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 Post subject: Chapter 23 - Choices
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2005 1:03 pm 
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<!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center">"We all are caught in the middle<br>Of one long treacherous riddle<br>Of who trusts who...<br>Maybe I'll trust you...<br>But can you trust me?<br>Wait and see!!"<br><br>-- "The Riddle" from <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>The Scarlet Pimpernel</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--></div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br> <br>"No!" Doing her best to ignore the pain wracking her body, Maria managed to get to her feet and start towards Lonnie. Before she reached the alien, however, she heard the gunshot. Tears of pain, fear, and grief almost blocking her sight completely, Maria tried to grab Lonnie's arm.<br> <br>Only to be thrown aside carelessly, landing hard on the ground a distance away. <br> <br>Lonnie looked down at her. "Ya might want to be a little more careful there, sweetie," she said, voice a mocking sing-song. "I don't plan on killin' ya, but if ya keep doin stuff like that, might change my mind."<br> <br>Maria couldn't say anything. Her attention was all focused on controlling the pain. God, it hurt. It was like at Kyle's house the weekend before, only worse. Because then she was with her friends, and no matter how bad things got, she had faith in Max and Michael. But here, she was alone. Her mother still wasn't moving, and Valenti.......<br> <br>Maria could see all the blood. She wasn't sure where he'd been shot – stomach or chest. Did it even matter? She didn't know much about gunshots. Just that they were bad. And Valenti was bleeding so much, lying as still on the ground as if he was.....<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>No</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->. She closed her eyes, trying to block out the sight. The sheriff couldn't be dead. He just couldn't.<br> <br>Seeing that the small human girl didn't seem likely to attack again, Lonnie turned her attention back to the troublesome sheriff. Yeah, looked like he was going to be dead pretty quick. But he was still breathing, and she would prefer not to leave him that way. He seemed like the annoyingly persistent type. Probably be better to get rid of him for good. So she raised the gun for a final shot before taking their bait and going. One shot, directly to the head, should do it.<br> <br>All she saw at first was the blur of motion in front of her as a form jumped between her and the human, taking the bullet. Then Lonnie identified the red-haired woman in front of her as a Skin, one who didn't even hesitate as the bullet went through her shoulder, reaching out and knocking the gun from Lonnie's hand, sending it flying through the air.<br> <br>"What the hell are ya doing?" Lonnie burst out. "Why are ya helpin' them?"<br> <br>Shalin didn't bother to answer. She spun out in a kick, foot connecting with Lonnie's stomach and pushing her backwards. Shalin needed to get distance between the dupe and the humans. She didn't know exactly how strong Lonnie was, and wasn't interested in finding out first-hand. She'd promised Tym she was going to protect Maria, and that was what she was going to do. Not to mention the fact that Lonnie had hurt Jim. Tym wasn't the only one who was territorial. No way was Shalin going to let some other alien get away with hurting Jim. Shalin got in a sharp chop to Lonnie's throat, following up with a punch that left Lonnie reeling.<br> <br>"Fine then," Lonnie got out. If this idiot Skin wanted to side with the humans and the royal losers, then it was her funeral. But before she could do anything, she felt a blast of energy come flying towards her. Lonnie dropped down, barely ducking it. Okay, that did it. Reaching out with her mind, Lonnie tried to connect with the other alien. Instead of getting any images, all she found was a blank wall. The Skin obviously had good defenses. So Lonnie pushed out telepathically against that wall.<br> <br>Shalin could feel the pressure in her mind, sharp pain causing her to wince slightly. It was barely a second, but it was enough. Next thing she knew, she felt a searing pain go through her side. Looking down, she saw the bleeding. Lonnie had hit her Husk. This was bad. She was definitely going to need some time to recover from this. And somehow, she didn't think Vilandra was going to give her that time.<br> <br>Shalin looked at Lonnie and the alien weapon in her hand, the one that had injured her Husk so badly. She dropped to the ground, legs unable to hold her upright any longer. Still, if Shalin was going to die, she intended to take Lonnie with her. Sweeping out with one leg, she knocked Lonnie to the ground next to her. The small weapon fell from Lonnie's hand, out of either woman's reach. But before Shalin could do anything else, she heard another car pull up, saw some more Skins get out of it and rush over to them, some stopping to pick up Maria. Some headed in her direction.<br> <br>"Leave her." Lonnie got to her own feet unsteadily. She could hear other cars in the distance. "She ain't gonna be a problem for long anyway, and we've gotta get out of here." Shalin closed her eyes, unable to move as she heard footsteps and then the car drive away. <br> <br>She only allowed herself a few minutes to marshal her strength. She was losing a lot of blood from that wound. When she thought she'd be able to manage it, Shalin opened her eyes and crawled over to where the two humans were still lying on the ground. She cast a quick glance in Amy DeLuca's direction. Upon seeing that she was still breathing, she turned her attention to the sheriff. "Damn," she breathed upon studying his wound. Not good at all. She looked in the direction the Skins' car had gone with Maria. There was no way she could follow, injured as she was. Frowning, Shalin looked back down at Valenti. She made her choice. "Tym's going to kill me," she muttered, reaching into Jim's pocket for the phone she knew he had there. Of course, that was assuming she didn't die of her injuries before her old friend could get to her. She quickly punched in the numbers. "There's been a shooting," she said to the emergency operator who answered. "The sheriff's been hurt."<br><br>-------------------------------------------------<br><br>Max skidded to a stop in front of the cavern opening, looking with disbelief at the scene in front of him. "Alex," he whispered, not sure if what his eyes were telling him was true or not. He blinked and looked again. Alex was still standing there, wrapped up in an embrace with Isabel, both totally oblivious to anything else around them. Max started to smile. Until then, he hadn't really believed it. But it was true. Alex was alive.<br> <br>He heard a small noise from his side and glanced down to see that Liz and Kyle had caught up with him. Max reached out and took Liz's hand. She squeezed it back, never looking away from the sight of Alex. For a second, the three of them stood there frozen, just letting themselves enjoy the sight of the friend they thought they'd lost forever.<br> <br>Then their joyful silence was interrupted by the sound of a throat clearing behind them. Max spun around, hand put out instinctively to create a force field if necessary. The figure behind them held up his hands in surrender.<br> <br>"Hey, relax," he said, a small laugh in his voice. <br> <br>"Eddie?" Liz was surprised to see him. What on Earth was Eddie doing there?<br> <br>He smiled brightly at her. "You might want to tell your boyfriend to relax." He gestured at Max, who still hadn't lowered his hand. Then, Eddie looked over their shoulders. "Also, maybe we should give the two lovebirds some privacy." He grinned mischievously at Max. "Unless you really think they want an audience, your majesty."<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Your majesty</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->. Max tensed at the words. Eddie obviously knew quite a bit about what was going on. He lowered his hand slowly. "What do you have to do with this?" he asked, keeping his voice down as he cast a quick glance behind him. Alex and Isabel were sitting on the edge of the bed now, totally oblivious to the conversation out in the hall. And Eddie was right – Alex and Isabel deserved some privacy. At least for a few minutes. Still.....<br> <br>Kyle chimed in, apparently sharing Max's thoughts. "You think we're just going to leave without talking to Alex? Are you nuts?"<br> <br>Eddie's smile never faltered. "I assure you, he's not going anywhere right now. You'll have plenty of time to talk with him. But let him have his reunion with his princess. Or don't you think he deserves that?" He raised an eyebrow, for all the world seemingly honestly curious.<br> <br>"All right." It wasn't easy to turn away, but Isabel should be the one to welcome Alex back in privacy at first. Max looked over at Liz and Kyle. "I think we need to talk, anyway."<br> <br>"Max......."<br> <br>"It's okay, Liz." He looked back at Eddie, steel in his voice when he next spoke. "We're not leaving without Alex."<br> <br>"Of course not." Eddie waved his arm in a gesture of welcome. "We'll just go down the hall a bit. Alex will know where to find us when he's ready."<br> <br>"What is this place?" Kyle asked as they walked down the cave tunnel. "Some alien motel or something?" He grabbed Eddie's arm suddenly, pulling the other man to a halt. "You're being awfully friendly for someone who kidnapped our friend and let us think he was dead."<br> <br>Eddie glanced down at the hand on his arm, amusement dancing in his eyes. "How predictable," he murmured. "Do you think that you could have gotten in here if we didn't want you to?" He shook off Kyle's arm and continued walking. He led them to a larger cavern, one filled with comfortable looking furniture and walls lined with shelves of books. Like the rest of the caves, the light seemed to be coming from the walls themselves. "I had nothing to do with kidnapping your friend." He gestured for them to sit down, but they remained standing, huddled together. "In fact, I'm the one who rescued him from Vilandra." He grimaced slightly at the name. "This is a safe place, the only one I knew of to bring him to while he healed. I was going to return him to you as soon as I was sure he was ready. But apparently, you royals simply can't wait."<br> <br>"You saved him?" Max asked slowly. "Eddie, what.........."<br> <br>"Don't call him that." A new voice entered the conversation, causing them all to turn towards the side of the room opposite from where they had entered. Riverdog walked in slowly. <br> <br>Eddie sighed. "He has issues with me using that name."<br> <br>"I have issues with you using that form," Riverdog snapped back. "Still, it's done." He smiled at Liz. "We weren't expecting you quite so soon." He sat down on a couch. Liz and Kyle exchanged glances, then sat down on chairs across from him. Max and Eddie remained standing, Max tense while the other one was apparently completely at ease, seeming more amused than anything else as he lounged against the wall. "Not that I'm surprised. I suspected Alex would manage to contact you somehow."<br> <br>"That form?" Liz looked over at Eddie, or whoever he was. "Implying that it isn't your own form?" She frowned. "What are you then? A shapeshifter?"<br> <br>"He's a Skin," Max answered her. "See the chain?" He pointed.<br> <br>Eddie inclined his head gracefully and reached to pull out his chain, showing the black stone necklace. "I'm impressed, Zandar. You never used to be this observant. I imagine Tym is having a positive effect on you." He turned his smile to Liz. "We met at the UFO Center about six months ago. It's a pleasure to see you again."<br> <br>Liz shook her head. "What are you talking about? We met over a year before that. You came in to the Crashdown......" Her voice trailed off. "That wasn't you," she said flatly.<br> <br>"It was not." Riverdog leaned back and closed his eyes. "My nephew died almost a year ago. In an..... accident." The pause didn't go unnoticed.<br> <br>Eddie's eyes flickered over to him quickly. "We've been through this," he said to the older man, all humor gone from his voice. "I had nothing to do with his death."<br> <br>Riverdog's eyes opened and he met the alien's stare. "Which doesn't mean it was an accident."<br> <br>Max interrupted the staring contest. "Then who are you, really?"<br> <br>"Besides a Michael worshipper," Kyle added, smirking. Really, the whole thought of anyone, even these crazy aliens, worshipping Michael cracked him up.<br> <br>The Skin laughed cheerfully. "Shalin mentioned that you call us that." He went over to perch on the arm of the couch. "We don't really worship him, you realize. Our relations are a bit more complex than that." He caught Max's eyes. "Or very simple. I suppose it depends on your perspective."<br> <br>"You didn't answer the question," Max said evenly. "Who are you?"<br> <br>He studied Max closely. "Interesting," he murmured. "Are you really that calm at the idea of what Michael is? Or are you just very good at putting on an act?"<br> <br>"Your name?" Max refused to allow himself to raise his voice. This Skin was just trying to annoy him now, attempting to get an emotional response. He wasn't about to give him that satisfaction.<br> <br>The Skin shrugged. "My true name is Ardan." He nodded his head in the direction of Kyle and Liz. "Pleased to meet you."<br> <br>Liz wrapped her arms tightly around herself, more than a little disturbed by the idea that this Eddie wasn't the same one she'd met so long ago. "What happened? How did you get in this body?"<br> <br>"It's not that complicated, really." He looked down at his watch, then over at Riverdog. "Should we check on him?"<br> <br>"He'll let us know if he needs us," Riverdog answered calmly.<br> <br>"If you say so. Helping people heal and recover has never been my area of expertise."<br> <br>"No, I'd guess you were more into the killing and maiming thing." Kyle didn't seem to share Max's refusal to show emotions around the Skin, disdain and anger evident in his voice.<br> <br>Ardan laughed again. "Ah, you have heard about us, then." He grew serious as his attention returned to Liz. "I happened to come across the real Eddie in the desert one day, as he lay dying. His car had had a very nasty encounter with a large cliff wall." He half-turned to Riverdog, but the other man was apparently content to not interrupt this time. "I was in another Husk at the time, but upon meeting Eddie and learning about him, I decided his form might be more advantageous for me. So I changed Husks."<br> <br>"Hold on." Kyle waved his hands in a cut-off motion. "I thought it took fifty years for a Husk to mature." <br> <br>"That was with the old technology." Upon seeing their blank looks, Ardan sighed. "Did you honestly believe that in over fifty years, we wouldn't have learned how to improve our procedures."<br> <br>Max gave a short laugh. "Kivar must have been pretty displeased with Nykal to not mention that."<br> <br>"True. Nykal tended to have a problem with keeping his hands to himself. Liked to take things that didn't belong to him." His smile took a distinctly malicious tinge. "Like your sister, for example. Not that she was exactly a blushing innocent, herself." <br> <br>Liz hurried to redirect the conversation to its point. "So Kivar just neglected to inform Nicholas and his Skins that they actually had another option to surviving on this planet, that they could grow Husks faster."<br> <br>Another casual shrug. "Kivar saw no need to reward incompetence. And you have to admit, an inability to find and capture the four of you was fairly pathetic."<br> <br>Something Ardan said had bothered Max. "What did you mean by learning about Eddie? He was dying. How did you learn about him?"<br> <br>"It was <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>because</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> he was dying that I was able to learn about him." Ardan stood up again, gracefully walking back to the wall. "He was too weak to have any defenses. I was able to get inside his mind with no problem, and learn all about him."<br> <br>Riverdog spoke up again. "And because he knew about you visitors, Ardan figured he could use his form to his own advantage."<br> <br>Ardan grimaced. "Did I mention that the old man really doesn't like me using this body? He went into hiding for quite some time when he realized that I wasn't who I seemed to be. Took a lot of doing to convince him that I was harmless."<br> <br>Riverdog gave him a severe look. "Behave yourself," he warned sternly. Ardan gave him a mock bow.<br> <br>"Interesting as this quasi-family dynamic is," Kyle interrupted, "why don't we get back to the part where you saved Alex? Not that we aren't grateful and everything, but last I saw, he was crushed by one damn big rock. How did he manage to survive?"<br> <br>"I can't actually take credit for that. At least not totally." Ardan shook his head. "I came into the story later. But from what I've been able to put together, it was the defective Vilandra clone....."<br> <br>Max's voice was flat. "Lonnie."<br> <br>"As you say. Anyway, it was Lonnie who saved Alex." Ardan frowned. "For her own purposes, of course. I liberated him from her last week."<br> <br>"Why would you do that?" Liz looked him directly in the eye. "From everything I've seen, none of you Skins seem to have a terribly high opinion of us humans. Why go to the bother of saving Alex? After all, he's only a human. Why take the trouble?"<br> <br>"I was bored?" When they all just stared at him, frowning, Ardan sighed, hesitating before he continued to speak. "I took something from Tym once," he said slowly. "Something precious to him. Let's just say I wanted to give him something back." The smile returned to his face. "Call it self-preservation."<br> <br>"What did you take from him?" Max asked, curious.<br> <br>"Everything." Ardan shook his head briskly before anyone could question him further. "But he rebuilt. I wasn't completely sure he could, but he did."<br> <br>When it was clear that the alien wasn't going to tell them any more, Liz asked the next question. "Why did Lonnie save Alex? What was in it for her?"<br> <br>"You mean besides making the other Vilandra miserable?" Ardan walked over to pour himself a glass of water. "I'm not sure she even understands much of her reasoning. But I can tell you one thing." He looked back over at the group. "Your Alex Whitman isn't exactly an ordinary human."<br><br>-----------------------------------------------------<br><br>Isabel broke off the kiss in order to lean back and stare at Alex. "I can't believe you're really here," she whispered, reaching out and tracing a path along his cheek, very gently so as not to touch any of his bruises. "I dreamt about this for so long."<br> <br>He smiled. "I know," Alex murmured, moving in to kiss her again. "I was there, remember?"<br> <br>She laughed lightly. "Why didn't you tell me?"<br> <br>"I'm not sure." He frowned slightly. "Things are sort of fuzzy. I still don't remember everything." He shook off the half-recalled memories. "Not important." He pushed back her hair and kissed her again. "This is important. You and me."<br> <br>"Uh, huh." Isabel definitely agreed with him on that one. The kiss deepened, making it hard for her to concentrate on anything other than Alex, getting as close to him as possible. It had been so long. Having him back was a miracle. She didn't want to waste time talking. Somehow, she ended up pushing him back onto the bed, following along and landing on top of him.<br> <br>She felt his sudden intake of breath. Isabel instantly sat back up, frowning. She avoided Alex's hands reaching to pull her back down again.<br> <br>"What's wrong?" She looked at him carefully. "Did I hurt you?"<br> <br>"It's nothing." His eyes avoided hers, causing Isabel to frown in suspicion.<br> <br>"Take off your shirt," she ordered sternly.<br> <br>Alex snapped a salute. "Yes, ma'am." His smile faded when she simply stared at him flatly. With a sigh, he carefully took off his shirt.<br> <br>Isabel gasped. The bruises on his face had been bad enough. But it was clear that he'd been through more than she'd realized. His chest was covered with bruises in varying stages of healing, and there was more than one red scar indicating where he'd been cut. "Dear God," she whispered. "What did she do to you?" When Alex turned to look away, Isabel reached over and put her hands under his chin, gently but firmly forcing him to look at her. "It was Lonnie, wasn't it? What did she do to you?"<br> <br>She could see confusion warring with comprehension in his eyes. "She asked me things," he answered slowly. "She wanted to know how I managed to fight off Kivar. And she really didn't like it when I couldn't tell her." He gave a bitter little grin. "She has a temper. Plus, I think she was a little upset at some things I said to her that day in the desert."<br> <br>"The day that Tess......."<br> <br>"Yeah," Alex cut her off, obviously not wanting to discuss the day he 'died'. <br> <br>"When you couldn't answer, she hurt you," Isabel whispered, horrified by what her duplicate did to him. "All those months........" She blinked back tears. "I'm so sorry, Alex." <br> <br>"No." Alex took her hands in his, bringing them up to his lips to kiss. "This was not your fault, Iz. This was Lonnie, not you." He emphasized that, needing her to accept it. She wasn't responsible for what Lonnie did.<br> <br>"What else?" Isabel insisted. "What else did she do to you?" Her eyes narrowed. "Turn around."<br> <br>He did so in silence. Isabel bit her lip at what she saw. She reached out and traced the tattoo on his back shoulder, the whirlwind symbol on Alex's skin. "Lonnie did this?" She tried to keep her voice from breaking, but knew she wasn't successful. The mark of the royal house. Her symbol and Max's. Vilandra and Zandar's. Lonnie's. "Why? Was she marking you as her property or something?" Isabel felt sick. <br> <br>Alex turned back around. "It doesn't matter," he said quickly, hating the way Isabel's face turned pale. "Listen to me, Iz. It's over now."<br> <br>Isabel gave a hollow laugh. "How can you say that, Alex? I can see the look in your eyes."<br> <br>"I can say it because I'm back with you," he said simply. "I'll deal with the rest." He smiled, taking her hand again. "It's going to be okay."<br> <br>"What else did she do?" Isabel asked again, even though she wasn't sure she wanted to really know.<br> <br>Perhaps Alex recognized that. "I don't remember everything. She tried to get into my head for a while, I know that." He looked away again. When he spoke again, he sounded ashamed. "I kept her out for as long as I could, Iz. I swear I did. But she drugged me, too, and after a while......." Isabel's eyes flickered down to his arm. Sure enough, she could see marks where needles had gone. "It got harder to keep her from getting in to my mind," he admitted, voice lowering to a whisper. "Everything got so confused. At first I could always tell that it was her. I could keep her out. But then she started to sneak in. Sometimes it was her. Sometimes it was you. Everything was so messed up." He started to draw his hand away, but she held on tight.<br> <br>"That's why you couldn't tell me anything. Because you weren't fully aware of everything that was happening. And the dreams?"<br> <br>"Yeah." Alex looked back at her. "I'm sorry about that, Izzy. Ardan thinks I was drawing energy from you to keep myself alive through everything. I didn't even realize it for months. Then when I did...."<br> <br>"You shut me out." She smiled. "I was really pissed at you for that one, you know." Well, that explained some things. No wonder she'd been feeling weak and sick. <br> <br>"I didn't know I was doing it," he continued. "I would never have endangered you if I had....." He stopped as she put her hand over his mouth.<br> <br>Isabel didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "I know that, Alex. Don't be such a heroic idiot." She shook her head at him. "You're alive. That's what's important," she repeated his words back to her. Then she did a double-take. "Hold on. Who's Ardan?"<br><br>---------------------------------------------------------<br> <br>Between the pain and the fact that her eyes were covered, Maria was totally disoriented by the time her movement stopped. She'd been aware enough to realize that they'd been driving a while, but beyond that, she honestly couldn't say. So when the blindfold was ripped away, Maria forced herself to push aside the pain long enough to open her eyes and look around.<br> <br>Not that what she saw was all that encouraging, a sterile room with no decorations. She'd been wheeled in from the van on a gurney, and that seemed to be the only furniture in the place. Definitely not somewhere she wanted to stay long. Maria tried to sit up, but that only seemed to trigger another bout of nausea and pain. Whimpering, she fell backwards again.<br> <br>"Would ya stop that?" Lonnie grimaced as she looked down at the human. "It's pathetic." Maria gave her the best glare she could manage under the circumstances, her retort swallowed up by another spasm of pain. Yeah, this wasn't good at all. Lonnie didn't seem phased by her look of death anyway. She simply turned to the Skin who was the room's only other inhabitant. "Watch her." With that, she turned and walked out through the only door.<br> <br>As the pain subsided, Maria tried to reason with the Skin. "Listen," she got out through teeth that were only slightly gritted, "you really have got to let me out of here."<br> <br>"Really?" He sneered down at her. "Why is that?"<br> <br>"Because," she reached out suddenly, grabbing his shirt and pulling his surprised face down closer to her as she ground out the rest of her sentence, "I think I'm in labor. And it's too soon. If you don't get me to a doctor or something, you are going to have one seriously pissed alien to deal with."<br> <br>"That would be Tymrath?" <br> <br>Maria looked at the door in surprise as a new voice interrupted. The Skin used the opportunity to pull away and take a shaky step backwards from the gurney. The speaker came into the room further. Maria frowned. She didn't know this woman who walked in calmly, dark hair piled in a bun on top of her head. Yet she seemed familiar somehow.<br> <br>"Michael is going to kick your asses," Maria said, refusing to let them see how disconcerted she was by this. "And once I'm through with this, I'm going to be right there with him."<br> <br>"Undoubtedly." The woman seemed amused by the threat. She turned to the other Skin. "The DeLuca girl, I presume? I had heard you went to retrieve her." She went to take a step closer, and the man moved to stop her. She raised an eyebrow in question.<br> <br>"What's it to you?" he asked belligerently.<br> <br>The woman spoke slowly, as if to a child. "If she's correct, and she is in labor, then she raises a good point. Tymrath really won't be pleased if anything happens to his child. Get out of my way." She moved to step aside him, but he grabbed her arm.<br> <br>"So wh..." That's as far as he got. As Maria watched, the woman's free arm flew through the air, aiming towards his head. All she did was touch him on the top of his head, but suddenly he was on the floor, convulsing in silent agony. Without even looking down at him, the woman continued on to stand next to Maria.<br> <br>Maria tried to move backwards, away from her, but she bent down to speak in a softer voice. "Relax, Maria. You can call me Kassie. I'm not here to hurt you." She reached out towards Maria's stomach, stopping before she touched it. "Either of you." <br> <br>That's when Maria noticed the necklace around her neck. Their eyes met as realization dawned on her.<br> <br>T'onxyl.<br> <br>Maria was interrupted before she could even decide what to say. "Why not?" Lonnie entered the room again, looking down at her flunky. "Whatcha do to him?" She sounded more annoyed than concerned.<br> <br>The other woman sighed. "I don't like being grabbed. Especially by fools who don't have the intelligence to understand why having an insanely furious Tymrath after us is very much <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>not</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> a good thing." She looked at Lonnie challengingly. "Or did I misunderstand? I was under the impression that Kivar wanted Tymrath functional. Which he won't be if his teela-mei and child die." <br> <br>Another contraction hit Maria, and she reached out to grab Kassie's hand, trusting in her instincts. And Michael's. She hoped they'd been right about the T'onxyl's loyalty, because she wasn't in any condition to protect herself or the baby right then. As much as she hated admitting it, Maria needed someone to help her. <br> <br>She needed Michael.<br> <br>Maria pushed that thought aside. Michael wasn't here, but she was. She pulled away from Kassie's hand, hoping that Lonnie hadn't noticed. She didn't want to raise any suspicions. So when she spoke, she directed scornful glances at both aliens. "What exactly is your grand plan, anyway? Not that it really matters. It isn't like any of Kivar's plans work out anyway. I have no idea how you morons managed to take over a planet. Guess Antarans aren't exactly high up on the evolutionary ladder, huh?"<br> <br>Lonnie took a step towards them, an angry look on her face. Kassie spoke mildly. "We need her."<br> <br>That made Lonnie pause. "Yah." A nasty smile spread on her face. "For now." <br> <br>Kassie's eyes darted down to the man still shaking on the ground. "If you want to repair him, you might wish to do it quickly. Otherwise there could be permanent neurological damage." There was absolutely no emotion in her voice. She was just stating facts, with absolutely no concern one way or another.<br> <br>"Whatever." Lonnie bent down to drag him out of the room, grimacing with distaste as she did so. "Ya just take care of our little guest, Kaslya. Wouldn't want nothin' to happen to her. Not yet, anyways." <br> <br>As soon as Lonnie and her unconscious burden left the room, Kassie was over shutting the door. She returned to Maria.<br> <br>"It's too early," Maria whispered to the older woman. "The baby shouldn't be born for months. You have to stop this!" Her voice rose hysterically at the end. She didn't care – she couldn't help it. It hurt, and she was terrified. The baby wasn't ready to be born yet. <br> <br>"Shh." Kassie pushed damp hair off Maria's face. "It's going to be okay." She smiled reassuringly. "I'm a healer. Not like your friend, but I was trained back on Antar. Like what you would call a doctor. It's why I was placed here." <br> <br>"But......"<br> <br>"Trust me." Kassie looked her in the eye. "None of us wants harm to come to Tym's child."<br> <br>Maria nodded slowly, attempting a weak smile. "Do I have a choice?" A contraction ripped through her, and Kassie took her hand, giving her something to hold onto.<br> <br>"Not really, no," Kassie admitted. <br> <br>And then the pain got really bad.<br><br>------------------------------------------------------<br><br>"What do you mean, Alex's not normal?" Liz asked indignantly. "There's nothing wrong with Alex!"<br> <br>Ardan laughed. "I didn't intend to suggest that there was. But there's more to Alex Whitman than I would have expected from a human. Much more."<br> <br>"The way he kept Kivar out of his mind," Max suggested.<br> <br>Ardan raised his glass in a salute to Max. "For starters." He took a sip before continuing thoughtfully. "I was in his mind after freeing him from Lonnie." He could see the way that the three of them stiffened instinctively at the idea of an alien rummaging around in Alex's mind. "Don't worry. There was no mindwarping or mind control involved. Even weak, I don't think Alex would have allowed that. No, I simply was able to go through some of his memories in order to assess the damage Lonnie had done to him, what he had been through."<br> <br>"And?" Liz really didn't want to know, but she braced herself. "Is he okay?"<br> <br>Ardan looked over at Riverdog, who answered. "Physically, Alex will heal. But it will take time for the scars in his spirit to mend."<br> <br>"He's functional at the moment," Ardan continued.<br> <br>"Functional?" Kyle couldn't believe him. "You make him sound like a machine. He's a human being, not some piece of equipment or a robot!"<br> <br>Ardan put down the glass. "After what he went through, you're lucky he's at the level of functional." He pointed at Max. "Not only did your pseudo sister torture him physically, but she spent months prowling around inside his mind and dreams. And she was nowhere near as gentle about it as I was. Perhaps it was the drugs, perhaps it was her similarity to the other Vilandra, but she got inside him in ways that none of you can imagine. She manipulated his thoughts to the extent that he didn't even know what was real anymore, where he couldn't tell the difference between what was going on around him and what was his nightmares. Or his fantasies." He shook his head in wonder. "It's a miracle that there were any pieces of his psyche left for me to put together." He looked directly at Max. "Think about it. I understand you were in the custody of the Special Unit for a day. Imagine – Lonnie had Alex for five <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>months</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END-->. And she did all that to him while looking exactly like the woman he loves." Ardan paused, letting that sink in, noticing the frightened comprehension dawning in the king's eyes. "It's amazing he made it through with any sanity intact at all."<br> <br>"That's what you've been doing this past week?" Max forced himself to push aside the horror he felt and concentrate on getting information. He could see how pale Liz and Kyle looked. "Putting his mind back together?"<br> <br>"In part." Ardan gestured to Riverdog. "Luckily, Riverdog was here to help with his physical recovery. Not my area of expertise."<br> <br>"No." Kyle managed to regain his voice. "I guess you prefer hurting others to helping them." <br> <br>"Exactly," Ardan said mockingly. "All of us. Don't forget that Tym is one of us himself."<br> <br>"Not anymore." Kyle glared at the alien.<br> <br>Who laughed. "If you say so." He returned to the point. "As I said, it's a surprise that Alex managed to get through Lonnie's attentions as well as he did. I don't know many Antarans who would have made it through unbroken, much less a human. I suspect part of it was due to his connection to you all. And part of it is just who he is. What he's become."<br> <br>"What he's become," Max repeated slowly. "What would that be, exactly?"<br> <br>Ardan smiled enigmatically. "I couldn't say, exactly."<br> <br>"But you have theories?"<br> <br>"Alex has some of the strongest mental defenses I've ever seen. If he hadn't been on the verge of death, I don't think I would have ever gotten in. You don't get inside Alex's mind unless he wants you in there. But once he has contact with a mind, I suspect he'll be able to identify it. And perhaps more than simply identify it." He leaned forward, a mischievous light coming in his eyes. "Let's just say I wouldn't mind having some time to train Alex. He could be quite an interesting asset against Kivar."<br> <br>Max's response was automatic. "He's not a weapon."<br> <br>Ardan raised an eyebrow. "You're sure about that? Kivar certainly thinks he's a potential threat. That's why he wants Alex dead so badly. And I have to tell you, Alex's thoughts on the subject of Kivar aren't exactly calm and peaceful."<br> <br>"What about Lonnie?" Liz asked.<br> <br>He turned to her. "Alex's thoughts about her aren't exactly peaceful, either."<br> <br>She sighed loudly, exasperated. "That's not what I meant. Won't she look for Alex?"<br> <br>"I doubt it. Since she thinks I'm dead." They all turned as Alex spoke from the doorway.<br> <br>Liz scrambled out of her seat and ran over to Alex, Kyle right behind her. "Alex!" She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. "We thought you were dead!" She started crying, but was smiling through it as she buried her face in his shirtfront. "I missed you."<br> <br>Despite the wince as Liz held him too tight, Alex had a smile of his own as he hugged her back. "I missed you, too, Liz." <br> <br>"Gently, Liz," Isabel commanded, and Liz drew back instantly, ashamed.<br> <br>"I'm sorry, Alex," she babbled. "I didn't mean to hurt you or anything."<br> <br>"You didn't," he assured her gently. "I've missed my best friends." He looked past Liz to Kyle. "Hey."<br> <br>"Hey, man." Kyle felt like a total idiot, grinning so broadly that it felt like his head was going to split open, but he couldn't help it. Alex was back with them. He reached around Liz and clasped Alex on the shoulder. "Welcome back."<br> <br>"You have no idea how glad I am to be back," Alex said quietly, holding Liz and Isabel each by the hand. <br> <br>Max walked over and joined them, smiling himself. "Or how glad we are to have you back." <br> <br>Alex looked around. "Hey, aren't we missing a few members of IKAAC?"<br> <br>"IKAAC? Sounds horrible," Ardan commented from where he was watching the reunion.<br> <br>Alex rolled his eyes. "Ardan, buddy, you have no clue." He looked back at Max, a slight frown forming on his face. "Where are Michael and Maria?" He would have expected the two of them to be there. "Since when does Michael let you guys go on alien-related expeditions without him? And where Michael goes, Maria shows up." <br> <br>"They'll be along," Liz hastened to assure him. "Shalin – she's one of the Michael worshippers," she ignored the irritated groan Ardan gave at that, "said she had to talk with him. But he was going to come as soon as they were finished. He didn't know we were actually going to find you right away," she finished the explanation.<br> <br>"She said it was important." Max looked over at Ardan, who had a carefully blank expression on his face.<br> <br>"If it kept him from this reunion, I'm sure it was." Ardan looked at Alex. "You might want to sit down and rest."<br> <br>That instantly put Isabel into mother hen mode. Alex cast Ardan an accusing glance as Isabel hustled him over to the couch Riverdog vacated and made him sit down, with herself on one side and Liz on the other. Max didn't think he really minded, though. And he also noticed that Alex seemed pretty comfortable with the strange Skin. That went a ways towards making Max more accepting of him as well. Alex had good instincts.<br> <br>Isabel's hands kept moving, almost on their own, to touch Alex, his hand, arm, shoulder – just needing to reassure herself that he was still there. In response, Alex seemed to lean closer to her, taking comfort from her presence. Watching them, Kyle found himself feeling some peace, something he hadn't felt since that summer day in the desert. Things were almost back to the way they were supposed to be. But still, there were matters to consider. "Why does Lonnie think you're dead?"<br> <br>"Hmm?" Alex turned his attention from Isabel to Kyle. "Oh. Because she tried to kill me. Not that I remember much about that." He nodded towards Ardan. "That's the guy you should ask."<br> <br>Eddie explained. "It's how I got Alex away from her, actually. I offered to dispose of the body. See, part of the reason she kept Alex alive in the first place was pure spite. Vilandra never did like to be pushed aside or ignored." He met Isabel's eyes challengingly. "So when Alex made her start to suspect that Kivar's feelings for her weren't quite what he claimed, Lonnie got rather upset." Alex shifted uncomfortably. "Kivar wanted Alex dead, and Lonnie was pissed off at Kivar. So she kept him alive out of spite." Ardan shrugged one shoulder. "Then they made up. Lonnie decided to get rid of Alex before Kivar found out what she'd done."<br> <br>"But she didn't count on you, or on our connection." Alex made himself smile at Isabel. "I survived, and Ardan was able to get me here."<br> <br>"How did you know to come here?" Max wondered.<br> <br>"The cave map." Ardan grinned. "When I got here, I was surprised to find my friend Riverdog hiding out here. From me, of all people. I was a little hurt, but we managed to work things out."<br> <br>Riverdog sat down in one of the chairs. "The man I knew before, the visitor, he came to me last year," he explained slowly. "He was hurt. Dying. Before he died, he told me about you. Warned me that a great danger was coming. And he told me about this place, a sanctuary should I need it. When he," he pointed at Ardan, "came to the reservation wearing Eddie's face, I decided it was time to use that sanctuary. I didn't expect him to follow me here."<br> <br>So Dagmar was dead. Max closed his eyes briefly. A sorrow. He wondered how Riverdog knew that Ardan wasn't Eddie, but decided not to ask, not to intrude on the older man more. From what little interactions they'd had with Riverdog, he suspected that the man would only share as much or as little as he was comfortable with, no more. <br> <br>"Anyway, here I am." Alex took Liz's hand and squeezed it. "Back from the dead." He looked around seriously. "We should have a party."<br> <br>"Definitely," Kyle agreed instantly. "You and me, we'll plan it. Maria can help. These aliens don't know how to have fun."<br> <br>Liz slapped his arm. "And what about me? Are you implying that I'm not fun?" <br> <br>"Well........" Kyle drawled slowly.<br> <br>"Watch it, you." Liz turned to Alex. "He's just still holding a grudge because I beat him at basketball."<br> <br>"One game!" Kyle countered indignantly. "It was one crummy game. Get over it already." Liz stuck her tongue out at him defiantly.<br> <br>Isabel sat back, relaxing and smiling as the others bantered around her. She looked over and caught Alex's eye. For an instant, there was a moment of total understanding between them.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>I love you.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Isabel could almost hear Alex's voice in her mind. <br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Me too</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->, she thought back.<br> <br>Alex reached down and kissed the back of her hand. "I know," he whispered.<br> <br>"What?" Isabel burst out. Had he actually heard her thought?<br> <br>"I said I was open for a rematch anytime little Miss Parker over here wants one," Kyle repeated, trying to control his smile. "If she's not too afraid, that is."<br> <br>"No, that......" Isabel shook her head, trying to regain her composure. She looked at Alex out of the corner of her eye. Maybe she should try sending him another thought, just to see what happened. But before she could, there was a beeping noise.<br> <br>"I think you're beeping," Alex said mildly. "Either that or your pants are talking to you in some strange alien language." <br> <br>Ardan frowned and took out a communicator from his pocket. "Excuse me." He left the room quickly.<br> <br>As soon as she left the room, Liz leaned forward and addressed Riverdog urgently, speaking in a low voice. "Do you trust him?"<br> <br>Riverdog appeared to think about it. "He saved Alex," he finally said simply. Liz noticed Riverdog didn't really answer the question, though. Then he turned to Alex. "Are you all right? Do you need anything?"<br> <br>Alex blinked, then shook his head, rubbing his arms absently. "I'm okay." He looked over at Isabel. "Better than okay." Riverdog nodded, satisfied.<br> <br>Ardan returned to the room, striding over to Max. "You need to return to town. You'll want to get to the hospital." <br> <br>Max stood quickly. "Why?" His thoughts turned instantly to Michael and Maria, who still weren't there. "What happened?" <br> <br>"I don't know the details, but the sheriff has been shot." Ardan turned to leave again, Kyle moving swiftly to block him.<br> <br>"What?" Kyle reached out to grab the alien's arm, and found himself stumbling backwards as Ardan pulled away instantly. Regaining his balance, Kyle ignored the gasps from the others. "What happened to my father?"<br> <br>"That's all I know." <br> <br>Max couldn't believe it. Not Valenti. Somehow, Valenti seemed untouchable. "Aren't you coming back with us?" <br> <br>Ardan shook his head, looking back at him. "I have arrangements I need to make. But don't worry, your majesty. We'll meet again shortly." Then he was gone.<br> <br>Kyle stood there blankly. His father had been shot. That was all – no details, no sympathy. Of course, no sympathy, not from that alien. He jumped slightly, startled, as Isabel reached out and touched his arm, suddenly at his side. Kyle looked at Max wordlessly.<br> <br>Max nodded, looking around at them all. "We'd better get back." The sense of impending danger, which finding Alex had made vanish for a while, was back in full force now. He reached over and took Liz's hand. <br> <br>"Wait." She turned and spoke to Riverdog, reaching out to him with her free hand. "I wanted to ask you about......"<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>She was standing in the cave, looking at the symbols on the wall in the dim torchlight. A much younger Riverdog was standing in front of her, watching her with expressionless eyes. She reached out a hand, gently touching the whirlwind symbol.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>Liz blinked as she was transported back to the present. She drew back from the old man, noticing that he was watching her with curiosity, but no surprise. "About my grandmother," she managed to get out. "You did know her." Not a question.<br> <br>"I knew her," he agreed, nodding slowly. "Many years ago." He looked past her to Kyle. "But I think that now isn't the time for stories. Later. I will tell you how I met your grandmother later. When there's time."<br> <br>Liz cast a quick glance to the pale Kyle, and had to admit that Riverdog had a point. Still..... "You're not going to pull another disappearing act, are you?" <br> <br>He smiled then, briefly. "No. I will see you again soon."<br> <br>"Let's go," Max said, voice serious. <br> <br>It never seemed to end, did it?<br><br>--------------------------------------------------------<br><br>Michael lay on his stomach, hidden behind the trees in the dark as he observed the Skins walking about the factory. The old Meta-chem factory, same place where Kivar had Isabel six months earlier. Never let it be said that they were original.<br> <br>He'd only gotten about halfway to the Sanctuary point when he'd been overcome with a sense of almost overwhelming panic from Maria. Michael had instantly turned his bike around and headed back into town. By the time he reached the Jetta, Maria was already long gone. What Michael found instead were ambulances and police cars. <br> <br>He watched as Valenti was loaded up into the ambulance. Even from a distance, he could pick up on the sense of impending death. The sheriff was in bad shape. Michael had no idea if he could make it. Amy Deluca was there too, apparently all right. But Valenti.....<br> <br>Michael ruthlessly pushed down the feelings of loss and fear that came as he watched Valenti's body carried away. He didn't have time for that then. No time for anything except finding Maria.<br> <br>He couldn't allow himself to feel, not now. He couldn't let his emotions interfere with what he had to do.<br> <br>Heart of Stone.<br> <br>Finding Maria wasn't hard at all. The trail her pain left was as easy for him to follow as if her abductor had left behind a map. And each inch along the way, he worked to harden himself a little more. His anger at her pain and fear helped. That he could let himself feel. Anger and hate were allowed – they would help him accomplish his objective. Other emotions were forbidden during a mission. <br> <br>He remembered. Tymrath remembered. <br> <br>Perhaps it should frighten him, how easily he could slip back into who he was. But maybe he'd always known that was who he was meant to be. <br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Don't think about Valenti. Don't think about Max. Don't think of what must be happening to Maria or the baby. Just concentrate on getting in and out again. How are you going to do it?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>And so here he was, watching from a concealed location and trying to decide what to do.<br> <br>The guards outside the building were unimpressive. He wouldn't have any trouble getting past them. It was what he was going to do once he was inside that concerned him. He could sense more Skins inside, many more. He could get himself in and out, no problem. A tiny smile formed on his lips, cold and deadly, at the thought of any Skins who might get between him and Maria. But what about her? He wasn't as certain of his ability to get her out through all those Skins, especially since he wasn't sure what condition she was in. At least her pain had finally stopped, although her fear remained. And something was different about the connection, something Michael couldn't quite identify.<br> <br>They were going to pay for making her afraid.<br> <br>But before he went inside, he had to decide what to do. Michael knew that once he entered that building, he would have to go with events. Time for making decisions would be over. He had to choose his course of action before he went inside. <br> <br>Where Lonnie was. <br> <br>It had been hours since he first felt Maria's fear. At times the pain had been bad enough that it threatened to slow him down. He'd had to pull back from the connection a bit, as much as he disliked doing it. It felt almost like abandoning Maria. Another reason to hate Lonnie.<br> <br>What to do? A part of him wanted to go back and get Max and the others. Face things together. But the longer he waited, the more likely it was that they would hurt Maria again. And if he saw the others again, he didn't know if he could go through with what he had to. Couldn't stay strong.<br> <br>Staying away from Lonnie was a good idea. A very good idea. But if he avoided her now, what then? Sooner or later, Kivar's mental timebomb was going to go off. Did he want to be around the group when that happened? And Maria might not have much time. <br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>There are only two ways to stop Kivar from going after your girls, and you know it. Kill Kivar. Or kill Max.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>But we don't do <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>anything</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> for Kivar. Not anymore.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>The words echoed through his mind, over and over again. First Rath, then Shalin. Michael closed his eyes, opening them again instantly as he pictured Maria's face, then Max's.<br> <br>No, he could not allow that. Couldn't let his emotions overwhelm him. He had to think about this.<br> <br>Had to protect his family. That was all that mattered. Take away the fear and the emotional baggage, and he only saw one choice. One way to accomplish that objective. One slim possibility.<br> <br>Decision made, he moved towards the factory.<br><br>-----------------------------------------------------------<br><br>The ride back to Roswell passed quietly, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Isabel drove so that Max could sit in the backseat and heal the worst of Alex's bruises. The only comment Max made was when he tried to heal the tattoo, or whatever it was, on Alex's back. "It's not going away," he said, feeling an equal measure of confusion and frustration. Alex simply shrugged his shirt back on, face expressionless, but Max looked up at the rear-view mirror and caught the look on Isabel's face. He winced. There never seemed to be an end to the pain their existence brought everyone. He knew they all felt the lack of Michael and Maria as they rushed to the hospital, hoping that the sheriff was going to be all right.<br> <br>But Alex was alive, sitting next to him in the Jeep. That was amazing. Was it really too much to ask for another miracle? Even with his own distinct lack of faith in any higher power, Max found himself hoping. <br> <br>Isabel pulled in to a parking spot. "Come on." Max started to climb out of the Jeep. "We have to find the sheriff fast."<br> <br>Kyle moved quickly, standing in his way. "And then do what?" he asked in a low voice.<br> <br>Max looked at him with surprise, not sure of the expression he saw on Kyle's face. He could see the others gathering behind him. "Then I heal him," he said, frowning. "What did you think? Kyle, I'm not going to let your father die. Not because of us. There's no way."<br> <br>Kyle let out a low, bitter little laugh. "Wow, you really aren't big on common sense, are you?" He folded his arms over his chest, staring back at Max evenly. "You can't just walk in to a crowded hospital, heal my dad, and expect that nobody's going to notice. He wouldn't want you to do anything stupid like that." It hurt to say, but it was the truth. And it had to be said, because Kyle could see that Max honestly meant it. He would be that stupid. "Exposing yourselves is the last thing my father would have wanted. Not even to save his life."<br> <br>Max shook his head. "Kyle, it's your father," he said simply. <br> <br>Kyle smiled, a smile of affection and appreciation, but laced with so much sadness that it made Max hurt to see it. "I appreciate the thought, Max, really. But we both know what Dad would say to that. No grand dramatic gestures that will get everyone locked up in some white room somewhere." His voice firmed. "That's that."<br> <br>Liz frowned at seeing the two boys staring at each other so grimly, exchanged glances with Alex, then moved to intercede. "As much fun as it is watching the two of you out-stubborn each other," she placed herself between the two of them, "don't you think we should actually go see how Valenti's doing first?" Max and Kyle turned their attention to her, then looked away. "I mean, this is a hospital. Alien powers might not be needed." Her voice gentled. "We don't even know how badly he was hurt. I'm sure he's going to be fine."<br> <br>"Yeah." Alex agreed. "Listen, let's go inside. Isabel and I will ask around, see what we can find out, while Kyle talks to the doctors." He ignored the startled glance Isabel gave him. "Then we'll see if the alien rescue squad is needed."<br> <br>Kyle nodded. "Sounds like a plan." He started to walk towards the hospital building, Max and Liz following right behind.<br> <br>Isabel grabbed Alex's arm, pulling him to a stop. "We're going to ask around?" Her eyebrows shot up in the air, a confused look on her face. "What makes you think they'd tell us anything they wouldn't tell the patient's," it hurt to think of Valenti that way, "own son?"<br> <br>Alex smiled. "Now Isabel, are you honestly doubting your powers of persuasion?" he asked charmingly. "I don't know how anyone could say no to you."<br> <br>She glared, refusing to be sweet-talked. "That's sweet, but not too realistic. What do you really have in mind?"<br> <br>Alex grew serious and his voice lowered a bit. "You listen. Listen to the nurses, maybe the doctors as long as they're not actually doing surgery or anything – wouldn't want to distract them – and see if they're telling Kyle the truth. I mean, they probably will be - I donlie. But this way we can just doublecheck and see how Valenti really is, and if Max needs to jump in and heal him. Because no matter what Kyle says, there's no way that he's dying because of Lonnie." He shut his mouth quickly, not having really meant to say that last.<br> <br>Isabel stared at him. "What makes you so sure Lonnie's the one who hurt him?" she whispered, uncomfortable with the look in his eyes. <br> <br>Perhaps he realized that, because he looked away. "Just a hunch." The tone of his voice showed that he didn't want to talk about it anymore. He just knew, knew that Lonnie was behind this.<br> <br>"Uh, huh." Isabel's voice was doubtful. "And what do you mean, listen?"<br> <br>Now Alex was smiling again. He reached out and put his hand on her forehead for a minute. "You listen up here," he said gently. <br> <br>"You mean dreamwalk? But....."<br> <br>"You're a telepath, Isabel," he continued. "I'll ask them about the sheriff, and you listen to their answers. Listen to what they're thinking, not what they're saying."<br> <br>Isabel shook her head, staring at him. "You really think that I can do that?"<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>I know you can.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> She took a step backwards, shaking. She'd definitely heard Alex's voice, only his lips hadn't moved. It had been like earlier, his voice in her head. He frowned at her now. "Does that scare you?" Alex sounded concerned, puzzled. <br> <br>"No. Yeah. I don't know." She gave a nervous little laugh, glancing over to see that the others were almost inside. "We'd better catch up." She started to walk, Alex keeping pace. "It's just a bit overwhelming, I suppose."<br> <br>"You're getting stronger. All of you are." Alex's voice was warm and comforting. It almost made Isabel stop freaking out. <br> <br>"I guess." She shrugged. "I'm not sure I can just listen in to strangers' thoughts, though." Or that she should. She remembered connecting with Brody's mind when he was freaking out that day. Did she have the right to do things like that? <br> <br>Alex understood. "It's for Valenti," he pointed out. "And I'll be there with you." He reached over and took her hand. That helped. Things seemed more manageable with him there.<br><br>------------------------------------------------------<br><br>When they entered the hospital, Max cast a quick glance backwards towards Alex and Isabel. His sister nodded at him, then they headed off together. He supposed they were going to do what Alex said, try to find out any information they could. Liz saw his glance.<br> <br>"What do you think Alex is planning?" she asked quietly.<br> <br>Max shrugged. He had some ideas, but didn't want to get into it right then.<br> <br>Kyle was looking around for someone to tell him where his father was. "I wonder what happened," he muttered. "Where are Michael and Maria?" He looked over at Max seriously. "Do you think something happened to them, too?"<br> <br>Max just shrugged again. He had no idea. He knew that it had to be something serious to keep Michael and Maria from joining them on the search for Alex. He was very afraid that something had happened to them. But Valenti was their first concern.<br>


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 Post subject: Chapter 24 - Shields
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2005 1:16 pm 
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<!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center">"Just when the sky runs out of rain<br>Just when the sun runs out of light<br>Just when the earth is ill with pain<br>Just when your body is out of fight<br>I will be there<br>I will be the smallest piece and everything<br>And I would give my life<br>before I break this promise to you"<br><br>"Sword and Shield" – Sister Hazel</div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br>Amy looked away from where Jim lay unconscious in his hospital bed, over at the chair in the room's opposite corner. Yes, Lynn (<!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Shalin</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->, she reminded herself) was still sleeping there. As strange as this long nap was, Amy greatly preferred the other woman when she was asleep. Lynn had been hard enough to take before. Amy had no idea how she was supposed to deal with the revelation that she was actually an alien.<br> <br>Aliens. There were real, honest-to-goodness aliens roaming around Roswell, going to high school and basketball games, eating at the Crashdown, working at the UFO Museum of all places. Oh, and apparently fighting for the future of the planet.<br> <br>She strongly suspected she was going to start hyperventilating at any point now. Too bad she didn't have any calming cedar oil with her.<br> <br>Amy closed her eyes. Her daughter was having a part-alien baby. Incredible. She was having a hard time wrapping her mind around that little tidbit of information.<br> <br>The baby was still her grandchild, though. That hadn't changed, and it was what was important.<br> <br>How was she supposed to help Maria now? How could she protect her from a world that had actual aliens in it? Aliens that weren't even supposed to exist?<br> <br>Wait until she got her hands on Michael and Maria.<br> <br>A noise caused Amy to open her eyes and look up as Deputy Blackwood reentered the room from his post in the hall. Since carrying Lynn into Jim's room, he'd been alternating between standing guard outside in the hall and popping in to check on the sheriff.<br> <br>When he saw he had Amy's attention, Owen nodded his head towards Lynn. "Is she all right?" he asked quietly. "She's been asleep for a long time."<br> <br>Amy hoped her smile came across as sincere and reassuring, not freaked out and edging towards a total breakdown. Certainly wouldn't want to give him <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>that</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> impression. "Oh, yeah. Definitely." As if she had any clue. For all she knew, the alien could be communing with the mother ship or something. "She was just worn out, but she wanted to stay nearby in case there was any change in Jim's condition." Amy looked back at where Jim lay, concerned. Jim was always such an energetic, vibrant man, through all the years that she'd known him. Frequently annoying, but always very much alive. It hurt to see him in this condition.<br> <br>"Hmm." Owen moved closer to look down at the sleeping woman. "I know she and Jim are friends." Amy made a non-committal noise, not trusting herself to comment. "Friends can be good things." He turned to Amy. "'Course, the wrong kinds of friends can get a person into lots of problems."<br> <br>Amy smiled thinly. Tell her about it – look at the mess Maria's friends got her into. "How can you tell the difference?"<br> <br>"Now, that's the tough part, isn't it?" With that, the deputy returned to his guard duty.<br><br>-------------------------------------------<br> <br>Kassie watched with interest as Maria moved herself slowly to the edge of her bed. "What exactly do you think you're doing?"<br> <br>Maria glared in her general direction as she carefully swung her feet over the side of the bed. "What do you think? I'm going to go find Michael before he does anything too incredibly stupid." She sat up, very slowly, trying to move despite her general feelings of weakness and soreness. "You going to help?"<br> <br>"Help you go out there and get yourself killed?" Kassie paused, apparently giving it some thought. "No. Can't say I was planning on it."<br> <br>"I am <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>not</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> going to get myself killed," Maria retorted, standing up. <br> <br>And falling right back down again as the world swam in front of her. Kassie moved quickly to catch the human, helping her sit back down before she blacked out. "Right." She sighed. "Maria, you gave birth not too long ago. And it wasn't a terribly easy delivery."<br> <br>"I remember," she muttered.<br> <br>"You are in no condition to get in the middle of whatever Tym, Michael's, up to," Kassie continued, ignoring her interruption. She lowered her voice. "And you certainly aren't in any shape to deal with Lonnie's forces. Plus, what do you plan on doing with little Alexis?"<br> <br>Maria looked down at her daughter, sleeping without a care in the world. Frustrated, she turned back to Kassie, hating that the Skin was right. "You don't understand. Michael's going to do something really bad." <br> <br>Kassie sighed. "He told you to trust him," she pointed out.<br> <br>"Trust him to do what?" Maria's voice rose towards total hysteria. "Get his fool self killed? Or kill........." She saw something, a knowledge, in the woman's eyes. "You do know, don't you? You know what he's going to do! And you're not going to do anything about it?"<br> <br>"What I know is that Michael would want me to protect the two of you," Kassie answered firmly. "That's what I'm going to do. Taking you out there in your weakened condition, when we're going to be vastly outnumbered, is not taking care of you."<br> <br>"He needs me!" Maria insisted. <br> <br>"Maria......" Kassie's voice trailed off as her head spun around and she stared in the direction of the doorway leading outside.<br> <br>"What is it?" Maria's voice cut off as Kassie raised a hand for silence. Then Maria felt it, too. A faint tingling of energy running through her body. It wasn't much, much weaker than what she felt when Michael had let his power run through her body. But it was similar enough that she recognized it.<br> <br>Someone was out there nearby, fighting. Aliens.<br> <br>A slow smile spread across Kassie's face. "Well, well," she murmured. Turning back to Maria, the smile only grew, her eyes lighting up. "You feel it, too, don't you?" Maria nodded silently. Laughing quietly, Kassie stood up and went over to a box in the corner.<br> <br>"What are you doing?" Maria asked, curiosity winning out over her discomfort at sensing what Kassie had sensed.<br> <br>Kassie stood up, holding some clothes she had retrieved. "Getting you something to wear." Her eyebrows raised. "Unless you want to go running around dressed like that." <br> <br>Maria looked down at the hospital-style gown they had put her in. "But I thought..."<br> <br>"The situation has changed somewhat," Kassie explained. She laughed brightly. "Come on, little sister. Let's get you ready to go."<br><br>---------------------------------<br> <br>Liz pounded on the closed door in front of her. "Max!" she yelled, not caring if some evil aliens heard her. Max had gone into that room, and the door had slid shut behind him, trapping him and Michael inside. "Max, can you hear me?"<br> <br>"Stand back." When Liz obeyed, Kyle ran from a distance and threw his shoulder against the door, putting all his weight into it. "Ow!" He danced backwards, rubbing his shoulder. <br> <br>Liz ran to him. "Are you all right?" <br> <br>He looked at her. "Strong door," he muttered. <br> <br>She winced in sympathy. "Sorry." She looked back over at the door. "This is definitely not good."<br> <br>"You think?" <br> <br>Liz walked over and ran her hands along the wall next to the door. There were no controls, nothing Liz could see to help them open the door again from the outside. They were alone out there, two humans with no alien powers, while who knew what was happening to Max and Michael inside?<br> <br>"Uh, Liz?"<br> <br>She looked back at Kyle's worried face. "What?"<br> <br>"Did you happen to notice........" He took a breath, not sure how to say this. "Did it look to you like Michael was the one who closed the door?"<br> <br>Liz hesitated, then nodded slowly. <br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>'Not good'</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> would definitely be an understatement.<br> <br>"Great." Kyle stood near Liz, on the other side of the door. "We'd better find a way inside."<br><br>---------------------------------------------<br> <br>The second blast was stronger. Max's head hit the wall hard before he fell back down flat on the floor. Blinking, he lifted a hand to his head. He only spared the blood on his fingers a glance before turning his attention back towards Michael.<br> <br>Michael was watching his king struggle to regain his balance and sit back up, a curiously watchful expression in his eyes. As Max slowly stood up, never taking his eyes away from his second, Michael smirked. "You never do know when to give up, do you?"<br> <br>"Michael, what the hell is going on?" Max burst out angrily. His head was hurting badly, he was confused, and most upsetting, he was growing steadily more frightened. And being frightened of Michael was something Max hadn't expected to ever feel. Yet here it was. The physical attack, the way the vacant expression on Michael's face was slowly changing into one of calculated amusement - this wasn't Michael. Not the Michael he knew. He had to get his friend to snap out of it. Preferably before Michael hurt him worse. "Think about what you're doing." This time, Max was prepared when Michael's hand glowed and the next energy blast burst out. Putting out his own hand, Max blocked it with his energy field. "Why are you doing this?" Frustration mixed with fear in his voice. What could possibly make Michael attack him like this? Michael ignored him, continuing to send forth his energy in a blinding white blast of power. Max found his arm starting to shake against the pressure from Michael. He'd never had to keep up his forcefield against anything as strong as this blast. He wasn't sure how much longer he could do it. "Michael, think about it," he begged. "Tell me what's going on. Did Kivar do something to you?"<br> <br>That seemed to register at last. Michael lowered his hand, and Max almost sagged with relief as the unyielding pressure vanished. He didn't lower his force field, not yet, but through the greenish tint, he could see Michael frown and shake his head, blinking as though he was just now waking up. "Max?" He sounded confused, lowering his hands to his side. "What happened?" His eyes grew wide. "Are you all right?"<br> <br>Relieved to see whatever had happened with Michael apparently over with, Max lowered his own hand, letting the force field vanish for now. "I'm okay. Michael, what hap....." And that was as far as he got. As soon as the field was down, Michael had him flying across the room. Max collided with the far wall, sliding down to land on the ground near a pile of discarded office chairs. His head wound was bleeding more now, and when he tried to move to sit up, a sharp pain spread from his shoulder. He managed to get into a sitting position, realizing that the threat was even worse then he'd imagined and that to lie there motionless was to put himself in even more danger. <br> <br>Michael was hurting him. Maybe even trying to kill him? Max tried to shy away from the inescapable thought, looking at his friend, seeing the tension around his eyes. Max instinctively realized that Michael was in some discomfort himself. He'd found that he could read people's body language enough to tell when they were hurt or in pain. Michael looked like he had one hell of a headache forming. <br> <br>Not that it was stopping him. He was walking over to Max, not hurrying, but not hesitating either. <br> <br>Max tried to scramble up, using the wall against his back to support him, but before he could reach his feet, Michael grabbed him by the front of his shirt, lifting him up easily. "You are always so damn easy to fool." Michael shook his head slowly, shaking Max slightly as he spoke, not raising his voice. "You never learn, never listen." Max reached down, trying to get a hold on Michael's wrist, but before he could, Michael tossed him casually over to the side. He flew over the chairs and landed again, breath leaving his lungs in a sudden gasp. Michael followed him casually. "You honestly believed all that crap about me changing, didn't you?" He pulled back a leg and kicked Max in the side. Max bit back a cry at the new pain. Michael looked down at him. "You're pathetic." He caught Max's eye and gave a little laugh. "You can't even fight back, can you? What kind of king are you? Maybe Isabel will put up more of a struggle." Max stared at him in horrified shock. How could Michael possibly speak so calmly about hurting Isabel? Whatever was going on, this wasn't Michael. Max couldn't let him near the others. <br> <br>Michael moved to kick Max again. But before his foot could connect, Max's arm shot out, grabbing for the leg of a nearby chair. Swinging with all the strength he could muster, and using a little alien power to make the swing stronger, Max let go of the chair. It hit Michael square in the chest, causing the other alien to double over briefly. Max used the opportunity to stand and start running back towards the other side of the room. Maybe he could get the door to open and get out of there. He didn't want to do this, didn't want to fight Michael. <br> <br>Before Max got across the room, Michael had recovered, standing up straight and shaking himself. "Not bad." His voice made Max turn around to face him. "Not good enough, of course, but still...." Michael smirked. "Glad to see that you're going to put up a fight. I would have been disappointed if you didn't." With an almost casual wave of his hand, Michael sent the rest of the chairs zooming across the room, right towards Max.<br> <br>------------------------------------------------<br><br>Alex paused briefly, reaching out a hand to pull Isabel to a stop beside him. "What is it?" she asked, worried by the expression on Alex's face. He seemed distant, as if he was listening to something far in the distance.<br> <br>"I'm not sure." He frowned. "What do you sense?"<br> <br>Isabel concentrated for a second, then shrugged. "I don't know. Max and Michael are back there," she pointed back the way they'd come. She could sense them, very faintly. <br> <br>"That's all?"<br> <br>"What were you expecting?" she asked, sharper than she'd intended. But this whole situation was making her very uncomfortable, and she was suddenly aware that they were alone, that the others hadn't followed them. "I hope you're not expecting me to dreamwalk them now, because I'm not really sure the time is exactly ideal for that."<br> <br>"No, it's just........." Alex sighed. "Something about Michael."<br> <br>"What exactly?" <br> <br>"I don't know!" he answered, frustrated. He started moving again. "Let's get Maria, then see what's going on with the other aliens in the group." He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "You aliens take so much looking after."<br> <br>A small smile formed on her lips. "But we have our positive points, don't we?"<br> <br>He grinned as they approached a door. "A few." At her mock glare, he hurried on. "You, of course, have way more than the guys. More than I could ever possibly list, in fact."<br> <br>"Hmm. Better." Isabel put up a hand and toyed with the chain around her neck nervously. "That's it?"<br> <br>"Yeah." Alex studied the closed door seriously. "Maria's in there."<br> <br>Isabel looked back at him. He sounded so sure of himself, and somehow, she didn't doubt him. She wasn't clear on exactly <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>how</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> he knew Maria's whereabouts, though. The two of them really needed to have a discussion later. "Okay." She reached out and opened the door, entering slowly. <br> <br>She'd only gone one step into the room when she found herself grabbed by someone standing on the other side of the door, just out of sight. Whoever it was had a firm lock around her neck and was holding her steadily, one hand coming around in front of her.<br> <br>"No, Kassie!" Maria's voice. Isabel managed to move her head slightly, enough to see her friend sitting on the edge of a bed, pale and worn-looking. "It's Isabel – let her go."<br> <br>Whoever it was released Isabel, pushing her forward. She would have lost her balance if Alex hadn't been there to catch her. Isabel spun around and glared angrily at the woman beside the door. "What was that about?" she asked, hand going to rub at her throat. She was ready to lash out at the stranger herself.<br> <br>Amazingly, the other woman merely smiled and shrugged. "Sorry. Thought you were the other one." She looked past Isabel and one eyebrow went up. "Aren't you supposed to be dead?" she asked, but her question went unanswered because by then Maria had seen Alex, too.<br> <br>"Alex!" Maria squealed. She tried standing up, but Alex went over to her quickly before she had a chance. Probably for the best, actually. Maria wasn't sure if she could really stand up on her own yet. <br> <br>Alex sat next to her, Isabel following, still giving Kassie cautious glances. He took one of Maria's hands in his own, smiling. "Hey."<br> <br>"Hey, you." She reached out with her free hand and touched his cheek softly, face lighting up as she grinned happily. "You're alive," she whispered.<br> <br>Alex nodded in agreement. "Yep."<br> <br>Maria laughed. "I knew it." Then she smacked him lightly on the arm. "Don't scare us like that again."<br> <br>"I'll try not to," he promised gravely.<br> <br>Maria stared at him for another second, trying to really absorb the fact that he was there, that he was alive. Then she pulled him into a tight hug. "I am so glad to see you," she murmured. "Things were just wrong without you around."<br> <br>"I missed you, too, Maria," he answered softly. Before he could say anything else, though, they were interrupted by a loud cry from the other side of the bed. He pulled back and looked over. <br> <br>Isabel was already over there, kneeling down at the side of the bed and touching one of the baby's hands gently. She looked up at Maria. "She's beautiful." She smiled. "Can I hold her?" When Maria nodded, Isabel very carefully gathered up the baby in her blanket and picked her up. All Isabel's attention was focused on the little baby in her arms, so she missed the look on Alex's face. Maria saw it, though, and she had a hard time resisting the urge to laugh. Alex had that look of almost-worship on his face that he used to get everytime Isabel would deign to speak with him, awe and adoration mixed in with stunned surprise. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Such a sap</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->, she thought fondly.<br> <br>Then Alex looked back at her. "You had the baby?" he asked, surprise in his voice, then shook his head. Stupid question.<br> <br>"Obviously," she said patiently. "It's not like I just found her lying around the place, you know."<br> <br>"Sorry. It's just........" Alex looked back at the baby, then again at Maria. "I missed pretty much the entire pregnancy."<br> <br>"Is she okay?" Isabel asked, looking up from her study of the baby. "I mean, she seems fine, but........"<br> <br>"She's perfect." Maria held out her hands and Isabel handed the baby back to her mother. "Alexis, I'd like you to meet your Aunt Isabel and Uncle Alex." <br> <br>"Alexis?" Alex breathed, stunned. They'd named the baby after him?<br> <br>Maria smiled at him. "Alexis Elizabeth Guerin." <br> <br>Alex blinked, then moved for a closer look at his namesake. "I think she's going to take after you, not her father," he commented. "Which is a good thing, really."<br> <br>The smile faded off Maria's face at the thought of Lexy's father. "Michael." She cast a panicked look at Alex and Isabel. "Something's wrong with Michael." Isabel cast a quick look at Alex. "I think he's ............" She couldn't even put her nebulous fears into words. "Lonnie threatened me and Lexy if he didn't do what she wanted," she finally said.<br> <br>Isabel felt a hot fury race through her at the thought of her dupe. "What she wants," she repeated flatly. "Let me guess. Try number three at killing Max?"<br> <br>"She's persistent," Alex pointed out in a strangely unemotional voice. Isabel gave him another look, concerned, but he simply shook his head at her. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Not now</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->, she heard him say in her mind. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Later.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>"You came with the others?" the woman Maria had called Kassie asked, moving closer. "Ardan and the others?" she clarified at Isabel's blank look.<br> <br>"Oh. You're one of them? With Ardan and Shalin?" Isabel asked. Kassie nodded. Well, that explained why Maria was okay with her being there. And the Skin had attacked when she thought she was Lonnie. If she wanted to hurt Lonnie, then she and Isabel had one thing in common at least. "Yes, we came with them. They were securing the place," she finished, dryly repeating Ardan's words from earlier.<br> <br>Kassie nodded briskly. "Good." She went over to the far corner of the room and returned, pushing a wheelchair. "I'm glad you're here, then. You can help me get Maria and Alexis out of here."<br> . <br>Maria really didn't look too good, pale and tired. "Should we be moving her so soon?" Isabel asked.<br> <br>"Probably not," Kassie agreed. "But this whole place is on its way to becoming a warzone. Leaving her is probably not the best option either."<br> <br>"Hello?" Maria waved an arm in the air between them. "I'm right here, you know. I might be tired and sore, but I haven't suddenly gone deaf." She glared at them, indignant.<br> <br>Kassie ignored her, speaking to Alex. "Help her into the chair." He did, trying to be as gentle moving her as possible. Isabel held Lexy until Maria was settled, then handed her back to her mother. "You push Maria," Kassie continued to give Alex orders. "Vilandra and I will want to be able to use our powers if necessary." She gave Isabel a coolly appraising look. "I'm assuming that you are capable of defending yourself."<br> <br>"If I have to." She stared back at Kassie. "My name is Isabel."<br> <br>Kassie's mouth twisted, then she went to the door. "Follow, but be careful," was her final bit of advice before leading the way into the hall.<br> <br>They started moving, Maria occasionally venturing a comment on which direction they should go. The sense of energy, of alien power, flowing through her was growing steadily. She'd never felt this way before when Michael wasn't actually touching her. The sounds of fighting sometimes drifted to them, but it seemed distant. Her attention was divided between two things, Alexis in her arms and the sense of Michael.<br> <br>Yet she had to drag herself away from those at least partly, so that she could fill Alex and Isabel in on everything that had happened – her abduction by Lonnie, Lexy's birth (and Kassie's help with that), the threat to Michael's psyche as it had been relayed by Kassie. <br> <br>Isabel stumbled, surprised at what she was hearing. "You're saying Lonnie can just go into Michael's mind and destroy his personality so that he does whatever Kivar wants?" She shook her head. "No way. That just isn't something we can do."<br> <br>Kassie made an irritated noise under her breath, but said nothing. Instead, it was Alex who answered. "I think she can." He caught Isabel's startled glance. "You don't really have any idea of what she's capable of, Iz. Of what you're capable of." He looked away.<br> <br>"I couldn't......."<br> <br>"You wouldn't," he interrupted. "There's a difference. You're stronger than you know, Isabel. If Kivar laid down the groundwork inside Michael's mind, then yeah. I think Lonnie can trigger it." He looked down at Maria. "Michael believes it, too, doesn't he?" She nodded reluctantly.<br> <br>Isabel was stunned by the implications. "Then if Michael really believes Lonnie could do that to him......"<br> <br>"He'll do whatever he has to to stop it from happening." Maria looked up impatiently at Alex. The feeling of energy flowing through her body had been steadily increasing, making all her nerves tingle. It was making it hard for her to stay calm. "Can you push this thing any faster?" He nodded, jaw set. <br> <br>Isabel was distracted, thinking about the possibility of Kivar being able to do to Michael what he had done to her back on Antar, so long ago. If anything, it sounded like what could happen to Michael would be even worse. No coming back. So when the Skin jumped out from around the corner of a corridor they were passing, she was caught off-guard. <br> <br>Luckily, Kassie wasn't. She acted instantly, grabbing his head and ramming it across the hall into the wall. When he was still dazed from the impact, she slammed her hand into his back, discharging some power at the impact. The Skin was gone. But he wasn't alone. Another one followed right behind him, raising his hand to hit Kassie as she spun back around.<br> <br>Only to be thrown back by a brilliant flash of light. Kassie didn't look to see where the blow came from, moving to dispatch the enemy Skin first. Then she looked back at the others. "That was you?" she asked Isabel.<br> <br>Isabel shook her head slowly, eyes wide. "No." She pointed down at Maria in the wheelchair. "It came from Maria."<br> <br>Maria fidgeted slightly, uncomfortable with the way they were all staring at her.<br> <br>"You did that?" Kassie asked slowly. "How?"<br> <br>"Good question," Alex added, bending down next to Maria. "Have you been developing alien powers while I was gone? 'Cause you might have mentioned it."<br> <br>She rolled her eyes. "No, thank God." She readjusted Lexy, who had started to squirm. Alexis had been very quiet throughout the trip through the halls, almost as if she knew their precarious situation. Maria wondered if alien babies were born with some sort of heightened self-preservation instincts or something. "It wasn't me."<br> <br>"Maria, I saw it," Isabel protested.<br> <br>"I mean, yeah, it was me," Maria explained, remembering the sudden thrilling sense of power that had rushed through her and out when she saw that other Skin attack. It hadn't been anything she'd thought about – it had just happened. "But it wasn't really me. It was Michael." She looked at the lack of comprehension on their faces and sighed. "It was Michael's energy. I've been sensing it from him for a while now. And it's just getting stronger."<br> <br>"Michael's sending you his energy?" Alex asked slowly. He glanced over at Kassie, who seemed just as confused as the others. "He can do that?"<br> <br>"Don't ask me. I have no idea what's possible between alien-human teela-meis." She frowned. "If Michael is sending you his energy, then that's going to leave him weaker."<br> <br>"Why would he....." A thought occurred to Maria. Glancing at Alex, she saw his eyes widen in comprehension as well. "That idiot!" She gestured towards the handles on the wheelchair. "Get back to work! Move it! We have to get there fast!"<br> <br>"Maria, what's going on?" Isabel asked, moving into step beside them as they continued down the hall, even faster this time.<br> <br>"I know what he's planning." Maria closed her eyes, hoping against hope that she could get some message through to him. No luck – he was still blocking her out.<br><br>--------------------------------------------------<br>The fight went on, Max managing to get in some blows against Michael, but dimly realizing it was futile. Michael was stronger than he was in this regard. But at least he was keeping Michael from killing him. Max watched as he managed to push Michael back again, putting up his forcefield, which was growing weaker all the time. Possibly the only real advantage he had was the fact that Michael didn't seem to be at his own fighting best, a tightness around the eyes and an occasionally distracted expression on his face. Michael was in pain, and Max didn't flatter himself that it was due to the puny blows he'd managed to direct against his old friend. No, this was something else. And all the time they fought around the room, Max kept talking, trying to get through to Michael, to make him stop this insanity. Not that it seemed to matter - Michael wasn't even responding any longer, simply concentrating on the next blast to throw at Max. It reminded Max of their old training sessions on Antar, only with one significant difference. Back then, Tym hadn't been trying to kill him.<br> <br>As Max found himself cornered yet again, a thought occurred to him. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Why hasn't he killed me already?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> He thought rapidly. Yes, Michael had hurt him. His whole body seemed to be one solid ache. Yet there was no vital damage done, nothing that he couldn't heal easily if he had the chance. And Michael was hurting, too, bruises and cuts from Max's counter-attacks. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Why aren't I dead?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> The taunting, the slow attacks – this wasn't like Tym at all. If Tymrath was going to kill you, then he didn't waste time. He just did it. And none of this was like Michael. <br> <br>He saw an opening as Michael paused in his attack, an expression of discomfort on his face. Max gathered up one last burst of energy and pushed outwards with his forcefield, green energy pushing Michael back and off his feet, skidding across the room. Max moved instantly, on the ground next to Michael before the other alien could recover, one hand hovering menacingly over Michael's chest. Michael gave him one look, then closed his eyes, head dropping down to the ground. "I don't think you have the guts," he muttered, voice growing louder as he opened his eyes to glare at him. "What are you waiting for? Do it!"<br> <br>Max met his eyes, shaking his head. "I don't want to hurt you, Michael," he replied.<br> <br>Michael laughed. "Then let me get up. Of course, then I'll kill you." He winced, closing his eyes again. "Isabel, too."<br> <br>Max's hand shook slightly. "Then why haven't you?" Not moving the hand poised to strike at Michael if necessary, Max reached out with his other hand and touched Michael's forehead lightly. Michael moved away slightly, but Max was able to touch it. Max hissed sharply, drawing his hand back. He could feel the pressure building inside Michael's skull, a horrendous headache that put his own aching head to shame. "What's wrong?" he whispered. <br> <br>Michael laughed hoarsely, not opening his eyes. "What is your problem, Max? Why can't you just accept the obvious fact that I finally decided following your lead wasn't in my best interest?" Now his eyes opened, angry and piercing. "That I'm finally doing what I should have done a lifetime ago?"<br> <br>He shook his head. "No," he said with certainty. "That's not what this is about." He smiled slightly. "You let me win back then, didn't you? All the times we practiced. I can't beat you. Not in a direct fight. So why haven't you killed me yet, huh?" Michael didn't answer. "I've seen you in action, so many times. If you wanted me dead, I would never have gotten up once. You wouldn't have wasted so much time. And you wouldn't have let me get in as many blows as I did." His own eyes narrowed as things fell into place. "The taunts, the threats to Isabel - you wanted me to fight back. You were letting me wear you down. Why?" he continued. "What's going on inside your mind, Michael?"<br> <br>Michael sighed. His fists clenched, but he made no move to get up. "It's Lonnie," he said quietly. The anger remained in his eyes, but it subsided slightly. He just seemed tired. "And Kivar. Back before, he got inside my mind."<br> <br>"Like with Vilandra," Max said slowly.<br> <br>"Worse. If Lonnie wants, she can totally take over. I'll do what Kivar wants. Anything he wants." He winced again. "She's already inside," he whispered, voice losing strength as he fought back the pain. "I can feel her trying to get in. I thought if she believed I was doing what she wanted.... but she must know it's taking too long."<br> <br>Max tried to think this through. That was why Michael had wanted him to fight back. He didn't want to be at full strength if Lonnie did manage to control him. "You're too thick and stubborn to let Kivar or Lonnie take over," he said finally.<br> <br>"Don't you get it?" Michael spat out. "I let Kivar in back then. We all did. I can't stop her!" <br> <br>Max tried to fight back the sense of dismay his friend's words caused. "We'll figure something out." He started to sit back. "Good to know that you didn't really mean to kill me, though," he said, trying to seem calm. He started to draw his hand back, but Michael's hand shot through the air and grabbed his wrist.<br> <br>Michael's eyes locked with his. "I thought I had more time. That I could keep her out long enough for us to come up with something," he said, speaking rapidly. "I could buy some time, make her think I was going to kill you. But she's too strong, Max. I can feel her, trying to beat her way into my mind. She's coming for me – I don't have any more time." There was no way to explain the horror of knowing that someone was trying to take over your thoughts, your emotions. Several times while fighting Max, he had felt himself come dangerously close to losing control, had almost attacked Max for real. He wasn't sure how much was from his past self gaining control, and how much was Lonnie's influence. Either way, he was now as big a threat to the group as anyone. His grip on Max's wrist tightened. Michael had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but if it was a choice between him or the others.... "I can't keep her out much longer, Maxwell," he went on. "She'll make me hurt you. You, Isabel, Liz, Kyle. Everyone." He pulled Max's hand down so that it was directly over his heart. "Even if I do what she wants now, eventually, sooner or later, she'll do it. Kivar will do it. Don't let that happen."<br> <br>Max's eyes widened with horror as he realized what Michael was suggesting. "What are you saying? You want me to kill you? That's your brilliant plan?" he gasped. "Are you insane?"<br> <br>Michael's gaze never faltered. "Not at the moment," he answered. "My <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>plan</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> was to fool Lonnie into thinking I was on her side. That doesn't seem to be working." He grimaced. "She's almost in. I can't think of anything else to do. This is my back-up plan. Last chance. I don't want to die, Max. But after Lonnie's done, I'll be good as dead. Worse. I can't let them use me to kill the rest of you." He pushed Max's hand down even more. "I can't kill you, any of you."<br> <br>Max shook his head. "I can't do it, Michael. No way."<br> <br>"She'll make me hurt Maria, Max! Our daughter!" Michael got out in a strangled voice. "Don't let her. Please." He paused. "I'm trusting you to take care of them."<br> <br>Max closed his eyes and lowered his head, overwhelmed by the situation. He didn't know what to do.<br><br>------------------------------<br>Kyle moved back from their useless pounding on the wall when he heard the noise of someone approaching down the hallway. He positioned himself in front of Liz, even as he realized how very little help he would actually be if they were attacked by aliens.<br> <br>At first, he thought that his worst fears were correct, and they were going to be attacked. He didn't recognize the first woman who came into sight. But then he saw Isabel, and Alex pushing Maria in a wheelchair. "About time," he said, relief coloring his words. He'd been worried about them.<br> <br>Liz pushed past him, running to Maria. "Are you all right?" She paused as she noticed the baby in Maria's arms, then kept on, bending down next to the wheelchair. "You had the baby," she whispered. "Maria, she's adorable." She looked up to smile at her best friend.<br> <br>Kyle came next to them, grinning despite himself as he looked down at the baby. "Cool." He ignored Isabel's eyeroll. Then he got back to business. "Guys, we sort of have a situation here."<br> <br>The strange woman walked over to examine the door. "You were trying to get through here?" she asked over her shoulder at Kyle.<br> <br>Kyle looked at Maria for an explanation. "T'onxyl," she said, shrugging. <br> <br>"Oh." Kyle looked back at the alien. "Yeah, that was the plan. Not exactly a detailed plan or anything, but we were trying to get in there. That's where Max went. Michael's in there, too," he added.<br> <br>"Oh, that is so not a good thing," Maria said, upset.<br> <br>Kyle and Liz exchanged glances. "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of the class?" Kyle asked pointedly.<br> <br>"Something that might explain why Michael would lock himself and Max in there?" Liz added.<br> <br>The baby started to cry again, and Maria rocked her gently. "It's okay, Lexy. It's just our weekly alien-related crisis." But she didn't think she was convincing anyone, not even her daughter, that this was anywhere near the norm. She looked over at Kassie, who was closely studying the wall where the door was. "We need to get in there."<br> <br>Kassie looked back at her. "It's shut tight. You won't be able to get in this way."<br> <br>Isabel went over to join her, putting her hand on the door. "I can open it." She closed her eyes and concentrated, but nothing happened. She looked at Kassie, surprised. "Why isn't it opening?"<br> <br>"Heavy atoms," she explained. "A trick we picked up from your FBI Special Unit, actually."<br> <br>Alex tilted his head, almost as if he was listening to some faint noise. "Lonnie's not far," he said quietly, instantly catching their attention. "She's getting closer."<br> <br>"Great." Maria turned to Kassie. "We need to get in there. Now," she repeated.<br> <br>"Why?" Kassie frowned. "If Tym wanted us in there, then he wouldn't have locked us out. We should just let him do whatever it is that he has to do."<br> <br>"Even if it ends up with my brother dead?" Isabel crossed her arms and stared at her in angry disbelief. "No way."<br> <br>"Isabel's right." Maria's voice was firm and it was clear that she wasn't going to accept any argument. "Kassie, if we can't get through this door, then you go and find us another way in." Kassie opened her mouth, but Maria kept talking right over any objections she might raise. "Now."<br> <br>Kassie stared at her for a long moment, then nodded her head slightly, a small smile playing around her lips. She turned and went back the way they'd come. Liz and Kyle exchanged glances before turning in unison to stare at Maria.<br> <br>"What just happened?" Liz asked.<br> <br>"I think the scary alien lady just took orders from Maria." Kyle grinned. "<!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>Very</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> cool."<br> <br>Alex walked over to stand next to Isabel at the closed door. "Are you getting anything?"<br> <br>She shook her head. "Just that they're in there. Nothing more specific than that."<br> <br>He looked back at Maria. "How about you?"<br> <br>Maria grimaced. "No. Michael's being annoying again, and shut me out. I can't pick up any emotions from him." <br> <br>Alex sighed. "We need to know what's going on in there." Frustrated, his fist suddenly sprang out and hit the unmoving door. He didn't even seem to feel the impact, but Isabel winced in sympathy. And more than a little fear – she could see the panic growing in his eyes, try as he did to hide it. The idea of Lonnie showing up at any moment was making Alex ready to bolt.<br> <br>Maria sat up straighter suddenly. "Liz!" Her friend looked up from the baby. "You could do it!"<br> <br>"Do what?" she asked cautiously.<br> <br>Isabel clasped her hands together. "Of course." She smiled at Maria. "You're a genius."<br> <br>"Make sure you tell Michael that."<br> <br>"Of course what?" Liz wanted to know.<br> <br>"Find out what's going on inside." Maria took one of Liz's hands. "Do your out-of-body experience thingie and see what's happening with Max and Michael in there."<br> <br><br>Liz stared at Maria, doing a pretty good job of imitating a deer caught in headlights. Then she blinked. "I don't know......" her voice trailed off, then she seemed to mentally shake herself. "Okay," she said more firmly. <br> <br>"Out of body experience?" Kyle was a bit lost.<br> <br>"It's more like astral projection," Liz explained, trying to firm up her resolve. "I did it once before. I could see Max when he was all the way in New York."<br> <br>"Wow. Impressive long-distance communication."<br> <br>Isabel swatted Kyle's arm. "It's not like a phone call. Liz can't talk to Max. But she can see what's going on." She looked at the human girl. "You'll do it?" Her eyes were wide and hopeful.<br> <br>Liz took a deep breath. "I'll do my best." She sat down on the floor, trying to make herself comfortable, closing her eyes and folding her hands in her lap. Maria, watching her, was suddenly struck by how very young she looked. Sometimes they all seemed so much older than their years. <br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Think about Max</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->, Liz thought to herself, bringing up a mental image of Max, his eyes, his little half-smile, the overall feel of him. <br> <br>Praying that this would work, she opened her eyes.<br><br>------------------------------------------<br> <br>Max made his decision. "No." He pulled back, removing his hand from Michael's chest. "Of course not. I'm not going to do this." He smiled a little. "You might be an idiot at times, but that doesn't mean I'm going to kill you."<br> <br>Michael sat up, shaking all over. "You don't get it, Max." The pressure inside his skull was growing steadily. "I don't think I can hold on much longer."<br> <br>"Yes, you can." Max clasped his arm, sitting next to him. "Everything you've been through, everything you've overcome – you can do this. Just hold on a little longer." Michael shook his head faintly. Max went on, voice growing more demanding. "Don't you dare give up, Michael. Don't let Kivar win!"<br> <br>"I don't think I can stop him." Michael's voice was quiet and so tired. "Not this time." He looked at Max, pleading. "I'm trusting you, Max. All of you. Take care of Maria and the baby. " The group, their connection – it was the only thing he could put faith in now.<br> <br>That sounded way too close to giving up for Max. He opened his mouth to argue sharply with his friend, when his attention was drawn by a flicker of movement in the corner of his view. He looked over, confusion on his face. "Liz?"<br> <br>Michael looked in the direction Max had turned, seeing nothing but an empty corner. "Uh, Max? Nobody's there." He must have hit Max on the head harder than he'd thought.<br> <br>Max's eyes darted down to look at Michael quickly. "You don't see her?" He returned his gaze to the corner. Yes, Liz was still there, figure somehow indistinct, yet still quite clear. She looked frightened, pointing at Michael with one hand and Max with the other, yet saying nothing. "No, I guess you wouldn't," he continued softly, realizing that she wasn't really there. It was like New York. <br> <br>"You see Liz?" Michael let his head fall back with a thud. "Great," he muttered. He closed his eyes as he felt another sharp pain go through his head. He'd only felt anything like this once before – the first time he'd gone to 'training' with Laras, back on Antar. Once had been enough. He'd quickly learned to open his mind for Laras's instructions. <br> <br>This was worse.<br> <br>Max focused on Liz's figure, uncertain as to how long she'd be able to maintain this presence. "Did you find Maria? Is she okay?" That got Michael's attention. He looked at Max quickly. Max breathed a sigh of relief as Liz nodded. "She's all right," he told Michael before continuing to question Liz, an idea coming to him. "Do you know what Lonnie and Kivar are going to try?" Another emphatic nod from Liz. Max looked down at Michael. "Michael, I need you to hold on for just a little longer, do you hear me?" When Michael started to shake his head, Max's voice grew firmer, more commanding. "That's an order, Michael!"<br> <br>Michael managed a small smile. "You always were pushy," he muttered, obviously in pain. "I'll try, believe me. But......."<br> <br>"You don't have to last much longer. Just a little bit." Max looked at Liz. "Are you all together?" She nodded for a third time, confusion on her face. Max smiled. "Tell Isabel that we need some help here." He looked down at Michael, feeling more confident than he had since they learned about Valenti's shooting. "I think we might have a surprise for Lonnie and Kivar."<br> <br>That's when Michael lost consciousness.<br><br>----------------------------------------------------<br> <br>Out in the hallway, Liz came back to her physical body with a start. Eyes flying open, she stood up and turned instantly to Isabel. "Lonnie's trying to get into Michael's mind right now," she blurted out. "And he's close to giving up." Maria gave a small cry, and Liz turned to give her a sympathetic look. "He's fighting it, Maria, but ........."<br> <br>"But Lonnie's strong," Alex finished for her, avoiding looking at anyone. Instead, he was staring at the far wall as though it was vastly interesting.<br> <br>"It's not really her," Liz pointed out. "Although, yeah. She's strong."<br> <br>"But it's really Kivar," Isabel added. "He's working through Lonnie, but ultimately, it's his doing." She clenched her hands into tight fists. Kivar, always Kivar.<br> <br>"Yes." Liz turned back to Isabel. "Michael's going to need some help. Someone needs to neutralize Lonnie, undo the damage Kivar's trying to do." <br> <br>Isabel bit her lip. "And you think I can do that?"<br> <br>Liz smiled. "Who else?"<br> <br>Isabel took a deep breath. "I couldn't fight Kivar before," she pointed out. "He won. He always wins."<br> <br>"No, he doesn't," Alex said forcefully, looking directly at Isabel now. "Kivar is not going to win again. We're not going to let him."<br> <br>"Right," Kyle agreed. Of course, he wasn't sure what he could exactly do, but he wasn't willing to just sit back and watch while Kivar made an alien zombie out of Michael. "I've gotten used to grumpy guy," he went on, shrugging. "If Michael needs help, then we do what we have to."<br> <br>"Besides, Kivar didn't win against you the last time," Maria pointed out, trying to control her own desperation and seem somewhat calm. "You broke off his control last year." She held Lexy even closer. "Come on, Isabel. Your determination and Michael's stubbornness – how can you lose?"<br> <br>Isabel shook her head, giving a shaky laugh. "Are you really that sure?"<br> <br>Maria caught her eye. "Please, Isabel," she said softly. "You're the only one who can do this. You know that." <br> <br>Isabel took a deep breath. She supposed it was time. Time to get over her fears. Fears of Kivar. Fears of her own abilities and what they meant. No one was going to hurt Michael and get away with it. Not while she was around. "Of course," she said firmly. Now she just had to figure out how to start.<br> <br>Alex took her hand. He smiled at her and gave her a quick kiss. She heard his voice inside her mind. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>You can do this. You can do anything.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>You just keep that in mind for the future, she thought back.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> She thought about what to do. Since she wasn't sure how to directly attack Lonnie, she decided to go to the source of the problem. She just hoped that Michael's mind could handle all this psychic interference.<br> <br>As she reached out for Michael's mind, she felt Alex's thoughts slip in easily with her own, mingling until they were almost one entity, flying, searching for Michael.<br> <br>And entering a storm.<br><br>--------------------------------------------------<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Just hold on a little longer.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>Sure, easy for Max to say. He'd never tried to stand and hold back an avalanche with his bare hands.<br> <br>That's what it felt like for Michael, the mental equivalent of an avalanche. The pressure from Lonnie's attack was all around him, trying to find any weakness in his mental defenses. Kivar did good work – Michael knew that his own emotions, his anger and residual hatred, were working against him in this one. All the tricks that they'd taught him in the T'onxyl were ultimately going to prove useless here.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Just a little longer.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>He knew he'd lost consciousness, how long ago he wasn't certain. It seemed like he was floating, completely alone in the dark. The only thing he could see was the stone wall surrounding him, a representation of the defenses he was hoping could keep Lonnie out.<br> <br>Only the wall was cracking under the onslaught.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>A little longer.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>He wasn't sure how much longer the wall would last. Dimly, in the part of his mind that wasn't focused on struggling against Lonnie, Michael prayed that Max would stop him before he hurt anyone. He hoped the struggle and sending some of his energy to Maria had weakened him enough that Max would be <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>able</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> to stop him.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Maria.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> With that thought, Michael managed to push back again, but he knew he was weakening, fast.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Need some help there?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> A foreign thought, not Michael's.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>What the hell?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>He sensed, rather than heard, laughter from the other person in his mind. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Nice place you've got here. Nice and simple.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>Michael groaned inwardly. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Great. Now I'm hearing voices.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Like he didn't have enough problems already. But there was something familiar about the presence. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Alex?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> he thought, trying not to get his hopes up.<br> <br>Michael couldn't see anything but the wall in front of him, but he had a sense of someone smiling at him. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Yep, it's me. And no, I'm not dead, just in case you were wondering.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>How?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> A burst of agony rippled through Michael's head. A section of the brick in front of him fell away. The wall was crumbling – it wouldn't hold much longer.<br> <br>The sense of Alex's presence grew even stronger now. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Isabel's fighting Lonnie off and trying to fix whatever Kivar did to your mind,</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Alex explained. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>I just hitched a ride.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Michael could see faint glimmers of light near him. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>This isn't working anymore, is it?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Michael felt a phantom hand touch his shoulder, the brief contact reassuring him that he wasn't alone. This was why he had chosen to fight back rather than do what Kivar wanted – he'd almost forgotten. He was never really alone, not anymore, and that was worth fighting for. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>You're fighting yourself just as much as you're fighting her.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Suddenly, the stone wall glimmered, turning to a gleaming metallic substance. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>There.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> The thought from Alex was satisfied. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>That should do it better. If there's one thing I've had practice with, it's keeping out Kivar and Lonnie.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Bitterness in that thought.<br> <br>The pain subsided somewhat. Michael let himself relax a bit. He had to trust the others.<br> <br>Now it was up to Isabel.<br><br>-----------------------------------------------<br><br>"This is taking too long," Maria repeated for what Kyle was certain must have been at least the tenth time. She rocked Lexy absently, staring at the wall in front of her as if sheer force of will was going to make that door open and the guys come out, safe and sound. Kyle was surprised at how calm and quiet the baby had been throughout things. A few small cries and whimpers, but nothing too loud. Alexis seemed to be watching everything around her, like she was aware of what was going on. He wondered if most newborns were this alert. Maria kept talking. "Much too long." As Kyle opened his mouth to speak, Maria pointed at him irritably. "And don't you even think about telling me to calm down again. I am as calm as I possibly can be!"<br> <br>"Right," Kyle muttered, walking back and forth across the hallway nervously. "You're an island of serenity and tranquility."<br> <br>Before Maria could respond, Liz piped up. "It really hasn't been that long, Maria," she said from her position sitting on the floor next to Maria's wheelchair. She had offered to hold the baby for a while, but Maria refused to give up Lexy to anyone just then. Liz wrapped her arms around her legs and hugged them tightly, trying to control her own worries. In her report to the group, she'd left out the cuts and bruises she'd seen on Max and Michael. Still they lingered in her own memory very vividly. "Only a few minutes, really."<br> <br>Maria nodded absently. "I know, but........."<br> <br>Liz reached over and squeezed Maria's hand in support. "I know." It was hard being the ones on the outside, having to wait and see what was going to happen. She looked over at where Alex and Isabel were standing, eyes closed and apparently completely oblivious to the world around them. Liz wished she knew for sure that things were working over there. A few times Isabel had made little sounds as if she was struggling, and her face looked tense. But she hadn't opened her eyes or said anything since she started her counter-attack against Lonnie. <br> <br>"I hate not knowing what's going on in there." Maria looked up at Kyle, still pacing anxiously. He was obviously doing about as well with the waiting as she was. If she thought she would be able to stand up without passing out, she'd be wearing out the floor tiles, too. "Kyle, how's your father?" She couldn't believe it had taken her that long to ask. But Max had been with them – surely Valenti was fine. <br> <br>He paused, looking down at her, face tightening up even more. "He got to the hospital in time. He's going to be okay." He hesitated. "We were lucky."<br> <br>Maria closed her eyes in relief. "Thank God." Still, she didn't think the sight of Valenti, shot and bleeding on the ground, was something she'd ever forget. "Lonnie's the one who shot him."<br> <br>Kyle looked away, adjusting his jacket and putting his hand in a pocket. "Yeah, I know." He looked away from the sight of Maria and Liz holding hands to his other best female friend. Isabel didn't look too good, face strained and body tense. Before he could say anything, she gasped and her eyes flew open. Alex's eyes opened at the exact same moment, and he moved to support her, putting his arms around her body quickly.<br> <br>"Isabel?" Maria asked hopefully.<br> <br>The alien nodded. "It's done." She looked over at them all, managing a triumphant smile despite her obvious exhaustion. "Kivar's little farewell present in Michael's mind is gone now."<br> <br>Liz let out a sigh of relief, noticing that Kyle and Maria did the same. "How did you do it?"<br> <br>Isabel shrugged. "I just did." She wasn't sure how to explain it. Just that once she connected to Michael's mind, it wasn't hard to sense Lonnie. And once she could sense Lonnie's influence, she just followed the trail back to Kivar's handiwork. "It was sort of like healing. But it was also like undoing a knot or something."<br> <br>"Don't be modest," Alex protested. "All that time you had to fight off Lonnie." He picked up her hand and kissed the back of it. "Pretty impressive, my lady."<br> <br>"Well, of course," she laughed. "Although I did have some help with that, didn't I?" Then the triumph faded off her face, replaced by a shadowed look of worry.<br> <br>"What?" Maria asked, concern mixing with irritation in her voice. Couldn't they have one full minute of not having to worry about something?<br> <br><br>Apparently not. Isabel shared a quick glance with Alex before turning to the others. "It's Lonnie," she said slowly. "She's pretty pissed."<br><br>-------------------------------------------------<br> <br>Max supposed he ought to be trying to find another way out of the room, but he was too worried about Michael. Sometime while he was telling Liz his idea, Michael had lost consciousness. No matter how much he yelled, Max couldn't get him to wake up. Healing didn't seem to work either, although to be honest, Max wasn't sure he had the energy to heal much more than a sprained ankle at this point. Healing took more of his energy than any other of his abilities. So all Max could do was watch as Michael lay there, eventually starting to move slightly, jerking his head from side to side. Max tried to take that as a good sign, an indication that Michael was still fighting.<br> <br>He refused to consider the possibility that Lonnie and Kivar would win. He had to have faith in Isabel and Michael. After all, they were the two most annoyingly stubborn people Max knew. That had to come in handy sometimes. And they had Alex on their side. <br> <br>Lonnie wouldn't be expecting that.<br> <br>Still, when Michael opened his eyes, looking around quickly and assessing the situation before turning his eyes towards Max, the alien king found himself tensing up. "Michael?" He really hoped that was still who he was talking to.<br> <br>His friend nodded. "Yep. Isabel did it." <br> <br>Max tried to hide his sigh of relief. "I didn't doubt it for a minute," he said, attempting to sound nonchalant.<br> <br>Michael laughed. "Right." He started to sit up, only making it a few inches off the ground before collapsing back down. "Ow."<br> <br>Max held out his hand. "Need some help, soldier?"<br> <br>"Thanks." Michael took the outstretched hand, but before Max could pull


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 Post subject: Chapter 25 - Starting Anew
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2005 1:24 pm 
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<!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center">"The battle's done and we kind of won<br>So we sound our vict'ry cheer<br>Where do we go from here?"<br><br>--- BtVS, "Once More with Feeling"</div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br>Slowly, Amy put the phone back down in its cradle, mind spinning from her conversation with Max. She was a grandmother! According to Max, Maria had a perfectly healthy little girl. Both Maria and the baby were fine and safe.<br> <br>Alexis Elizabeth Guerin. Her granddaughter. <br> <br>Amy's face lit up with a wide smile at the thought, even while tears filled her eyes. She remembered when Maria was born, how small she had been as she waved her hands around in the air, loudly announcing her presence to the world. Now her baby had a baby. <br> <br>She had to see them. Of course, there were still a few things going on here at the hospital.<br> <br>Amy turned back to the rest of the room and froze instantly, smile dying as her entire body tensed up. Shalin was awake and standing at the foot of Jim's bed, reading through his chart. Amy hadn't even heard her move. Shalin glanced up quickly before turning back to the forms she was holding. "He's going to be all right," She spoke in a neutral tone. "Looks like he should have a complete recovery, in time."<br> <br>"So now you're a doctor, too?" Amy replied, sarcastically. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you, Lynn?" <br><br>Shalin put down the chart. "Not a doctor," she answered calmly. "But I do have some basic knowledge about human anatomy. Plus, I don't sense death around him any more." She smiled slowly. "You don't like me," she said, stating a fact rather than asking a question. <br> <br>Amy snorted. "What gave you your first clue?"<br> <br>If anything, Shalin's smile grew wider. She walked over to the door and closed it gently. Amy wrapped her arms around herself tightly, but kept her expression calm. She wasn't about to give this woman the satisfaction of seeing her freaked out. Shalin moved closer. "And you're afraid of me," she continued.<br> <br>Amy forced a laugh. "No," she said. "I find you annoying, and I don't have any idea what Jim........." She rolled her eyes. "Okay, maybe I do know what Jim sees in you, but I'm certainly not afraid of you."<br> <br>Shalin stopped not far from her, eyes twinkling maliciously as she laughed. "You're not that bad a liar, Amy DeLuca. Too bad your body language gives you away." Her amused expression faded as she tilted her head to one side, studying the human woman intently. "And Michael? Are you afraid of him as well?"<br> <br>This time, Amy's laugh was genuine. "Michael?" The boy who had camped out at their house every night for a month after they thought Alex had died, making her hot drinks and handing her tissues when she cried? The boy who fixed her garbage disposal and made sure her daughter remembered to eat? Michael, who mowed her lawn and ate her cookies and came by the shop when she was working late, not saying much but obviously there to make sure she got home all right? "I'm not afraid of Michael," Amy answered. "Don't be stupid. He and I are going to have a little chat about keeping things secret that concern my daughter, and I'm not exactly thrilled with some of his decision making skills, but I'm not frightened of him." And it was true. Alien or not, she couldn't be afraid of Michael. The others, maybe. But no matter how much she and Michael might fuss and argue, she knew he would never hurt her. <br> <br>Shalin nodded slowly. Then she spun around quickly, a second before the door opened. Deputy Blackwood stood there, looking at the two women seriously. "Amy? Everything okay in here?" While he spoke to Amy, his eyes were focused on Shalin.<br> <br>Amy smiled brightly. "Yeah, everything's fine." She turned to Shalin. "Lynn just woke up and we were getting caught up on everything." Shalin returned her smile with one of her own, just as fake.<br> <br>Owen looked from the two, clearly doubtful. "All right then." He closed the door and the two were alone again. Just them and the unconscious sheriff.<br> <br>Shalin's gaze was cold and thoughtful. "So, not planning on turning us in, hmm? What a pleasant surprise."<br> <br>"Why do you hate me so much?" Amy burst out before she could reconsider. "Is it just a species thing? You've come to wipe out life on our planet or something? Exactly what <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>is</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> your issue?"<br> <br>"My issue?" Shalin shrugged. "I don't trust you."<br> <br>Amy stared at her in shock. "You don't trust <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>me</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END-->?"<br> <br>"No." Shalin looked away from Amy, clearly dismissing her as she walked back towards Jim.<br> <br>Amy shook her head. Unbelievable. "Well, too bad you're not the one making the decisions around here."<br> <br>"That's true." Shalin crouched down next to Jim, still looking at him. <br> <br>"Max trusts me. And the others."<br> <br>Shalin's laugh went right through Amy. "They don't trust you. Max Evans least of all." She looked from Jim to Amy. "He doesn't expect you to care about him, or the others. He just hopes that your concern for your daughter will be enough of a leash to keep you quiet and under control." Her eyes shifted, shining suddenly with such cold malice that Amy had a hard time not shivering. "He'd better be right."<br> <br>"I'm not going to do anything to risk Maria or the baby," Amy whispered. "Or any of them." Shalin wasn't looking in her direction anymore, instead holding her hand in the air right above Jim's forehead, not quite touching the unconscious man. "What are you doing?" Amy snapped.<br> <br>"He'll be waking up soon." Shalin stood up in a fluid motion, heading towards the door. She paused beside Amy, grabbing the other woman's arm tightly. "Max Evans had better be right about you," she repeated quietly.<br> <br>Amy jerked her arm away. "I'm not afraid of you," she said angrily.<br> <br>Shalin laughed. "Then you're even more of a fool than I thought." She opened the door and was gone before Amy could respond, the door shutting behind her.<br> <br>Amy was debating whether or not to follow her out into the halls – she hated letting the alien get the last word. But then she heard a noise from the bed behind her. She turned to see Jim's confused blue eyes looking at her. "Amy?" Then memory came back into his expression. "What happened?" He moved as if to sit, but she was over at the bed quickly.<br> <br>"Lie back down." She shook her head at him fondly as she pushed the button for a nurse. "You were shot, Jim – you don't have the energy for the whole macho man thing now." The door opened and his doctor came into the room. "Everyone's fine," she whispered, standing aside and letting the medical professionals check him out.<br><br>---------------------------------<br><br>The pain in his head was intense enough to make Michael wish for a return to unconsciousness. But he was aware of a presence lying next to him, one that wasn't Maria. This was enough to wake him completely. He opened his eyes and moved his head slowly to see who it was. Max, looking pretty much the worse for wear himself, with bruises, a swollen lip, and what was probably going to be one hell of a black eye. Michael winced at the sight, knowing he was the one who caused it. Sitting up carefully, he looked around. He didn't recognize the room.<br> <br>"Michael?" Max's voice. <br> <br>He turned and looked down at his best friend. But before he could say anything, a figure came bounding into the room through the door. <br> <br>"Good, you're both awake!" Liz beamed at the two of them. Michael raised an eyebrow, confused. He didn't think he'd ever seen Liz actually rush into a room like that. She gave Max a big hug, careful not to put too much strength into it. "We were so worried about you, but Maria said you were okay." Finished with Max, she moved over and hugged Michael, too. He was too caught off-guard to pull away in time. Liz pulled away and studied his face intently. "You look terrible," she said flatly.<br> <br>"Thanks, Liz." He frowned. "Where are we?"<br> <br>"Kyle's house." Liz moved to sit next to Max. "How are you feeling?" she asked her boyfriend, concerned. <br> <br>Max closed his eyes, concentrating. "I think my face is the worst of it. Everything else seems to have healed on its own." He reached up and put his hand over his eye. The hand glowed briefly, and when he lowered it, the bruising was gone. He smiled at Liz. "Better?"<br> <br>"Yes." She touched his lips gently. "You'll need to heal this, too."<br> <br>"I will." Max looked over at Michael. "Liz is right," he said. "You look exhausted, and your cheek is pretty bruised up." He lifted his hand, but apparently thought better of it and stopped. "Can I........."<br> <br>"Where's Maria?" Michael interrupted him. He couldn't handle this right then, the pretending that a few hours ago he hadn't beat Max up. Now here Saint Max was, offering to heal him. "And Lexy?" He didn't really have to ask – he could sense them, not far. They must all still be in the house. Michael remembered stumbling into the house now, he and Max eventually collapsing while Isabel made some comment about how she was clearly the alien with the most stamina. Michael had been wondering how Alex reacted to that comment as he fell asleep.<br> <br>Without waiting for a response, Michael stood up and left the room without another word. Liz looked over at Max, eyes narrowed in worry. Max sighed.<br> <br>"It'll be okay, Liz." He took her hand. "Some wounds just take longer to heal."<br><br>-----------------------------------------------<br><br>There was silence in the room as the sheriff and Amy were left alone. After the doctor and nurses left, Valenti gave his statement to Owen Blackwood, who wrote it all down without giving any indication one way or another of what he thought about the entire situation. At any rate, Valenti hadn't given any new information, simply confirming the same basic descriptions that Amy already gave. He wasn't too worried about his deputies finding any matching suspects to interrogate, and from what he knew of Shalin, he doubted that there had been any suspiciously extraterrestrial evidence left behind anywhere. This was just going to go down as an unsolved case. Not something any sheriff liked as a general rule, but in this case, Valenti wasn't going to complain.<br> <br>Amy looked down at Jim, noticing how he was avoiding her eyes. He was pale and tired-looking still, but he was alive, awake and aware, and that was what really mattered.<br> <br>Well, maybe not <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>all</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> that mattered.<br> <br>"I'm glad you're going to be okay," Amy began, pulling up a chair to sit by his bedside. "Are you feeling okay?"<br> <br>He smiled. "For someone who was shot, I'm doing pretty good."<br> <br>"Good." She returned the smile, leaning back comfortably in her chair. "How long do you think it will take your deputies to catch the monsters who did this to you?"<br> <br>She had to give him credit - he was good. He didn't hesitate a second. "I have complete faith in Owen."<br> <br>"The whole thing was so strange, though," she went on thoughtfully. "It wasn't a carjacking, and they didn't seem interested in robbing us. Just in Maria........"<br> <br>"How is she?" Jim asked in a transparent attempt at diverting her line of thinking.<br> <br>Nice try. "She's fine," Amy answered smoothly. "She had the baby, by the way. Don't worry - little Alexis is reportedly healthy. Not green at all, and no antennas, which is a relief. Children can be so cruel, after all."<br> <br>Amy supposed that if she was a better person, she’d feel badly about doing that to a seriously injured man. But she couldn’t deny the little feeling of satisfaction she got as Jim turned red and his eyes grew wide in panic. <br> <br>"Green?" he finally managed to get out in a choked voice. "Um, why would the baby be green?" He tried to laugh.<br> <br>"I don’t know. Should I have been expecting purple instead?" She leaned forward, tapping one finger on her cheek thoughtfully. "Or a nice metallic silver? You never can tell with these Martians, can you?" <br> <br>He’d managed to get himself under some control by then, but she could practically hear his heartbeat pounding. She really would have to end this soon. She wasn’t above wanting some payback, but she didn’t want to give the poor guy a heart attack or something. "Amy, I have no idea what you’re talk........."<br> <br>"Antarans," she interrupted. She smiled sweetly down at his stunned expression. "Relax, Jim. Max told me about everything. About him and the others being aliens. The whole ‘Obi-wan, you’re our only hope’ deal. Evil aliens trying to kill them." That last said with a lump in her throat. She was never going to be okay with her daughter being involved in that danger. "Everything."<br> <br>"Max told you," Jim said slowly. She nodded. "What happened?" he went on, voice sterner now, demanding. Amy frowned at the tone.<br> <br>"Don’t try bossing me around, buster," she said, warningly. "You’ve been lying to me for months now, maybe longer. And I don’t appreciate it."<br> <br>"Amy, I was just shot," he got out through gritted teeth. "I think I deserve to know what the hell has been happening."<br> <br>"Why didn’t you tell me the truth?" Amy asked instead. "Why all the lies? This is my daughter’s life we’re talking about, Jim. I had a right to know."<br> <br>"I couldn’t tell anyone." Jim closed his eyes, exhausted. He couldn’t believe Max told anyone, not even Amy. What had happened when he was out of it? <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Leave those kids alone for a little bit............</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>"Not even me?" Jim’s eyes opened again at the hurt in Amy’s voice. "Why couldn’t you trust me?"<br> <br>Jim chuckled bitterly. "Who accused who of covering up for a gang of drugdealers or some other nefarious activity? I don’t think you get to make comments about trust, Amy."<br> <br>For a minute, Amy looked wounded, but then her eyes narrowed dangerously. "You know," she said, voice staying low but growing in speed and intensity, "I think I’ve handled this whole thing pretty well. No freaking-out. I’ve been the very model of restraint." She stood up and starting pacing the room, arms flying wildly from side to side as she continued talking, still carefully keeping her voice down. "But not only was my daughter kidnapped from me, not only was my granddaughter born, prematurely I might add, and I wasn’t able to be there for her, but I find out it’s because of aliens. Aliens!" Her voice cracked on that one and she spun around to advance towards Jim. He found himself retreating as far back into the mattress as he could. An angry Amy DeLuca was an awesome sight. "Aliens!" she repeated. "Even getting beyond the fact that I’m actually having a conversation involving aliens, aliens who abducted my baby girl, it turns out that the boy who got my teenage daughter pregnant is an alien himself. So in one day, I’ve had to deal with a concussion, you almost dying, Maria being taken from me, and aliens! Including a creepy alien woman who threatened my life!" The note of hysteria in her voice seemed to increase each time she said the ‘alien’ word. "And becoming a grandmother!" She sank back into the chair, crossing her arms and leaning back as she fixed him with a glare. "While I’ll admit that you’ve possibly had the worse day of the two, what with the getting shot and all, at least you knew what you were getting into. So, I think I’m entitled to a little bit of explanation."<br> <br>He nodded slowly. Something she said struck him. "Someone threatened your life?" He reached over and grabbed her arm weakly, annoyed that he didn’t have his normal strength. "Who?"<br> <br>She looked down at his hand then up at him, expression softening slightly. "Just your friend, Lynn. Shalin. Whatever her name is. Don’t worry about it - she was just talking, trying to scare me."<br> <br>From the look on his face, he didn’t seem so sure of that. "What did she say, exactly?" <br> <br>Amy waved her free hand in dismissal. "Something about how I better not say anything to go against Max’s trust in me."<br> <br>Jim let go of her. "Will you?" he asked quietly.<br> <br>For a minute, Amy couldn’t say anything, just staring at him. She felt almost as if she’d been slapped. "You think I would ......." She frowned. "Max explained to me the importance of keeping quiet," she said, her expression one of tight fury. "All about the evil aliens, and the equally unfriendly Special Unit. I won’t say anything." <br> <br>"Good." Jim relaxed. <br> <br>Amy watched him carefully. Keeping the secret all this time - it couldn’t have been easy on him. "I saw Alex," she said, noticing the way his whole body tensed up again. "He’s alive."<br> <br>"He’s alive?" A huge grin burst out on his face. "Really?"<br> <br>She couldn’t resist. She found herself smiling back at him. "Really." She grew serious again and went on. "Max told me about what really happened to him. With Tess." That wiped the grin off Jim’s face right away. "Jim........" She had no idea what to say. She remembered last Christmas, the way that Tess had seemed to fit into the Valenti family. How must Jim feel after the way things with her ended? "You’ve done a lot for these kids."<br> <br>"Not enough," he said gruffly. "But I did what I could."<br> <br>"Why?" She honestly wanted to know. This whole situation was so incredible, so overwhelming. Amy knew she wouldn’t tell anyone about it, because of Maria and Michael’s involvement. But how did Jim get dragged into this world of lies and secrets?<br> <br>Jim stared her in the eye for a moment in silence, then sighed. "I made mistakes. Some big ones." He looked away from her. "Max saved Kyle’s life."<br> <br>"Kyle mentioned that, yeah." <br> <br>Jim’s face tightened as he stared blankly at the wall, lost in the memory. "I doubt that Max told you everything. So let me." He looked back at her. "Let me tell you about the Special Unit. And the day I shot my own son."<br><br>----------------------------------------------<br><br>Even if the house had been larger, it would have been easy for Michael to find Maria. He could sense her, stronger than ever before. He wondered if it had anything to do with the energy he had sent to her earlier, something which Michael hadn't been completely certain he'd be able to do. He'd gambled that their connection was strong enough for him to share some of his alien power with her even over a distance, and he'd been right. Apparently, emotions weren't the only things they could send each other. It was something to think about later – there could be definite tactical advantages to a human being able to use alien power, especially if that human needed protection. But for now, all he could think about was seeing Maria and Lexy, seeing with his own eyes that they were safe.<br> <br>He hesitated before the closed door to Kyle's room. He wasn't sure what to say to Maria after everything that had happened. Hadn't he always known that being involved with him was dangerous? She couldn't even give birth under normal circumstances. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Too late to change things now, even if you would.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> Michael moved again, but the door opened on its own. Isabel came out, looking him up and down and raising an eloquent eyebrow.<br> <br>"Decided to wake up finally? How nice of you." She shook her head. "You really look awful, Michael."<br> <br>"So I've been told," he muttered. "I'm fine, Iz."<br> <br>Isabel smiled, even as she sighed. "Guys," she said, tone of affectionate exasperation. "Go on in and see them." As she stepped aside for him to pass through the doorway, Isabel moved suddenly, hugging Michael tightly and kissing his cheek. "I'm glad you're okay," she said quickly, moving away. Probably going to find Alex. Michael stared after her for a moment. He hadn't even thanked her for what she did. It would have to wait until later. He went into the room and just stood there for a moment, looking over at the bed where Maria sat, propped up against pillows, their daughter in her arms. <br> <br>It was the most beautiful sight Michael ever saw.<br> <br>Maria looked up from the sleeping baby in her arms, a smile on her face. "Hey, Spaceboy," she said quietly. "Took you long enough." She moved slightly to make room on the bed. "Come over here."<br> <br>Michael went over to sit next to them, trusting his instincts to get him safely across the room without running into anything, as his attention was solely focused on his baby. Before, at the factory, he had been too rushed to fully absorb everything. He'd tried to, sure, tried to memorize every detail about Alexis in case that was the only time he got to see her. But now he actually had the time to really look at her, to fully realize that this was his daughter, his and Maria's. It was immense. He positioned himself next to Maria and reached out to gently touch Lexy's hand. "How's she doing?"<br> <br>"Fed and cleaned – all is well with the world." Maria laughed. "You should have been awake a while ago, though – she was yelling loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood. Lexy has impressive lungs."<br> <br>Michael smirked. "Well, she <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>is</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> your daughter."<br> <br>"Hah, hah." Maria stuck her tongue out at him. "And I wonder where her stubborn streak comes from? I had to sing her six songs before she'd finally go to sleep."<br> <br>Michael looked up from his careful study of the baby to look at Maria carefully. She looked tired still. "How are you both, really?"<br> <br>"We're fine," Maria answered. Michael leaned over and traced a path down her cheek with a soft touch, doubt clearly written in his eyes. "Really!" she insisted, smiling, nodding towards the corner where Lexy's 'mini-pod' was lying. "Kassie came by earlier and checked us out." She noticed the way Michael's eyes changed, grew flat, at the mention of Kassie. "She seems nice."<br> <br>Michael shrugged, attention focused on Lexy. "I guess."<br> <br>"But?" Maria prompted.<br> <br>Michael sighed, looking back up. He'd actually always been rather fond of Kaslya, but....... "That's how she works," he explained quietly, hating having to talk about things like this. The past should just stay buried, but it didn't seem to work that way. "Kaslya always liked to fool her targets into thinking she was innocent and helpless. Then she would strike." He remembered how she'd taken out a large group of royalist troops once. They'd welcomed her in, and by the end of the night, they were all dead. "Just don't forget what she is." <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>What I am.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>Maria obviously understood his thought. "I know what they are," she replied, frowning sharply. "I know what you were. And what you are." She smiled brightly, handing Lexy to him. He took his daughter and held her very carefully, looking down as she snuggled closer in her sleep. "You're my guy, and Lexy's father." Her smile faded. "At times, you can also be one of the dumbest people I've ever met."<br> <br>Michael looked over at her quickly from the corner of his eye. Yep, he'd known that he was in for a lecture. Figuring that both of them were going to get tense in this conversation, he put Lexy down on the bed between them. "You're mad at me for what I did." Not a question.<br> <br>"You think?" Maria sat up straight, glaring over at him. Not wanting to wake up the baby, her voice never rose, but the tone left no doubt as to how upset she was. Even if it had, her glare would have made her feelings on the subject quite clear. "<!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>Do</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> you think? Seriously – doing everything in your power to get your fool self killed like that?" Michael opened his mouth to argue, but she just rode over his attempt to interrupt. "And having Max be the one to have to do it? Where did you come up with that brilliant idea?"<br> <br>"And it would have been better if I had let Lonnie make me kill you all?" he retorted angrily, eyes narrowing at her. "Then you'd all be dead, Maria. That would have been a better solution?"<br> <br>"Well, since we're all still here alive, I think it's pretty clear that there were other options!"<br> <br>"I didn't have time." He wanted to start stomping away around the room, but that would probably wake up the baby. "If you remember, things were happening pretty fast."<br> <br>"So of course, you figured it would be better if you sacrificed yourself." Maria let out an exasperated breath. "God, I wish you would stop doing that. Nobody's expecting you to throw yourself in front of a bullet or an alien ray gun for them."<br> <br>"Maria," he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down, "I'm a weapon, okay?" This time, he was the one who ignored her as she tried to interrupt. "No, I am. I was raised and trained to be one back on Antar, and when they decided to bring me back again, it was for that reason. First I was made into a weapon for Kivar, then they decided to use me as a weapon against him." He held up a hand. "You know me, Maria. Better than anyone. You know what I can do, how I feel, how hard it is sometimes to keep in control."<br> <br>She reached over and grabbed his hand in her own, holding to it tightly as she met his eyes. "That's not all of what you are."<br> <br>He smiled faintly. "I know." And he did. "But it is part of who I am. I've had to accept that." His smile vanished, and his expression hardened. "If I have to be a weapon, at least I'll choose who I'm aimed at. I'm not going to be used to hurt my family. Not ever." His mouth closed firmly, indicating that there was no room for argument there.<br> <br>Maria sighed. She lowered their clasped hands to the bed between them. "Do you remember when you offered to stay on earth if I asked you to?"<br> <br>Michael's expression was guarded, suspicious of the apparent change in topic. "Yes," he answered slowly.<br> <br>"I told you I wouldn't ask that of you. I wouldn't make you choose between me and your loyalty to Max. I haven't changed my mind about that. But I will ask something of you." She squeezed his hand. "I will ask you to stay with me, with us. Alive." She smiled, voice growing softer. "Alexis and I need you, Michael, no matter how annoying you can be at times. We love you. We all need you – you don't get to run off and risk yourself like that anymore." She leaned closer to him. "We need you to stay alive and with us."<br> <br>Michael caught his breath sharply, deciding how to respond. Then, he leaned over and kissed her slowly. "I'll do my best," he answered finally. "I promise you that much, teel-sharan. I'll do my best to stay alive and with the two of you."<br> <br>"No more stupid risks?"<br> <br>"I'll do my best," he repeated.<br> <br>Maria recognized that was probably the best she was going to get from him. Still, maybe it would be enough. "All right." She kissed him quickly, then lay back down on the pillows. "And now I'm going to take a nap," she said, closing her eyes and drifting off.<br> <br>Michael sat there staring at her for a moment, as always surprised at how easily she could fall asleep. Then, a grin forming on his face, he picked up their daughter. He settled himself back to be comfortable, and smiled down at her. "That's your mommy, teelani," he whispered, using an old Antaran endearment. "Guess it's a good thing we have her looking out for us, huh?" He cast a quick glance at Maria's sleeping form, then returned to his conversation with Lexy. "Don't tell her I said so, though, okay?"<br> <br>Lexy didn't disagree.<br><br>--------------------------------------------------<br><br>Kyle was in a quandary. He’d already been gone from the hospital for too long. He’d been too worried about the others to leave, but now Michael and Max were awake and fine. Physically at least. Kyle wasn’t so sure about emotionally. Still, when had Michael ever been totally okay emotionally? Whatever they’d been through in that room, Kyle couldn’t help them with it. They’d have to work things out themselves. There was someone he was more concerned about at the moment. <br> <br>Alex. Kyle had seen him heading down the hall, so that was the direction he looked first. There was a light on in the bathroom, so he headed towards the open door. He paused, made even more uncertain by what he saw. Alex was just standing there motionless, staring at himself in the mirror, eyes unfocused like he wasn’t even seeing his own image. It was kind of creepy, actually.<br> <br>Kyle cleared his throat loudly. Alex didn’t make any movement, but his eyes seemed to focus. At least he wasn’t looking like a zombie anymore. That was progress. "Hey, you doing okay?" <br> <br>Alex turned to look at him. "I would have expected you to be at the hospital by now," he said, not answering the question. "Checking up on your dad."<br> <br>"Soon." Kyle entered the room, leaning on the doorframe. "But I have to do the whole good host thing first, right?" He tried to grin. "Dad would ground me again if I didn’t have the good manners to check up on our returned from the dead guest." <br> <br>A faint whisper of a smile formed on Alex’s face as he turned his whole body around. "I’m okay," he answered slowly. "It’s just a little weird, being back. " He shrugged. "You know, things are the same in some ways. But other stuff………" This time his smile was wider. "Again? How many times have you been grounded recently?"<br> <br>"I’ve been a model of good behavior lately," Kyle protested, indignant at Alex’s laugh of disbelief. "I have! Michael and Maria have been the ones getting into trouble."<br> <br>"Yeah, I don’t guess the sheriff was happy to find out about the baby, huh?"<br> <br>"Not at first," Kyle admitted. "He got over it. Now I think he’s in substitute grandfather mode." <br> <br>"I could picture that." Alex rubbed a hand over his face tiredly.<br> <br>"Are you sure you’re okay? I can get you something to eat or drink."<br> <br>Alex shook his head. "Nah, but thanks." Alex’s eyes turned probing, piercing. "Why don’t you ask what you really want to know, Kyle?"<br> <br>He hesitated briefly, then decided to just be honest. Kyle lowered his voice slightly before asking, "What did you do to Lonnie? Max was right - she did sound like she was being tortured." He frowned. "Not that I’m feeling bad for her or anything, but still, it was weird."<br> <br>"Weird. Isn’t that our motto here in the IKAAC?" Alex’s smile was brief and bitter. "I don’t know what to say, Kyle."<br> <br>"Just answer the question," Kyle answered. "You did something to her, that’s for sure. But what?" <br> <br>Out of the corner of his eye, Kyle could see Isabel come down the hallway and stop, close enough to hear them. Alex didn’t give any sign that he knew she was there, though. He answered, speaking softly and slowly, obviously weighing each word before he spoke it. "I’m not sure," he started. "I know that sounds stupid and like a cop out, but it’s the truth. Or actually, I do know what I did." His mouth twisted into a facsimile of a smile. "I’m just not sure how I did it."<br> <br>"You got in my way," Kyle was surprised to hear the anger in his own voice. "You shouldn’t have had to have anything to do with that bitch."<br> <br>"Yeah, well, a little late for that, isn’t it?" Alex’s eyes were so angry for a minute that Kyle actually found himself shivering, even though he knew the anger wasn’t directed at him. He wondered if he even had an inkling of the way Alex must feel about Lonnie after what she did to him. Then he thought about Tess. Maybe he did have some small clue. Then the anger faded, and Alex shook himself. "Sorry," he said, although Kyle wasn’t sure what he was actually apologizing for. The emotion, or the way he got between Lonnie and the gun. He went on before Kyle could ask. "I connected with her," he said simply. "I wasn’t trying to - believe me, I’ve had enough of her mind games to last a lifetime. I just wanted to stop her from hurting Isabel." Alex looked at the wall, frowning as if he was reliving the experience. "Maybe I was trying to," he said slowly. "I wanted her to look at me, so maybe I did. Maybe I thought it was the only way……." He shivered. "I was thinking about what she did to me, the way it hurt." He looked back at Kyle, and now there was no anger in his eyes. Only fear. "I made her feel it. Everything she did to me I sent to her. That part I didn’t mean to do, but it happened anyway." The connection had been instant and intense, bringing up all the feelings he had tried so hard to control and bury since Ardan rescued him. Why focus on what Lonnie did to him? Trouble was, denial wasn’t a really helpful coping strategy. Seeing Lonnie brought everything back to him, the sense of helplessness and panic. And the moment the connection flared into life between them, all those feelings traveled to her. It had happened without his intent or desire, and that terrified him. "How can I do something like that?" he whispered, lost in his thoughts and memories, momentarily forgetting that Kyle was there.<br> <br>"I don’t know," Kyle admitted, bringing Alex’s attention back to him. "Ardan said that you were different now."<br> <br>"Yeah, he mentioned that theory." Alex laughed slightly. "I think he wants me to be his next science fair project or something." <br> <br>"It’s okay, though," Kyle hastened to reassure him. Alex looked at him disbelievingly. "No, really. I mean, anyway you can protect yourself from her has to be good, right?"<br> <br>"Right." Alex didn’t sound anywhere near convinced, though. "You can stop eavesdropping now, Iz."<br> <br>Kyle saw the way Isabel stiffened at that, then walked up to the door. "How long did you know I was there?" she demanded. <br> <br>The smile Alex wore now was honest. "Since you first came down the hall." He shrugged. "I’d know you anywhere, Isabel."<br> <br>She blushed slightly, then glanced at Kyle. "You should go to the hospital and check on your father," she told him. It was very clearly not a suggestion.<br> <br>"Yes, ma’am." Kyle snapped a salute in her direction, exchanging a grin with Alex at the roll of her eyes. Alex would be okay with Isabel. <br> <br>"Tell him we’ll all come by to see him later or tomorrow," she ordered in true Princess Isabel fashion as he started down the hall. Then she turned back to Alex. "We need to talk."<br> <br>He nodded, then looked around. "Do we have any other options than the bathroom?" he asked, smiling a little. "I know we have a full house at the moment."<br> <br>Isabel was totally serious, though. She clasped her hands behind her back and gestured with her head down the hall. "Valenti’s room. It’s empty - the two sleeping beauties have woken up and relocated themselves."<br> <br>Alex nodded and followed her obediently. When they reached the room, Isabel moved to sit on the edge of the bed. She looked up at Alex. For the first time that she could remember, she was actually nervous around him. She had no idea what to say. When they’d found him the day before, it had felt like no time had passed. Things were back to normal with them. But ever since their encounter with Lonnie, Alex had felt distant somehow. She wasn’t certain why, but was afraid she knew the reason. A part of her wanted to avoid this conversation, pretend that nothing had changed. But another part of her, the part that Alex had helped nurture, knew that she couldn’t run from this. So she looked at the guy she loved, fully intending to get right to the point. When she opened her mouth, though, she was surprised to hear herself speaking about another topic instead. "You didn’t need to protect me from Lonnie," she said, sharper than she’d intended. "Do you really think I can’t take care of myself?"<br> <br>Alex looked at her silently for a long moment, then moved over to the wall opposite her and slid down to the ground. He looked up at her seriously. "Against Lonnie? No." His voice was quiet and even.<br> <br>She blinked. That hadn’t been the answer she’d expected. "No?" She went on indignantly. "Aren’t you the one who keeps telling me how strong I am?"<br> <br>"You are." Alex tilted his head as he looked at her. "You’re stronger than she is. But Lonnie has spent her entire life learning how to use her powers offensively. She’s very good at it." His voice twisted with a bitterness that tore at Isabel’s heart. "Believe me on that one. You need to prepare and practice." He smiled, and he looked again like the old Alex, full of love and confidence in her. "Then you’ll be her match and more." <br> <br>Isabel looked at him, noticing again the exhausted circles around his eyes. "Maybe I don’t want to be," she argued quietly. "Maybe I don’t particularly like my powers." She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself tightly. "Maybe I don’t want to hurt any more people with them." And she knew she was capable of hurting Lonnie. The fury rose in her at the thought of her duplicate. It frightened Isabel to know she was capable of that anger, that willingness for violence.<br> <br>Alex sighed. "Having the same powers as Lonnie doesn’t make you the same person as she is," he said, trying for a reasonable tone. "You know that, Iz."<br> <br>"Do I? Do I really?" She slid down from the bed and sat on the floor across from him. "Can you honestly tell me that when you look at me now you don’t see Lonnie?" Her voice shook. "For God’s sake, Alex, we look exactly alike! Can you really look at me, touch me, and not see her? Not remember what she did?" It was a nightmare, one that she hadn’t really considered until now. How could Alex possibly deal with it?<br> <br>Alex closed his eyes. When he spoke, it was in a voice so low that she had to strain to hear it. "I don’t want to remember it at all. But somehow, I don’t think it’s something that’s going to go away so easily." He opened his eyes, looking at her pleadingly. "You were the only thing that kept me going, Iz. I don’t mean just physically, although there’s that. But you were something real that I could hold on to, no matter what Lonnie did to me. Our love was something honest and true." And even that was something Lonnie had tried to twist and distort, but Alex didn’t want to get into that now. He scooted up a little, taking Isabel’s hand in his own. "When I look at you, I see you. Isabel Evans. Not Lonnie, not Vilandra. Isabel." He smiled and lifted her hand. "You’re all I’ve ever seen." He kissed her palm. <br> <br>Isabel blinked back the tears. She’d been so afraid that he wouldn’t be able to get past what Lonnie did, that he wouldn’t be able to separate the two of them. "Are you sure?"<br> <br>"I love you," he said simply. "It’s one of the few things in the world that I <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>am</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> still sure of." He drew her closer to him. Isabel snuggled closer with contentment. "I’m going to need some time," he said quietly. "I know that I’m going to have a lot of adjusting to do. But don’t ever doubt the way I feel about you, Iz. You’re still the most amazing thing in my life, and I would do anything, go through anything, to have a chance to be with you." He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "You’re worth it," he said, arms tightening. <br> <br>Thinking of what Alex had been through, Isabel doubted that she was. But maybe....<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em><!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>We're</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> worth it.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> She sent the thought to him.<br> <br>As Alex's lips met hers, she could sense his agreement.<br><br>----------------------------------------------<br>The sun was setting by the time Michael managed to pull himself away from Maria and Lexy. He’d spent the entire day getting acquainted with his new-born daughter. His venture out into the backyard now was half mission and half retreat. <br> <br>He found Liz and Max sitting on the grass right outside the backdoor, silently watching the sunset. Michael cleared his throat loudly as he sat down on Max’s other side. <br> <br>Liz looked over. "So, did you get Lexy back to sleep?"<br> <br>"How did you know……….." Michael’s voice trailed off at Liz’s amused smile. Everyone in the house knew when Lexy woke up. Maria had been right - their daughter did have a very determined yell. He smiled proudly. Alexis let people know when she was displeased about something. "Yeah. Had to walk her for a while - she likes that," he explained. Max nodded gravely, an amused glint in his eyes. "But she’s back asleep again." <br> <br>"I’m surprised you managed to drag yourself away from the two of them," Max said.<br> <br>"Yeah, well." Michael sighed, rubbing his eyebrow. He mumbled something incoherent.<br> <br>"What?" Liz cocked her head to one side, leaning closer. "I’m sorry - what was that?"<br> <br>"I said," he got his voice clearer, "that Amy DeLuca is here. She just drove up."<br> <br>"Oh." Liz bit her lip and glanced back towards the house nervously. She wondered how Amy was dealing with everything. She’d been just a bit too calm at the hospital, but the shock might have worn off by now.<br> <br>"So you came out here to hide?" Max asked, not even bothering to try and hide his amusement now.<br> <br>Michael gave him a look that seriously cast doubt upon his king's intelligence. "After you outed us to her? What do you think?" He wasn't angry about it, though. Just extremely nervous about seeing Maria’s mother again, a fact which he felt showed his natural intellect. Not only did he get her baby girl pregnant, he was the <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>alien</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> who got her baby girl pregnant. Hell, yeah, he was interested in possible ways to hide from her for as long as humanly, or Antaranly, possible. Michael looked past Max to Liz. "Maybe you should go in there. Do the whole best friend thing and be there to support Maria."<br> <br>Liz threw a panicked glance from Michael to Max, then sighed and gathered her courage as she stood. "All right. But if I’m not back out again in say, half an hour, come in looking for me."<br> <br>Max grabbed her hand briefly. "Don’t worry. We’ll listen for sounds of heavy objects being thrown."<br> <br>Liz shook her head derisively. Sure, she could count on the brave alien men to protect her. She didn’t see either of them coming inside with her to face Hurricane Amy.<br> <br>As the door shut behind Liz, Max glanced over at his best friend. Now that she was gone, Michael had gotten still, staring seriously at the ground in front of him. It was clear that he had something on his mind, something that had him even more worried than Amy DeLuca, formidable as she might be. He decided not to push and just let Michael talk to him when he was ready.<br> <br>Michael wasn’t really sure how to start. He listened carefully, with all his senses, and knew that they were safe to talk. Nobody was within listening range. Still, it wasn’t something that was going to be easy to say, even though he had to. Damn, but he hated this type of emotional crap. Things were easier before he had to bother with it.<br> <br>"I’m sorry," he finally blurted out, glaring at the grass stems in front of him.<br> <br>Max nodded, carefully looking ahead. "I know," he said mildly. "You were trying to save my life, Michael. All of our lives. Don’t worry about it." As if that was going to do any good at all.<br> <br>Michael’s head swerved around and he stared at Max in disbelief. "Don’t worry about it?" He gave a strangled laugh. "Max, I treated you like a punching bag! I hit you!" His voice was rising towards hysteria, and he determinedly pushed it back down again. "How can I not worry about it?"<br> <br>Max spoke slowly, hoping to get through to his friend. "I understand what you were trying to do, Michael. Can’t say that it was the most fun I’ve ever had," he continued wryly, "but I get that you felt it was the best way to stall Lonnie and protect us all. You didn’t do anything that I couldn’t, and haven’t, healed." He looked at Michael’s bruised face. "You, on the other hand, still look awful."<br> <br>"I hit you," Michael muttered.<br> <br>"Yes, you did. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that again, but…….." Max shrugged. "Like I said, I understand now why you did it."<br> <br>"Doesn’t make it right." Michael was back to staring at the ground again. He didn’t think he could handle Max’s forgiveness. He knew for sure that he didn’t deserve it.<br> <br>"No. But the situation you were put in wasn’t exactly right, either." Max shook his head, tired. "Since when has anything in our lives been right, Michael? All we can do is our best. And stick together." Now it was Max’s turn to look away uncomfortably. "I just wish you’d felt you could come to me first, talk to me before deciding to do anything stupid like sacrificing yourself to save the rest of us."<br> <br>Michael tensed. Like Maria hadn’t already lectured him enough on that particular subject. "I couldn’t," he said simply.<br> <br>Max didn’t show anything with his body tension, but hurt showed in his eyes. "Oh." Looked like some wounds really did take longer to heal. He’d hoped they’d come farther than that in the last year. "I’m sorry, too, then."<br> <br>Michael looked back at him, face a picture of confusion. "What for? You didn’t do anything wrong."<br> <br>"That you didn’t feel you could trust me. That you couldn’t talk to me about what was going on." He supposed he couldn’t totally blame Michael, but he’d hoped that they’d worked past the worst of their emotional distance and distrust.<br> <br>Michael shook his head. "It wasn’t because of you. Or at least, not because of anything bad about you. If I had gone to see you, see any of you," Michael paused, voice growing lower. "I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. I couldn’t have done what I needed to do." He glared a little at Max, even though he wasn’t mad at him. "You would have talked me out of it."<br> <br>"Of course I would have talked you out of it!" Now it was Max’s turn to stare at Michael as if he was being particularly dense. "It was stupid. You are not allowed to sacrifice your own life like that. You’re not expendable to us, Michael."<br> <br>"Yeah, Maria’s already told me that. Repeatedly," he muttered.<br> <br>Max resisted the urge to smile. "Good." He leaned over and clasped Michael’s shoulder briefly. "You mean too much to us. To me." His smile was laced with self-directed irony. "I’m not expecting anyone to die for me this time around."<br> <br>"Yeah, I know." Michael also knew that it might not be something they could avoid. But he had a promise to keep, and he knew Maria would hold him to it. He would do his best. He sighed, looking over his shoulder towards the house. "Guess I should go in there, huh?"<br> <br>"That depends." Max grinned. "If you go inside, you have to deal with an angry Amy DeLuca. But if you stay out here much longer, then when you do eventually go inside, you’ll have to face an angry Maria." He leaned back, really enjoying the fact that this particular family dynamic wasn’t involving him. "Which will be worse?"<br> <br>Michael glared at him, standing up slowly. "Thanks, Maxwell. Good to know you’ve got my back." He went inside.<br> <br>Max chuckled quietly, closing his eyes and enjoying the cool evening breeze. "Always, brother."<br><br>----------------------------------------------------------<br> <br>Things were quiet inside the house. Too quiet. Michael instantly went on alert. Alex peeked his head out of the kitchen and started making wild pantomiming movements towards the door. But before Michael could make a strategic retreat, he heard footsteps and Amy DeLuca’s voice. <br> <br>"Is that Michael? Finally?" She came into view, arms folded tightly as she glared at him. "How nice of you to show up."<br> <br>"Mom," Maria’s voice came down the hallway, loudly. "You promised to be nice."<br> <br>"Oh, I’ll be nice." She smiled at Michael. Amazing how such a simple expression could cause all his instincts to go on even higher alert. "Don’t worry. I just want to have a nice chat with the father of my grandchild." Her eyes softened at the mention of Alexis. <br> <br>"Hey, Mrs. DeLuca," Michael managed to get out. He could see that Alex had returned to the relative safety of the kitchen. Coward. "Did you see Lexy?" Stupid, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Amy was now walking closer to him, still with that smile on her face. He couldn’t help but think that she was going to pounce at any moment.<br> <br>"Yes." The smile did seem more authentic now. "She’s beautiful."<br> <br>Michael smiled back. "Yeah…." And that was as far as he got.<br> <br>"How dare you?" She moved rapidly towards him, arms flying dangerously through the air. Michael found himself nervously backing away from the wild gestures. "Not only do you go and get my daughter pregnant, my eighteen-year old daughter, but then you don’t bother to even tell me about the fact that I’m going to be a grandmother, which let me point out I am much too young to be, and you get everyone, including the sheriff, to cover for you, and let me remind you that that’s now interfering in my romantic life, since Jim and I were dating and shouldn’t have been keeping secrets from each other, but now I find out that you also neglected to mention the small yet rather important fact that you’re an alien!" <br> <br>All that in one breath. Michael was impressed. "Uh, Mrs. DeLuca…….."<br> <br>"An alien!" She had him backed up against the wall now, poking him in the chest with a threatening finger. "Aliens! Real actual aliens running around Roswell! And apparently, everyone in the universe is aware of this little conspiracy except me!" Another poke of the finger. "No, why bother to let me know what was going on? Let me go on thinking that you were all involved in some type of gang or drug-related activity or something. It’s not like I would have come up with the truth, right?" Michael gulped nervously. "And now Maria tells me that the two of you had some type of alien wedding ceremony. Which means that my daughter got married without me there." Her eyes narrowed even more, barely slits glaring at him now. "Don’t think I’m thrilled about that, either, Michael!"<br> <br>"No, ma’am," he managed to get out. Amy leaned back slightly. At least the finger was lowered now. <br> <br>Amy took a breath. When she spoke again, her voice was slightly calmer. Not much, but a little. "I wish you had told me," she continued. "Do you really think I couldn’t handle it?" Michael’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. He had no idea of what would be the best answer to that question. "I just want what’s best for Maria."<br> <br>"Me, too," he said with quiet sincerity.<br> <br>Amy studied him with a close scrutiny that reminded him strongly of Maria. "Jim told me about Agent Pierce." Michael couldn’t help himself - he tensed up even more at the memory. He knew Amy noticed. "He told me that you protected them all, that you saved his life." Michael stood there in silence. "Will you protect Maria and Alexis that way?"<br> <br>"Yes," his answer was instantaneous. "I’d do anything."<br> <br>Amy nodded slowly, her anger apparently abated for the moment. "I believe you," she answered. "Just remember something, Michael." He looked at her in question. "I may not be an alien or have any special powers." She leaned closer, voice lowering. "But I am Maria’s mother. And if anyone, I mean anyone, hurts my daughter, then they will regret it."<br> <br>Michael gulped again. "Yes, ma’am." <br> <br>She nodded as if satisfied, then turned and returned back towards the bedroom where Maria and the baby were waiting. Michael blinked quickly, shaking his head, glad that was over and that he had survived. <br> <br>He heard a soft chuckle behind him. "That wasn’t too bad, was it?" Max asked.<br> <br>Michael grimaced at his friend, then started to follow Amy, having been away from Maria and the baby for long enough.<br> <br>He sensed her entering the house before the door was even opened. As Shalin walked in, Michael turned back. "Wasn’t that door locked?" he muttered.<br> <br>Shalin headed directly towards Max. Without saying a word of greeting, she strode towards the alien king, not stopping until she was close enough to punch him, hard.<br> <br>"Ow!" Max reeled back from the impact. He put his hand up to his cheek. "What is with everyone hitting me lately?" He stepped back cautiously, staring at her and holding up a hand in Michael's direction. "Hold on, Michael." His second halted his movement towards Shalin. "What the hell was that for?"<br> <br>Shalin put her fists on her hips, glaring at him. "You knocked me out!" she accused, ignoring Liz, Isabel, and Alex who came rushing into the room in response to Max’s yell. "You had no right!" she hissed, eyes blazing.<br> <br>"You needed rest in order to heal completely." Max moved up towards her, angry himself now and refusing to back down to her. The two stood practically toe-to-toe, exchanging glares. Isabel made a move as if to interfere, but Michael shook his head. Max obviously felt this was something the two of them were going to need to deal with themselves if they were going to work together. "Would you have laid down and taken a nap if I had suggested it?"<br> <br>"Suggested?" Shalin laughed. "When have you ever suggested something, your majesty? You just order us to do something, and expect us to do it."<br> <br>"If I had thought you would listen, then you bet I would have ordered you to rest," Max retorted. "If that was what I had to do to keep you alive, then yeah. But you’re too stupid and stubborn to listen, aren’t you?"<br> <br>Shalin ignored Liz’s gasp in the background. "Like you really care if I live or die."<br> <br>"For some reason which I don’t fully comprehend, yes, I do." Max folded his arms across his chest and met her glare for glare. "I don’t want you getting yourself killed foolishly."<br> <br>"You had no right," she retorted, still angry. "I should have been there."<br> <br>"Yet we managed to get through it all in one piece."<br> <br>Shalin raised an eyebrow. "Vilandra got away," she pointed out.<br> <br>"True." Max’s voice was level now, icily cold. "I expect that situation will be remedied soon."<br> <br>Shalin’s smile was fierce. "Believe me, we’re working on it." She looked at Max. When she spoke again, her voice was calmer but brooked no argument. "You won’t do it again."<br> <br>Max met her eyes evenly. "I won’t do it again," he agreed. "As long as you promise not to hit me again." He rubbed his cheek, smiling ruefully. "I’m not sure how much more of this I can handle."<br> <br>Shalin laughed softly. "Agreed." She held out her hand. Max took it. "Of course," she went on, eyes twinkling as she held on to his hand, "I’m sure I could think of something else to do to you."<br> <br>Max actually laughed in response, surprised. "I’m sure you could." He took his hand back. <br> <br>Turning away, Shalin noticed Alex for the first time. "Ah," she said softly, continuing more loudly. "Welcome back." She looked over at Michael. "I have things that need to be done."<br> <br>"Okay." Michael was just glad that Max and Shalin seemed to have come to some type of understanding. It would make things easier if the two of them could end up getting along. Or at the very least, if there were no more death threats. He wasn’t going to hold his breath waiting for it, though. And he and Shalin were definitely going to have a talk later. She was lucky he hadn't sensed any real threat from her after the punch.<br> <br>Shalin nodded, then turned and left without a word to anyone else. After she left and the door was shut behind her, Liz sputtered indignantly, "She hit you! Just came in and punched you!"<br> <br>"Yeah, she did," Max said calmly. He glanced over at Michael. "Her people skills are even worse than yours," he pointed out mildly.<br> <br>Michael shrugged. "I think she's starting to like you a little."<br> <br>Max’s eyes widened. "Oh?"<br> <br>"Yeah." He walked back down the hall, going to check on Maria and the baby. "She's usually much worse when pissed off."<br> <br>"Great," Max murmured. He had a feeling that wasn’t going to be the last time he managed to irritate Shalin.<br><br>---------------------------------------------------------<br> <br>When Jim woke up from his nap, he was surprised to find Shalin sitting by his bedside, not his son, who had been there when he drifted off. "Kyle’s getting a drink," she responded to his questioning glance. "He’ll be right back."<br> <br>"’Kay." He tried to sit up straighter. "What’s going on?"<br> <br>Shalin smiled. "Not much at the moment. You missed most of the excitement." She placed her hand over his.<br> <br>"Sorry about that." He looked down at her hand. "I’m a little too tired to flirt right now," he went on apologetically. "Sorry."<br> <br>She laughed. "What a shame. Guess I'll have to wait for you to get stronger again."<br> <br>Right. Jim shook his head slightly. "Thanks for calling the ambulance."<br> <br>"No problem." Shalin sighed. "Now down to business."<br> <br>"That didn’t take long."<br> <br>"Well, what did you expect?" Since the question was rhetorical, Shalin didn’t wait for a response. She went on. "Alex Whitman is back. Alive."<br> <br>"So I’ve heard." He pushed back his exhaustion. "And?"<br> <br>"And now we have to come up with a cover story to explain his miraculous resurrection, of course," she said impatiently. "I don’t really want anyone else finding out about us."


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 Post subject: A Very Valenti Christmas
PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 12:02 pm 
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The next fic is A Very Valenti Christmas:<br><br>Rating - Teen<br>Category - AU, CC, All Characters<br>Spoilers - Up to Viva Las Vegas<br>Disclaimer - Roswell does not belong to me. Nor do any of the characters. They belong to Melinda Metz, UPN, and Jason Katims. I am simply writing this for my own enjoyment (and to keep Roswell alive in my mind).<br>Summary - Christmas in Roswell, New Mexico<br>Author's Note - This fic is set after the events of my other stories, Mysteries and Shattered. I'm not sure how much sense things will make if you haven't read those two stories first. Things have followed the series up to VLV, but have spun off into AU after that.<br><br> <p></p><i></i>


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 Post subject: Chapter 1
PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 12:06 pm 
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Chapter 1<br><br><!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center">"Have a holly jolly Christmas,<br>It's the best time of the year.<br>I don't know if there'll be snow<br>But have a drop of cheer<br><br>Have a holly jolly Christmas<br>And when you walk down the street<br>Say hello to friends you know<br>And everyone you meet."<br><br>----- "A Holly Jolly Christmas" by Johnny Marks</div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br><br>Carols rang through the air, the sound of excited voices mixing with the music to create a pleasantly loud atmosphere. Max pushed his way through the festive crowd, pausing occasionally to carefully study the diagram he held. Yet each time he compared the drawing with the specimens in front of him, he was disappointed.<br> <br>No wreath met Isabel's standards.<br> <br>"This is ridiculous," he muttered to himself. He'd ruled an entire planet once, eluded human authorities for most of his life, spent the last two years avoiding death at the hands of evil Skins, and kept an above average GPA. How hard could finding an appropriate Christmas wreath be? <br> <br>"Maybe you should have started searching earlier."<br> <br>Max whirled around as soon as the voice spoke right behind him, all his instincts on high alert. Yet nobody was there. The crowd had vanished, and Max was now standing alone in the aisle. "Who said that?" he asked, frowning as he peered into the suddenly dim light. "Is someone there?" No answer. <br> <br>Max let out the breath he was holding. "O-kaaaaaay," he spoke quietly. Either he was losing it from the stress of meeting Isabel's impossible Christmas requirements or someone was mocking him in secret. He might have suspected Michael, but he had been too busy with work and the baby to come along shopping. Or maybe Kyle – the voice had definitely been male. But it hadn't sounded like any of his friends. Shaking his head, Max continued walking along, but his attention was focused more on casting furtive glances to each side instead of looking at the paper Isabel had carefully drawn in color and insisted upon his taking. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Where did everyone go?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> He found himself moving a little bit faster, gaze darting back and forth a bit quicker. The result was perhaps predictable.<br> <br>Max ended up walking right into a tree. <br> <br>A second later, Max found himself staring up at the offending tree from his position on the floor in front of it. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Where did that tree come from?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> As his vision cleared, he found himself casting his eyes upward to see the top. That was one big tree. Getting to his feet unsteadily, Max picked up the paper. He looked at the tree again. It was very nice, with perfectly symmetrical needles, a tree that even Isabel would love. But there was no way it was ever going to fit inside their living room. Besides, he was there for a wreath, not a tree.<br> <br>Sighing, Max turned away from the tree, intending to head back towards the front of the store. But he didn't get more than a step in that direction before he had to stop in order to avoid a collision with another tree. A very large tree.<br> <br>A suspiciously familiar large tree. <br> <br>Confused, he glanced back over his shoulder. The tree he'd been admiring was gone, apparently relocated to the aisle in front of him. <br> <br>"What? I'm not good enough for you?"<br> <br>Max blinked, taking an unsteady step backwards as the tree in front of him bent down as if in a breeze, that same voice he'd heard earlier coming from the direction of its branches.<br> <br>Which was impossible. Max might be willing to accept many odd possibilities in his life, but talking Christmas trees were not among them. "What?" he asked, hoping nobody heard him talking to a tree. "Is someone there?"<br> <br>No answer. So Max moved to walk past the tree, only to be stopped as it seemed to jump out of the ground, landing smack in front of him again. Growing really worried now, Max turned back to the opposite direction, only to have his way blocked yet again by that tree.<br> <br>"Don't I meet the requirements for an Evans Christmas tree?" the tree asked, voice growing more grumpy. "You got some problem with me, mister?"<br> <br>Great. Max rubbed his eyes as the tree blurred and multiplied. Now he was surrounded by giant Christmas trees, all of them swaying down in his direction. "This is not happening," he muttered, trying to make a dash between the trunks.<br> <br>Suddenly wreaths started spinning through the air towards him, not hitting him but flying in circles around him, effectively trapping the teen. Max grew dizzy, and closed his eyes. <br> <br>"You should have started shopping earlier," he heard the trees chant over and over as they spun around him. That's when he realized what was going on.<br> <br>Taking a deep breath, Max readied himself and opened his eyes. <br> <br>He looked around his dark bedroom. The mocking Christmas trees and flying wreaths had vanished back into the world of dreams. He scowled as he sat up in bed. <br> <br>"Isabel."<br><br>--------------------------------------------<br> <br>Isabel was happily humming "Jingle Bells" as she entered the kitchen, planner in hand. She smiled brightly at her brother as she sat down at the table across from where Max was sitting with his bowl of cereal. "Good morning, brother dear." Her eyes twinkled. "Isn't it a beautiful day? Not much time left before Christmas." She looked down at the planner, checking off 'Party at Nursing Home'. "So much to do, so little time. Ow!" she broke off from her chirpy talk as she was hit squarely by a soggy Cheerio. She glared at Max, who met her look unapologetically, still holding the spoon he'd used to catapult the cereal at her. "What was that for?" She waved a hand over her front, cleaning up the mess before it could stain her festive green and white dress. <br> <br>"Gosh, Iz, can't imagine," he mocked. "Maybe I'm just a little grumpy from the bad dreams I had last night." He tilted his head to one side. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"<br> <br>She grinned impishly at him. "You're the one who said I should work on developing my dreamwalking skills," she pointed out. "As a loyal subject, I was simply following my king's orders." <br> <br>"How obedient of you," he said dryly. "Although I don't remember telling you to have me chased around by very large, rather grumpy Christmas trees. Or attacked by unidentified flying wreaths."<br> <br>If anything, her grin grew even more smug. "How would I ever know if I could alter dreams if I didn't try it out?"<br> <br>"Giant Christmas trees?" he asked rhetorically. When all she did was shrug in reply, he aimed his spoon at her and let another Cheerio go flying through the air.<br> <br>Which was the moment when their mother entered the kitchen. "Max!" she exclaimed sharply. <br> <br>Max cast one last angry look at his sister, then turned to his mother apologetically. "Sorry."<br> <br>Dianne shook her head. "The two of you are graduating this year. I would have expected you to be long past the age of food fights."<br> <br>"It's no big deal, Mom." Isabel flicked the Cheerio down onto the table. "Boys will be boys, after all. They simply don't have the maturity we do." <br> <br>Since their mother's attention had turned back to Isabel, Max took the opportunity to stick out his tongue at his sister. Well, he couldn't be the mature leader of a planet <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>all</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> the time, now could he? And he wasn't the one whose imagination came up with talking Christmas trees.<br> <br>Dianne smiled down at her daughter. "So what plans do you have for today?"<br> <br>Isabel consulted her planner. "Well, I'm having lunch with the rest of the pageant committee. You know how hard it is to get them to agree? They honestly want to use the same backdrops we used last year. But there's no way we can do that. I mean, everyone saw those backgrounds. We need something new. I was thinking maybe a Nutcracker theme. Then I have to go by the Crashdown and talk with Liz's parents about the catering for the after-pageant party. I'm hoping to be able to squeeze in some time for shopping before then, too, since the stores are going to be mobbed....." <br> <br>And so on, with Isabel talking, their mother nodding in agreement, and Max tuning them out. Rolling his eyes in total boredom, he stood up from the table. Alerted by mother-radar, Dianne spun around. "Where do you think you're going?"<br> <br>He blinked. "Kyle and I were going to play some basketball," he offered weakly.<br> <br>"Not quite yet," his mother answered firmly. "Since you seem to enjoy making a mess, it only seems fair that you clean up the kitchen before you leave." She glanced at the clock. "Goodness, I didn't realize how late it was. I have to go." She bent down and kissed Isabel. "Have a good day, dear." She paused to kiss Max on the cheek on the way out. "You, too. And try to behave." Then she was gone.<br> <br>"Yes, Max," Isabel echoed in wide-eyed innocence. "Try to behave." Then she burst into slightly evil-sounding giggles.<br> <br>He looked down at her, shook his head, and gathered up the dishes. Isabel followed him to the sink. He glanced over at her. "Don't you have to go rushing off, too? Save Christmas for all the little children and all that?"<br> <br>"Oh, I have a few minutes." She leaned against the counter as he started running water to wash his cereal bowl. "I wanted to make sure you were going to stop later and pick up the wreath." <br> <br>"I'm pretty sure I'll remember," he muttered. "Otherwise I'll probably have nightmares of being chased by angry trees for the rest of my life."<br> <br>"It's a definite possibility," she agreed gravely.<br> <br>He looked over at her. "It was pretty impressive," he admitted grudgingly. "It took me a while to figure out what was going on."<br> <br>All humor left her face. "It took some time to figure out how to change things in someone else's dream. It's not that easy. And it'd kind of unpredictable."<br> <br>"It might prove useful at some point," he admitted. "You know, for things other than emotionally scarring your brother for life."<br> <br>She let out her breath in a huff. "After everything we've been through, a dream about trees isn't going to be the thing that sends you over the edge." She paused. "At least, I don't think it will. But then, I'm never really sure with you."<br> <br>"Thanks." He scowled at her, but it didn't seem to impress her too much. Probably because he couldn't keep all the humor from his expression. "Let me guess – you're going to need more practice." She nodded. Max sighed. "And I get to be the lucky guinea pig."<br> <br>She shrugged. "Who else? It wouldn't be right to go into some outsider's dream, when they didn't know what was going on. Michael's dreams are so tightly guarded that it would take serious effort to get inside, and I'm not sure what damage would happen, to either of us. Maria's out because of her connection to Michael. And there's no way I'm going to mess with any of Kyle's dreams." That was non-negotiable. Kyle's mind was one place she was never going to go again without permission. "I could try Liz's dreams." She smiled again. "She might even appreciate having me spice them up a little. She could use some more excitement."<br> <br>"Leave Liz alone," he said promptly.<br> <br>"Just teasing."<br> <br>Max finished washing the dishes and turned to his sister. He had noticed one name conspicuously missing from the list. "Alex still not letting you into his dreams?" he asked as gently as he could.<br> <br>Isabel looked away, but not fast enough to keep the flash of pain in her eyes from her brother. "No." She sighed. "It's understandable, though." Still, she missed sharing dreams with him. <br> <br>"Give him time, Iz. He's still recovering from everything."<br> <br>"I know." She gathered herself and smiled at him, a sadder smile than the earlier ones. "And Real Alex is better than Dream Alex, anyway. We have a lot to celebrate this Christmas." She waved the planner in front of herself. "And I intend to make this Christmas the best one ever!" With one final brilliant smile, she turned and was out the door, prepared to spread Christmas cheer throughout Roswell.<br> <br>Whether the Roswellians wanted it or not.<br> <br>Max gave a little shudder, then went to get ready for the basketball game. <br><br>---------------------------------------------<br> <br>Kyle looked across the table at the pair of green eyes watching him so intently, then gave a large grin while crossing his eyes. "Gah!" he cried out, rewarded when her eyes widened even more. <br> <br>"Are you trying to traumatize my daughter?" Michael asked, bouncing Lexy a little bit in his grip. "Or are you just weird?"<br> <br>Alex's hand promptly went up in the air. "I vote for weird." Kyle's little shoulder shove nearly sent him sprawling out of the booth. "Hey!"<br> <br>"Let's have a little species solidarity, here," Kyle argued. "We have to provide Lexy with good role models." He waved his hands in front of her, delighted when one of her little fists went out in a futile attempt to catch them. "See – she likes me."<br> <br>"Of course she does," came an amused voice. They looked up to see Maria standing next to their booth. "You're right on her maturity level."<br> <br>Alex nodded sagely. "See, Kyle – there's species solidarity for you." He and Maria exchanged grins.<br> <br>Michael sighed. "Feeling a little ganged up on, teelani?" he asked his daughter.<br> <br>"Come here, baby girl." Maria sat down next to Michael and took the baby from him. She cuddled her close and gave her a kiss. "Have you and Daddy had a nice afternoon?" She cast Michael a glance out of the corner of her eye. "Did you keep him out of trouble?"<br> <br>Michael scowled. "Now I know I'm being ganged up on." The laughter in his eyes cast doubt on his grumpiness, though. <br> <br>"You're right," Maria laughed. "What could I have been thinking? You never get in trouble."<br> <br>"Not unless you're around," he pointed out. Then, giving her a kiss (and ignoring Kyle's rolled eyes), Michael slid out of the booth. "Okay, time to get to work." As he passed by Maria, he bent down and whispered to her loudly, "I'll have Kim bring out some fries for you. But don't let Kyle eat them." He gave Lexy a kiss. "You be good."<br> <br>Maria smiled after him, then turned her attention to the guys sitting across from her. "What?"<br> <br>Alex didn't even try to wipe the smirk off his face. "You two are really becoming quite the domestic couple, aren't you?"<br> <br>Maria shrugged. "Don't let Spaceboy hear you say that." She closed her eyes and relaxed for a minute, just cuddling her baby. It had been a long day of work, and she was exhausted. She'd be glad to get home. Too bad that Michael had to work then, but they were trying to arrange their shifts at different times so that one of them could watch Lexy. Even so, with Michael's other job as a handyman's apprentice, there were times when neither of them could watch the baby. Thank goodness for her mother and the others, who were more than willing to help out with babysitting duties. <br> <br>After all, it wasn't like they could just leave Lexy with any outsider. Even if it wasn't for Michael's protective tendencies, they simply couldn't take the chance. Other than an apparently advanced attentiveness to the world around her (at least in her parents' unbiased opinion), Lexy hadn't shown any unusual abilities. But that didn't mean she wasn't going to suddenly start glowing or moving things around without touching them. It was better to keep someone around who could deal with it if it happened.<br> <br>Then she realized there were some people missing from their booth. "Where are the others? I thought I saw Isabel."<br> <br>Alex gestured towards the front door. "She followed Mr. Parker outside. Something about catering."<br> <br>Kyle leaned forward conspiratorially. "I think Mr. Parker was trying to escape, but Isabel was too fast for him." The waitress came by and put a plate of fries in front of Maria, a plate which Maria quickly moved out of Kyle's reach. He cast her a disgusted look before continuing. "And last I saw him, Max was rushing off to go Christmas shopping. Liz was going to help him with it." <br> <br>"Figures." Maria smiled, looking down at Lexy. "Your Uncle Max isn't much good at shopping."<br> <br>Kyle took advantage of her momentary distraction to grab a fry, deftly avoiding the hand she reached across the table to slap at him. He grinned sunnily back at her. "It's more that he's in fear of Captain Isabel. He figures Liz might be able to decode her very specific directions."<br> <br>Maria nodded gravely. "Good idea. We're all a little in fear of Isabel at this time of year."<br> <br>"Come on. How bad could it be?" Alex protested.<br> <br>Kyle and Maria gave matching groans, Lexy's attention going from one to the other. "You weren't around last Christmas," Kyle pointed out. "Isabel takes obsession to brand new levels of insanity." Maria nodded in agreement.<br> <br>"I think you're exaggerating," Alex insisted. "So she likes the holidays and wants things to be special. What's so wrong with that?" He smiled. "It's kind of cute, actually."<br> <br>"You are so whipped," Kyle exclaimed sadly.<br> <br>"You just wait, my friend," Maria warned in a solemn voice. "You have to experience scary Isabel to fully appreciate it." Grabbing one last fry, she pushed the rest over to Kyle. "Well, this little one and I better get home. She's starting to get sleepy." She grabbed the bag with Lexy's things in it, and stood up. "You boys have fun." <br> <br>Alex turned to watch her head towards the back, undoubtedly intending to say good-bye to Michael before leaving. When he looked back, Kyle had slid across into the other side of the booth and was already eating the rest of the fries. "Lexy didn't look tired," he commented.<br> <br>Alex shrugged. "She was starting to be." <br> <br>"I mean, don't tired babies get cranky or something?" <br> <br>Alex laughed. "Given time, Lexy would have." Both he and Kyle had been around when Lexy got grumpy. It didn't happen often, actually. But when it did, she could give her father a contest for title of grumpiest alien around.<br> <br>"So, was it just a guess on Maria's part?" <br> <br>Alex noticed how carefully his friend was watching him, even if the question was posed casually. "Maternal instincts," he tried to get away with.<br> <br>"Uh, huh." Kyle leaned back. "Then how did you know it?" <br> <br>Alex sighed. At times, Kyle was just too much like his father. He didn't let things go. "I just knew." He hoped that his tone would encourage Kyle to drop it.<br> <br>Apparently no such luck. "That still happening a lot?" Kyle lowered his voice and leaned in. "The just knowing things?"<br> <br>Alex lowered his own voice when he answered. "Sometimes. But only with you guys. Nothing major." He just seemed to know how the others were feeling, if they were upset or something. But no major alien revelations, which he suspected was what Kyle was worried about. "Relax, Kyle. The biggest problem we have right now is Christmas shopping."<br> <br>Kyle frowned for a moment, but then seemed to decide to let it go. "It's more fun to go Christmas Eve," he pointed out. "Then there's the challenge of the hunt."<br> <br>"Whatever." Alex's attention slid past his friend to the front door before it even opened. His face lit up as Isabel walked back into the Crashdown. "Iz!" He stood up and practically ran over to her.<br> <br>Kyle looked away as the two of them exchanged hello kisses. "Totally whipped," he muttered. <br> <br>Apparently not quietly enough, as Isabel bopped him lightly on the head with her agenda book. "So, Kyle," she started, sitting down next to Alex. "What are your plans tomorrow?"<br> <br>Wariness edged his voice as he answered. "Why?"<br> <br>She gave him a smile that was just a bit too innocent. "Since you ask, we're going to be setting up for the Christmas show at the mall. Michael's unavailable this year, but I knew the two of you would love to help get things ready. The kids are just so adorable, and the show means so much to them." She smiled warmly at Alex.<br> <br>"Sounds like fun." He looked over at Kyle. "Right?"<br> <br>"Um, I don't...... Ow!" He glared at Alex , who had just kicked him under the table. "Sure, I'd love to." Great – now Isabel had a little Christmas minion to help her. "Sounds great."<br> <br>"Wonderful!" She opened up her agenda and jotted something down. "So, what are you and your father planning for Christmas this year?"<br> <br>"Oh." Kyle looked away. "We're probably not going to do much, actually. Except help out at the Christmas pageant, apparently."<br> <br>Isabel put down her book and stared at him. "What do you mean, you're not doing much?"<br> <br>He sighed and looked back at her. "Which part of the sentence didn't you get, Iz?" Her eyebrows knit together, a sure warning sign. "Not everyone gets so into the whole commercial Christmas thing, Iz."<br> <br>"It's not about being commercial, Kyle." Her eyes flashed. "It's a special time of year. And this year we have plenty to be grateful for." She looked at Alex from the corner of her eyes. "Plus, it's Lexy's first Christmas. We all have to make it special for her."<br> <br>"She won't even remember it," Kyle protested. <br> <br>"That is so not the point."<br> <br>"And what does Dad and my plans have to do with her, anyway?" <br> <br>Isabel opened her mouth, but her reply was cut off by Alex's quiet voice. "Let it be, Iz." He'd been watching Kyle, concerned. Now he smiled at his girlfriend. "It's their loss, anyway, right? What's the big deal if they want a quiet Christmas?"<br> <br>Isabel stared at him, eyes growing wider. "What's the big deal? It's Christmas! Time to deck the halls and hang the star, and all that." She saw the boys exchanging blank looks and sighed. "You two are hopeless." Then, she smiled widely. Both guys noticed the sudden spark in her eyes. "Fine, okay." Alex distinctly heard the thought <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>For now</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->, but decided not to say anything. He didn't think she'd meant for him to hear that part.<br> <br>"Okay, then," Kyle answered slowly, not really trusting Isabel's sudden acquiesance. Still, he decided to make a run for it while he could. "So, I'll see you tomorrow?" He slowly stood up.<br> <br>"Uh, huh." Isabel nodded, still smiling in a way that made him rather nervous. "Come by the house bright and early and we'll go over everything."<br> <br>"See ya then." With a nod of farewell, Kyle made his escape. Isabel turned to Alex.<br> <br>"No big deal, huh?"<br> <br>Alex put his arm around her shoulders, moving closer. Time for damage control. "Well, I myself personally think that Christmas is a huge deal. Enormous, really."<br> <br>"You do?" Isabel closed her lips together tightly, trying not to smile.<br> <br>"Definitely." He inched even closer. "And if you need any help with anything," he pushed back a strand of her hair from her face, "you know where to find me."<br> <br>"Yes, I do." Isabel leaned that final inch and kissed him slowly. When they pulled back, she murmured, "In fact, we could use some music for the dinner at the country club on Friday."<br> <br>"Music?" Isabel's hand was distracting him, playing with the buttons on his shirt. Still, he was pretty sure he should be trying to pay attention.<br> <br>"Well, since you love Christmas so much, I thought you and the Whits would like to be part of the celebration." She closed her eyes and kissed him again, even longer this time. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>And I love hearing you play.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> This time the thought was sent intentionally.<br> <br>"Great," Alex managed to get out when they finally broke away. He noticed that there were looks from the other Crashdown customers. Blushing slightly, he stood. "Maybe we should go somewhere more private. You know, to continue discussing this."<br> <br>Isabel glanced over at the clock as she stood. Her eyes grew wide. "I didn't realize it was so late! I have to get going." Clutching her planner, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll see you later." She waved back at him as she rushed out. "Remember to tell the other guys about Friday!"<br> <br>"Right." Alex took a deep breath, looking where she'd disappeared. She'd certainly managed to manipulate him into that, hadn't she? <br> <br>He chuckled to himself as he got ready to pay and leave, ignoring the curious glances. There was nobody he'd rather be maneuvered by.<br><br>-----------------------------------<br><br>"Do you have any idea how many different wreaths are available in the stores in this town?" Liz looked up from her Math book as she addressed her friend. "It boggles the mind."<br> <br>"Can't say I ever really thought about it," Maria admitted. Frustrated, she threw down her pencil. "When am I ever going to have to figure out square roots? And then there's the whole imaginary numbers thing. Imaginary numbers? Don't the real ones give me enough trouble? Honestly, why do I have to learn about these?" She saw Liz's mouth open and sighed. "That was a rhetorical question, Liz."<br> <br>"Sorry." She smiled, leaning back against the couch where they were sitting on the floor of the Guerin-DeLuca living room. The two of them were taking advantage of Lexy's nap time to try and get some studying in. "There are like, scores of varieties of wreaths out there. And yet, even with that, it took us hours to find one that would meet Isabel's requirements."<br> <br>"Scores?" Maria's eyebrow raised in skepticism. "Who in this century actually uses that word in conversation?" Liz wrinkled her nose at her and threw a pillow in her direction. "Hey!" <br> <br>"I've spent a very traumatic day here, you know. You could at least try and pretend to have some sympathy."<br> <br>"You spent the day shopping with Max," Maria scoffed. "That doesn't exactly rank high on the list of most horrific experiences ever."<br> <br>"Yeah, but you have to remember that we were shopping <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>for Isabel</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END-->." Liz laid heavy emphasis on the last words. "During Christmas season. That changes things drastically."<br> <br>"You may have a point there," she admitted, standing up and heading for the kitchen. "Want something to drink?"<br> <br>"Sure." Liz followed her, pausing as she approached the counter, a sudden thought occurring to her. "You aren't going to spike it with Tabasco, are you?"<br> <br>"Nah. I'm over that phase. It was a pregnancy thing." Maria got out some glasses and poured some soda. "Here you go."<br> <br>"Thanks." Liz took the glass and took a sip, looking at Maria thoughtfully. "How did you manage to get out of being one of Isabel's elf henchmen, anyway?"<br> <br>"Let's see. Working at the Crashdown. Helping Mom out with the holiday rush. Not to mention taking care of a very demanding little baby girl." She shrugged. "Kind of got my hands full already."<br> <br>Liz was doubtful. "And Isabel accepted these as valid reasons?"<br> <br>Her friend laughed. "Even Isabel isn't that insane." Then she felt it – someone coming down the hall towards the apartment. "Or maybe I spoke too soon," she murmured as the door opened and Isabel entered, wearing a Santa hat and bearing gifts.<br> <br>"Good, Liz, you're here," she said as soon as she came inside. Looking around, Isabel spotted some room on the couch and dropped off her packages there. "Just the girl I was looking for. How did the wreath shopping go?" She turned her focused attention on the dark-haired girl.<br> <br>"Um, good." Liz cast her a nervous smile. "Max took it home."<br> <br>"Excellent." Isabel took out her planner and checked off something on her "to-do" list. "Of course, that's assuming it meets the requirements." She looked sharply at Liz. "You did make sure he followed the directions, didn't you?"<br> <br>"Yeah." Liz nodded eagerly. "It's great." <br> <br>"Good." Isabel looked down at her list. "Now, there are a few more things you can help me with, if you have the time."<br> <br>"Uh," Liz cast a panicked glance at Maria, who quickly made an escape.<br> <br>"I hear Lexy. She must be waking up." Maria fled to the bedroom. <br> <br>Coward. Liz turned back to Isabel. "I'd be glad to help, Isabel." Might as well be gracious about it, since she was going to end up doing what Isabel wanted anyway.<br> <br>"I knew you would." Isabel smiled brightly at her. "It's so good to know that there are others who understand how important this time of year is." She dragged Liz over to sit down with her. "There really isn't much to do." She pulled out a list. <br> <br>Liz gulped at the length of the list. Then, gathering her energy and courage, she started to read it.<br> <br>Maria stood in the doorway, holding Lexy and laughing. "Your Aunt Isabel's a little crazy," she confided to her daughter. Lexy looked up at her gravely. "But don't ever let her hear you saying so," she warned. She listened to Isabel discuss her plans for bringing gifts to the Children's Shelter. "She has a good heart, though." <br><br>------------------------------------<br> <br>"Where do all these people come from?" Maria asked her mother as she watched the last crowd leave the shop the next day. Amy looked up from behind the counter, amused. "I mean, seriously. Roswell is not that big a town. Where are all these customers coming from?"<br> <br>"Welcome to your first experience with Christmas retail." Amy rubbed her neck. "But look on the bright side. These people, as you put it, are allowing me to buy my granddaughter Christmas presents."<br> <br>"Me, too, right?" Maria asked plaintively. <br> <br>Amy rolled her eyes. "Of course, you, too."<br> <br>Maria smiled. "It is fun to buy stuff for Lexy, though, isn't it?" She picked up some t-shirts that had fallen onto the floor and put them back on hangers. "Although I've had to lecture Spaceboy a few times." She shook her head. "You'd think he'd be better at budgeting."<br> <br>"He wants to make sure his little girl has everything she wants," Amy pointed out. "It's rather sweet."<br> <br>"Yeah, but I think a pony might be taking it too far." <br> <br>Amy paused in rearranging keychains. "A pony?"<br> <br>"I'm fairly certain he was kidding about that one," Maria admitted. <br> <br>"I hope so." Amy walked over to the door to turn around the sign to "Closed". As she did so, her attention was drawn to the street outside. She could see the sheriff walk down the sidewalk across the street. That wasn't what bothered her – it was a busy street, especially at that time of year. Nothing strange about Jim walking past. <br> <br>No, what she didn't like was seeing his company.<br> <br>Shalin. Even two months later, Amy hadn't managed to get past her dislike of the Skin. Luckily, they didn't have much to do with each other, since the feeling was mutual.<br> <br>Hearing a noise, Amy looked over to see that Maria had joined her at the window. "They're working together, you know," Maria pointed out quietly. "It's not like they're dating or anything. They just help each other with protecting us all. It's business."<br> <br>Outside, Jim opened the door to his SUV, laughing at something Shalin said as she sat inside. Amy snorted. "Right."<br> <br>"I mean it," Maria insisted. At her mother's disbelieving look, she went on. "Okay, so yeah, maybe there was a little glimmer of something else once, but not lately. At the most, they're friends." She took her mother's hand. "Mom, Valenti isn't interested in dating her. Or doing anything else like that. We'd know."<br> <br>"Because Jim tells you guys all the details of his personal life?"<br> <br>"Because Michael's keeping a close eye on Shalin," Maria insisted. She didn't know why exactly, but something about the idea of the sheriff and Shalin pairing off made him nervous. Maria grinned mischievously. "Plus, Isabel and I've been paying attention to what the sheriff's up to."<br> <br>Amy laughed, moving away and towards the back of the shop. "Jim must just love the idea of the two of you monitoring his love life."<br> <br>"Someone needs to help him and Kyle out," Maria replied unapologetically. "Those Valentis need all the help they can get."<br> <br>Amy nodded. She couldn't really argue that. She frowned thoughtfully. "You really don't think he's interested in Shalin?" God, she couldn't believe she was actually asking her daughter's advice on her love life, but Maria probably did have more inside information on the subject.<br> <br>"No," Maria answered firmly. If he had been, then Michael's disapproval wouldn't have stopped him. Amy crossed her arms and looked at her daughter. "Honest. The glimmer's fizzled out. Sheriff Valenti is officially available." Maria raised her eyebrows. "Know anyone who might be interested?" <br> <br>Maria walked past her mother into the backroom, leaving Amy to her thoughts.<br><br> <br> <p></p><i></i>


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 Post subject: Chapter 2
PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 12:11 pm 
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<!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center">"For I've grown a little leaner<br>Grown a little colder<br>Grown a little sadder<br>Grown a little older<br>And I need a little angel<br>Sitting on my shoulder<br>Need a little Christmas now!"<br><br>---- "We Need a Little Christmas" by Jerry Herman</div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br><br>"I am so dead."<br> <br>Alex leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. Liz and Maria exchanged skeptical glances after their friend's dramatic statement.<br> <br>"After everything that's happened, I doubt that Christmas shopping is going to be the thing that does you in." Maria grabbed Alex's arm and started pulling him into motion again. "Come on, Alex." She waved a hand in front of them. "We have the entire mall ahead of us."<br> <br>"Exactly." Liz took his other arm, the two girls effectively trapping him. "Somewhere out there is the perfect gift for Isabel. We just have to find it."<br> <br>"You don't understand." Alex shook his head. "Isabel takes this whole Christmas thing very seriously. It's not just a holiday. It's this whole huge mission in life."<br> <br>Maria stopped dead in her tracks. "She does?" She turned to Liz, hand over her heart. "Liz, did you know that?"<br> <br>"Ha, ha. Very funny." Alex shook his head woefully as he started walking again. "I had ideas about what to get her, but none of them seem quite up to the challenge now."<br> <br>Maria hurried to catch up with the other two. "I thought you liked Isabel in her Christmas Nazi persona. Thought it was cute."<br> <br>"Well, it is cute," he admitted. "Sort of. But you know, I've been helping her with things for the last few days, and well," he lowered his voice and looked around to make sure nobody could overhear, "it's getting just a little scary."<br> <br>Liz giggled slightly, attempting to cover it up when Alex turned to glare at her. "I'm sure that Isabel is going to love anything you give her," she suggested helpfully.<br> <br>"Yeah, but I want it to be something special." He stopped in front of a jewelry store display window. <br> <br>Liz joined him, looking at the bracelets and necklaces on display. "Jewelry's a good gift," she agreed, "but it is expensive."<br> <br>"Michael gave me earrings last year."<br> <br>"He did, didn't he?" Liz turned to her friend. "That surprised me."<br> <br>Maria laughed. "Well, he also gave me a bumper. I think he might have had some coaching for the earrings."<br> <br>"The bumper sounds more like Michael," Liz nodded.<br> <br>Alex sighed deeply. "I don't think that Isabel would like a bumper, since she doesn't actually have a car or anything."<br> <br>Maria patted his arm consolingly. "Maybe you can set up something cool on her computer? You know, play to your strengths."<br> <br>Alex frowned thoughtfully. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>His strengths?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> "Maybe," he murmured.<br> <br>When he didn't continue, Liz coaxed him. "Maybe what?"<br> <br>"Nothing." He shook the thought away. "Come on." He linked his arms with theirs again. "Let's get shopping." Alex shuddered. "Hopefully, this experience won't be too traumatic," he teased.<br> <br>"We'll get you through it," Maria assured him.<br><br>--------------------------------------------<br><br>Christmas was fast approaching. Only days to go, and festivity was spreading throughout the little town of Roswell. On this evening, that Christmas spirit could be found strongest at Santa's Village, ruled over by Isabel Evans, who was determined that everything was going to go smoothly and that all visitors would have fun.<br> <br>As she walked by, directing a group of children towards the Gingerbread House Display, two of her elves peered out from behind a giant candy cane. They watched carefully as she continued on her way without noticing them, taking identical deep breaths of relief as she passed out of eyesight.<br> <br>"What are you two doing?"<br> <br>At the voice behind them, both Max and Liz jumped into the air. They turned to find a giggling Maria pushing a stroller, with Michael standing right behind her, watching them both with a confused expression. He asked again, "I said, what are you doing?"<br> <br>"What does it look like they're doing, Spaceboy?" Maria got out between giggles. "They're hiding."<br> <br>Michael smirked, shaking his head. "Nice outfit, Maxwell."<br> <br>Liz chose to ignore Michael. She bent down next to the stroller. "Hello, Lexy," she said gently, taking one little hand. She glanced up at Maria. "I'm surprised to see you three at Santa's Village."<br> <br>"I'm singing tonight with the Whits," Maria explained. She wrapped an arm around Michael's waist, leaning closer. "Michael and Lexy are just dropping me off and giving me moral support."<br> <br>"Which I guess she's going to need, since other people who work here are spending their time hiding behind candy canes." Michael's smirk hadn't faded. "Of course, given the uniforms, I guess I can't blame them." <br> <br>Max sighed. "Isabel," he offered in explanation. Of course, there wasn't much possible explanation for what he was stuck wearing.<br> <br>Maria looked at her friends. Liz's green and white elf dress was actually rather cute, and the Santa hat gave her an adorably holiday look. But Max....... "You're certainly in the spirit of the holiday," she offered, trying her best to sound supportive. At Michael's snort, she jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. "Be nice," she hissed.<br> <br>"Fine." His grin grew at Max's obvious discomfort. "You look great, Max. Green is definitely your color.<br> <br>Max groaned. He knew how ridiculous he looked in the incredibly bright green shirt and red pants that Isabel had insisted he wear. The red vest with silver tinsel embroidered on it, matching the hat he had to wear, only made things worse. "I think she's punishing me for something," he admitted. "I'm not sure what."<br> <br>"Is that why the two of you are hiding?" Maria looked around. "Hey, wait. Where's Kyle? Wasn't he helping out, too?"<br> <br>"Oh, he's around here somewhere." Liz stood up. "Isabel put him on guard duty at the Gingerbread House tent. Seems that kids kept trying to eat the displays."<br> <br>Michael laughed. "Isn't putting Kyle on duty guarding food sort of pointless?"<br> <br>"Would you do anything that might upset Isabel right now?" Max pointed out. His eyes narrowed as he looked at his best friend, looking way too comfortable and smug in his actually normal clothes. "I'm sure she could find something for you to do. She's always looking for more elves to help Santa."<br> <br>Michael moved quickly, nudging Maria aside and taking the handles of the stroller. "No way, fearless leader. I have to get Lexy home soon. It's much too late for her to be out." The glint in his eyes didn't match the seriousness of his tone. <br> <br>"Otherwise, I'm sure you'd be more than happy to assist," Max answered sarcastically.<br> <br>"Well, of course."<br> <br>Maria exchanged glances with Liz. "He's so helpful, isn't he?"<br> <br>"I try." He looked around at the hustle and bustle, the lights and buildings frosted with artificial snow. "Look at this place. It's freaky."<br> <br>Maria whirled towards him. "There is nothing freaky about Christmas!" She nodded down towards Lexy. "Remember – birth of our Lord and savior?"<br> <br>Max raised his eyebrows, leaning back with an amused half-smile. Nice to see Michael getting some grief, too.<br> <br>For his part, Michael didn't seem too concerned. "What exactly does that have to do with fake snowflakes and mutant candy canes?"<br> <br>"The kids like it," Liz pointed out. "Everyone's having fun."<br> <br>"Except for the elves," Max muttered quietly.<br> <br>"I like snow," Maria added, slightly wistful.<br> <br>Michael stared at her. "We live in a desert, Maria."<br> <br>"So what? It snowed last Christmas."<br> <br>"That was a fluke. A one-time deal."<br> <br>Maria folded her arms across her chest, eyes narrowing as she glared at him. "Are you trying to be difficult?"<br> <br>Michael smirked, but before he could answer, Liz gasped, eyes growing wide with apprehension as she spotted someone approaching from behind Michael. "Oh, no!" she whispered, clutching Max's hand.<br> <br>Too late. "What are you two doing over here?" Isabel exclaimed as she burst upon them. "Hey, Lexy." She waved and smiled down at the baby, who had apparently decided that the whole situation wasn't interesting her anymore and had closed her eyes to rest. Max envied her. Isabel turned back to her two elves. "I just found three boys wandering around near the reindeer, trying to climb on them."<br> <br>"You have reindeer here? That's cool." Maria shrugged at the look Max gave her. "Well, it is."<br> <br>"They're not real," Isabel explained quickly. "You two need to be out there, helping direct visitors to the areas where they're actually allowed to be." She waved her hands to shoo them. "Now! Get going!" Max and Liz quickly backed away and off into the crowd. <br> <br>"Stay strong!" Michael yelled after them, returning Isabel's annoyed look with his most innocent expression.<br> <br>"Good, you're here now, Maria. I was starting to worry." Isabel linked her arm through Maria's and started pulling her away. "Alex and the guys are ready to go – they've just been waiting for you." She looked at what Maria was wearing. "We just need to get you changed fast and up on stage."<br> <br>Maria looked back at Michael. <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>Changed?</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> After seeing what Max was wearing, she was afraid to see what costume Isabel had picked out for her. Michael just smiled and waved at her as she was pulled away. Coward. Resigned, Maria decided not to put up a struggle. <br><br>----------------------------------------<br> <br>Amy walked into the sheriff's station, trying to hide her nervousness behind a big smile. She received a warm nod in return from Deputy Blackwood. "He in?" she asked.<br> <br>"Yep." Blackwood gestured towards the sheriff's office. "Go on in. Just knock first."<br> <br>"Thanks." She smiled, then continued on her mission, clutching the package in her hands tighter. She wasn't sure this was a smart idea, but she'd never know if she didn't give it a try. Who knew? Maybe Maria was right. At any rate, nothing ventured, nothing gained.<br> <br>She knocked, then pushed the door open. Jim didn't even glance up from his paperwork. "What is it, Owen?" <br> <br>"Working awfully late, aren't you, Jim?" Amy closed the door behind her and walked towards the desk as Jim looked up, smiling in surprise.<br> <br>"Amy! I wasn't expecting to see you." He stood up, always the gentleman. "Sit down. Please."<br> <br>"I can't stay long."<br> <br>Jim's smile faltered. "Nothing's wrong with Maria or Lexy, is there?"<br> <br>"No, everything's fine," she hastened to reassure him. She held out the Tupperware container in her hands. "I actually come bearing gifts." She smiled coyly at him.<br> <br>"So I see." He came over and took the container, looking from it to her with a delighted grin. "Is that a DeLuca apple pie?"<br> <br>"It is." She moved slightly closer. "I thought, since it was the holidays, that maybe we can try to mend some fences. Not that we were actually fighting anymore," she continued hastily. "But ........ well, you know what I mean."<br> <br>"I'd like that, Amy." He put the pie down carefully on his desk. "Thank you."<br> <br>She shrugged. "Well, I've missed you. It's hard to find pleasant adult company in this town."<br> <br>She was rewarded by his laugh. "That's true."<br> <br>Amy decided to plunge in. "So, I was wondering if you'd be interested in maybe coming over tomorrow night for Christmas Eve dinner?" She could feel the sudden tension in his body, so continued speaking quickly, uncertain of what was wrong. "Kyle, too, of course. Maria, Michael, and Lexy are coming over." She smiled, a little nervously now. He didn't seem to be happy at the idea. "I'm not sure that you and Kyle should be on your own to cook dinner. I heard about your Thanksgiving dinner."<br> <br>Jim shook his head. Maria had a big mouth. Yeah, the turkey was a little extra crispy, but that wasn't such a big deal. Anyway...... "Thanks for the offer, Amy. Really. But Kyle and I already have plans for Christmas."<br> <br>Plans? "With who?" She tried to keep the sharpness from her voice, attempting to keep it light and mildly curious, but from the way his expression closed off, Amy knew she hadn't succeeded. She sighed. She might as well have just asked him straight out if he had a date with Shalin. God, she sounded like a jealous teenager.<br> <br>"No one. Kyle and I are just planning on having a quiet holiday this year." Jim headed towards the door. "I appreciate the pie, though."<br> <br>"No problem." Disappointed, Amy followed him. "Have a Merry Christmas, Jim." Then she opened the door and left.<br> <br>"You, too, Amy," Valenti said to the empty hallway behind her. <br><br>-----------------------------------------------<br> <br>Isabel rang the doorbell. No answer. Holding her free hand out over the doorknob, she let herself in. "Anybody home?" she called out. Still no response. She smiled to herself. Looked like the Valentis weren't home. <br> <br>Perfect. She'd be able to give them a Christmas surprise. She set down her bag and started taking out some tinsel.<br> <br>An hour later, Isabel was still hard at work assessing all the details, but overall, she was pleased with her progress. She'd concentrated on the living room, kitchen, and hallway, but those areas alone had given her more than enough to do. As she'd learned in the past, neither the sheriff nor Kyle were exactly the neatest of men. It was only after she'd cleaned up that she'd truly been able to get to work. But now she was able to look around at the stockings, lights, and tinsel and smile with satisfaction. Much better.<br> <br>She was trying to decide where to place a Christmas tree when she heard the front door open. "Dad, what's up with this wreath? I thought we'd decided to downplay the whole Christmas thing......... Whoa!" Kyle stopped short as he entered the living room, blinking slowly as he tried to process the changes that had happened since he left his home a few short hours earlier.<br> <br>"What do you think?" Isabel opened her arms wide and twirled around, smiling broadly. "Enough to get even you two Scrooges into the Christmas spirit?"<br> <br>Kyle's stunned gaze traveled from the stockings hung over on the wall (complete with their names), past the bright silver and gold tinsel hanging from the furniture and along the walls, and finally ended on the brightly-colored lights decorating the windows. "Iz........"<br> <br>"I wasn't sure where to put these." Isabel held up some miniature train cars. "Max loved his train set," she explained. "Still does, actually, even if he doesn't want to admit it. So I figured you guys should have one, too. But you don't appear to have a tree." She shook her head. "Don't worry about it, though. We can rectify that situation."<br> <br>"Isabel," Kyle struggled to find his voice. "You shouldn't have done this."<br> <br>"Don't worry. It was no problem." <br> <br>"No, I mean you <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>really</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> shouldn't have done this." Kyle's voice was flat as he walked over and fingered a strand of tinsel. "If we'd wanted the place to look like Santa's Workshop, we would have done it ourselves."<br> <br>Isabel sighed. "Look, I get that guys don't get much into decorating for the holidays, but......"<br> <br>"It's not that." Kyle dropped the gold strand and put his hands in his pockets, standing stiffly. "We're just not really into the holidays, okay?"<br> <br>"I don't understand why everyone is so resistant to us relaxing and having a happy holiday season," she complained. "Honestly, is it so much to ask that we have a few weeks of nice, normal merry-making?"<br> <br>"You make as much merry as you want, Iz, but leave us out of it." Now Kyle's attention was focused on the stockings. <br> <br>Isabel moved closer, reaching out to take his arm. "Just because you have some macho image in your mind......."<br> <br>"That's not it." Kyle moved abruptly away. "Isabel, could you please just drop it?" <br> <br>She stared at him. "Why?"<br> <br>"Leave it alone!" he insisted, voice growing louder. "Leave us alone! We don't want tinsel all over our house or stupid stockings or a tree!" Isabel took a step backwards, eyes growing wide. "Not everyone's as insane about the holidays as you are. Can't you just let us have some peace about it?" <br> <br>"I'm sorry," she got out quietly. "I was just trying to help, to make things nice...." Her voice trailed off uncertainly. She hadn't seen Kyle this mad at her in a long time, and she didn't like it. <br> <br>His blue eyes met hers for the first time, and she could see how angry he was. But there was more to it, another emotion there. "I know." Pain. She'd only meant to do something nice, but somehow she'd managed to hurt him. "We're really not into the holidays," he repeated slowly, voice lower. "And last year........" He put up his hands and rubbed his face. "Listen, Iz, can we talk about this later?"<br> <br>"Sure." Flustered, Isabel turned aside. "I'll just clean this all up." She went to pull down the stockings, but Kyle moved to stop her.<br> <br>"I'll do that." When she hesitated again, Kyle spoke on firmly. "Leave it, Isabel."<br> <br>"All right." Isabel turned and practically ran out of the house.<br> <br>Kyle reached out and touched the stocking, feeling the material for a moment before viciously jerking it down from the wall. Then he also turned around, heading towards his room. He couldn't deal with this right then.<br> <br>He didn't notice his father standing in the kitchen doorway, watching solemnly as his son fled from the memories.<br><br>---------------------------------<br> <br>Valenti debated taking down the decorations Isabel had put up, but ultimately decided not to. At least not yet. Instead, he headed towards his own room, and a shoebox that he kept hidden up on his closet shelf.<br> <br>Taking it down, Valenti quickly pushed aside some of the belongings stored in there. Newspaper clippings. Pictures of his father in his sheriff's uniform. Kyle's old report cards. Finally, he found what he was looking for, safely hidden away from Kyle. He sat back on the edge of his bed and stared at the photograph.<br> <br>Tess and Kyle sitting on the living room floor, surrounded by wrapping paper and boxes. Tess had a huge smile on her face, one that practically lit up the room. She was holding a big cuddly teddy bear and beaming at Kyle as if he'd given her a million dollars rather than a toy that could be found in almost any store in Roswell. But then, that had been her first Christmas gift. And there was no mistaking the tenderness and affection in Kyle's gaze. He'd been so thrilled to have made Tess's day. <br> <br>Valenti closed his eyes tightly, but the images remained, painted in his memory as clearly as if it was happening all over again. After Michelle left, Christmas had never been the same. And as Kyle grew older, it was easier to downplay the whole thing. Tess had changed all of that. Her enthusiasm and energy had reminded the two of them how much fun the holidays could be.<br> <br>Tess had completed their family.<br> <br>Valenti forced his eyes open and studied the face of the girl he'd considered his daughter, searching for some indication that she was going to betray them all. Nothing. Even now, knowing what was going to happen, he couldn't see any sign.<br> <br>Kyle and Tess. His kids. Wasn't that what Christmas was about? Family?<br> <br>But now Tess was gone.<br> <br>The others were still there, though. The rest of his kids, alive and safe, thank God. A miracle.<br> <br>That was another thing Christmas was about. Miracles. <br> <br>So what was he going to do? <br> <br>Slowly, Valenti returned the picture to the box. Then he got up, put back on his jacket, and went out. He had some work to do.<br> <br><br> <p></p><i></i>


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 Post subject: Chapter 3
PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 12:15 pm 
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<!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center">"And so I'm offering <br>This simple phrase<br>To kids from one to ninety-two.<br>Although it's been said<br>Many times, many ways<br>Merry Christmas to you."<br><br>"The Christmas Song" by Mel Torme and Robert Wells</div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br> <br>Kyle woke up suddenly the next morning, rolling out of bed and onto the floor for his morning push-ups. Only when he was finished with those did he let himself think about the previous evening's events. He scowled. He wasn't proud of yelling at Isabel, but she'd annoyed him <!--EZCODE BOLD START--><strong>so</strong><!--EZCODE BOLD END--> much. How many times did a person have to tell her that he wasn't interested in celebrating a big fancy Christmas before it sank in through her thick skull? And people thought that Michael was the stubborn alien. In some ways, Isabel had him totally beat.<br> <br>At any rate, Kyle now had a whole lot of overblown Christmas decorations to clean up. He wondered what his dad had thought when he'd walked into the Evans version of the North Pole set up right in his living room. Kyle winced at the thought. He didn't expect his dad was any happier about it than he'd been. So, it was probably a good idea to remove the evidence of Isabel's Christmas intervention as quickly as possible. He should have done it the night before, but he'd been too upset to deal with it. He walked out into the living room to get to work.<br> <br>Valenti was sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying his morning cup of coffee before heading out to the station to make sure things were under control. The place would be running with a skeleton crew that night because it was Christmas Eve, and he wanted to make sure that things were set up to run as smoothly as possible. He was mentally reviewing his own last-minute errands when he heard a loud "Dad!" from the next room. Dropping his mug to the table with a bang, Valenti rushed into the next room.<br> <br>Where he found his son staring wide-eyed at the corner of the room. When he saw his father enter, he pointed at the offending object. "What is that?"<br> <br>"It's a tree, Kyle," Valenti spoke slowly. "A Christmas tree, to be exact." He was rather proud of himself for finding such a nice one on short notice, too. It hadn't been easy, but he had his connections.<br> <br>"A Christmas tree," Kyle muttered. He closed his eyes. "Isabel came back, didn't she?" Incredible.<br> <br>"No." Valenti sat down on the couch. "Kyle, sit down." <br> <br>He opened his eyes and looked at his father suspiciously. "Why?"<br> <br>"I bought the tree." <br> <br>Kyle's expression shifted abruptly from suspicion to disbelief. "You bought it?" He went and sat down next to his father. "Why?" Even last year, they hadn't had a tree. <br> <br>Valenti sighed, rubbing his face with his hands. "I heard you and Isabel yesterday." Kyle looked away, ashamed. "She was just trying to be nice, you know," he added gently.<br> <br>"I know," Kyle muttered, expecting a lecture.<br> <br>"When you said we shouldn't do anything for Christmas this year, it seemed like a good idea," the sheriff went on. "Let the past be, not stir up any memories." His look turned piercing. "But who are we kidding? We keep thinking about it anyway."<br> <br>"You think this is going to help?" Kyle pointed to the tree, a bite to his voice. <br> <br>"I think that maybe making some new memories might help," Valenti suggested. "We can't forget about Tess," he said, saying her name firmly and ignoring his son's flinch. "And we can't go around the rest of our lives pretending that this time of year doesn't happen. Besides," his voice grew softer, "with all the crappy stuff that's come our way this year, we've had our share of blessings, too. We should probably try focusing on those instead."<br> <br>"Maybe," Kyle muttered, avoiding his father's glance.<br> <br>"Aren't you the one who keeps going on about reaching a state of peace with the world and yourself? We can't change the past, but we can change what's going to come in the future."<br> <br>Kyle looked up, a ghost of a smile on his face. "Wow – you actually listen?"<br> <br>Valenti chuckled. "Sometimes." He gave a mock scowl. "Sometimes I even understand what you're talking about. It worries me. A lot."<br> <br>"Maybe you're ready to evolve to the next step of spiritual progress."<br> <br>Valenti stood up. "For now, I'll settle for getting my paperwork finished in time for me to get out of the office early."<br> <br>"Why?"<br> <br>Valenti grinned. "We have an invitation to dinner with Amy DeLuca tonight."<br> <br>"Really?" Kyle smiled slowly, eyes lighting up. "Are you sure you want your son along if you have a hot date with Mrs. DeLuca? I don't want to crimp your style, Dad."<br> <br>"I'll take my chances." Valenti paused, clasping Kyle's shoulder warmly. "You gonna be okay with this?"<br> <br>Kyle nodded thoughtfully. "If you can give this a try, then I guess I should, too. In the interests of my spiritual evolution." He stood up, glancing at the clock. "But I'd better get moving. Lots to do today."<br> <br>"Hey, waiting till the last minute is a Valenti tradition." Valenti grabbed his jacket on his way to the front door. "I'm sure you'll do me proud."<br> <br>Kyle nodded. "I hope so," he said softly. <br> <br>Valenti hesitated, then nodded in response. "You do," he said, equally quiet. Then, embarassed at approaching open sentimentality, he opened the door and headed off to work.<br><br>------------------------------------------<br> <br>Michael looked down at his daughter, cradled carefully against his chest. "'But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, 'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!'"*<br> <br>Maria stood in the bedroom doorway, unable to resist smiling at the cute picture Michael and Lexy created. While their tree was small by Isabel's standards, they had done their best to decorate for the holidays. And no matter what Michael might say about the commercialization of the holiday, he had been the first to insist on getting a specially personalized stocking for Lexy from her mother's shop, one with a little spaceship stitched on it. Now here he was, reciting "The Night Before Christmas" to their baby from memory. "Sounds good, Spaceboy," she said gently. Michael's eyes flickered up to her. "What are you going to do for an encore? Sing 'Frosty the Snowman'?"<br> <br>"I think I'll leave the singing to you." He stood up, trying not to disturb Lexy. She appeared to have drifted off while he was telling her the story. "For the good of mankind."<br> <br>"Humanity thanks you, sir," she said gravely. "We're going to be late for Christmas Eve dinner if we don't hurry up."<br> <br>"That's too bad," he commented sarcastically, going around the little dividing wall and putting Lexy into her crib. Straightening up, he shrugged. "I'm ready."<br> <br>"Good." Maria turned to go back into the bedroom, shooting him a grin as she went. "Mom was going to make a special Tabasco pie for you."<br> <br>Well, that was a good sign. "Maybe this won't be so bad after all," he commented, following Maria. He came up behind where she stood in front of the mirror, putting on the earrings he'd given her the previous year. "We could just stay home," he murmured, putting his arms around her and leaning down to kiss her neck. "I'm sure we could find some way to entertain ourselves."<br> <br>Maria closed her eyes and leaned back into his embrace. "Mom's expecting us."<br> <br>"Mmm." One hand moved downwards. "We could be a little late," he suggested.<br> <br>Maria laughed, slightly breathless as she turned to face him. "Somehow I think we'd be more than a little late." She wrapped her hands in his hair and pulled his face down for a slow kiss.<br> <br>Michael moved even closer, pushing her back into the dresser. "That works, too," he murmured into her mouth before moving in for another kiss.<br> <br>As his hands moved up and down her back, Maria was sorely tempted. But ultimately, she found a reservoir of strength and pushed him back. "Stop that." She shook a finger at him in reproach. "I have to finish getting ready."<br> <br>She could actually feel his gaze travel up and down her body as he looked at her. She was wearing a simple black dress, not too long but not too short, either, and heels to accentuate her legs. Nice and simple. "You look good," he said simply, eyes returning to her face.<br> <br>She laughed. "Nice try, Spaceboy, but I know that I still have to get back into shape." She sighed. "Pregnancy isn't exactly helpful to the figure."<br> <br>He shrugged, honestly not understanding what she was talking about. "I like your shape." He headed in for another kiss, but she moved quickly to avoid it as they heard a cry from the next room. Apparently, Lexy had woken back up and wasn't happy to find herself alone.<br> <br>"Oh, no you don't, buddy." She laughed as she moved towards the door. "You're not getting out of this dinner." She headed for the crib. "I'm right here, baby girl," she murmured softly, picking up her baby. "Daddy was just being silly......"<br> <br>"Silly?" Michael asked indignantly as he followed her into the room. <br> <br>"But we're all ready to go now." Maria cast a demanding glance at her teela-mei. "Aren't we, Spaceboy?"<br> <br>He rolled his eyes at her. "Yes, ma'am," he agreed sarcastically.<br> <br>"Good." She picked up Lexy's diaper bag and went to the door, stopping to place a kiss on Michael's cheek. "Later," she promised.<br> <br>Watching his two girls leave the apartment, Michael sighed. He guessed that would have to do for now.<br><br>--------------------------------------------------<br> <br>Jim put down his napkin and pushed back slightly from the table. "Amy, that pie was delicious." Amy practically beamed down the table at him. Kyle and Maria exchanged rolled eyes. Their parents had been all lovey-dovey throughout dinner, smiling and practically cooing at each other. <br> <br>"If they head towards the pantry, I'm out of here," Kyle murmured across the table to Maria.<br> <br>"Right there with you, buddy," she replied, then turned her attention to Lexy, held securely in her father's arms.<br> <br>If Valenti or Amy heard them, they chose to ignore their children. "I'm glad you enjoyed it, Jim." Amy stood up to start gathering dishes. "And that you two decided to come for dinner after all."<br> <br>"Me, too." Kyle smiled winningly at her. "It was much better than our attempt at Thanksgiving."<br> <br>Valenti looked insulted. "Hey, it wasn't that bad." He heard a suspicious snickering noise coming from his right. "You have something to say, Michael?"<br> <br>Michael looked down at the baby. "Getting fussy, Lexy?" He stood up, completely avoiding any response to the sheriff's question or pointed glare. Maria and Kyle exchanged conspiratorial grins, but were each wise enough not to say anything.<br> <br>Now Valenti stood, shifting his weight awkwardly. "Um, Amy," he started, trying to ignore the way that four sets of eyes were now all focused solely on him. At least Lexy wasn't staring at him. "Actually, I was hoping that I could take you somewhere."<br> <br>Amy paused on her way to the sink. "Where?"<br> <br>Maria leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand as she and Kyle watched attentively. Even Michael was observing, although he pretended to be talking quietly with the baby.<br> <br>Valenti cleared his throat nervously. "It's a surprise." Then he grinned. "Think of it as a Christmas present."<br> <br>"A surprise?" Slowly, Amy put down the dishes she'd been carrying. "Well, I do love surprises."<br> <br>Jim chuckled. "That I know."<br> <br>"But I have to finish cleaning up." She waved at all the dishes that still needed to be washed.<br> <br>Maria stood up quickly. "We can do that." She grabbed a platter off the table and shot Kyle a pointed glance. "Can't we?"<br> <br>"What?" Kyle flinched as Maria's glare actually went up several notches in intensity. "Oh, yeah." He turned a smile to Mrs. DeLuca. "Not a problem."<br> <br>"Well, if you're sure......." Amy hesitated, clearly torn. But Jim's pleading look won out in the end. "All right." She threw a dish towel in Maria's direction. "Just do a good job," she warned as Maria caught the towel.<br> <br>"Please, Mom. We can do this." She then threw the towel at Kyle, upon whose head it landed. Lexy started making gurgling noises, and Michael looked over with a grin.<br> <br>"Hey, that's a good look for you, man," he commented. Kyle took the towel off and waved it threateningly at the alien.<br> <br>"Boys," Amy said in a warning voice as she put on her jacket. Both Michael and Kyle instantly turned innocent looks in her face. She sighed and turned to her daughter. "Are you sure.........."<br> <br>"We'll be fine," Maria interrupted. She smiled brightly at the two older people. "You two have fun."<br> <br>"Don't stay out too late!" Kyle chirped up helpfully. Valenti ignored his son, opening the door for Amy.<br> <br>"Hey, let them stay out as late as they want," Michael protested. <br> <br>"Michael the matchmaker?" Maria dropped a kiss on her daughter's head as she passed by on her way to gather up some dishes.<br> <br>"They're not your parents." Kyle shrugged, going over to where Michael was standing with Lexy. He held out his arms. "Come to Uncle Kyle."<br> <br>Michael quirked an eyebrow as his daughter eagerly went to Kyle's arms. "Using my daughter to get out of doing dishes?" A grin was his only response as Kyle sat down on the ground and started making faces to entertain the baby. Michael shook his head. "Weirdo," he muttered as he headed for the kitchen.<br> <br>"I heard that!"<br> <br>Michael ignored Kyle, heading straight for Maria. "Hey," he greeted her, leaning down to trap her against the counter. He dipped down his head for a kiss. She wrapped her somewhat soapy hands around his neck and returned it eagerly. <br> <br>"Hey, baby in the next room!" <br> <br>With identical groans, Michael and Maria pulled away. "How nice of Kyle to be concerned for Lexy's emotional well-being," Maria muttered sarcastically. Sighing, she turned back to the sink. "Get the rest of the dishes, will you?"<br> <br>He lowered his head to rest on hers for an instant, then pushed back. "Sure." Muttering under his breath about annoying jocks, Michael cleaned the rest of the table.<br> <br>After a few minutes, he found himself glancing at the clock. He cleared his throat nervously. Maria glanced over at him, curious. "What is it, Spaceboy?"<br> <br>"Um," he tried to give her a charming smile. Her raised eyebrow wiped that off his face. "I have to leave," he blurted out.<br> <br>"You have to leave? On Christmas Eve?" She turned off the faucet. "This better be some alien-related emergency, buddy." Michael muttered something, scratching his eyebrow as he avoided her eyes. "What?"<br> <br>"I said," he repeated clearer, "I have some s-h-o-p-p-i-n-g to do."<br> <br>She laughed. "I'm not sure we have to start spelling things out yet." She shook her head, honestly not sure if she should be angry or amused. "It's Christmas Eve and you haven't finished your shopping yet?" He shrugged. Maria shook her head. Alien or not, Michael was definitely a guy. "Fine," she gave in. "Go." She waved her hand at the door. "But you better not be gone too long." <br> <br>Michael took the opportunity before she changed her mind. Giving her another, quicker, kiss, he murmured, "I love you."<br> <br>"I know." She yelled after him, "You better get something good!" She looked out at the living room, where Kyle was apparently doing elephant impressions, much to Lexy's delight. No help there. Figured. Maria sighed, smiling. Kyle being goofy, Michael putting off his shopping until the last minute – yeah, things seemed pretty much normal.<br> <br>She hoped that her mother and Valenti were having fun on their date, wherever they went.<br><br>----------------------------------------------------- <br> <br>"This is it?" Amy peered out the window as Jim brought the car to a stop. "This is the big surprise?"<br> <br>"Yep." Jim got out of the car and walked over to her door, opening it for her. "This is the surprise."<br> <br>Slightly confused, Amy stepped down out of the SUV, grabbing hold of his arm as she tried to see into the darkness around them. "Jim, we're in the middle of the desert."<br> <br>"Yeah." Jim took out a blanket and spread it on the ground. "Best view in town." He held out his hand to her. "Come sit down." She took it and sat next to him. "Look up there." <br> <br>She did, and lost her breath for a moment. "It's gorgeous," she breathed out. And it was. Amy had never seen so many stars in the sky, twinkling down on them. <br> <br>"Yeah." Hesitantly, Jim put his arms around her, waiting to see if she slapped them away. When she didn't do anything, he went on, feeling a bit bolder. "I used to come out here a lot to think when I was a kid. Things seem clearer out here, away from all the stuff in town."<br> <br>"I can understand why." Amy leaned back against his warmth. "I've never seen anything like it." She gave a wicked grin. "I've been out here a few times, but never really paid attention to the sky."<br> <br>He chuckled softly. "Ah, the mispent days of youth."<br> <br>Amy laughed. "It's beautiful."<br> <br>Jim glanced over, just barely able to see her in the starlight. "Yeah," he agreed softly.<br> <br>They sat in silence for a long time, enjoying the natural beauty and each other's company. Finally, Jim gathered his courage. "I wanted to apologize for earlier," he started.<br> <br>Amy started at the sound of his voice. "Apologize for what?"<br> <br>He shrugged, glad for the dark. It made this easier. "For being so stupid when you invited me to dinner."<br> <br>She laughed softly at the sound of annoyance in his voice. "Don't worry about it."<br> <br>"No, you deserve an explanation."<br> <br>"You don't owe me any explanations. For anything," she insisted.<br> <br>"Well, then, I want to give you one." He sighed. "Kyle and I just really wanted to downplay Christmas this year. It's never been one of our favorite holidays to start with – too much expectations of what a family is supposed to do. We've never exactly been the typical TV family."<br> <br>"I can relate to that," Amy said softly. <br> <br>"I know." He shifted so that they were sitting even closer on the blanket. "Last Christmas was great," he continued. "You were there, and Tess........" His voice trailed off, and the connection was made in Amy's mind.<br> <br>"Oh, Jim, I'm sorry." She turned to him, taking his hand tightly. "I didn't think."<br> <br>"But it's good that you invited us," he continued. "We can't let ourselves be prisoners to the past. I'm glad I didn't miss that dinner." Even in the dim light, she could see his smile. "Or sitting in the starlight with a pretty girl." Amy blushed, glad that he couldn't see it. "And if we're not exactly the normal, ideal family, well, this is Roswell. What around here is normal?"<br> <br>"Good point," she agreed. <br> <br>They sat in companionable silence, just looking at each other, forgetting the stars. "We should probably head back," Jim said finally. "It's a little chilly out here."<br> <br>"Probably." Amy made no move to get up, though. <br> <br>"The kids'll be wondering where we are," Jim's voice dropped lower, head moving towards hers.<br> <br>"Probably," Amy repeated. Their lips met, gently touching then withdrawing.<br> <br>"Maybe a little later," Jim murmured, putting out his hand to her cheek and moving in for a more thorough kiss. Amy closed her eyes and relaxed into his hold.<br> <br>It was quite a bit later when they returned to town.<br><br>---------------------------------------<br> <br>Kyle parked in front of the Evans' house, getting out of his car with more than a little nervousness. His dad might have had to apologize to Amy DeLuca, but he had to face Isabel Evans, and Kyle wasn't sure which of the two women was more frightening. At this time of year, though, he was thinking the odds were in Isabel's favor. Still, it had to be done. Clutching a paper bag in his hands, Kyle headed towards the front door. Before he got halfway there, the door opened and Alex exited, heading towards him with a serious expression on his face.<br> <br>"Hey, Alex." Kyle forced a smile. "Merry Christmas."<br> <br>"Merry Christmas." Alex glanced from the bag in Kyle's hand to his friend's face. "Here to see Isabel?"<br> <br>"Yep."<br> <br>"Gonna get in another argument with her?" Alex asked it gently enough, but Kyle could tell how carefully he was being studied. "I'm not sure that upsetting her more is such a good idea right now. She's a little......." He paused, searching for the words. "Excitable at the holidays." There, that was a diplomatic way of putting it.<br> <br>"More like I'm here to grovel and beg forgiveness," Kyle responded quickly.<br> <br>Alex smiled quickly. "Always a wise decision," he agreed. Then he looked at Kyle, a searching gaze. "Is Isabel going to upset you more?" he asked quietly. <br> <br>Kyle met his eyes. Figured that Alex would have picked up on how much the whole big Christmas extravaganza thing was upsetting him. "I really hope not," he replied.<br> <br>Before Alex could say anything else, the door opened and Max came out, buttoning up his jacket. "Hey, guys," he said, surprised. "Are we having a Christmas party in our front yard?" He looked around. "You'd think Isabel would have more decorations if so."<br> <br>"More decorations?" Kyle looked around at the bright lights strewn about and on the house, the giant snowman guarding the front door, the lighted reindeer lined up along the pathway. He was sure there were more decorations on the house, too, that he simply couldn't see in the dark.<br> <br>"Yeah." Max's voice was completely serious. "This is restrained for Iz. Anyway, I'm off to pick up Liz."<br> <br>"And I have to get home." Alex started walking towards his car with Max. "Good luck, Kyle."<br> <br>"Thanks," he muttered, going to knock on the door. Isabel's mom opened it.<br> <br>She smiled brightly at him. "Merry Christmas, Kyle."<br> <br>"Merry Christmas." He held up the bag. "I brought Iz a Christmas present."<br> <br>"That's nice." Mrs. Evans pointed to the next room. "She's in the living room."<br> <br>"Thanks." Kyle headed in that direction. As he entered, he understood what Max had meant. The front yard was nothing compared to the inside of the house. Kyle was certain that the Evans family had bought out every Christmas-related item in town. There were nutcrackers and Santas, reindeer and snowmen, lights and tinsel, all shining and sparkling in the light given off by the biggest and most beautiful tree Kyle had ever seen. "Wow." He moved closer to the tree to get a better look at the ornaments. They were a colorful and eclectic collection, raning from delicate crystal angels to garishly colored ceramic bells that had obviously been made by Max and Isabel's tiny hands as children. He knelt down to look under the tree and saw an elaborate manger, placed in the center of a train set.<br> <br>"I was just about to put the baby Jesus in." <br> <br>Kyle looked over to see Isabel getting up from where she'd been kneeling looking through a box. She came over and put the tiny figurine in its place, then stood back up, towering over Kyle and looking down at him sternly. "Did you come here to tell me that we've overdecorated our house, too?"<br> <br>"No," he said quickly. "It looks great." And it really did. Even with all the varying items crammed in, the place didn't look tacky. It was still tasteful. Just bright and colorful, like something out of a holiday special about the North Pole. He scrambled to his feet, feeling distinctly at a disadvantage with her looking down on him like that. "I actually came to apologize for overreacting." He grinned hopefully. "I'll grovel if you want."<br> <br>Isabel relaxed, laughing slightly. "I think grovelling might be a bit much." She tapped her lips thoughtfully. "Although come to think of it........"<br> <br>"And to bring you a gift," Kyle hurried to interrupt before she took his offer seriously. He saw her eyes light up. If there was one thing Isabel Evans loved, it was getting presents. <br> <br>"A gift?" The smile she gave was brighter than all the Christmas lights on the tree. "Really?"<br> <br>"Really." He started to take it out of the bag, then paused. "Does this mean I'm forgiven?"<br> <br>Isabel waved a hand, going over to sit on the couch. "I was already over it."<br> <br>"Oh." Kyle sat next to her. "Guess that means I can keep the present......."<br> <br>"Don't you dare!" Isabel tried to grab the bag, but Kyle moved it out of her reach. "Kyle...." she started, warningly.<br> <br>Wisdom being one of the goals of his spiritual journey, Kyle decided not to push it. "Okay." He carefully took the Santa hat out of the bag. "I had this specially made for you." <br> <br>Isabel took it, starting to laugh as she read the personalized name written in gold glitter around the bottom. "'Christmas Queen'?"<br> <br>"Seemed appropriate." Kyle took the hat back and put it on her head carefully. "There, perfect fit." He reached back into the bag and took out another hat. "This one I had made for me." He put it on. "What do you think?"<br> <br>Isabel read the label out loud. "' Elf Minion'?"<br> <br>"Yeah." Kyle snapped a salute. "Ready and willing to help you in any and all Chrismas preparations around town."<br> <br>Isabel bit her lip. "Even when I drive everyone nuts?"<br> <br>Kyle shrugged. "It's part of your charm."<br> <br>"Hey!" She picked up a pillow and slammed it with him.<br> <br>Kyle held up his arms to protect himself. "It's okay, Iz." He grabbed the pillow from her. "Yeah, you get a little ......" he hesitated, looking for the right word.<br> <br>"Insane?"<br> <br>"I was going to say enthusiastic, but yeah, insane works," he agreed. "But we all know it's just because you care." He sighed. <br> <br>Isabel looked around to make sure her mother wasn't in ear-shot. "It's just that this is the one time of the year when I really feel normal, you know?"<br> <br>"Yeah." Kyle's smile let her know that he did get it. She smiled back, knowing that things were okay with the two of them again. <br> <br>Isabel stood up. "I have to get ready for Midnight Service." She started walking Kyle to the door. "Will we see you and the sheriff there?"<br> <br>"Yeah." Kyle leaned down and gave Isabel a quick kiss on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Iz." Then he grinned impishly. "Your Majesty."<br> <br>Playfully, Isabel gave him a little shove out the door. "Merry Christmas, Kyle."<br><br>--------------------------------------<br><br>Michael opened the door to the apartment, then moved to stand in Maria's way so that she couldn't enter. "Give me the baby."<br> <br>Maria looked at him like he was crazy. Well, crazier than usual. "Why?" Still, she handed him the sleeping baby. <br> <br>He ignored her question. "Now close your eyes and wait here."<br> <br>This time her question was more insistent. "Why?"<br> <br>Michael sighed. "Maria, can you ever just do something because I tell you to?"<br> <br>"We've had this conversation before, Spaceboy. Not likely."<br> <br>"Good to know that things haven't changed," he muttered. "I have a surprise for you, okay?"<br> <br>"Okay." Maria stuck out her tongue at him, but she did close her eyes. She could hear him go inside and put Lexy down in her crib. Then he came back outside and took her hands. <br> <br>"You can come in now." He sounded excited, and a little nervous. Michael led her carefully inside. "You can look."<br> <br>Maria opened her eyes instantly, and they grew wide as she looked around. "Michael.........." Her voice trailed off. <br> <br>"Do you like it?" He leaned against the kitchen counter, trying to appear nonchalent, but failing utterly. <br> <br>"Like it?" Maria spun around the room, looking at the walls. "It's beautiful." The living room had been transformed into a snowy winter wonderland. The walls were painted with a mural of winter scenery, bright evergreen trees showing through snowdrifts, elaborately decorated snowmen smiling at her from every direction, reindeer walking carefully through the snow as snowflakes danced down from the sky. She turned to look at Michael, her smile contagious. "You did this? Tonight?" How had he managed to get all this done in the time he'd vanished from her mom's house?<br> <br>"Yeah." He walked over to stand by her. "I did cheat a little, though," he admitted. "Used powers to paint it instead of actual paint." He looked away a bit. "Sorry. But I didn't want to risk the paint fumes around Lexy."<br> <br>"Just this once, we'll make an exception to that rule." <br> <br>"You really like it? I couldn't give you real snow, but..........."<br> <br>"It's perfect." Maria hugged him tightly. "Completely and totally perfect," she whispered.<br> <br>Michael wrapped his arms around her, holding her as close as he could. Maria in his arms, their daughter safely asleep a few feet away............<br> <br>Yeah, it was completely and totally perfect, all right.<br><br>-----------------------------------------------<br> <br>Liz had just finished putting on her necklace when she heard a knock on her window. Smiling, she turned to open it and let Max in. "You know, you could actually come to the front door," she teased. "I think my parents would let you in."<br> <br>Max knelt down in the window. "But this is so much more romantic and charming," he insisted.<br> <br>"Oh, of course." Liz leaned over for a kiss. "Merry Christmas," she said.<br> <br>"You about ready?"<br> <br>"Just about." Liz turned to get her sweater. "Are you sure you want to come with us to Midnight Service?" She looked back at him. "I mean, your feelings on God and the holiday haven't changed, have they?"<br> <br>"No." He met her eyes. "But neither have my reasons for going." He smiled gently. "I may not believe in God, but I believe in my family. And you're going to be there, so that's where I want to be."<br> <br>Liz nodded slowly. "All right." Then she laughed. "But I'm not trying to climb down the ladder in this dress and heels, so I'll meet you downstairs." She turned and ran out the door. "Beat you down."<br> <br>Max turned and scrambled, trying to catch up with her lead.<br><br>---------------------------------------------<br> <br>Isabel entered her bedroom later that night (or early morning), humming to herself as she turned back her sheets and prepared to go to bed. She was tired, but it was a good tired. It had been a lovely evening, and there was still Christmas Day to look forward to when she woke up. She glanced over at the envelope Alex had pushed into her hand as he and his father left Midnight Service. Isabel went over and opened it, curious. They'd already exchanged gifts. A plain white piece of folded paper was all that was inside. She opened it and sat down to read Alex's message.<br> <br><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>It's been a while. Meet me tonight.</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--><br> <br>Isabel reread the brief message several times, trying to assure herself that it meant what she thought it did. Did Alex really mean...............<br> <br>"Only one way to find out," she muttered. Closing her eyes as she lay down, Isabel tried to control her excitement enough to manage to fall asleep. Luckily, she'd had a long day and it didn't take much time before she drifted off.<br> <br>Only to find herself standing in a spotlight, surrounded by darkness to all sides of her. She glanced down quickly to make sure she was appropriately dressed for a dream date, and was satisfied by what she found. A long red dress with white fur trim along the full skirt, and a tight enough top that she knew Alex would appreciate it. The golden heart necklace he'd given her earlier was resting on her neck. Grinning a bit, she tried to peer through the darkness. "Alex?" she called out.<br> <br>Instantly, it was like being on a stage with the lights turning on suddenly. The darkness vanished, and Isabel was able to see that she was standing in the middle of a large ballroom with ceilings so high she could barely see them. Isabel spun around, clapping her hands together in delight.<br> <br>"Does this meet with your approval?" Alex asked as he walked across the floor to her, dressed in a tuxedo like something out of an old movie. <br> <br>"I think it will do." The ballroom was bordered by huge Christmas trees, bright green and elegant silver, towering up towards the sky. Through the large picture windows, Isabel could see giant snowflakes twinkling as they fell gently to the ground outside. "Are some of those presents for me?" she asked, gesturing towards the piles of gifts under the trees.<br> <br>Alex took her hand, pulling her close so he could whisper into her ear. "They're all for you, Iz. Who else?"<br> <br>Isabel shook her head as she went into his arms. "This is the best gift ever, you know."<br> <br>"I'm glad." He hesitated. "Sorry it's taken so long......"<br> <br>She put her hand over his mouth to cut him off. "It's okay," she said softly. "I understand." Then she smiled. "You did all this on your own?" She was impressed. <br> <br>"Yeah." His smile was suddenly shy. "I wanted it to be perfect for you."<br> <br>"It is," she assured him, resting her head on his shoulder. "You're here. I'm here. It's perfect."<br> <br>Alex smiled down at her. "Would you care to dance, my lady?"<br> <br>Music started playing.<br> <br><!--EZCODE CENTER START--><div style="text-align:center"><!--EZCODE ITALIC START--><em>"It's the most wonderful time of the year.<br>There'll be much mistletoeing <br>And hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.<br>It's the most wonderful time of the year." **</em><!--EZCODE ITALIC END--></div><!--EZCODE CENTER END--><br><br><br>As they danced, neither could imagine feeling any happier than they did at that moment.<br><br>---------------------------------------------<br> <br>Michael sat on the floor of his living room, surrounded by rolls of Christmas paper and ribbons, scowling at them as if they were enemy aliens about to attack. "Why isn't this working?" he muttered, controlling the impulse to yell and curse, since Lexy was asleep in the next room, and picking up the present he'd wrapped. He tried pushing the paper down so that it would look nice and neat, but it resisted his efforts, determined to stick up in odd directions. Which probably wouldn't matter to Lexy. She was only a few months old, after all, so probably wouldn't care much about the asthetics of her gifts' wrappings. <br> <br>Maria, however, would be another story. And if Isabel happened to stop by in the morning.............<br> <br>Michael shuddered at the thought, and picked up the pair of scissors, determined to tame the wrapping paper into submission. Hearing a noise from the doorway into the bedroom, he glanced up, freezing as the scissors dropped, unremarked, to the floor.<br> <br>"What do you think, Spaceboy?" Maria leaned against the doorway, wearing a very tiny little red dress and an elf hat. She had her hands behind her back in what was probably supposed to be a demure pose, but the twinkle in her eyes ruined any attempt at modesty. "Starting to get into the holiday spirit?" Michael nodded, unable to form any coherent thoughts. He started to get to his feet, but she shook her head, pointing to the couch behind him. "Sit down." <br> <br>"Okay," he managed to get out as he sat down, wrapping presents forgotten. <br> <br>Maria walked slowly across to sit down on his lap, enjoying the way he was watching her so intently. She always appreciated the gleam he would get in his eyes at times like this, moments when she knew she had his total attention and was turning him on completely. She sat down and brought out her hand from behind her back. "Mistletoe." She held it out over his head, but pulled back before he could kiss her. "Slow down, buddy," she laughed. "First things first." She leaned closer, speaking slowly and punctuating each word with a soft kiss. "Have you been a good boy this year?"<br> <br>His hands had found a place around her waist by then. "Not really," he admitted. The way she was kissing him was definitely driving his thoughts into the 'naughty' category.<br> <br>Maria smiled slowly. "Good." She laughed as Michael pulled her down on top of him, mistletoe flying through the air as the two of them celebrated the holiday in their own way.<br><br>-----------------------------------------------<br> <br>Christmas morning dawned bright and beautiful in Roswell that year. All over town, children scurried out to see what Santa had brought, and families enjoyed the precious moments of togetherness. The holiday brought a welcome break from the regular daily routine, a moment to stop and appreciate the blessings the year had brought.<br> <br>Liz Parker laughed as she helped her father prepare the pancakes and bacon for their family breakfast.<br> <br>Max and Isabel Evans rushed to beat the other to the Christmas presents, their parents following behind, amused at their children's rivalry.<br> <br>Kyle Valenti and his father tried out his new video game, yelling at the screen as they tried to beat the other at racing their cars around the track.<br> <br>Maria DeLuca held her daughter in her arms as she opened gifts, trying to teach Lexy how to grab the paper and pull. A smile on his face, Michael Guerin watched and sketched a picture of the two of them on the new easel Maria had bought him.<br> <br>And Alex Whitman finished dressing, putting on the new watch Isabel had given him. He traced the engraving, reading the words out loud in a whisper. "'For all time'." Closing his eyes, he reached out for that sense of connection he had with the others, one that seemed to grow stronger all the time. <br> <br>Around town, six heads looked up suddenly, almost as if they heard something. Then they smiled and went back to what they were doing.<br> <br>"Alex, are you coming down?" <br> <br>Grinning wide, Alex opened his eyes. "Be right there, Dad." It was good to be home.<br> <br>Everyone was safe and happy. <br> <br>It was a very merry Christmas in Roswell, New Mexico.<br><br>------------------------------------------------------- <br><br>*<!--EZCODE UNDERLINE START--><span style="text-decoration:underline">The Night Before Christmas</span><!--EZCODE UNDERLINE END--> written by Clement Clarke Moore<br><br>** "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Eddie Pola and George Wyle <p></p><i></i>


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