posted on 27-Nov-2002 1:15:10 PM
Summary: Michael finds the answers he has been searching for and travels through time to contact Maria, only to find a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, her spirit, separating them from within.

Author's Notes: I shouldn't even dare to start this but when you get an idea… sometimes it just needs to come out. I expect it to be a long one, so if you're game, hop on for the ride (I can't promise it won't get bumpy).

Part 1

"Max, come on, look at me Max. Max!"

Michael cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the opposition he expected to see bursting in at any moment. They only had precious seconds left before this prison they called their world collapsed, taking them and everyone in it into a fiery oblivion.

And Max was NOT cooperating

He shook the shoulders of his leader again, his King. "Max," he shouted, this time with a firmness in his voice that he never dared use without expecting one of those 'I'm-your-King-act-like-it' glares from Max. "We have got to go, NOW."

Max's head lolled about his shoulders, the energy it required even to raise his eyes to Michael's beyond his grasp at the present moment. "She's gone," he whispered raggedly, his voice broken as it rasped over his tortured vocal chords. "Is she gone?" he asked, his head never lifting to meet Michael's demanding face.

"Yes," Michael responded coldly. "She's gone. They're all gone. We have to move now, we can go but it's got to be NOW!"

"Tell her I loved her."

"Max, NO!" Michael shouted, gripping the shoulders of his brother as his head finally lifted up to make eye contact.

"Promise me you'll tell her," Max whispered, the life fading from his eyes without any visible cause of death evident on his body.

"Jesus, no," Michael muttered, pushing the rapidly decaying body away from his own as he stood up. The decay wasn't unexpected, it had been the same with all of them; a previously unrealized method of self-protection upon death. First had been Kyle, never being able to properly learn how to control his newfound alien powers, attempting vainly to fight back and imploding upon himself when he sent a punch flying towards an officer's face. The pile of dust that was left in his place had at once been shocking and relieving, their only comfort that he had found an escape from the agony they had long endured.

A year later it had been Isabel, the countless ravages of her body as they tried, always unsuccessfully, to impregnate her, finally causing her brain to shut itself down forever. Her body had faded within weeks of that occurrence, no longer able to heal itself and Max's own powers useless to help her, too drained from fighting to keep Liz alive at the same time.

Michael had been able to point out the very moment she had stopped fighting, her eyes glazing over just as Max's had done only seconds before. Her bones were dust within minutes, just as her brother's were now fast becoming on the floor at his feet.

Max's own end had started months ago, his body cursedly too strong to let itself die after Liz had created her own relief. Michael supposed that she had been the strongest of all of them, choosing when her own end would be. She had done it at night, when Max was asleep, and Michael had awoken to the pitiful sobs that only a lover can emit. They never knew how, only why, but even her courage wasn't enough to pull Max along with her. He chose to stay with Michael, fighting until the very end.

Michael glanced over his shoulder one last time and then closed his eyes tightly. The very end—it had arrived suddenly but not without warning. For six years he had searched for the answers to explain it, the key to the enigma that shrouded their existence. They had all searched, but no one had ever matched Michael's persistence in their previous life, and so he supposed it was only natural that no one could match it now.

And the answer had come, suddenly to his mind this morning like the clear ray from a prism, piercing the darkness of his universe. It had been inside of him all along, the solution discovered from within. Now all he had left to do was jump; take the final leap of faith that he had possessed but once before, and pray that the choice was right.

Pray. It might have been reassuring if he believed in a God.

[ edited 15time(s), last at 18-Feb-2003 10:10:45 PM ]
posted on 29-Nov-2002 10:40:27 AM
Another short part but necessary - enjoy!

S.


Part 2

Michael oriented himself towards his desired destination—June 21, 2002, Roswell, New Mexico, USA, Earth. He had no idea how interplanetary transport worked, just that he had the ability to do so, and if he didn't do it now, his life was over. The choice was simple—jump or die. Michael jumped.

Not literally, although his feet did make the motion of hopping on the floor of his cell as he mentally tore a hole in the fabric of time and leapt into the dark void it created. He kept repeating the date he wanted to travel to over and over in his mind—June 21st, June 21st, June 21st. It was the day everything had unraveled, the day his life had veered off in a new direction no one could have predicted. Well, maybe one person could have predicted it, but he was dead now, at Michael's hands.

He wasn't sure how far he had to travel, in distance or time. The distance from Antar to Earth was immeasurable except in light years, and saying he had traveled a couple of those really didn't put it into a meaningful perspective. As for time, it had lost all meaning a long time ago; he had no idea of the date from which he came, only the date he needed to arrive on—June 21st. Any earlier and he would risk meeting up with his former self, not something he thought he could handle even now, let alone at 18. Any later and it wouldn't matter anyway, the path to their eventual destruction already set in motion.

Before he was able to comprehend any movement of his body, he felt a jarring thud vibrate through his bones and fell to his knees. He kept his eyes closed, unwilling to believe that the officers had broken through so quickly. His stubbornness kicked into overdrive almost immediately and he rose to his feet, swaying on aching bones as he turned around to face his captors. Opening his eyes he stared straight ahead… directly at a rock wall.

Whirling his body around rapidly, Michael allowed himself an uncharacteristic yelp of satisfaction when he recognized his surroundings as the desert just outside of the Granolith chamber. He contemplated using his newfound ability to propel him directly into the town, but stopped when he remembered that he had been aiming for Maria's house, and ended up here, 10 miles away. Considering the distance he had traveled, he decided to take missing by such a small margin as a good thing and not risk another trip; aiming for the Deluca's would probably send him flying into the middle of a neighbor's swimming pool—not a classy landing.

He set off at a run, reaching the road 20 minutes later and catching the first ride he found directly to her front door. He had no fear of meeting his former self here; he remembered vividly where he had spent this day so many years ago, and it wasn't anywhere near Maria's. Telling her that under absolutely no circumstances was she giving up her life to follow them around the world, had effectively sealed his status of 'scum-of-the-earth' in her eyes and he regretfully recalled not even stopping to say good bye to her as they had left that night.

Now, his task was made all the harder for his inarguable resolve of so long ago, as he had to convince her to first talk to him, and then do what he asked. Maybe he should have brought flowers.

Yanking a handful of gardenias from the garden next door, he ran to the front door and pounded loudly. It was opened almost immediately by a woman he didn't recognize.

"May I help you?" she asked, obviously surprised to see the disheveled man standing before her.

"Um…" Michael stammered, his brain racing to comprehend the presence of this strange woman in Maria's house. "Is Maria here?"

The woman tilted her head at him strangely. "Yes," she said slowly. "And you would be?"

"Michael," he said impatiently. "I need to talk to her," he added, stepping forward to push his way into the house.

"Whoa," she said, holding her hand up to stop him. "I'm afraid that's impossible."

"What?" he asked incredulously. "Why?"

"Because Miss Deluca hasn't spoken a word in nearly a year."

~~~~~

Maria crouched in the dark corner, pulling the absence of light tightly around her like a blanket. This was the only place she was safe, the only place the men couldn't reach her. They had tried, oh how they had tried, but each time the walls of her house had withstood their advances.

Her house. She couldn't remember when she had started calling it her house, only that it felt like hers and so she did. She had been here for a while now, the passage of time immeasurable, huddled so tightly in the corner that her muscles ached and she longed to move them. She didn't dare though; she had tried once, venturing out into the dimly lit hallway to peer through the window. The men were there, as always, waiting for her, their swords catching the moonlight, silver streaks slicing the darkness.

When they had first come it had also been night; maybe it was always night, she didn't know. She hadn't been inside then, but out there, among them, on the road watching as the men of machine launched their assault. She had watched, transfixed, as flames licked angrily from their hands, devouring the air until there was nothing left even to breathe. Their warfare rained down upon the deserted highway, the agonizing screams of stolen life sending her own world into a blinding frenzy.

When she couldn't listen any longer, she had turned and ran, straight into the house. It had just been there, on the side of the road waiting for her. As she approached, its door had opened, and without hesitation, she had accepted the invitation, barricading herself within its walls.

She knew it wasn't enough just to be inside, the men would find her here, would burn her with their blazing fists of fire, and so she hid. She crawled into the darkest recess she could find and pulled the welcoming shadows around her.

And she waited.

She sat in her corner and waited for the men to leave, for her hero to rescue her.

But they didn't leave, and her hero didn't come.

And so she stayed, and she waited.
posted on 10-Dec-2002 11:38:22 AM
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you but hopefully you can see some of the confusion clearing now. The next part explains more I promise - another few days!!!

S.


Part 3

"What?"

Michael's shock at the woman's words wasn't unexpected. Dr. Margaret Rose had been treating patients like Maria Deluca for nearly 15 years and every time she had to explain the syndrome to someone new, the response was the same—shock, complete and utter incomprehension.

She explained, as patiently as she could to the man standing before her, that she was not at liberty to reveal details of Ms. Deluca's illness, just that she was not receiving visitors and if he would like to come back at a later time, he was welcome to take the matter up with Amy Deluca.

That he refused to leave also wasn't unexpected. Against her better judgment, she allowed him to wait in the living room, partly because she was expecting Amy home at any minute, and partly because she was moved by the obvious anguish on his face at not being able to reach Maria. She sat down across from him, intending to keep her eyes trained directly on him until Amy returned, when the phone suddenly rang.

Casting her eyes towards the only telephone nearby, out of sight in the kitchen, she warned him, "Stay here."

As soon as her back disappeared through the kitchen door, Michael was on his feet and practically running down the hallway towards Maria's room. He hadn't been able to get any information out of the woman, except that she was a doctor and that today was June 21, 2003. He had missed. By a full year. He wasn't sure what had happened, but somewhere in his light travel from Antar, he had miscalculated and transplaced himself 365 days ahead of his destination. That translated into being 365 days too late to change the future, 365 days too late to save his friends, and, it appeared, 365 days too late to save Maria.

What had happened to her? She wasn't speaking to anyone? What kind of illness caused that?

He reached her bedroom door and knocked softly as he pushed it open. Sunlight streamed in through her window and he noticed immediately that almost nothing had changed. All of the furniture was still in the same place, and he saw Maria sitting in her same favorite chair by the window.

She faced the window and didn't turn when he came in. He stared at her profile, noticing the extraordinary length of her hair. It was blonde again and long, cascading over her shoulders and falling across the arm of the chair. He cleared his throat roughly and shuffled his feet in place, waiting for any acknowledgement from her. When she still didn't turn, he walked across the room to stand before her, taking a tentative seat on the one new piece of furniture in the room, a chair directly facing her.

"Hello?"

'Hello,' he repeated in his brain. You go away for like 5 years and the first thing you can think to say to her is 'Hello'? Idiot.

"Ria?" he added softly.

Still, she made no move to look at him and he took the opportunity to stare at her face. It was impassive, eyes staring blankly out the window at some unseen picture. His heart skipped a brief beat as the thought flitted across his brain that she had died in the chair, that he was speaking to a shell of her.

He was right.

She hadn't died, but she was a shell.

He found this out when he reached out to touch her arm. He gently laid his hand upon hers, the weight of his arm pushing it off the armrest it lay on. It flopped to her lap and lay still, and yet, there was still no other response from her.

Fear now fully gripping his heart, he reached out and picked up the arm that had fallen. Lifting it up gently, he let go, expecting it to fall back to her lap. He was at once surprised and even more confused when it kept the position he gave it, poised above the chair exactly as he had left it.

"Maria?" he asked again, the panic flodding his body now evident in his voice. He reached out to wave his hand in front of her face, pulling it back quickly when she didn't so much as blink.

"Oh my God, Maria," he whispered, staring at the silent girl in front of him, her arm still arched crazily above her lap.

He was just reaching out to lay it back on the armrest when Dr. Rose entered.

"I didn't expect to still find you sitting there," she said sharply. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"What's the matter with her?" Michael asked.

"As I said, I'm not at…"

"Look," he growled, standing up to walk towards the woman. Keeping his voice low, he continued, "I don't give a sweet fvck what you are at liberty to discuss. You are going to tell me what is wrong with her, and I mean right now."

"Why don't you tell us something first?"

Michael looked up in surprise at the voice that came from the hallway outside. His face paled as he saw the familiar figure standing there and he swallowed heavily. Landing a year ahead of what he had planned wasn't going to go over well with the citizens of Roswell, New Mexico; especially not when they were directly affected by his disappearance in the first place.

"Sheriff," he mumbled, nodding his head in Jim Valenti's direction.

"Michael Guerin," came the reply. "You alone?"

"Yes."

"The others?"

Michael shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry…" he mumbled.

Jim nodded his head, biting his lip to suppress the emotions bubbling beneath the surface. "Margaret, would you excuse us for a moment?"

"Of course," Dr. Rose responded, stepping inside Maria's room and waiting until Michael followed Jim into the hallway.

Michael's body flinched at the click of the door behind him and he looked helplessly at the man standing before him. "Maria…" he started.

"In a minute, first you're going to answer a few questions for me."

~~~~~

"Michael?"

Inside the dark corner, Maria shouted to the figment of her imagination. It was her imagination right? He hadn't actually come?

She thought about that possibility for a moment, since that night, she had only been able to conjure him in her dreams. She didn't believe in angels and since Michael was dead it made sense that he didn't come.

He was dead, wasn't he?

Her head hurt to think about it and she felt the familiar cloud sliding over her mind again. Yes, he was dead. She had watched him die just before she came into the house, and the voice she heard was just in her head, reaching out from her dreams to speak to her.

But she wasn't asleep, she was awake. And Michael was… alive???

She shouted his name again and looked around the dark corner to find him. He had been here a moment ago, she was sure of it. She had even heard his voice, so clear that for a moment she thought he had finally come to the house to be with her. But now the voice was gone, and she couldn't even find him in her dreamscape.

She was sad.

It was so cold in the house, but she couldn't leave or else the men would burn her too. They had burned everyone else, she had watched them. Liz, Max, Isabel, Kyle, and… Michael? Had they burned Michael too? She wasn't sure again. She thought they had, but then she had heard his voice. Maybe they had tried and he had escaped, maybe that was why he wouldn't come to the house, maybe he was afraid.

"Don't be afraid," she called. "Come in the day time, they sleep in the day time."

There was no answer and she lowered her head to her knees again, dejected. She hadn't heard him, she decided. It had just been wishful thinking on her part that her life was not what it had become, that she wasn't left completely alone in her universe while every friend she had in the world was taken before her eyes, she wasn't living in the dark house afraid of the men waiting outside for her, and she wasn't hearing Michael's voice. He was dead, and she was alive.

If you could call this living.
posted on 12-Dec-2002 12:10:52 PM
Part 4

"And then I ended up here. A year too late."

Michael had nearly exhausted what little energy he had left explaining the saga of his recent years to Jim. It started on June 21, 2002, Graduation Day. They had already agreed to leave immediately after the Graduation ceremony, and met in the desert where Isabel bid a tearful goodbye to her husband. They were just pulling out when Jim stopped them, also needing to fit in a goodbye to his son. Finally they were free, and Michael was just scanning the cramped quarters of the van, thinking that they definitely would have had room for one more when the explosion hit.

The front of the van burst into flames and Max quickly lost control, careening off the road into the nearest boulder. Michael remembered hitting his head on something, or someone, but remained conscious and was just beginning to pull his thoughts together when it happened. A blinding light filled the cavity of the van, sending them all reeling backwards in fear. Before they could even comprehend escaping their prison, they were no longer there, transported to an unknown location just as the gas tank caught fire and the van exploded once more.

He remembered watching the van burn on the highway from above, as if he were floating. The thought crossed his mind that he had died and this was an out of body experience when reality violently struck home and he opened his eyes to peer into nothingness; a black void that would become his home for the next indeterminable amount of time. They were kept separated, each in a small room chained or tied to a bed. They were drugged almost constantly, revived only to be tortured before the merciful release of a drug-induced slumber would claim their suffering bodies again.

He had no idea of how long this went on for, or even who his captors were, until the day arrived when they were transported back to Antar. There they found out that it was Kivar who had held them all along. He had been watching them closely during their time on Earth and had always been prepared to step in and remove them if they threatened his own safety. He wasn't concerned with their well-being, but he enjoyed the freedom of being able to travel to the planet whenever he wanted, taking back whatever or whomever he pleased, and he most definitely did not want the FBI cramping his plans.

He took them when it appeared inevitable that the FBI would capture them, and held them on Earth until it was safe to bring them back to Antar. The people there had never grown to accept him as their true leader and he had to make sure they wouldn't revolt and try to replace him with their real King, Max. An elaborate plan was put into place to make them look like traitors, making it seem like they had endangered the lives of every Antarian citizen by sharing secrets of their race with the humans, and when he finally brought the remaining members of the Royal Four back home, they were disgraced.

He kept them imprisoned, showing them off for the angry mob of citizens periodically so that their anger never completely faded. Tess was there too, riding high on the laurels of being the one member who had remained true to her birthright and returned home on her own accord. She was miserable living with Kivar, a man who truly had no love for anyone except himself, and his son, Max's son. Her only pleasure came from gloating over the misfortune of her former friends. They never saw the child but she assured them smugly that he was happy with his new father. Max nearly choked her with his bare hands when she said that, but her guards quickly subdued him and she walked away choking, angry red bruises on her neck. That gave them some satisfaction at least.

Their life of torture remained unchanged as time passed – unexpected attacks on them in the middle of the night by guards who were simply looking for a high, little or no food for days on end, cold nights on a hard floor in a tiny, crowded cell. Their powers were rendered useless the moment they were captured, a new skill that Kivar had developed. They lived, no… survived, in desperation for years, Michael guessed, time once again immeasurable by the absence of any regular event.

Finally, there was only him and Max left and Michael accepted that he was going to die in that cell. He began trying to remember things, fragments of thoughts that he had repressed long ago because the stark contrast between the relative beauty of his life on Earth, and the desolation he faced now, was too painful to think of. As he embraced his imminent death, he tried to recapture every memory that had ever brought him happiness. That's when he tapped into powerful resources he never knew he had. His search through the cobweb covered snapshots in his brain revealed memories of a life he had only previously dreamed of. Being on Antar had uncovered repressed experiences so rich in detail that sitting back to remember them was like watching a movie. All he had to do was press play and his former life was displayed before him.

That's when he learned about transplacement. It was easy really, you just had to concentrate and have a firm destination in mind, obviously something he had failed to conquer as of yet. He had also learned of mind control, dream walking, healing… every power the four of them had ever possessed combined, plus additional possibilities he had never even dreamed about. And he already had all of the skills, they were just a little rusty.

He stopped there, the end of his story still untold and looked up at Jim expectantly. "Enough?" he croaked, his voice cracking from overuse.

The older man sat across from him in the kitchen and stared thoughtfully at the aged face of a boy still 18 in his mind. Michael had said he had no idea of how long he had been gone, time had no meaning where he was and he could only estimate that it had been five years.

"I put you at 25."

They were the first words Jim had spoken since instructing Michael to start explaining and the sound of his voice was discomforting in the tense air.

"Maybe I am," Michael said shrugging. "I have no idea." He knew his tale was less than believable, especially to a man who had to hear the details of his own son's death, but it was all he had to offer, and it was the truth.

"Okay," Jim said, sighing as he stood up. "You said you were taken from the highway that night and kept on earth for some time?"

Michael nodded.

"And then, after 'some time' you were taken to Antar."

Michael nodded again.

"So, it's only been a year, right? You could still be here on earth somewhere?"

Michael hesitated, struggling to find the proper words to say to a man still grieving for the loss of his only son. "I don't…" He paused, chewing his lip silently. "Even if we were still here, I don't have any idea where. He used transplacement, it's instantaneous, and he could have taken us anywhere."

"But you can do it now, right? You can transmogrify yourself or whatever?"

"Transplace. But I don't know…"

"God damn it boy. Why not?" Jim shouted, turning to slam his hand down on the table between them.

The sheer violence in Jim's voice sent Michael reeling backwards and he stared at him for a long moment.

"It's been a long time since someone called me boy," Michael Guerin, the man, said slowly.

The two men stared at each other for a long moment before Jim cleared his throat and mumbled an apology.

Michael stood up, stretching his arms over his head tiredly. "Look," he said quietly. "I know you have questions, of course you do. And I'll answer them, but first you have to do something for me."

"What is it?"

Michael eyes glistened with wetness even as he thought about the possibilities of what Jim's explanation could be. He swallowed thickly before asking, "Tell me what happened to her."

"Sit down son," Valenti offered. "It's going to be a long night."
posted on 16-Dec-2002 12:09:14 PM
Part 5

"It's called catatonia."

Michael stared at the man sitting across from him, unsure if he was supposed to understand what that meant or not. "And…" he prompted.

Jim sighed heavily, having all the words necessary to explain it in his head, but unsure which ones he could use for the obviously fragile psyche before him. "Well, it's kind of hard to explain. It's like she just decided not to do it anymore, just shut the world out and live only in her head. She's still in there, but we can't reach her, or at least she doesn't respond."

"I don't get it," Michael said quickly, his hand thumping nervously against his leg as he waited, if somewhat impatiently, for Jim to make clear exactly what was wrong with her. "She's not in a coma or anything, can she hear you?"

"We think so, at least that's what Dr. Rose says. Her condition is called catatonic stupor; it just means that she doesn't exhibit motor functions. She'll do stuff if we want her to, like eat or go to the bathroom, but you've got to put the food in her mouth or carry her to the washroom. She doesn't speak at all and she only moves in the positions you place her, like a doll."

"How'd she get like this?"

Jim's hesitation was visible and Michael slowly repeated his words with greater force, "Tell me how she got like this?"

"She was there."

The question formed on Michael's lips instantly but even before he could voice the words, the realization of what the other man meant hit him and he closed his eyes slowly. "No," he whispered.

"I'm sorry, son. She was there that night, with me. She wanted to go with you; she came to me begging me to take her out to wherever you were leaving from. I did, but when I got out of the truck to see Kyle, she stayed. It wasn't until you were gone that I even realized she was still sitting there."

Jim paused briefly, if only to check if the younger man was still breathing. Satisfied that he was, he continued, "She hopped into the driver's seat and took off after the van as soon as you pulled away. I was running after her, foolishly, when I heard the explosion myself. I ran up to the crash but by the time I got there the van was engulfed in flames and she was lying on the road outside the truck. I thought she'd been hurt at first, but there was no sign of injury, just this… this look on her face."

He paused again to draw a shaky breath, fighting not to relive the events of that night himself. "She looked like her soul had been sucked out of her, I've never seen… not in all my years..."

Michael let the words floating through the warm air in the kitchen wrap around his mind. They stung, sharp thorns on what should have been a beautiful rose pricking at his heart, blood from the fresh wounds he unquestionably deserved dripping slowly down his chest. He'd done this to her, maybe not directly, but there was not one other person to blame for her illness. All she'd wanted was to go with them, to be with her friends if not with him, and he'd been the one to say no, fighting with Liz about it before finally pointing out the utter waste of a promising life Maria would be committing to get her agreement.

That alone must have nearly killed her – to be left behind, excluded, when for so long their tiny group was the only security any of them really had. And then… to watch nearly every person you held dear in the entire world die in front of your eyes… he was suddenly surprised that she was exhibiting any signs of life at all.

He opened his eyes, wet with tears he didn't know had spilled, and stared at Valenti. "So that's it then," he said softly. "For all intents and purposes she's dead."

"How dare you come into this home and say that?" a feminine voice from behind him snarled.

He turned quickly, standing to meet the petite woman advancing upon him.

"I should send you to a fiery death for putting her life in…" Amy's hand was poised to strike just in front of Michael's cheek as angry words she had been rehearsing for a year spilled from her lips when she stopped suddenly. Her eyes traveled his body, taking in the aged appearance of a man she had only recently known to be a boy. His hair was long, caught in a small elastic at the base of his neck and trailing down his back. His clothes were worn, holes along the cuffs of his jacket indicating years of use. His tattered T-shirt was misshapen and falling from his shoulders, his jeans barely holding their resting place upon his hips. Dirt caked his body, from his hairline down to the tips of his scuffed boots. She would've sworn they were the same boots she fought with him to remove whenever he entered her home only a year ago. But he had been gone for more than a year, his face revealed the truth of that matter. The skin around his eyes crinkled just slightly, and, beneath the jungle of beard framing his face, his jaw was more clearly defined.

"Where did you come from?" she whispered raggedly.

There was no possible answer to give except the truth and in an instant he decided that it was time to let one more person in on his secret. "The future," he replied.

Amy nodded slowly. "Well then you must be famished."

~~~~~

Jim eventually managed to convince Amy that Michael may indeed have been famished, but right now there were other things on his mind. Then, he quickly explained to Michael that he had told Amy everything about the aliens her daughter had befriended after their deaths.

"She deserved to know," he said, and Michael offered no objection.

Understanding that while his presence was not easily explained, it really was Michael Guerin sitting before her, and Amy sat at the table, wringing her hands nervously as she stared at the boy become man.

"So you just… you just came back for her? To help her?"

Michael looked pained as he stammered to admit that his goal wasn't originally to help Maria, but everyone else. "No, not… not exactly."

Jim squeezed her hand gently in a silent reassurance that he would explain everything to her later. "He was aiming for a year ago, trying to prevent the whole thing," he said.

"Of course," she gushed. "Kyle, the others, I'm so sorry," she whispered, looking at Jim ashamedly.

"It's okay honey," he murmured, leaning in to brush his lips across hers.

It was the first time that Michael knew for sure that they were a couple and he had to admit that through the sheer terror gripping his heart at that moment, the thought of them finally finding love gave him no small amount of joy.

"Why don't we talk about the others later?" Jim offered, recovering from his own near brush with tears at the mention of Kyle's name. "Right now I think Michael should talk to Maria."

"I don't know if I…" Michael started, obvious fear at facing the shell of the once vibrant girl creeping into his voice.

"It's okay, maybe you can use some of your spells on her," Amy suggested hopefully.

"My what?"

"Your powers," Jim explained, unable to keep the smile off his face as he pictured Michael mixing potions and ripping the legs off of toads for a boiling caldron. Breaking down doors and blowing up obstacles was much more his style.

"Well I don't have… I mean there aren't really powers for this. Like, I can't heal her, she's not sick, she just seems… sorta lost," he said shakily.

"Well then maybe you can try to find her," Amy offered, standing up to wrap her arms tightly around his neck. "Just try… please," she begged softly.

Tears pricked at his eyes as he nodded slightly. 'Of course,' he wanted to say. 'Of course I'll try, 'til the end of my days.' But what was the right thing to do? Stay here and try to change this future for her, or continue on his mission to 2002 and try to prevent it from happening at all.

He continued the debate in his mind even as Amy dragged him from the chair and led him to Maria's bedroom. Motioning to the doctor to leave, she barricaded Michael inside, fearing that if she waited a second longer he would bolt from the house forever.

Michael looked around the familiar room that had become a tomb to his former love. Even among the light-catching bottles of aromatherapy fragrances and brightly colored walls, the atmosphere was dull without her smile. He took tentative steps towards the bed where she now lay. He remembered Jim's words about having to carry her everywhere and knew that Dr. Rose had moved her here alone.

"She must weigh next to nothing," he mumbled softly, staring at the skeletal outline of her ribs through the thin top she wore. "What happened to you?" he asked, taking a seat beside her.

He head was turned slightly to the side, but not enough for him to even imagine that she was looking at him. He reached out slowly to clasp her hand, blinking through tears he didn't know had started. "Maria," he breathed.

His eyes blinked for a split second and he opened them to look around an unfamiliar scene. He was standing on a dirt road, a river running along it just ahead. Turning to either side, he saw the same endless scene stretching in both directions, the dirt road and copycat river cutting the expanse of green fields, the landscape dotted with a sparse sprinkling of trees.

He turned around in a slow circle, taking in the azure sky covering the picture-perfect scene like a comforting blanket. When he dropped his head he saw the house standing just a few feet in front of him. It was obviously old, yet not run down. The siding was wood, painted in chipped white with a cracked green trim. Without questioning how he knew what to do, he reached inside to unlatch the gate in its surrounding fence, and entered the flawlessly manicured lawn. The same flower grew along the entire circumference of the house, and Michael at first passed it off as yet another aspect of the storybook image, when suddenly the scent caught his nose and he stopped to stare at them.

Yellow roses.

Maria's favorite.

He bent down to grasp one in his hand, pulling it from its roots with a quick tug of his arm. Bringing it to his face, he inhaled deeply, letting the scent that would always bring her face to his mind wash over him.

What was this place? Was it connected to Maria? Was HE connected to Maria?

Michael stood up, the flower clutched tightly in his hand. This had to be her place. Jim had said she had shut herself off from everyone, it made sense that if she wanted to live inside her mind she would create a place to live in.

So they were connected. It didn't feel like the usual connection, although it had been quite a few years since he had connected with anyone. What else could it be? A dream? He had never dreamwalked anyone, but only recently learned that he did indeed have the ability. Was that what this was then? Was he in Maria's dream? Her mind?

Whatever it was, he had to find out as much as he could about why she was like this before it ended. He stood up, knocking on the door of the house before feeling incredibly foolish and just pushing his way inside. The house was just as old on the inside as out, but just as beautiful. He had to duck as he passed through the doorway, noting with surprise that the ceilings were much lower than normal, about 7 feet. He entered a large room that he supposed was a kitchen, set off by a polished black wood burning stove. It was surrounded by rustic wood furniture no doubt created by hand. There was no lack of light entering through the large windows facing the road, but Michael noticed that there were no light fixtures in the ceiling and no outlets on the wall; no electricity – made sense if the house really was as old as it seemed.

He had no idea what significance this particular house held for Maria, or even if it was hers at all, but he walked on, leaving the kitchen to explore the remainder of the dwelling. He passed through a narrow hallway, stairs on his left leading to a second level and continued into a tiny living room. There was no sign of her in the place, no distinct Maria-touches among the decorations, just the eerie feeling that she was there, just not seen.

He backed up into the hallway again, pausing before climbing the stairs. He noticed a bookshelf next to the staircase that he had bypassed on his first trip. It held countless picture frames, all of the same people, a family he didn't know. Bu there, on the middle shelf, tucked safely between a picture of a grandfather and grandson, and one of women making bread, was a picture of the six of them. He remembered it vividly, it having been taken on the last day they spent together. It was a Graduation, the five graduates looking proud in their royal blue robes, with a smiling Isabel looking over their shoulders.

He remembered arguing with her about not going to the ceremony at all, but she insisted that he had earned his diploma and he would need it if he ever hoped to get a job. He had sulked his was through the entire evening, staring at the back of Maria's brown hair as the only thought in his mind was leaving the cursed town before he gave in to his temptation and took her with him.

"I should have," he mumbled softly. "Having her with me would have been better than this."

He didn't mean that, he knew it as soon as he spoke the words, but this enigma that she had created for herself was just too puzzling and painful. Where was she, did she live here?

"Maria," he called finally, hoping that through some barrier of mind and spirit she could hear him and respond. "Maria, are you here?"

"Go away," the small voice responded, and Michael almost dropped the picture frame he was holding.

Placing it carefully back on its shelf, he turned towards the sound of the voice, the living room. "Maria?" he called again.

"Go away," the voice repeated, this time a little more forcefully.

He whirled around, facing the kitchen, struggling to determine where it had come from. "Maria it's me. It's Michael. I just came… I just came to talk to you."

"Michael's dead," the voice moaned sadly. "I want you to leave," it added, puncturing the air with the shrillness of its words.

"Sh!t," he mumbled, rubbing his hand across his hair as he turned around in the tiny hallway helplessly. The voice was coming from somewhere nearby, he knew it, but he couldn't see her. Where was she?

He turned once again, his eyes scanning the staircase and bookshelf nearby. He was just turning to the living room again when he saw it. A board near the floor tilting slightly off from its intended placement. He stepped forward carefully, reaching out to touch the it, somehow not surprised at all when it swung back easily.

He bent down, peering into the darkness behind the false wall and said softly, "Maria? I'm not… I didn't die. I'm here. I just want to talk."

"You are not Michael," the voice said clearly, and he knew without a doubt that this was indeed her hiding place. There was a shuffle beyond the brief light penetrating into the dark corner, and a pale face suddenly popped into view.

"Ria," Michael breathed quickly. His breath caught in his throat as he looked at the intricate pattern of anguish drawn on her face in haggard lines.

"You look like him," she said slowly, her eyes narrowing as she stared at the much older Michael. "But it's not the same. He died, I watched him die, and you think you are going to trick me into coming out, but you're not. I'm staying in here and there's nothing you can do about it. Now leave."

"Maria…"

"Leave," she said loudly.

"Ria, please."

"Leave, leave, leave, leave, LEAVE!!!" she shouted, her voice growing into a deafening crescendo that sent him reeling back from the wall, the board slamming back into place.

His eyes closed as his head banged against the far wall and when he blinked them open he was back in her bedroom, lying on his back in the floor, the chair he had been sitting on obviously having toppled over with him in it.

He struggled to his feet, righting the chair to take another tentative seat on it. He stared at the face of the girl lying on the bed before him and sharp tears teased his eyes at her vision.

She was no longer lying on her back, her head tilted slightly, but had curled herself into a ball as if she were crouched on her knees, peering out through an unseen opening at something.

"You're in there, aren't you?" he whispered softly. Leaning down to brush his lips lightly across her face, he added, "Hang on baby. I'm coming to get you."
posted on 30-Dec-2002 6:35:31 PM
Part 6

Michael stood in the hallway outside Maria's bedroom, listening to the muted sounds of voices conversing in the nearby living room. He had to tell them, had to walk out there and tell Amy that he'd found her daughter but had absolutely no idea how to get her back, not something he relished doing. He closed his eyes, and ran a shaking hand across his face, removing it to open his eyes slowly. He stared at the hand before him for a long moment, only now noticing the lines of filth etched into every crevasse. Without thinking, he turned in the familiar hallway and headed towards the bathroom, wanting to at least make himself presentable before he faced the grief-stricken mother. That his little side trip bought him more time had nothing to do with it… nothing at all.

Entering the bathroom, he fumbled with the soap, working up a bubbling overflow of volcanic lava in his hands as he scrubbed furiously at nearly seven years of grime. Shifting the cleansing lather to his face, he stripped away the dirt, raw red skin glistening in its place. Water dripped from his beard as he raised his eyes to stare at the stranger in the mirror. His appearance had never been of the highest priority but years of no glamour powers at all had left him beyond disheveled and into the realm of downright dilapidation.

He snapped the elastic band holding his hair in place and stared at the long locks of hair that now flowed freely down his back, cursing at the complete lack of volume he had once fought so hard for. Running his hands through the tangled mess painfully, he stopped when his fingers brushed his shoulders, letting the lower strands fall noiselessly to the floor. Layers were next, necessary to give him any familiarity at all. Before attempting them blindly, he fumbled inside his jacket, ripping apart a stitched together inner lining to remove a tattered photograph. It was the same picture he had just seen in Maria's world and he ran his fingers over the faces slowly, settling on her glowing smile that masked a hidden sadness in her eyes.

It was taken on Graduation Day – six nearly identical Polaroids distributed by Jeff Parker before they headed off to the ceremony. Michael had tucked his inside his leather jacket at the time, not giving it a second glance. When they had been captured, he had somehow remembered it through all of the confusion and manufactured a crude pocket with conjured stitching to seal it from the hands of whatever enemy he faced. He hadn't known its importance at the time, but in later years he couldn't sleep unless his hand rested within the privacy of his coat, fingering the edges of the sealed picture, remembering the faces immortalized there for all time.

Now, he shifted his gaze to rest upon his own 18-year-old face, so different from the lined reflection peering back at him. He studied the hairstyle, wincing slightly as he created the messy locks once more. They had never been his exact favorite, but he knew they were familiar to her and that was the crucial point right now – to give her as much familiarity as possible to create whatever comfort he could. He had no real idea of how he could persuade her to rejoin him in this universe, but he knew that convincing her that he had never died was the very first step and to do that he had to look like himself.

Satisfied with the hair, he moved his hands along his face, vanquishing the beard to reveal an aged chin beneath. The lines were the next thing to go and he glanced back at the old picture to remember how. He stopped as his hands rested on his cheeks, the power surging through them in anticipation of the instant facelift. He lowered them slowly, tilting his head as he examined every crack in the once smooth skin. Each and every line represented a day of battle on Antar; a day he had fought yet another overzealous guard trying to attack Isabel or Liz; a day he had protected a weak-spirited Max after he had given up completely; a day he had watched yet another friend die at the hands of the fiercest and most cowardly enemy he had ever known.

He decided they should remain, a symbol of what he had faced, evidence he could use to explain why he had taken so long to come for her – and he was sure he would need some supporting argument to convince her. He had always needed one in this world, why should a Maria-created world be any different.

Running his hands over the rest of his body, he removed the remaining dirt as best he could, knowing that an hour long shower was the only real cure. His clothes he would burn as soon as he could find new ones, but for now the baggy jeans and T-shirt would have to suffice, even if they did emphasize the loss of weight he had never needed to lose in the first place.

Resigning himself to the fact that he couldn't wait any longer before facing the anxious parents waiting in the next room, he opened the bathroom door slowly, shuffling down the hall quietly.

"Mi…" Amy started before stopping, her mouth falling open as she looked up at the transformed stranger before her.

"I uh… I used your bathroom, if that's… if you don't mind," he mumbled.

"No, no," she said quickly, standing up to reach out to him. Grasping his hand tightly, she pulled him across the room, forcing him into a chair near the couch, returning to her place beside Jim. "It's fine dear. Consider this your home, for as long as you want."

The blatant hope in her voice did not go unnoticed by him, or Jim, and as Michael shifted uncomfortably in his chair, Jim reached out to squeeze Amy's hand reassuringly. "Let him decide, remember?" he said to her softly.

Michael flicked his gaze between the two overly hopeful faces sitting before him. He worried that whatever decision he made would be embraced by one and merely tolerated as necessary by the other. He couldn't save both of their children, not at once, and the decision to choose one over the other was sure to be devastating.

"Well, I…" he started, stopping immediately to chew his lip nervously. "I think I know what I should do, but I'm… but I'm not going to do that."

Amy held her breath as Jim shifted his gaze to focus blankly on the muted television, both knowing they took false hope that he choose the path for their child and silently cursing themselves for it.

"I need to go back, to last year and try to stop it from happening at all. It's the only way to prevent all of it but there's a risk… one I'm not willing to take." He raised his eyes to settle first on Amy's, then Jim's, before falling back to his foot tapping restlessly on the floor and squinting slightly. "If I fail, if I don't reach her in time, or if she can't stop us from leaving, then this all happens, we get captured and she ends up here, like this… like this zombie," he croaked, his voice thick with emotion that he had fought so hard to repress until now. "I can't leave her like this. I won't," he mumbled, his strength vanishing as he heard Jim sigh and watched the smaller man stand up from the couch.

Michael raised his eyes to the only man who ever resembled a paternal figure in his life and shook his head imperceptibly. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I can't risk it, she's so lost," he gasped, lowering his head as tears pricked at his eyes. He heard Amy's quiet sobbing and stiffened as he felt Jim's hand seize upon his shoulder.

"I wouldn't have you do anything else," he said softly, his own emotions fighting to break free of the self-imposed barriers. "Maybe… after…"

"Of course," Michael said quickly, raising his head to stare at the man standing over him. "You know I will, I'll never stop trying to fix it all, I just can't leave knowing… knowing that she…"

Amy interrupted the two men as she stood and melded her body to her partner's. "Jim loves Maria like his own Michael, but Kyle…" Looking at the man who had saved her when the only reason she ever had for living had nearly ceased to exist, she blinked back further tears, her voice cracking as she continued, "I want you to save him too, and yourself… everyone. It's too much to even ask you to try, but you're everything now, the only way any of us are ever going to find even a shred of peace, and if you can just even try to find her first, bring her back even just a little, I'll send you back to save the rest with my blessings." Bending down on her knees to meet her soon to be savior at eye level, she embarrassed him to no end as she leaned in and took him into her arms. "Just try, okay?" she whispered against his neck. "That's all either of us can ask."

Fighting the urge to cry endlessly against his shoulder, Amy pulled back and pushed Jim ahead of her towards the kitchen. She both wanted time alone with him and knew that Michael couldn't stand another second of over-the-top emotional outpourings. They had talked about what he would possibly decide while he was in her room, and although she knew Jim desired to have even the chance at getting his son back, she also knew Maria's sanity was a priority to him as well and loved him even more for supporting whatever decision the boy made.

In the now deserted living room, Michael swiped at his eyes roughly, cursing himself for falling prey to their emotional outbursts. He had to be the rock he had once played so well in this universe, had to turn off whatever weaknesses he had towards the situation and face it rationally. Even as he formed the thoughts, he knew that emotions were in reality the only key to ever reaching the trapped girl lying just mere feet away from him.

Standing up quickly, he turned and strode back down the hallway, his hunger and tiredness pushed aside for the moment as he drummed up the stamina for another battle with the girl under the stairs – the only girl he had ever loved, the only girl he was living for now. Gritting his teeth, he pushed open her door and stepped inside, bracing himself for the wall she had doubtlessly erected in his absence.

~~~~~

Cursing beneath his breath, Michael stared at the newly nailed-shut hole in the wall of Maria's house and pushed himself away from it quickly. He had fought winds nearing tornado strength to enter the house this time, the previously serene environment replaced by howling gales when he connected with her again. He had eventually succeeded, slamming the door shut behind him forcefully as he sought refuge within her protective walls. Now he just had to convince her to come out and talk to him, difficult seeing that she had nailed herself within the hiding space.

"Maria, I'm just here to talk to you again," he said loudly, knowing that she could hear him perfectly well but feeling foolish standing alone in a hallway talking to a boarded up wall. "I'm going to open this hole, okay? I just need to see you for a minute."

Falling to his knees, Michael examined the carpentry work covering the hole. The boards were covering the outside of the opening, the nails driven in from his position. He turned his head to look around the narrow hallway – if he knew Maria at all, he knew that she wouldn't just "imagine" nails being in place, but nails, a hammer, and extra boards as well. He smiled to himself when he saw the small pile of tools resting in the corner of the hallway and reached over the grasp the hammer tightly.

Prying the nails out of the wood took only a few minutes, and he had soon created a hole large enough for her to fit through, even if he could only squeeze his head and shoulders inside. Bracing himself for a certain slap in the face, he leaned through the gap and waited for his eyes to adjust to the murky darkness.

"Ria?"

She had huddled quietly inside her sanctuary while he worked, watching him steadily destroy the safety she had so carefully crafted. Now she felt no fear towards the imposter, just irritation.

"Persistent aren't you?" she snapped coldly.

"Hey," he breathed happily, overjoyed to hear the familiar tones in her voice – irritation was definitely one of her strong suits. "Think you can talk to me for a bit?"

"If you'll tell me who you are?" she countered. She had pulled herself back as far as she could inside her space and knew he couldn't reach her from his awkward position half hanging out of the opening. She'd talk to him, but only from here, she reasoned.

"It's really me," he said softly, the disappointment at hearing her ask the question evident in his voice.

Maria examined what features of him were visible thoughtfully. He no longer looked like the miscreant that had peered through her hole earlier, but actually resembled the Michael she had loved before they killed him. His hair was the same, and the light that fell on his earlobe revealed it to be the same one she had caressed in so much detail when they had been together. His brow glistened with sweat, a familiar Michael sign that appeared whenever he entertained physical labor, and, more than anything, there was the smell wafting across her nostrils. He smelled clean, simple, like a freshly soap-scrubbed body with no hint of invasive colognes – he smelled like Michael. Was it possible?

No.

Really?

Well, maybe…

"I'll talk to you," she replied finally. "But I still don't believe you."

Surprising herself that she didn't fear him, she leaned forward, indicating that he should retreat from the space, allowing her room to exit. She crawled through the opening easily, brushing dust from her skirt as she stood. He had stepped back to give her room and now she turned her head to find him, her breath catching in her throat when her eyes finally took in the complete picture.

It WAS him – all of him, standing before her so characteristically nervous as he shuffled his feet slightly and shifted his gaze upon being examined. She took a tentative step towards him, raising a hand towards his chest as her mouth opened, closed, then hung open again.

"It's you?" she queried.

He had no words to respond as he stared at the eerily familiar image before him. She looked just as she had on the last day he had seen her, still dressed in the skirt and top she had worn to Graduation, the outfit she wore in the picture he carried next to his heart for the past seven years, the outfit she was wearing when she had unknowingly chased after him on that desert road so long ago.

"You look the same," he mumbled, stepping towards her slowly.

She tilted her head as she reached her hand ever closer towards him. "You look… different," she replied.

"Just older," he said with a small smirk.

"And colder," she added softly, stretching her arm through the final inches to lay her hand atop his heart.

"Maria," he whispered, raising his hand to hers.

"No," she murmured softly, shaking her head as tears poured freely from her eyes. "It looks like you, it… it feels like you…"

"It is me," he mumbled, finally erasing the distance separating them as he pulled her to his chest and crushed her mouth with his. She moaned softly from between his lips succumbing to the torturous temptation, giving herself back to him like she had longed to do every day since he had been taken from her.

Taken… he HAD been taken, killed, she had watched it happen… she was sure she had watched it happen.

Pulling back from him, she panted slightly, running her tongue along her already swollen lips lightly as she kept her gaze focused squarely on his chest. His eyes were what revealed him to be who he claimed to be, but his eyes were too dangerous for her to look into now, acknowledging the truth that he hadn't died and had just left her instead was too painful and she knew that if she recognized that fact she would lose whatever thread of sanity she now clung to.

"Well, if you didn't… if you're not…"

"He just made it look that way, baby. Kivar, he… he captured all of us, took us back to Antar and kept us there. I tried to get back to you, but I couldn't, not until now. I came back… back from the future…"

He stopped as he lifted her head with his hand, forcing her to meet his eyes. "I can explain everything to you, I can make it all up to you, you just have to come back with me, okay?"

A shadow fell across her face as she listened to him say the very words she had known he would and prayed he wouldn't. "You want me to leave here?" she asked, her mouth quivering as her head shook slowly. "You didn't come to help me, you came to hurt me!" Her voice ascended into a screaming rage as she twisted violently in his grasp and beat her hands against his chest in an attempt to break free. "Let go of me!" she yelled. "You aren't Michael. Michael wouldn't take me to them… he wouldn't make to go!"

"Maria, Maria!" he shouted, shaking her forcefully as he fought to regain control of the situation. What had happened? What had he said to make her react to violently?

"I'm not going to hurt you! I just want you to live again. Come back with me and we can just talk, please!"

"You live here," she whimpered softly, ceasing her struggling but still pushing her body back from his. "With me."

Michael closed his eyes briefly, sighing as he admitted the impossibility of her request. "I can't live here, you know that. This is your place, not mine. You have to come with me… it's the only way."

"I know," she said quietly, nodding her head in defeat.

Michael released the hold he had on her, reaching up to smooth wisps of hair from her face. "Thank you," he whispered.

"For what?" she asked quickly, whirling away from him.

"Maria, no!" he shouted, realizing that she had no intention of leaving this place. He fell back into a defensive stance, determined that she wasn't going to dive back into the hole he had just reopened. She sidestepped towards it and he blocked her move, planting his body firmly in front of the entrance.

"No, you can't go in there again. Don't hide from me, not now."

She stared at him for a moment, tears streaking down her cheeks as she watched him mount a battle against her. He was here to hurt her, just like they had been trying to for so long. Turning quickly to the side, she bounded up the stairs, escaping his grasping hands as he lurched after her.

"Maria, come back!" he shouted, running after her as she took the steps two at a time. The slight lead she had on him held and she slammed the first door at the top of the stairs shut as she barricaded herself inside.

"You're not him!" she yelled through the 100-year-old wood.

"Maria!" he called, slamming his fist against the door as he collapsed against it. "Maria please!" He turned his head as he heard a window at the end of the hall fly open and felt a forceful gust of wind blow inside. "Maria!" he called again, hanging onto the doorknob with one hand as the wind increased its strength and he fought to keep his footing. "Don't do this!"

The wind she could conjure in her mind was far more powerful than any natural phenomenon and Michael felt his feet slide as the breathy tentacles pried his fingers from the knob. Any attempt he made to speak was pointless as the air ripped his words from his lips and left him speechless and gasping. He released his final hold on the door as he flew backwards down the hallway and slammed into the far wall. The force of the hit wasn't nearly as powerful as it should have been and he opened his eyes to find himself once again toppled over on the floor of her room.

"God damn it!" he swore, scrambling to his feet as he looked down upon her figure lying on the bed. She had changed her position again, now curled in a ball with her knees pulled tightly to her chest, her arms locked around her ankles. She looked scared, her face contorted in pain as she shook her head slowly.

She shook her head.

Michael fell to his knees beside her bed, reaching a hand out to hover just above her arm. He couldn't touch her, couldn't risk breaking the trance she had fallen into. She was moving, on her own, right before his eyes, and the fact that he had caused it through fighting with her was at once painful and elating. He jumped to his feet, bounding across the room to fling open the door.

"Amy! Jim!" he shouted.

The pair raced from the kitchen, immediately assessing the urgency in Michael's voice. "What? What is it?"

"It's Maria," he panted, holding open the door to let them see the tiny girl still moving on the bed. "I think she's coming back."
posted on 3-Jan-2003 4:24:53 PM
Part 7

"Oh sweetie," Amy murmured, placing her hand gently on Michael's arm as she moved past him into the bedroom. She rounded the bed, righting the chair Michael had toppled out of to take a seat. "She's not coming back, not yet. She's just sleeping."

"What?" Michael asked, staring at the strange calmness surrounding a woman who should have been exalted with surprise right now. "No, you said she doesn't so this. She doesn't move!" he exclaimed, desperate for her shaking to mean something other than it did.

"She doesn't," Jim offered gently, stepping up to the taller man. "Except when she's asleep, then it's just like you or me, she moves when she dreams."

"It is not dreams," Michael insisted.

"Son…"

"Listen to me," he continued, staring Jim into an instant silence. Turning to look at Amy, he muttered, "She is not dreaming. I was just talking to her and that," he pointed at Maria's now still body, "is not a dream."

"Michael, you can talk to her, but she probably doesn't hear you. She's just asleep, it's normal," Amy explained, her face still so calm that Michael wanted to scream at her that she didn't have the faintest clue about what Maria was going through at that very moment.

"It is not a dream, I was just in there, and she doesn't dream, she…"

"You were in there?" Amy whispered quietly, furrowing her brow at him.

Michael lowered his head as he realized that he had yet to explain that, as promised, he had indeed found her daughter. He knew he had to, he just didn't think he had the words to do it. "We… I can do this thing. We always called it connecting…"

~~~~~

Michael explained how he was able to connect with another person as best he could to Jim and Amy. Even the man who had known about their alien heritage for three years had a tough time accepting that particular ability.

"So you can read people's minds?" he asked.

"More like take a look inside," Michael explained. He rubbed his face in exhaustion; apparently instantaneous time travel didn't excuse you from jet lag, he thought grimly.

He sighed as he looked up at the confused parents sitting across from him. "She lives in this house," he explained. "She created it from somewhere, probably some memory she has of a place that feels safe. She's scared… she thinks we are all dead and that whoever did it is trying to kill her as well." He hesitated, wishing he didn't have to tell a mother that her daughter had no interest in living in the real world. "She doesn't want to come back," he added softly.

"And you can… go there? To this house?" Amy asked.

"Yeah," Michael said, shrugging his shoulders to signal that he didn't completely understand it himself. "I couldn't do much before… when we were here. But on Antar," he paused, thinking that the time to explain his past life as a general in the Antarian army was definitely not now. "Well, let's just say that I picked up a few new skills."

"So you saw her? You spoke to her?" Amy asked, her voice tear-filled as she struggled with the concept that Maria was living a life inside her head, that she was choosing not to walk among the living.

Jim reached out to squeeze her hand gently, sending his strength into her. He recognized her need for answers, wanted them just as badly himself, but he also saw Michael's obvious suffering and knew the boy needed some time.

"It's late," he suggested softly. "Why don't we sleep and then tomorrow…"

Amy whipped her head around to face him, her objection already falling from her lips when she met his eyes. "No, I have to… of course," she finished with a whisper, seeing the reasoning in her partner's eyes.

Michael couldn't lift his head to face her, he remained silent as Jim led Amy from the room, returning a few minutes later to direct Michael to the spare room. He rose and traced the familiar steps down the hallway towards the bedrooms. He saw Maria's door lying half open and heard Amy's voice floating out from inside.

"It's okay baby girl," she was saying softly. "Michael's going to help you."

In the hall, the weary traveler stopped, eavesdropping on a conversation he had no right to hear but could not deny himself.

"You always trusted him, didn't you? I thought he was trouble from day one, but you were so persistent. If he'd never…"

Michael pressed his hands tightly to his ears, blocking out the sudden roar rushing through his brain. He didn't need to hear Amy's words to know what she wanted to say, if he'd never met Maria this never would have happened. She'd be living her life in complete oblivion to the struggle that was life as an alien's girlfriend.

He stepped quickly into the spare room that Jim had indicated, closing the door quietly behind him. Turning out the light, he crossed the room to take a seat on the lumpy mattress, the memory of making out in here when her Mom was already asleep in the room next to hers flashing back to him violently.

"I never should have loved you," he whispered into the darkness, cursing the very heritage that he now relied on to save her. "If I get you back, I'm leaving. I'm going back to stop it all, stop the shooting, stop Max, stop you from ever laying eyes on me. If I can do one thing right in this world, it's give you back the life you should have had; one without a worthless alien."

Michael lay his head down on the pillow that smelled so much like her it brought tears to his eyes and fought to find some peace through the voices screaming in his head. His hasty exit from the hallway had left him unaware of the true words Amy spoke to her daughter. The phrase, "If he'd never loved you he wouldn't have come back, right?" died in the stale bedroom air, unheard by the girl lying motionless on the bed and the boy across the hall who was her only hope.

~~~~~

Maria slowly unfurled herself from her protective position in the corner of the bedroom she had chosen to hide in and crept across the room to the door. Pressing her ear against the wood, she listened for sounds of anyone lingering in the hallway outside. She knew Michael was gone, she'd sensed his departure the moment his spirit had left the dimension she now called home. Still, fearing attack by some unknown enemy, she opened the door soundlessly, peering out to verify that she was the lone occupant of the house.

Satisfied that she was, she hurried down the stairs, grabbing her prized picture frame off the bookshelf before rushing back upstairs. She whirled into the bedroom again, turning to slamming the door forcefully. The lock clicked into place loudly, bringing a satisfied smile to her face as she secured her sanctuary once more.

Pushing off from the door, she turned around to head back across the room. The instant terror of seeing his boots before her caused her to drop the picture, the glass shattering as the frame bounced on the slatted floor.

"What… how…" she whispered at the figure.

The cloaked figure tilted his head at her menacingly, stepping forward to wave his hand around her face threateningly. "Why, you let me in of course? All you had to do was recognize who I was."

"No, no I never… I wouldn't," she gasped, feeling her throat constrict as the fear she had been running from for a full year was realized. "No, it's daylight, it's daylight!" she screamed, pointing at the sun streaming in through the window behind the man.

As she pointed, the imaginary universe rotated, sending the sun to its bed while the moon lit a starless sky.

"No," she moaned, choking as her lungs forgot to take in the next mouthful of air.

Kivar stepped ever closer to the tiny girl, sending her collapsing into a heap on the floor as she wished away his advances. "Wishing doesn't make it real," he hissed into her ear, his breath tickling her skin in a vicious rash of bristling skin. "Just because you see him doesn't make him real."

With those final words, the nightmare her tortured brain had conjured vanished. In the resulting devastation, the sobbing girl curled tightly around herself, wishing for all the world that she was back in her dark corner. The enemy had entered her safe haven, bringing with him sadistic words to test her fragile belief that Michael hadn't really died. Was is possible that it was all a joke? That he hadn't returned for her? That the hero she had waited on for so long had not finally arrived?

Unable to process the idea that she did indeed live a cursed existence, Maria began chanting to block out the evil ideas marching around her brain. "No, no, no, no, no," she whispered, her voice gaining speed along with strength as she fought against the notion that he was dead all over again. "No, no, no, no, NO!" she screamed, her arms shaking as she struggled to keep them wrapped tightly around her ravished body.

From within the darkness that was the Deluca household, three people awoke at the same time, each wondering which of the other had spoken the words aloud, neither believing that it was actually the fourth.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 4-Jan-2003 10:45:42 AM ]
posted on 6-Jan-2003 3:01:47 PM
Hope you don't get wound up too tight! Here's some more *happy*

Part 8

Michael was aware that the screams came from Maria by the third 'no' and already leaping out of bed by the fifth. He lunged for the door, only marginally escaping an embarrassing situation when he remembered his complete nakedness and ran back for his jeans. Shrugging into them roughly, he stumbled for the door, pulling it open to race across the hallway.

Jim was standing in the darkened opening to Maria's room and Michael pushed past him rudely, falling to his knees beside the bed where Amy sat near the pillows, the crying girl cradled in her arms.

"What happened?" he panted.

"It's just a nightmare," Amy murmured, kissing the sweating forehead of her panicked child gently. "Just a nightmare," she cooed softly.

"Does she scream like that all the time?" he asked, whirling around to face Jim still standing in the doorway.

The older man was obviously shaken and keeping his distance as a preventative measure to avoid further panic within the room. "No… no," he mumbled. "She never… never speaks."

"Except when she's dreaming?" Michael added, certain that his own surprise at hearing her voice could be attributed to one more fact he didn't know about her condition.

"No, never… not since…"

Jim's voice trailed off as Michael turned slowly back to the women on the bed. "Nothing?" he whispered, leaning in to place a tender hand on her leg.

Maria's voice had quieted from her initial screaming but the steady refusals continued to fall from her mouth. Her body was curled securely into the familiar protective ball, her muscles constricted tightly as she fought to hold her universe together. Spasms shuddered through her torso, extending along her legs and arms violently.

"She's not stopping," Amy said quietly. "Jim?"

Jim broke free of the trance he appeared to have fallen into to reach onto Maria's bureau for a rectangular leather case. Unzipping it, he passed it over Michael's head to Amy. She took it from him, flipping it open to reveal five identical syringes nestled inside, each filled with a clear liquid.

"What is that?" Michael asked steadily, his voice trembling with instant anger as he guessed their obvious contents.

"Morphine," Amy responded, ignoring the implied threat in his words as she reached towards one of the needles.

"You're drugging her?" he spewed furiously, snatching the case from her hand as he stood to fling it across the room.

"It's prescribed!" Amy exclaimed.

"Now see here boy…" Jim cautioned heavily.

"I am no one's boy," the incensed alien seethed, standing to face with the supposed caregivers of his former lover.

It was only now, standing in the lone ray of moonlight penetrating the dark room, that Michael's bare chest was exposed for his observers. Amy visibly winced as her gaze traveled along the snaking scar that traversed his upper body, originating near his left shoulder, ending at his right waistline. It wasn't the lone injury, accompanied by a mottled collection of bruises decorating his ribs and an obvious recent knife wound tickling his collar bone.

"No you're not," Jim muttered incomprehensibly, his own stomach churning as he mentally transferred Michael's wounds to his own son.

"I just…" Michael started before realizing that their eyes fell somewhere below his face and looked down at the masterpiece of mutilation he displayed. "It's ancient history," he mumbled, stepping forward to sit on the edge of Maria's bed, concealing his wounded body in darkness once more.

Jim stepped towards the shaking figure, reaching out to place his hand securely on a quivering shoulder. "The drugs are prescribed," he said quietly, signaling that the unspoken wish for the intended conversation not to happen was granted.

Michael breathed deeply for a long moment, each injury reoccurring slowly against his skin as his darkest secrets were illuminated. He didn't want to make this about him, it couldn't be about him; it had to be about her… it was always about her. He turned his head sideways, casting his gaze upon Maria again as he said, "She doesn't need drugs. I'll fix it."

He stretched out along the bed, removing his love from Amy's clutches to wrap his arms around her tightly. "You should get up," he instructed the woman, closing his eyes as he lay down beside the trembling girl.

"I don't…" Amy mumbled, pushing herself away from the bed into Jim's waiting arms.

It took a full hour, but the pair were able to sit quietly in the room and watch as her clenched body slowly released itself, uncurling to lie flat against the one that cradled it. They didn't understand how he was able to do it, but they did accept it and Amy vowed at that moment that there would be a new caregiver in Maria's life from now on.

~~~~~

Michael entered the house through the familiar doorway, surprised to see that darkness had fallen on the imagined world. He walked quickly through the first floor of the house, pausing briefly to look into the gaping hole beneath the stairs before continuing to the second story. Something told him he would find her in the same place he had left her, as if he could sense her presence within the walls, follow her essence to her hiding place.

He knocked gently on the door as he called to her, the low murmurings from inside confirming that he had located her. "Ria? It's me again. Can you let me in?"

He heard her voice stop instantly, sure that she was naively trying to conceal her location from him. Restraining the urge to break down the door with sheer force of will, he stepped back for a moment, staring at the rusty doorknob resting beneath his hand. The powers he had once used whenever the smallest obstacle got in his way had become a fog-shrouded memory thanks to years of disuse. He closed his eyes now, wondering if they would work within her world, and if he could call upon the right effect to spring the ancient lock.

A sharp click broke the dusty silence in the house and the heavy door swung open slowly, creaking on its hinges as it revealed the unlit room inside. Michael peered into the darkness, the shadowed figure huddled in the middle of the room at once sending his heart soaring to new heights and breaking it into a million pieces. He'd reached her, again, now he just had to hope that she hadn't retreated beyond his grasp.

Crossing the room to her side, he sat beside her on the floor, stretching one leg along her back as he curled the other against her side, gently pulling her to his chest. Her barely audible sobs reached out to wrap around his heart, squeezing it further towards crumbling when he was already on the verge of complete collapse. "Shh," he whispered, his voice trembling as he struggled to funnel what strength he had into her. "I'm here now baby, it's okay. It's all okay."

"Mi… Michael?" she cried softly, lifting her head slowly to stare at him through the tangle of hair hiding her face.

"It's me," he reassured her, smoothing the hair from her eyes as he let himself fall once more into their emerald depths.

"He… he said," she stammered, inhaling a shaky breath as she fought to believe that it really was him holding her tightly. "He said you weren't real," she gasped, pressing her face into his bare chest forcefully. "You're real, right?"

"Yes, yes," he whispered, caressing her curls with one hand while he tried to warm her shivering shoulders with the other. "Who said I wasn't?"

"K… k…" she stammered.

"Kivar?" he asked, his voice losing all sense of realism as he let the offensive word fall from his lips.

Maria nodded her head quickly, unable to meet his eyes as she listened to the chill consume his voice.

"Kivar was…" he started, struggling to comprehend how Kivar could have any effect on the sheltered girl. "Where did you see Kivar?" he finally asked, thinking that she probably dreamt in here as well, it had to be just a nightmare.

"Here… in this room," she mumbled, hiding her face further into his chest. "He said you weren't real."

"God damn," Michael swore beneath his breath. Whether Kivar had actually been inside her head or not, something he was determined to find out for sure in a moment, he felt like killing the alien all over again as he witnessed the torment even the suggestion of him was causing Maria. She was so fragile, surely past the limit of abuse that her fragile psyche could handle; Michael wondered how she was even hanging on at all.

"Tell me what happened?" he prodded her gently, pulling her chin up once more to meet her eyes.

Maria locked onto his gaze, drawing the strength she needed from him to tell her story. Michael was real, he had to be real; the love she felt radiating off of him was too powerful to be her imagination.

"He… he was in here. I left the room, and when I came back he was here. He said I… I let him in, but I didn't," she added quickly, pleading wordlessly with Michael to believe her.

"I know, I know. Just tell me," he reassured her.

"He said that wishing didn't make it real. That just because I saw you didn't mean you were real. You're real, right?" she asked yet again.

"Yes," Michael said smiling down at her. "This is real, right?" He lowered his face to hers, meeting her mouth softly in the whisper of a kiss.

She sighed against him, returning the gesture emphatically as she pulled even greater strength from the act of sharing such intimacy with him. "He was outside before," she continued, her voice no longer trembling as she gained a security from Michael to tell her tale. "He was with the men, he was their leader. His hands were blazing, the sword glinting so brightly. He burned you," she finished, turning her tear-stained gaze towards his worried one.

"What men?" he asked quietly, completely unaware of what she could be talking about.

"That night, when… when you… went away, there were men, everywhere there were men, men with fire and they burned you. I saw them burn you."

"Maria, no one burned us. The van burned, yes, but there were no people there that night. We were just transported away from the scene, Kivar was responsible but he didn't send any people to take us."

"But I… I saw them. I can show you," she insisted.

Turning away from Michael, she clambered to her feet, hurrying to the lone window in the room. "Look," she said, pointing through the parted curtains.

Michael followed behind her, pushing aside the thin fabric to look upon the pristine surroundings of her house. The moon was the sole light in the sky, casting a silvery glow upon the slight sprinkling of trees dotting the landscape. The river next to the road glistened like a strip of navy satin, rippling in a light breeze that tickled its surface. It was beautiful, exquisite… and there were no men.

"I don't see…" he murmured.

"But they…" she mumbled, pressing her face to the window as she peered out at the empty scene. "But I saw them."

"Ria," Michael said softly, suddenly piecing together this latest information with the ramblings she had thrown at him in his earlier visits to gain a complete picture of what had caused her to retreat into this place. "That night… Jim, the Sheriff, was right behind you when the accident happened. He found you on the ground, you were… you were already in the house. Do you understand me?"

"I… how could I be on the ground if I was in the house?"

"Right now, in your bedroom at home, we are both lying on your bed. This house is inside of you baby. The men, Kivar, it's all this scary place that you've imagined to explain what happened that night. There was a fire, you saw it, but as soon as you did, you went… well you sort of went to sleep. Everything else – the men, the swords… this house, it's all made up… it's not real."

Maria's lower lip quivered as she listened to the one person she trusted in this universe tell her the truth that she had known since the day she arrived here – it wasn't a real place, she knew in her heart that she had somehow made this place be a safety for her, but the time she spent here had left her weak rather than allowing her to get stronger. Now, she depended more on the sanctity of the four walls to protect her than she ever had before – and he was reminding her that it wasn't real?

She closed her eyes as her knees gave out from beneath her and she started to slide to the floor. Michael grasped her tightly, bending to lift her into his arms. He carried her to the bed in the room, laying her delicately on the spongy surface.

Maria sank back into the pillows, opening her eyes to stare up at him. "You come," she mumbled, holding out her hand to beckon him. All color drained from her face as she stared up at the man leaning over her, his appearance suddenly displaying secrets she knew he never wanted her to see. For the first time since she had entered the house, she wasn't afraid for herself, but for someone else. "Did he… did he do that to you?" she asked softly.

Michael was lowering himself beside her, supporting his weight on his forearms as he displayed the full extent of his injuries clearly, when he heard her words. He stopped, sitting on the bed instead, turning his torso away from her while he kept his gaze locked securely on hers. "It's nothing, really," he said emptily.

She stared into his eyes steadily, her tears evaporating as life gave her a reason to transfer her concern to someone else for a moment. She sat up slowly on the bed, sliding towards his body to place a tender hand against his back.

Michael turned his head from her, lowering it slightly as memories he desired to banish from his mind permanently crept back into his conscious thought for the second time that night. If he thought he was losing his grip on the situation with his own thoughts, his ability to even separate reason from hope vanished when she pressed her lips against his neck.

"Baby," she murmured softly, her breath teasing just one of the areas that had been neglected for far too long.

Unable to stand even a few seconds of her caresses, he groaned as he turned to face her. Her eyes lit with anticipation, she ran her fingers lightly over his more recent wound, bending to place an array of kisses along its edge. Satisfied that she had given it the only cure she knew how, she pulled him closer to her body, sliding to the side to force him to lie back on the bed. As she traced the scar that did little to portray the depths of agony he had suffered, she let fresh tears fall from her eyes.

"Don't," he mumbled, his own voice on the verge of collapse as he reached up to dry her cheek with his hand.

"No, it's okay," she said softly, smiling angelically at him. "I thought you were taken from me, gone forever, but you came back. You found me," she paused to shake her head slightly. "I always knew you'd find me."

Michael placed his hands firmly on either side of her face, half-lifting himself, half pulling her down as he tangled with her crimson tinged lips passionately. "I'm never going to lose you again," he murmured against her mouth, rolling over to press his body upon hers.

"Promise?" she whispered softly, knowing already that he was lying to her. He wouldn't stay here with her, couldn't stay in this world. The only way for them to be together was for her to leave this place and face the full force of reality, something she had no intention of doing just yet.
posted on 16-Jan-2003 9:04:04 PM
Part 9

Michael woke up with his face buried in the luxurious softness of Maria's hair. He breathed in the soothing scent of her deeply, allowing the smell of vanilla shampoo to waft languidly through his brain.

He snuggled closer to her tiny body, pulling her tighter to his chest. She followed his direction robotically, her body sliding stiffly towards him across the mattress. Sensing the resistance in her movements, he opened his eyes concernedly—expecting to be comforted by brown locks, instead assaulted by blonde curls.

He sighed as he fell back on the bed, wondering when he had left her world and returned to his own. They'd fallen asleep within her sanctuary after passing hours exploring recesses of each others bodies that had fallen into dusty memory. Maria had paid special attention to his wounds, both old and new, applying a healing salve of affection to their tortured surfaces. Then she had moved on to discovering exactly what it was like to age seven years, squealing in delight at the new wrinkles she found around his eyes. He had pushed her playfully away from him at that point, prepared to examine her own skin, sure that a year would have aged her in some way. He couldn't help the frown that fell across his face when he realized that she hadn't aged a day, not a minute, since he'd left seven years ago in a sudden burst of flames. The reminder was more than disheartening and they had slipped into a pensive silence, their bodies wrapped in each other's while their minds wallowed in remorse over the path their lives had taken, each wishing they could change—Michael his past, Maria her future.

Now he pushed himself off of the bed, knowing that he needed nourishment and rest before he could connect with her again. He'd been on the planet for less than a day and had already visited with her three times. The physical toll it took on him was showing and he bent over to kiss her unresponsive lips gently before slipping quietly out of the bedroom to take a shower.

Fulfilling his previous desire for an hour long soak, he exited the bathroom nearly 70 minutes later. He was debating whether his craving for food was greater than his need to see Maria once again when he heard her calling his name.

"Michael… no, no, Michael!"

The desperation in her voice stirred him into immediate action and he bolted towards her bedroom. Pushing the door open, his body snapped to rigid attention when he witnessed the sight before him. Maria was writhing on the bed, incoherent mumblings peppered with the clear sound of his name falling from her lips. The blankets were removed from her body, her arms and legs stretched towards the edges of the bed, thick leather straps binding them tightly to the down-filled surface. The obvious strain felt in her muscles was evident on her face as her expression varied from torture to grief and back in the milliseconds he could stand to watch her. His body jerked forward, his hand reaching out without thought to the harm it might cause as he lunged at the source of her agony… Dr. Rose.

"What the fvck are you doing?"

She whirled around from her position seated by Maria's side, the needle she had just emptied into her patient's vein balanced precariously between her fingers.

"Excuse me!" she snapped quickly, standing up to step away from her irate attacker.

He ignored her, his attention immediately falling back to his one concern, the further injury she had doubtlessly just caused his love. Maria writhed on the bed, her limbs twitching convulsively as her body wrestled with the injected sedative delivered by her physician. He grabbed the strap on her left arm, yanking on it forcefully as the doctor's cries of attack increased outside his range of caring.

Recognizing Michael from his unannounced visit yesterday, Dr. Rose didn't fear that he was trying to harm her patient, just that he was interfering in her own treatment of the girl—a large enough crime in itself. Seeing that she was powerless to stop the intruder, she stepped to the door, shouting for Amy and Jim to intervene.

Michael remained intent on his task, having freed her left side and moving to work on her right, still bound tightly. His vantage point from the opposite side of the bed permitted him to remove the criminal restraints while shooting deadly daggers at the supposed caregiver. The bile churning in his stomach at the cruelty one human could inflict on another, especially a helpless girl, fueled his anger and he felt blood swirl in his mouth as he bit his lip in an effort not to fell the woman with words alone.

The doctor kept her position by the door, eyeing Michael cautiously as he continued fighting with the stubborn latches on the bindings. When Amy entered the room a moment later, Dr. Rose received an infusion of courage, believing she was backed by her employer as she stepped towards the bed.

"I am warning you to desist," she threatened comically.

Michael allowed her only a cursory acidic glance with his eyes as he focused on the final bound limb, his heart burning with hatred for the doctor even as it wrenched with pain for his lover. "Do you actually think you are helping her?" he snarled, bending his head to Maria's arm once more.

"I am delivering her therapy," Dr. Margaret Rose stated authoritatively, her chest puffing out as she took a stand against the boy she should have feared but foolishly didn't.

"You call these therapy!" he shouted, holding up the last strap as he released Maria's arm. He watched as she curled her body in on itself, no doubt locked in a drug-induced sleep that sent nightmarish images coursing through her brain. He'd spent more time than he cared to remember bound by similar straps and he could feel the slow burns they rubbed into his skin even now. Unconsciously, he rubbed his wrist, flicking hair out of his eyes as he stared down at the persecutor standing before him. "These are just a modern excuse for torture," he growled.

"Now see here," she objected.

Amy reached her arm out to prevent the woman from stupidly charging at the alien looming across the room. She had been fully aware that Dr. Rose was conducting a therapy session with Maria this morning, but had no knowledge of what it entailed. Walking into the room, she was shocked herself to see the presence of straps on her daughter's limbs, items she hadn't even known were attached to the bed.

"Wait," she said shakily. "What kind of therapy is this?"

"The effective kind."

Her words were cut off by a blood-curdling scream emitting from the mouth of the girl lying on the bed. Michael dropped to Maria's side on the bed, his battle with the doctor forgotten as concern for her flooded his being. The pale figure convulsed, her body arching off the bed as spasms gripped her muscles. She fell back to the surface roughly, bouncing as another contraction washed over her, her mouth emitting the gargled cry of someone caught in horrendous torture.

"Michael, Michael no, no… don't… don't hurt… DON'T HURT HIM!" Her voice ascended into a blinding crescendo, her screams curdling the blood of every person in the room.

He grabbed her to his chest, wrapping his arms tightly around her to prevent any further injury to herself. His lips caressed her head, murmuring soft assurances into her hair as he begged for her to return to the catatonic state that looked so peaceful in comparison.

Amy was near tears as she watched Michael take control of Maria, turning her focus on the now trembling doctor. "You said 'effective' therapy?" she queried menacingly.

Dr. Rose swallowed heavily, her eyes darting from Amy to the figures on the bed and back again. She opened her mouth to speak, her voice cracking as she fought to formulate words. "I… I… it's…"

"Stop," Amy commanded. "My daughter was fine an hour ago, resting peacefully after a difficult night that we handled. Then you come in here and the next thing I know she's in restraints? Who told you to use restraints?"

"Well, it's a perfectly acceptable…"

"I said stop!" Amy shouted, stepping towards the woman as her shock at finding her daughter in such distress faded, replaced with ire for the doctor she had entrusted with Maria's care. "I don't care if it's the textbook solution for cases like hers. You've been here for a full year and nothing… no results, no cure, not even any progress! This boy," she said turning to glance back at Michael, faltering when she saw his aged face looking back at her. "This man," she corrected, "has been here less than 24 hours and already she's moving, talking… responding to us… to her family."

Amy took a final breath, struggling to calm the fury building within her as she took back control of Maria's recovery. "Your services will no longer be required doctor," she voiced coolly. "Maria has a new caregiver now."

Dr. Rose stared in shock at the woman before her, her cheeks flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and anger as she listened to Amy's decision. She was wise enough to recognize a determined parent when she saw one and thankfully remained silent as she picked up her medical bag to leave.

Amy stepped into the hallway to watch her exit the house, returning a moment later to lean heavily against the wall. "Is she okay?" she croaked to Michael.

He still held Maria in his arms, her head resting on his chest, her body no longer fighting the uninvited drugs coursing within her. "I think the drugs knocked her out," he said quietly, afraid his words would wake her.

"Probably for the best," Amy said quietly, watching as Michael gently laid her back against her pillows. Her body wasn't completely stiff yet, the drugs acting as a relaxant to her tired muscles. She sunk back into her pillows, one hand still reaching for him as he backed away from the bed.

"I… I didn't know she was…" Amy started, her voice breaking as the adrenaline rush drained from her body, leaving her near exhaustion as tears formed in her eyes. "If I'd known she was hurting her."

"You had no way," Michael said quickly, leaving Maria's side to cross the room. "I'm sure she had some convoluted sense that this was the right thing to do, I just can't imagine…" He turned back to stare at the red welts rising on Maria's appendages, wincing at the obvious pain they had to be causing. Turning back to Amy, he lowered his gaze to the floor. "I would never hurt her," he mumbled quietly.

"I know that," she replied quickly, reaching a tentative hand out to touch his arm.

He flinched, remaining within her grasp but tensing as he forced the words from his mouth. "What you just said, about me caring for her," he raised his eyes slowly to meet hers as he spoke. "I appreciate the words, but I'm not sure if I can help her. I don't know what…"

"I'm sure," she said softly, squeezing his arm tightly in assurance.

"You know I'll try," he said quickly, his eyes flitting everywhere on her face but her gaze as he struggled with the words formulating in his head. "I'm the one who put her there and I'll make sure she comes out of it."

"Michael," Amy gasped, her mouth widening as she stared at the man before her. "You are not responsible for this. It's not your fault that she's here."

"Well," he drawled slowly, her eyes now dropping completely out of sight again as his head bent once more, his brain mentally positioning his sword towards his chest to fall upon. "If I'd never met her this wouldn't have happened, right?"

"Where is this coming from?"

"I heard you… I heard you say 'if she'd never met me…'" his voice trailed off as Amy's eyes widened in understanding.

"Michael," she said softly. "What I said was…"

"No," he interrupted. "I heard you, I shouldn't have listened but I did, and I just want you to know that I wish I never met her too. I wish I was never here, never caused this. If I could take it all back I would."

"Michael," Amy repeated, this time her voice taking on an edge as she fought to correct the obvious error of his thoughts. "What I said was 'if he'd never loved you he wouldn't have come back.'"

His head snapped up as the truth of her words settled in his brain. "If…" he mumbled blindly.

Her face softened, her hand leaving his arm to rise up to his cheek. Gently she caressed the weathered face of one who had seen far too much pain in his short years, yet still someone found the capacity to love another so completely. It stirred her into shame at her own approach to the emotion over the years.

"Son," she said quietly, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth as she emphasized the word slightly. "I can call you that because that's what you are to me," she added, stopping any objection he had to the nickname. "For a long time I blamed you for what happened to her. I blamed you and Max and Isabel—even Liz and Kyle for leaving her here when all she wanted was to go with you. I know that if she'd told me she wanted to go I would have said no, but I also know that nothing would have stopped her from going… except for one thing—you. When Jim told me that it was you who forced her to stay, I cried for three days for all the hatred I had directed towards your memory."

"I know you loved her, love her—then and now, and I would, am, entrusting her life with you Michael. If anyone can bring her back it's you and no matter what I thought of Dr. Rose's method, if you want to strap her down and drug her, then so be it."

Michael listened to Amy's words, his emotions wavering from acceptance, to surprise, to shock at her final words. His eyes widened as he listened to her offer him torture devices to treat her daughter.

She watched him closely, gauging his reaction to every word she spoke. At the final offering she smiled lightly, lowering her hand to his shoulder as she explained, "I trust your judgment. I can't help her," she said, her voice breaking as she paused to regain control of her raging emotions. "I don't know how to help her, but you do, somewhere deep inside, you know the right thing to do and you're doing it. I don't understand it, but I trust it. I trust you."

Michael nodded dumbly as Amy finished, realizing that no words were available in his brain to formulate a response.

"Come," she said simply, turning away from him.

He looked back at Maria longingly, hesitating at Amy's offer.

"She needs sleep and you need food," she prodded, reaching back to grasp his hand tightly in hers.

"Thank…" Michael mumbled, planting his feet firmly on the floor as he battled to express even a small portion of the gratitude swelling within him. "Thank you."

Amy smiled, her eyes shining with tears as she pulled him gently from the room, intent on feeding him until at least five extra pounds showed on his lean frame.

As the door closed on the room, a small smile glimmered on the face of the catatonic girl lying on the bed. From within her house, Maria stood in the doorway of an empty bedroom, the normally weathered wood floors and faded wallpapered walls replaced with the sterile cleanliness of a hospital room. A lone bed lay in the center of the room, a cluster of stainless steel machines pushed tight to the sides. The body on display was connected to each of the life-sustaining devices, the tortured soul twitching as muscles fighting for freedom pulled against the restraints holding them. She flexed her own wrists subconsciously, no welts present to reveal the injury her body had just incurred, but the memory of the pain as sharp as if it had happened to her in this reality as well.

She had panicked when she had first found him, opening the door expecting to see empty walls instead finding a portal into a universe of torture. She'd screamed when she saw the strange man injecting the elongated needle into his arm, his arm clenching uselessly as a too tight strap held it firmly in place. They were hurting him, they were hurting…

Then she'd heard the conversation with her mother and Michael resonating through the walls of the house and calmed, secure in the knowledge that the boy she had spent last night with was safe in the 'real' world, probably helping himself to a second serving of pancakes right now.

Now she breathed deeply, remaining calm as she focused in more closely on the figure lying in the bed, on the brown locks spilling over the pillow, his chiseled features contorting in pain as his neurons fired agonizing bursts of resistance to the torture afflicting his unconscious body. Maria arrived at her conclusion with a clear mind—it was him, she knew it. And if the Michael that had come back from the future was safe in the Deluca kitchen, then the boy on the bed had to be the Michael from the present.

Now she just had to figure out a way to rescue him.

posted on 20-Jan-2003 8:47:14 AM
I_LOVE_NICK - Good Lord girl! I think my head might explode from all that flattery!!! Glad to hear that you like the story *happy* Always looking for people who enjoy reading my words. Check out the link at the bottom for other stories by me!

And I actually live in Brampton but work in Toronto, and I'm a Newfie not a Torontonian *happy* but yeah! I guess we are close together on the crazy earth!

NatCam - So that's what you call a spinner, hey? Glad to see I made you think! You'll like the following explanation I'm sure *happy*

LTL - Good question - what WILL happen to Future Michael if present Michael is saved??? Only I know the answer *happy* (don't you just love owning the characters???)

Enjoy!
S.


Part 10

When Michael walked into her house again, he headed straight for the bedroom where he'd left her, praying that whatever evil had caused her earlier outburst hadn't tortured her too much. Amy had forced food into his mouth until he could barely stand from the table but it was appreciated, his body now coursing with a newfound energy as he bounded up the stairs, already burning with anticipation that maybe this time he'd be able to convince her to come back with him, reenter the life she had left behind over a year before.

He ran directly into the bedroom, not noticing the figure sitting in the hallway outside the next room. He stopped when he noticed the vacant bed, calling out to her as he searched the room with his eyes, his voice betraying the worry that ran through his mind.

"Ria?"

"Out here," came the soft reply, so quiet that he almost didn't hear it, looking around as he wondered where the whisper had come from.

"In the hall," she hissed, holding her hand out in the direction from which he approached, not turning her gaze from the open bedroom door in front of her.

"What are you doing?" he asked breathlessly, stepping out of the room to hurry to her side. He stopped beside her, leaning over to follow the direction of her gaze, looking into the empty room in front of her. "What are…"

"Shh," she commanded, gesturing for him to take a seat on the floor.

He complied, sitting cross-legged beside her to stare into the bare room once more. "What are we looking at?" he said, following her lead to whisper this time.

She tilted her head slightly as she concentrated on the nothingness she stared at. "You," she said simply.

"I'm over here," he whispered.

"Not you you," she said, sighing as she shook her head at his stupidity. Pointing ahead of her, she continued, "The before you, or the now you, or… whatever… the you from the van I think, the you that was captured."

"The what me?"

"Just look," she hissed. "Can't you see it?"

"Maria," he said, forgetting her request to keep his voice quiet. "I see an empty room. No me's in there at all."

"You see…" she said, confusion evident both on her face and in her voice. "But you're right there."

"What are you talking about?" he said loudly, forcing her to turn her head to look at him.

Her lip quivered at the disbelief in his voice, the judgment on his face as he disproved the existence of the very sight before her eyes. "I… I…" she stammered. "I'm not crazy," she gasped, her voice threatening to break. "Am I?"

His face collapsed, reaching to pull her to his chest as he hurried to soothe her sanity. "No, no, you aren't crazy. I just don't see it. Can you tell me what it is?" he asked, tipping her face away from his to stare into her eyes.

"It… it's you," she began shakily. "I see you, in a white room, like a hospital." Her voice increased in strength as she turned back to peer at the vision before her, drawing on his willingness to listen to her as reason enough to believe that it could be real. "I see you lying there, on a bed. There are machines all around and a man that keeps giving you needles. You are hurting," she finished softly, pressing her hand to her heart. "I can feel it."

Michael's hand, rubbing small circles on her back, stilled, falling soundlessly to the floor as he turned once more to peer into the room that still looked vacant to him. Her description was so accurate, the details correct in all aspects that he knew she had somehow witnessed the very existence he had once led, but how?

"Maria," he said evenly, a calm he didn't feel supporting his words. "Can you tell me what the man looks like?"

"Sure," she replied quickly. "He's tall, dark hair, not too fat, could stand to lose a few pounds, although I mean really, couldn't we all…"

"Ria, please," he begged earnestly.

"Sorry," she said, blushing as she heard the desperation in his voice and knew that he needed to know as much about what she saw as possible. "Um, he has a moustache, glasses, and he's wearing a white lab coat. He… he keeps giving you needles, about every half hour and then asking you questions. Sometimes you'll fall asleep but then he'll give you another shot and you'll wake up again." Her voice faded as she turned to look at him, his face turned to the side, his eyes staring at the unseen image she painted. "Did it hurt?" she asked softly.

His chin trembled as he closed his eyes, swallowing heavily as he wished away the memories she yanked from the dark corners of his brain. "Did it hurt?" he repeated softly, letting his chin fall to his chest.

She straightened her body, this time pulling him to her, soothing his shaking shoulders with gentle strokes of her hand. She didn't speak, knowing he needed just a moment to deal with the turmoil she had obviously stirred up within him.

"I never wanted you to see that," he finally mumbled, his head still buried against her shoulder.

"No," she cried softly, pushing him away so she could meet his eyes once more. "Look at me," she commanded gently. "It's true? That… that's what happened?"

He nodded his head slightly.

Her breath expelled itself from her body in a slow sigh. "Then I can see you?"

Michael's head jerked up, his brow furrowing as his brain evaluated her conclusion. "No, I think… I think I just gave you the memory, the vision of it."

"No," she persisted, shaking her head resolutely. "It's happening right now, watch."

He grasped after her as she stood up and bounded into the bedroom. He could see her clearly, appearing almost comical as she moved about the barren room, stopping in front of an imaginary obstacle to bend over it. He saw the satisfied smile creep its way onto her face as she practically bounced from the room, her elation strangely fitting in the environment of the grief he exhibited.

"It's 11:29 am, June 22, 2003," she stated proudly, taking her seat beside him again.

"What? How did you…"

"The bastard," she said offhandedly, smiling sheepishly as the offensive word fell from her lips, "…his watch is digital."

The idea that she might actually be able to see something tangible in the room settled into Michael's brain, swirling his muddled thoughts into a cloudy hurricane as possible explanations were formed, examined, and rejected in rapid succession. He was about to question her further when he noticed the smile slip from her face and her lip tremble once more.

"What is it?" he asked quickly.

"I said 2003, didn't I?" she asked quietly.

He nodded tentatively, not sure yet why the date worried her. It was today's date, the day after he had returned… a year after she had entered the house.

"I've really been here for a year then?" She didn't need to hear his answer to know that it was true. She'd already known it, but irrefutable proof had just been placed before her and she now faced her sentence of confinement fully. "I've wasted a whole year," she whispered.

"Don't say that," he begged, smoothing her hair with his hand as he watched her fight not to shed tears.

It's true," she continued. "I am so weak," she muttered, her voice like venom as she spat the words from her mouth. She stood up, wrestling out of Michael's grasp as she faced the version of him lying on the bed before her. "I've been hiding in here, afraid of an evil I conjured all on my own, while he… you…" she gasped. "You've been there this whole time? Just lying there, waiting for someone to help you and I've been cowering… sickly, weak, cowardly, afraid."

"Maria, don't," he said softly, his breath surprising her as it tickled her neck from his place now standing behind her. "You thought I was dead, thought we all were. No one thinks you a coward."

"He does," she yelled, pointing to the room as she whirled away from his protective hold. "I can hear him, hear you, you're begging for me to find you, rescue you and I'm just…. I'm just sitting here."

Her widened eyes were rimmed red but no moisture fell from them. She despised herself at that moment, her hands pulling at her clothes uselessly as she fought the urge to rip them from her body, the need to cleanse herself of any reminders of her existence in the sanctuary overpowering.

Michael grabbed her arms in his hands tightly, forcing her to look at him as he repeated, "Don't. Don't do this to yourself. You didn't know, you couldn't."

"Yes I could have. If I'd stayed, fought, I could have known, I would have known that you were still alive, that you needed me. You know I would have known Michael," her voice broke as sobs she could no longer deny poured forth from her shaking body. "It's me and you, I would have known," she sobbed.

"Maria," he said sternly, swallowing his own tears as he fought to gain control of the situation, calm her before she ran into another hidden recess of the house and erected an even stronger barrier between them. "None of that matters now. You couldn't have stopped him from taking us, and you can't do anything about it now. You've just got to get yourself better."

"No," she whispered quietly, a flash brilliant green peering out at him from twin waterfalls on her face. "I need to rescue him, you."

"You need to rescue yourself," he objected quickly.

"No, I was left behind for a reason. I'm the one who's supposed to save everyone. I have to do this, it's why it's all happening, why I can see you."

"I don't think so," he replied slowly, loosening his hold on her as she calmed a little. He stared at the flames of determination evaporating the water in her eyes, her mouth setting itself in the firm line that said she had made up her mind and wasn't about to be swayed by anything he had to say. His objection ran on longer in his head but as he took in her appearance he stopped to think about why she was seeing this at all, how she was seeing it.

"Look, we don't even know what you're seeing. It could be just a memory, just something I left behind from visiting you."

"No Michael, the date, it's today."

"Still…"

"No," she repeated firmly, stomping her foot on the floor, the hollow sound of her high heeled sandal reverberating through the ancient construction. "It's today, it's you, and I'm going to save you. Now," she said seriously, placing one finger on her chin as she contemplated what her next move should be. "How the hell am I seeing you anyway?"

Michael couldn't help the laugh that escaped his mouth. He had connected with her only minutes before hoping that she wasn't permanently scarred from whatever outburst had occurred during Dr. Rose's session. Now here she was displaying a courage he had desperately missed in the past seven years, something he had been doubtful of ever seeing again after he'd found her here yesterday.

No matter how confused he was by how she was able to see what she described, or how saddened he was by the fact that she experienced the vision at all, he was overjoyed to see the spark of life emanating from within her, shining in her eyes, on her lips, through her voice. She was back, whether she had yet to enter the real world or not, he knew that she was back in spirit at least, an incredible accomplishment in itself.
"Okay," he said, smiling at the surprise she was unable to suppress on her face as he agreed with her. "I think that somehow you are connecting with him, with me. That's how you can see me."

"How can I do that? I can't do anything."

"Through me you can, you must. I'm connected with you now, all of my power is running through you right now. I don't know how but maybe your body is storing it up, saving it to use for this connection. I really can't explain it, but… but if you really can…"

"What?"

"Maria," he said slowly, pain etched on his features as he realized the implication of what she was obviously capable of doing—finding them, figuring out if they were still on this planet and where, something he hadn't the slightest clue how to do until now. If she really was coming back to the real world, then maybe, just maybe, she could bring a few of her friends back with her. "If you can really see me, see where I am… I don't have any idea where we are, but maybe, if you really are seeing me in that bed then we are still here, there, somewhere on Earth and we can come back."

At first she didn't know why the tears were falling from his eyes as he spoke, but watched as an emotion he had rarely expressed—hope—washed over his face and suddenly she knew the source of his anguish. Her hand snaked along his chest, tracing the path of the scar she knew lay hidden beneath his shirt. The reason his possible rescue meant so much to him, torture that he had neither the strength nor the words to articulate potentially being erased from his future even as they spoke.

"Will you let me help you now?" she whispered softly, keeping her hand pressed firmly against his chest as she raised her other hand to his face, wiping away the tears that dripped slowly but steadily from his sealed lids. "I can do it, let me rescue you."

He nodded his head, his eyes still closed as he bent down to seek out her waiting lips, smothering his sobs against her mouth as he released his worry, allowing himself to take in the naïve but comforting hope she offered. "Promise you'll come back to me," he murmured, burying his face into her neck as he hugged her tiny body close to his.

"I will," she sighed, squeezing the last ounce of courage she needed from his body as she prepared for a journey she had no idea how she would attempt let alone accomplish. She pushed away from his arms, stepping towards the bedroom door as she looked back at him longingly. "Meet you back here in an hour?" she asked.

He nodded, his hand lingering on hers as she pulled determinedly away. "Be safe."

"Always," she smiled, stepping into the room that still appeared empty to him, closing the door firmly behind her as she ventured forth into a universe seen only by her.

Michael stood in the hallway for a long moment, waiting to see if she would hurry back, turning away only when it was obvious that she wouldn't. He had no intention of leaving the house, knowing that he would only sit helplessly by her side waiting for a twitch or mumbled word to let him know that she was ready. He leaned against the stairwell railing across the hall from the bedroom door, using it as a much needed support as he slid to the floor. She was gone to save him, find out where he was so that an attempt could be made to prevent them from ever leaving the planet. Just the idea that there was a chance of preventing that world from ever being known by them, of reversing the senseless deaths of the people who had become a lifeline to him during that time, was crushing, shaming, and stirring, and he sat on the floor of her weathered house and cried.
posted on 23-Jan-2003 3:31:24 PM
Part 11

Maria closed the door to the hallway behind her. She wasn't sure why she did, just that she didn't think Michael could stand to watch her interacting with the people who had caused him such pain, even if they were unseen to him. She glanced around the room fully for the first time. The door she entered from sat on a wall taken directly from her house. The aged wood stood out in stark contrast to the glossy brilliance of the other three white-painted walls, direct from the world Michael presently resided in.

She crossed the floor to his bed, wondering if she could interact with him at all or just sit quietly by, not touching anyone or thing. She remembered a particularly frightening night when Isabel had paid her a visit in dreamland several years before. She had reached out to touch the other girl's hand and both of them had immediately woken up in their own beds, a cold sweat breaking out on their bodies as if they had experienced the same, joint, terrifying nightmare.

With that memory, she decided to stay clear of the technician, evil bastard, should he reenter the room, but she couldn't restrain herself from resting her hand gently on Michael's arm. He was asleep anyway, she reasoned, so he wouldn't even know she was there.

Maria watched for any sign of reaction on his face as she sat quietly by his bed. The only signs were of torment as his body fought against the restraints holding him still and his face contorted in agony at the tumultuous thoughts streaking through his brain. She placed a hand on his head, smoothing his sweat-drenched hair off of his face as she stared longingly at his features. He looked so… same.

She had expected to be surprised by the difference in the aged Michael outside her door and the version she had known so intimately only a year ago. Instead, she found both renderings comforting, the boy she had loved hardly changing at all in the prison he now called home, and the man she had also loved, albeit a lifetime ago, aging gracefully even through hardship as she had known he would. She always had been attracted to his ruggedness. Carving the lines just a little more deeply with time only made her more so.

Her contemplations were interrupted as a door on one of the white walls opened and the same technician from before entered. Maria cursed beneath her breath as she watched him approach, ready to forget her promise to stay out of his way and attack him, screaming like a banshee to prevent further injury to Michael. She was saved the need to intervene as she observed him adjust the knobs on one of the machines near the bed and make notes in a small chart. It was only as she dissected the evilness that was him that she noticed the security badge pinned to his lab coat and knew she had found the information she was looking for.

Creeping around the bed, she hovered delicately over his left arm, careful not to touch him in any way as she memorized the information printed clearly on the plastic label. 'Jasper' it read loudly. The idiot bastard who thought torturing someone was an adequate way to make a living was named 'Jasper'. And he worked for 'Sigmund Solutions—Servicing ALL Your Patient Needs'. Maria thought she was going to puke.

Stepping away from the man, she smiled at the victory she had just claimed, only five minutes inside and she already knew the name of the company responsible for his care, or damage as it were, and the person that she would personally see jailed for performing the 'services'. She wanted to run back into the hallway to tell Michael but couldn't tear herself away from the boy lying on the bed just yet.

Jasper left the room without further incident and she retook her seat at Michael's side, watching as he settled into a more peaceful state, no doubt thanks to the drugs pouring into his arm from the adjustments just made. Leaning over to bring her lips close to his ear, she whispered, "You're in there, aren't you?" Her hand rested on his head for a moment before she removed all distance between them and reached down to brush her lips lightly across his mouth, remembering his same words to her as she added, "Hang on baby. I'm coming to get you."

She pried herself away from his body reluctantly, turning quickly towards the door before the tears threatening to fall from her eyes materialized. As she left, the boy on the bed stirred slightly, his brain fighting to sound a word, any word, to speak to the apparition that had just visited him. It wasn't possible that it was really her, was it? He could barely control his conscious thought, let alone make sense of a dream that seemed so real that he wanted to reach out and touch her.

Maria had visited him?

No, it wasn't possible. He had stopped thinking about her months ago, the memory too painful to store in his brain as his existence dragged on in the hell that was his universe. The appearance of her today had to be attributed to thoughts that were too powerful to repress stubbornly resurfacing. She wasn't actually here, she hadn't actually found a way to connect.

He recalled bitterly that the one person not trapped in his hell-on-earth was the only member of their tiny group who hadn't generated alien powers of some kind. He cursed himself for ever wishing that she required the healing power necessary to spark 'the change', but right now he would gladly trade her body for Liz's in the Crashdown that day almost four years ago just so she could cross the barriers separating them and he could talk to her one more time.

He knew he didn't want that to happen before the fragments ever formed themselves into solid ideas and hated himself for even imagining it. It was better that she remain untouched by him, pure beauty unmarred by his alien ugliness. He never deserved to even know her; her life should have been created from love and happiness, not devastation and death. His tortured brain finally submitted to a blissful unconsciousness as he eased his torment with the knowledge that she was living a better life without him in it. He trusted that somewhere, beyond the walls of thought that kept her memory trapped inside, she was happy.

~~~~~

Maria crouched by Michael's side in the hallway of her house. He appeared to be asleep, his head bowed on his knees that were tucked close to his chest. She touched his arm delicately, shrieking when his head snapped up to grin at her.

"Missed me, didn't you?"

Laughing, she joined him in a seated position on the floor, smiling at the unfamiliar moment of happiness that passed between them. It was fleeting, replaced too quickly with his furrowed brow as he examined her body for any signs of injury after her journey.

"You okay?"

"Of course," she replied, smiling at him with a confidence she didn't feel. She was okay, there was no question of that, it was him that wasn't, not the him that was trapped in the hell she had just visited anyway. She knew that she had found some answers to where he was being kept but her veins coursed with apprehension as she worried about translating this information to Michael, fearing the danger he would call upon himself in an effort to reverse the capture.

"I… I found out some stuff," she offered slowly.

There was no response from his lips, only a pleading look in his eyes to continue, and fast.

She swallowed stiffly, lowering her eyes for a moment as she recalled the scraps of information she was able to gather. "His name is Jasper," she said quietly. "He's the one that's hurting you and he works for this Sigmund place. Sigmund Solutions. They have a crazy motto too—servicing all your patient needs or something. Liars."

His eyes widened at the crucial yet scant details she was able to provide. Over a year, at least, in the confines of that place and he had only a vague recollection of what the man looked like, he knew none of the precious facts that she had uncovered so easily.

"How?" he mumbled.

Smiling, she shrugged as she responded, "He had a security badge with all this written on it—pretty dumb if you ask me."

"Well there was never a chance of us escaping, no risk really."

"Still…"

The once enrapt lovers stared at each other thoughtfully for a moment, Maria finally breaking the silence with the question that haunted both of their minds. "What are you going to do?"

"Honestly?" he asked. "I have no clue."

"Well you have a name, maybe you can find their offices or something."

"Ria," he sighed. "This place could be huge, or there could be fifty places, hundreds, they could be worldwide for all we know. We're probably just as lost now as we were five minutes ago."

"Well I'll go back in," she offered quickly, moving to rise to her feet.

"No," he snapped, grabbing her arm to keep her firmly planted on the ground.

"Michael," she said slowly, staring at him questioningly.

"I'm sorry," he muttered, loosening his hold but keeping his hand still resting on her forearm. "I don't want you going back in there. You have no idea what you're doing, what realm you are crossing to connect with him… with me like that. You could get trapped, or lost… I can't risk that."

"I'm not going to get lost, I'm just in the bedroom."

"You are not in the bedroom!" he yelled, her body jerking backwards as his words assaulted her skin savagely. "You are in the place that we lost our souls in Maria. The place that stripped us of every last dignity we possessed. We were shells by the time we ever got to Antar, every thought, every memory, every instinct for survival stripped from our minds."

He panted slightly as he stared at her face, the shock of his words leaving an indelible imprint on her skin. "They raped us," he added, his voice softening to a bare whisper. "Every day, for what might as well have been an eternity, it sure as hell felt like one. I would never wish that on you, and to even have you witness it…" his voice broke as he squeezed his eyes shut against the violent images of the same fate befalling her. "That's a horror I never want you to know."

Somehow she managed to suppress the sobs rising in her throat. As she looked at the agony etched in the age-revealing lines of his face, she felt every pain he had known leave his body and pass into hers. She knew it was imagined, but the sheer terror of his words was enough to draw her spirit into the nightmare he had lived and prove to her that she would never want to know it.

"Come back with me," he whispered to her, his eyes still shut tightly to avoid her expected negative response.

"Michael," she breathed.

"Ria, please," he begged, staring at her from water-laden pools. "I don't want you to stay here, you think it's safe but it isn't. You don't belong here, and you definitely don't belong where I am. You deserve to be back in your world, you need to be back there."

His words were inarguable, she did not belong in the torture he experienced, perhaps she didn't even belong in the house any longer, but there was something he didn't know about the torture she had lived in their time apart—the full extent of what she had endured at her own hands while he was victim of forces beyond his control.

"Can I show you something?" she whispered softly.

His eyes stared at hers, questioning her motive as she stood from the floor and held her hand out for him to grasp. He followed her lead, moving behind her along the hallway and down the creaking staircase. At the bottom, she turned and stopped in front of the hole she had crawled out of the day before.

"Can you make that a little bigger?" she asked.

"You can't go back in," he cautioned weakly, fear that she was running again seizing his heart in a vice-like grip.

"I don't want to go in," she prodded gently. "I want you to."

"You want me…"

"Just make it bigger? Please?"

He complied wordlessly, dropping to his knees to yank on the boards still barricading the hole. In a few minutes it was wide enough to allow both of them space to crawl through and he sat back as she entered, following close behind her.

Inside, he felt his way through the darkness by reaching a hand out to follow the trail of her retreating foot. He crawled after her towards the back of the tiny cavern until she stopped suddenly and his momentum carried him forward, tumbling on top of her in a pile of haphazard limbs.

"Sorry," he mumbled, a smile evident in his voice as his face buried itself in the softness of her breast.

"Easy boy," she teased, pushing away from him, however slowly, to sit against the far wall of the tight space.

Michael sat up as well, feeling for her knee to guide himself into the same position. He sat facing her, or at least thought he did, as the light from the entryway did not penetrate this far into the space they occupied. Without asking for permission, he felt for the wall to his side and swiped his hand along the surface, a trail of shimmering gold light stretching out from the contact.

He sought out her face in the illuminated crevasse, smiling at the glow dancing in her eyes, the gold setting off the deep green elegantly. The words to tell her how beautiful she looked were just forming on his lips when her head turned slightly and he found his gaze drawn in the direction she peered. The gasp from his lips was barely audible as the vision before him settled onto his brain, telling the story of her life inside the house in picturesque fashion.

On the wall were hundreds, possibly thousands, of snapshots of her life. All photographed moments that were doubtlessly locked away in photo albums on dusty shelves in the Deluca home, burned into her memory from hours of staring at them. Images of happier moments as a child, together with her mother and father, began the saga, a small smile playing on his lips as he recognized the precious Dalmatian she had showed him images of in past connections. Too soon, the joy was replaced with sadness, her life moving from the perfect family setting to one of single parenthood, a life that while happy had created too many questions in her life to bring complete satisfaction.

The years passed in rapid succession, the strongest memories presented in the brightest color, always with a longing in her eyes, a small frown playing at the corners of her mouth as she forced a smile for the camera. His eyes roamed over the canvas, wincing at the pain she had never fully revealed to him, coming to rest on a truly happy face at age 16. They were standing in the Crashdown, just a normal day at work when Isabel had gone picture happy and began snapping shots of everything in sight. The picture was taken from the pass-through to the kitchen, his face frowning at the camera from his position by the grill. She was in the background, slightly blurred from her position in the kitchen doorway, standing just outside the field of focus. She stared not at the camera but at him, the smile that lit her eyes mirrored on her mouth, in her stance, in the emotions rolling out of the image to attack his brain.

She was happy, for the first time in the years of memories she had portrayed, she was happy, and it was because of him.

His eyes closed as he paused for a respite from the emotions attacking his brain through his eyes. He knew what the following pictures would reveal, happiness for three short years until the day he left her, until the day he died in her eyes and she barricaded herself inside her mind with the few truly happy moments she had known in her young life.

A tentative hand reached out to touch his in the darkness, his fingers flinching as her tiny hand enclosed itself within his. The gentle pressure against his palm forced his eyes open and he stared blankly at the continuation of the story before him. He didn't want to see it, didn't want to acknowledge the agony that her isolation in this existence had caused her, it was so much easier to imagine the house as a protective shield, hiding her from the painful reality that she had indeed lost every person she ever called a friend.

The house was not protective; the house was vicious, relentless, as it presented constant reminders of the horror that had brought her within its walls. The images showed the daily reminders that she lived with of the van bursting into flames, the bright orange tongues licking the night air against the contrasting simplistic beauty of the Roswell desert. These pictures were not taken by any camera, no film processing necessary as the visuals embossed themselves for all eternity on her brain. The lives of her friends were stamped out in a brief moment, the act irreversible as she was condemned to exist with the knowledge that she was so close to the violence as it occurred yet powerless to save them.

That was the torment she had to live with. That was how she had spent the last year of her life.

He knew in an instant that she was strong enough to return to his world again and again, braver than he could have ever been to live with her self-created torture and come out the other side relatively unscarred. Granted she was still in hiding, but time would take care of that last obstacle, in that he had complete faith.

"You can go back in," he mumbled softly.

She smiled at his sentiment, knowing all along that he was powerless to make her leave, but wanting him to accept her decision as the only choice. She wasn't staying for fear of returning to reality, that was why she had remained here for so long already but it was no longer about being afraid of the life she had once led. Now it was about him, the him that was still trapped in his own hell and as long as he was there so would she be here.
posted on 29-Jan-2003 8:27:59 AM
Thanks girls! No rescue yet... I had to build up the tension a little more *happy* Enjoy!

Sherry


Part 12

Michael sat in the darkened corner of Maria's bedroom, staring at her stiff form displayed on the bed. After she had shown him her own personal album of torment, they had fallen asleep in each other's arms inside the tiny space. Just as before, when he had awoken he was no longer inside the house, having crossed back into reality at some point during his slumber.

Now, he sat quietly staring at her, the urge to lay down beside her once more overpowering as he forced himself to sit steadily in his chair, thinking, waiting, wondering. His mind was clouded with conflicting thoughts of what his next course of action should be. He had told Jim the limited details Maria had garnered from the house and he now had the full power of the Roswell police force working on a location for Sigmund Solutions. He promised Michael that it would only be a matter of time before they had an address and could attack.

The tears glistening in Jim's eyes when he spoke of the possibility of getting his son back did not go unnoticed by the burly alien, and it only served to make his next decision all the harder. To go or to stay; to leave the Deluca home and pursue an unsure path in the hopes that they had even the slightest chance at successfully rescuing the captured teens, or to stay here, with Maria, and continue helping her back into the world she had abandoned, the promise that he had made so readily just a day before.

It should have been an easy conclusion—first save her, then save the others. That he was one of "the others" did not factor into his decision, for he had long ago decided that should he ever be given to the chance to prove his love for her again, he would die to do it. He was sticking to that promise now.

The problem wasn't his resolve to save her, it was hers. She had always possessed a strength of spirit beyond description and now it was that very strength that was forcing him to leave her trapped inside her body. He knew that she would never agree to leave her house while she held a connection to the present-world him, and to break that connection he would have to rescue the captive body of his former self, a deed which meant that he could never return to finish the promise he had made to her.

As soon as he rescued Michael from 2003, Michael circa 2009 would be no more. One change in the destiny that sent the teens to Antar, and the man sitting in her bedroom right now would cease to exist, never having been created from the torture that was his life for so long.

He sighed as he rose to his feet, the new clothes he wore, courtesy of Jim and Amy, swaying stiffly on his lean figure as he crossed the room to stand beside her prone form. She was beautiful when she slept, the tension easing from her muscles just enough to permit him to imagine that she would open her eyes at any moment and rise from the bed to rejoin in him this world. He longed for one more touch of her skin, one more feel of her body next to his, but would not permit himself such luxury. If he had to leave her, he had to do it with a strong mind, giving into the desire to hold her in his arms once more was counterproductive, sure to crumble his resolution to leave completely.

He was just turning to leave her room when he heard a soft moan from her lips and turned back to her quickly. She had moved only slightly on the bed, the difference imperceptible except that he had imprinted the image of her on his brain, memorizing her position for the long journey ahead. He smiled as he looked at her, thankful again that she was blissfully asleep when suddenly her eyes flew open.

The change to her body was immediate, her muscles tensing into a statuesque form as the full effect of her catatonia took over and she was once more trapped in the prison of her own design. Her eyes stared directly at him yet were unseeing, looking right through the solid form before her, peering into the imagined distance beyond. The low cry that escaped his lips was not conscious, rather the effect of the comforting image of her safe inside her body being shattered within his head.

She was not safe, she was trapped, and he had to see her one last time to try and coax her back into the relative safety of this world, even if it was one where she had no remnants of the friends she held so dear. He sat down in the chair beside her bed, reaching his hand out slowly to grasp tightly around hers. Even as he connected, he knew that any attempt to bring her back with him was futile. It was just the excuse he needed to tell himself to justify his entering her sanctuary once again. It wasn't because he needed to see her, it wasn't because he needed to say good-bye, it wasn't…

~~~~~

"And so I can see everything you see," she finished excitedly, staring at the aged Michael before her with wide eyes. "You see?"

He had to smile at her enthusiasm; to say it was contagious was an understatement—the entire house was lit with her renewed spirit, light spilling from lanterns throughout the rooms, the dusty picture frames on her bookshelf shining from a fresh cleaning, her voice once more finding the delicate lilt he had always loved so much.

"I see," he said quietly, sitting back against the old couch in her kitchen to watch her continue her animated story. She was explaining how she had connected with the present-day him again, taking her time to explore every aspect of the building he was housed in. She had felt as though she were literally in the world he knew until she turned into a new hallway and saw a black void stretching before her. Continued exploration revealed that she was confined within the limits of his knowledge, only the places he had been taken during his time in captivity able to be recovered from his memory. His existence consisted of brief interludes of consciousness followed by plummeting drops into a drug-induced abyss. Only the scraps of information he was able to witness while awake were available to her, and even those could not be recalled by him. His brain simply never woke enough to process and properly store the information he saw, it took the clarity of her own mind to make sense of the fragmented memories jostling around inside his head.

"You'll still be careful?" he asked softly, his worry at her newfound adventure ability not lessened by the fact that she was still physically anchored in the real world. If this experience had shown him anything, it was that their physical bodies didn't have much say in where their actual spirits existed; to have her lose herself between the realms she was crossing with such abandon was a fear he could barely give form to.

"Always," she replied in kind, stilling her body from its pacing in front of him to retake a seat by his side. "And you'll be careful too?"

"Of course," he mumbled, unable to meet her questioning eyes with his own.

"And you'll come back to me?"

"Maria," he breathed.

"It's okay," she said quickly and quietly, biting her lip as she fought back the tears she had heroically suppressed all day. She had figured out the conclusion to their little drama this afternoon, mentally kicking herself for not realizing it sooner—Michael was going to save himself and the others from going to Antar and then promptly vanish from this world, his existence having only occurred in her memory.

"There can't be two, right?" she questioned.

His eyes closed as he shook his head slowly—she knew, of course she knew, she had always known his secrets, even before he had figured them out sometimes. "No," he whispered. "There can't be two."

"So you have to go," she mumbled.

"I can't say goodbye to you," he breathed quickly, the desperation in his voice as he prepared himself for the unknown battle glaringly obvious.

"Then don't," she replied simply.

"I have to go," he said firmly, the strength in his voice more for himself than her. "And I can never come back. You have to understand that," he implored her. "Even if I don't succeed, altering our path just a little will change everything. I won't exist, there'll be nothing."

"There'll always be something," she murmured softly, her hand drawing a delicate line along his face. "I know you Michael. I've always known you. If you fail, if they don't come back, then I know you'll try again…"

"But I'll be…"

"No," she stopped him, a knowing smile playing on her lips. "There will always be a you and me. In some universe, across some dimension, there will always be an us, and we will find our way to each other, no matter what the obstacle."

Michael stared at the girl before him, awed by the simple power of her faith in the love they had once so easily thrown away. A part of him knew her to be correct, knew that the words she spoke were accurate—if he couldn't make this venture work, he'd find another way. He had fought through seven years of abhorrent torture to find his way back to her in this place, he had to believe that his mind was strong enough to withstand the same battle again if necessary, determined enough to search out another bridge to span the distance separating them.

"Promise me you'll come back," he mumbled to her, his eyes seeking out the answer he so desperately wanted on her face.

"After," she replied simply, not wanting to fight with him about her resolve to stay in the house.

Michael stared at her thoughtfully, every instinct in his body telling him to scream at her, shake her forcefully, grab her tightly within his arms and run from the house until he somehow found a way back to reality, her body still held tightly in his grasp, but he didn't… he didn't do anything, he didn't say anything, he just stared at her, smiling despite his frustration at the stubborn streak she had always called him on that now presented itself so clearly in her.

"Just as long as you do," he responded hollowly.

She smiled at him, knowing how badly he wanted her to be safe but sure that she was making the right decision by staying here. Michael needed her, he needed her and she had no intention of leaving until he was safe. Once he was, then…

"Come here," she murmured to the saddened man sitting before her, reaching out her hand to clasp his. She stood, tugging gently for him to follow as she led him up the stairs to the bedroom they had occupied last night. Pushing him ahead of her to the blanket-covered surface, she made him stop when seated, reaching down to grasp the edge of his new T-shirt carefully.

"Off," she commanded, pulling it swiftly over his head.

He laughed, complying with her order, no other option available to him even if he wanted to resist.

Her eyes grazed briefly over his wounds, returning to his face to stare at him seductively. Without words to break the tension building between them, she pressed her hand to his shoulder, guiding him to lie down on the surface. Satisfied that he was positioned correctly, she climbed atop him, straddling his hips with hers. Her hair tickled the surface of his bare chest teasingly as she leaned forward, her right hand trailing a path of fire from his waistband to his collar bone, the gentle heat from her touch warming his body as she moved.

"Mmm," he murmured softly, his body rising off the surface slightly as he anticipated the feel of her full body against his. She denied his unspoken wish, instead moving her hand to linger on his left shoulder, the sparks from her fingers burning his skin just slightly as she remained in one place for too long.

The sparks from her fingers.

His eyes flew open as he turned his head to stare at her hand hovering just above his shoulder. A glowing light emanated from her fingertips, a bright spark of power exploding whenever she came into contact with the surface of his skin.

"Wha…" he muttered.

"Look what I can do," she teased lightly, wiggling her fingers at him, a gleeful smile plastered to her face.

"How? When?"

"Your powers I think, and since this morning."

"Holy…"

She laughed out loud at his reaction, obviously enjoying the newfound ability to demonstrate an alien power. "Relax," she reassured him. "I kind of like it."

The grin that spread across his face was beyond his control, no amount of force could prevent him from smiling at the radiance that she exuded; she was elated, and it was because of him—it had been far too long since he had effected that emotion in her.

"So does that explain where all the dust on those pictures disappeared to?"

"Um…" she mumbled, a bight flush spreading across her cheeks.

She had always hated cleaning, he remembered. The sparkling house should have been a dead give away when he entered. "So you've got a taste of the gift, hey?"

"Yeah," she said softly, lowering her hand to his body again. "And watch what I can do."

She started at the upper edge of his scar spanning his chest, moving slowly and steadily along the surface, a look of utter concentration painted on her face. At first, he wanted to slap her hand away, the scar the only reminder of the torture he had suffered, a reminder he felt he needed to prevent him from ever forgetting what he had endured to get to this place.

As her hand moved, he felt himself calming, the joy in her eyes spreading out to encompass him completely. He didn't need a scar to remind him of Antar, he didn't need to remember his time there at all. This was a new time, or rather an old time, and it was a chance for him to change the path his life had veered upon. He had the chance to prevent Antar from ever happening at all, to erase the pain of that experience from his life, and a perfect first step was to remove all traces of the place from his body. Regretfully he would always have the memories, but he suddenly he felt as though he didn't need those any longer either, content to treat them as a faded reminder of sacrifice and accomplishment, not torture and sorrow.

His hand raised to meet hers where the scar ended at his waistline, her concentration breaking as she met his penetrating gaze cautiously.

"Yes?" she whispered, too late to seek out permission but doing it anyway, needing the reassurance of his agreement to continue.

He nodded and she slid her hand out of his gentle grasp, sliding it across his torso to focus on the bruising near his left side, finishing with a slow swipe along his collarbone to remove the fresher wound.

His body as a perfect entity once more flooded him with surging emotions, the contrast between the pain still lingering in his brain and the apparent normalcy of his body a sharp reminder that he did not belong in this reality, not fully.

"Promise me something?" he asked her gruffly.

Maria swung her leg across his body, sliding down to rest her head on the perfect expanse of chest as she answered, "Anything."

His hand tangled with her hair as he struggled to get through the words he had formulated to say to her. Originally they were to be written in a letter, his pathetic attempt at saying goodbye to her delivered with pen and paper, not with voice and emotion—he didn't know if he could say them aloud.

"I… I want you to take care of him, of me," he said quietly, tipping his head back so that he wouldn't have to meet the questioning gaze she pointed in his direction. "No matter how stubborn I get sometimes, just hang in there will you? He needs you… I need you."

"Michael," she whispered, slinking along his torso until she had raised herself over his face, his eyes no longer able to hide from her direct stare.

He swallowed heavily, aware that he was pushing a lot onto her shoulders right now, but it needed to be said, he was hot-headed to the nth degree and without the influence of her love in his life, he was sure that it would take him another seven years to come to his senses, time he didn't want his present self to waste.

"Just tell him to love you, okay?" he added, his lip trembling slightly as he watched her face contort to the edge of madness, fighting back tears of her own. "And tell Kyle to bite the bullet and tell Isabel he loves her already," he mumbled, anxious to both get the sentiment out and push the tension between them off to the side.

"Kyle loves Isabel?" Maria asked wide-eyed.

"Isn't it obvious?"

She smiled, yeah, she thought, it was a little obvious. "Okay, will do," she grinned.

"While you're at it, tell Isabel that she does deserve to be happy, no matter who it's with, she deserves it. And tell her that I was never prouder of her then when she was on Antar. She's tougher than I ever imagined."

"You really want me to tell them all this? Tell them how?"

He nodded slowly, seeking out reassurance for his intentions in her gaze. "They'll want to know. I don't want the big parade, I just want them to be safe, and they'll have questions."

Before she could respond, he continued his message with, "You have to tell Liz and Max something too. Liz… she's one of the bravest people I know, what she did… well I wish we all could have been so strong. And for God's sake, tell Max that he doesn't have to save everyone. We might just figure it out by ourselves if he left us alone."

"Well that one's obvious, right?" she asked, smiling.

"To Max?"

"Gotcha."

Michael stared at her silently, his message delivered, the last task he had to take care of in her house completed. Now all he had left to do was leave…

He jerked his hands up suddenly, grabbing her face roughly as he tipped her over on the bed, covering her body with his. Her eyes widened at the sudden change in his behavior but no fear resided there, only rays of love spreading out to surround his still tortured soul. No amount of alien healing power could ever erase the scars he carried inside and she knew now that what he needed more than anything from her was to leave this place satisfied, sure that she was going to be okay in the life he could not share with her.

She raised her hand slowly to the face that caressed her lips passionately and poured her love into every gesture. He had saved her, even if not physically, she knew that her life would never be the same after the trip across time and space that he had made… for her, he had come to save them and stayed to save her, a gift so precious that she knew in a hundred years of loving him she could never completely repay it, though she fully intended to try.

posted on 3-Feb-2003 4:48:05 PM
All I've got to say is don't hate me when you read this part...

Apologies upfront to anyone living in Henderson, Nevada - you'll see what I mean. If I could replace with name with Salmon Cove, Newfoundland, Canada and still have it make logical sense, I would.

fw_banner

Part 13

Michael slunk lower in the passenger seat of Jim's Range Rover. They had been parked in the same position for almost five hours now, and that was on top of driving for nearly 12 today just to get here. They were in Henderson, Nevada, a God-forsaken place in every sense of the word. It was over 800 miles away from Roswell, relative safety, and Maria Deluca.

As always, he had woken up this morning already banned from the house she inhabited. He had strained to stay awake as long as possible while he was with her last night, but after the tortuous pleasure of her satiating the one final need he had been unable to fulfill in their time apart, he found that sleep was stronger even than his will and succumbed.

It was better that way, he had told himself this morning, lingering by her bedside as Amy hovered nervously outside the door and Jim waited for him in the car. By leaving during sleep, their last words had been 'I love you' not 'goodbye'; words he didn't think himself capable of uttering on this day. He remembered sitting by her bed that morning…

Closing his eyes, he imagined that he was back in the house with her, her eyes radiant, her cheeks flushed, her movements graceful; not the corpse-like figure reposed on the bed. Delicately, fearful of making a connection with her that he wouldn't have the strength to break, he leaned in to brush his lips against hers. They were soft, supple, moving just slightly at his insistence, giving the impression that she was responding in kind. Sadly, she wasn't, and he pulled away one last time to stare down at the golden haired beauty.

"I love you," he whispered. "And know that I will always find you." His voice broke as a ferocity of tears he had never dared shed in her presence sprung forth from his eyes. He lowered his head to her bed, her hand pressed tightly to his face as he mourned the love he had to cast aside again today just as he had done so many years ago. "Ria," he sobbed hungrily, his mouth gaping open as air refused to enter his lungs, turned away by the grief residing there.

Lost in his own land of despair, he barely recognized the fluttering against his cheek as the movement of her fingers. Jerking upright, he stared at the appendage clutched tightly within his grasp, watching for some sign that she had reached out across the crevasse separating them to say goodbye in her own way. Desperate for it to be real, longing for her to have returned to the safety of this world, his eyes flew to her face, seeking out the slightest sign that she was one with her body again.

What he saw halted all activity within him, his brain refusing to process the sight attacking his eyes as the faintest of smiles wavered across her lips, falling aside as quickly as it had come to be replaced once more with the painted mask of sleep, a vicious reminder that she had not returned, only tried.

"You're saying goodbye aren't you?" he mumbled incoherently, the fact that she had attempted at once comforting and devastating, a reminder both of her love for him and her dedication to see him to safety; powerful and crushing at the same time.

"Goodbye," he murmured, the tremble in his voice matched by the shaking in his hand as he grazed her cheek one last time and stood from his chair. He turned away from the bed and was halfway to the door before the impulse overpowered him and he lunged back towards her, falling to his knees to attack her lips once more with every ounce of passion stored within him. He would never be sure, the gesture too slight to take actual form, but he swore that she kissed him back, and no one would ever be able to tell him differently.

Letting his touch trail away from hers again, he eventually pulled himself away from her resting place, pausing to use his powers to remove the traces of tears from his cheeks. He was still the soldier and refused to show his weakness to his waiting examiners. He didn't need the tears to remind himself of her; he took with him the assurance that she was ready for him to go, okay on her own until he could return his other self to her waiting arms. Making that promise to her was what gave him the courage to set out on his journey, a positive outlook on the day ahead.


A loud snore from the driver's seat of the vehicle jolted him back to the present, his eyes blurring as he focused them sleepily on the shaded house across the street. 314 Riverdale Crescent, home to one Jasper Davies, torturer extraordinaire. Michael mused on his mood at the moment, perhaps positive hadn't been the correct term to describe his approach to this day at all—more like ornery as a porcupine fighting for a precarious position with his mate. Jim had used the information Maria had learned to research the employees of Sigmund Solutions yesterday. They were a national company consisting of an array of personnel from various areas of medicine. There were no offices to house the employees, rather they were contracted out on a case-by-case basis and worked from the location of their employer. The current placement records of their employees were all confidential but the personnel information was open to any prying eyes that were determined enough to find it. Deputy Hanson, again working under his old boss since the pressures of leading the Roswell police force had proved too much for him, had put his considerable IT skills to work and found that there were three Jasper's employed for the corporation—one in Alaska, a 55-year-old man that they ruled out immediately, one in New York, a dentist whose skills did not seem relevant, and one here in Nevada, a 35-year-old anesthesiologist that fit the bill exactly.

Jim had at first attempted sports conversation throughout the ride to Henderson and then finally, mercifully, relented to silence, letting the remainder of their trip pass quietly as the brooding alien stared out the window and wondered one last time what had ever possessed him to think that he could save the lives of six people. Him, the screw up of the bunch, the last one consulted whenever a decision had to be made, the one who had nothing to offer besides tension, turmoil, and turbulence.

He was going to save them all. Maybe now was a good time to start believing in that God.

He stared blankly out the window again, vowing to funnel his feelings of worthlessness into some form of power for this last battle before him. Jasper Davies had only to pull up in his driveway and he would know the fury of Michael Guerin, despite any orders from Jim to 'desist' until proper police procedure was followed. He didn't think there was any room for proper police procedure where Kivar or his minion was concerned.

He sighed loudly, holding his breath when the man beside him stirred in his seat. He wasn't ready for Jim to wake up yet, didn't want to encourage mindless conversation about who was going to win the Super Bowl next year, when he had no intention of being around long enough to find out. Surprisingly, that thought didn't sadden him, rather it filled him with a resolve that his other self, the one who had always liked hockey more anyway, would be around to see the next spray of sports championships. By his count, he had already missed the Detroit Red Wings rolling effortlessly over Carolina to take their first Stanley Cup of the new century, he didn't want to deny him next years showing as well.

The car coasting down the street would have gone unnoticed by the pensive alien if it wasn't after midnight already and dark enough in the quiet suburb to require headlights. Michael ducked as the rays of yellow piercing the darkness cut across the cab of their vehicle, bathing its occupants in light for the briefest of moments before the vehicle, a 1984 rust colored, from the rust coating he noted, Chevrolet Chevette, completed its turn into the driveway of number 314 and stopped.

Mr. Davies was home.

Michael tensed in his seat, fumbling for the binoculars resting across his lap before tuning them in on the shaded figure exiting the vehicle. It had seen better days, that much was obvious, and detailing in on the stark features of his suspect, Michael passed the same judgment over to him. The sole occupant had left the car and walked the short steps onto the darkened porch of the run-down bungalow. His presence was announced by the sensor-tripped light over the front door and as he turned back to take a long look into the street, the one awake passenger in the stakeout vehicle felt his lungs fill with ice in fear—it was the face of the man who had meticulously tortured him every day while he was imprisoned on this planet. To think that he would ever forget the face was foolish, but even so, seeing it up close and personal again now was almost too much for his wounded memory. The clear vision tumbled from his eyes as he let the binoculars fall to the floor of the truck, the sudden noise waking Jim from his noisy rest.

He shot up in his seat quickly, mumbling, "What? What is it? What's wrong?"

Through his pain-clouded gaze, Michael shook his head in amazement at the seasoned officer beside him. "Do this often, do you?" he teased sarcastically.

Jim focused in on the man in the other seat, his professional instincts taking just a few seconds to kick in as he noticed the now retrieved binoculars in Michael's hand and the look on his face as if he had just met evil head on.

"He's home?"

"Just a minute ago."

"Well let's go then," Sheriff Valenti said formally, unhitching his gun holster as he opened the door to the vehicle.

"Don't think you're gonna need that," Michael said gruffly, flexing his fingers as he rounded the vehicle to meet Jim in front.

"Now listen," the older man cautioned. "I don't want you losing control of the situation before we can get anything out of him. You best let me handle this until we see how dangerous he is."

"Oh he's dangerous, believe me."

"Still, you follow my lead, agreed?"

Michael nodded sourly, his dream of painting the walls of the tiny house with Jasper's blood fading as he listened to the reason in Jim's words. If he killed him too soon there would be no connection to the compound where the teens were being held. Like it or not, they needed the vile creep to gain entry to the makeshift prison and mount a rescue operation inside.

After they were safe, he'd kill him.

As they walked across the street, Michael tried not to remind himself that he would most likely never get a chance to kill Jasper Davies. The man had to get them inside and then be kept as long as possible as a hostage against the other workers. They would only no longer need him once the captive teens were freed, by then Michael would be no more—no opportunity available to kill him. In that case he'd have to figure out a way to maim him first, he thought grimly.

They reached the front door and Michael placed his hand firmly over the lock, closing his eyes briefly in concentration. Jim stopped him, reaching out to lay a hand on the other man's arm as he said, "We don't know what we're walking into here. Better to go in slowly."

"Better to have the element of surprise," Michael replied, the lock clicking beneath his hand as he teased Jim with his eyes, taunting the life-long officer into the raid he knew both of them wanted. "You ready to kick some scumbag a-ss or what?"

Without waiting for a response, he kicked the door open forcefully, charging inside with his hand raised before him, ready to strike. Jim stepped in beside him, somewhat more cautious as he raised his gun before him, sweeping it around the room before his eyes as he took in the scene before them.

Jasper Davies was not a man of courage, in fact the only reason he was able to carry out his prescribed job duties every day was due to the fact that his patient had never seen consciousness in their time together. When he heard his door crash open, he turned immediately from where he stood in his kitchen, the beer he had just selected from the fridge falling from his hand towards the floor in slow motion. The corner of the brown bottle struck the dirty linoleum floor, bouncing once as the thick glass absorbed the initial shock. The second hit was fatal, the bottle hitting first on its neck, cracking cleanly off where the skinny funnel met the larger repository for the liquid. The foamy liquid spilled onto the floor between his feet, the body of the bottle breaking amongst the fizzing evaporation of barley-laced bubbles, the scrubbing action of glass shards mixed with the scouring power of hops instantly cleansing the floor of a layer of dirt long overdue for removal. He stared open-mouthed at his intruders, unable to form so much as a moan from his quivering throat as the man he recognized as his patient from only a short hour ago charged towards him across the room.

Michael's hand connected with the throat of the squirming weasel, sending him crashing into the vibrating refrigerator behind him. The 1950s model, green General Electric appliance squealed as it tilted back on its shaky legs, the ancient system protesting to the force of the angriest alien ever to breathe air on this planet pushing Jasper's slight body against its door. The kicking legs of the helplessly pinned man didn't help matters and the sharp crack breaking the tension indicated that from now on Mr. Davies' beer bottles would be sliding towards the back of his cooling machine.

Jasper gasped for air as he fought to voice his confusion at the sight of the person holding him hostage. Jim signaled for Michael to relax his hold, smiling knowingly when the grip was released just slightly, the struggling man gulping great mouthfuls of air as the tips of his toes mercifully touched the floor again.

"You… you're… you're him?" he gasped, staring at Michael wide-eyed as the fear of what Kivar would do to him once he found out that his patient had escaped overtook that of being attacked in his own home.

"Not exactly, but yeah," Michael growled. "Feel like repenting?"

"Okay, okay," Jim interjected, satisfied that they had the right person at his obvious familiarity with Michael's presence. "Why don't we back things up a little here?"

"Unnecessary," snarled Michael, glaring at the man within his grip. "Jasper here's going to tell us everything we want to know and then bring us to his 'patient', isn't he?"

"Yes, uh… yes sir," the pathetic representation of the medical profession stammered.

Michael stepped back a little, his hand still pressed firmly against the man's chest as he signaled him to start talking. Before his eyes, he watched as Jasper's face began to contort, his lips unfurling to reveal yellowed teeth from obvious abuse of various nicotine products. His eyes squeezed shut before dropping open widely, his mouth following suit as great sobs poured forth from his depths and his eyes released a torrent of anguish across his face.

"Please… just please don't ki-kill me," he begged.

"Jesus," Michael mumbled, releasing his hold on the obviously broken man to step back completely. His eyes roamed over the crumbling body, taking in the pitiful form that was his captor as he noticed a fresh stain on his already filthy jeans originate from a certain tell-tale area. "Fvck," he cursed, turning away to stare at Jim for a second. "I was afraid of that?"

"Now, now," Jim said beneath his breath, his lips quivering as he struggled not to laugh outright at the puddle, literally, of a man before them. "Let's just see what he has to say, shall we?"

Though he nodded at Jasper to go ahead, it was the menacing gun still gripped firmly in the police officer's hand that spurned him into spilling his secrets. "I work… I work at the old mental hospital outside of town," he started. "That's where he keeps them… the patients and the… and the bodies…"

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Feb-2003 12:05:02 PM ]
posted on 18-Feb-2003 10:09:34 PM
2 weeks!?! Sorry I took so long with an update - this part was really hard to write, at least I thought it would be until I actually sat down to do it and most of it just poured right out - just the way it happens sometimes!

And it's not the end yet, I've still got some goodness in store for you after this *happy*

Sherry

Part 14

Michael watched, his face impassive, as the mourning father threatened the source of his son's possible death with the deadly firearm gripped in his hand. At the mention of the word 'bodies' Jim had instinctively reacted, falling to his knees on the stained linoleum before the quivering body of the most weak-spirited person Michael had ever met. He didn't show any reaction himself as Jim interrogated Jasper who was again sobbing openly. Strangely, he didn't feel any emotion at all when the torturer revealed that Kivar had killed people at his makeshift prison, in fact, he'd almost expected it. He didn't think the victims were comprised of the five Roswell teens, and even if they were, his heart had seen too much pain in recent years to react to their fresh deaths now.

"I swear to God I will end you…" Jim said as Michael continued to hold his stonewall stance before the two men.

"No don't… don't please…" the pathetic excuse for a human begged. "I don't know their names… they were hired to look after the patients… like me. They tried to leave… quit… but he wouldn't let them. He doesn't let anyone leave."

"And who's he?" Jim asked.

"Kivar," Michael answered. "Kivar killed them."

As he answered the relieved father, his mind was already moving past the coldness of Kivar's actions to plans of how he was going to kill the self-proclaimed Antarian King… again. After meeting Jasper, Michael knew with certainty that it was Kivar who directed the actions of the medical technician, the sputtering man on the floor before him did not possess the hardened heart to inflict the damage he was responsible for on his own. It took the heavy hand of a truly soulless being to force innocent citizens to harm a fellow human. Granted, the five current captives weren't exactly human, but they were people, people with lives, and to have all of that taken away by the greed of one maniacal fanatic was malevolence in its purest form.

Now Michael stared down at the key to their gaining entry into the hidden sanctuary of Kivar and scoffed visibly. No matter what resolve he possessed himself, the success of their approaching mission depended on the stability of Jasper Davies, something highly questionable at this point. He poked the whimpering man sharply with his foot, barking at him, "Get up. You're going to take us to this hospital place and get us inside."

"M…m… m… me?"

"Yes, y… y… y… you," he replied. "Now come on," he prodded, stepping away as Jasper reached up a hand for help. Distanced, Michael watched as the bedraggled weakling struggled to his feet and stood before the two men for further instruction.

"Well, go get your keys," Jim prompted, nudging him into action with the tip of the gun still held in his hand.

Jasper hurried across the living room, as Michael looked at the stain left behind from his earlier loss of bladder control. "And for God's sake…" he called after him. "Change your pants!"

~~~~~

"For an evil overlord, Kivar has pretty lax security," Jim observed as they walked steadily through the halls of the seemingly deserted hospital.

"Not lax, just not apparent," Michael mumbled.

They had driven up to the building in two vehicles, secluding the Range Rover in bushes on the side of the road and driving inside the underground parking garage in Jasper's tiny sh!tbox car. They had seen no appearance of any security measures outside of Jasper having to swipe a pass to open the garage doors, even the expected surveillance cameras, if present at all, were invisible to the trained eye of Sheriff Valenti.

The plan was to have Jasper lead them as far into the compound as possible without arising suspicion and if someone tried to stop them… well they'd decided to figure that out as they went along. Not exactly a great plan as plans went, but in this situation of uncountable unknowns, the objective was just to get as close to the teens as possible. Michael figured that they wouldn't have to look very hard for Kivar once inside, doubtlessly he would find them when ready.

Depending on Jasper for entry was still a point of contention for the rescuers as they placed their faith in the unstable man. They had just exited the car and were creeping stealthily across the cement floor of the garage when he first escaped their sight. Jim cursed as he watched Jasper scurry away from them, heading for a clearly marked exit door on the far wall of the concrete enclosure. Michael was just about to send a wave of energy coursing across the space to knock the man to the floor when Jasper stopped, turned, and shouted, "Come on guys, the door's this way!"

His voice reverberated off the metal jungle of automobiles parked in the crowded garage, causing both men to duck behind the nearest van in anticipation of discovery by the thus far invisible security team. Nothing happened as the hospital again revealed itself to have little, if no, security and Jim felt his confidence increase to the level needed to stride into an unknown situation with only a small firearm for defense.

Now, creeping along the hallway, he turned to Michael, mulling over his comment that the security was present, just unseen by them. "I don't get it," he whispered. "Why would he stand back and let us in?"

"Because…" the quiet alien murmured softly. "Why settle for five prisoners when you can have seven?"

The shocked look on Jim's face as he let the doubtless truth of Michael's words wash over him remained in place as they continued following Jasper down the empty hallway. The technician abruptly stopped in front of them and turned a corner, stopping at the mouth of a second corridor lined with doors on either side. He pointed to the first door on the right and turned to look at Michael, wordlessly betraying that this was where his duplicate self was kept.

"The others are here," he continued, pointing to the next two doors on the right side and first two on the left. "I don't know who's where."

"Well okay then," Jim said quietly, unsure if he could remain standing on two feet let alone set forth on their planned rescue mission as he anxiously wondered which door held his missing son behind it.

His hesitation was interrupted by footsteps echoing in the hallway they had just exited, resounding throughout the cement corridor shrilly. Michael reacted instinctively as the unseen person approached, pushing Jim against Jasper as he herded them both into the closest room—his room. He pushed the door closed and fastened the lock before turning to examine their surroundings. All breath left his chest as he watched Jim approach the bed slowly while Jasper stood dumbly in the center of the room, his head swiveling back and forth from one copy of Michael to the other. Slowly, he allowed his gaze to travel to the figure lying on the bed. What he saw sent a sharp jolt of reality screaming through his stomach as he realized quickly what room they had ventured into. The unconscious boy restrained before him was an exact replica of himself, albeit minus a few years and a whole lot of heartache. From his vantage point near the door, Michael couldn't see the facial expression on his other self, but recalled grimly that this time had been filled only with agony and turned his head away slightly, unwilling to relive the pain once more.

"I almost forgot you were young," Jim said breathlessly as he neared the still body. Taking a long look at the pale features, contorted in pain even as the boy lay untouched on the bed, Jim turned back to Jasper evilly. "You sick bastard," he growled. "How can look at yourself in the mirror?"

"You don't understand," he begged pitifully. "I don't have a choice, we don't have a choice. It's either do as he says or be killed!"

"As who says, this Kev-lar person again?"

"That would be Kivar."

Michael whirled around at the unexpected voice puncturing the thick emotions in the room. Kivar was bent over at the waist, his torso leaning into the room through the solid, steel door, his alien body obviously able to pass through without opening it. As he met Michael's eyes evenly, he stepped inside the locked room, straightening his immaculate gray suit as the door morphed into solidity behind him once again.

"You learned some new tricks," the defensive alien from Roswell said steadily.

"Among other things," Kivar responded. "You seem to have learned a few new things yourself."

"Not learned, just recalled," Michael stated, staring at the cold, black eyes of his captor for a long moment as he listened to the even sound of Jim's breathing mixed with the strangled gasps emitting from Jasper's throat behind him.

"So, you don't seem to have much security around here," Jim spoke up, breaking the tension once again. "How'd you find us?"

"Well," Kivar replied, shifting his gaze away from Michael's to focus intently on the now slightly trembling Sheriff's. "It's simple really—infrared beams, quite effective when their path is broken by unexpected intruders."

"Funny, I didn't take you as a gadget man," the seething father tossed back.

"Well, I may be a diabolical fiend," Kivar replied off-handedly, straightening his tie with a two-handed gesture. "But you just can't knock the benefits of modern technology. Now," he added quietly, turning his penetrating eyes back to Michael's. "You mind telling me what you are doing in this universe?"

"I think you know exactly what I'm doing here."

"Well, my plan is to bring you to Antar in another week, but I guess you already know that judging from your age."

"And I guess you don't know what happens there," Michael tossed back quickly.

"Trust me boy," Kivar snarled at the man who, in this version, was actually three years older than himself. "Whatever I had planned to do to you will be quadrupled this time around. However you escaped, you won't get the chance again, I'll end you both before I let that happen."

"And you won't get the chance to take us out of this room, I'll end you before I let that happen… again."

The obvious implication of Michael's words was not lost on the alien King who felt his already shaky sense of control over the present situation slip a few more notches. Without warning, he jumped into offensive action, raising both hands out in front of him to shoot satanic-red streams of energy towards the unexpecting enemy.

Michael was taken off guard by Kivar's sudden switch to attack-mode, the blast knocking him to the floor as the force wave washed over his unprepared body. His instinctive reaction to match fire with fire kicked in quickly, his own hands slowly moving outward from their compressed position against his chest as he pushed back the pulsing stream Kivar directed towards him.

The colors emanating from Michael's hands stood out in stark contract to the sharp tone of evil intent. Where Kivar's efforts were burning hot with red, copper and crimson, Michael shot clear, opulent green, blue and cobalt. The rainbow of colors between the two men was an awesome sight to witness, the anger on Kivar's face matched in the fiery rays escaping his palms, while Michael's calm reaction to the devil's anger mirrored itself in the cooling tones he produced.

The equivalent force of the two power houses buzzed for control over the other in the war zone between them as Michael climbed to his feet, his eyes, and efforts, never wavering from their task. In what felt like hours, but was in reality seconds, the battling forces finally ceded to one another, the sparks emitted when both force fields exploded towards the other a personal fireworks show for the two conscious observers in the room.

Kivar panted as he stared at the surprisingly unfazed Michael standing at the ready across from him. "Well, well, seems like you got your powers back. You can match me blow for blow, this should get interesting."

Michael ever so slowly reached up to run a steady hand through the stray stands of hair that had fallen forward into his eyes. "Yeah, interesting," he mimicked, lowering his arm into the firing position once more. Grinning sadistically at the source of his torture before him, he smirked slightly, "Good thing I was holding back."

Michael threw both arms out in front of him, directing the full power of his suppressed fury towards the creature, he didn't deserve the title of man, who had inflicted unspeakable suffering on him. The intensity of color leaving his hands was blinding as he focused only on the damaging waves he directed across the room. The color started as a shimmering cerulean at his fingertips, morphing into teal and aquamarine in the middle of the room, before bursting into living ribbons of emeralds where they struck the now helpless Antarian. The final force that would send his captor into the dark depths of hell was the color of the eyes that had always held hope for him. Even long after he had pushed them from his memory, one look into their depths again had brought him crashing back to the only love that had ever provided him a respite from the knowledge that he wasn't of the natural earth. That it was their color that manifested itself in his battle now was no accident; Michael relied on the resurrected memory of Maria to push him onward in his fight, not sure that he could triumph if he didn't keep her close to his heart.

Through sheer will, and a little muscle thanks to his alien powers, Michael pinned Kivar to the now solid door he had just entered through, encasing him in a glowing tomb of shimmering green light. Fighting back was not an option as the band of energy squeezed the life from the man who didn't deserve its spark, his eyes locking with Michael's for one final instant as he felt the cold hand of death enclose him.

No words left his lips as Michael watched the life force drain from his torturer, a satisfied smile spreading across them instead as Kivar's body was reduced to dust before him, just as his friend's bodies had in another existence that would now never occur.

As the final spray of alien matter settled to the floor, Michael turned around, triumphant and exhausted, his face full of excitement and overwhelming realization of what had just happened as he sought out Jim's eyes from across the room.

"We did it," he breathed softly.

"Um," Jim said slowly, his eyes leaving their brief rest on Michael's to travel to his chest.

The aged alien looked down at his body, surprised to find that he could see right through his form, his essence fading quickly as the factors that had created his presence were reversed, his torture, and very life, never happening.

"Tell Maria I love her," he murmured quietly, sinking to knees that were no longer there.

"I'm proud of you, son," Jim said quietly, walking up to place his hand on the place where the boy's shoulder once was. "And she will always know you loved her, I promise you that."

Michael smiled, his last moment in this world filled with an all-encompassing happiness as he knew that everything had been changed. He had stopped the tormented adventure from ever happening, the one goal he had returned to this earth to do. That he had stopped along the way to visit with Maria was a side-trip he was ever grateful for taking. It may have been a mistake, but seeing her, even in such a bad place, had given him the strength necessary to mount the attack against their captor.

Just as was once destined to happen so many years in the future, it was relying on strength she gave him that had allowed him to overthrow Kivar's power now. On Antar, it had only been when he allowed thoughts of her back into his brain that he had found the resolve necessary to attack the one thing separating him from her, squeezing his bare hands tightly around Kivar's neck, denying him the vital air supply to his lungs until he dissolved into dust. Now, he had killed the essence of evil again, proving himself a murderer once more and taking no shame in being labeled as such.

Through fast-fading eyes, Michael looked up at the image of himself positioned on the bed, his face seeming less pained with the threat of further harm removed. "You take care of her," he whispered to himself. "She gave you more than you will ever know and if you hurt her…"

Jim smiled as one version of the boy who felt like his second son lectured the second, something he had known would happen if they ever met face to face.

Michael's now nearly non-existent body sunk further to the floor as he struggled with a final goodbye to the one presence not visible, but still felt in the room. "Come back now," were his last words as he left the world he had never belonged in. "And love him…"

Jim watched as the figure of the man that had faced battles unknown by any of the people whose lives he had just sacrificed his own to save vanished, his body simply ceasing to exist in the world that already had a Michael Guerin; the boy who still lay unconscious on the bed, his hand gripped tightly around an unseen object, almost like a person was sitting by his side, holding his hand.

~~~~~

In the sleep-shrouded town of Roswell, New Mexico, Maria Deluca was unmoving in the imagined house of her making. If anyone could visit her there, they would have seen a girl standing all alone in an empty room, her arm extended just slightly as if she held the hand of another. In the reality known only to her, she bent over to place a feather-light kiss in the air near her hand, a small smile gracing her features as she turned away and walked across the creaking wood floors. She shut the door behind her for the last time, pausing for a brief moment to lay her hand on the surface in a silent goodbye to the unseen figure inside. Then, her smile growing with each step, she turned and headed down the stairs in a final passage, walking steadily through her kitchen to the doorway leading to the outside world. With a firm tug on the handle, she pulled it open and jumped just slightly with both feet, falling weightlessly back into the universe she had abandoned nearly a year before.

On the bed that her physical body had called a home for too long, blurry eyes blinked open, the limbs attached to the suddenly life-filled body moving stiffly as they pushed the girl up and away from her resting place. She took a tentative step towards her door, stopping when she glanced up to see the figure of her mother standing shocked before her.

The phone that had just brought news from Jim that everyone was okay tumbled from Amy's hand, twisting its way suicidally towards the carpet. Before her stood the ghostly figure of a girl who had exhibited only minute fragments of life for over a year and she gasped as she watched Maria take a second step, the weakened knees collapsing as the frail body followed the phone on its collision course downward.

"Michael…" came the coarse croak from the unused throat of the pale figure, her eyes closing once more as her body met the floor. She wasn't returning to the sanctuary of the house that had hidden her for so long, but entering a deep, required sleep, the satisfied slumber of someone who knew that the boy she loved had just made the ultimate sacrifice for her—left this world so that she could know his love once again.