Several candles flickered in the room, casting strange shadows on the walls. I narrowed my eyes, looking more closely at them. They looked... different.

I glanced at the wall next to me. A piece of burnt clothing - it looked like a piece of an overcoat, blackened at the edges - was hanging from the wall, and there was a small plaque underneath. I tried to focus on the writing.

It read "Novi, 2000."

I scanned the room. That was where the shadows were coming from. Different objects covered the walls, the plaques under each one creating little flashes of gold.

Someone crossed over to us. I decided I'd ask about the decor later.

"Hey," a young woman said, stopping in front of us. She had dark hair, long like Liz. "I'm Lauren. Let me, uh, get you a table."

"Where's Whiteotter?" I asked, holding Liz's hand tighter.

"She's in a conference," Lauren said, walking us over to a large table. There were seven or eight chairs. "She'll be here in a second."

"Typical," I snorted. Liz sat down at the table. "Never there when you need her."

Lauren looked at Liz. "Can I get you anything? Water? Maybe some tea?"

Liz looked up at her. She looked a little dazed. "No, I'm - I'm fine, thanks."

Lauren nodded and reached out her hand to pat Liz's arm. "Okay," She said, her voice low. "You need anything, you let me know, alright?"

Liz nodded, smiling weakly. Lauren straightened and left us at the table, walking right past me.

"Uh, I'd like some coffee -"

She turned, her eyes flickering up and down over my body. "Get it yourself," She muttered, her voice cold. She turned around and walked away.

My mouth opened and shut again. I dropped my hands. "Well that's great," I snapped at her back. "Very nice."

She didn't turn around or respond. I looked around the room. Everyone was still staring at us.

No, I thought. They're staring at you...

"What?" I snapped at them. A few turned around. I sat down next to Liz. "This is stupid," I muttered. "Whiteotter should be here, she should be helping us -"

"She'll be here, Michael," Liz said quietly, her eyes focused on her hands.

I didn't answer. It was the first thing she'd said to me since we'd come here.

"You alright?" I asked, leaning in to her. "You've been kinda quiet -"

"I'm fine," She interrupted. "Really."

I stared at her. She wasn't fine. It was that stupid dream -

Just tell her it didn't mean anything -

"Okay," I whispered, sitting back and looking around the room. I couldn't tell her that it didn't mean anything.

I'd told her I wouldn't lie to her anymore.

It didn't mean as much as she did, I thought, glancing over at her. Would that make her feel any better?

"Hello, Michael," Someone said behind me. I recognized the voice before I turned in the chair and looked up.

"Hey," I said to Whiteotter, glancing at the three women with her. "'Bout time you showed up."

**************************

"We're glad you came back," Whiteotter said after they all sat down. She was looking at Liz. "I know this is a difficult time for both of you."

I slid my hand into Liz's under the table. Most of the people at the table were glancing at her with worried looks. "How much do you -"

"Let me introduce some people first," Whiteotter interrupted quietly, leaning back. "You know Ivy and Minnie," She said, gesturing to the two women at the end of the table. They both smiled and waved. "Ivy's our top recruiter. Minnie's working on a sister project - not related to the two of you, but we think it helps you to gain followers by association."

Sister project? What was she talking about?

"This is-" She faltered, gesturing to the woman sitting next to her - "Is, uhm - this is -"

"Elizabeth," The woman said quickly, glancing at Liz and then at me.

"Right," Whiteotter said, obviously relieved. "Elizabeth."

I glared at Whiteotter. "Great," I said. "So what's her talent? Everybody else seems to have a jobby-job."

The woman took a quick breath. "I, uh - I finish your sentences," She said, smiling weakly at me.

I blinked. "You what?"

"Michael," Whiteotter interrupted. "Elizabeth has the ability to understand what you want to say instead of what you actually say." She glanced at Liz. "Same for you, Liz."

"Oh, that does it," I said, standing up. "You're telling me she knows what I'm -"

"Going to say? Come on, Liz. Let's go back and make out before the sun comes up,'" Elizabeth said quickly.

I stared down at her. My mouth opened and closed. She almost looked embarrassed.

"What can I say," She said, smiling and shrugging her shoulders. "It's a gift.

" I glared at her. She swallowed and took a deep breath, looking around the table.

"What did - how did you -"

"Michael. Please," Whiteotter said. "Sit down."

I glanced at Liz, still staring at the table, then at the other people at the table. They all looked concerned. Worried.

I sat down.

"Thank you," Ivy said. "So. We all decided to come here because we're sure you have a lot of questions." She looked at Liz. "About the dream."

Liz shut her eyes.

"Look, it - it didn't mean anything," I said, more loudly than I wanted to. "It was just a dream. That's all, it doesn't -"

"It wasn't just a dream," Liz whispered.

I stopped in mid-sentence and looked at her. "What?"

She looked up at me, her lips pressed tight together. "It wasn't just a dream, Michael," She whispered. "I've seen your dreams. They're not - you don't -" Her gaze dropped back to her hand. "They're not like that.

"They're not that real."

I stared at her, my mouth open. "Liz, you can't - you can't think I want that -"

"Do you know what you want, Michael?" She asked, looking up at me again. "I mean, are you sure what you have is what -" Her voice broke off.

I stared at her. She couldn't actually think I -

Why didn't you stop it, Guerin?

I was kissing her stop and I wanted her so much, I didn't want anyone else stop I only wanted Isabel -

"Stop it," I whispered. "Stop."

She looked up at me, her eyes scared. "You had it again, didn't you," She whispered.

I was shaking my head. "Liz - I can't -"

She bolted from the table, shoving her chair back, moving for the door. I reached for her to stop her -

Someone was holding me back. I whipped around. Whiteotter was staring at me. "Let her go, Michael."

I looked back at the direction she'd run. Several women were surrounding her, speaking in low, comforting tones. She was trembling. Crying.

"Let go of me," I growled.

"Michael, right now Liz needs to talk to them," Whiteotter said quietly, not letting go. "Not you."

"That's crazy," I said, twisting my arm out of her reach, turning around to look at her."She doesn't even know them -"

"But they know her," Whiteotter said sharply. "They're telling her what she needs to know."

"And what's that?" I snapped.

"That you love her."

"She knows that," I said.

"She needs a reminder."

"She can get that from -"

"Michael. Think. We can tell her what she needs to hear. That you can't control it. That you don't want it," She said evenly.

"I can control it," I said quickly. "It caught me of guard. I can -"

She was shaking her head. "You can do a lot, Michael, but there's no way out of this. You can't stop the dreams."

"Why not?" I demanded. "What makes you think I can't?"

"Because it's the part you've been looking for," She said, her voice low.

"The alien side of you, Michael. It's waking up."

*********************

"- it's alright, Liz -"

"- it's okay. Let's go over here -"

"- there you go -"

Their hands were gentle, surrounding me, moving me away from Michael and the others, guiding me over to a large, soft chair on the far side of the room. I felt something fall over my shoulders, a soft blanket. Someone whispered something about hot chocolate. Somebody handed me a tissue. I choked out a "Thank you" and brought it up to my face.

I couldn't stop the images of him with her, his hands in her hair, kneeling down to kiss her -

I bit down on my lip and felt the tears flooding back.

*************

I looked back at Liz. There were about five women surrounding her, not saying much, stroking her shoulder, handing her tissues. Someone brought over a cup of something hot, blowing on the surface to cool it before setting it down in front of her. They were speaking to her in low, soft tones, the words fading into nothingness before I could hear them.

Liz wasn't looking at me.

"I should -" I stopped. "I should do something," I said quietly.

"Let them talk to her, Michael," Whiteotter said. "Let them explain. They understand it."

"How?" I asked, turning around to face her. "How do you know? I don't even understand -"

Ivy sighed. "We've told you, Michael. We know a lot of what's going to happen."

"That doesn't answer my question," I said.

"I don't think we're going to answer that question," Minnie said slowly, looking around the table. "At least not tonight."

Whiteotter nodded. "It's more important that we talk about Tess," She said.

I stared at her. "What do you know about her?"

Whiteotter sighed and gestured to Ivy. "You tell him," She said, glancing over at Liz. "I'm too close to it now."

Ivy nodded. "Well, Michael - would you like to sit back down? It's a little hard staring up at you."

I rolled my eyes and sat back down, my body turned out so I could still see Liz. "Talk."

She took a deep breath. "She's indirectly responsible for the dreams," She said slowly.

I cursed and brought my hands up to my face. Max was right. She was doing something to us -

"Michael," She continued, "It's really important that you not jump to conclusions about this. She can't help it."

"Can't help it?" I demanded, my hands dropping, turning to face her. "Can't - are you crazy? You know what she did to Max?"

"Yes," Minnie said, nodding. "We do. And there are people who think it's deliberate, but some of us are thinking that it's not something she can be held accountable for. She's not -" She paused, glancing up at Whiteotter. "It's not what it looks like."

"I don't buy it," I said, leaning back in the chair, running my hands through my hair before looking at them again. "It's Nasedo. Right?"

Ivy glanced at Whiteotter, who was staring over at Liz. "Not exactly -"

"Not exactly?" I snapped, learning forward. "What does that mean?"

"He's in town, yes," Ivy said slowly. "But I wouldn't say he's -"

"And he's the one making us have the dreams," I said. "Right?"

"No," Whiteotter interrupted. "He's not."

I struggled to keep my voice even. "Would someone give me an answer about something -"

"Alright," Minnie said, taking over. "Nasedo's in Roswell. Yes. He's connected to you, Max and Isabel. But he's not the one making you have the dreams."

"But she just said -"

"I know what she said," Minnie snapped. "She said Tess is indirectly causing the dreams. Not directly, Michael."

"She's a messenger," Whiteotter said quietly, looking down at us. "We can't blame her for what's happening."

"A messenger of what?" I demanded. "From where?"

"From your home, Michael," She said. "From your home planet."

******************

"I just - I couldn't stop it," I whispered. "And he - he wouldn't even look at me, I -"

"We know, honey," One of the women said. Lauren. The one who'd taken us over to the table...

She had soft, kind eyes, looking at me sympathetically. "It must have been terrible. But you know, it - it's not Michael's fault."

I didn't say anything.

"Liz - look, I know you don't know any of us, but we're friends," She said, taking my hands in hers. "We want what's best for you. And despite how bad it was - that wasn't Michael. I mean, she - she isn't what he wants."

I bit down on my lip, the images resurfacing, him pulling her closer to her and she was reaching up to him, their mouths open, tasting each other and I couldn't stop it -

"Liz," Lauren said. "Liz. He loves you. You know he loves you."

I wanted to nod, to say of course, I know he does -.

The words died in my throat.

My eyes burned and the room blurred. I felt hands falling softly like snow on my shoulders, the comforting shushing noises whispered through lips, the strange comraderie of women who know when one of their own has been betrayed, blindsided, heartbroken -

"How do you know," I whispered, my voice choked, looking around at them.

"How do you know she's not what he wants?"

**********************

"Nasedo's in town, and he's connected to us," I said. "Is he good? Bad? Did he really kill all those people?"

"It's hard to say whether he's good or bad," Elizabeth said carefully. "We can tell you he thinks he's acting in your best interests."

I sat there, trying to absorb everything they were telling me. Everything they weren't telling me.

Then I realized she hadn't answered my last question.

"So he did kill them," I said slowly, glancing around at them. "All those people..."

Whiteotter sighed and folded her arms.

"Is that what - is that what we do?" I asked, waving my arms. "I mean - is that what I -"

"No, Michael," She said quickly, looking down at me. "You're not here to conquer earth. You're not here to kill humans. You're here to protect them."

My mouth opened and closed. "Wait. We're supposed to protect humans, but he's killing them?"

"He's trying to protect you, Michael. All of you. And I can't say I agree with his methods, or some of the things he's done..." Her voice trailed off and she looked back at Liz.

"Or some of the things he's going to do," She said softly.

"What about the connection breaking," I said quickly. "Was that him?"

The others looked at Whiteotter.

"I can't confirm or deny that yet," She said, looking down.

"Why not," I said dangerously, standing up.

"No good reason, Michael," She said quietly, looking at me evenly. "I just can't."

I snorted a laugh and shook my head. This was ridiculous -

"I can tell you that you shouldn't trust him just because he's trying to protect you," She said, her voice more urgent. "And I can tell you that you shouldn't toss him aside just because he's not who you thought he might be."

I looked up at her. "Is he -" I licked my lips. "Is he my -"

"No, Michael," Elizabeth said gently. I looked at her. Her eyes were warm. And sad. "He's not your father."

Something inside me snapped. I felt my hands warm up. Damnit -

"Where are they," I demanded. "Where are our parents?"

"We don't know," Ivy said quickly. "Michael, we don't know yet, but we're supposed to find out soon -"

"So what can you tell me?" I snapped. "Are you telling me I'm supposed to be with Isabel? Because I won't. I -" My voice broke off. I caught my breath. "You're supposed to help us," I hissed. "So help us. Give me something. Anything. Something I can use -"

"As far as we know, you don't wind up with Isabel," Ivy said evenly. I turned around. "That's up to you, of course... but that hasn't happened, as far as we can see."

"How far is that?" I demanded.

There was a pause. "October," Minnie said, her eyes flickering to Ivy and back to me. "That's how far we can see right now."

"October," I repeated. "Great. Good. Now we're getting somewhere," I muttered, throwing a dark look at Whiteotter. She ignored me.

I sat down. "Back to Nasedo. If he's supposed to protect us, why isn't he saying anything?"

"Good question," Whiteotter muttered, looking to the side.

"Whiteotter -" Ivy started.

"Well it is," Whiteotter said, turning around. "It's a perfectly logical question. We don't even know that much about him, Michael. They keep a lot about him in the dark. And just when we thought we'd learn more..." Her voice trailed off. She folded her arms, looking back at Liz.

"I know it's a loophole," She muttered. "But still."

"Who's 'they'?" I asked.

The table fell silent. I could feel each of them looking at Whiteotter. She looked at me for a second, like she was trying to decide something.

"Hey, Red?" She called out, her eyes still on me.

"Yeah?" Someone on the other end of the room replied. I glanced behind me. It was the bartender.

"Could you bring up the canon?"

There was a pause. "The canon?"

Whiteotter nodded. "Yeah. Up to Crazy."

What the hell -

"Okay," Red called back, her voice cautious. "You sure?"

"Yeah," Whiteotter said, looking at me. "I'm tired of messing around. Let's get to it."

**********************

"Liz, it's hard to explain," Lauren was saying. "Just trust us on this."

"I want to," I whispered. "But how do you know -"

There was a series of clicking sounds behind me, like switches being thrown. Lights all around the room came up.

I blinked, my eyes shutting tight against the light that flooded the room. For the first time, I could make out the different objects on the wall. A blindfold was framed on the wall across from me. The fabric looked like it had some writing on it. I narrowed my eyes and tried to make out the script -

'Dreamer'. That was weird. My eyes flickered down to the tiny plaque just beneath it.

"Chamaelirium," I mumbled. "October 2000."

Someone said my name behind me. I turned around.

"Come on," Minnie said. "It's time for you to see this."

************************

The long wall was lit by several bright lights on the ceiling. Only half of the wall was lit up, the left side. The right side of the wall was shrouded in darkness.

I stood up from my chair and stepped towards the wall. It looked like - columns. At the top of each column was a large, red square with black writing on it. I tried to focus -

Leaving Normal. Missing. Monsters -

I felt Liz move next to me, staring up at the wall. She took my hand in hers.

"What is this," I whispered, looking at the wall. Small scraps of paper ran down the middle of each column.

Ivy moved next to me. "It's what we know about you, Michael," She said quietly. "It's everything that's happened... and some of what's going to happen."

I stepped closer to the wall and watched my hand reach out to take one of the pieces of paper. It made a ripping noise as it tore away from the thumbtack. The writing was in longhand, dark blue ink scarring the white paper. It was dog-eared and soft from being handled so many times. Liz leaned in to read it with me.

.I just thought I should tell you.
M: Thanks.
L: Sure.
M: Listen, if Hank insulted you or anything...
L: Oh no, no.
M: You kind of have to ignore him.

I stared up at the top of the column, at the red square at the top. Morning After.

"What the hell," I whispered, staring at the wall.

Hundreds of scraps of paper, different sizes, different colors, different handwriting on each of them. Thousands of them. In column after column. About our lives.

Every word of what we'd said, what we'd thought -

"Not every word," Someone said, standing next to Ivy. I glanced over at Elizabeth.

"We don't know everything, Michael," She explained. "We only know some of the st - of what happened. We often don't know what you think, or Liz, or any of the others, unless you verbalize it. Unless you say it out loud," She shrugged. "There are exceptions, but for the most part, we only know some of what you've done."

Only some of it. They knew I was alien. They knew about me and Liz.

They knew everything.

Someone tugged at the scrap in my hand.

Whiteotter was holding on to the edge, gently but firmly taking it out of my hand and crossing over to the wall, taking the thumbtack out and attaching the paper to the wall again.

I stared at her as she came back, walking past me, pausing and glancing back at the columns, the scraps of paper fluttering slightly.

"Told you," She whispered. She glanced over at Liz for a second and then continued past us.

Liz gripped my hand tighter. "Michael," She whispered. "This is impossible -"

Nothing is impossible -

I looked down at her. "It'll be okay," I whispered. She stared at me for a second, then nodded. I glanced back at Whiteotter and we both turned around. She was pouring herself a beer.

"If it makes you feel any better," She said, lifting the glass, "I'm sure there's someone from an alternate reality looking over my life. It's very Being John Malkovich."

"Never saw it," I muttered.

"Ah," She said shrugging. "Well. I'm sure you didn't see the Matrix, either, so I'll drop the line about the rabbit hole going deeper than we thought." She sat down and gestured for us to join her. "Let's talk about Tess," She said, taking a gulp of her beer. "Shall we?"

"You're not gonna get drunk again," I said, my voice tense. "Are you?"

She laughed. "No, Michael. Not tonight." She waved at the bartender - Red - and she shut the lights off. The darkness settled back around us.

I took a deep breath and looked down at Liz.

"So I guess they're right," She whispered, looking up at me. She smiled.

I smiled back and squeezed her hand.

Then we walked back to the table.

*********************

"So the thing about Tess is that she's not really dangerous," Ivy said. "Well, not really -"

"You're prejudiced," Whiteotter muttered, shaking her head and taking another sip of her glass. "She's not some helpless innocent. She's got an agenda -"

"Well, yeah, but when you look at the larger picture, you can't really blame her for -"

I closed my eyes. All this talk about Tess was giving me a headache.

"They don't have the larger picture," Whiteotter said. I knew she was gesturing at us. "We can't rush the timeline."

"Are the dreams over?" I asked. My voice sounded small.

There was a silence.

"Almost, Liz," Someone said. Finally. I felt someone's hand over mine. I looked up at Elizabeth. She was smiling encouragingly. "One more. Only one more."

I took a deep breath. One more. Michael gripped my hand tighter.

"Liz, I swear to you, Michael can't control it," Whiteotter said. "He can't help it -"

"I believe you," I said quietly.

I could feel them all staring at me. I looked up at Michael. He was staring at me.

"Liz," He whispered. "I didn't - I don't want her," He said.

I smiled weakly.

{I know.}

A collective sigh went up from the table.

"Well thank goodness," The bartender said, appearing with a round of drinks. "That's the whole point of this -"

"Thankyou, Red," Whiteotter said quickly, taking some of the drinks off her tray and passing them around. "Vanilla cokes for everybody. Sans arsenic."

"I have a question," Michael said.

The room tensed. Everyone at the table looked at him.

"What's with the walls?" He said, picking up his vanilla coke and nodding at the far wall.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. They all started talking at once.

"Oh -"

"That! Well, that's just -"

"Tokens."

"Talismans, really."

"Gifts, of a sort."

"When people join us - when they decide to become Polarists - some of them bring a talisman," Red said. She pointed at the far wall. "See the shoes?" She asked, leaning in to me. "Those are mine."

I squinted, trying to follow her gaze. A pair of sneakers, the laces tied together, hung on the wall.

"Sneakers," I said, smiling a little. "That's nice."

Red beamed. "You want anything else? Pretzels? Chex mix?"

"No," Michael said, standing up. "We've got to get back."

I stood up. "Thanks anyway," I whispered to Red. She smiled.

"Wait," Whiteotter said, getting up from the table. "There's one other thing. You have to meet Em."

Michael took a deep breath and rolled his eyes. "We should really get -"

"Just you, Michael," Whiteotter said, coming to stand next to us. "It'll be as quick as you want."

He glanced at me. I smiled and nodded.

"Fine," He said. "Let's just hurry it up -"

"So I can snuggle with my Lizzy-Wizzy before the sun comes up," Elizabeth said.

Michael's jaw fell. I burst out laughing. So did the rest of the room.

"That's not what I - I didn't -"

"Come on, Michael," Whiteotter grinned, taking him to the far side of the room. "Far be it from me to encroach on snuggle time."

I watched them leave, smiling, then sat down at the table. I sighed. "He's really a good guy," I said.

"My Mikey-schnooky-wookums," Elizabeth said quickly. The whole table erupted in cheers and laughter. When I got over the shock, I started laughing too.

"Wait, I've got a joke," Lauren said. "How many aliens does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

***********************

She was sitting at a table in the back, reading a book. A small wooden box was placed in front of her. Behind me, the table with Liz was laughing like crazy.

"Women," I muttered half-heartedly.

"This is Em," Whiteotter said, standing in front of the table. "Em, this is Michael."

"Pleasure to meet you," She said, putting the book down on the table and smiling.

"Uh. Thanks," I said, shoving my hands in my pockets and resisting the urge to look back at Liz.

Whiteotter shook her head and laughed. "He's all yours, Em," She said, waving her hands and walking away.

That wasn't what I expected. I looked at Em. "So we're kinda in a hurry -"

"That's okay," She said, still smiling. She reached for the box on the table, opening it and pulling out a white silk pouch secured with purple ribbon. She tugged at the strings, opening the pouch, and pulled out a small rectangular square, wrapped in white silk.

"Uh - listen, I should probably get back -"

She was turning the square over in her hands, the white silk peeling off in her hands. She spread the silk out evenly on the table and held what was left in her hands up for me to see.

A deck of cards. Larger and longer than the cards I'd seen over at the Evans' house -

My eyes narrowed. "We're supposed to play a game?"

She smiled and shook her head. "No, Michael. I'm giving you a reading." She began shuffling the cards.

"A what?"

"A reading," She repeated, still shuffling. "A tarot reading. Think of a question."

I pursed my lips.

"What am I thinking does not count as a question, Michael," She said. "Please sit down."

"I should really -"

"Whiteotter brought you over here for a reason, Michael," She said quietly. "I thought you wanted this to go quickly?"

I stared at her for a second. "Fine," I said, pulling the chair out and sitting across from her.

"So think of a question."

"I don't have a question," I snapped.

She sighed. "My arms are going to cramp soon, Michael. Just one question. You must want to know something."

"You know I don't believe in this," I said, pursing my lips. "It's a crock."

"Right," She said. "Then it doesn't matter if you play along, does it? And What underwear am I wearing doesn't count, either," She said, rolling her eyes. "Please. An actual question, Michael."

There was a pause. She kept shuffling.

"No one's ever answered my questions," I said slowly.

She looked up at me.

"Well, then now's a good time to start," She said evenly. "Isn't it?"

I stared at her for a minute. Then I sighed, dropping my arms and setting them down on the table. "Fine," I said. "How about -"

"Don't tell me, Michael," She said quickly. "You're not supposed to tell me."

"Sorry," I muttered. "Sorrysorry."

"Right," She said, looking at me, the cards still moving quickly. "Now focus just on that question."

I took a deep breath and formed it in my mind, trying to let everything else drop out of my head. It was - calming, kind of. It was easier to focus on one thing than all the craziness going on -

She stopped shuffling and spread the cards out on the table in a fan.

"Pick one," She said.

I looked at all of them, finally reaching out and tapping one. She removed it from the fan of cards and set it to the side. She scooped up the cards and handed the deck to me. "Your turn," She said, smiling.

I took the deck, fumbling with the cards, trying not to spill them or look like an idiot.

"Keep your question in your mind," She said quietly.

I closed my eyes, trying to focus. Might as well try it...

I felt my hands warming and I let them separate, an inch or two at first and then wider, as far apart as my shoulders, letting the cards fly back and forth between my hands, each of them millimeters from hitting each other and crashing to the floor.

"Nice," She murmured. I looked up. She was smiling. "Never seen that before."

"Thanks," I mumbled, grinning a little bit.

"Can I have them back now?"

"Oh - yeah," I muttered, moving my hands back together slowly. The cards slowed their pace, settling against one hand or another, then into each other as I brought my hands back together. I felt my hands start to cool and handed the deck back to her.

"Alrighty," She said. "Here we go."


next...

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