I was flipping burgers as fast as I could. Didn't people have home-cooked meals anymore?

"How many light-years away is my Eclipse Burger?" Maria asked, her hands on her hips.

"Depends how they feel about raw," I snapped.

"Michael, I put that order in 10 minutes ago -"

"Well, you can't rush an Eclipse."

Liz walked over. "Hey, I need that Chili Rocket Dog -"

"I got a lot on my mind," I snapped. Her eyes flickered and she looked down. I immediately regretted it.

Why did she go to Max? We were supposed to trust each other.

"Here, give 'em an order of Saturn Rings while they're waiting," I said, tossing the food on the counter. "That'll shut 'em up."

"Typical," Maria snorted.


"Your reaction. You can't deliver to a customer what they want, so you substitute it with an inferior item just to get them off your back."

I glanced over at Liz.

You can't deliver what you want -

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, Michael, that I'm not gonna settle for the Saturn Rings anymore. If you want me, you have to earn me," She said, shrugging her shoulders. "That's how a relationship works."

I almost laughed out loud. Typical Maria. I cared about her, but she took Cosmo way too seriously.

"That's how Boy Scout merit badges work, Maria," I said.

"Hey, have you guys noticed that there's a restaurant full of people waiting for actual food?" Liz asked, looking at me.

She hadn't tried communicating with me since I told her to go with Max, leaving me and Maria in the desert.

It hurt that she didn't trust me. But this wasn't worth it.

"What are you and Max doing tonight?" I asked, trying to keep my voice normal.

"Oh, we're - we're just gonna stay at home. Try and keep a low profile."

"Act like we got nothing to hide, remember?"

"What do you mean?" Maria asked.

"We should go out tonight," I said. "The four of us."

"What?" They both said.

{Michael, you aren't -}

"That way, if someone is really watching us, we won't give 'em anything to be suspicious about," I said, sliding food up on the counter and nodding at Liz. "Hot dog."

She took the plate, her lips slipping into a secret smile.

{I didn't know you were ready to go public, Michael.}

{Liz - I just don't want you by yourself. Alright?}

She smiled as she took the plate. {Yeah, Michael.}Her voice was a whisper. {Thank you.}

I felt my body relax. Everything was okay again. I really had to get a grip on -

"I thought you didn't believe Topolsky," Maria said.

I'd almost forgotten she was there. I don't, I thought. I don't believe her -

"You want what Max and Liz have, don't you?"

"Well, yeah," She said. "I just thought we'd try it on our own."

"One step at a time," I muttered. I could make sure Liz was alright. All I had to do was get through one date with Maria.

I could handle that.


Max was happy that Maria and I were going with them. "I think it's good, Michael," He said, smiling. "Maria's a nice girl."

"Yeah. Nice," I muttered.

"So what'd you get for her?" He asked.

I rolled my eyes. Get for her? "Nothing," I said. "What, I'm supposed to bring her little gifts, like sacrifices for the altar?"

He shook his head and laughed. "Forget it, Michael."

I glanced at the bag he was carrying. "You are so whipped," I said. "You know that?"

He shook his head, smiling.

I pursed my lips. I might as well make this believable -

"Alright, hold up," I muttered. "Hold up. I'm gonna get something."

Was he smiling?

He was. He was grinning. ******************************

They met us in the cafe. Liz's hair was loose, spilling over her shoulders, and I flashed back to her on my couch, the two of us in the candlelight -

Easy, Guerin.

"Hi," She said, smiling at Max.

{You look nice, Michael.}

{That's funny. You look beautiful.}

She smiled. God, she looked so happy -

"This is for you," Max said.

She took the little bag with the flowers on it. "Oh - thank you," She said, opening it up. "It's bubble bath," She said. She sounded surprised.

"It's supposed to make your skin soft," Max said.

You idiot, I thought. She already has soft skin, I thought, staring at her, remembering the silk of it against my fingertips, my lips -

{Michael. Maria's waiting.}

Oh. "This is for you," I said, pushing the bag at her.

She looked like a kid on christmas. At least according to the christmas movies I'd seen.

"Shampoo," She said, looking at the bottle. As if it might bite her.

"Shampoo AND conditioner in one," I said.

"It's a real timesaver," She said, smiling.

Whatever. I glanced over at Liz. She was smiling. Maybe this wouldn't be complete torture.

"We should get going," Max said, taking Liz's hand.

Why did he do that, I wondered, turning and watching them head for the door. It was like they were joined at the fingers, like she couldn't make any decisions for herself -

I took a few steps before I realized something was missing. I turned around.

Maria was just standing there. Waiting for something -

Waiting for you, you idiot. I almost rolled my eyes.

Well, when in Rome -

I grabbed her hand and dragged her after Max and Liz.


God, I was starving. I hadn't eaten anything since yesterday. This whole Topolsky thing and fighting with Liz had taken up all my focus.

"So, this has been really fun," Liz lied.

He was holding her hand under the table, stroking the soft skin of her hand. I tried to swallow the food in my mouth.

But at least I was with her. And I knew she was safe. No Topolsky, no hunter -

Not that you believe any of it, Guerin. Right?

"Yeah," I mumbled, swallowing my food. "It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."

She smiled and tried to hide it. The waitress set the bill down.

"You're gonna have to get this one," I said, turning to Maria. "I don't get paid till Tuesday."

She got up and left.

{Michael, go after her.}

{What? Why?}

Max kicked me, hard. I glared at him.

Come on, Guerin, make it believable -

"You know," I said, getting up from the table, "This whole dating thing really bites."

She was standing by the window, shaking her head. "What?" I asked. "What did I do now?"

"Michael - you have no table manners, and all you do is talk about yourself, and you have absolutely no regard for anyone else around you," She snapped.

What, had she been saving this up all night?

"I mean, if you get a girl shampoo, at least don't get her the generic kind, you know?"

"How am I supposed to know what brand of shampoo you use?"

{This was a bad idea, Liz.}

{It's not your fault, Michael -}

Maria folded her arms, shaking her head. "You just don't get it, do you?"

I stared at her for a second.

"What I want to know is," I said slowly, "If I'm such a loser, then why do you want to be with me?"

Her eyes wavered. She didn't have an answer.

I shook my head and headed for the door.

{Michael - are you okay?}

{Yeah. I'm just leaving. Don't worry, Liz.}

{Are you sure -}

{Yes. I'm fine.} I tried to soften my tone. I was just frustrated at the situation. {Really, Liz, I'm fine.}

{Come see me later -}

{I will.}

I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and headed for my apartment.


I knew something was wrong before I opened the door.

Everything was trashed. It looked almost as bad as it did the night I tore the place apart. What the hell -

"If I give you proof," A voice said. "Will you believe me then?"


The fire was burning in my hands. "Get out of my house."

You're going to meet with her, Michael -

I would never do that -

I clenched my fists. If she came at me, I could release it all at once -

"I know what this is," She said, holding out the orb.

I fought for control. I couldn't destroy it with her -

"That's a paperweight," I hissed.

"It's a communicator," She interrupted. "And there's another one just like it. I took it from the special unit evidence vault back in Washington."

She said there's a hunter, an alien hunter, Michael -

Liz was right. Topolsky was terrified. Desperate. But that didn't mean she was telling the truth.

"I know they only work when they're together, so if I bring you the other one, if I risk my life for you - I need to know that you will take me with you when your people come to get you."

When your people come to get you -

"You're crazy," I whispered.

"No. Look, we are all going to die," She said, "And it's not going to be pleasant."

I don't believe her, I thought, I don't -

Nothing's going to happen to you, Liz -

"We only have one chance," She said. "I will meet you tomorrow night at Buckley Point with the other communicator.

You're going to meet with her, Michael -

I would never do that.

"If you ignore me this time," She said, her voice shaking, "- There won't be a next time."

She rushed past me before I could say anything. And then she was gone.

Whiteotter was right about me and Liz. About the bonding. Then Topolsky -

You're going to meet with her, Michael -

She didn't mention the orb. Or whether my meeting with Topolsky would hurt anybody.

Because you cut her off, Guerin, remember?

I stared at the wreckage of my room. She could have found the sketchpads -

I had to find Whiteotter. I reached out to Liz -

She was consoling Maria. I cut off the connection before she even knew I was there.

You wouldn't meet with her, Michael - Right?

I thought about what Topolsky said. About "our people coming to get us".

Leaving Earth.

Leaving Liz.

I was going to do this on my own.


It took a long time for me to fall asleep. It's not something I ever thought I'd have to do under pressure. But I did it.

The bar was dark. It looked closed. I only saw one person.

"Where is she," I said. "Where's Whiteotter -"

"She's drunk," The woman said.

What? I crossed over to the voice. It was the palm reader.

"I know you," I said.

"I'm Minnie," She said shortly, glancing at my hands. She nodded at the table next to her. "She's not doing so good."

Whiteotter was sitting at the table, surrounded by empty shot glasses. She was tossing another one back.

"Oh, hey," She said, weaving a little. "It's Michael! Michael's here. That's great. Sit down-"

"I don't have time," I snapped. I don't like drunks much.

"Ohhh," Whiteotter said, grinning, turning to Minnie, "He doesn't have time. We have craaaazy deadlines -" She said, waving the empty shot glass around. "- And he doesn't have time to sit -"

"You're surprised?" Minnie said drily.

"Snap her out of it," I growled.

"Michael," Minnie said. "She's drunk. We can do a lot, but we can't immediately alleviate a drunken stupor."

"Why's she drunk?"

Minnie looked at me.

"Oh, please," I said. "You're not putting this on me."

"I didn't say it was," Minnie said carefully. "But you're not making her job easier."

I bit back the It's Not My Fault.

Whiteotter reached for another shot glass. "Nonononono," I said quickly, snatching the glass out of her reach. "Okay. Come on. Spill. What else do you know."

"Oh. Well, we pretty much know everything," She said, looking up at Minnie. "Everything up to a certain point, right? But after that," She shrugged. "We don't know anything. Yet."

I stood up and looked at Minnie. "Tell me about this timeline," I said.

She looked at Whiteotter, doubt on her face. I took a deep breath.

"Topolsky came to my house tonight," I said. "She told me the orb's a communicator."

"That's true," Whiteotter said, her head bobbing up and down emphatically. "S'absolutely true."

"Who does it -"

"The home planet," Whiteotter said. "Or, you know, something from there. Something like that."

I looked at Minnie. She hesitated, but she nodded.

"Jus' don't blame the messenger for the message," Whiteotter said, shaking her head. "That's really all I'm saying."

We are all going to die -

Nothing's going to hurt you, Liz.

"I'm not going," I said.

"Sorry," Whiteotter said sadly, shaking her head. "It's in the canon. You're gonna go."

What? "What's the canon," I said, reaching down and grabbing her shirt collar. "What does that mean?"

She tapped something on her shirt. I looked at the small pin on her shirt.

It read How's It Going To End?

"What's that," I said. "What's that mean?"

"It's what we all want to know, Michael," She said softly. "We don't know how it ends. We only know some of the things that happen."

You're going to meet with her, Michael -

"If I meet with Topolsky," I said slowly, "Will Liz get hurt?"

"See?" She said. "I told you you were gonna -"

"Would Liz get hurt?" I demanded, tightening my grip on her.

She smiled weakly. "No, Michael," She said, shaking her head. "Liz doesn't get hurt. Not by you meeting Topolsky. Well, not directly -"

Not directly? "Is it a trap? An FBI setup?"

"Nope," She said, shaking deliberately her head from side to side. "Oo. Woozy," She muttered, her hand coming up to her head. "There's no FBI."

"And she has another communicator," I interrupted.

"Yup," Whiteotter said, her head bobbing.

"And it's true they only work together," I whispered.

"Yes indeedy," She said, nodding emphatically. "That's what we think. But -"

I let go of her all at once and headed for the door.

"Wait!" Minnie said. "You don't know everything -"

"I know everything I need to know," I said.

"But there's more -"

Everything was blurring.

And then it all went black.


I opened my eyes and rose off the couch, starting to pace. The place was a wreck. Damnit-


I stopped. {-Yeah, I'm here.}

{Is everything all right? I tried to reach you, but -}

{I was - sleeping.} I looked around at the chaos. {I'm fine.}

{You don't sound fine -}

I could tell her the truth about the bar. About what Whiteotter said.

Liz doesn't get hurt. Not by your meeting with Topolsky. Well, not directly -

It was the "not directly" that made me decide.

I took in a breath and tried to relax.

{Really. I'm fine.} My hands were cooling. {Tonight was just tough.}

{Will I see you later?}

{- Yeah, I'll be by your place, Liz. Don't come here. It's kind of -} I glanced around. {It's kind of a wreck.}

She laughed a little. {Alright. See you soon.}

I felt the connection stretch and ebb into nothingness. I picked up the orb.

Nothing's going to hurt you, Liz -

I wasn't taking any chances. Not with Liz.

I was going to do this on my own.


"I don't think this is such a good idea," Maria said. She was sounding like a broken record.

"You already mentioned that," I muttered.

She'd insisted on coming with me. She'd seen the orb. I had to take her.

I didn't ask Whiteotter if anything would happen to Maria.

"You're the one who, who thought that she was gonna trap us -"

"She knew what the orb was," I said. How could I explain it to her? "This is real. We're getting close to something."

"Look, Michael, I'm really scared, okay, and I don't want to go through with this anymore."

"I told you," I said, "You can stay in the car." I could feel my hands warming up.

"Pull over," She said. "Let me out."

"I can't leave you out in the middle of nowhere!"

"Fine, then take me back! I'm not kidding. You can't make me go through with this. You can't put me in danger like this. Not if I don't want to go!"

It's a communicator. They only work together -

I pushed the accelerator to the floor.


He was meeting her. Just like Whiteotter said. He was meeting Topolsky.

I would never meet with her. Ever. She's FBI -

"They can't be more than 10 minutes ahead of us," I said. "Just go fast."

"Look, I don't get it," Alex said. "Why would he go and do this after we all agreed?"

"Because he's Michael," Isabel said.

"That's no excuse this time," Max said. I glanced over at him.

I'd never heard him use that tone of voice. I looked at him. He looked -

Angry. Dangerous.

You're overreacting, Liz. Just find Michael.

Before it's too late.


I was trying to control my rage, but it wasn't working. I could feel the fire in my hands.

"This is not your decision to make! This is mine."

"It's not just about you! What you do affects me. That's how relationships work, and whether you like it or not, we are in a relationship!"

I threw my hands in the air. Damnit, Maria, we're not -

"- So go ahead and hate me, but I'm not gonna let you get hurt. I care about you too much."

"Maria, I have been waiting for this my whole life-"

"So have I!"

Lights came up behind us. Car doors slammed.

"Run," I said. "Go on, run! Get out of here! Go!"

She was sobbing now. "No, I am not gonna leave you!"


Liz. She'd followed me.

And she'd brought the whole cavalry with her.

Max was walking toward me. "Give it to me."

I didn't ask Whiteotter about him. About any of them. I didn't know what was going to happen -

I had to tell him everything -

"Topolsky says it's a communicator -"

"I said give it to me!" He yelled, advancing on me. "We trusted you with it, and you blew it."

"It does something when it's with another one, and I gotta find out -"

"No one can know we have that!" He yelled, shifting his weight.

I saw it coming. I was good at calculating punches, the radius of the arm. Living with Hank taught me a lot about dodging punches.

My brain just refused to believe what I was seeing.

He would never do that. Not him.

Not Max.


Michael's body whipped around and slammed against the ground. Max was standing over him, daring him to get up -

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He hit Michael. He hit him -

{Michael -} He didn't answer me. {}

He stood up slowly, his face filled with disbelief and rage. {Oh, God, Michael -}


"You hit me?" I whispered, staring at Max. I could taste blood in my mouth.

His weight shifted slightly. His eyes flickered something -

Doubt. Fear.

Did he just expect me to stay down?

"You hit me -" I yelled, lunging at him. Isabel came between us. I think Liz was screaming.

"Somebody had to knock some sense into you," He hissed over Isabel's shoulder.

"Damn you, Maxwell -"

Lights were everywhere. {Michael -}

I stepped back. Valenti blocked us in front.

She said it wasn't a trap -

No. She said it wasn't an FBI trap.

"I'm sorry," The man behind us said, getting out of his car. "But Ms. Topolsky won't be meeting you tonight. Or any other night.

"So she wasn't lying," I said. "You killed her. And now you're here to kill us."

"No, Michael. He's not," Valenti said. "This man is from Bethesda, Maryland. His name is Dr. Malcolm Margolin. He stopped by my office this morning...explained a few things about Ms. Topolsky."

"I've been treating Kathleen for the last 6 weeks," The man behind us said.

"Dr. Margolin is a psychiatric specialist," Valenti said. "Doctor tells me that Ms. Topolsky was in a facility in Bethesda until a few days ago when she just took off."

The orb's a communicator. It's true -

"- Don't worry about Kathleen. She should be back in Bethesda by now under the best care available."

"It's over," Valenti said. "You can go home now."

Everybody moved for their cars. I didn't have the orb. I lost it when Max hit me.

It was dark, but I spotted it.

Right next to Valenti.

"We'll come back for it," Maxwell said quietly. All control again.

I heard Liz's voice. "Max," She whispered.

Valenti saw it too. Picked it up. Damnit -

"Nice job, Michael," Max said, turning to go back to the Jeep.

{Michael -}


{Meet me at my house.}

I nodded my agreement and felt the connection lift, dissapating into the night.

No Topolsky. The orb gone. I'd lied to Liz, and Max - perfect Max - hit me.

Hard to believe things could get any worse.


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