posted on 8-Sep-2001 9:03:56 AM
Homecoming, section 2: the overture. Part a
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories: http://roswellstories.tripod.com
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Alternate timeline epic. Conventional couples angst leading up to UC in later parts - you have been warned!
Rating: PG-13, for now
Summary: Alien mysteries lead to an interesting year...
Spoilers: Up to 'Ask not'


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Alex only jogged back to an awareness of reality a few seconds after the limo had stopped. A quick look out the window confirmed that the car was stopped at a very familiar part of Murray Lane.

"Meter's still running, mac," the driver reminded him with friendly carelessness. Alex thought about that for a second and put a hand to his door handle - just in time to see through the open limo door as Maxwell Evans emerge from the Evans household.

When they met up, twenty-five seconds or so later on the curb next to the expensive rented chauffeurmobile, Max nodded at Alex. "Targazinzki melior tto quaree azhvar son keh milliap," he said offhandedly.

"Torgin vve keels," Alex replied politely in the same language. "What's the ETA on Isabel being dressed and ready to go?"

"Wrong guy to ask," Max admitted with a grin. "Is and Tess are all getting primped at Liz's place over the Crashdown." Max smiled in anticipation.

"Tess, Isabel, and Liz?" Alex repeated carefully. "Not Maria?!"

"Not Maria," Max confirmed. "My latest instructions are that she's to be picked up at her Mom's new house."

"As planned," Alex said as he got back into the stretch. "Well, we can cross Tess's studio off the itinerary. Driver? Cancel the stop on Roxdale."

The chauffeur met that news with a kind of stolid passivity. "Still 247 Elm next?"

"Yeah," Alex agreed. Max had gotten into the car by now, and closed the door, so Buddy put the motor in gear and pulled out into the street again. Alex's fingers brushed the disk again, and Max looked at him questioningly.

"I was remembering how we found out about the archive," Alex explained. "On the way over here."

"Ah," Max said, nodding. "Some crazy months we went through, huh? I'm glad things have calmed down a little..."

* * * *

"Okay," Max Evans said, pacing quietly across Alex's room. "Let's start at the beginning here. You touched this gizmo of Brody's at the UFO center."

"Mm-hm," Alex agreed, concentrating most of his attention on the drawing program on his computer.

"And you started having dreams about aliens?" Max continued doubtfully.

"*Last* night I had a deam," Alex maintained. "Tonight I had a flash." There was no uncertainty in his voice.

"And you think what you saw has a connection to us?" Max asked. He leaned over Alex's shoulder and peered at the computer screen. "If it looked like that, I hope it was just your imagination," he joked.

"Shut up," Alex groused grumpily. "It's not coming out right. I'm a musician, not a visual artist." But he continued to work at the picture, trying to refine the details that didn't match his memory.

"Okay, okay," Max said, resuming his pace. "Now, you said there were notes Brody was keeping about the gizmo. Can you remember any of them?"

"Um... it reacted to the may fourteenth pulse," Alex recounted. "To the signal the orbs sent out."

"We can't be sure of that connection," Max said. Alex turned around in his computer chair to stare doubtfully at the alien teenager. "Well, we already know Brody is obsessed with May 14th in particular. If someone else sold him this doodad, they could have known that too and made up a connection to that date, but go on."

Alex sighed and then did so. "Has been reported to shock other people, but nothing about creepy dreams. Oh, and supposedly it was taken from some FBI special warehouse of crash-related evidence."

"Wait a second," Max replied quickly. "The regular FBI or the special unit??"

"Brody's notes didn't say," Alex said pointedly. "The word 'unit' didn't appear, but the word 'special' did. That may be important."

"Okay," Max sighed. "Anything else in the notes?" Alex didn't answer aloud, which Max took as a pretty clear negative. "Well, it's weird, I'll grant you that, but I don't see that there's anything I can do. Take some of those goodnight pills and try to get plenty of r..." Max's voice was broken off in mid-word as he stared at the computer screen, which Alex was still working on with a frown.

Max stepped up beside Alex and drew his attention away from the screen with a gentle pressure on his shoulder. For Max's own part, he couldn't seem to keep his eyes of the cathode ray tube screen. "Alex, did Liz ever tell you about the... the secret chamber up near the Pullman ranch that Tess showed us last spring?" There was a dreadfully dark intensity in his voice.

"What, the pod chamber?" Alex asked, mystified. "Yeah, of course. I think you've even mentioned it a few times, Max."

Max scowled at the jibe. "Not just a name. Have you ever been told of anything that's inside?"

Alex was getting more confused by the second. "Well, yeah!! The pods that you guys incubated in until you emerged as little kids."

"Just that?" Max pressed. "You've never been told any more about what the pods looked like?"

Alex shook his head, mystified, and then suddenly followed Max's gaze back to his computer's screen. "You mean... he started, vaguely awed.

Max nodded grimly and pointed at one of the oval shapes in the bank of four machines that Alex had been doing his best to illustrate. "Did you see anythinh inside?? Shapes, or faces?"

"No," Alex had to admit. "Just some slopping goo."

"Which might mean it was before we were incubated," Max guessed. He turned, walked away from the computer, and sat himself down on the bed with a weary thud. "Maybe you'd better tell me as much of the rest as you can remember, Alex," he said softly. "Every detail."

He believed now, Alex realized. Before he saw the pods on Alex's computer screen, he had just been doing lip service to the idea that Max could have gotten ahold of some memories from his homeworld. Now... he wasn't completely convinced, but unable to truly disbelieve either. And the stress, of one crisis or mystery after another, was weighing on him.

"Well?" After a second's more hesitation, Alex started to haltingly retell what he could remember of the alien imagery. The ceremony, the genetic library, the computer, the holograph. The book.

"What??" Max called out, loudly enough that Alex was worried his parents would wake up.

"Ssh."

"Like Tess's book? Why didn't you tell me about the book first, Alex??!"

"Uhh... Tess's what??" was all Alex could think of to say.

It took them a few minutes to get that sorted out. Alex had never heard of or seen the book - Liz had seen Tess take it out of the library wall using an alien handprint technique, and Michael and Isabel had both seen it, but Alex had had bigger things on his mind - like the general misconception that Tess was Nasedo and Isabel's conviction that she was somehow carrying Michael's baby.

"I'd like to see this book," Alex said. "Maybe - I'm not saying it's a sure thing, but I feel like I might be able to decipher some of those characters if I had access to them for a while."

"Sure, sure," Max agreed.

"Who keeping it safe?" Alex asked offhandedly. And Max froze.

"Oh, no," Alex muttered when he saw how Max was acting.

"It was a really crazy time," Max murmured. "Tess... Tess and I were discussing Isabel and Michael's alien dreams in the park... I think I had the book with me then. We went back to the Crashdown, and found out from Maria that a different Max had taken Liz on a romantic drive. Nasedo." He sighed. "That's the last point I remember having the book with me." He looked mortified.

"Well, let's look over the cases," Alex suggested. "Either you put it down and Tess or Isabel or one of the others picked it up. If you had kept it with you..." Alex stopped that line of thought as soon as he saw where it was leading. If Max had still had the book on his person when he got to the country fair, chasing after Liz, then Agent Pierce would have gotten his hands on it. And there was no telling where a psycho government alien hunter might have taken a thing like that.

"Alternatively, if I had left it in the Crashdown and one of us didn't notice it," Max sighed, "then anyone could have picked it up!"

"Yeah," Alex agreed morosely. "Probably nobody would think it was too unusual, in there - just another piece of 'fake' alien memerobilia. Still..."

A loud knocking sounded on Alex's door suddenly. "Allie, honey, you still up?" his mother called out, using the nickname he despised. "Come on, lights out sweetie. It's a school day tomorrow."

"Of course, Mom," Alex called out, getting up to switch off the ceiling light, leaving only the small desk lamp on to attempt to illuminate his room. "Sorry," he whispered to Max, or, rather, the place where Max had last been. There was now no sign of him - he must have jumped for the window as soon as Alex's mom knocked. Just as well, Alex supposed. It would have been pretty embarassing if his mother caught him with another guy in his bedroom, late at night.

After all of the commotion, surprisingly, Alex didn't have any more trouble getting to sleep that night. He had a vague memory of dreaming alien dreams again that night, but couldn't remember the details.

* * * *

The next day, Max had too much to deal with to really get into the issue of the Book's current whereabouts. The thing was, Liz had caught Michael breaking into Congresswoman Whittaker's office and looking through her files. While trying to hurry him out of the office, Liz had mentioned that Whittaker had shredded some files in her presence the day before, and Michael started telling her off for 'allowing that to happen.'

Liz shouted back that she was just a receptionist, she really couldn't tell the Congresswoman what not to do, and it evolved into a full yelling and screaming argument from there. Which is exactly when Whittaker herself walked in, wondering who on earth Michael was and why he and Liz were raising a din that could raise the dead. To defer suspicion, Liz had to spin a whole spiel that Michael was her boyfriend, that he had come by to pick her up, and that a friendly discussion of movie selections while Liz packed up to leave had turned into an unpleasant argument.

Whittaker bought the story, apparently, but she'd invited Liz, Michael, and Liz's parents to dinner at her place on Sunday night, and Liz didn't see any way to get them out of it.

Liz was furious at Michael for having put her in that position. Michael was ticked off that nobody seemed to understand how important what he had been doing was. Isabel was out of patience with the whole merry go round, Maria just stared at Michael and shook her head, and everybody seemed to expect Max to wave a magic wand (or an alien hand,) and solve everything in an instant. Max didn't have a magic wand, and all he was sure of was that, as with Maria, the thought of Michael and Liz as a couple made him feel knotted up inside.

Steering clear of all this, Tess badgered Alex about directions to see River Dog. He claimed vagueness of memory, (which was quite true, since he had only been up there once and that was when Michael had been dying,) and told her to talk to Max about it. He didn't want to upset Isabel by giving Tess the information she needed to go see River Dog herself.

It was after school the next day when Max finally brought up the subject of the Book, and to give him credit he did it pretty discretely, given all the discord that was going around.

He had gathered Isabel, Liz, Tess, and Michael around a table of Bugeye sodas at the Crashdown. Alex and Maria were drinking milkshakes at the corner, but Alex was just close enough to hear what was being said.

"Say, you remember that book?" Max started softly. "With the funky stencil cutouts and the lettering that none of us could read?" There was a very quiet pause. "Umm... does anyone here know what happened to it, by any chance?"

Tess reacted first, and very dramatically. Rising from her chair, she yelled at him "You LOST my BOOK? Max Evans, you *BASTARD!!*" And with that, she turned and stormed out of the cafe. A large percentage of the Crashdown clientelle looked at the group they left behind, and then with a few dozen small shrugs they returned to their own business.

The four remaining exchanged bemused glances. "Abandonment issues?" Michael guessed.

Isabel shook that issue off and returned to the subject at hand in a fierce whisper. "If you don't know where the book is, Max, and Tess doesn't know, none of us have it. You had it last, when you went off to talk to her about... dreams."

"None of you have seen it since then?" Max countered, in a voice that was even more whispery. Three heads shook quickly. "Well then, here's the thing. I remember carrying the book with me when I came back from that talk with Tess," he told them. "That's when I arrived here at the Crashdown, asked Maria about Liz, and found out she had left." Max didn't say what he hoped they all remembered - that Liz had been taken hostage by the shapechanging Nasedo, assuming Max's form as he led the FBI special unit on a deadly game of cat and mouse that had ended with Max a prisoner of Daniel Pierce.

"Oh, my god," Michael moaned. "You mean you had it on you when the special unit caught you?" Michael groaned. "It's probably been destroyed by now. Thank you Ed Harding, covering our tracks so well WE can't even find them."

"No, no," Max broke in once Michael finally came to a conversational full stop. "I'm pretty sure I didn't have it when I got to the carnival. I remember thinking about it when we were in the Jeep, that I didn't feel it in my jacket and maybe I should go back to the Crashdown looking for it. Before I could make up my mind, along sped Valenti and that was that."

"The... Crasdown?" Isabel repeated slowly. "Are you saying you left it... here, Max? In public??"

"I'm not sure," Max sighed. "I wouldn't have thought so, but I can't think where else if none of you remember me giving it to you. Plus... I think I *might* remember putting it down on the counter." Max gestured.

"This is just great," Michael growled. "You left it out in public, where anyone could find it. Valenti. One of the FBI boys."

"I don't think so," Isabel said pragmatically. "*They* were all pretty busy at the time too. So..." All of a sudden, it came together.

"Chances are, it was picked up by someone who doesn't know anything..." Max began. "Just a regular cafe customer."

"Who wouldn't have any good reason to suspect that it was real," Isabel continued. "I mean... it's an alien-looking book, and this is an alien theme restaurant. Our ordinary customer would think it was a souvenir or a piece of the ambience."

"But most good customers just don't help themselves to pieces of the ambience," Michael pointed out. "So either whoever took the book out of the cafe is klepto, or..."

"They paid for it to someone associated with the cafe," Max continued. "The Parkers, one of the waitresses, anyone. In any event..." He turned to look square at Liz.

"I know, I know," Liz groaned. "I'm your best shot for getting this darn thing back, whatever it is. Maybe your only shot." She sighed. "I'll see what I can do."

Max nodded gravely. "Thank you," Isabel told her with a fair amount of sincerity.

"By the way, why the sudden concern about the B right now, Maxwell?" Michael asked. "I mean, I know it's a problem that it's gone missing, but why did you just realize it now? I haven't thought about the thing in months, I know."

"It just... occurred to me," Max covered. "No particular reason."

* * * *

"Parker residence?"

"Hi Liz," Alex said into his telephone. "It's Alex."

"Hi Alex," Liz replied. "No, I haven't figured out what happened to the book yet."

"Book?" Alex said in as innocent a voice as he could manage. If Max wasn't telling Michael and Isabel the real story about the book and the dreams, Alex wasn't going to breathe a word about his part in the situation.

"Oh, don't use that 'who, me?' voice on... well, me, Alex," Liz said. "I noticed you paying careful attention in the Crashdown day before yesterday when Max was telling us about it. And that's okay. I don't keep secrets from you any more."

Alex smiled. "Thanks. I really didn't call to bug you about the book, though I'm interested. I rang to ask you how you were doing, especially in the 'dealing with all this' category."

"Oh, *that* category, huh?" Liz giggled. "Quite a general definition, isn't it?" Alex chuckled, but didn't answer aloud. "Well, I'm feeling a little stressed out, I'll admit it," Liz said after a moment. "All this pressure from so many sides at once..."

"I know what you mean," Alex said. "In fact... do you have any plans for tonight, Liz? The Banks' party perhaps?"

"Um... no, no plans as such," Liz told him. "In fact, I'd forgotten about the party until just now."

"Why don't we go together?" Alex asked. There was an awkward silence. "As friends, of course. You know, party, plutonic good time, take our minds off our troubles, that kind of thing."

Liz laughed. "I'd love to. Meet me at... where do the Banks live again?"

"Up on Redwood," Alex told her. "We can rendezvous next to that science knicknack store on Grovenor."

"I'll be there in half an hour," Liz assured him.

"Half an hour," Alex agreed, and the line went dead as Liz hung up. Alex placed his phone in its cradle too.

It was after Alex had taken a superspeed shower and put most of his party duds on that the phone rang again. Alex picked the receiver up and immediately said "No, Liz, you cannot back out, because you'd just sit in your room in the dark and mope about Max all night. We're going."

"Actually..." Alex flushed in mortification as he recognized the voice on the other end of the line, "...this *is* Max. Just where are you and Liz going?"

"Max, hi!" Alex exclaimed, avoiding the question. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Max paused a second. "Well, I was calling to suggest that we go up to the pod chamber sometime soon. To see if it brings back anything from your dreams. Did you have any last night by the way?"

"No," Alex admitted, "they've faded out. Maybe whatever that dingus did to me has worn off." Hint hint. "As far as you taking me up to the MacCready farm, sure, and thanks."

"Mm-hmm." Max's voice became probing. "How's tonight for you?"

Alex gasped out his frustration. "Well, if you must know, Liz and I are going to Courtney's party. As friends. I really have to go now, actually." For a brief second, Alex wondered if Max would ask Alex to back off so that Liz could be his date at the party, and what Alex should say if Max *did*. He didn't think Liz would be wild about the idea.

For better or worse, Max didn't bring it up. "I see," he muttered, his voice hardly more than a whisper across the telephone line. "Well, tell Liz I may see you guys there, then?"

Alex wondered how to take that for a second, then chose 'at face value.' "Will do."

* * * *

When Alex arrived at the corner, Liz was waiting for him. "What kept you? I thought I was being 'stood up.'"

Alex just smiled at his old friend. "Threads this good don't just pick themselves," he deadpanned, gesturing at his gold-tone collar shirt. A second's thought had decided him against mentioning the phone call from Max. "Been waiting long?"

"Nah, just a few minutes." Liz fell in beside him and pointed down the street, a small scrap of paper in her hand with a miniature map scrawled on it. Alex knew in which direction they were going, but set off in step with Liz without commenting on the fact.

"By the way, you look very nice," Liz mentioned after they had been walking for about twenty seconds.

"Oh, yeah, th- thanks," Alex stuttered. "And you look..."

Alex hadn't really looked at Liz when he met up with her at the corner. He didn't tend to really look at her, actually. Liz was just someone who was there. Reliably, comfortingly there... except when he percieved that she wasn't. But Alex would never have thought of paying attention to something like the clothes Liz was wearing to a party.

"You look great!!" It was an understatement. Oh, Liz's clothes may have been far from 'cool stylish threads' in the opinion of the most fashion-conscious of their peers. Just a mid-length dark red skirt, matched with a slightly brighter sweater in the same tone, along with low-heely-type shoes. But she looked just perfect somehow. Perfect for a party. I wonder if this is how Max sees her? The thought running through his mind surprised and disturbed Alex. How Max - the soulmate - saw Liz Parker was not how Alex, the best friend, should be looking at her!

Meanwhile, Liz was speaking again, her words breaking apart Alex's introspection. "So... I've been thinking lately," she said in a confessional voice.

"Why does that not surprise me??" Alex joked at her. "And would you like to share the subkect matter of your thoughts, Miss Parker?"

"Sure," Liz agreed, smiling, and then looked back and forth, craning her neck to stare behind them, making sure that no-one else was in earshot. "It's about the Skins."

Alex nodded solemnly. "What about them??"

"Well, everyone is being so melodramatic about the situation. Like any moment these alien bogeymen might pop up from around the corner and try to kill Max and Isabel, or whatever. But work it out. The skins have probably been here in Roswell for what, two or three weeks now? And they haven't attacked, haven't revealed themselves..."

"They killed Nasedo... or one of them did," Alex pointed out softly.

"Yes they did," Liz agreed... "Or so Nasedo implied to Max before he died, anyway. But aside from that... nothing. Or at least nothing obvious."

"And what does your finely analytical and deductive brain conclude from this, Sherlock??" Alex asked her playfully.

"That they're not about to face Max... or any of the four... directly, any time soon," Liz told him confidently. "If they were, they'd have been smart to do it immediately, before Max and Michael tumbled to the risk." She paused a moment. "I've been thinking about Michael's arrest, though."

"You think the skins might be behind that??" Alex asked cautiously.

"Why not? If he'd been exposed as an alien and a murderer, the skins might not have needed to do anything more to get rid of him. But they wouldn't be risking themselves in the same way as a frontal assault. For all we know, they were watching. Trying to figure out how Max and Isabel handled themselves in a crisis."

"Hmm... I think it's a good thought," Alex admitted. "Max may have realized it already, actually. He's been pretty Nazi-like lately about the head down thing. Nothing suspicious in public, etcetera."

"Oh, darn," Liz mumbled, pouting cutely in disappointment at the idea of her thunder being stolen. "Sshh," Alex and Liz whispered to each other in unison as another partygoer crossed the street and started walking right in front of them. Not surprising - the Banks house was right up ahead.

* * * *

The party was, on first sighting, incredible. The Banks' place wasn't fancy, in fact the house looked slightly run-down, but it was large and no cheap expense had been spared in decorating it for the festivities. Dozens of people were circulating in the first few rooms that Alex could see into immediately upon entering the building, some high-school age, some older through what looked like older twenties and 'thirty-ish.' No farther. Most of the partyers were carrying beverages, some obviously soft drinks, some probably not, (and there was no obvious correlation between how old an individual looked and how alcoholic their drink seemed.) Alex was reminded of his big rant to sheriff Valenti late the night of the heatwave party, last year, and wondered what he would do if somebody offered him booze. At least there wasn't likely to be pressure, the number of people around who were drinking Cokes and Pepsis.

"Umm... hi there!" A tall, buff-looking guy in his mid-twenties put down a huge package of styrofoam cups and waved hello to Alex and Liz. "Not meaning to be rude, but who are you?"

Liz fielded the questions. "Umm... we're, that is, we're kinda friends of Courtney's."

The guy ran a hand though his short blond hair and grinned. "From which class?"

"From the Crashdown," Alex offered. "I'm a terminal regular and Liz," he pointed to her with the over-the-shoulder gesture of a thumb, "is the owners' daughter."

"Oh, okay. Hi there, I'm Steve Banks, Courtney's brother and your host for the evening. Sorry for being snarky, but this was supposed to be a mid-size housewarming, not a huge rave bash. Most of the high school seems to be here."

"No," Alex corrected. "The senior party crowd wouldn't dream of showing up before nine. Wouldn't look 'cool.'"

"Thanks for the warning... I think," Steve told him dubiously. "Well, let's see. Pool's in the basement, computer games are down the hall on your left, drinks and dance floor upstairs. Aside from that, just wander around and have fun!" Steve waved at them again, picked up his burden, and headed to the staircase that led up from the front hall of the house.

Liz turned towards Alex, smiling, evidently having been as affected by the charm of Courtney's brother as he had. "Check out these computer games?" she suggested.

"Unless you want to go for a dip in the pool," Alex replied with a wide grin.

"Don't think so." Liz led him down the hallway Steve Banks had indicated and into a room with more than its fair share of people per square foot, even for this party.

The computer setup was pretty cool, Alex had to admit. Someone, presumably Steve, had linked together a modern server tower, a few-years-old desktop, a workstation that seemed to be little more than a screen keyboard and builtin trackball, and a little laptop. All four were interfacing to run an old-fashioned video game, with each station controlling a spaceship out to explore the galaxy, find energy and weapons, and destroy the competition. Alex and Liz took a turn together, but got blasted out of the galaxy pretty early when a better-armed starfighter ambushed them. By the rules of precedence that were being enforced, they had to go back to the end of the line, which had grown even longer.

"So..." Alex mumbled, as he held the black magic marker and looked up at the nine entries ahead of them. "So, Liz, do you *want* to wait for another go?"

Liz shrugged carelessly. "I could go either way, I guess. You?"

"Maybe we'll leave it for later," he decided, putting the marker down and walking back over to Liz. "Thanks for coming with me, by the way. A party was just what I needed."

"I know what you mean," Liz agreed, as they left the computer room. "And - thank you for asking me, Alex."

"Oh, you're very welcome," Alex replied. Somewhat to Alex's surprise, he reached out an arm and wrapped it around Liz's shoulders. What the heck was that? Well, it could be considered a friendly gesture. Liz didn't seem to be worried about it...

"So, where to next?" Liz mumbled softly, as they stood at a junction od rooms.

"Oh, hey guys! Liz!!" They turned around in the direction of the voice, and Alex blinked in shock. There before him stood Maria DeLuca and Max Evans... holding hands. What was going on here?

"Hey," Alex said slowly.

"Hello." That was Max. Maria's voice had been the one hailing them down.

Liz was the one to figure it out first. "What is this... are you two trying to make me jealous or something?"

"No, of co-" Max started.

"That depends," Maria quipped, letting go of Max's hand, stepping closer to the teenaged alien, and wrapping her arm around his back so that her hand ended up at the other side of Max's waist. "Is it working?!"

"No!!" Liz burst out. "No, it isn't 'working,' and quite frankly I'm disappointed in both of you for pulling such a cheap stunt..."

"Oh, and bringing Alex was what, a brilliant stratagem?" Maria taunted back. The two guys, Max and Alex were just staring wordless at the bitch-off by this point. "We're just followin' your lead, sister."

"Alex and me coming here was not a stratagem," Liz replied heatedly. "We're just two friends going to a party together." Belatedly, Alex whipped his arm off of Liz's shoulders.

"Yeah, right. And did you even think about how it would look to Max? How he might feel about your little friendship date?"

"'Max' is damn well gonna have to get used to it!!" Liz shouted.

Alex turned to Max to see how he was dealing with this, but remarkably young Mister Evans didn't even seem to be paying attention to Liz and Maria's argument. He was staring at something behind Alex and he whispered softly "Oh, no." Alex turned around to see what was up.

Isabel had just walked into the room. With Grant Sorenson right next to her.

Alex shot a glance back over his shoulder. Liz and Maria had apparently put the squab fight on hold in the face of the new diversion. Maria, who probably couldn't see Isabel or recognize Grant from where she was standing because Alex was between them, was looking from Liz to Max, trying to figure out what was going on. Liz, who could see Isabel and Grant, was looking up at Alex with silent support and commiseration. And Isabel had recognized her friends and was bringing Grant over.

"I'll be a minute, okay?" Alex murmured to Liz, and stepped forward to meet his ex-girlfriend and her new fling. Or, perhaps more precisely, to say "Pardon me," to Grant and drag Isabel back towards the doorway before he could react. "What are you doing?" he hissed. For god's sake, if his life was going to suddenly become a Melrose Place episode, he might as well act the part.

"I'm... having fun at a party," Is spluttered. "Or I was until ten seconds ago. What did it look like I was doing, Alex?"

Alex ignored that question. "And what's Grant doing here with you? Are you on a date with him!?"

Isabel smirked a little, and Alex worried that he'd made a mistake, asking her straight out like that. "What about you and Liz? Are you two 'here on a date?"

Alex groaned. Why did everyone seem to think that he and Liz were the next hot couple or something? "No, we're just here as friends."

"Then Grant and I are friends too," Isabel declared, energetically but not really convincingly.

Alex wasn't buying it for a second. "Isabel..."

"Okay, try this: I fail to see how Grant and I are any of your business anymore, Alex. By the way, have you ever *thought* about asking Liz out? The two of you are really cute together." Isabel's decision to change the subject was obvious... and effective. "Is! If your love life is none of my business, then you certainly have no right to come and tell me something like..."

"Chill," she advised him. "It was just a friendly observation, nothing more. Even though it would solve a lot of problems if you two got together..."

Alex gave up and turned away, trying to determine if Liz was still back where he had left her. A knot of other partyers was in the way.

"Or Maria... is Maria attractive to you at all??" Isabel asked him as he walked away.

He found Liz talking with Max and Maria a little further across the room. "We've declared pax," Liz advised him. "How'd things go with Isabel?"

"Not nearly so good," Alex admitted, and turned to greet his friends in the new post-armistice context. "Hey, Maria, glad you came out."

"Looking sharp, bassman."

"Nice to see ya here, Max. Now that the surprise wore off."

Max laughed. "I know what you mean."

The four of them stood there, clustered in a tight knot for several seconds. "So... what else is there to do at this shindig?" Maria asked just after the silence became awkward.

Liz laughed. "Well, Courtney's brother said something about beverages and music upstairs."

"Sounds good to me," Max decided. "What's this brother like?" he asked conversationally as the foursome began to maneuver back to the front hall.

Alex shot Liz a glance, but she shrugged slightly in response as if to say 'your turn.' "Um... he seemed pretty cool. Older, a little frenzied with the party stuff, but really friendly."

"I heard that he's the new director of news for KROZ radio," Maria commented. That line proved a conversation stopper as each of the four of them remembered the angst of the Blind Date concert KROZ had run that winter.

Things loosened up once the foursome got upstairs and were provided with sodas by a guy Alex recognized from being on the football team with Kyle Valenti. Still, the conversation stayed pretty much the smallest of small talk for a while - classes, CDs, who was dating who out of the people none of them knew well.

Suddenly, something was causing a minor commotion across the room. "Whoo, baby!!" some guy called out.

Maria turned around to see what the kaffuffle was all about. "Oh, god," she whispered.

Tess had just shown up.

She was dressed up to the nines, (or possibly the tens?) in a navy blue dress that was short on the legs, low-cut over the cleavage, tight and stretchy all over. Plus high-heeled leather boots, earrings, and a bracelet. Her blonde hair was down in a mass of curls, the ouftit looked like it belonged on the cover of a 'Maxim,' but all the guys were staring at her as if with a single hormone. Including, unfortunately, Max.

Alex tore himself away from the sight, (which took a little effort, even though Tess really wasn't his type,) and turned to Liz, who hadn't yet realized what was going on. "Dance with me," he mumbled to her, dragging Liz away from Tess's direction, away from Max, towards an empty section of the dance floor. He didn't have any plan in mind beyond trying to distract Liz, but he felt a need to do whatever he could to shelter Liz from any more painful angst.

It seemed to be working. "What's this about, Alex," Liz asked as she started to dance with him.

"Just... just a whim," Alex said unconvincingly.

"Is... is there something you're not telling me?" Liz asked.

"Yes. And believe me, you don't want me to."

Liz considered that for a moment. "Okay... I guess."

* * * *

Alex carefully picked his way around the wet patches on the stairs down from the Banks' front hall. Liz looked a little less than ready to follow him. "You sure you want to do this?"

Liz considered only a moment. "Yeah. That guy told us Michael was down here somewhere, and I'd like to find him and say hi."

"Sure." Alex led the way again, and Liz followed. As he had suspected, the pool room was right at the bottom of the stairs. It was good-sized for an indoor pool, and a lot of partyers (most of them twenty-something or under,) were swimming, laughing, and playing in and around the water in bathing suits. A few piles of spare suits were laying around.

Alex looked around, but he couldn't see Michael around the pool. There was a door at the far end of the pool room, so Alex waved Liz along. They started to cross the room. A guy was heading in their direction, carrying a tray of drinks. He moved closer to the wall, so Liz and Alex nudged a little closer to the pool to let him pass.

It was not meant to be. As they were walking past each other, the waiter-guy slipped on a wet patch and lost his balance. He dropped the tray, sending cans of beer and soda pop rolling every which way, and a single glass tumbling, spilling yet more liquid on the floor, and clattering against the hard surface. Waiter guy's momentum sent him stumbling straight into Liz, which knocked her straight - into - the - pool.

"Oh, god, are you okay??" Someone was hurrying over from the stairs - it was Courtney Banks, from the Crashdown, (and their host's sister who had invited West Roswell High to the party.) She gave Liz a helping hand out of the pool while Alex steadied the waiter guy up to his feet.

"Yeah, yeah, just a little wet," Liz said as she got out. Not just wet, she was dripping, her sweater, the rest of her clothes, and her hair soaked from her brief dip in the pool.

"Oh, you're drenched, you poor thing," Courtney said solicitously. "Come on, I'll get you upstairs, you can put on some of my things and I'll get these clothes washed and dry."

"Um, okay..." Liz said, turning to Alex. "You just hang out, enjoy the party, okay Alex? I'll find you once I'm put together again."

"Okay," Alex said, waving goodbye to Liz as Courtney led her up the stairs. None of them noticed Courtney's brother Steve watching with interest from the living room.

"The game is afoot," he whispered softly.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To be continued...

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
chris⊕chriskweb.net

[ edited 22time(s), last at 17-Feb-2003 9:56:18 AM ]
posted on 8-Sep-2001 7:55:20 PM
Hmm... do you really want me to say what the deal is with Steve Banks? ;-)

I'll try to get part 2B out soon. Of course more FEEDBACK would help! :-D

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
chris⊕chriskweb.net
posted on 17-Oct-2001 5:39:43 PM
Homecoming, section 2: the overture. Part b
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories: http://roswellstories.tripod.com
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Alternate timeline epic. Conventional couples angst leading up to UC in later parts - you have been warned!
Rating: PG-13, for now
Summary: Alien mysteries lead to an interesting year...
Spoilers: Up to 'Ask not'


------------------------------------------------------

Alex noticed that Max was staring at him, as if wondering what he was lost in thought about now.

"The Banks party," Alex stated simply.

"Oooh," Max's face contorted into a brief grimace. "That son of a bitch."

"Yeah."

* * * *

Alex was up in the Banks' living room, sitting on a couch and listening to the soft pop music, when someone surreptitiously took the seat next to him. "Mission successful, agent double-o eight?"

Alex jumped a little in surprise. "Maria! Where's Max? *What* mission??"

"I left Max playing star raiders," Maria admitted. "He should be occupied for a few minutes. Did Liz see what had happened with T-E-S-bitch?"

Alex stifled a chuckle and shook his head at Maria's joke. He could understand why Maria wasn't the president of the Tess Harding fan club, but did she have to keep taking potshots at the girl? "No, I don't think she *wanted* to know," he told Maria.

"Good enough. I slapped the boy hard for staring, at her of all possible girls. Umm..." Maria was looking around in belated curiosity. "Where did you get rid of Liz to, anyway?"

"I didn't," Alex informed her. "She got knocked in the pool and Courtney took her upsairs to dry off."

"Oooh," Maria groaned. Alex shot her a look. "I'm sorry, I don't trust that girl. I've seen the way she looks at Michael."

"The same way you do," Alex teased her.

"Yeah, but I've got history," Maria said in her defense.

"Okay," Alex replied. "Um. So..." An awkward silence surrounded the pair.

"Hey, losers." Alex looked up to realize that Kyle was waving at Maria and him from across the room.

"Hi, jock," he replied with an artificially sunny smile, waving back.

"Cut it," Maria said, nudging Alex with an elbow.

"I'm just being sociable. And since when do you care one millimeter about Kyle Valenti??" Alex asked doubtfully.

"I don't, it's just..."

"Just what?" Max asked, dropping onto the couch on the other side of Maria.

"Umm... never mind," Maria finally said. "Would take too long to explain. How'd you do?"

"You are looking at a 'Gold captain,'" Max quoted with a trace of bemused pride.

"Ah, and who killed the gold captain off?" Alex asked with a big grin.

"The other three starfighters teamed up to destroy me," Max groused. "So... now what?"

"I could do with hunting down some snacks, gold captain," Maria laughed. "Alex, you wanna stick with us until Liz comes back."

"Liz??" Max repeated, trying, (and failing,) to keep his tone casual.

Maria's eyes brightened. "Liz got all wet," she teased Max as they got up from the couch. "Someone knocked her into the pool. She's probably changing her clothes right now..."

"Stop it!!" Max exclaimed, swatting Maria playfully on the shoulder.

"Getting out of her soaking wet things... Alex, was she dripping when she got out of the water??"

Alex just sighed and went along with his friends.

* * * *

Inside Courtney's room upstairs, Liz shivered a little, wrapping the huge, fluffy towel that Courtney had given her a little tighter around her body and rubbing a little more of the damp away. A knock sounded on the door. "Liz?"

Liz moved over towards the door. "Courtney?"

"Yeah. How're you doing?" the waitress' voice answered her.

"Um... as okay as possible under the circumstances... don't come in!" Now why had she said that? Courtney was another girl after all, and this towel made her more decent than some of the outfits at this party... but try telling that to her inhibitions.

"Um, okay... your stuff is in the wash, it'll be all dry by midnight. Let's see... all of my stuff is in the dresser to the right of the door. I'm sorry, there won't be much to choose from - most of *my* clothes need to go in the laundry."

"That's okay," Liz heard herself saying. "You've been so great about this already."

"Yeah, I have, huh?!" Courtney giggled through the door. "Well, I've got party rounds to do... you gonna be okay from here?"

"I'm... sure," Liz said as she opened the top drawer of the dresser her hostess had indicated. Was this a case of a difference in taste, what was left in Courtney's wardrobe after the girl had made her own picks, or some of each?

Everything seemed small, thin, or both. Belly shirts, silk shorts, miniskirts, halter tops... "Courtney?" Liz called out half-heartedly, not knowing what she would say next. The girl had already apologized for the fashion selection, hadn't she?

There was no answer from Courtney. So much for that.

After staring for a long minute, Liz told herself not to be so uptight, as usual. It was a party, for cripes' sake, and slightly more revealing clothing than usual was okay at a party. Determinedly, Liz chose the items that seemed most like something she'd always wanted to wear but had never had the nerve. Skin was no object.

So it was that Liz Parker opened the bedroom door several minutes later, wearing denim cutoffs, a green spandex tank top, and her hair still damp. She had dried off her heels as well as she could, and was wearing them.

Liz could hear the sounds of partying from most of the rooms around her as she stood in the hallway. She hadn't paid much attention when Courtney brought her up here, but she thought the dance room where she and Alex had met up with Maria and Max was that one at the end of the hall. She was pretty sure the stairs downstairs were right around the corner from there.

She set off down the corridor, no further thought in her mind than to meet up with Alex as she had said she would do. Liz wasn't halfway to the dance room when a large person stumbled out of a door right in front of her. Liz shrieked slightly in reflexive fright, then choked it off.

The new person was a twentyish male, muscular... not unhandsome, but certainly not what Liz thought of as her type. For one thing, his hair was on the light side and fell nearly to his shoulders. For another, his breath smelled like beer and whisky. He grinned lopsidedly at Liz.

She fought down her nervousness. It's gonna be okay. "Uh, hey there," she told the guy.

"You're... hott!!" the guy declared as if it were something monumental.

"Um... thanks, thanks a lot," Liz said nervously. "Now, I'm sorry, but I need to get back to my friend." She tried to circle around the drunk.

He lurched to the side, blocking the center of the whole hallway off. "Can't I be your friend, babycakes??" he drawled out, and then burped.

Liz froze. How should she respond to this? For the first time her nervousness began to spike into fear. If she shot this dope down, and it actually got through his liquor-soaked brain, he could get angry, which might be very dangerous to Liz. If she encouraged him, it could be almost as bad...

Well, nothing for it but to walk the line as best she could. "Sure, we can be friends," Liz said, as positively as she could. "I'd like that. But still I... I really do need to go downstairs. Ya wanna come downstairs with me, buddy?" Sunny smile, and...

"Don't you talk down to me, bitch!" The drunk suddenly cuffed Liz on the cheek with a clenched fist, and she knocked back in pain. "I don't wanna go downstairs. I wanna stay right here with you. Whatcha think about that, you little tease?" He swung Liz up against the wall, crowding close to her.

Liz realized that she had made a mistake. The only drunk young person she was used to dealing with was Kyle, who tended to get friendly, mellow, suggestible, and pliant when he'd been boozing. This drunk was definitely on the moody side.

She tried to struggle away, but it was no use, as Booze-hound gripped her upper arm firmly with one hand, mauling her chest vaguely with the other and leaning his hips towards hers.

"Help!!" Liz called out, hating how helpless she was seeming.

* * * *

"Oh, hey," a vaguely familiar voice called as Alex, Max and Maria approached the snack foods table. "You're... Liz's friend. Sorry, I didn't catch your name." It was Steve Banks.

"Alex," Alex said. "Alex Whitman. Maria, Max, this is our host, Steve Banks." They all shook hands over pringles and peanuts.

"You're Courtney's sister?" another high-school teenager nearby said to Steve. "Nice to meet you man, and you throw a killer housewarming."

"Thank you very much." Steve said solemnly.

"So... why did you guys move to Roswell?" someone else asked Steve.

"Oh, hey!" Alex spotted a very familiar face across the room and tapped Maria on the shoulder. "Guess who."

The look of pure joy crossing over Maria's face when she recognized Michael was priceless. If short-lived. "Who's that he's t-- Courtney?! It's not enough he lets her flirt with him at work, now he's making time with her at a party!?"

"She's the one who invited us all, Maria," Max pointed out. "Maybe he's just being polite."

"When, in all your life, have you known Michael to be polite?" Maria countered. While Max was thinking about that, Maria headed off to give Michael a piece of her mind.

Alex shot a glance at Max. "Should we go with?"

"Better to give those two some space," Max advised. "Espcially considering Michael finding out Maria came with another guy, ie me, might hurt the whole righteous indignation thing she's got going."

"Ah." Alex filed that away. He had been wondering if Max and Maria had shown up here together to make *Michael* jealous too, especially in light of the whole Liz-Michael-Whittaker-dinner thing, but...

"You wanna come too, Max?" Steve asked, breaking Alex out of his thoughts.

"Huh?" Max asked, echoing Alex's thoughts. "Come where?"

"Up to my room, I was gonna show you guys-"

"Sure," Max agreed pre-emptively, surprising Alex. "Let's go."

Alex followed as Steve, Max, and a few other high school students, two guys and a girl, climbed up the stairs and turned around the corner.

Alex and Max had passed the others before Alex realized that Steve had stopped, stock still. Then he realized why. Liz was pinned up the wall, being gripped and groped by some college freshman (or he looked around that age, anyways.) "Stop it, you're hurting me," Liz whimpered in a tone of the purest desperation.

Alex shot a quick glance over at Max, sure that with the boiling anger he himself felt, the guy who called himself Liz Parker's soulmate had to be taking it even worse. Sure enough, Max's face was a mask of contorted fury. If I had his alien powers, that guy would be flying through three walls by now, Alex thought. Probably he will be, in about three seconds...

Something struck Alex funny about that. Steve and three other witnesses were right here. Max couldn't afford to use his powers right at the moment. Would he recognize that in the flush of hot anger? Very vaguely, Alex remembered what he'd talked with Liz about the skins trying to expose or indirectly attack the royal four. Had their sinister alien hand been setting up this scene?!

All of these thoughts flashed through Alex's mind in a fraction of a second. He had to act, and he had to act now. Stepping forward towards Liz and the goonball, he made himself trip and crash into Max, who was even more furious now, his eyes narrowed and fingers trembling. As the two of them stumbled together, he whispered so softly that only Max could hear him, "Be careful, your majesty."

Max looked up at Alex, and it was clear that the message had gotten through. Together the two of them hurried over to seperate Liz from her attacker. Alex held the freshman back while Max hugged Liz and made sure she was alright. "Sorry, buddy," Alex cracked, feeling a little awkward about the situation. "This ain't a kissing booth."

"You're sure you're okay?" Alex heard Max say to Liz.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine, thanks to you. I'm just so glad you were here..." She choked off, looking up into Max's eyes. "I'm so sorry, Max, I... I have so much I..."

"Yeh." Max kissed Liz quickly on the cheek, and held her close for a moment. "We'll talk later, okay??"

"Yeah." Liz nodded attentively.

"What... what's going on here??" the drunk bellowed.

Max whirled on him, making sure that Liz was safe behind him. "That's my friend that you were assaulting!!"

"Huh??" the drunk drawled. "Uh, so??"

"So?" Max grinned tightly. "So, that means I kick your ass right now. Alex, let him go."

Alex paused a second, and then let the drunk guy's arms go. He staggered towards Max, who took one swing and laid the guy out on the hallway floor.

"Get back up so I can do it again, loser," he growled.

"Max, that's enough," Liz said, hurrying over to him. "He's just drunk, and he didn't hurt me."

"Who didn't hurt who??" The voice indicated that someone new had arrived on the scene - Courtney Banks. "Liz, are you okay??"

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" Liz joked. "Yeah, Courtney, I'm fine, thanks."

"What's going on here??" Courtney continued. "Steve? Alex??"

"Well, um..." Alex spluttered, surprised at being called upon. "We were coming up here to... umm... well, I'm not sure why, exactly," he muttered. "We found out that, well... it seems that this guy," he nudged chuggy with his toe delicately, "had had a little too much to drink, and he was... attacking Liz. In a frat guy kinda way."

"What??!" Courtney spun towards Steve. "Steve, do you know who invited this guy here? I don't think he was brought by me or anyone at the high school..." She paused dramatically. "You know, don't you??"

Steve flinched a little bit. "He's... he's a friend of a friend, okay Court?? Don't make a big deal ab-"

"Well, you can tell your friend that neither he, nor his friend, are welcome in my house ever again!!" Alex blinked in surprise, but Steve seemed to take this at face value. Courtney's house??

"Come on, guys," Max said to Liz and Alex. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."

* * * *

"I can't believe Liz was attacked," Maria repeated for the sixth time. "Like... like *that*." She shuddered expressively. "Do you think she's okay?"

"Hmm... she spent the whole ride here assuring you that she's fine," Michael said slowly. "You know, there's a slight chance that she's doing alright."

"Hmph." Maria ignored Michael expressively and turned to Alex. "And I can't believe that I missed it all."

The five of them, Alex, Maria, Michael, Liz, and Max, had driven back from the Banks' place to the Crashdown in Max's jeep, (a pretty cramped ride,) and Max and Liz were having their 'private talk' out on the balcony.

The two of them had been acting very... close, ever since the incident at the party. Not quite like they were back together yet, but... back when they were in one of their 'off again' phases before all this Destiny crap got in the way. A reconciliation might be on the way.

Alex wasn't quite sure what he felt about it all. He loved Liz like a best friend and wanted her to be happy, and he'd never seen her as happy as when she'd been a couple with Max last year. On the other hand, for her to be looking up at Max with those doe eyes like he was her big hero... Alex had come to the rescue too, hadn't he? In fact, Alex had a sneaking suspicion that if it hadn't been for his quick thinking, all of them would be in much deeper trouble right now.

The sequence of events ran through Alex's mind on its own. Steve Banks, news director that he was, would run with the story. High school junior uses telekinetic powers in 'difference of opinion' at local housewarming. Everything that happened last year with Max and Liz would get dragged out again. The shooting, the fire with Max's mother, the carnival incident. There had to be people who would still remember. Congresswoman Vanessa Whittaker, for example.

They'd have to go on the run again. Max and Liz at least. Take off for the Mexico border, where the FBI would have a harder time chasing them. Maybe Michael and Isabel too...

"Oh my god, I came as soon as I heard." Isabel had just walked through the front door of the crashdown, taking off her leather jacket. No-one else was in the dining room except for an old man in the far corner -- Liz had asked him if he wanted anything before she disappeared, and he had just shaken his head and gone back half to sleep.

Isabel tucked the hem of her dress under as she slid into the table next to Maria, across from Alex. "So, what's the deal? You all just take off from the party without telling me?"

"I looked for you," Alex told Isabel pointedly. "Max wanted to go, and we couldn't find you."

"So, was Liz really..." Isabel started.

"Oh, look." Alex looked up to see Kyle Valenti strutting towards them. "If it isn't the Roswell nuts club having a quorum meeting."

"It's invitation only, Valenti," Michael told him dryly. "What are you doing here?"

"Chill, okay?" Isabel told him. "When I found out Liz was... um, attacked, you know..." She dropped her voice to a whisper for the last phrase. "I wanted to go right away, Grant didn't want to leave the party right then, and Kyle nicely offered to give me a ride."

"It doesn't count as nice when you dig your nails into my wrist, Evans," Kyle told her dryly.

"Hey, everybody." This was Max, standing on the stairs, with Liz.

"It's getting a little late, isn't it?" Liz giggled, obviously trying hard not to look at Max.

"Yeah, can you guys do drive home duty?" Max asked Isabel and Michael, tossing the Jeep keys onto the table. "I wanna take a walk, get some air. Umm... Alex, your place is about the right distance. You up for it?"

Alex could tell that this wasn't a casual request from Max. "Okay." He waved bye to everybody, and followed Max out the front door. He didn't miss the smouldering stare that Max sent back towards the stairs.

Towards Liz.

"So, umm..." Max said, when they were a block away from the cafe. "We still on for tomorrow morning? The Macready ranch??"

"Hmm??" With all that had gone on, Alex had nearly forgotten. He looked around to make sure that no-one was within hearing range on the street. "The pod chamber? Yeah."

"Okay, I'll swing by and pick you up... around nine thirty?" Alex nodded. "Cool."

There was another awkward silence. "So," Alex said in turn. "Did you... and Liz..."

"Did we..." Max trailed off and looked over at Alex, a serious look on his face breaking into a grin. "Are we back together? Yes."

"Ah," Alex said, smiling and nodding politely. "That's nice."

"It's weird how it happened," Max related quietly as they walked. "From the moment I rescued her from that guy, it was BOOM! Flash. And I'm looking at her, trying to figure out if she had a flash, and she smiled at me, and I knew everything was gonna be okay. Up on the balcony, she told me that she was sorry for pulling away from me, and that if I wanted to try to make a new destiny for a new life with her, she'd go down the road with me as far as it would lead." Max sighed happily. "Or something like that... I'm so giddy right now I might have totally missed everything but the truly central point. We're back."

"Okay," Alex agreed.

"Oh, I think I was the one who brought up the stuff about the new life," Max suddenly remembered. "Like 'I might have a destiny, but this is a new life, and I can make new choices if I want to.' Of course, I had to tell her that we needed to keep the whole thing low profile for now, especially from Tess, and I could tell she was a little hurt by that." The young alien was basically rambling now. "But what could I do? Tess isn't my dream girl, but she's a part of my life now, and I can't alienate her. Pun not intended..."

"Max?" Alex broke in. "I've got one more question. When we were... at the party, when we just came upon Liz and that goon. If I hadn't reminded you, do you think you would have used your powers on him??"

Max had to think about that for a bit. "It's quite possible," he admitted. "I was so mad in that moment that I didn't care that Steve and the others were around. So thank you, Alex. I owe you another one now."

"Just treat Liz right, okay?" Alex asked him. "And... be carefuly. I had the wild notion that the whole Liz thing might have been staged. Like by a skin - trying to make you expose yourself."

"Yeah, it's a possibility," Max agreed. Neither of them broke the silence the rest of the way to Alex's house. But Max cleared his throat as Alex stepped onto the first of the porch stairs.

"Yeah, man?" Alex asked, turning back to him.

"I can tell that something's bugging you man, and I think I know what it is," Max told him.

Oh, really? "Yeah?"

"Don't worry. I'll put in a word with Isabel for you, man."

Alex forced a smile and went up into his house.

* * * *

Max was up early the next morning, making some instant pancakes and waiting until the time came to go pick up Alex. He heard footsteps and looked up. Isabel, still wearing her silk pj's, had come into the kitchen.

"Want some?" Max asked, gesturing to the pancakes.

"Sure." Isabel sat down at the kitchen table and closed her eyes, breathing deeply and perhaps listening to the birds chirp through the open window.

Max dumped some more batter down on the frying pan, and turned to his sister. "Is?" He checked to make sure their parents hadn't followed her down, but there was no sign of them. They often slept in on Saturdays.

"Yeah?" She didn't open her eyes, but her voice was clear and alert.

"I... Liz and I... last night we..."

"You're back together," Isabel filled in.

"It's that obvious?" Max blinked in surprise.

Now Isabel opened her eyes, and turned towards Max. "Let's put it this way. I don't think Michael or Kyle clued in last night."

Max grinned sheepishly. "I get the picture."

"I'm happy for the two of you, Max, I really am."

Max cleared his throat as he offered Is a pair of pancakes on a plate. She stood up and headed over to the cupboard. "What else, brother Max?"

"About you... and Grant Sorenson..."

Isabel took the box of icing sugar and a bottle of Tabasco back to her place at the table. "I'm interested in Grant, and I think he likes me, but we're just friends. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"And Alex??" Isabel's silence was expressive. "Okay, Is, I know I have no right to tell you who to date or not to date, but I'm curious. You were really into Alex, back this spring, before everything happened. A few weeks ago you were telling him you weren't ready to be with any guy. And now you're 'interested' in Grant."

"So... are you dancing around in circles because you don't want to tell me straight out you think I'm a hypocrite??" Isabel snapped.

"No! I'm just... wondering what's going on in your head."

"Too bad you can't dreamwalk me," Isabel mumbled under her breath.

Max ignored that. "I know Alex, I like Alex, and I like the thought of the two of you being together. You don't have to explain the why or why not to me if you don't want to, Isabel. Just think about it for yourself, okay??"

Isabel mulled that over while she finished her pancakes.

* * * *

"So..." Max murmurred as Alex walked around. "Do you recognize anything, man?"

"Hmm..." Alex thought about that. "The pods, yeah. They're definitely the same ones I saw in my dream."

"Anything else?"

Alex chuckled. "Max, don't take this the wrong way, but there isn't much else." Aside from the four huge (and now empty,) pods, the passageway back outside, (which was pretty cool, Alex had to admit, with Max using the handprint to make the stone wall slide away,) the chamber was pretty spartan. Here and there a touch of alienesque architecture decorated the walls, and there was a slightly raised slab on the floor... where, Alex presumed, the royal four had ince used healing stones to bring Nasedo back to life. And failed to repeat the feat, just a handful of days ago.

"Haha, very funny," Max drawled.

"Nothing else is familiar to me," Alex said in a more serious tone. "The space, the layout, nothing. Well... maybe a bit of the doodads there." He pointed at the intricately carved supports that supported the vaulted chamber ceilling. "I might just be imagining that though."

"So, that's that I guess," Max sighed. "Well, it was worth a try."

"Yeah." Alex reached up and tentatively touched the supportive shelf that seperated two of the empty pods. "How did you find this place, anyways??"

"Tess showed me," Max said, after a moment. "Though I guess Michael had figured out something was here before that, using the alien map."

Alex stood stock still for a moment. Not again, he thought to himself. "Max, what alien map??"

Max froze for a second himself, then shook it out. "You know, Alex, you were there. I know you were there for this one. After we healed Michael at the cave on the reservation, he found out that this alien writing on the cave wall was a map..."

"I remember," Alex said. He did, now, and even realized that he had taken Isabel to the UFO center to show her similar inscriptions from somewhere in South America or something. "I wasn't informed that Michael had actually *found* anything on the map, though."

"I'll get a copy of it to you," Max promised. "We'll see if you can make anything more of it, now that you've been... zapped by that alien ring."

"Okay. I guess we'd better go," Alex decided. With Max, he headed out of the chamber, and the doorway was sealed back tight behind them. As they headed down the slope to where Max had parked the Jeep, Alex suddenly blurted out, "Max, why don't you want to tell the rest of the gang about this?"

Max stopped short, almost slipped on a rock, and turned to Alex, blinking in surprise. "Why don't I want... Alex, I'm just following *your* lead here!"

Alex felt like he was missing something obvious. "My... my lead??"

"Yeah," Max agreed. "I mean... you could have brought Liz or Isabel... Michael, Maria, whoever, into this at the very beginning. But you didn't. You came to me, Alex. And I guess I didn't want to take it over and bring it to the gang in your place. That's your privilege, Alex."

Alex found himself laughing. "And here I was stewing because I thought I needed your permission to bring my friends in on the whole thing. Well, okay, I think it's time we let everybody know."

"Everybody??" Max echoed. They had finished the climb down now and the Jeep was only a short distance away.

"Well, you know," Alex mumbled. "The usual suspects."

"Boy, that's gonna be weird," Max muttered softly. "Getting everybody together, in the same place, with all that's been going on, without it looking suspicious."

"Don't worry," Alex told him. "I know just how to handle it."

* * * *


"You are hereby invited to the next meeting of the Roswell parlour games club. Saturday, October 21st, 2001 ⊕ 7:30 pm. 275 White palm south."
Michael looked at the printed card Alex had just handed him. "What the hell is this?"

"Just be there, Michael."

* * * *

Alex looked around his parents' rec room, filled with his friends. "Okay, thanks for coming everybody... the card isn't quite full yet, so as soon as the stragglers arrive we'll start playing..."

"The stragglers?" Maria piped up. "But everybody's he..." She broke off, looking around the room. Alex, Max, Liz, Michael, and Isabel. With Maria herself, that made six... "Oh god, Alex, you didn't..."

Alex was about to ask Maria what she meant, when the doorbell rang. "That's probably our missing players now," he said unneccesarily, and sprinted up the basement stairs to the front door.

He got there a little after his mother. "Hi, Kyle... Sherriff!! Is... is there something wrong, sir?"

"Not at all, Mrs. Whitman." Valenti tipped his hat slightly, then took it off. "I'm here for the club."

Alex's mother's expression of surprise was eloquent. Alex chimed in. "The sherriff plays a mean hand of tyzicha, mom. We needed a sixth one day over at Kyle and Tess'..."

"Tess?" Carol Whitman seized on this, and connected it up with the girl standing in front of her. "Tess?" Tess nodded slightly at the mention of her name, and Alex's mother shook the blonde's hand enthusiastically. "So nice to meet you, Tess."

"Mom?" Alex fixed her with a look. "We should be getting started."

She dropped the shake immediately with a trace of embarassment. "Of course." She stood aside in an overt gesture of allowing the extended Valenti household to pass on into the basement.

Sherrif Valenti nodded again as he passed through, and Kyle and Tess nervously followed suit. Alex smiled a silent goodbye to his mother as he brought up the rear.

While he was gone, Max had consulted the seating charts Alex had made and started to arrange the gang in their seats for the first game. Alex was at the same table as Michael and Isabel, while sherrif Valenti went over to Max and Maria and Liz had to deal with Tess and Kyle.

"Okay," Alex whispered softly but clearly as he shuffled the short pack of cards. He had managed to put together a makeshift bug sweeper, and Max had done his best to 'sense' for alien equivalents, so the room was as safe from eavesdropping as possible - but no sense in taking chances. "We're not here to play cards, of course. What could be less suspicious of alien secrets than a loose collection of acquaintances getting together to play indoor games every week?" As Alex finished, the only sound he could hear over the dealing cards was fragments of Max and Liz going over the same spiel at their own tables.

Alex picked up his cards -- two red kings and three aces. "Your bid first," he softly prompted Michael.

* * * *


Isabel bid Tyzicha somewhat naively, Alex thought, but she was having enough luck tonight to win despite that, and was making a serious drive for the 501 point game Alex had stipulated. Michael played cards the same way he apparently approached everything in his life - with an overconfident, full-barrel run, heedless of the consequences. He was in the hole for a hundred thirty five, leaving Alex with no more likely fate than to end up in between them.

Of course, none of them were really paying all their attention to the game. Alex told the others about the gizmo he had touched and the dreams and flashes he had had. Isabel lent supportive attention, while Mchael was obviously holding back a doubtful scoff - though that was exchanged for a serious look when Alex explained how he had drawn the incubation pods from his memory flash, sight unseen. Alex finished up by asking Michael if he still had a copy of River dog's map, and if he could repeat what he had done to line it up with real Roswell.

"Sure, I guess," Michael replied, throwing out an ace lead and getting soundly trumped by Isabel. "I'm pretty sure I could do it again. Where there's a copy of the map is harder, but I'm sure one of us has it."

"That's what we thought about the book," Isabel muttered forebodingly, but didn't press the issue. Over the next deal, as the queen of hearts drove home her victory, Alex shared the hypothesis that the mysterious 'Skins' might be behind the assault on Liz at the party, with intent to force Max to expose himself for payback. (It took a little effort to avoid blowing his own horn over preventing that, but Alex didn't even mention it. Let Max take the credit.)

"Wouldn't be surprised," Michael muttered while surrendering the ten of spades to Isabel's offensive. "Better be on the watch for something more overt. Pretty soon they're gonna decide that these subtle ploys aren't getting the job done."

Before Alex could answer, Isabel raked in the last trick and turned her captured cards over, counting them at a glance. "That makes five-ten. What now?"

From across the room Max launched into the pre-arranged spiel. "Tables two and three, last hand. Once this deal is over, we switch tables. Winners together, losers together, in-betweeners together. Alright?"

So after a few minutes, Alex drew up a chair at the middle table, with fellow 'in-betweeners' Maria and Kyle. "So, any questions?" he asked as the sherriff's son dealt the cards. This could take a while.

* * * *

Later on that night, a procession made its disordely way up the Whitman steps, and... (more or less,) out the door.

"May I offer you a ride home, Miss Parker?" Max offered, half-bowing gallantly at her.

"Why certainly, Mister Evans. What a generous offer for you to make!" Liz couldn't hide her smile as she let Max lead her off to the driveway.

Maria and Michael made a big production of getting their jackets put on, neither of them able to look each other in the eye. They stepped towards the door at the same moment, each backed off and waved the other through with the same motion, and blurted out in unison, "We need to talk."

There was a tense pause. "Okay, we'll talk. Where and when?" Maria asked.

"Um... tommorow won't be much good, with the stupid Whittaker thing," Michael decided. "How about Monday? You can come over to my place after school."

"Monday?!" Obviously, this wasn't sitting particularly well with Maria. "Whatever." She stormed off, leaving Michael to shrug his usual 'What did I do now?' shrugs and stroll out the door himself, going the opposite way from Maria and wandering down to the driveway.

Jim valenti checked his watch. "I'm gonna need to swing by the station to take care of something," he announced out loud. "Tess, Kyle, can I drop you off at home first?"

"I'm taking a walk," Kyle groused, suiting action to word.

"Me too," Tess declared, storming off right after Kyle. The sherriff shrugged and headed down to his truck.

That left Isabel and Alex. "I should probably... go with Michael," Isabel muttered. "He's waiting down at my car."

Alex laughed softly. "Yeah, that's okay."

Is looked up into his eyes. "Alex, do you wanna... meet me for lunch tomorrow? Just to spend a little time together, maybe talk about things??"

Alex's smile grew even wider. "Yeah, Isabel, I'd like that."

Isabel smiled back. "Okay, I'll call you." She shook Alex's hand formally, and then in a rush of impulse, leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek. Then she was gone. Alex leaned out the door to watch the girl of his dreams running down to her car, letting Michael in, and driving away. He stayed out there a little while, just enjoying the moment.

He didn't notice the person lost in shadow on the other side of his street, the one who had been carefully watching that door ever since Max Evans and Liz Parker had come up the stairs. Now he faded back into greater darkness, the purposes to his observation complete. He knew what the next move would be, and where, and when.

It wasn't until he had passed through a long alleyway all alone that the mysterious eavesdropper stepped into streetlight bright enough to reveal his face - a face that the human world knew as 'Steven Banks.'

Steve wasted no time as he got into his '98 Viper and drove away.


-------------------------------------------------------

To be continued...

Send feedback.

Go back to the Roswell stories main page.
posted on 19-Oct-2001 11:23:33 PM
Thanks for the replies, those of you who have commented. Okay, I'm trying not to be feedback-needy, but... well, forget it. I NEED FEEDBACK! :-D I have to put some things in perspective before I get started with part 3.

So can anybody help me out here. ;-)
posted on 22-Oct-2001 10:00:30 AM
Just to clarify:

a) The card games ploy was never really meant to fool their enemies so much. It's more to satisfy their familes and human authorities that these kids aren't 'up to no good all the time.'

b) Michael, I think wants to talk to Maria, (he said it at the same time she did remember,) but he's also scared. Pushing Maria away is a defensive reaction for him. (Poor boy.)
posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:34:30 PM
Homecoming Section 3a: The Sarabande (first half)
by Chris Kenworthy

(Reposting because this got wiped out with the database snafu. :-( )

All usual disclaimers apply

A hand waved at them from Michael's apartment soon after the limo pulled up on the street below. About a minute later, Michael Guerin himself apppeared at the building door, dressed up to the nines in a powder blue tuxedo, strutting down the walk for all that he was worth.

Michael opened the limo door and looked inside. "What, no girls?! Don't tell me I wasted that walk on the two of you!!"

Max laughed as Michael climbed into the car in a huff, and Alex smiled at him sypathetically. "You know how it is, man. Schedule permitting, the girls get to make the big dramatic entrance while the guys are watching, not the other way around." Michael smiled a bit at that. "We're picking Maria up next." The smile broadened.

Max gave the limo driver the address, and the three guys leaned back on the plush leather seats. "So..." Michael muttered after a few moments, when the awkward silence was getting uncomfortable.

"Alex and I were taking a trip down memory lane," Max volunteered. "The Banks party, first parlour games club, stuff like that."

Michael nodded with an interested smile. "Right. So I guess the next stop was my trial by fire, right?"

Alex cast his mind back. "Well... almost, man. Almost next."

* * * *

Alex fidgeted nervously with his water glass for what felt like the nine hundredth time. From the window booth he had asked for at the Olde Towne cafe, the bright Roswell sunshine was streaming in past his shoulder and onto the table, and he had a great view of the interior of the ritzy coffehouse. But he wasn't seeing the one person he wanted to see.

"Hey." As if to mock Alex for his doubt, when he turned and looked up, there was Isabel. "Where did... how did you get in without me spotting you?" he blurted out. For a second he imagined Isabel using molecular manipulation to move the wall aside and create a passageway, but the picture of Isabel using her powers so openly was hardly believable.

"Fire door," Isabel pointed out. "It's never kept locked. I didn't mean to startle you, Alex, it was just the nearest way to come in."

Alex nodded in a gesture of comprehension and felt the familiar 'Isabel grin' grow on his face. She was dressed very formally - a silk, cream-colored dress with a green holly pattern, a matching off-white sweater overtop, and her blonde hair pinned up. For a second, Alex was embarassed for having come slightly underdressed in just a casual shirt and slacks, and then realized that Isabel had probaby come from church.

"So, how are you, Isabel?" he asked conversationally.

"Do you know what we're doing here?" Is blurted out all of a sudden.

Alex blinked in surprise and stalled for time while he evaluated the question. "I thought we were having lunch here."

Isabel waved that away with an impatient gesture. "Bigger picture. What are we doing here together, in a relationship sense? Are we just friends, are we hooking back up?? Because..." she sighed, and Alex could sense a great weariness in that exhalation, "I'm getting really tired of trying to figure it out."

Alex thought hard about how to reply to this. On the surface, Isabel seemed to be leaving him a perfect opening to define their relationship - but some deep instinct told him that if he reached to far right now, he could scare her off again. "S-somewhere in between?" he blurted out. "I mean, I don't feel as if we're 'hooking up' or getting together right at this moment. But I'm sure that the way I feel about you goes deeper than 'just friends,' Isabel. And I don't think you could say it's only friendship for you either."

He looked over at Isabel, wondering how she would reply to that. The way it had all come out, if she *did* say 'No, just friends, that's all I feel,' Alex wouldn't have anywhere to go from there. But after a few long seconds of thought, Isabel nodded. "You're right, I can't say... that." She smiled. "But I'm still scared of what... the other thing might mean."

"So let's take it really slow," Alex offered, with a smile, and taking a sip of his water. "So, Isabel Evans, how has your day been so far?"

Is laughed softly. "Pretty good. I just came from church with my folks. Nice service today."

"Ah," Alex replied. "I was wondering... was worried I was underdressed here for a moment."

"Well, you are," Is told him matter-of-factly. "But I'll let it go just this once."

"Underdressed?" Alex repeated, this time with a trace of indignation. "For what? I mean, if this isn't even a date..."

"Underdressed for a Sunday lunch..." Isabel began, but right then the waitress cleared her throat and asked if she could take their orders.

* * * *

"S... so," Alex forced himself as they strolled down Rogers street through the sparse sunday afternoon crowds. "Um, how about doing something like this again soon. Only somewhat more date-ey?"

Isabel laughed her melodious laugh and smiled up at him. "Sure. When do you want it??"

"Umm..." Caught by surprise, Alex felt his mind blanking. "When, umm, when is good for you?"

"Well, looks like I won't be too available tomorrow night," Isabel decided weightly, "so how about Tuesday?" A pause. "We - we can finally go see a movie together. 'X-men' is on at the two-dollar house, I never did get to see that."

Alex smiled back. "It sounds amazing. But... well, uh, what's tomorrow night?"

Is looked at him for a second as if he was slow. "Michael's big discussion with Maria, remember? Trust me, *none* of us will be having a good evening tomorrow."

Alex shook his head. "C'mon, Is, it won't be *that* bad."

"It's Michael," Isabel reiterated. "And Maria. Discussing the future of their relationship. It's doomed."

Alex blinked in surprise. "I never knew you felt that way."

"I'm not saying 'Michael and Maria' are doomed," Isabel quickly qualified. "I wish them all the best together, and they've got a shot. But talking - especially talking about their relationship -- that's where Michael and Maria always go wrong. They should just keep quiet and see where that gets them..."

At that point, Isabel's somewhat giddy soapbox ramble was cut short, because suddenly a short, striking figure slipped through the nearest promenaders to stand right in Alex and Isabel's path. "You've got to help me!" she announced in a voice that wasn't particularly loud but undeniably intense.

Alex was so surprised that it was actually half a second after she had finished speaking that he actually recognized the person addressing him was Liz. "Oh, no," he whispered. "Alien attack?"

"Worse," Liz confided.

"What could possibly be worse?" Isabel murmured discretely, drawing Liz beside her and leading both Liz and Alex on down the sidewalk, presumably to avoid attracking attention as a obstacle to foot traffic.

"It is precisely..." Liz checked her watch ceremonially, "twenty-three minutes before Michael is supposed to pick me up for dinner and we are freakin' out!!"

"We?" Alex repeated, looking back and forth as if expecting Michael to wave hello.

"I was on the phone with him just before I came to find you guys," Liz explained. "I mean... think about it a second. It's me and Michael. Michael and I. Having to pretend for an entire evening that we are, or at least were, girlfriend and boyfriend. For not only the benefit of Congresswoman Whittaker, but *my parents!*" Liz wilted visibly with that last.

"Okay, listen up." Isabel pulled slightly harder on Liz's arm, swinging the younger girl about slightly, and looked straight into her eyes. "Michael should never have opened his big mouth and gotten you into this. But he did, and we can't change that now. You have to follow through, or we're going to have a very powerful and very rich lady asking even MORE questions about us, which is the one thing we don't need. Can you do it?"

"Yes," Liz mumbled softly, then smiled up at Isabel and Alex. "Yeah, of course I can, I know I have to. It's just... I know I could do with a bit of a non-pep talk. Something to keep me from getting nerves, until the moment when I'm 'on.' And I know Michael could use... something. I dunno. But anyways, that's why I came looking for you guys."

A little light bulb went on above Alex's head. "I go with you, Is heads over to Michael's?"

"Pretty much, yeah." Liz looked Isabel in the eyes. "You don't object *too* much to the fact that I brought your special afternoon together to a pretty much crashing halt, do you?"

Isabel took a sidelong glance at Alex. "No. Not *too* much." With a wink, she disengaged and quickly took her bearings for Michael's apartment. "Call me tonight?"

"Sure," Liz called back, giggling. Alex shook his head at Liz's joke and nodded agreement to Iz, who smiled brilliantly back and then took off.

"So..." Alex thought about what to say as he and Liz, by unspoken agreement, began slowly walking back in the direction of the Crashdown. "I'm 'distraction guy,' am I?"

"You know what I mean," Liz chided, swatting his side softly with tender fingers. "Being around you helps me to feel like everything is normal. I like that about you."

"That's funny," Alex said with a soft chuckle. "Because, Liz Parker, being around you helps me to feel like nothing is normal, and I like that about *you*."

Liz laughed out loud. "So... all non-normalness aside, what's new?"

Alex stifled a sardonic laugh, but Liz caught it and glared up at him. "What was that for?"

"I was just remembering the last time you asked me 'all aside, what's new?'" Alex explained. "As I recall, the topic that came to mind was the Banks' house party, and we all know how normal *that* ended up." A slight pause. "I mean, I get the general idea at least."

Liz giggled. "Alex Charles Whitman, are you asking me what happened that night that you DIDN'T know about?"

"If, um..." Alex stammered, blushing. "If it's appropriate distraction guy material. I mean, I'm not really sure what I'm doing here, aside from getting your mind off - stuff." Had Alex covered up that gap quickly enough to keep Liz from getting her mind on what she was supposed to be getting her mind off? He couldn't be sure.

"Hmm..." Liz seemed to be thinking, and Alex couldn't tell about what. "Yeah, I'd say that would be okay. Should help me method 'happy happy girl' mode, at least." Liz plastered an impossibly wide grin across her face for a second. "Okay, well, you were there when it all started - that guy trying to manhandle me in Courtney Banks' second floor hallway, right?"

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "Just out of curiosity, how did you find yourself in that situation anyway? I mean... don't feel you have to furnish upsetting details, but..."

"Oh, don't worry, I won't," Liz assured him with a breezy smile and a wink. "Well... I got knocked in the pool, as you might remember, and Courtney took me up to her room to get changed. By the time I was done, she had left, and I bumped into that jerk on the way out. He was more than a little drunk, and feeling friendly, and I wasn't quite sure how to tell him no and make him understand. Then... well, that's about when you two guys came in."

"Interesting," Alex said, filing away the tidbit in his mind. He'd shared his suspicions with Max that the whole incident had been staged to anger Max into using his powers to attack the drunk guy in front of witnesses. But he didn't feel ready to tell that theory to Liz - not right now anyway, while she was already feeling nervous about the Whittaker thing. "So, that was when it all started?" he prompted.

Liz picked up the cue. "I was scared and there, riding up in the nick of time, (as it were,) was Max. Everything I feel for him, everything I'd been trying to deny all summer... I couldn't argue with it anymore. I felt this desperate need to talk to Max about it, to tell him I still loved him and still wanted to be with him, but it just *so* obviously wasn't the right time, with everyone staring, and Steve and Courtney arguing over how that guy got invited in the first place. Max led me away, we found Maria and Michael, you looked for Isabel but couldn't find her right away, and we all crowded into the Jeep and took off, and still Max and I weren't really talking. It was like each of us was waiting for the other to say something, but neither of us wanted to say what was on our mind in front of... well, you guys."

"Okay," Alex said reassuringly, as Liz led the way into the Crashdown. He knew he had asked for this story, but somehow the 'max and I' this and 'each of us' that was getting on his nerves. Maybe it was because to Liz it was all *Max* 'riding to the rescue.' Alex had been there. Alex had saved the day by keeping Max from blasting that guy with telekinesis, and Alex had been the one to grapple with the drunken freshman while Max got to check and make sure that Liz was all right. **Let it go Alex, it doesn't matter.**

"So finally, we jump at a chance for a moment alone, talking out on my balcony while you guys hang out down here in the diner, and..."

As Liz got into the tale, while climbing up the Crashdown stairs, Alex let go of his petty resentments and listened avidly. One thing Liz had always been good at was spinning a good yarn, whether it was based on real life or made up. Even back when they were pre-teens, swapping ghost stories around a desert campfire, Alex had thought that Liz was destined to be a best-selling novelist...

* * * *

"Hey," Liz repeated for about the sixth time as Max followed her over the windowsill and out onto the fire escape balcony outside her room. "Thank you, Max, for ev--"

"You've thanked me alredy," Max said, "several times. I think it's enough."

"For *everything,*" Liz continued. "I'm not talking about just tonight this time. Thank you for... for having patience with me, for staying my friend while I tried to work out what was what."

Max froze, looking across at her. "Does... does this mean you've come to some sort of a decision tonight? Something different than what you've been repeating at me every time I tried to talk about us for the last few weeks."

"I..." Liz took a deep breath. "I think maybe so." She looked out at the city spreading beneath them, then turned back to the face of the young man she loved. "D-do... do you think your destiny -- and our love, can go together, Max?"

"I d..." Max started, and then the frown that instinctively crossed Liz's face as she realized Max was falling back on one of his own 'broken record' phrases cut off the 'I don't care about my destiny.' Obviously, *Liz* cared about his destiny.

There was a pregnant pause, as Max looked over the events and revelations of the last five months in the light of what he'd just realized about Liz's priorities. "Yes... yes, I think I do. My destiny is a mission, Liz - to do what I can, and help my people. If we can ever figure out a way. Nothing more than that. It doesn't have anything to do with you and me. Or me and Tess."

"How can we be sure about that, Max?" Liz railed. "We're not who we choose to be. The last few months have made that crashingly clear to me. I can't just go against what's inside of me, the life I've led for sixteen years, and decide I'm something new. Neither can you."

"No, I guess I can't," Max agreed. "But what you don't seem to get is that that young alien king who lived and died so long ago... and who I still know next to nothing about... he might be a part of me, but he's not the definitive *ME*. He can't be. I have new..." Max held out his hand toward Liz, as if in demonstration. "I have new DNA, human DNA, that makes me at least half human. I have a new heritage, from growing up with human parents, in a human community, which has shaped me in ways I don't even know..."

"Max..." Liz said, trying to stop the gush of heartfelt words flowing out of Max, but there was no stemming the tide.

"What I *know*... is this," Max continued. "Deep down, I'm still the same person as that little kid who only vaguely understood that he was different, but was scared to death of his first day at school, until he saw a pretty girl who smiled back at him, and made him realize there were some things he never needed to be afraid of. And I'm still that lonely freshman who thought that no-one would accept me if they really knew what was inside, but who also knew that seeing Liz Evans at her locker was the high point of my day."

Liz was getting the drift - all too intensely. "And the young man who was hanging around in the Crashdown one day, near the end of the summer..."

"Because it was another chance to see you - maybe even speak to you if you were the one who came over to take Michael's and my order..."

"When an argument t- turned into a shooting incident--" Liz finished brokenly. "And though everything you were afraid of was screaming at you to get out of there lest the eyes of the law linger too long..."

"Not to mention Michael, screaming at me..."

"You rushed towards me, and put your hands on top of my bullet wound," Liz continued relentlessly. "Bringing up the risk of everything you were most afraid of, to save my life. Because..."

Max knew what game they were replaying now. "...Because it was you," he finished. "And, a few days later, I told you exactly what Isabel, Michael, and I had figured out about ourselves over a stretch of years," he continued softly. "When I could probably have still explained away what you'd seen, what you'd discovered." Liz caught her breath, she hadn't heard *this* before! "Because, more than anyone else in this world, for some deep and intentse reason, I wanted YOU to see the real me. Even though I was almost certain you wouldn't be able to accept me."

Liz just stared at him with an amazed comprehension written over her face."

And Max smiled weakly. "So, given all of that, is there anything inside me that that tells you we *can't* be together??"

Liz felt her own face smiling too, as all of the inner doubt and conflict she'd felt slid into a resolution. "No." And she stepped up to Max, drawing his face down to hers for a passionate kiss...

* * * *

"Liz!!" Her mother's voice called loudly from downstairs. "Michael Guerin is here!!"

"Whoops!" Liz said to Alex, cutting off her story in mid-smooch. "That's my cue, Alex. Thanks!"

Alex suddenly realized that Liz had changed while she'd been relating the blow-by-blow of her reconciliation with Max Evans, (probably from behind the closet door,) and was dressed up in a preppy white sweater, mid-to-short denim skirt, and little red sneakers, with her dark shiny hair bound up in a ponytail. She looked like a quintessential teenage sweetheart, probably the look she was going on for her fake dinner with her parents, her boss, and her fake boyfriend Michael. "You look great, Liz," he called as Liz headed out the door. "Knock 'em dead!"

There was no response.

So Alex sighed, headed out onto Liz's balcony, (recognizing as he did so that it was the scene of the intense conversation Liz had just relayed to him,) and down the ladder. He noticed Liz, Liz's mother and father, and Michael walking back out to the parking lot and getting into the Parker family car to drive out to wherever they were having the dinner with Whittaker. Michael was dressed up in a suit, very similar to -- was it the one he had gotten from the FBI special unit at the Eagle Rock base?? In any event, he looked very uncomfortable in it.

Alex's mind drifted back to that Max-and-Liz conversation as he walked the familiar streets home. As much as Alex felt for Isabel, they'd never had that kind of drama. The only think Alex could think of that even came close was that day Isabel had dragged him into the eraser room and told him she was ready for a relationship with him - starting right then. And of course, as later became quite obvious, both Isabel and Michael were overcompensating that day for the strange dreams they'd had the night before about each other.

Even at the best of times with Isabel, it was never grand and theatrical romance, but tender uncertainties and nervous approvals.

When Alex got to his house, the first thing he did was pick up the telephone and tap out a familiar number.

"Hello?" It was the voice of Diane Evans.

"Hello, Mrs. Evans, is Isabel there?"

"Um, no... is this Alex?" Alex made a wordless sound of agreement. "I'm sorry, Alex, Max left here about five minutes ago, he said he was going to pick up Isabel at Michael's apartment and they were going out for Tex-Mex. They probably just left his place."

"Oh, that's okay," Alex sighed, hanging up. Probably Max needed his sister's company more than Alex did right now, to take his mind off the fact that Liz was out to dinner with Max's best friend. And that suddenly gave Alex another idea what to do with his evening. He dialed another phone number.

"Hello?"

"I'm taking you out tonight. Get dressed up hot and be ready to have a great time."

"Alex??" Maria's voice was shocked.

"Come on," Alex pushed. "You don't have any other plans for tonight, do you?"

"I'd made a definite commitment to stay in and mope," Maria confessed, and then giggled softly. "Have you got your dad's car?"

"Not yet, but I'm gonna. Twenty minutes?"

"I'll be here." The phone line clicked off.

Alex smiled and went to find his father.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 22-Jan-2002 1:38:54 PM ]
posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:40:05 PM
Homecoming 3a (second half)

(In case anyone didn't clue in, I'm breaking these parts in half to stay within the ten-page limit, or trying to.)

All usual disclaimers apply.

"Where are we *going*, Alex??" Maria asked for the tenth time from the front passenger seat. Fortunately, this time Alex had a good answer.

"We're here." Alex slowed down and turned the steering wheel hard to the right, pulling into a parking lot. Once they had come to a complete stop in an empty space, Maria craned her head around, trying to find a name sign.

"The velvet room cafe?"

"Yeah." Alex opened his door, got out, and opened the back seat door behind him. "Hurry up, we don't have much time to get ready."

"Get ready for *what*?!" Maria grumped as she climbed out of the car herself.

Alex waited until he had taken his bass case and the binder of (hastily assembled) sheet music and closed the back door before delivering the answer. "Open mike night."

Ten minutes later, they were sitting at a table in the darkly lit, hip coffeeshop, (or 'cafe', whatever the difference was,) and arguing about songs.

"How could you not bring 'In the air tonight?'" Maria complained.

"Well, this whole thing was a little last minute," Alex argued in his own defense. "I looked for that sheet music, but couldn't find it in time. Besides, been there, done that. You've already sung that song, in public yet. Why not try something new?"

Maria shot a dark look at him. "Look, if you really want to sing 'in the air tonight,' I can back you up," Alex offered.

"No," Maria dismissed. "There's no way that song would work with just a bass. We'd need the piano player at least." She sighed loudly. "Well, out of what we've got here, I guess I'm leaning towards 'Believe.'" Alex's face quirked. "And you *hate* it."

"I don't hate it," Alex protested. "I just think it's a little... overplayed."

"You hate it."

"We can do 'believe' if you want, Maria. It's fine, I'll survive."

"No, no, it's okay. We can find something that we're both happy to do."

The MC stepped up on the stage as a twenty-something girl who had been playing an accoustic guitar and a harmonica at the same time struggled down. "Thank you, Kelly, thank you very much. And now, put your hands together for our youngest artists of the evening, Maria DeLucca and Alex Whitman!!"

Polite applause rang out from scattered tables. Alex turned to Maria and whispered "Right now??"

Maria reached into the batch of sheet music and pulled out a sheaf of papers at random. She brandished the title at him. "Can you live with this?"

Alex blinked in surprise. "Uh... yeah."

"Then off we go." Maria got up and headed over to the house pianist to give him one copy of the sheet music, while Alex set up his bass guitar and plugged it onto a microphone connected with the cafe's sound system.

All too quickly, the pianist was starting off the harmonic line, and Alex began strumming the bass chord. Maria turned to Alex for one silent 'ACKK' of fright, but calmed down when Alex nodded supportively at her, enough to begin singing.

On a september afternoon, in nineteen sixty-one
A baby girl's first cry rang out, a new life had begun
Her mother wrapped her in her arms, and she kissed the tiny brow
She said 'darling I'm just as scared as you, but I promise you somehow:'

She was doing great. Alex started to adjust his chording, ever so slightly, off of the book chording given on the notation, to support Maria's unique voice, as she went into the chorus.

"I will take care of you,
The very best that I can
With all of the love, here in my heart,
And all of the strength in my hands.

Your every joy I'll share,
For every fear I'll be there,
My whole life through...
I will take care of you."

Maria fell silent as the noted instrumental before verse two began, but she was smiling with an inner joy that Alex hadn't seen in too long. This was what he loved about music, the harmonies, the way simple pieces joined together to become a piece of incredible beauty.

On a september afternoon, in nineteen eighty-five,
That little girl had grown into a beautiful young bride.
And she, turned to the man who held her hand, in front of the waiting crowd.
They smiled at each other as they spoke, and this was the wedding vow:

Alex joined in, softly but surely, as if the groom speaking alongside Maria's imaginary 'bride':

"I will take care of you,
The very best that I can.
With all of the love, here in my heart,
And all of the strength in my hands.

Your every joy I'll share,
For every fear I'll be there,
My whole life through...
I will take care of you."

As the second chorus drew to a close, Alex signalled Maria imperatively. The bridge, the most challenging and rewarding part of the song, the real business, started immediately after the refrain was done. She couldn't miss this.

On a september afternoon, in nineteen eighty-nine,
Girl waiting by a hospital bed, never leaving her mother's side
She said: 'Mama, why don't you close your eyes, try to get some rest.

Maria was singing incredibly, with more power and flair than Alex had known she was capable of yet. He almost forgot to keep strumming, what he really wanted to do was be able to sit and just listen to her. No, on second thought Alex wouldn't miss active participation for the ability to sit and listen passively, if more carefully. Not this time, perhaps another night.

It's my turn to take care of you: I learned from the best.
I will take care of you!!'

Alex played a bit more boldly and strongly himself in the short instrumental here, trying to live up to Maria's performance.

With all of the love, here in my heart,
And all of the strength in my hands.

**And now, wind down as the life of the girl in the song turns full circle:**

On a september afternoon, in nineteen ninety-one,
A baby girl's first cries rang ouy,
A new life --
...had begun.

Cheers and applause rang out loudly from the cafe's audience as Alex and Maria bowed and returned to their seats.

* * * *

Jeff Anthony Parker. Michael Guerin. Nancy Cameron Parker. Vanessa Kingsley Whittaker. Elizabeth June Parker.

The five of them looked at each other awkwardly over one of the best tables at 'La maison Riviera.'

"Umm..." Liz hmmed, obviously looking for something to say to put the latest uncomfortable silence behind them. "Uhh, anyone for desert?"

"Fine idea," Whittaker agreed after a second. "Garcon?" That was called out to a waiter twelve feet away (and who had been going over to take someone else's order, though that didn't seem to bother Whittaker.) "The dessert cart, 'tout de suite,' and a snifter of cognac." She turned to Liz's parents. "Jeff? Nancy?? Anything from the bar?"

Nancy Parker demurred with an automatic shake of her head. Jeff got as far as "n-" ad then apparently shrugged his shoulders with a 'what the heck' shrug. "Brandy Alexander."

Vanessa Whittaker turned to add the drink to her order, only to find that the poor waiter, (A roswellite who Michael vaguely recognized as having been a senior in the high school when he was a freshman, and who apparently wasn't very good at faking the standard french/italian accent required at this restaurant,) had already disappeared. Vanessa shrugged, and nodded apologetically at Mister Parker, as if to say 'I'll remember to tell the boy when he comes by with the dessert tray.'

Vanessa and Nancy started talking lazily about the business climate in Roswell, boring Michael totally, and soon enough Pierre (Pete) the waiter did indeed come by with the dessert tray.

Liz couldn't make up her mind what to order at first, and she examined the selection available as others made their picks.

Her attention was drawn to one particular confection - it looked like a scuplted chunk of ice cream with a pale pink tint. The weird thing was, it was surrounded by a webbing of stringy white fibers - presumably icing or something. But the overall effect was eerie. Where had Liz seen something like that?

It hit her suddenly. Michael - after he had gotten sick in the Indian sweatlodge. Pale pink skin, white fibers covering his body everywhere...

Michael leaned over, faking his solicitous boyfriend mode as he had been all evening. "Ooh, I think my little sweetpea has made her choice." He reached out and put the dish in question in front of Liz on the table. "Eat up."

It was too much. The suggestion of actually *eating* this dish after Liz had made the mental connection was too revolting. "Uhh... uhh -- excuse me," she managed to mutter, and left the table in a hurry, making good time for the ladies' room.

"Uhhh... whoops," Michael muttered lamely. For some reason, all he could think of were the old movies where verybody guesses that the girl is pregnant because she runs out of the room and throws up every time she smells a certain food.

Michael was pretty sure that Liz wasn't *really* pregnant, though he didn't have any clue what was going on. But if the PARKERS got the idea that their darling daughter was knocked up, then Michael was stuck in the prime suspect's seat. Not good. Time for some damage control.

"Umm... I hope that Liz is feeling okay. She mentioned her stomach felt a little queasy this afternoon." Silent pause. "Would you like to try some of the raspberry sherbert, Mrs. Parker? It's incredible.

By the time Liz had gotten her stomach nerves back under control and her dramatic courage at a sufficiently high level, everyone else was ready to leave, and Liz was in no mood to argue. Whittaker left from the restaurant, her parents dropped Michael off outside his apartment, (with a goodbye handshake from Liz that she hoped didn't seem weird or 'obviously hiding too much' to her parents.)

It was after Liz was in bed and asleep that Liz heard her parents talking...

Her dad: "I don't understand what you're so upset about, Nancy."

Her mom: "I've heard Maria talking about Michael - and *to* Michael, when she's on shift. She's crazy about him. And I did *not* bring up Liz to be the kind of girl who steals her best friend's man!!"

* * * *

Alex walked into West Roswell High the next day on a natural high. Why not? Isabel had agreed that they were on their way 'back', and he'd turned a best friend's night of prospective moping into an incredible experience in dream fufillment.

Maria and Alex had done three numbers in all at the Velvet Room, each to a chorus of applause that beat the average, Alex thought. "Have to try that again..." Alex whispered to himself.

Over at Liz's locker, Liz and Maria were discussing Liz and Michael's dinner loud enough for Alex to overhear as he approached. "Anyways, so Michael decided to order for me, but..."

"He ordered for you?!"

"Well yeah, but you're missing the point. What he actually said to the waiter was..."

"Liz, I don't care. Michael has never even *tried* to order for me!!"

Alex chose this moment to stop eavesdropping and make his entrance. "Sorry to cut off the gab session, lovey ladies, but do you really think this is something you should be talking about in the high school proper?" Alex waved his hand around to demonstrate. There were a number of other students who had been close enough to hear what Liz and Maria had been saying. Possibly none of them had cared to pay attention or realized anything out of the ordinary about the conversation, but the message was clear.

There was an awkward silence for a few seconds, as Liz finished getting her books out her locker, and then Maria changed the subject. "Liz, you'll never guess what Alex and I did last night!!"

Liz grinned. "No, you're right, I won't, so you'd better tell me."

"He dragged me to an open mike night at a swanky coffeehouse called the Velvet Room. You should!ve heard the way people were chhering when I finished with 'I will take care of you.' They were cheering, right Alex?"

"Truthfully they were," Alex agreed.

"Oh, *wow*!! You guys have *got* to let me come along and watch... er, listen next time," Liz decided.

"On one condition," Alex teased her. "You have to sing a number yourself. No non-performers allowed."

"Now, that's not fair," Liz protested. "I'm not a musician like the two of you are. I'd just embarass us all..."

The negotiations continued on as three old friends made their way to trig class.

* * * *

Alex's third period course was history, which meant Isabel. She was in that class too, and none of the rest of Alex's friends were... well, unless you counted Tess, which Alex had to admit he usually didn't.

Just seeing Iz put a thrill through Alex's spine as he remembered their afternoon yesterday, and he wished that Mrs. Glenson didn't insist on strict adherence to the seating chart so that he could sit next to her. Unfortunately Alex's seat was in the middle of the right side of the room, while Isabel was one row ahead and two spots to the left of him.

Well, desperate situations called for desperate measures. As Mrs. Glenson droned on about the Reconstruction period, Alex tore a piece of his notebook off. Now, what to write? Feeling a little low on inspiration, he settled for 'Hey, beautiful. Didn't I see you yesterday at the Olde Towne? A.W.' Folding his missive in quarters, Alex palmed it off to Bob Reeger in the seat next to him, hoping that he was showing the correct technique. Passing notes in the middle of class wasn't exactly Alex's scene, but he knew it was too easy to get caught, and Alex really didn't feel like public humiliation today.

Bob took the note very smoothly, without even looking at Alex. *He* obviously have a lot of experience with this. Unfortunately, not looking meant that Bob didn't realize that Alex was discretely pointing over at Isabel. He started to open the note up. Alex swung his foot into Bob's desk leg.

That got his attention; Bob looked over at Alex in shock and finally noticed the pointing. He folded the note up again and passed it forwards, tapping it on Trudy's left elbow and then holding it out while Trudy made a similar no-looking pickup to Bob's own style. From there, the note ended up right in the middle of Isabel's desk, and she opened it up, smiled faintly, looked around to find Alex looking over at her, and grinned quickly at him before going and writing a note of her own.

Isabel tore the note out of her notepaper after she had finished writing it, and passed it back to Trudy behind Trudy's chair. Trudy tossed it across onto the corner of Alex's desk. 'No, I don't think I recognize you. Wish I did, though - you're cute!' A big grinny-face completed the flirtacious note.

Ice broken, mission accomplished. Alex tried a second note on a different tack. 'How was Tex-Mex with Max last night?'

Now... what was the trick here? It seemed that the delivery method encoded instructions for the further routing of the note. But Alex didn't know the code. So, trusting to faith and avoiding Bob because of the prior mixum, Alex leaned forward and tapped Trudy on the shoulder with his new note, hoping that she'd realize to give it back the way she got the one from Isabel. She did, but not before writing a little something on the folded-up front for Isabel.

Iz blushed when she read what Trudy had written, and just laughed a tiny bit when she got to Alex's attempt at written small talk. Back came a new note, from Trudy to Bob. Bob, apparently curious now, tried to open up this note too, but Isabel was watching. Her gorgeous eyes narrowed, and the note flipped back shut again, Bob rubbing his finger as if it had been stung.

This note read 'Is that all you want to ask me, Alex? ;-)' A postscript noted how Alex should pass the note to Brynn Malley, sitting in front of him, so that Brynn would know to pass it across to Isabel. Alex could barely stifle his laugh.

Mrs. Glenson was starting to suspect that something was up now, but Alex couldn't resist following up on Isabel's invitation. Part of what had been so great about the night before with Maria had been acting spontaneous and decisive, so he decided to be spontaneous and decisive with Isabel. 'Meet me in the west foyer after seventh period. We're cutting class.'

Isabel stared back at Alex in surprise once she'd read his words, but she nodded yes.

* * * *

Sure enough, at a quarter to three that afternoon Isabel was waiting for him around the corner from the languages room, just inside the big double doors. "So, we're cutting class, are we?"

Alex smiled broadly, making sure that no teachers or vice-principals were around. "Yup."

"And exactly what are we doing while we're playing hooky?"

Alex smiled. "Well, I was thinking of a little bit of hiking down in the park. That's romantic, right?"

Isabel made a face. "Hiking? I don't go in for hiking much, Alex. Too sweaty. And this shirt is silk, you know."

Alex shook his head, smiling. "It doesn't *have* to be sweaty. It depends on how slow you go."

Isabel grinned at that. "Are you sure you want to be going *slower*, Alex?"

"I'm just talking about walking, Iz."

"Okay, if you're in then I'm in. Let's go." Isabel led the way out of the school to the parking lot where Alex had parked. As she stepped down the stairs outside the doors, Isabel pulled a bit of paper out of her pocket and started towards the trash bin.

"Oh hey, what's that?" Alex asked her.

"Oh, just one of your notes." Isabel showed him the folded paper, and Alex noticed some writing on the outside - it was the one Trudy had jotted down a note on.

"Can I take a look at that?"

"Hmm?" Isabel blushed slightly. "Well, I guess." She handed it to him.

The note from Trudy read 'I don't think your boyfriend knows how to pass notes in class, Isabel.'

* * * *

Michael heard the knock at his apartment door. "Hang on," he muttered into the phone. "Who is it??" That was called out louder, with the cordless telephone away from his face.

"Who the pod do you think it is, Maria? You told me to come over this afternoon to talk." Obviously Maria.

"Come in," he sighed, and turned his attention back to the phone. "Hey, Max?"

Max's voice came very dimly through the connection. "Just get me anything from the fridge, Liz, I don't really care that much..."

"Is Liz there with you??" Michael called louder into the phone.

"What??" Max's voice cleared up - presumably he was bringing his receiver closer to his own face. "Yeah, she came over with me after school, why?"

"Well..." Michael turned away from the door, where Maria had just let herself in -- looking fine, like she always did. But he didn't want Maria to hear about this yet. "I just... I'm concerned about something. About Liz."

"What??" Max seemed surprised by that. "Did something go wrong last night at the dinner? Liz said everything went fine - or as good as could be expected."

"No, this has nothing to do with that. Or not really. Just... what do you know about Liz's trip to Florida?"

"Huh??? Just that she was visiting an aunt there, why??"

"See if you can find out more. I have a hunch that there might have been a guy in the picture - like the last few weeks before labor day, rebound thing. If so, the situation could be serious."

"What the hell are you talking about, Michael. Why should there have been..."

"Hey, cool lamp," Maria's voice came from out in Michael's living room.

"Hey, don't touch my stuff," Michael called, moving to where he could keep an eye on Maria but she hopefully still couldn't hear what he was saying to Max very well.

"Are you just spewing out wild and crazy theories as per usual, Michael, or do you actually have some solid reason to believe that there's some other guy inv..." Max was saying.

"Aahh!!" Maria screamed. Michael turned to stare at her again. She was holding his blue crystal desk lamp... so much for not touching his stuff. But suddenly he could see why she was screaming. Something was coming out of the lamp - like an energy field, or a vortex.

"What the hell??" he had time to demand out loud, into the phone. And then he wasn't there any more.

"Michael? Michael??" Max's voice called out tinnily from the phone's speaker into the apartment, now empty of any human (or hybrid) beings. "What's happened? What's going on?? Michael?!?"

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:41:57 PM
Homecoming Part 3b (first half)

All usual disclaimer apply

"So, what was it like, man?" Alex asked as the limo sped on towards Maria's. "Going through the vortex, I mean."

Michael thought about that a second. "Kinda like how I always imagined a luge ride would be. Without the snow and ice. Or the luge sled. And plus a *very* sudden stop at the end of the ride." Neither Alex nor Max could entirely keep from laughing. "Seriously, thoughm guys, big props. Maria and I could have been lost in there for ever if the two of you hadn't figured out how to help. And my girl, of course: Can't forget all she did to help."

"No, she wouldn't let you forget," Alex joked.

* * * *

"Liz? Liz??" Max called, still staring in shock at the phone.

"What?" Liz hurried back into the living room, a can of grape soda in each hand. "What is it, Max?"

"Either Michael is playing a very not-funny joke on me," Max decided slowly, "or something very bad has just happened." A second's pause. "I have to get over there."

Liz took a second to process all this. "Maria," she breathed. "She's going over there to have her 'talk' with Michael..."

"I think she got there already," Max told Liz softly. "If something bad's happened, she..." He couldn't finish the sentence.

"I'm coming too," Liz decided. "Grab the Jeep keys," she reccomended, pulling on her jacket.

* * * *

"Unnhhhhh," Michael groaned as he lay still, eyes closed, not knowing or caring where he had endedup, not yet remembering how he had gotten there.

"I'll agree to that, and add on an 'Oowwwww...'" Maria's voice answered woefully from nearby.

The tone of Maria's voice was what finally roused Michael into action. Scrambling up only as far as a half-crouch, he oriented on the voice and hurried over. "Maria? Maria!?" he called out, his voice rough and quavery. "Are you okay? Where does it hurt!?"

At first, Maria just moaned again, and as Michael waited for more of an answer, his vision cleared from blurry lights and colors to something approaching normal clarity, and his breath let out in a familiar sigh. Maria was *so* beautiful.

She was always beautiful, no matter what style of clothes she was wearing that week or what her hair looked like this month. Even back before sparks had started to fly between them, and Michael thought of Maria DeLucca as one of the most *annoying* people he had ever met...

Michael shook his head and cut off that line of thought. Maria wasn't wearing anything particularly unusual today... jeans, leather boots, and a slightly funky red top that tied together up behind her neck. "Aaa... all over," she whispered suddenly. "And... and especially my shoulder." She waved her right shoulder up in the air for demonstration, and winced with the pain.

"Don't do that again..." Michael whispered solicitously, scooting around to take a closer look at the shoulder in question. "Hmm..." he carefully ran a fingertip over her skin, trying to make a decision. "It doesn't look broken or sprain - you probably just bumped it the wrong way."

"Thank you so much, doctor spaceboy..." Maria muttered.

"Hssh. Hold still." Michael focused his powers carefully. He wasn't the healer specialist - that was Max. But after years with Hank, he had learned a few tricks about using molecular manipulation to fix up scrapes and such. Black eyes were still out of his league, but sprained and bumped joints were right up Michael Guerin's alley. "How does that feel?"

"Better... can you do the rest of me?"

An image of what part of Michael would *like* to do to the rest of Maria flashed through his mind. "Maybe later." He stood up and took a look around.

As if by an unspoken cue, Maria followed suit. They were standing in an alleyway. "Hey, I know this place..." Maria said, more than a little surprised. "It's the alley behind the Crashdown... except it looks different." Her face scrunched up in that cute little thinking expression she had. "How the heck did we get out here?"

"Obviously, whatever alien gizmo you set off inside the lamp sent us here," Michael reasoned.

"*I* set off... what the heck are you doing with alien gizmos in your furniture anyway..."

"I didn't know it was there..." Michael snapped. "Obviously a trap set by the Skins." Michael's mind raced for a second... how *had* he gotten that lamp in the first place? "Well, anyways, it doesn't matter. It didn't send us far enough away. I mean, we can *walk* back to my place from here. Though I wish I didn't have to."

"Well, we could go inside the cafe, to start with," Maria suggested.

"Good idea." Michael turned around, got his bearings and led his way over to the back door.

BAMM! Michael groaned, yet again, and tried to figure out what had happened. He had walked into something. The only problem was, there was nothing in front of him. "What?" He put a hand up. Sure enough, there was what seemed to be an invisible wall right in front of him, blocking off the cafe entrance.

"Michael?"

"Yeah, just a second here," Michael told Maria. "Little invisible wall issue here."

"No, not that," Maria insisted. "Look over there!"

Michael looked back at Maria, and then when she was pointing. A little girl was running down the alley towards them. Not just *any* little girl.

It was Isabel -- the way Isabel looked when she was ten. It couldn't be another girl - Michael would know her anyway.

She was running right at Maria -- didn't seem to even notice the older girl was there. "Aayhh!" And then, as Michael watched in stunned amazement, ten-year-old-Isabel ran right THROUGH Maria's body - like a hologram shot on Red Dwarf or Quantum Leap -- made a hard left turn, jogged right PAST Michael, through his invisible wall, and into the cafe. Michael rapped on the wall where Iz had gone through, but it was still completely solid.

"Uhh... Michael..." Maria said again, once she had recovered from the shock of being run through.

"Yeah, I know, something *really* weird is going on," he summarized.

"Including the fact that you aren't standing on the ground," Maria snarked. Michael blinked in shock. "Check it out." Suspecting some kind of weird Maria joke, Michael bent down to investigate. She was right. As well as his invisible wall, there was apparently an invisible floor about an inch and a half over the asphalt.

"Well... lookit that," he groaned, too surprised this time to do anything else.

* * * *

"Hello?" Max called, knocking on the door. No answer. He tried the knob. It wasn't locked, and swung in slightly.

He shared a glance at Liz, and she kinda shrugged at him, as if to say 'Well, we came all the way over here, he's not answering, so we might as well at least go in.' Max opened the door the rest of the way and walked into the rat's nest Michael called a living room.

Things were even more disorganized than usual. A blue crystal lamp was lying on the floor, in three pieces, and the phone was sitting askew on one of the chairs. Max picked it up. Still on, and the timer went back far enough... yeah, it was still 'on the hook' from when Michael had been talking to Max.' Not a good sign.

"Something bad happened here," he announced in a dark tone, and turned his attention to the lamp. The metal extension that held the light bulb and shade had broken off, and the cord looked like it was snapped, so that the blue crystal piece was now not connected to anything else. Max reached for it... and a tiny sweep of pale blue light reached up to touch his hand.

"What the heck..." Max pulled his hand back, and the blue aura streched, and strained back, and finally snapped back with an ever-so-faint sucking sound. Max moved his hand back into the area of the lamp very cautiously... and when the blue light manifested, jerked it back. The field leapt up, trying to reach him, and then fell back.

"Let me see..." Liz said, hurrying over. She picked up the lamp, and it didn't react. Max tried to touch it in Liz's hands... and jumped back as the field reached out for him.

"Speaking from a strictly scientific standpoint... that ain't right!!" Liz quipped.

Max shot her a dark look. "This is big... and in the absence of any better clue to where Michael and Maria have gone... we'd better find the others."

"Okay," Liz agreed after a second. "Should I bring the lamp or not?"

"Hmmm..." Max nerved himself... touched the lamp one more time, ready to try to do *something* if the field was harmful. But it wasn't... sort of tingly as it touched him, but not harmful in any way he could tell. Max played around with taking his fingers away from the lamp, watching the strange blue energy react, and then snapped himself free again. "Take it. I'll want to see if the others react to this thing... well, like me, or like you."

"Or both," Liz guessed. "Aliens get a reaction, plain old ordinary human beings don't."

Max smiled, hoping to convey how far Liz was from 'plain old ordinary' to him. "We'd better go. Oh... except... *one* of us should check the bedroom."

"Why?" Liz asked. Max smiled sheepishly. "Do you mean to suggest that nothing about Michael and Maria's disappearance is foul play or has anything to do with this lamp, they've just been getting it on all this time??" Liz considered that a moment. "Well, doesn't hurt to rule everything out, I suppose. I'll go and check, ya big baby."

* * * *

"Okay, let's recap," Maria's said in a tired voice. "I picked up a lamp in your apartment that apparently had an alien booby trap inside, though no-one knows how or why. It sent us to the alley behind the crashdown... but the alley behind the crashdown circa 1993. That convenience store," she pointed to a building not far away, "was torn down about four and a half years ago and used for a christmax tree lot every December. And this old truck of Mister Emerson's got junked about nine months later. On the other hand, the wodden fire escape above the cafe has been replaced with the metal, so that confirms the time period indicated by... um, well, little Isabel."

"Item two..." Maria sighed as she continued. "we appear to be holograms or something, since Isabel didn't seem to notice we were even here, and she walked right through me, but you're walking on an invisible floor and walked into an invisible wall, so *those* things are real."

"Wait a second," Michael broke in. "On Quantum Leap..."

"You watched Quantum Leap, Michael??"

"When I could." Maria smirked slightly. "Hey, it was a pretty good show, alright? Anyways... Al was projected into the past as a hologram, but really he was in some sort of a projection room, right? What if that's what we're really doing here? In some sort of projection room, so that the walls and the floor are real, but ten-year-old-Isabel, the cafe, the truck, and the convenience stores are just images projected to confuse us?"

"Hmmm..." Maria considered that. "Possible. Except who's doing the projecting?"

Michael considered. "Well, I hate to even say it, but aliens?"

"So... that would mean we're in some kind of incredibly elaborate holding tank, stocked with images that would have taken extraordinary amounts of footwork to jive with our memories?" Michael shrugged. "Well, we can test it out. Stay there." She carefully took a step away from him. "Okay... I've got another invisible wall here..." Trailing her hand against the 'wall,' Maria walked over towards the convenience store - and jumped in surprise as she came into contact with something new. "Corner here..." she walked over to the crashdown... and actually put her hand a short way into the cafe wall. "Looks like we've got a dead end here... three walls of your holding cell maybe, closing us off." She looked up into the sky. "Do you suppose we should check the ceiling for trap doors?"

Michael groaned. "That would be one hell of a royal pain, I'm thinking. Let's just verify that the ceiling is there, and then work on the fourth wall, okay?" Maria nodded, and Michael put his hands together into a foothold for Maria to step into. Maria sighed, and let him boost her up into nowhere.

He had to admit, it looked pretty weird - both of them leaning against the invisible wall, an inch and a half off the ground, boosting Maria into the sky looking for an invisible ceiling. He also had to admit Maria had a beautiful butt. "Okay, that's enough... yeah, I got ceiling here. That's... what, about nine feet up?"

Michael looked up at where Maria's arms were, and tried to judge. "Yeah, sounds abour right."

"Pretty standard... and the walls are maybe ten or eleven feet away from each other. I'd be surprised if the fourth wall was too far away." Maria got down carefully, and then a scary thought struck her pretty face. "What if they cut off the air supply?"

Michael shook his head. "Whoever *they* are, they're not going to all of this trouble just to suffocate the two of us."

Hand in hand, taking turns to check the walls, Maria and Michael headed away from the second wall Maria had found. Once they had covered twenty-five feet from where they'd 'landed,' Maria started to get nervous. "Longer than I thought it would be."

"Relax... it's just a long and narrow room. Don't worry about it."

"Okay, Mi--- yahh!!" Maria yelped, suddenly windmilling in a frantic effort to keep her balance, and Michael reached out and pulled her body into his as a reflex reaction. He couldn't help but notice how good that felt... the way Maria fit when she was nestled up against him like this...

"What... what happened?" he asked after a few seconds.

"There was... there was no floor," she answered. "Go... go and check for yourself."

Michael did... sitting down first... (the invisible 'floor' seemed to have dipped slightly below ground level... they were in somebody's backyard now. How had he not noticed that?) Sure enough, the 'floot' did not continue much past where he stood when Maria had had her episode... but it dropped down and continued on a lower level... "Stairs," he announced eventually.

"Stairs? Oh, my god. I don't like walking down stairs in the dark... but stairs underneath the ground? This is gonna be too weird."

"Come on... we've gotta try. At the least, it'll keep our minds off waiting." Actually, Michael was starting to think that this didn't seem like a holographic holding tank... but since he didn't have any clue what it *was,* he didn't mention that yet. "Hold my hand."

Maria did, as he stood up, and Michael slowly stepped down each step, testing each one carefully, sight unseen, and helping Maria down. But even he hesitated before taking the step that would bring their heads down below 'ground level.' What could possibly happen down there? Would they be suddenly plunged into total darkness?

"Just a sec..." he said, and keeping his feet firmly planted on the stair, he hunched down 'beneath.' Sure enough, absolute blackness greeted him. (How could holograph projectors create that effect, total darkness only a few inches away from bright daylight??)

"So?" Maria said when he resurfaced.

"Just a sec," Michael told her. After thinking for a second, he ducked back down and tried exerting his powers. The stairs and a straight passage beyond flared into visibility from the light Michael was generating from his right hand. Curious now, Michael stepped up a few stairs and waved his hand out in the 'daylight.' The walls and ceilings that they had felt out with so much difficulty could be dimly seen.

"Oh great, *now* he gets clever," Maria groused.

"Come on," Michael urged her. "I don't know where we are, but I don't think it's any holding tank." He seized Maria's hand and let her beneath the ground line again.

* * * *

"Where *are* they," Max growled. He and Liz were back at the Evans house, and had checked, in person or by telephone, just about every place they could think of looking for Alex or Isabel or both. Alex's house. The school gym. The crashdown. Several of Isabel's favorite hangouts. The public library.

"It's like... it's almost as if they've disappeared too," Liz commented ominously.

Max groaned. *That* thought he didn't need. Sighing, he bowed to inevitability and picked up the phone one more time, tapping out the number for Sherrif Valenti's home address.

"Bruno's Mortuary, you stab 'em we slab 'em, may I help you?"

Max recognized the voice. "Kyle??"

"Oh, great. Evans. What can I do you for?"

"Umm... I'm just trying to round up Isabel and Tess right now... have you seen..."

"Boy, got a private party in mind, Maxxie boy?" Kyle teased. "Bet Liz would love to hear about that. Well, I have no clue about your babe-alicious sister, but I'm pretty sure that our unexpected house guest is sulking in her room, this afternoon. Correction, I'd like to make that sulking in *my* room, just for the record. I can call up to her, if you'd like."

"Please," Max said, stifling a groan.

There was a call of 'Tess!! Phone call, it's Maxxie!!', a pause, and then a click on the line. "Yeah Max, what the hell is it?"

"Get off the line, Kyle," Max announced first. Click. "We gotta problem. Michael and Maria have disappeared. It looks like it could be an alien booby trap."

"And I should care... why?"

Max groaned. Tess was in a mother of all snarky moods, to be sure. "Because until we've figured out what's going on, any of us could be next?"

Sigh. "I'll be ready to go in five - just honk when you get here."

"Uhh... before you go," Max said quickly. "Any idea where Isabel might be? We've tried everywhere and there's no sign of her and Alex."

"We??" Tess' voice had a dangerous edge all of a sudden.

Max's mind raced. He had just admitted that Michael and Maria had disappeared, Isabel and Alex couldn't be found, and Kyle was over there with Tess. So the only gang member left unaccounted for was Liz. Plus, despite Liz's warnings about not making their renewed romance obvious to Tess, he didn't want to lie about it. "Well, Liz and I. So... have you seen either of them?"

"Let's see..." Tess considered, "They were in history class - passing notes and generally making spectacles out of themselves. But I don't think Isabel was in last period. Were they spotted during the rest of the school day?"

"Hmm..." Max shared a look at Liz. "I'll ask around. Five minutes, right>"

"Five minutes," Tess agreed perkily. "See you then, *Maax*..."

Max hung up the phone and turned to Liz. "Tess says Isabel wasn't in eighth period. Did you have classes with either of them today?"

Liz thought about that... "Uhh... seventh with Alex and Michael... creative writing. Alex was there the whole time... but he ran out pretty quickly once the bell rang." She thought about that, her eyes glittering prettily. "Do you think they might have blown off last class for some kind of amorous escapade?"

Max thought about what Tess had said about the note-passing. "It fits. But where would Alex have gone for something like that?"

Liz thought a little longer. "I'm not sure," she admitted, blushing. "And why the hell didn't either of them take cell phones?"

"Isabel's is in the shop," Max explained. "She wore out the connection on the 'TALK' button."

Liz giggled. "And Alex hasn't gotten one yet. Sigh."

"Well, either we'll find them or they'll show up," Max said hopefully. "Come on. We've got to swing by the Valenti's in... about three minutes."

"The Valenti's?" Liz said, as she got up and grabbed her jacket again. "Tess??"

"Center," Max said, impulsively swinging her in for a quick peck. "I know how you feel about her... but when things get tough she's... well, she can be useful. Even save the day."

Liz stared coolly at him. "Let... let's just go, okay?" Max finished uncomfortably.
posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:44:55 PM
Homecoming, part 3b (second half.)

This is the semi-new stuff. The last scene was included on a preview, (I broke the halves up differently last time,) and the last two scenes were posted to the old board and sent out on the egroup. Still, give me FEEDBACK!! :-)

All usual disclaimers apply.

"This has been so amazing," Isabel said, looking over the park one last time before heading back to Alex's car. "Thank you for inviting me along." She swung Alex up against the front passenger door and kissed him passionately, her hands wandering up and down up and down his body.

"Mmmm... it wouldn't have been any fun without you," Alex said truthfully once he could talk again.

Isabel smiled, kissed him playfully on the cheek, and stepped back. "It's so beautiful."

"Yeah... an incredible view." Isabel looked back and Alex, and sure enough he was staring right at her. Iz couldn't fight back a smile.

Alex went around to the driver's side of the car, and Isabel took the hint and got into the passenger side. Neither of them said anything as Alex started up the vehicle, and drove back along the county road into town.

"So... what's the next step?" Isabel teased him. "And when??"

"Well... um, I don't have any plans for tonight," Alex couldn't resist saying. "You??"

"Not a thing... ohh - study date for advanced english lit. Mrs. Darinsky's curriculum is a killer."

"Study date?" Alex saw his own face fall when he looked into the windshield.

"Figure of speech," Iz assured him with a merry smile. "An all-girl study group - some people I met down at the food bank."

"Okay," Alex said, a little relieved and still disappointed at the same time.

"Of course... you could come over afterwards," Isabel continued carelessly. "Just for a few minutes."

Alex looked over, and then had to wrench his eyes from her wide smile back to the road. "I'd l... What the heck??"

A Jeep was travelling towards them on the other side of Lincoln Avenue... not just any jeep, but Max's Jeep. That was obvious because Liz Parker was standing up in the front seat, waving one arm in a hugely exxagerated gesture, and apparently calling out to them. Alex hit the down control on his power window and the door creaked open enough for him to make out the words. "Pull over! Pull over!!"

Surprised, Alex did just that, slowing down and slaloming into the first parking spot that opened up in front of him... (dinging the car ahead of him in the process - hopefully there wouldn't be a dent on either of their bumpers.) Mostly, Alex was surprised that Liz had been able to recognize his dad's car from far enough away to start waving by the time Alex had seen her, and wondered what the heck this was all about anyways.

Isabel and Alex were out of the car and waiting by the time Max had pulled the Jeep around in a tight U-turn and found a parking spot that Alex had passed before he could slow down enough to even try getting in. "What's up?" Alex called out. Tess was in the backseat, and the trio hurried quickly out to meet Isabel and Alex in front of the old quarter arcade.

"Big trouble," Liz said as soon as she was close enough to talk softly and be heard. "Michael and Maria have disappeared, right out of Michael's apartment as near as we can figure it."

"We think it was Czechoslovakians," Max deadpanned. Alex smiled inside at the thought. Liz and Maria's little 'code word' to avoid saying the word alien out loud had become common knowledge among the six of them last spring, but Alex still remembered being puzzled by their references to it, especially because - as he had flung in Liz's face when he had lost temper with the routine,) it was a term that referred to a country that no longer existed. Somehow, now, that seemed to him to make it perfect for referring to people that conventional wisdom declared had never existed - aliens, little green men of the Roswell crash.

"Do you have the lamp, Liz?" Max was asking. Alex noticed that Tess hung back from all this awkwardly... as if she didn't want to be here, but couldn't quite bring herself to leave for some reason or another. In response to Max's question, Liz brought out a piece of blue crystal with a few bits and pieces sticking out of it - Alex could see how it might have at one point formed the main part of an electric lamp, but it didn't really qualify any more.

"Touch it," Tess suggested. Isabel looked surprised, but she reached out and touched her fingers to the crystal surface - and yelped as a pale blue field of light reached out to touch her fingers - she yanked her hand back, and the light stretched and snapped back.

"Don't worry, it's harmless - but weird," Max summarized. At Liz's nod, Alex tried - and had no success at eliciting the same reaction. Max and Liz were obviously expecting this - once again, it was an aliens-only thing.

Alex brought his hand back from the crystal - and suddenly staggered as a strange sensation struck him. Everything was woozy and dark for a few seconds... "Max," he muttered, trying to keep his balance until things returned to normal.

"What is it?" Max asked, suddenly concerned.

"Michael and Maria need our help. And I... I'm going to have to ask you to do something you may not want to do."

"What is it?" Max pressed. "Anything to help out, man, you know that."

"Get me back into the UFO center so I can touch the memory archive again."

Liz gasped, and Max took a step back. "Are you sure that's necessary, Alex??" he mumbled in embarassment.

"What's the big deal, Max?" Isabel asked, her voice threatening to get out of volume control. "If it might help Michael, just let Alex in and let him touch the gizmo. Personally, I thought we should try it again ever since I *found out* about all this, but you didn't seem to want to talk about it."

Max shook his head silently for a few seconds. "Brody has been really riding us all lately about security in the UFO center... which isn't the tourist trap it used to be, by the way. Brody's converted the whole place into a personal research center. Guy practically called the cops on me the *last* time I snuck inside when I wasn't supposed to be there... and he DID fire me, as you might remember. I'm pretty sure I'm still on probation, and *nobody* but Brody has keys to his office or any of the other secure locations the washer is likely to be. I could probably use my powers to unlock doors and get us around... but that would just make everything look even *more* suspicious if we're caught."

"I understand all that..." Alex said slowly. "But Max... I recognize this thingumajig..." he waved at the crystal lamp... "from a fragment of the alien memories that washer gave me. I don't know how to help Michael, or even what it does... but if I touch the washer and concentrate on the crystal, I might be able to find out. It's our only shot - unless you're willing to work in the dark when it could be Michael and Maria's lives on the line."

Max groaned. "Okay, okay... I'll take you in. But the fewer people who come inside the center, the better."

"I should come too," Tess pointed out. "If you get caught, my powers could save us all." Liz was getting that 'Tess frown' on her face and neither Max nor Isabel looked happy about it, but they couldn't deny the truth of what Tess was saying.

"Okay, let's go." Max turned to Liz and Isabel. "You two... I dunno. Go back to Michael's place and look for more clues... okay?" The two sweeties nodded. "This shouldn't take long, so we'll come over and meet you there."

Alex considered a second - and then tossed his car keys to Isabel. Liz and Isabel went back to the Taurus, while Alex and Tess followed Max to his Jeep.

Alex hoped that all this would work. Just about twenty-four hours ago he had been calling Maria up with the idea for that open mike night. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to never see her face - or Michael - again.

* * * *

Michael sighed as he and Maria walked along. Now that they were underground, and he had gotten used to illuminating the passage walls with his alien glowing hand, things were starting to seem more normal. Just like walking along your ordinary everyday underground passageway.

He watched Maria as they walked. She was so pretty, and so determined to find a way out of this, whatever the hell 'this' was. **I got her into this,** Michael thought to himself. **Just like I got her into so much danger, ever since that first time I stole the Jetta - and ended up stealing HER into the bargain. The day I first got her alone in a motel room.** Michael wanted so much to hold onto Maria, like he had once held on for deal life, to kiss her, and...

**But that's not gonna happen. You're through ruining her life, Michael Thomas Guerin. Get out of this trap and then stay as far away as you possibly can.**

**But what if she doesn't really want me out of her life??**

"Fork in the road, space-boy," Maria told him.

"What, right now?" he asked, still deep in his own thoughts. And then snapped back to reality, suddenly. The passageway they had been following diverged into two - one going mostly ahead, but bearing to the left, and seeming to stay level for a while. The other one cornered fairly sharply to the right, call it two o'clock, and seemed to be tending downward in a gentle slope. "Okay... which way do we go?" he asked out loud.

"This is your alien holding tank, buddy boy," Maria told him. "I'm just along for the ride because of a mistake. Your call."

"Okay..." Michael considered the options one more time, then chose the left branch. Both from going more nearly forward, and not taking them further down, it seemed the better bet to him, though he couldn't have explained why he thought those were better things. "Come on." He led the way along the pathway of his choice, and Maria followed along quickly.

"I'm bored, Michael," Maria announced after about half a minute. "Enough with the forging bravely on in silence, we can at least chat while we walk through this... whatever-it-is, can't we?"

Michael sighed. "If you can think of something we can 'chat' about, go right ahead and start a conversation. I'll chime right in."

"Hmmm..." That stumped Maria for a second. "We could play truth or dare."

"I don't know about you, but *I'm* nowhere near THAT bored."

"Okay, then... how about that gizmo Alex f--"

"Not that," Michael quickly disclaimed.

"What? Why not?? Are you just being difficult, Michael..."

"No." He looked around significantly. "We may be being monitored. We can't talk about anything that... well, you know."

Maria blushed. "Oh, my god... I'm so sorry. I didn't think of that. Well... okay, we got something new going on here."

They did indeed. About fifteen feet away, the ceiling was angling down, and when Michael brightened his hand, it became clear that the floor was following suit a little sooner. "Stairs," he announced. "We're heading down on this route after all."

"Is that why you picked this branch?" Maria asked. "Because it wasn't going down?" Michael shrugged. "Well, you got stairs, buddy. Go ahead." She waved him on.

Michael shrugged, walked up to the lip of the top stair, and stepped carefully down. Something weird happened.

Suddenly he was standing in the middle of a busy restaurant -- the layout looked vaguely like Senor Chao's, but the decor was totally different and the food being served looked mostly like steak and potatoes. He was supported about five inches above the floor, in a narrow aisle between two booths in the 'intimate' section, and as before, nobody was noticing him. In fact... somebody appeared out of nowhere right in front of him and took a seat, and Michael realized that he had now been walked through.

But, most importantly... "Maria?" he called out. "Where are you??" None of the steak-and-potato diners paid any attention to him.

"Michael?" the voice calling back was strong, but as Michael turned around, he couldn't see her. "I'm right here where you left me, but the light has gone out. I can touch the wall here, but... I'm scared. What happened to you?"

Something funny hit Michael when Maria said those words. "I'm scared." Since he'd known Maria DeLucca, they'd been through chases with FBI agents, alien diseases, run up against a pretty nasty shapeshifter, and faced the wrath of the law aka Sherrif Jim Valenti, She had been plenty scared when she first found out that Michael and the Evans kids were aliens in the first place, he knew. And yet he'd never heard her admit to being afraid. Simple darkness won that dubious honor - or maybe it was being alone, in the dark, on top of everything else that was going on here?

Suddenly, Michael realized that he had forgotten to keep his hand lit, in the surprise of finding himself in the restaurant. He brightened it up again, raising it high in the direction that he had gone, hoping that its light would reach Maria. "Does that help?"

"Does what help? I... I can't see what you're doing Michael."

This was confusing. The palm-light illuminated the same passageway structure that Michael remembered from underground - the tunnel leading back, the stairs just starting, Michael standing on the next step, further ones leading further down. But there was no sign of Maria. "What the..." Without even thinking about it, Michael stepped back up to the top of the stairs again.

And everything was back - the underground, and Maria - shaking slightly as she kept her hand against the corridor wall, relaxing instinctively as Michael and the light returned. "There you are, thank god! What the heck happened?"

"I... I can't really explain it," Michael admitted. "Come on... take my hand, and we'll step down onto the first stair at precisely the same time. Hopefully, that'll take us there together."

"Take us where?" Maria asked, but Michael didn't even bother answering that one. So she let Michael take her hand in his and lead her to the edge of the first stair. He waited until Maria was ready, stepped down as close to unison with her, and tightened his grip on her hand when she gave a small start of surprise.

"What the heck?" Maria was looking around the restaurant. "We're back above ground... and judging by the clothes, we're in the fifties or something." Michael looked around - he hadn't noticed the wardrobe choices before, but would have to agree that they were dated. "Michael-vision would tell us that the stairway is still going down, though. Want to try another step?"

Michael blinked in surprise. "Um... sure, fine by me." They stepped together, again... and found themselves in the air four and a half feet above a roof - the roof of the Texas steakman restaurant, to judge by the sign in the parking lot. Probably that was the restaurant they had been in. And yes... this was the same location as Senor Chao's, allowing for a lot of development getting made between 1952 and the nineties. Weird.

"What the *hell* is wrong with this place??" Maria swore suddenly, beside him. We go down, but we're up. That's not right!" She turned her fury on the sky above them. "Do you hear me?? This isn't even *FUNNY*!!"

"C'mon." Michael caught Maria's free hand in his, turning her around to face him head on. "I admit this whole thing is the mega-weird, but losing your temper with big blue up there isn't gonna help. We've got two alternatives here - we can go back and try that other fork, or we can keep going down slash up steps and see where that leads us. Which do you want to do?"

Maria scrunched up her face. "Let's keep going with the stairway, I guess." Michael nodded, let Maria's left hand go, and they stepped down one more time. Another eight or nine feet of altitude.

"Wait a sec," Maria said suddenly. "Try taking one without me." There was a pause in which Michael neither moved nor said anything. "C'mon, I know what I'm doing here. Just step down." She let go of his left hand and gestured.

Michael stepped down and looked around. Sure enough, there was Maria below him, straight down except for the few inches of forward progress represented by the stair and the two feet sideways that she had been away from him in the first place. She waved at him, then stepped down - and disappeared in mid-step, only to appear stepping *down* onto the same level as he was. Totally weird.

"Stupid place that can't even keep down and up straight," Maria grumbled. "Well, let's go, space-boy."

Michael followed, noticing idly that though the trees were bending in a stiff wind, the air that Michael felt around him was cool and calm. Weird.

* * * *

As Max approached the Jeep again he paused, considering, and then suddenly tossed the keys over to Alex. "Huh?" Alex was caught by surprise and only just managed to make the catch.

"Take the wheel," Max explained unneccesarily. "I'll need to do some prep work." He pulled out his cell phone and swung into the front passenger seat.

Tess pouted and unhappily climbed back into the back seat. Alex walked around and got into the driver's seat, still feeling like he was missing something. "Prep work?"

Max sighed. "We can't just assume that the UFO center is empty, ready for us to sneak in, wearing black clothes. Fortunately, I have a decent way to check the status of the premises before going in." Motioning Alex to get the car started, he began dialing.

Alex pulled out into the street and started looking for a side street by which they could turn around again and get heading in the direction of the center. Max started talking into his phone. "Hey, Brody, it's Max Evans. Just wondering if you were burning the midnight oil." A route map clicked into firm detail in Alex's mind. "Need anyone to lend a hand?" Alex carefully turned the Jeep onto Leslie street. "Well, actually Brody, to tell you the truth I've got a few friends here and I was hoping to give them a little tour of the place." Now onto Barrister, heading south towards the Crashdown Cafe and the UFO center.

"Do you remember Alex Whitman?" Max contiued into the phone. "The guy who you told to tell me I was re-hired?" Whatever Brody's answer was, it drew a laugh from Max. "Cool. And I've got another friend..." Max flicked a glance at Tess. "She's a *huge* UFO fan. Close encounters of the third kind, the whole bit." Longer response from Brody. "Okay... we're almost there. See you in a few." Max hung up the phone and grinned triumphantly at his friends. "We're in."

Tess scowled prettily at him. "Calling ahead on a top secret mission, Max?"

Alex had to differ. "It's the purloined letter bit, one last time. Hiding in plain sight. You've gotta love it." He turned into the UFO center's parking lot, which was now full of portables and 'Authorized Parking Only' signs. "We're here."

All three teens were completely silent from the moment of disembarkation as Max led them across the parking lot, opened the front door with a solitary key, and waved Alex and Tess inside the darkened interior.

Alex looked around with surprise as his eyes acclimated to the dimness. With Milton in charge, the majority of the space in the center had been 'half open' in the manner of a museum, suggesting large areas without exposing them all at once. You walked from one exhibit to another through wide passageways, creating a layout that seemed mazelike without being hard to navigate.

Things were different now. Large spaces were now completely cut off with newly constructed walls and doors with obvious locks on them, allowing free travel only through a centralized system of main passageways. It hardly seemed to be practically superior to using conventional office space for the same effect, but the overall effect somehow managed to have a mysterious cachet that was probably right up Brody Davis' alley.

Once all three of them were inside, Max closed the door behind himself, checking to make sure that the lock had caught, and once again took the lead. Two passageways later, Alex caught sight of a solid door that was older than the other, and it was to this one that Max was leading them. Brody's office, presumably.


Max knocked. No answer. He was about to knock again when a speaker buzeed into life. "Evans?"

Max was surprised, even once he'd found the little intercom down to one side of the door. "Brody?"

"Yeah, Evans... I forgot to mention this on the phone. We're... we're doing a radiographic analysis of the Fairfield metal sample. The process is... is *extremely* sensitive to light, so -- so you see, I can't open the door."

"Um, okay..." Max said, puzzled. "No biggie. Um, the keys? I still wanna give my buddied the tour."

"Whitman, my man?" Brody called out expectantly.

"Umm... right here, Mister Davis," Alex replied.

"So nice to see you again, Alex," Brody replied chattily. "You see why I like him, Evans? Alex gives me a little respect, not like the rest of you classless oafs." Max was shaking his head and grinning with only a little embarassment. "And you said you had a second friend?"

After a second's pause, Tess took her cue. "I'm Tess Harding, Mister Davis. So nice to make your acquaintance, Max has told me a little about you."

"A girl!" Brody said with mastery of the obvious. "Charmed, Tess my dear. Max, show Tess the good stuff, okay? Thomson is working in room 4, he can give you the spare keys. Tell him I said it was alright, huh?" The intercom clicked off.

Max shrugged and led the two of them through the labyrinth once more, to a room full of files wher a thirtyish man was consulting endless sheafs of paper and crossreferencing notations on an elaborate computer program. Max made the request for the keys, invoking Brody's name as e had been told to, and Thompson looked over Alex and Tess closely. Alex was dressed fairly normally in his school clothes, but Tess, Alex realized for the first time, (he had hardly had the time to worry about such details before,) was wearing a tight white tank top, pleated skirt, and black sandals with heels. She had probably been dressing up to impress Max, not realizing that Max had gotten back together with Liz because the two of them were downplaying it in public. But right now the trampy clothes made her look like some kind of wild UFO groupie.

But soon enough the master key ring was handed over and Tess could beat a retreat from Thompson's misinformed leer. Max waited until they were in a deserted section of corridor before whispering to Max, "Do you have any idea where it is?"

Alex had to think a second before shaking his head. "In the process of being moved when I first saw it, and I couldn't say to where. Even if I knew which way was which in the UFO center version two point oh."

"Okay, then we'll have to go with hunt and peck, guided by my guesstimates of Brody's sorting system," Max said, undeterred. "Over here is as good a place to start as any." He pointed to a nearby door.

They searched that room without any luck. By the time Max had brought them to a second, Tess was getting impatient, and rushed in as soon as Max had unlocked the door.

"Tess," Max groaned, hurrying in after her after pushing the door open for Alex. By the time Alex had stepped into the doorframe, it was happening.

FWOOOMM!! A blue pulse emerged from a metal shelf on the far side of the storage area, expanding into the open space and bouncing dimly off of the walls. First Tess and then Max groaned in surprise as the wave passed through their bodies. Alex didn't seem to be affected.

"Oh my god," he muttered, rushing to Max and steadying the alien boy. He had heard of the alien device that had hurt Michael and convinced Isabel that Brody was a skin. Was this it again? "Are you okay man?" he asked in a low whisper.

Max was checking as if to make sure that all his arms and legs were unbroken. "Fine, except that..."

"I can't use my powers!!" Tess stage-whispered from a few yards in front of them.

Alex thought quickly. "Okay. We might as well check this room while we're here, but as long as either of you are nearby, it might go off again, even worse or something. So Max, go out into the hallway across from the door, act as if the two of you are talking about something she finds *incredibly* fascinating. Stand watch and run interference. I'll do as thorough a search as I can in a few minutes and then come out. Kys?" Max handed them over. "Good. Go." Tess and Max both seemed uncertain about this plan, but went along with it, possibly urged on by the possibility of getting zapped again. Once the door was pulled to, Alex spread out and started looking furiously for his washer.

Nothing. He did spot the pentagon device and was briefly distracted by it... Five big symbols that might be alien letters or something else, each near one side of the device. One side was marked below the top, and Alex guessed that the top pentagon spun like a dial, allowing the unit to be 'set to' any of the five symbols. Two settings were probably power drain and the more harmful punch that Michael had taken, and one might be 'off.' What could the other two settings be for? (Alex forced himself to move on and continue searching the room, but couldn't force his mind away from speculation.) A setting for tracking? A lethal kill-setting?

If room two held the washer, it would take a more through search than Alex was willing to make with his friends forced to stay outside the room. He hurried out, locking the door, and giving the keys back to Max.

Soon they were on their way to search location number three. Alex was starting to get nervous - this seemed entirely too easy. Except for Thompson, they had seen no-one at all since they'd entered the UFO center. And talked to Brody over the intercom, of course. And whoever else had been inside Brody's office.

Alex's vivid imagination started to run away with that speculation. Anyone could have been in there with Mister Davis. What if the whole 'radiographic analysis bit had been a cover, an excuse not to open the door so that Max couldn't see who Brody was with? So instead they had all nicely introduced themselves to this mystery person, while learning nothing at all about him or her?

**Lighten up Alex man, you're getting paranoid.**

As soon as Max opened the door to the third room, he could spot the alien washer, sitting propped up on its oversize backing card, just as Alex had described it. This time, Max and Tess crowded near the door as Alex stepped inside alone, even though for all Alex could guess the chances of running into another harmful alien device in this room were practically zero. Or were they afraid of his little washer?

Alex nerved himself, reached out, and gingerly touched the tiny metal ring. ZZZZAAPP!!! The shock was even more ntense this time. (What happened to 'only on the first time?' Then again, if he expected the washer to only do something on the first time, why had he even *tried* to touch it again.)

While those thoughts were still running through Alex's head, the second phase of the change hit. Memory, self-identity, personality, character... all of those things seemed in danger of being altered. Alex fought back the forces - he couldn't afford them right now. Later, he could go over what he had received from the slug and assimilate it. He turned to Max.

"Do you wanna try touching it yourself? I'd be curious to see what happens."

Max shrugged nervously, but walked into the room, and with what seemed like more confidence, reached out to touch the disk. And yanked his finger back.

"What... what happened, Max?" Alex asked.

"I... I don't know," Max said at first. "I felt a static charge, like you said. It was like the gizmo was trying to tell me something, but bocked itself off at the last second. I guess you're the only one it'll talk t-"

"Word up!" Tess called from the door. Max and Alex froze for a second. Footsteps coming towards their room could be clearly heard. Then Max dragged Alex across the room, motioning Tess to come and join them. He was searching through a box when the footsteps arrived, Tess and Alex looking on nervously. "Evans?" It was Brody, and he opened the door wide. "What are you guys doing inhere?"

Max looked up, his face all earnest uncertainty. "Looking for the alien autopsy pictorials, Brody. You said to show Tess the good stuff, right?"

Brody gave Tess a quick once-over. "Oh. I hadn't thought that included this room, but no harm done, I suppose." His eyes swept over the room as if searching for any tiny disarray. Alex was wondering whether he and Max had left the washer card exactly as they had left it, but didn't dare look across the room for fear of attracting Brody's attention.

"Well, enjoy the tour, Tess, Alex," Brody said, and walked on. Neither of the three teens spoke or moved until his footsteps had faded away.

"Let's get the hell out of here," Max muttered in a hoarse whisper. Brody was nowhere to be seen when Alex checked the hallway. A quick trip to return the keys to a table just inside Room four, (Thompson didn't even look up,) and they were back out to the parking lot.

"So, what now, Alex?" Tess asked nervously. "Did you find out anything useful, after all that?"

To Alex's surprise, he knew the answer. He climbed into the back seat and tossed the Jeep's keys to Max. (Fair shotgun was fair, after all.) "First, Michael's place, I suppose. We need to find the girls. Isabel is the only one who can help guide Michael and Maria out of the space/time labyrinth."
posted on 23-Jan-2002 8:30:33 AM
quote:
Lelea originally wrote:
Ok here is a bump*happy* I have a question.....can the humans ie Liz maybe Alex help with recon on Steve and Courtney? Maybe some good stuff could be discovered. I only ask because Maria is helping Michael and Alex is helping with that artifact but Liz is just hanging with Max at this point. Sorry I didn't think to ask you earlier *tongue*


Hmm... interesting thought. Of course, first they have to *suspect* something about Steve and Courtney, but I wrote some of the Courtney/Max/Alex scene this morning, and I think Courtney's gonna get caught in a lie that will hopefully draw some attention her way.

As far as Liz not helping out... well, not everyone can be useful at once. Liz is the science geek, once they start getting more alien gizmo's, Liz is the one who'll have to make them work LOL. (Though that reminds me of the Larek scene in 'How the other half lives:')

LAREK: The Gandarium are a genetically engineered life form, designed to bridge the DNA and RNA sequencing during third-stage amino synthesis.
(Everyone looks to Liz for an interpretation)
LIZ: (to the others) No, uh, I’m lost too. (To Larek) Uh, it’s way over our heads. Do you mind explaining it to us in simpler terms?

Thanks for the FB!!
posted on 24-Jan-2002 2:49:53 PM
To clarify: Michael was not warning Maria against saying he was an alien, but against saying too much about Alex's 'washer.' That's a source of strategic information for the pod squad & co, and if the bad guys find out about it, they lose an element of surprise. More importantly, the skins might try to steal the washer or hurt Alex. So Michael figures the less said about it the better. *happy*

I should have some of part 3c ready to post soon!!!
posted on 29-Jan-2002 5:30:13 PM
Title: Homecoming: the sarabande. Part 3c (first half.)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'
Dedication: For my favorite feedbackers, Andrea, Fran, and Borders. :]

"Ahh... whoo!" Michael yelped, catching his balance. He had tried to step down another stair on this kooky thing, but there hadn't been a 'down' to go - or an up or whatever. He did the hand-glowy thing and confirmed it - they had reached the end of the 'down' staircase (that took them up,) and now the corridor stretched straight ahead.

"You okay there big boy?" Maria called back sassily. She was about twenty-five feet ahead of him, and if Michael had noticed that she was on the same altitude as he was, he would have known not to take that step down. "I'm just fine."

**She's been leading the way. Say what you will about fear, but Maria's been willing to go out and take the lead, even knowing that she didn't have my powers to light up the way. But that's probably just her impatient streak.**

Nevertheless, Michael hurried to catch up with Maria, letting the glow in his hand fade out as he got the hand of walking on this new level. Maria waited, letting him catch up, and then set a brisk pace. There was silence for a moment, and then Michael remarked idly "At least there isn't any 'where we thing we're going isn't where we actually go' strangeness about this corridor."

Maria looked over at him without slacking the pace. "Care to bet on that, spaceboy?"

Michael almost *did* stop in his surprise, and actually succeeded in slowing Maria down. "What do you mean??"

Maria smiled her 'just a hint of sarcasm' smile. "Well, this passageway seems to be heading... well, thataway," and she pointed ahead. "For the sake of discussion, we'll call that east. Okay?"

"Okay," Michael agreed, wondering what Maria would come up with.

"Okay, now pick out a landmark directly beneath you and track what happens to it as you walk east," Maria suggested, pointing down in demonstration. Michael had to fight a sudden siege of dizziness when he first looked down, (was Maria immune to fear of heights?) but he picked out a bushy patch of green that seemed to be almost directly underneath him. Wondering what would happen now, he stepped cautiously forward.

No immediate response. Michael stepped forward a few paces, noticing that Maria was following him as closely as she could. Wait a second... was it possible? Michael kept on walking until he was sure, then straightened up and faced Maria. "While we go east, the scenery moves south by southwest."

"You got it, failed-geography boy," Maria confirmed with a merry smile.

Ignoring the dig, Michael continued on, "And it's moving pretty quickly. I mean, we must be two miles above the ground, so I'd figure to walk a hundred and fifty feet north by northeast to get that kind of response from a landmark on the ground. Not just twenty feet east."

Maria was looking at him with something between shock and disbelief.

"Hey, I may not like teachers or school, but I'm not an idiot," Michael informed her. "The only thing that confuses me is..." Michael considered for a second. "Walk ahead of me for a bit," he suggested to Maria. "Fifteen feet or so."

Maria thought a second, then shrugged and headed off. "This better not just be so you can check out my ass, Guerin." She finished measuring off the fifteen feet and turned back around. "Well?"

Michael tried not to let his disappointment show. Nothing weird had happened yet.

Casting around for a suitable landmark, he asked "Okay, do you see the truck sittng at the side of that old dirt road?"

Maria spun around, looking. "Oh yeah, down there," she said after a moment, pointing down and to her left, Michael's right.

Now, this was weird. Based on an evaluation of the objects involved from Michael's perspective, she should be pointing the other way. Or, to express that thought the other way around. "If you see the truck at that angle, you should be way off thataway," Michael explained, throwing an arm out forward and to his right. "But I see you right in front of me. What the heck is going on here?"

Maria waved him forward, and said while waiting for him to catch up "It's *alien*, spaceboy. Don't stress over such things."

Michael wasn't ready to let it go at that. On the stairs, they stepped down and went up - relative to each other as well as the scenery. But now, in this passage, they stepped east and moved much faster north-northeast, but only in respect to the scenery, not each other. Michael could accept alien weirdness being weird, but couldn't it at least be *consistently* weird, weird in the same ways?

But he didn't bother Maria with his thoughts and for a while more they walked through the sky in silence. Suddenly Maria stopped short and grabbed Michael's arm. "Make the light."

"What?!" Michael shook his head in surprise. "What for?? We're on a stable footing here."

"I've just got a bad feeling," Maria insisted. Michael frowned. "It's been a long time since you used the light to take a look at where we were going." Michael sighed, lifted his hand, and began to concentrate on light. And then gasped in shock.

He and Maria were about nine inches away from a field of 'invisible' spikes, pointed right at them!

"Oh my god," Maria whispered, voicing pretty much what Michael was thinking himself.

Without thiking about it, he half turned to Maria and asked "You didn't expect this?"

"Well no! I half guessed we were coming up on something that might be unpleasant, like walking into a wall again or falling into a pit. But this..."

She couldn't go on any more, and broke off, shivering in belated fear. Instinctively Michael wrapped Maria in his arms to comfort her, (at the same time trying to fight down the sense of physical attraction he felt at the way Maria's body moved, even in horror.

"It's okay..." Maria's muffled voice came after a moment. "I'm okay, Michael, you can let me go."

Three or four different responses flashed through Michael's mind, but he didn't say any of them, and quickly let Maria out of the hug. "God," Maria breathed again, looking at the spikes a little more calmly. "Can you imagine walking into those?"

"Not really wanting to," Michael quipped, carefully testing the point of one of the spikes on the tip of his thumb. Oh yeah, that was sharp. He tried to push the spike. It didn't budge. Next Michael stepped back and pushed with his powers on a few of the spikes. Still no response.

"Well, what do we do now?" Maria prompted.

"We can't go forward through those," Michael started. The spikes covered the entire passageway from wall to wall, floor to ceilng. Indeed, it looked pretty much like they were attached to a dead-end wall in any case. "Here. Beside me." A little startled, Maria jogged the few steps over to where he had indicated. Once Maria was out of the way, Michael sent out a burst of force, against the invisible walls beside them and back the way they had come, checking for secret doors or something. None.

"I guess we should head back towards the fork," Michael admitted with a sigh. "This route doesn't seem promising any more."

"Okay," Maria groaed, heading off and leaving Michael once more to play catch-up.

For some reason, Michael didn't want to walk in silence again, so he opened his mouth, not sure what he was about to say.

"What did you do the day before Liz got shot?" Maria shot him a confused look. "I mean, that was the day our worlds collided, in a way, the day 'normal' became totally and completely a thing of the past - at least for you. What was your life like, a day before?"

Maria nodded, with a smile on her face, and then pondered the question. "I'm not sure if I can remember, to be honest. Well, Liz and I worked the day shift at the cafe, like we did most days late that summer. That night..." A grin lit up Maria's face. "I insisted on dragging Liz to this pool party that Becky Nander was throwing, except when we got there, it was so totally dull. So we hopped back into the Jetta..."

* * * *

"Okay," Max said as he pulled into a parking spot across the street from Michael's apartment building. Alex hadn't wanted to elaborate on what he knew on the ride over for two reasons, and Max hadn't pressed him. Reason one was that the more time he sorted all this new information through in his head, the better able Alex felt to explain it straightforwardly. Reason number two was that there was a lot to explain, and he'd rather just get into it once, like when Isabel and Liz were there too. Max, Alex, and Tess got out of the Jeep and started heading over to the building. Alex noticed his father's car down the street, a good sign that Liz and Isabel were still in the apartment.

"Max!" Max turned to see who was calling his name and saw Courtney running up the street in her Crashdown uniform. "Are you guys calling on Michael too?"

"You... you are?" Max stuttered out.

"Well, yeah." Courtney pulled to a stop in front of Max, panting and puffing. "Michael and Maria are both no-show for their shift at the Crashdown. When I called Maria's, her mom said she mentioned she might be stopping off here after school. When I called Michael, I just got a hang-up, so I thought... well, you know. That they didn't want to be disturbed. But things are really getting crazy so I decided to come over here and bang on the door until they come back." She looked up at Max. "Shall we climb up the stairs together?"

Max froze, and Alex could see why. They didn't want Courtney tagging along, but what could Max say to stop her. Finally he apparently decided to go with half the truth. "We're looking for Michael and Maria too. Liz and I were over here earlier, right after Maria was supposed to have come, and neither of them were in the apartment. Liz stayed behind... just in case Michael called home. So she's probably the one who hung up on you, I'm sorry. She's really worried." Max shrugged apologetically. "So, if we see them, we'll let them know you were looking for them, but..." Max left the obvious conclusion go unsaid.

"Um, okay..." Courtney turned to go, and then spun around to address Max again. "I know Liz used to waitress at the cafe. Do you think maybe I could come up and ask her if she could help out?" Her parents are in a really tight spot."

"I'll ask her," Max said firmly.

"Bye-bye now," Tess chimed in, making a little wavey gesture at Courtney. No-one could have missed the tactlessness in Tess's approach, but it got the job done. Courtney blushed and headed off. Alex was a little surprised that Tess hadn't committed Liz to waitressing so as to get Max 'all to herself.' Maybe there was some selflessness under that rude veneer - or maybe Tess had her own reasons. Whatever.

Soon enough, they were up in the apartment. Max and Liz smiled when they first caught sight of each other, and Alex impulsively hugged Isabel hello. After evryone had arranged themselves around the loveseat, chair, and floor of Michael's living room, Alex began his briefing.

"The signs are reasonably clear that Michael and Maria have been drawn into a space/time vortex. Tey're a strange kind of maze, where you wander through space and time, but can't really interact with it. Only the passages of the maze and the special effects inside really matter, but the scenery can be... distracting."

"I have a question, or two actually," Isabel piped up. "How and why?"

"How is that a temporal continuum tear gets embedded within a sizable pjece of Brundis crystal," Alex explained, gesturing to the lamp that Liz still held. "Even bound there with power, the tear cannot be contained when someone touches the crystal for too long. This sort of thing is routinely done on your planet as a rite of passage. A young person on the verge of adulthood will intentionall trigger the crystal and enter the labyrinth, confident in his or her ability to win through." Alex sighed.

"As far as why, I can't be sure, but it seems to me as if one of your alien enemies may have set up the tear crystal in Michael's apartment as a form of booby trap. Since he knows nothing about the space/time labyrinths and has never received formal training in the use of the power, the odds would seem to be against him ever emerging from the maze. Especially since this labyrinth would be 'wild' and not carefully proctored and monitored, as it would be for a rite of passage."

"What about Maria?" Liz put in quickly.

"Hard to say," Alex answered after a few seconds. "She could have been caught in the labyrinth by accident - that's always a risk with booby traps. Or she may be targeted for some reason we don't know about."

"When I was on the phone with Michael, right before he disappeared, I heard him telling Maria not to touch something," Max mentioned.

"So she could have been the one to trigger the labyrinth by accident, and Michael got drawn in as well," Alex theorized. "It fits." He shook his head. "Well, we don't have much time. Are there any questions at this stage before I go on?"

A few of the group shook their heads, and nobody spoke up. Alex could tell that they weren't skipping question period because they were totally clear on the space/time labyrinth, but because none of them were even up to speed enough to know what to ask. **You didn't explain it well enough.** Still, there didn't seem to be anything to gain by making his friends hang back for remedial continuum theory, he'd have to charge ahead and hope for the best.

"Okay, first. Isabel." Alex turned to face her directly, and those perfectly styled eyelids fluttered as Iz blinked in surprise. "You're the key player here. As I said, the biggest factor weighing against Michael is lack of information. He doesn't know what to expect in the labyrinth, except what he's already learned from experience in the time that he and Maria have been inside. He's going to overlook ways that he could use his powers to help himself out, and he's probably going to get blindsided by some of the dangers. Unless you can get into contact with him, and help guide him with what I've learned about the labyrinth."

Isabel's face had fallen. "Dreamwalking someone awake again?" She shook her lovely head in resignation.

"Dreamwalking is only the beginning, Isabel," Alex told her earnestly. "It's a sign, that you're mentalic - someone gifted with the talent to reach other minds. It's a rare and precious specialty of the power."

Isabel scoffed - she looked a little guilty about it afterwards, but didn't back down. "Okay, Alex," she said softly and evenly. "You tell me something about 'Mentalics.'"

Alex grimaced a little at the patronising tone in Isabel's voice, but he took her at her word. "No mentalic, no matter how well trained, how powerful, can touch conscious thoughts. They're like sparks - too hot to handle, and too quick to catch. That's why your talent first manifested as dreamwalking - there are no conscious thoughts to get in the way while someone is sleeping." He paused to let Isabel absorb that much.

"Okay." Isabel sounded confused and impatient at the same time, so Alex decided he had better move on.

"But you've already gone beyond that, Isabel," he continued. "You were able to communicate with Max while he was drugged, and you could get into Pierce's head and see a memory he was trying to repress when he was distracted. Each of these represent a step up in touching a mind that was partially conscious. You can go further, Isabel." He let her hear his desperation. "You *have* to."

After a few seconds, Isabel nodded. "I'll buy that. How?"

Alex smiled slightly. "Let's begin right here." He concentrated, knowing that he was focusing on a simple picture in his subconscious mind, without knowing *how* he did it. How far did this gizmo's influence go? "Tell me what I'm thinking of."

Isabel stared at him intently for several seconds, and then her head shook, golden strands flying everywhere. "No. I'm not getting anything."

"I think you're focusing too hard on what you think telepathy should be like," Alex guessed. "Just look at me as if you were about to dreamwalk me, and let it come."

Isabel sighed, not expecting anything to come of this either, but she relaxed - and almost jumped out of her chair. "A square! You were thinking of one of those dopey squares like in the ESP tests, right?"

Alex nodded wit pleasure, then waved to Max, Liz, and Tess, who were watching with hushed interest. "Try one of them."

Isabel turned to stare at Max with an odd expression on her face. "The first time you met Michael after that night in the desert, when you found out he went to the same junior high as we did!" Max blinked with surprise."Uh... yeah! I didn't even realize I was thinking about that, but you're right, I think it was in the back of my mind."

Isabel turned to Liz, who nodded slightly as if she had a test memory ready. Alex wondered if she would hold it too consciously for Isabel to get at it, but almost at once Isabel called "Got it! Some kind of caping trip with Maria and her mother... it looks like Maria was maybe thirteen or so, and the tent is set up in a flowered grove next to a loud waterfall!" Liz nodded agreement, looking surprised in spite of herself. Is turned on Tess, and frowned. "You I can't get through to."

"It doesn't matter," Max disclaimed hastily. "What about Michael?"

Isabel paused, the same look on her face. "No," she said after a moment. "There's no connection."

"Because you don't have a picture of him," Max pointed out. "Anyone have a snapshot of Michael with them?" He looked around the living room, but photoportraits of the resident were not in evidence.

"I don't think it's just that," Isabel continued. "I mean, I can get into people's dreams, but I can't go into their dreams in the past or the future." She turned towards Alex again. "From what you said, Alex, Michael and Maria aren't even in this time, they're wandering around history somewhere. So how can I reach them?"

Alex smiled, pleased that Isabel had thought about this. "A good point. But Michael and Maria aren't *really* in another time - they're just pushed away so it seems like they are. You should be able to contact either of them - especially if you use this to fine-tune the contact." Alex held out the crystal to Isabel again.

Isabel stared at it. "What do I do with that?"

"Touch it, Isabel," Alex suggested. Isabel hesitated, then reached out, the blue aura reaching up for her fingers again. "Use this energy to follow Michael with. That's a shadow of the force that threw him into time. You can use that to follow him there." Isabel looked dubious. "Trust me, Is. I've... " Alex shook his head and breathed deepy as a realization hit me. "I've DONE this... I mean, whoever's memories I've been getting from the alien washer has. Helped someone through a space/time labyrinth with mentalic powers. Trust me, I know it's possible."

"But she'll still need a picture?" Liz piped up. "To focus?" Alex nodded.

"Wait a second," Isabel said, looking around the living room herself. "I could have sworn..." She got up, leaving the crystal lamp in Alex's hands, and circled like a hawk searching for her prey. Finally Iz snatched up a photograph frame from the end table and brandished it at the group. "Hah!!"

"Um, well, Isabel..." Tess said uncertainly. "That's a picture of you and Max, not Michael."

"Is it?" Quickly Isabel opened the back and slid the picture out of the frame. Unfolding a fold, the picture was revealed to be a long shot of Max, Isabel, and Michael sitting together in a park from about a year before.

"Why did he fold himself out of the picture?" Liz asked softly.

"To fit Max and Isabel into the frame?" Alex suggested. Max shook his head.

"Classic Michael," Max muttered. But he didn't elaborate.

Meanwhile Isabel was rushing over to take the crystal back from Alex, staring fixedly at the picture of Michael. As soon as she had touched it, Isabel gasped again. "Oh, god. Oh, my god, Alex, I got something."

"What did you see?" Alex asked patiently.

"Uhh..." It took Isabel a few second to get her thoughts, (Michael's thoughts?) organized. "A tunnel splitting in two different directions underground. Standing alone in the middle or a restaurant. Me - seeing a young Isabel, no more than eleven years old, running through the back alley towards the Crashdown." She couldn't stifle a snort of amazement. "And running right through Maria!! An almost-invisible stairway stretching up into the sky. A... a wall of spikes, *way* too close for comfort."

Alex shuddered at that last with the rest of them, but he was relieved. "Well, this definitely confirms that they're in the labyrinth, and they seem to have leared the basics of getting around one. And we've demonstrated that you can contact Michael." Alex sighed. "Your turn, Max."

Max jumped, not having expected to get picked on. "Me? What do you want *me* to do?!"

"Now that Isabel has learned how to guide Michael, I think you should stand in as the challenge proctor," Alex explained. "There are a number of subtle ways that the proctor can influence challenge conditions, through use of the power and, like Isabel, orienting on the labyrinth with the Brundis crystal. Most importantly, as proctor you can hold the exit of the labyrinth open."

"The exit isn't always open??" Isabel piped up. "What kind of a shoddy labyrinth is this anyways?"

Alex smiled, shaking his head. "An exit is always open to regular space-time somewhere in the vicinity - and in the same time frame as Michael and Maria left from, of course. But left to itself, that exit could open into someplace unsafe in our world - or somewhere that a lot of questions would be asked if Michael and Maria just appeared there. Using the crystal, you can open and hold open an exit that's safe on both counts."

"A safe location," Liz repeated. "Preferably somewhere we don't even have to deal with parents asking awkward questions." She turned to Alex. "Could we do it right here?"

"No," Alex shook his head. "This is where the entrance to the labyrinth took place. The exit would have to be... oh, at least a hundred feet away." Max, Isabel, and Liz started thinking deeply.

"Valenti's," Tess spoke up. Everyone turned to stare at her. "Well?" she shot back. "Sherrif Valenti knows about the alien stuff, so does Kyle. Short of the pod chamber, it seems to be our best choice."

"Pod chamber would be tricky - too far from the entrance," Alex added. "Valenti's is just about right, and we'd better get a motor on." He stood up, then thought of something. "Anybody know where the healing stones are off the top of their heads?"

Max nodded in surprise. "Michael insists on keeping them right here." He crossed the living room, and pushed aside the molecules of a brick wall with a careless wave. Reaching inside the small cavity, he brought out a double handful of orangish healing stones and closed the brick up again with no more than an intense look. "Why? There isn't that much danger of physical harm in the labyrinth, is there?"

"No... at least not especially," Alex mumbled. "But these stones do more than heal. They're often used just as a mechanism for power transfer. Helping out Alex is going to be a more exhausting application of power than anything you guys have been through bfore. With these guys," Alex picked up one of the healing stones meaningfully, "Liz and I can help, by adding our strength to yours." Alex sighed.

"And now we've gotta get going. Um... Max, could you drive Isabel and me over to Valenti's in my car? I was thinking I could help her communicate back to Michael through the link..." Alex faded out as he realized who that division would leave. Liz and Tess, never the most compatible of the gang. Also two of the least experienced drivers, for Max to entrust his Jeep to one of.

But Max hardly batted an eye. "Okay." He tossed the Jeep keys over to Liz, and caught the Taurus keys from Isabel. "Oh, one more thing." Max turned back to Liz. "We ran into Courtney Banks on the way over here. She said they were shorthanded at the cafe because Michael and Maria were shorthanded for their hifts, and wondered if you could pitch in. We can't exabtly afford to do without you right now, but I thought I should at least tell you."

"Okay." Liz nodded, then did a doubletake. "She said *what* exactly??"

As quickly as possible, Max replayed the encounter with Courtney, noticing that Liz's puzzled frown was growing deeper and deeper. "What's wong, Liz?"

"Neither Michael nor Maria have shifts today at the crash," Liz explained simply.

"How do you know?" Tess asked.

"Because Maria was asking if I'd be free tonight to hang out somewhere if... well, if her meeting with Michael didn't end up with the two of *them* going out somewhere. She wouldn't have been making plans like that if either of them had to work."

Alex thought about it a second. "We can check it out later," he decided. "For now..."

"I know, I know..." Liz chimed in. "Go. Go! GO!!" She was already leading the way towards the door.

* * * *

In the apartment across the street from Michael's place, Steve Banks groaned and flipped open a cell phone, tapping one of the speed dial buttons. Ring. Ring. "Yeah?" the voice on the other end replied.

"Meltdown," Steve replied casually.

"How bad?"

"The labyrinth gambit - the human girl got caught inside it. Whatshername - DeLucca. Courtney confirmed it."

A pause. "That's a problem."

Steve sighed. "Not if she gets out alive."

"What was the point, if they were going to get out alive anyways?"

Steve ignored that. "Their little friends seem to have figured out what's going on already. I think I may have underestimated them, which is a good thing in this case."

"Which means, your plan has gone wrong so badly that you're actually *hoping* we get out of it faring about as well as we came in."

"I'm aware of the irony, Soren."

"Hmm..." Steve's co-conspirator considered. "Would it really be so bad if *neither* of them got out? They might never figure out that DeLucca was involved."

"We can't afford to take that chance."

"You're probably right. Well, once this little escapade is done, let me know. When my turn comes I'm *not* going to underestimate the royal four." The line clicked off.

Steve stared at the cellular handset. "Are you sure?" he asked rhetorically.

To be continued...
posted on 30-Jan-2002 10:54:36 AM
Whoo!! Mucho feedback, thanks everybody!!

Wrote more for 3c this morning on the bus - back to Michael and Maria. ;-)

Don't think that I'll cover the Tess and Liz ride in the car, sorry. Part 3c is already getting so much longer with only a few scenes than I anticipated LOL.
posted on 4-Feb-2002 3:42:21 PM
Title: Homecoming: the sarabande. Part 3c (second half.)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'
Dedication: For my favorite feedbackers, Andrea, Fran, and Borders. :]

Michael relaxed once he and Maria had finished stepping up/down the freaky stairway, taking them down in lockstep from the sky, and through the steakhouse. The underground passage seemed the safest and least weird part of this whole creepy place.

"Well??" Maria drawled out, looking up at him.

"Well what?"

Maria shook her head again. "My question?" Michael must have looked blank enough for Maria to repeat. "Just what the heck do you put in those sandwhiches that you take to school?"

Michael hesitated. "Oh give me a break," Maria exclaimed. "After the embarassing story I just told you, you're worried about some sandwhich recipe??"

Michael sighed. "Okay, if you really want to know. Well..." Michael smiled as he remembered the day he had first hit on the combination. "There's pancake syrup. The imitation maple stuff. A little strawberry jelly. And... this hot red pepper spread stuff."

"Eww!!" Maria said, shaking her head. "Gross."

"Hey, don't shake your head at me," Michael said as they rounded the sharp corner to the other branch of the fork. "A hybrid I was born, and a hybrid I shall remain. Therefore I crave the things that are spicy hot and sweet at the same time." He looked over at Maria as they headed along the downward-ramping passageway, and two more words slipped out before Michael could stop them. "Like you."

Mara looked up at him in surprise, and Michael looked away before she could make eye contact, focusing on the pathway ahead of him. But he could tell that Maria was thinking about whether she was going to reply to what he had just said by the sound of her breathing. Deciding against it. He heard her turn her own head to face forward, and right then he couldn't resist sneaking a sidelong glance at her. Maria was blushing.

"Well, I guess it's my turn to ask a question again?" Michael said, trying to get a reasonably safe topic of conversation back.

"Yes," Maria said deliberately. "And may I say, that was pretty much a waste of a turn."

Michael had to take a few seconds to understand the convolutions of Maria-logic there. "No," he said finally. "That *so* does not count as a turn."

"You put forward a question for me to answer," Maria countered. "I answered it truthfully and without reservation. That counts."

"Not a chance," Michael insisted. "There has to be a distinction made between questions *in* the game and queries *about* the g..."

"Save it, spaceboy," Maria interrupted, shoving him playfully on the arm. "Weirdness ho. Snap to."

Michael looked down the passageway where Maria was pointing, and quickly he understood what she meant. The tunnel narrowed to a dead end, with a line on the floor before the final wall marking off a square perhaps five feet to a side. He approched it cautiously, not wanting to blunder into something that might be dangerous. The spikes had taught him *that* lesson well enough, thank you very much.

"Look", Maria said, pointing up to the top of the tunnel near the dead end. "Shine the light a little brighter, Twinkles."

Michael had to fight back a growl at *that* new nickname - he didn't want to give Maria the pleasure of seeing how she was riling him. But he brightened the glow from his hand by three notches and stretched it out in front of them, trying to better illuminate what Maria was pointing at.

"There isn't any ceiling above that square," Maria pointed out. "Could that be the way this passage continues?? Up!?"

Michael edged carefully even closer, being careful not to let any part of himself cross over the line yet. "I don't see how. There are no ladders, no rope -- nothing to climb. How the heck are we supposed to get up there?"

Maria considered. "Could you... you know, lift us up? With your powers??" Maria made a cute 'whooshing' gesture with both arms.

"Ummm..." Michael considered that. "I might be able to 'push' you up there... though I wouldn't make any guarantees about how comfortable the ride would be - or how accurate my aim, for that matter. I don't have that much control over my kinetic powers yet. And I've *never* been able to fly through the air myself with my powers."

"Why not?" Maria asked in an aside. "You can 'push,' as you say it. If you push down on the earth beneath you, and it's secure enough, it won't move. I would think the combination of force and resistance would make you rise into the air."

"Maria?" Michael, asked, sighing.

"Yeah?"

"Focus?"

Maria shook her head slightly. "'Lack of control.' Got it, chief."

Michael looked around. "If we had enough source material to work with, I could *create* a ladder. But all these rock walls are out of phase with us - this whole *area* is solid rock, including where we're standing. The true walls are the invisible ones." Michael focused on the nearest invisible wall, trying to reform its molecules, but got no results. Probably it was really made out of some kind of force field. No molecules meant no molecular manipulation.

"You know, maybe we're being too complicated," Maria decided. "This alcove almost looks like an elevator carriage, except no doors. Maybe there's a push button inside to make the whole thing go up." And before Michael could stop her, she dashed across the line to investigate the alcove.

Michael suffered a siege of panic. For an instant he wanted to charge in right behind Maria. Then it occured to him that if what was inside the alcove was truly deadly, she might be better off if he stayed outside and tried to use his powers to protect her or pull her back out. So, all he ended up doing was waiting to see what happened to Maria inside the alcove, holding his breath.

Nothing seemed amiss at first. Maria ran her hands over one of the alcove walls, looking for hidden switches or touch panels. After not quite two seconds, though, she became aware of something, and spun around to look at Michael. "Aack!!"

"What's wrong?" he asked quickly.

"I'm... yahh!" Unable to finish the sentence, Maria gestured at the floor. Michael looked down and immediately recognized the problem. The soles of Maria's boots were dangling about an inch above the floor, and slowly rising.

WHOOOSH. Michael didn't consciously key in his powers, but they had been on emergency standby for just enough instants to make that not necessary. As soon as Michael had recognized, alien forces rushed blindly out to coerce a solution. WHOMPP!! The impact would probably have been bone-breaking if Michael hadn't been 'pushing' against another unearthly force - it turned out to be merely startling. Maria shook off the impact and waved a hand in Michael's direction as a calm-down signal.

"I shouldn't have freaked. Come on. *This* is how we travel upwards. The alcove doesn't go up, like an elevator chamber. Only *we* go up!!"

Understanding hit Michael like a stinging sftball. Of course. That had to be it! He rushed forward across the line, releasing his light kinetic grasp from Maria only when he was close enough to actualy touch her. Soon enough, soon he felt the mysterious lifting effect, first just taking some of the weight off of his feet, then more, then all. He couldn't put a finger on when they actually left the floor, but soon enough Michael estimated their upward speed as just short of two feet a second.

"Second floor coming up quick," Maria announced. She was right - though the shaft proceeded upwards further than Michael could immediately make out, a rectangular opening seven or eight feet long in one of the 'walls' indicated a possible stop coming up soon. Michael had only a second to think, so he chose what seemed like the safer course. If they let this route pass by, they would be unable to return to it without finding some way of going down the 'up' shaft. Whereas if Michael and Maria took this routing, presumably they could return to the shaft and continue on up.

"Come on." Gatering Maria in one of his ars, Michael kicked against one wall and the two of them sailed gracefully through the opening - only to catch their balance less gracefully when gravity reasserted itself.

Maria looked around. Another tunnel passageway stretched ahead of them, ramping upwards slightly and curving to the right. She shrugged. "Might as well check it out."

Michael reached out an arm to keep Maria from walking down the corridor. In a way that he never had before, Michael *extended* his senses down the passageway. The results were unmistakeable - and not positive. "No," he muttered, shaking his head. "This is another dead end."

"How do you know?" Maria demanded.

"I can tell," Michael explained lamely. "With my powers. Isabel just told me how."

"Isabel??"

And the full realization hit Michael only then. "Isabel's been communicating with my subconscious, from out in the real world. The whole gang is working to help get us out. This is an alien thingee called a space/time labyrinth..." Michael shook his head. "I'll tell you about it as we go. Come on." He all but dragged Maria back into the levitator shaft.

* * * *

"He got the messgages," Isabel announced in a relieved voice. "He told Maria that we're all here, pulling for them. And then he took her back into the levitator shaft - I think he was able to do what you told me about, to sense with his powers and tell that it was a blind alley."

"Great!" Alex exclaimed, smiling back at Iz. "Good timing too, because I think we're... here."

Sure enough, Max was just bringing the Taurus in for a carefree parking job in front of Jim Valenti's house. Max's Jeep and the Sherrif's cruiser were parked in the driveway. Alex looked around for Kyle's old Prowler, but he couldn't see the navy blue car anywhere.

"We'd better hurry inside," Max said. "Liz and Tess are probably facing down Valenti alone."

They rushed inside as quickly as possible. Isabel seemed to be a little dizzy after the huge effort of communicating to Michael across the time differential, so Alex offered her his arm for support as she hurried up the front walk, still clutching the blue crystal lamp in her other hand. Max led the way.

"Max," Valenti called out as Alex and Isabel were making their way through the front door. "Maybe *you* could shed a little light as to what the hell is going on here?"

"Allow me, sir," Alex replied. "Michael and Maria's lives are in danger from an alien booby trap. I think I may have an idea as to how to get them out, but it'll require the five of us working non-stop from a secure location where no-one will see things that can't be easily explained. Tess suggested we ask you if we could do it here."

Valenti looked still grim but slightly mollified. "Go on." As quickly as he could, Alex went over the essentials of the situation, trying to explain as clearly as possibly without going into things that would be too hard for Valenti to understand.

After a few questions, Valenti paused, to consider. "It's a hell of a story," he muttered. "You give me your word that all of this is so, as far as you could possibly be expected to determine,"

"I do, sir," Alex and Max answered at the same time. Alex looked around and saw that Isabel, Liz, and even Tess were nodding in support of him.

Jim Valenti nodded in acceptance. "Okay, then. Have you given any thought to what your parents are going to think when you don't come home tonight? From what you've said, this 'rescue mission' could last well into the night, if not longer."

Alex blushed in embarassment. "We... we hadn't really gotten that far, sir."

"Alex..." Isabel stage-whispered. Alex turned around to look at her, and immediately realized what was on her mind.

He turned back to the sheriff. "We can discuss alibis later - it's still early. For right now, is there a place where Isabel can relax and concentrate in peace?"

Valenti considere. "Yeah, use my room. Hallway over there, first on your right."

"Thanks." Next Max. "Give us about four minutes to make sure that the connection is stable, and then come inside quietly. I'll show you how to use the Brundis crystal to start opening a exit for Michael right here." Isabel let out a little gasp, clutching the crystal instinctively tighter.

Max went over to Isabel, rubbing her shoulder supportively. "Don't worry, Is. Everything's going to be alright." He turned to Alex. "She can do this without the crystal now?"

"Once the connection is strong, she should be able to maintain it without using the crystal," Alex explained. "And vice versa - if she needs to use the crystal briefly, it shouldn't disrupt what you're doing." He turned to Isabel. "Come on." He led her in the direction that Valenti had indicated.

Just before they stepped into Valenti's bedroom, Isabel turned to Alex. "Thank you for all of this, Alex," she said, smiling shyly. "Doing all this to rescue Michael and Maria, teaching Max and I what we need to know, helping to convince Valenti..."

"It's nothing," Alex assured her. "I want to get Maria and Michael back as much as you guys do. But you're welcome."

Isabel grinned again, then headed into the bedroom and sat cross-legged on the bed. Alex closed the door and breathed deeply. "Just relax and let the connection re-establish itself. You know Michael's mind, it's right in front of you. Reach out and touch it..."

* * * *

Alex gently took the Brundis crystal out of Isabel's hands, trying not to disturb her concentration, and tiptoed back out the bedroom door, letting Max gently close it behind him. Neither of them said anything until they had left the hallway.

"So... any idea where would be good for the exit, man," Max asked with a slightly tired smile. He'd be a lot more tired before all of this was over, Alex suddenly realized.

"Um... right here in the living room should be good," Alex decided. "Close the drapes so nobody can see in from inside - push the sofa back against the dinner table; move the coffee table to the side wall, and there'll be a nice open space to work in here."

"Oh, sure," a familiar sarcastic voice replied. "Just rearrange my bedroom without so much as a 'please.' Typical."

Alex looked up. Yeah, that was Kyle sitting on the couch. The couch that Alex vaguely rememembered hearing Kyle was sleeping on since Tess had moved into the Valenti's - apparently Kyle's sense of chivalry, which Alex had never even really seen evidence of, had balked at the prospect of keeping the bedroom and leaving Tess the couch.

"I'm sorry," Max said to Kyle. "But we're in red alert mode. Keep quiet and out of the way so we can work, okay."

"Or make yourself useful," Tess chimed in. Once again, Max and Liz turned to stare at her. "Well? We're doing the alien-human team-up thing, right? Alex is helping Isabel with the psionic thing, Liz is gonna be 'lending her energy' to Max with one of the stones. Maria is probably helping Michael out, inside the maze. Well, I'm Max's relief as the proctor, so I get a human partner too." She got up and very deliberately sat down on the couch next to Kyle. Max and Liz were still staring.

"Okay." Alex shook his head. "Moving on. Max, Liz..." He waved them to the living room floor. "Let's get this started. Tess.... Kyle, I guess you guys should pay attention." Soon Alex, Liz, and Maz were sitting in a triangle on the carpet. Alex handed Max the Brundis crystal.

"Okay, now... I guess the first thing you need to do is to get an awareness of the labyrinth through this," Alex started. "Use the crystal. Think of it like... like you're trying to get a flash from the thing."

"I can't get a flash on command," Max protested.

"You can with this thing," Alex assured him. Max looked dubious, but he closed his eyes and pressed a hand more closely into the crystal - and gasped. Alex smiled slightly. "What do you see?"

"It's... it's not *see* so much as sense..." Max gasped out. "The entire layout of a maze... more complicated than any maze could be here on earth. I... I can't get more than a dim impression of the design as a whole. Once I concentrate on any part, I can sense more detail about it."

"Okay, that's good," Alex explained. "Can you see a marked exit of any kind??"

"Yes, it's..." Max drew in a sharp breath. "It's in midair - about thirty feet above the street, just outside the UFO center."

"Okay," Alex said calmly. "Don't panic about that. Just take that exit and try to *pull* it right here. To Valenti's living room."

"H-how?" Max asked, a flash of uncertainty crossing his face, eyes still closed.

"Use your powers, Max," Liz guessed.

"That's right." Alex confirmed. "Treat the exit like it's... a ball, that you're pulling through the air. Bring it here."

"Okay..." Max concentrated again. "Oh, no. The exit closed as I moved it."

"That's okay, Max," Alex told him with a small smile. "Another exit should manifest, closer to us. Once it opens, draw it near like you did the other one, okay?" Max nodded. Alex turned to Liz. "You have the healing stone?" Liz smiled and waved it in the air slightly. "Then just hold it in both your hands, and concentrate on helping Max. Just like when we were hea-" He broke off, kicking himself mentally for having forgotten.

"I never helped heal Michael," Liz reminded him. "River dog wouldn't let me. He said I was too afraid." Alex could still hear the... the shame in Liz's voice, that she felt over that.

"Are you too afraid now?" Alex asked her.

"Well... I don't think so. How would I know?"

Alex smiled comfortingly at her. "Don't worry. Using the stones to lend strength is nowhere near as potentially dangerous as a healing. Do you know what to do, Liz?"

"Um... yeah, yeah, I think so." She smiled shyly back at him.

"Okay." Alex stood up. "I'm going to go check in on Isabel, but I'll be liasing with you guys. Keep the faith." He waved slightly, then headed back towards the hallway.

* * * *

For Michael, the space/time labyrinth was starting to get distinctly routine.

Part of his mind focused on simply keeping himself moving - one foot in front of another, over and over again. Another part was devoted to 'sensing' about the maze layout, figuring out which turning to take at any time there was some sort of branch point. And whatever was left talked to Maria.

"So, when did you first realize that you were... you know." Maria shrugged. "'Different'?"

Michael considered that. They had been wandering around what looked like southern Europe for about fifteen minutes. Spain, France, Italy, some place that looked like it might have been part of the Yugoslavian war... they were moving too fast to keep track. The route was leading them back into the sky again, via a wide spiralling staircase, and Michael was just as glad about that. "Let's see. Different? I guess there was this thing - about a few days after social services placed me with Hank. He had been drinking a little, and we got into a shouting match when he tried to get me to go to bed, and I was so angry I levitated the telephone table into the air."

"Oh my god, you didn't." Maria seemed to be holding back a gale of laughter.

"Yeah. I didn't even realize that there was anything unusual about it at the time. But Hank called social services and my placement worker came back out. She looked at the table, even asked me about it. I was so nervous I told her that I didn't know what Hank was talking about - I knew enough to guess that I had done something wrong. And then I realized that other people *couldn't* do that kind of thing."

Maria smiled. "Okay. Your question."

Michael had no idea where it came from. "When did you know you'd fallen in love with me?"

Maria tripped over a stair. Michael jumped forward to make sure that she was okay, but Maria caught her balance by herself. "Umm..." Flustered, she looked up at Michael, her bright eyes shining. "Okay, this game just blew out of the trivial category - you do realize that, right?"

"Yeah, I do," Michael said softly. "But... well, I'd really like to know."

"Okay." Maria was either concentrating on her feet and the stairs, or avoiding eye contact with Michael. "Let's see... when I knew I'd fallen in love with you?" She sighed. "I guess it would have to be that damned napkin holder. It was the sweetest thing that anybody's ever given me. And when I was heading to that shop class -- well, I just couldn't bear to hand it in and know that I'd never see it again. So I took the F in exchange for keeping the stupid thing. Why else would I have cared? It's not like holding napkins is more important to me than an 'A' grade on a daily basis."

"Oh." Michael smiled - and then it hit him exactly what he'd done when Maria thanked him for the napkin holder. He'd tried to sell her one one of his patented 'We can't be together' speeches. Let's see - that occasion had been 'I have to be a stone wall.' And she had just figured out that she was in love with him. Oh. Man.

"Let's see, turnabout is fair play," Maria decided. "Did you ever fall in love with me, and if so why?"

**Did I ever...** Michael froze. **God, Maria, I'm *still* in love with you!!** But he couldn't say that, and forced himself to step further up the stairs, noticing idly that they were above ice and snow now. It still seemed warm inside the labyrinth. "Yes... yes, I fell in love with you, Maria. It was during that whole bit with Topolsky coming back to town. Everyone was so afraid, and things were getting so crazy. After Topolsky broke into my apartment, I started worrying about what I'd do if something... scary, happened to you. Something really bad."

"And, I guess that's what love is. When you're more worried about someone else than about yourself."

"Aww..." Maria sighed. An awkward silence streched out the seconds. "God, I'm so hungry," Maria complained.

"Me too," Michael agreed. "And tired. But we can't wimp out now - there's worse to come, I bet."

"I'm not 'wimping out,'" Maria huffed. "Just commenting that I'm hungry."

"Dunno what good it's gonna do you," Michael pointed out. "I don't think you'll find a sun-dried tomato pizza just sitting here outside of the space/time continuum."

"You know, being this sarcastic is not really helping, Michael."

"Sorry."

The spiral staircase came to a stop at a T-corner intersection. Michael considered briefly, then led Maria down the right passage, which he judged was taking them in the direction of Siberia - unless it pulled another surprise on them.

"So..." Maria started out again. "How did you *think* the meeting with me this afternoon was going to turn out?"

Michael thought a bit before answering. "Hey, you had the *last* question. It's my turn."

"You didn't *take* your turn."

"Well, maybe I wanna take it now."

"Do you really?"

Michael thought. "No, I'll answer yours. But I get two turns in a row sometime later. Let's see... the talk with you..." He sighed. "I'll level with you. I had no clue. I guess I figured I'd just take it as it came and see what happened."

"Is that the reason you put me off from Saturday night? Because you were scared??" Maria's voice betrayed her surprise.

"No, I *wasn't* scared," Michael sneered. "I... well, I didn't really want to do it until the whole thing with Liz and her parents and Whittaker was done. This afternoon seemed like the next good opportunity."

"Oh." Maria was surprised again. "Oh my god, Michael, I don't believe it. When you're wrong, you're wrong!!"

Michael blinked his surprise. "What the heck do you mean by that?"

"No food outside of the space/time continuum?" Maria laughed, pointing at something down at the side of the corridor. Before Michael could get a good look, Maria ran ahead, (giving Michael a good look of *another* kind,) and retrieved the item in question. "Want some?"

It was a bag of bacon chips, three-quarters full and sealed with an old clothespin. "Hey, I had a bag like that in my kitchen. Maybe they got blown into the labyrinth with us."

"Whatever, spaceboy. It's *food*." Maria opened up the bag, plucked out two chips, and brought them to her mouth.

"No!!" Michael yelled at her. Maria paused in pre-bite to give him an annoyed look. "We don't have anything to drink. I know you, Maria - if you start eating bacom chips, you're going to drive yourself crazy with thirst."

"C'mon, Michael." Maria pouted. "I'm hungry, it's food. I won't get too thirsty if I eat a few slow, one at a time. I've done it before. Trust me."

"Okay," Michael finally relented. Maria smiled and carefully crunched into her first chip. Suddenly, Michael's sense of the labyrinth flagged him to something. "Turn here."

"Where?" Maria spun to a right angle, and noticed something illuminated in the wall to their side - an opening only about seven or eight inches wide. "You've got to be kidding me."

Michael grimaced. "Whoops." Maria turned to look at him with a questioning glare. "I sensed that there was a 'way through' here. I didn't worry about how small it might be." He put a finger on one of the edges. "The wall is moving - very slowly closing further. If we didn't take that first wrong turning, we probably could have made it through."

Maria sighed. "So which way now?"

Michael concentrated. It was hard trying to sense an alternate route when his alien senses were telling him this path was still good, but soon enough he had it. "Back the way we came. Sorry."

Maria sighed and followed him back towards the T-intersection. "So, are you going to ask your t--"

Michael shushed her. "Quiet."

There was a dull pounding sound that Michael could only just hear. Of course, since they heard sounds from the outside, it could be a tribal drum ritual from some nearby native village, or something, but if so, why was it getting *louder*??

And then suddenly, something appeared. Out of thin air, apparently, though Michael suddenly realized it was just rounding the corner from the stairs that Michael and Maria had themselves climbed, and turning through the T-intersection. (That was worth making a note of. While this thing had been seperated from them by two 'invisible' walls, they couldn't see it, although they could still see the spot in real space that it was overlapping.)

But enough of that. The creature itself was seven and a half feet tall, easily three hundred and fifty pounds. Its feet were solid racks of white bone and green meat, it had three tentacles it waved angrily in the air, and two huge claws reached forward. Where Michael would expect its head to be was just a vague bump of brown fur, where a couple of darker patches perhaps protected eyes and ears.

Michael turned to Maria and said the only sensible thing. "Run!!" He pointed in the opposite direction from the monster, the 'wrong way.' Right or wrong, it was their only way now.

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 8-Feb-2002 8:59:24 AM
Once again, I'd like to thank everybody for feedback.

Don't worry, I *will* be coming back and letting y'all know how Michael and Maria get out of the labyrinth. But I think I'm going to switch off and write a part or two of 'Whom among us,' maybe a bit of 'Different Destiny' first. *happy*
posted on 6-Mar-2002 8:50:34 PM
Title: Homecoming: the sarabande. Part 3d (first half.)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'
Dedication: To Goobers and Lealea and Pretty painter. :]

As the limo turned down Maria's street, Michael fixed Alex with a serious stare. "Remember, man..."

"I know, I know," Alex sighed "Twenty-five years."

"We're all countin' on ya, man," Michael reminded him with a friendly clap on the back.

* * * * *

Michael hurried down the invisible passageway in the sky after Maria. Boy, could that girl *run* when she needed to. With difficulty, Michael pulled up almost beside her, and panted out. "We can't just keep running from this thing. We're - (long gasping breath,) caught in a maze here. That kinda implies a shortage of suitable places to escape."

"You... you got any ideas, spaceboy," Maria stage-whispered as she kept booting it along, "I'm all ea--"

Maria never quite finished the sentence: she suddenly became more interested in keeping her balance as a new factor suddenly upset her physical equilibrium.

Michael hit it only a fraction of a second after Maria did. The floor was starting to slope down under his feet. First almost too little to detect, then a quite noticeable slant. The invisible floor was quite friction-free, as the invisible walls were, and quickly at this rate the pitch would become such that traction would be impossible.

Indecision gripped Michael for a moment, but only until the monster roared behind them. Jumping forward to wrap one arm tightly around Maria's waist, he leaned back and let his feet slip out from under him. "Hey!" Maria cried out in sudden shock, but kept quiet once she realized what was happening -- the two of them slid side by side on their backs, down the chute, which was starting to twist to the left in a corkscrew pattern.

Michael tried to keep his wits about him. On any normal day, he would probably have paid hard-earned money to be going on this ride with a beautiful girl right beside him. But this was not an ordinary day. They were still stuck in the middle of a life-or-death trap, and were now following a one-way-only route into who-knew-what. The corkscrew slide was carrying them further in one direction than the other, and the ground seemed to be approaching awfully quickly. Then, suddenly, they were underground, and the slope of the slide became even steeper, until...

"Whoa!" Michael's feet struck a small ledge and glanced off, and an instant later the same thing happened to Maria. Suddenly the two of them were jumping through the air, and then a bone-jarring (but not breaking,) landing on a floor. The chute ended here.

But where was 'here'? Sheepishly Michael relit the glow on his hand. There was the chute landing, right behind them. A chamber, ceiling ten feet high, floor twenty-five by thirty-five feet big, or thereabouts. Surprisingly, there were actually furnishings of a sort on one of the walls - huge circular levers that could apparently be pointed in any direction, with backdrops marking off a circular arc divided into twenty segments. A stairway led up and away from the room.

"Good enough," Michael said, crossing the empty space in the middle of the chamber towards the stairs. His 'sense' told him that this was the right way out. He stepped up onto the first stair.

It pivoted, rather than accept his weight, forming a slope back down. Michael tried the second stair, and it and the first twisted down in unison.

"Trick stairs," he muttered, looking over at Maria. "I don't have time for this."

"The dials," Maria pointed out. "They have to be the key." Quickly she went along the wall, setting each dial in a sequential position, then rushed over to the stairs to check her findings. The first stair held, until she stepped up to the second. Maria tried to recover and jump down to the landing gracefully, but Michael was too quick with the 'coming to the rescue' move, and she ended up tangled in his arms. Michael's heart skipped a beat again.

Just at that point, of course, in the silence they could hear a distant roar and an odd 'swishing' sound.

"What the heck is that?" Maria asked, in the kind of tone of voice that suggested she knew the answer and wanted it to be *anything* but what she knew.

Michael grimaced. "Well, it doesn't sound anything like a monster sliding down a chute, that's for sure." Maria shot him a dark look. Michael smiled weakly.

"Okay, we have about ninety seconds until it gets here," he rambled on. "No way we can figure out how to use the stairs that quickly, so I guess it's do or die time. Defeat the monster or die trying." He set Maria down gently.

"Oh god." A mixture of sheer terror for him and muted pride filled Maria's face. "Do you have any idea how?"

"Not a clue," Michael muttered. He didn't even have a weapon.

* * * * *

Alex thought to himself as he watched Isabel concentrate on the link with Michael. **Boy, I really hope we get Michael and Maria out of this alright. Man, Isabel is SO beautiful... This alien knowledge stuff is weird, weird weird. I can't get used to the idea of having facts inside my brain that came from some other person - or more than one person - from some alien planet halfway across the galaxy - maybe fifty years ago, or more...**

Just then, Isabel's eyes snapped open. "Michael's in trouble!"

The paralyzing panic lasted only a second. Then Alex hurried over to Isabel's side. "What kind of trouble?"

"It's hard to tell, Michael's thoughts are so jumbled," Isabel muttered. "He's running from something - Maria too. I can't make out what... ooooh." Isabel groaned in surpressed horror. "I can see parts of it now. Monster parts. Alex, you never said anything about there being a monster in the maze." Those beautiful brown eyes were accusing as they stared up at him. "How could you leave out a detail like that?"

"Keep focusing on the link with Michael," Alex reminded her reflexively, as much to deflect Isabel's insinuations about his carelessness as for the right reasons. He turned away from Isabel and scanned through the 'washer file' in his brain. "There's nothing in here about monsters, guardians, or active threats in the labyrinth. I'm sorry, Isabel, but your monster just doesn't seem to be... Oh, god." Stricken, with remorse, he forced himself to turn around and face Isabel.

"Oh, god, *what,* Alex?" she prompted him, paling.

"A... a footnote," Alex analogized. "At least, that's the best way I can think of to explain it."

"And what does it say, this footnote?" Isabel asked.

"High-risk version of the rite of passage, for the most daring only. An insubstantial energy creature is bound into the Brundis crystal along with the time warp. In the labyrinth, away from our space-time continuum, it can assume a deadly material form."

"And how do they stop it??"

Alex dredged his alien memories for a long moment. "I... I think that Michael can use his powers against it. Make it insubstantial again, at which point it returns to the beginning of the labyrinth. They can't kill it, but they can keep backing it off until they get out. Max can help, using the crystal." He sighed. "That's all I can get. I'll go out and tell Max."

Isabel's only reaction was to nod ever so breifly and close her eyes again. Alex knew that time was critical, but he couldn't help but feel censured.

He hurried out to let Max and Liz know about the beast.

* * * * *

The beast roared through the terminus of the chute and into the chamber, somehow managing to avoid the trip ledge that had caught both Michael and Maria. Without any mouth, it succeeded in screaming quite loudly at both of them, waving its claws and tentacles menacingly.

By now, though, Michael was ready for it - or as ready as he was going to be. With a massive exertion of his alien abilities, he picked the beast up and flew it into the air, pouring on the acceleration with as much strength as he could muster, then let it collide crashingly against the opposite wall and floor where they met to come together. CRASH!!! The impact was satisfyingly loud.

The monster oriented on Michael and came to charge at him again. This time, he lifted the massive creature off the floor, struggled it up until it was levitating only a few inches from the ceiling, and let its huge body drop. THUUMPPP!!!!

Yet again, the beast shook the impact off. Michael pushed it back while reconsidering his strategy. At this rate, the monster could probably take more of these crashes than Michael could have the energy to put it through. That thing was *heavy*! And Michael knew that the one thing that he couldn't afford was to leave himself too overtired. That would be the same as being defenceless against this thing.

"Michael..." Maria muttered from beside him. She was getting anxious. **Gotta try something, Michael.** Seized by inspiration, he focused on the creature and tried to send its molecules flying apart. He'd never really tried this on anything living before, though he'd thought about it and tried it on scrap metal. But it didn't seem to work against this critter. Almost like it... like it wasn't quite made out of molecules, if that made any sense.

Getting worried now, Michael tried the handprint of death strike. The one he had used on Pierce... at least no-one would put him in jail for killing *this* thing. But even that high-energy blast seemed to scarcely phase the monster. It charged at Michael again, and this time he didn't have the strength to push its massive body back telekinetically. In fact... he didn't even have the strength to dodge.

Maria tried to pull him away, but the monster oriented on him as he moved and Michael slipped his hand out of Maria's grasp. At least *she* could get away. Maria stumbled away, caught by surprise, her momentum carrying her on without him.

And then the creature was upon him, knocking Michael down with a huge arm and standing over his body. Those tentacles ripped at his clothing, and a huge, heavy claw tore into his side, quite painfully. Michael focused his powers for one last panicked push, but the beast hardly budged.

"Take that!!" Something nudged the body of the monster, far less than even Michael had been able to move it that last time, but the tentacles suddenly left him alone as the creature oriented on someone else. It had to be... "Nobody does that to the guy I love without messing with Maria DeLucca!!!" Maria pantomimed swinging something thick and heavy at the monster's claw, even though she didn't appear to be holding anything, and the appendage shook slightly with the impact. Maria noticed him staring. "Invisible chunk of wood or something, I tripped over it," she explained in passing before clubbing the monster again.

"Maria!!" Michael complained. "You're not hurting the thing, you're just making it angry at you!"

"Well, that was the plan all along braniac," Maria retorted - thunk - "and by the way, you're welcome for saving your life!! Now, make with the alien powers and RETURN THE FAVOR!! Yii" Maria skittered backward as the monster took a swing at her and gave it another tired bash 0 that invisible pillar of wood had to be heavy.

Michael groaned and lifted the monster back into the air - his strength had recovered far enough to make that possible. The alien creature seemed to be getting tired too, though not nearly quickly enough. Inside his mind, Michael was finding it hard to focus for a second on anything but how much he loved Maria - her fire, her passion, the 'chutzpah' that would drive her to piss off an alien monster like that just for his sake.

And then, suddenly, the monster reared and charged at Maria again. The beast also seemed revitalized for the moment, full of piss and vinegar or something. Michael was just about to marshal his energies for another defensive toss, when something else saved him the trouble. A glowing shield of green energy shimmered into existence down the diagonal of the room, seperating the monster from Michael and Maria. Maria looked over admiringly at Michael. "Good one!"

"I didn't do it," Michael confessed. "The only one I know who can do shields is... Max?" He raised his voice on the name for some reason.

And that's when it hit him -- Isabel's message -- or mabye when he became consciously aware of it, Michael couldn't tell. [The monster is some kind of energy being, manifesting with a body only inside the labyrinth. That's the key to defeating it - you can reverse the process and make it insubstantial again. Max will help.]

"Okay," Michael muttered to himself, though he knew only Maria could hear him, and she didn't know what was going on. He tried to reach out and focus his powers on the monster to try this out, but the shield worked both ways - Michael's power couldn't reach through it. "Okay, Max, I'm ready, let it down now."

It actually took about twenty seconds before Max let the shield slip, by which time the monster had started to get confused. Quickly, Michael reached out to let his power envelop the beast, trying to focus his energies in the way Isabel had suggested. It wasn't like anything else he had ever done before, but he thought maybe he could do it - if Max helped out too.

After a few second, he could feel another power play around the monster - working in a slightly different way than his. Immediately Michael switched to supporting the other's effort, figuring that if it was Max (it had to be,) then Max would have Alex advising him directly, and hopefully would know better what to do.

There didn't seem to be any response immediately. Michae was worried - his power levels were getting pretty far down already, and the monster had oriented on Maria and himself again (couldn't tell if it was both of them or only one,) and building up speed for another charge. Fifteen feet away. Nine, three - and then the creature's body seemed to be enveloped by shimmers, as Max and Michael's power finally started to have an effect. Within a few seconds, it was gone.

Michael turned to Maria and, caught up in the moment, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. Maria kissed back, and in a few seconds two or three of their total of four legs buckled from the exhaustion and the two teenagers ended up in a tangle on the floor, still clinched at the mouth.

It was Maria who broke away first. "Well, much as I hate to say it, we should probably get a move on." She gently but definitely took one of Michaels hands away from her waist and sat up.

"Yeah." Michael pulled himself to a crouch. "The monster isn't dead - just sent back to the beginning of the maze, or something, I think. Another little tidbit from Isabel. It'll be gunning for us again."

"Lovely." Maria stood up and returned her attention to the dials. "So, any idea what's going on here?"

"Some kind of mathematical puzzle?" Michael guessed with a sigh. Math was so not his strong suit. "How close we're getting to the correct code is somehow reflected by how many steps up the stairway we can get without being dumped."

"Okay, let's give this a try, then." Maria adjusted a few of the dials, and then went over to try the first step. It pivoted.

Michael groaned.

* * * * *

"Are you getting anything?" Alex asked Isabel nervously.

"No.... it's not a constant thing," Isabel complained. "Sometimes I can make sense of Michael's subconscious mind, more often I can't. Just have to wait for those rare flashes of insight, you know what I mean?"

Alex nodded understandingly. A cheer broke out in the living room, and Alex looked over at Isabel. "Still nothing," she snapped, in an angry tone but with a teasing twinkle in her eye.

"Okay..." she murmured after a long moment. "Yeah, the monstey's been zapped out or whatever - now Michael and Maria are working on this math puzzle thing, with dials on the walls and a trick staircase." She sighed. "Michael isn't pleased."

"Do you want my help?" Alex asked tentatively.

"Hey, you might be the big brain, but I do okay in calculus class," Isabel shot back. "I can handle it - relaying everything to you would just be a extra waste of time."

"Thanks so much," Alex joked back with a wide smile. "Well, I'll check in with Max and Liz - be back in a few." He stood up, closed the door softly, and crept out to the living room.

Tess was sitting on the couch, focusing intently on the Brundis crystal. "Hi, Alex." Kyle was sitting next to her, similarly intent on a healing stone. Jim Valenti was sitting at the desk chair, quietly watching the two of them.

"Umm... what's going on here?" Alex couldn't help but ask.

"Well, after de-materializing the monster with Michael's help, Max and Liz were really tired out, so I thought it was a good time for us to spot them out," Tess explained. "After all, they *did* just bend the laws of physics."

"If you're looking for Max and Liz, they're raiding our fridge," Kyle explained. "Using 'the inner power' seems to give *some* people the munchies. And by the way, *everybody* is chipping in when we call for pizza later."

"Oh." Somewhat caught off guard by all this, Alex stood still for several seconds, thinking, and then turned to include Mister Valenti in the conversation. "Speaking of calling later, has anything been discussed out here about the alibi situation."

Jim Valenti sighed. "We were thinking of going with 'co-ed sleepover.'" He must have took Alex's evaluative stare as critical, because he defensively added, "'The best possible lie is the one closest to the truth.' Throw in something about study grouping for a big test or whatever."

Alex nodded slowly. "Yeah. That could fly. What about Mrs. DeLucca? She'd get a little suspicious if one of us were calling on Maria's behalf."

"I suppose I could make that call..." Valenti sighed. Obviously all of this petty deception was a little grating on the 'man of law and order.' "Make it sound as if she's 'around somewhere' but can't quite make it to the phone."

He took a deep breath. "And by the way, though the big test might not be real, I feel obliged to warn you guys, I *will* be taking my chaperoning duties seriously - I want *nothing* to happen that I couldn't tell the girls' mothers about." He stood up, headed towards the kitchen door, then paused. "Though I'm not going to tell them everything that I actually *could* tell them." Then Valenti did continue on into the kitchen, probably to pass that warning along to Max too.

"Translation for any of you who might not speak 'good ol' boy,'" Kyle announced softly, "First base okay, maybe stealing second. No further." Tess picked up one of the couch cushions and whomped him soundly with it.

* * * * *

"Almost... there..." Michael sighed, not sure whether he was talking to Maria or himself. It seemed like about an hour since they had gotten out of the dial room... though it was really hard to tell time in here... especially since time seemed to be capable of swinging back and forth crazily here in the labyrinth.

He led Maria up a stepladder that took them up above some kind of high-tech future apartment complex in Japan or Korea. From up here long wide corridors led off in four different directions, but Michael only went a short way down the rightmost. "Ta da."

"Uh... ta da what?" Maria asked somewhat impatiently as she caught up with him. Michael turned up his handlight and shone it very deliberately in front of them. A hole in the wall, four and a half feet wide by three and a half feet high, about a foot high off the ground, was thus made glaringly obvious.

"Um, okay..." Maria said, re-orienting. "What do we do, crawl inside like it's a vent?"

Michael savored the mental image of Maria climbing into that passageway ahead of him, on all fours... in those jeans... and then shook his head. "We could, but probably not worth the extra effort. This passageway is expanding. In ten minutes it should be big enough for us to walk into - though I'll have to keep my big head down."

Maria smiled slightly. "And you don't think that monster will be able to catch up with us anytime soon with an extra ten minutes of catch-up time?"

Michael sighed and focused his awareness of the maze back the way that they had come. "I get no trace of him within detection distance. We've come a long way already, Maria. Besides, can you really picture the monster climbing up that ladder?" The question elicited a short howl of laughter from Maria. "It's going to take a lot more than ten minutes for that dumb thing to figure out how to follow us up here."

"Okay," Maria agreed. "We can afford to wait, and I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity to get off my feet." She sat down with her back up against the invisible wall opposite the crawlway, knees propped up together in front of her. "Whaddoo we talk about now?"

Michael sat down opposite her, stretching his legs out in front of himself as far as they would go. "You got me."

"Well..." Maria smiled at in that way she always did when she *knew* she was about to be difficult, and Michael's soaring heart started to plummet. "I have a topic. What did that kiss mean? Back in the dial room, after you'd whooshed the monster."

Michael tried to stifle a sigh. "Maria, it was a kiss. Why does it have to 'mean something?'"

"It means *something,* Michael," Maria affirmed relentlessly. "What, was I just the nearest handy expression of celebrating a victory in battle? Kiss the nearest wench, soldier?? Or is that what the jocks are doing after a touchdown instead of high fives? Lay a big one on a cheerleader?!"

Michael sighed again. "It wasn't like that, Maria." **Take a deep breath.** "Being-- in this labyrinth thing with you, Maria, is reminding me very strongly just how much I love you, and why." There. He'd said it.

Maria, however, seemed none too impressed. "Okay, so you love me. So what?"

Michael couldn't believe his ears "So what??"

"So you love me," Maria repeated. "Are you a stone wall? Are you the soldier who can't afford to have a girl at home waiting for him?? Are you the killer who can't be with me because he loves me too much?! Are you the guy who'd use any cliche he possibly could as an excuse to avoid me, or are you going to *DO* something about the fact that you love me, Michael Thomas Guerin?!" Although Maria hadn't moved from her relaxed sitting posture, her cheeks were flushed and her breaths panting by the time that rant was over.

Michael was shocked, and not just by the fact that she had somehow found out his middle name. Everything Maria had just said had hit too close for comfort. **Well, what did you expect??** a little voice inside his head asked. **Maria knows all your lines, all your tricks, and it looks like she just called you on them. What are you gonna tell her?**

"I - I don't wanna be that guy," Michael force out after long seconds of silence. "I want to be with you. But my life is *so* complicated and SO crazy, and if I were going steady with you again... deep down I'm afraid it would just mean I had more to lose."

"You'd have more to win, too," Maria reminded him softly. "And that's just about time."

"Time??" Michael repeated, confused. "Whatt's just about time??"

"It's time that we should be moving again, silly," Maria clarified, shaking her head as she clambered back to her feet. "The passageway - looks like you won't have to duck your big head much."

Caught by surprise again, Michael surveyed the not-quite-square opening. Now it was seven feet wide by six feet high or so, only a few inches’ step off the floor they were now standing on - quite big enough, Michael agreed. He must have left his hand on glowing pretty bright if Maria had been able to see the opening clearly from where she had been sitting though.

They walked down the new corridor in silence for about a minute - the air still thick with tension from the emotional discussion put behind them (literally, if not metaphorically.) Finally, Maria spoke up with one last comment. "Don't kiss me again unless you've decided that the benefits outweigh the risks. Okay?"

* * * * *

Max smiled at the incredible, dark-haired girl sitting on his lap as he popped the last of the little iced pastry that had come free with the pizza between Liz Parker’s lips. "So...."

"So..." Liz echoed. For almost a minute, an awkward silence hung over Valenti's kitchen as neither of them could think up a followup to that.

"How about that weather we've been having, huh?" Max joked, sending Liz and himself into gales of helpless laughter for no particularly good reason either of them could have given.

"Boy..." Liz said once her giggles had faded out. "Another monday night in Roswell, huh?" A gesture all around the two of them helped clarify what she meant.

"Yeah," Max agreed with a small sigh. "We never do seem to make it to the movies, do we?" Not that I'm complaining, he thought silently.

"Naw - probably just as well," Liz answered, startling Max as she nearly echoed his unspoken thought. "After all, going to movies is for normal people, and..."

"*What's so great about NORMAL?!?*" Max finished in unison with her, grinning. "Okay, fair enough. But that's still no reason that we have to be struggling against mysterious Chzechoslovakian enemies every date night. What would be your ideal beyond-the-norm evening??"

Liz blinked a little in surprise. "Are we talking do-able here, or absolute fantasy?"

Max smiled. "Up to you, whichever you'd rather share."

Liz smiled. "Well, this isn't too geographically feasible for us, but I've always wanted to go to some big city just for a night out on the town. Nothing too crazy - say, dinner at a busy, crowded deli, watching a musical, sodas afterward in some dance bar, and cap it all off with a quiet walk through the almost-empty streets." She smiled. "Is that out of the ordinary enough?"

"Yeah," Max said, trying not to let Liz catch him calculating ways and means. Suddenly a loud sigh escaped him.

Liz turned around in Max's arms and looked up at him with those big brown eyes. "I think someone's getting a bit *too* relaxed," she accused him, and then stepped gently out of Max's embrace, stretching slightly. "Come on, it's high time we took over for Tess and Kyle again."

"Do we *haave* to?" Max groaned playfully as he stood up himself. Actually, he really didn't mind the thought of 'getting back to work' considering what the job was like.

Max hadn't mentioned this out loud, but when Liz used the healing stone to send him her energy, he could *feel* it. He could sense that little piece of her inside of him - very soft, slightly cool, and undeniably... 'Lizly.' To be honest, even if there wasn't an alien crisis afoot, Max would be all too happy to do this just for the sensation. Maybe switch and send *his* balance energy to Liz -- see what that felt like.

Probably it would be better if they put the healing stones away and didn't so much as touch them except when there was a real emergency. Max had a crazy mental image of himself on the Jerry Springer show - alien energy junkies. "I'm hooked on my girlfriend's inner essence."

Liz was looking at him, and Max realized that he had been too lost in thought. "One kiss, before we go out in public," he asked her.

"Are we clear?" Liz looked back and forth, probably not sure who she expected to come barging into the kitchen – Alex? Valenti? Or… horror of horrors – Tess?? Max hurried over to her and stole a tender embrace and a short french.

Within a minute, Liz was leading the way out to the living room. "Tag, Valenti," she declared, swatting the teenaged Buddhist lightly on the shoulder. "We're taking over." Max noticed that she made no move to actually take the healing stone out of Kyle's hands - not while Tess was still holding the Brundis crystal lamp - her pale face looking unearthly in serene repose - eyes closed, legs crossed lotus-style on the couch.

"Hey," Max said casually to Tess, and when she opened her eyes he immediately held out his hand for the Brundis. Tess handed it over, stretching and swinging her feet back over the edge of the cushions so they hung down to the carpeted floor. Liz quickly reached out to take the healing stone from Kyle.

"Any problems?" Max asked conversationally.

"Not a one," Tess reported. "Michael and Maria are back on the move, and Monster seems to have lost their trail." She looked from Max over to Liz and then back. "Have fun."

"Where did your dad go?" Liz asked Kyle, who shrugged in response.

"Somewhere, I didn't really notice. Sorry."

Max nodded blandly as Tess and Kyle got up off of the couch. He shrugged and looked over at Liz, inviting her to choose her seat.

After a short pause, Liz crossed over to sit down where Tess had been, so Max took Kyle's seat and concentrated. Quickly and easily now the vision of the labyrinth returned to his awareness - still not quite comprehendable as a whole and confusing in its interrelations, but the basics were easy enough to figure out. Michael and Maria were...

A soft sigh escaped Max as he felt Liz's balance slide into place within him, and was answered by a gasp from Liz! "Oh, oh my god, Max! I see it!! I can see Maria, and Michael, and the path they're on... It's going around the moon!!"

Max drew in his breath as suddenly he saw it too. "Oh wow!! You're right. Boy, that must be a trip."

Liz checked to make sure that Tess and Kyle had left the room, and whispered "I'm always around the moon, as long as you're with me, Max Evans."

Max smiled giddily at the bad (if romantic,) joke and settled down to watching the labyrinth.

----

To be continued...
posted on 7-Mar-2002 9:53:26 AM
Thanks for the feedback, peeps!

Frannie - yes, the labyrinth is almost over. I know I've stretched the darn thing out, but I wanted to do justice to it. And there's a new idea I had on the bus ride in this morning that I wanna stick in. *happy* Calm down WRD Tess - we don't need a chick fight here LOL. (And if you tried, Tess could probably kick yer butt LOL.)

Mary - thanks for the topper. ;-)

Roswellluver - We'll have to see about the 'nookie time' once Michael and Maria get out of the labyrinth. There'll be some new stuff for the gang to discuss by then. I have a sinking feeling that our teenagers will not be arriving at school on time Tuesday morning -- or at all. Bunch of very tired teenagers who will probably be feeling that they deserve a break: is that so wrong? :-)

Crimson - hehehehe. Now I actually have to find some way for Max to take Liz out for a night on the town in some big city. ;-) And I'll be working on the second half of 3d (which will FINALLY close out section 3, I promise!!) as soon as I get a few things sorted out in this little nut I affectionately call a brain. :-D

Anyone else gonna feedback me? please?? :o)
posted on 8-Mar-2002 9:58:07 PM
Hey again. *happy*

Got a scene and a half done on the second half, yay. *happy*

brit - yeah, everyone loves Alex, don't they? *big*

borders - don't worry, the maze WILL BE OVER SOON! ;]
"thanks to Isabel for pointing it out to him" ??

Isabel was pointing out nothing to Michael about Maria. The **quotes** in double asterisks represent a character's own inner thoughts - a convention I've been using throughout this fic. If Isabel is ever communicating in words telepathically to her friends, I'm going to make sure to explain that very clearly. :]

Should I go back and be a little more detailed in that last part? I'm not too sure what I could change. :-/

And *why* oh why can you people never be happy? ;-) I'm giving you plenty of canon couples goodness and MORE!!! *big**angel* Okay, I didn't think you'd buy that line. But please, is a little bit of patience too much to ask, instead of constant moaning about what you think I'm going to do to your fave couples? ;-) I mean, once I've actually written UC or anti-CC stuff, you can tell me off for it - that's alright. Just a little tired of getting flak for stuff that's still on the drawing board hee hee!!

Chris K man signing off.
posted on 9-Mar-2002 9:19:21 PM
Title: Homecoming: the sarabande. Part 3d (second half.)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'
Dedication: To Jen C and Pretty painter. :] Hoping that Andrea can actually get on the board and READ this!!

Alex sat in the chair, silently. Holding a healing stone in his hands - concentrating on it, concentrating on letting his strength sustain Isabel through it.

After a long stetch of silence, Isabel sighed.

"Any problem?" Alex asked.

"No, no," Isabel answered, opening her eyes and shaking her head. "Just tired I guess."

"Maybe you should take a break, then," Alex suggested. His immediate response was a black look from a hot blonde alien. Alex counted himself lucky that she didn't literally shoot daggers from her eyes.

Despite this, Alex recklessly pushed on. "Things are quiet. There's no immediate crisis brewing. Max, Liz, Tess, and Kyle have already been switching off."

"Yeah, well, you know who can't 'switch off,' Alex?!" Isabel snarked back. "Michael. Remember? He's doing more than any of us and he doesn't even have a damn healing stone for Maria to recharge him with."

"But your road is not his road, Isabel," Alex reminded her softly. "For better or for worse, Michael and Maria got themselves caught in that maze. They're the ones who have to trek out, and we're the ones who have to help from outside as best we can. And I don't think the best way for you to help is to stubbornly stay in the link until you collapse from the mental exertion."

Isabel started to pshaw that notion, but only got halfway through the 'h' before an uncertain look crossed her face.

Alex knew he had to follow up on the lead if he was going to convince her. "I don't have any experience with this part of mentalics, but it's pretty clear that the effort of maintaining a link this long is eating you empty inside. Remember, you had almost no experience before this afternoon. You haven't built up the kind of mental endurance or whatever your people use to do this. Now, Max and Liz are watching Maria and Michael directly through the crystal. If they need us, they'll call us. Better to take a break now rather than be facing the wall right when Michael *really* needs y-"

"Alright, *alright!!*" Isabel blurted out, finally. "I get the point. Just let me sign off and try to let Michael know that I'll be gone." She closed her eyes and went back into concentration mode. When she opened her eyes again, there was a clear quality to them that hadn't been there while she was in contact with Michael. "There. Logged off. Are you satisfied?" She laughed softly. "Or did you have any notins as to *how* we could spend our break... given that we're all alone - in a bedroom..."

"Where our designated chaperone Sherrif Valenti may check in at any moment," Alex pointed out. "And though I have *several* notions for what the two of us could do with a little prvacy, I'm afraid that the ideas that are most quickly popping to mind aren't very restful."

Isabel laughed softly. "I guess you're right."

"So why don't we get *out* of this room for a little bit, huh?!" Alex grinned. "Are you hungry? I heard Kyle talking about ordering pizza."

Isabel stood up and smiled without commenting about pizza. With a few strides of her long (gorgeous) legs she bridged the distance between them, and - still not speaking - circled her arms tightly around Alex's waist. Caught by surprise, Alex went with his instincts and draped his own arms around Isabel's shoulders. Their faces were only about an inch away from each other.

Then, after a moment that to Alex almost seemed like a year, Isabel closed that distance too, and brought her ruby lips to his. Alex kissed her back tenderly for a few seconds before he realized Isabel's tongue was peeking out from between her lips, inviting him in.

All the strength seemed to leave Alex's knees as the kiss got more intense and passionate by the second. Isabel's hands were going crazy over his back, so Alex started to run a few fingers through Is' gloriously soft hair. Finally, after what had to have been more than two minutes, Alex couldn't take it anymore and broke, smiling weakly over at his dichotomous dream-girl. "I... that was just something I really wanted to do," Isabel said after a moment. "Pizza?"

Alex smiled and took Isabel's hand as they headed out in search of hand-delivered sustenance.

* * * * *

"Is anyone else starting to sense a pattern here?" Michael quipped.

After hours of alternating between the sky, the underground, and the near-surface of planet Earth - (with that one interesting side trip under 'water',) the space/time labyrinth had broken away entirely. Right now he and Maria were riding 'down' an escalator toward blue sky that was seeming increasingly black and letting stars through, though the sun was still out. The 'ground' or 'earth' was hovering above them and to the left, leaving Michael with the uneasy situation that either it or he was ignoring the laws of gravity he'd known all his life.

"Yeah," Maria said nonchalantly, trying to lean over the 'edge' of the escalator, and nearly hitting her head on an invisible wall. "We're heading out into space."

"Just like that?" remarked Michael in an aside. "No sense of surprise or fear?? Just 'yeah, space?!'"

"I'm exhausted and I don't get surprised by much since I met you, spaceboy," Maria informed him. "The air's obviously still good here in the labyrinth, so what's to be scared about?" Michael shrugged and didn't comment.

The escalator ended on them soon, and it was back to the endless trek through multiple intersections and corridors - Michael's alien 'sense' his only guide. The labyrinth seemed determined to make up for the featurelessness of near-Earth space around them, and Michael knew that commiting to a wrong turn could cost them hours, or even lead to another confrontation with the beast.

Eventually - he couldn't tell how long - they stumbled into a small room - another slightly furnished one. Couch and cupboard, both of them invisible. Michael could see through them even with the faint light from his hand shining off the edges.

Maria gratefully ran up and collapsed into the couch, while Michael checked the exit first. There was a rectangular panel exactly as large as the doorway by which they had entered, but it was solid and couldn't be passed through -- yet. Michael's 'Labyrinth vibe' told him that this was the right way to proceed, but couldn't inform him how. Like the moving stairs, probably - puzzling out the way to get past was a challenge.

Well, Michael didn't see any clues and he was too tired to be brain teased at the moment anyway. He went over and collapsed next to Maria on the invisible couch - wanted to say something, but couldn't figure out what could cut through all the tension hanging between them.

"Nice view, huh," Maria commented absently. Michael had let his hand glimmer low again, and they could see the stars stretching out before them. The moon - nearly full - seemed about as big as it did from earth, whereas a fair stretch across the sky the two-thirds-lit earth shone much bigger and apparently more brightly. (Michael wasn't sure of the grammer there, but shrugged it off.) Both of the planetary bodies seemed to hang at about eye level relevant to Michael and Maria's current orientation, and they were about...

"Hang on a second!!" Michael exclaimed, standing up for no particularly good reason, pointing each of his arms at the earth and moon, and then attempting to judge their seperation by the angle is arms were pointing at. "If they're... you know I think the space we're sitting in right here might be 'Lagrange point.'"

"Whose point??" Maria answered doubtfully, and Michael stifled a blush and sat down again.

"Never mind... I guess it's not important," he mumbled.

"Well... I'm curious," Maria said, her voice gentle and unpressuring.

"Okay." Michael turned to her and smiled slightly. "Growing up... once I'd realized what I was, you know... well, I started getting into space travel and all that. Going down from the trailer park to the town library and reading books about Nasa and missions to mars and all that, you know."

"Makes sense," Maria answered with a teasing grin.

"Okay. The Lagrange points... I don't remember who Lagrange was or if they were even named after a person - are the five locations in a two-body gravitational system that have simple, stable orbits." He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket, restored cleanness and smoothness with a gesture, and started marking illustrations on it through tiny molecular alterations.

"Like if we have the earth, here.... and the moon here. As the moon travels around us, it has enough mass to pull on anything else that's in the area. The first three lagrange parts are... umm, here..." he marked a spot on the far side of the moon from the earth, "where the pull of the earth and the moon are always lined up, so it's like just one pull. Here too." This was on the opposite side of the earth from the moon. "And the third... would be here I guess." This mark was partway from the moon to the earth along a straight line. "The gravity of the moon just counters enough of the gravity of the earth to keep it in a synchronized orbit, even though it's further in."

"Umm... okay," Maria said, frowning at the picture. "I think I get it - very vaguely. Never knew much about astronomy or anything. But... we're not in any of those spots, are we?"

"No, no, of course we're not," Michael agreed. "But the thing is, those first three Lagrange points, they work out fine in theory but aren't very good in practice. The gravity of the sun," - and Michael stuck a thumb out towards the light coming from behind them, "pulls everything out of place, and unless you use rockets or something you can't correct. Gravity would keep you at the right distance from the earth and moon, but you'd slide out of phase to the side, mucking everything up."

"The fourth and fifth lagrange points are more stable, here and here." He marked two larger spots to either side of the earth-moon pair. "Each forms a triangle with the earth and moon where all three sides are equal. These are called the 'trojan points,' because of some asteroids that take up this position in jupiter's orbit around the sun, and they're totally stable because they're self-correcting. If you drift out of position, you get gently buffeted back in."

"Okay...." Maria repeated again. "But what good are they?"

"A couple of people have been suggesting that space colonies could be set up at the lagrange points," Michael explained. "Huge spheres or cylinders, inside of which you could keep breathable air and set up houses, towns, parks... whatever you want." He thought about that, looking around. "I guess either we're not in the future now - or they never did... we're not far *enough* into the future, at any rate," he corrected himself.

"Oh." Seeing the disappointment on Michael's face, Maria changed the subject. "Well, how do we get out of here anyways?"

"I'm not sure," Michael replied. "It's another puzzle room or something I guess."

"Hmm..." Now Maria was the one to get up. "I guess we'd better look for clues then." There was only one obvious locale, and Maria proceeded to it, opening up the cupboard on the wall. "Hey, weird."

"What is it?" Michael got up and joined her - (only a few steps' distance.) Inside the cupboard - was a huge level that could be pulled up and down. Nothing more.

"Well, nothing ventures..." Maria reached out and pushed the control down one notch. Something out of the corner of his eye caught Michael's attention. Quickly he rushed over to the 'doors,' which were now both impassible - solid.

"Turn it back!" he requested. Startled, Maria did so - opening the portal that led back the way they came.

"Maybe another setting opens the other door," Maria suggested, checking to make sure that Michael was safely inside the room before pulling the lever down two notches. Both doors solid again - and a meteor rock appeared out of nowhere, buzzing their invisible 'room.' Shocked, Maria continued down again even though a meteor in the real space-time continuum couldn't hurt them more than anything else could - and the rock vanished again.

"Something weird is going on," Michael commented. "That lever is changing more than the doors - it's altering the real world around us. But how? We're still in the same place, no matter what setting it's on."

Maria shrugged and continued testing different positions, while Michael kept one eye on the doors and another on space around them. A spark of light appeared ahead of them - between the earth and the moon. "What's that?" he muttered.

"Dunno," Maria replied, heading forward to join him. "That's the lowest setting... hey, check it out!"

A patch of the invisible wall apparently had magnifying capablities, and by orienting himself right Michael could take a closer look at the flare he had spotted. "Hey, that's a rocket!!" he exclaimed. "Looks like one of the later Apollo series - Apollo 16 maybe??"

"Hey!" Maria pulled it together. "What if that lever... moves this room around through time? And there's only one time where the labyrinth pathway continues?!"

"Hey, that makes sense," Michael agreed. "Try some of the settings further up from where we were."

Maria did. As they continued forward through time Michael saw more spaceships travelling between the Earth and the Moon. Suddenly a half-finished metal construction appeared - not fifty feet away from them. Another notch, and they were surrounded by half a dozen gleaming metal cylinders.

"Cool," Maria pronouned, her eyes locked on the happy expression on Michael's face. "I'm glad you got to see this, Michael."

Michael shook himself out of the trance and noticed something else. "This is our stop." Sure enough, the corridor continued on out of door number two, and his labyrinth sense assured him that it wasn't a false trail.

"And away we go again," Maria sighed, unable to hide her own smile.

* * * * *

The scene at the Valenti house was starting to actually look like a slumber party. Sleeping bags from the mountain of camping gear in Jim's basement had been set up on the living room floor, and most of the young people had changed into 'scavenged' pajamas, (read: molecularly transmuted from old towels and blankets.)

"They're approaching the moon now," Isabel mentioned to Max and Liz, demonstrating that she had re-established the mental link with Michael. Approaching pretty close - they might end up at the moon's surface before they get around - or even under it!!"

"Wow," Liz breathed softly, then noticed the gasp as Isabel closed her eyes briefly and shook her head. "Isabel, what is it?"

"I just... I'm getting a little more from Michael this time than the sights and sounds of his subconscious re-processing the details of trying to make his way through the labyrinth," Isabel explained. "I was before, but I was able to tune most of it out. Now..."

"What are you getting now?" Max prompted.

"Stuff," Isabel muttered unhelpfully. "Mental imagery... that seems to be about the way he feels about Maria.

"Oh," Liz said, and then did a double-take. "OH!!! Um... wow. Probably you should..."

"Do your best to ignore it," Max said firmly. "And *never* ever mention this to Michael or Maria."

Liz and Isabel nodded in agreement. Alex smiled and turned his attention to Tess and Kyle, who were sitting on the floor about ten feet away. He didn't mean to eavesdrop on them, but, well... you know how the rest of that goes.

"I just wanted to mention something..." Kyle was saying. "I know I've been giving you a pretty hard time about coming here and taking over my room and stuff... but I know it wasn't really your choice. Anyways... I guess what I've been saying is that you're pretty cool to have around and I'm glad you came to this planet."

"Well, thanks Kyle," Tess said with a smile. "You're pretty cool to have around too. But I've been thinking about why I'm here. I mean... Michael is living on his own. Why can't I too?"

"Well... there's the fact that someone who was living in that house was kind of..." Kyle stopped, apparently realizing that there wasn't any way he could finish that sentence without upsetting Tess more than necessary. "You know."

"I guess..." Tess sighed. "But I promise you - as soon as we settle up with whoever killed Ed, I'll get out of your hair. Y-you're a good friend, but let's face the fact - this house is not big enough for two teenagers. I need to find my own digs."

"Okay, twist my arm." Kyle laughed. "But you'll have to let me come over and visit."

* * * * *

Michael sighed as they stood and rested while letting an unexpected feature of the labyrinth carry them along. As soon as they had turned the corner from the far side of the moon and caught sight of the earth again, Michael and Maria had ended up on a kind of moving conveyer belt that was rushing them quickly towards Earth. The chance to make progress without having to keep walking was a nice change.

He couldn't stop thinking about what Maria had told him. A part of Michael very much wanted to take Maria up on her implied proposal. He'd never been as happy as he had last year when he'd been with Maria and things were going well - even though she couldn't be stopped from busting his chops about table manners, gifts, dating etiquette and all that. He could probably manage to learn, if it came to that.

But somehow Michael just couldn't open his mouth and say the words. Was it pride? The kind of fear and concern for her sake that she mocked? Or was it something else? For an instant, the 'Isabel dreams' popped into his head. No... Isabel was like a sister to him, nothing more. Right? Just because they had been something different fifty years ago, didn't change what he felt...

"Whoo! Take my hand, Michael!" Maria called out. Michael realized that they were approaching the earth's upper atmosphere and the moving sidewalk was coming to an end. Suddenly they were slipping down another invisible slide, heading for... it looked like the Pacific ocean!

Whoosh! splash! After diving with impossible speed down through the air and the ocean, Michael and Maria came to the bottom of the slide - to find that there was a little labyrinth-water at the bottom. "What the heck!?" Maria asked. "Is the space-time labyrinth leaking?"

"There's all kinds of other junk in here," Michael reminded her. "Why not water?" He tried not to grin too obviously at the way Maria looked with wet patches in her hair, halter top, tight jeans, and patches of her exposed skin. Michael was wet too, but was willing to bear it. "Okay..." Three possible pathways - but only one would lead up away from the ocean floor, Michael's sense told him. The way out was pretty close now.

Up a stairway, down some nice big galley hallways, and soon they had passed through the suburban California coast and only a few minutes later, they were walking through the desert.

"Starting to feel like home, pod-boy?" Maria teased him. Michael smiled and kept on walking. The sun was moving closer to the east as they walked - another time thing, probably.

"Wait a second."

"What did you say?" Maria asked, turning towards Michael.

Shrug. "It wasn't me." The voice had been a baritone man's voice, so he didn't even bother accusing Maria. "Who are you!!" he called out.

"Michael, Maria!" A forty-something man was walking towards them from outside the labyrinth. "Don't walk away, or you'll move out of my time-frame. I can't see you or hear you, but I'm pretty sure that I've finally found the right place and time to pass along this message."

"Oh, my god," Maria said, staring at the man. Michael shushed her. This sounded interesting.

"Okay, let's see," the speaker mumbled, apparently trying to find his way in mental notes. "Back on your home planet, a challenge was made. The principals were Queen Emeritus Alinda... that's Max and Isabel's mother... and Kivar, the tyrant who took over Max's throne and killed you all. If the Royal Four can make their way back to Azt, the homeworld, within two Aztan years of when you received the first message from Alinda, then Kivar will step down and hand the government back to Max. Otherwise, Kivar will stay in power forever - Alinda can't lead the loyalists in rebellion against him."

The older man shrugged. "It sounds weird to me too, but there's a long tradition of that kind of thing on your planet, Michael. Great political issues are often settled with games or bets - the idea being that they're no less arbitrary and less expensive and wasteful than going to war. Kinda makes sense. So... let's see. The time limit works out to October the twenty-ninth of 2001... that date is important, so don't forget it."

"Kivar is allowed to bring four of his agents into the field of play - where they know you guys are or are going to go - and they can try to interfere with you. But they're not allowed to kill humans or expose the existence of aliens to the world in general. I know you've got to be suspicious if me telling you all this is some kind of trick - if I'm not what I seem to be here. But you can confirm what I've told you by using the orbs as communicators. The book will show you how."

"But we don't *have* the..." Maria started.

"And *don't* stress about the book being missing," the mystery man continued. "You'll find it, Maria, about... um, three and a half weeks from now. Let's see - is there anything I missed? Challenge to get back home, fate of your world at stake, deadline, enemy aliens, communicators and the book - oh, right. If you make it back home on time, you'll be heroes - the whole Royal Four - especially Max. Even if Kivar tries to go back on the deal and remain in control, not enough of his people will support him if he loses, so you don't need to worry about that. If you can't make it back in time - well, then you'd be better off not stepping foot on Ast ever again. But hey - you guys can do it. I believe in you."

The stranger sighed. "Well, you'd better hurry up and get going now. The gang's waiting for you back at Valenti's house. Say hi to Isabel for me." He made a waving gesture. and Michael, rather unsteadily, led the way on down the invisible corridor of the maze.

"Michael, did you even realize who that way??" Maria asked after they'd been walking for a few more minutes.

"Um... no. He seemed to know an awful lot about us, and he was old, but... why - who do *you* think he was??"

"Michael..." Maria was shaking her head. "That's Alex - about twenty or twenty-five years from now. I'm sure of it!!"

* * * * *

"They're coming close," Max said, smiling. "I can feel it."

"Yeah." Liz had one hand on top of Max's on the Brundis crystal, and the healing stone in the other. "Boy... it's been a long day, huh?"

"Oh yeah," Max sighed, looking at the clock. After one-thirty AM. More than eight and a half hours had gone by since Michael and Maria had first been sucked into the labyrinth. "I can't get my brain around the thought that we have school tommorow morning."

"Then maybe we don't, silly," Liz teased him. "Should we let the others know that this is almost over?" She waved at the living room floor beyond the couch where they sat. Isabel, Alex, Tess, and Kyle had all laid down for rests, leaving Max and Liz to keep vigil alone.

"Naw..." Max replied. "It'll be a nice surprise."

"Cool." There was silence for a moment. "Anything unusual going on in there?" Liz waved at the Brundis crystal.

"No... everything still looks quiet."

"Then come here, darling," Liz giggled, waving Max over. Jim Valenti was nowhere in sight, the others were all tucked into their sleeping bags, and Max couldn't argue that they deserved a little make-out time.

But not everyone was asleep. Out of the corner of her eye and through dishevelled blonde hair, Tess Harding was watching the young man of her dreams and her dark-haired, Roswell native rival. She watched as Max sank into a passionate embrace, spreading out over the couch, french kissing like there was no tomorrow.

No-one noticed the quiet, stifled sobs that started coming from Tess Harding's sleeping bag.

* * * * *

"This is starting to look a lot like New Mexico," Maria commented. "Maybe even the year 2000."

"Yeah," Michael agreed. "If you knew it was going to be this hard, would you have been able to even get started??"

"Well... yeah," Maria said sensibly. "If I'd known what that damn lamp was going to do, I definitely wouldn't have touched it though, that's for sure!!"

"Maybe this'll teach you to listen when I say to stay out of my stuff?" Michael joked.

Suddenly a roar broke out from behind them.

"You gotta be *kidding me*!" Maria screamed. "How the heck did that thing get through the lagrange point room after we'd gone??"

"Not really caring..." Michael said, kicking up into a run alongside Maria, trying his hardest to stay ahead of the monster. He wasn't sure if the labyrinth was helping them cover ground again, but soon they were passing the Roswell city limits sign again. Dawn was falling on the city, and soon it was night. Michael strained to keep the light bright enough to run by while keeping up speed.

Suddenly, a stabbing pain hit Michael in the side. Maria jogged around to face him as his speed fell off. "What is it?"

"I don't know... a sharp, unpleasant feeling near my stomach," Michael explained. "Makes it really hard to run."

"Like a cramp?" Maria asked. Michael looked a little blank - he'd heard the word, but never experienced the reality himself. "You've never had a runner's cramp?" Michael shrugged.

"Well... you've got one now - maybe alien's cramp. Could be all the power you've been amping out today had something to do with it. Well, come on, walk it off. Walk it off."

Michael hobbled along next to Maria, and soon was able to get up to a brisk walking pace. "We're not going to be able to outrun the monster this way."

"We're not going to be able to outrun it any way as long as you've got that cramp," Maria sighed. "Max, this would be a great moment for that shield."

They hurried along. No shield, and the monster was rumbling closer. "Max???" Maria wailed, but no response.

Time was growing short. *Something* had to be done. Maria pushed Michael gently on ahead and turned around to face the monster. "Babe!'" she called out with a gusty melody. "I got you babe! I got you babe!! They say our love won't pay the rent..."

The monster yelped and ran away. Maria hurried after Michael, pleased that her intuition had paid off.

Michael stared at her as she approached. "You scared off the ferocious alien space monster by *singing at it*??"

Maria shrugged. "It worked, didn't it??"

And right then, Maria bumped into a wall. "Whoops. Turn?"

Michael feebly managed to make his hand glow, wincing from the exertion. The corridor right-angled and headed into a house - Valenti's house, which they were standing above the front yard of. "Doh, of course."

Exhilerated, Michael and Maria rushed through the front wall of the house, squeezing in one after another as the invisible walls narrowed towards... WHOOMPTH!

"Hey! Huh?"

"What's the... deal..."

Michael took a moment to evaluate the situation. Max and Liz had just sprung apart on the Valenti's couch, he was pretty sure. Alex and Liz's sleeping bags were nearby - he had just landed nearly on Tess and Maria right on top of Kyle. "Hey, did we miss anything cool, guys?" Maria wise-cracked.

And suddenly everything was right and it all fell into place. Michael flashed an apologetic grin at Isabel and waved Maria over. "Come on, Valenti, hand her over." He swept Maria into his arms and planted a deliberate, no-tongue kiss on her ruby red lips.

Maria stared up at him once the kiss was over. "Do you really mean that?"

Michael grinned at her. "Yeah, I do. Bring on the relationship."

Someone cleared their throat. Michael looked around and saw six faces staring at them - no, seven. The rucus had brought Jim Valenti out in his bathrobe.

"What was the labyrinth like, man?" Alex asked them, as irrepressible as ever.

"Gee, where do we start?" Michael sighed and held Maria closer.

* * * * *

After 2 a.m., every one of them totally exhausted, they were still talking about it.

"I've always loved temporal cycle plotlines in my science fiction," Alex said. "I just never thought I'd be destined to re-enact one."

"What do you mean?" Isabel asked, cuddling up beside him.

"Well... Michael and Maria saw me make that speech to them in that California desert," Alex pointed out. "At least, we all hope it was really me. So... unless I'm prepared to break the chain, I'm going to have to find that place and time and tell them something. The cycle has to be completed."

"Do you want me to see if I can write down a transcript, Alex?" Maria asked.

"No... no sense in making things any squiggier than they have to be. I'll speak from experience and memory, giving you guys what I think you need. Less chance of inaccuracies perpetuating themselves through the cycle that way. After all, if I tell you anything simply because you told me to tell it to you, I don't know if it's so or not. The knowledge has simply sprung to life, fully complete, inside the cycle."

"Enough of this," Michael groaned. "You guys have at least twenty years to sort *that* out. What do we do about the challenge? Or 'supposed' challenge."

"What Future-Alex said is right," Max said. "We can't afford to completely believe him, but we have to take what he's said at face value - at least until we get the book and can hopefully figure out a way to double-check it. Which means we have..." He looked at the calendar on his watch. "Only a little more than a year to master interstellar travel if we hope to get this challenge done." He turned to Alex. "First off, we need to get the rest of the information out of that alien washer of yours. Whatever's inside there, we need to know it, I'll bet."

Alex nodded. "Well, for that I'd reccomend that I need access to that little thing at all times. Twenty-four hours a day."

Max looked at him gravely. "You want me to make a duplicate to substitute in Brody's collection."

"I've been thinking about it, and I think that's the best way to handle it," Alex confirmed.

Max thought about it. "We'll talk later." Even after all the underhanded things the gang had had to be involved in, Alex could see that willfully taking advantage of Brody's trust in such a big way offended his principles. Well... he'd either have to get used to it or come up with a better plan.

"I wonder why Alex mentioned you," Maria said to Isabel. "I mean... besides the obvious - if there is a deeper reason. I mean..." she caught herself. "I'm sure you're not... not..."

"Dead in the future?" Isabel said, trying not to blanch. "I hope not, but whom among us can tell?" She forced a smile.

Michael groaned, and everybody stared at him. "Sorry... just *really* tired. It's been quite a day." The whole group broke into laughs at this.

"Do we *really* have to show up for school tomorrow?" Isabel moaned. "I mean..." She turned to stare at Jim Valenti, who was sitting across the circle from her and hadn't said a word since welcoming Michael and Maria back and expressing his gladness that they were both okay. Others turned to stare at the Sheriff as well.

"Hey, don't look at me," Jim disclaimed. "I'm not the truant officer. Personally, I'd say some of you deserved the break. But... I'm not gonna help you cover for *that.* It's up to each of you to make their own decision." He yawned. "And with that, my own bed is calling me. I expect the lights to be out in here - ten minutes."

As Maria rolled out her sleeping bag, she looked at the spot where they had come through the exit of the labyrinth. "Hey, what happened to the maze after we left? And that monster thing?"

Alex had the answer, as he yawned his way towards dreamland. "The labyrinth existed for the two of you, and ceased to exist once you both got out. The monster probably lost its body. I wouldn't be surprised it it was halfway to Jupiter by now.

"Just so long as it never messes with me or Michael again," Maria quipped.

END OF PART 3...

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-Mar-2002 9:20:57 PM ]
posted on 20-May-2002 2:12:22 PM
Title: Homecoming: the sarabande. Part 4a
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

"Hey, guys, come on inside!!" The faint voice clued Alex in that the limo had stopped again - this time outside the familiar DeLucca homestead. The owner of the voice had been fairly easily identifiable as Amy DeLucca. Of course she would want the dance festivities to enter her house, and not the other way around. Alex, Max, and Michael piled out of the car and tramped up the walk.

"Oooh, don't you guys look handsome..." Amy cooed as they passed the threshold. "Alex... very sharp, nice suit... Michael..." Maria's mother could only shake her head at Michael's choice of threads. "Maria, they're here!!"

Maria made the traditional appearance down the front stairs. Her light brown hair was currently straight and fell down just short of her shoulders in a simple but dramatic and beautiful style. She was wearing an emerald green ball gown which was strapless and flowed down fluidly to about mid-calf, not quite meeting the laces of her ice-green leather heels. Her smile lit up the alien room as she headed over to Alex and wrapped her arms around him in a friendly hug. "Are you going to ask her?" she whispered quietly.

Alex ignored that. "Maria, you look gorgeous."

"Thank you." With a curtsey, Maria moved along to Max, presenting her hand for a shake. "Mister Evans... always a pleasure." Once the handshake was done, she came finally to Michael, "And my spaceboy." She leaned in close and planted a sweet, soft kiss on his cheek. "You'll always be my first true love."

"Have a great time, you guys," Amy called out, beaming from the living room doorway. "But not *too* great..."

"Wee wonn't," Maria called back in singsong, and Amy DeLucca caught the hint, gushed wordlessly one more time, and headed up the stairs.

"So, what now?" Maria asked, turning to the three guys. "We all head back to that big stretch limo?"

"There's no hurry," Michael teased her, "we're running ahead of schedule. Even though Allie-boy here has got us all talking about 'the old days' of about a year ago."

"Oh," Maria said, and then jumped as a thought struck her. "You did the labyrinth without me, didn't you, Michael Guerin?!!"

"Yeah, I'm sorry, we did," Max confirmed. "And of course, after labyrinth day came the 'Three and a half weeks...'"

* * * * *

"So, Mister 'Moral objections' caved?" Michael asked softly as Alex finished dealing out the cards.

"Yeah," Alex agreed in a matching whisper. The deal done, he picked up his own ten cards and started to sort them. "Max made the switch." He pulled the little piece of white string out of his pocket, and as it came it pulled the little 'washer' of metal that it had been looped through.

"Don't make a big deal," Maria warned her boyfriend. "Max had his reasons for not being wild about this plan."

Michael nodded and let the 'Mister morality' bit drop. "Can I have a look at it, Alex?"

"After bidding," he replied. "It's your turn."

"Huh?" Caught by surprise, Michael actually looked at his cards for the first time after picking them up. "Um... six diamonds," he called out after a second.

"Pass," Maria chimed with the longsuffering of a girl who firmly believed herself to be unlucky with cards. (*And* until recently, unlucky in love.)

"Hmm..." For a second Alex considered leaving Michael in his probably-ill-conceived bet, but that impulse didn't last long. "Seven clubs."

"Can't fight you on that," Michael replied, holding out his hand. Alex handed over the alien washer, (wondering if Michael would gasp in shock when he first touched it - if the alien device would 'connect' to Michael,) and picked up the three face-down cards that consitituted his widow.

By the time Alex had chosen his discards and his opening lead, Michael had finished his examination of the alien device, and it was clear as he handed it back to Alex that he had had no remarkable experience from it. "So, have you gotten any good 'ZAP' from it yet?" Michael asked as he laid down the joker with relish, trumping Alex's left bower.

"Not yet," Alex replied, watching as Michael led the queen of diamonds and Maria played low. "I think my brain may still be recovering from the jolt I took to get you guys out of the maze." He played a king and gathered in his first trick. "Any day now."

For about a minute the developing hand of 'five hundred' occupied the three of them to the exclusion of any alien-related conversation. At the next table, Isabel, Kyle, and Tess were also getting into the parlour game of the week. The third table was unoccupied on this occasion.

"Okay, I guess the thing I'm wondering is," Michael asked as he stole Alex's lead away a second time, "what are we supposed to be doing now? Well, Alex, from what your future self (or the guy who Maria thought was your future self,) said, we have three and a half weeks until Maria finds the lost alien book. What do we do between now and then?" Michael finally picked a card to lead. "Sit around and play 'five hundred'?"

"No, Michael," Maria said as she played her last trump on Michael's low heart, (and giggled when Alex was forced to play the queen of hearts on top of it.) "Assuming that our alien opponents don't try anything, this is a period of quiet preparation. We lay the groundwork for the challenges yet to come - particularly the unpleasant groundwork."

"What the heck is that supposed to mean?" Michael snapped, dropping the queen of spades on Michael's ten of clubs. "And why does it sound like you guys have been discussing this without me?"

"Well we have," Alex admitted. "No conspiracy to freeze you out, just a few idle conversations when you were't present."

"And... ?" Michael prompted.

"Max suggested... and we agree, that one of the things we could all be doing to get ready is to work on our classes at school," Alex explained. "None of us know when the next crisis may send us gallivanting out across the state or even further. Missing school is going to be that much less of an issue if we're all three days ahead of the rest of our classes, instead of a week behind."

"And the *we* who agree is?" Michael grumped.

"Me, Alex, Isabel," Maria explained. "I don't know if Liz had been told about this or what her reaction is..."

"Come on," Michael chided. "Even *I* know what her reaction is going to be." He sighed. "And you're right - I don't like the prospect but I see the point."

"It won't be so bad, honey," Maria told her sweetie. "God knows I'm not at my best when it comes to schoolwork either, but we've got some very brainy people in the circle who will be happy to help their disadvantaged friends out. Right, Alex?!"

"That's seven clubs," Alex summarized, avoiding the question. "I've made my bid at one-hundred and sixty points. Michael, you took two tricks, and Maria took one, at ten points each, so ten for Maria and twenty for Michael." He noted the figures down on a scoring sheet. "Your deal, Michael?"

Michael took the playing cards and started shuffling them with certain poor grace. "Is this a real game Alex?"

"Oh, yeah," Alex assured him. "It's really big in Australia. Or at least it used to be."

The look on Michael's face was priceless.

* * * * *

"Hey, Kyle!" Maria called as soon as she saw the familiar face walk through the front door of the cafe. Kyle Valenti seemed to sigh as he haded over to the table where Maria was sitting.

Maria was wearing her street clothes - she wasn't on shift right now, just an ordinary patron. Kyle pulled back the chair opposite Maria and took a seat. "So, what's all this about?"

"Whoops!" Maria giggled. "Didn't mean to be mysterious about it, Kyle. I just thought that I'd like to treat you to lunch, as a small way of saying 'thank you.'"

"Thank you?!" That had obviously caught Kyle by surprise.

Maria shrugged. "Well, yeah. I've heard about how you pitched in to help Michael and me get out of that space/time labyrinth. From everyone else, it kinda goes without saying by now, but you're not really part of our circle, Kyle. You didn't have to spend all evening lending your energy to proctoring the maze, so I wanted to make sure to thank you." Maria had been watching Kyle's face as she said this. "Nobody else even mentioned this, did they?"

"Well, Tess mentioned something... but not in so many words, no. You're very welcome, Maria." He nodded solemnly. "Greater glory has no man than this -- that he lie down his Monday evening for his friends." Maria exploded into laughter.

"Cool," Maria replied once she had breath to talk. "By the way, I've got thirty bucks, so you can't like order EVERYTHING on the menu." Kyle chuckled. "So, what's been up in your life lately, Kyle Valenti??"

"Not much," Kyle admitted, scanning the menu. "Mrs. Bloomberg is driving me *crazy* with these research assignments. Dad's been bugging me about taking an after-school job he wants to set up. Desk work down at the station - helping to file police reports and god-knows-what. And well it comes down to what *really* matters - hunting for dates - well, 'The luck has been poor this month, dances-with-aliens.'" Kyle dropped into his best native impression voice for that last phrases. Maria broke out laughing.

Then Doris came by to take their order, and once she was done Maria started explaining her theory of how teachers over-assign homework because they don't want their students to have better social lives than they do.

* * * * *

Max raced out of the Jeep, pounded up the steps to his house, and yanked a key ring out of his pocket. He didn't quite have a good enough grip, and the keys clattered to the porch step with a couple of tiny ringing tones. "Damnit, Iz!!"

Max squatted down, scooped up the ring, and finally got his house key in the front door lock. A few quick, practiced twists, and he was inside.

*Why* did Isabel have to ask him to go pick up her Chemistry books? Well yeah, she and Alex and Tess had arranged to start practicing mentalics further tonight. But Max was supposed to pick up Liz in about two minutes, so for all practical purposes he was already late and would be VERY late if he couldn't find the damn textbook. Where was it??

She said she'd left it in the living room. And why was it so dark in here?? Max's parents always left a light on in every part of the house if they were going to be out all night... 'to discourage the burglars,' his mom said. But the lights were all out and the drapes were pulled. "What's going on here??"

"Just a surprise change of plans, good lookin'!!" With those words, the sliding doors to the dining room parted and a soft, yellowish light spread through the opening. Candlelight. And a slender sillhouette outlined against the candlelight, that Max suddenly suspected would match the voice.

"Liz?" Max headed forward and to the side to get a better look as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Yes, it was Liz - curls of dark hair cascading down past her shoulders (he had known that she was getting a perm last night but had hardly had a chance to get a good look at it today at school.) She was wearing a little black dress and a smile lit up her already-gorgeous face. "Wow, you look incredible... and I am obviously underdressed." Max waved self-consciously at his t-shirt and jeans.

"Don't worry about it," Liz assured him. "I just felt like dressing up. On the other hand, if you wanted to go up to your room and QUICKLY throw on nice shirt and pants, and maybe a sport coat, I wouldn't stop you." She laughed softly. "But really that would just delay dinner."

"Dinner?" Max looked past Liz into the dining room. The table was set with ornate candelabras in the centerpiece and fancy dishes, covered serving platters, the whole nine yards. "Just how much trouble did you go to to set this up Liz?"

"Don't worry about it." Liz chuckled. "I just wanted to make you a nice dinner because I loved you, and... well, some friends wanted to help out and things snowballed a little from there, but it's nice, don't you think?" She giggled nervously, the soft pink blush of embarassment only narrowly visible on her face in the dim yellowish light, and somehow Max treasured it more for that.

"It's incredible. Thank you, and thank 'the friends' for me too, okay?" Max felt like a goofy smile was plastered over his face. He bent down slightly and kissed Liz, trying to let her feel all the love he held in his heart for her.

A few Liz-flashes popped into Max's mind. Liz out on her balcony, writing in her journal - he couldn't place it any closer than that. Riding with him in the Jeep on the old highway -- oh, that was probably just before the accident that put him in the hospital. That night out in the desert, when they found the first orb.

Max broke off the kiss and looked into Liz's incredible brown eyes, shining with just a hint of tears that Max certainly hoped were due to happiness and not sorrow. "Did... did you get a flash just then?"

"No... why?" Liz's confusion turned to play-acting resentment. "Why... what did *you* get?" She pouted dangerously at him.

"Just you, Liz Parker," Max whispered reassuringly. "Only you." That, at least, brought a smile back to Liz's face. "So, what's for dinner?"

"Well, let's see..." Liz led him over to a seat at the table and started busying herself with the platters on the table. "I'm going to be trying all of your favorites tonight, Max... grilled cayenne peppers in a sugar cream sauce... ahh yes, here - maple curry halibut, Linguine with your mom's special thickened tabasco gravy and corn syrup... and... a surprise for desert." Liz grinned wickedly at him.

"Oh, god..." Max winced. "How did you find all this out - Isabel again?"

"Pretty much," Liz confessed. "And your mom's 'kitchen box.' Don't be embarassed, Max - this is the kind of stuff you like, right?"

"Well, yeah... kind of." Max shook his head slightly. "I dunno, I guess I've found the 'sweet and spicy' kick only takes me so far anymore. I'd have liked to try *your* favorite foods."

"Oh." For a moment Liz was crestfallen, and then she put on a resolve face. "Well, THAT will have to wait for another night, when *you're* doing the detective work - AND the cooking! That's fair, isn't it??" She smiled across at him, taking her own seat.

"You've got a deal," Max promised. "Well, let's get started - pass those peppers over!"

For a minute they were busy with the trivialities of getting a meal started. And then after Liz had eaten her third pepper slice (and still making odd faces with them, Max noticed,) Liz asked "So... umm, how've you been? I mean, I feel like we've hardly gotten a chance to talk over the past few days."

"Yeah..." Max agreed. "Between serving tutoring duty, trying to pull ahead in my OWN classes, working after school with Brody, and that damn fool debate team -- busy but okay." Max kind of regretted having joined his one extracurricular activity for the year... he had signed up just after school started, when he seemed to have a lot of spare time and not much to do besides obsessing over the fact that Liz didn't seem to want to be with him any more.

Now, of course, he and Liz had reconciled, time was at a premium, and Max hadn't quite figured out how to quit the squad without disappointing his father. (Who, it turned out, had been captain of debate teams from sophomore year in high school all the way through to Stanford Law, and was delighted that Max was following in his footsteps...)

"Yeah, I hear you," Liz agreed. "Helping Maria out with her chemistry class, working evenings at Whittaker's office, and the science club." She sighed. "I'm glad we were able to get our schedules together, for at least one night."

"It won't just be one night," Max assured her. "Things'll settle down soon, I hope." He started on the fish, and something else occured to him. "I finally found a copy of that cave map, from River Dog's. Alex wants a whole bunch of us to get together, to go over it. Michael, and me, at least, and... Tess." He hated even saying the name to her. "Do you want to come along too?"

"No, Max," Liz shook her head. "I don't need to chaperone every time you and Tess are in a room together, I trust you. Besides, if you dragged me along, it might just make her suspicious." A beat. "*Speaking* of which... have you thought of a way to tell the delicate and fragile Miss Harding that we're together yet?"

"Umm..." Max could feel the hot flush spreading across his cheeks. "Well, not as such, no." Big sigh. "Maybe I'm looking for something that doesn't exist - we could just blurt it out. I mean... she knows that she has to stick with us. The challenge. If all four of us don't come together, it's pointless." Liz didn't look too convinced of that reasoning. "Come on, this night is about us. Let's not talk about Tess, okay?"

"I wasn't the one who brought her up, was I?" Liz muttered. "Okay, Max, what do you want to talk about?"

They chatted about old times, and new music, until it was clear that both of them together weren't going to eat more than about a third of all the food Liz had prepared. Then there was some making out, and some groping, but it didn't go any further than that. Max loved Liz, but he also knew that this wasn't the right time to go too far, and it seemed that Liz felt the same way.

They had ended up on the couch, Max wrapping his arms around Liz, her head resting on his shoulder, and a big warm quilt wrapped around them both, when Liz stiffened all of a sudden and jerked her head up. "What?" Max asked, immediately concerned. "What is it??"

"Umm..." Liz shook her head as if to clear out the confusion. "I think I had a dream."

"You were asleep?" Max teased her, and Liz nodded sheepishly. "Well, what was the dream about?"

"I'm not sure..." Liz confessed. "There wasn't that much to it... no sight, no sound. Just a sequence of bodily sensations."

Max's eyes grew wide. "What *kind* of sensations?"

She poked an elbow into his side. "Not THAT kind of sensations, ya big galoot. I..." she closed her eyes and seemed to concentrate. "I was sitting on a chair, I think -- hands tied beside me. I reached out and... and kicked something, and suddenly the floor tipped away at an angle and I started to fall. And that's when I woke up."

"Weird," Max muttered, wrapping his arms more tightly around Liz again.

"Yeah." Liz relaxed, then tried to sit up again. "Max... what time are your parents supposed to be home?"

Max checked the clock, and remembered what his mother had said that morning. "Fifteen minutes."

Liz forced an arm out of Max's embrace and gestured to the various personal items littering the living room floor and the uneaten food in the dining room. "We'd better start cleaning all this up, don't you think?"

Max sighed. "I guess you're right." He let Liz go and threw back the quilt, and as she went off to find her shoes, Max reached down and put his shirt back on.

* * * * *

"No... I'm sorry," Michael insisted. "Just look at this dialog. The woman has gone crazy."

"Shakespeare's using insanity as a metaphor for character growth," Maria argued back. "She's realized how meaningless the world of male ambition is and she can't come to terms with the acts of cruelty she knows she's committed. I... I feel sorry for her, actually."

"I don't!!" Michael shot back. "I mean... she nagged and henpecked Macbeth into becoming a traitor, and while he's out there fighting the final battle to protect what she wanted Lady Macbeth just gets to go crazy??"

"Macbeth wanted all that too!!"

"You guys are so lucky," Isabel commented idly. Both Michael and Maria turned to stare at her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"Lucky, how?" Michael couldn't help but ask.

"I dunno, it's just..." Isabel sighed as she tried to put her thoughts in order. "Every time you guys talk, even if it's just about English Lit, you have all this passion. I... sometimes I guess I'm worried that Alex and I will never have that."

"Oh." Maria muttered, suddenly embarassed.

"But I didn't mean to get us off topic," Isabel continued, going firmly back into 'tutor mode.' "Insanity as metaphor, the fate of Macbeth versus lady macbeth, both of those are good answers, and actually they'd be good topics for your three page papers. And I think that's enough Shakespeare for now..." She picked up a printed page and looked at it. "Okay, your book reports are due in two and a half weeks, have you picked your material?"

"Umm... I was thinking 'The partner,' by John Grisham?" Maria asked tentatively.

"Hmm." Isabel considered that weightily. "Yeah, I think that'd be okay for Mister Monatee. And you, Michael??"

"Umm... 'Franny and Zooey', by J D Salinger?" Michael asked. Both Maria, and to a lesser extent Isabel, stared at him in shock. "Well, I liked Catcher in the rye so much I thought I'd try it out," Michael added defensively.

"Every time I think I've got you figured out you surprise me, spaceboy," Maria whispered appreciatively.

"Yeah... um, those are both good, so... let's see, I have you on Saturday afternoon at one, so... I'd like you to bring your first drafts for the three day papers, and have at least half of your books read by then. And don't worry about the test on the first three acts of 'Macbeth.' you're both gonna do great!!" Isabel smiled with a little too much enthusiasm for Maria's taste.

* * * * *

"Try to concentrate on the most general description you can. You can see specific imagery from this thing, you already know that. But as long as you're looking at the trees instead of the forest, you'll miss things -- like you almost missed that monster in the labyrinth. What's the thread that ties everything together?"

Alex nodded without opening his eyes and focused. Nothing. And then, it seemed, he started to get something. "A life. One particular... alien, a young journeyman in the power. His memories, over a period beginning not long after the Royal Four were killed and ending when the ship left for earth. I... I can get some images that have to be from his childhood, but it's predominantly that... that two or three month period."

Alex sighed and opened his eyes. "I need to take a break, I've been thinking too hard. But that was a good cue, Liz. Thanks for... well, for coming here, being my sounding board. I know you've probably got other things you'd rather be doing?"

Liz smiled at Alex from his desk chair as he still sat cross-legged on the bed. "Like what?"

"Like making more time with Max??" Alex teased.

Liz sighed. "Have I been so obvious about it lately?"

"To everyone except a certain girl with the intials T.H, yeah."

Liz nodded. "Actually, he's working on a big physics paper tonight, or at least he should be. But even if he weren't... I hope the day never comes when I don't have time to help my best, oldest friend in the world."

"So Maria's good, but where does that leave me?" Alex wisecracked.

Liz looked up at that with surprise. "Is that what you think? That I'm a better friend to Maria than to you?"

Alex thought for a second, as he stretched his legs over the side of the bed. "Well, I wouldn't have put it that way, but yeah, I feel like you're closer to her than you are to me. You've known her a few years longer, you spend more time together." Alex knew he shouldn't, but the words came out of his mouth without him being able to stop them. "You told her about the whole Cszechoslovakian thing like the day you found out. I had to wait for three months."

"Oh, god." Liz rushed over and sat beside Alex on the bed. "Look, I'll admit that the circumstantial evidence looks bad," she admitted. "But I never meant it to be that way or anything. As far as I'm concerned I have TWO best friends - you and Maria. No difference. And if you ever feel that I'm not acting that way, you just let me know, okay??"

"Easier said than done," Alex pointed out. "But I'll try."

"So..." Liz shuffled down the bed to give each of them a little more space now that Alex seemed to be okay. "How are things going between you and the ice queen??"

"Glacially!" Alex shot back. "But that's okay - this thing with Isabel, we've both kind of learned to take it at its own pace. When I try to rush... bad things can happen." He sighed a little.

"You'll get there," Liz promised. "So... do you want to try some more with the doo-hickey?" She pointed at the alien washer sitting next to Alex on the bed.

"Hmmm... nah. I'll wear it to bed tonight, see if I get any good dreams." He thought for a second. "Should I set up the checker board?"

Liz laughed. "You're on."

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 10-Jun-2002 9:20:14 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4a
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: Mild R, this part. *happy*
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

Part 4a: Into the maze. (post two out of three.)

* * * * *

(November 4 2000.)

Maria checked her watch, and then her reflection in the mirror one more time. Michael had told her to be ready at ten-thirty in the morning for an 'all day event,' and to dress 'casual hot.' (She groaned slightly at that last part, out of sheer habit.)

But she couldn't get too mad at Michael lately - her sense of sheer happiness got in the way. Michael wanted to be with her, and he was making an effort, and that made Maria feel okay about putting up with an occasional bout of 'Michael-ism.' After all, if she loved the big lug, tolerating any minor faults was the thing to do right?

She had even spent almost an hour trying to figure out what would best satisfy as 'casual hot' to Michael Guerin. She ended up wearing her 'only-for-special-occasion' designer jeans, (the ones that clung to her legs in all the right ways,) a cut-off tie-die-pattern T-shirt that showed her midriff off, and her mom's old cowboy boots. Michael didn't stand a chance!

And speaking of whom, Maria caught the unmistakeable sound of an engine smoothly dying away in the driveway. Michael was a minute or two early. Would miracles never cease?!!

Maria was so excited that she hurried out of the house to meet him. When Michael turned around and saw her, his jaw dropped and his eyes bugged out. "M-Maria. You look *INCREDIBLE!*"

"Thanks," Maria mumbled. Actually, she felt like Michael looked - he was in a tight t-shirt and jeans too - white above and black below, and there wasn't a part of the outfit that didn't hint at the handsome, muscular physique she knew was underneath. "Um -- you, you too," Maria stammered out belatedly.

"Cool," Michael replied with a quiet smile. Turning away from her for a second, he produced a second helmet, not quite a match for the one under his arm. "Well, should we hit the road babe?" he asked solicitously. "Ways to go."

He moved aside slightly, and it was the first time Maria got a clear view of the vehicle sitting in her mother's driveway. As she had expected (and as the helmet confirmed,) Michael had picked her up in the motorcycle he had acquired over the summer. (And by 'acquired', Maria meant that he had either bought the chassis thirdhand at the secondhand bike shop or rescued it from te scrap yard and decided that he could 'restore' it.)

But 'the Bike' didn't look like the last time Maria had seen it. Was it less obvious dust and rust? A few new brightly colored wheel guards and other esthetic touches?? A trace of polish and shine!? Feeling a little vague, Maria mumbled "I like what you've done to the bike, too," and plunked on the bike helmet. It had just better not mess up her hair *too* much.

Michael hadn't been kidding about his 'ways to go.' Maria only remembered that she still didn't know her final destination they passed the city limits sign on Main street. (285 South, didn't that bring back memories. But Michael hadn't taken the on-ramp to the highway.) Where *was* he taking her?

It wasn't easy to talk above the roar of a motorcycle engine while whizzing down the road and wearing a helmet, so Maria settled for wrapping her arms around Michael's body and watching the desert scenery parade past. Time seemed to lose some of its meaning, but with a start Maria realized that they must have been riding for nearly half an hour already.

"Where the czechoslovakia are we going, anyways??" she called out to Michael.

"Suprise," he reminded her maddeningly in a throaty shout. "Don't worry - we'll be there soon!"

The town of Dexter, New Mexico had just come and gone when Michael suddenly made his turn off of the main road, and quickly they were pulling into a parking lot. Other cars were pulling in and finding places all around them -- mostly families with kids, though some teenagers like them and older people. "What IS this??" Maria repeated as she got off of the bike and pulled off her helmet.

"County fair," Michael explained, pointing off to the side of the parking lot and up slightly. Above the trees Maria could see part of a Ferris wheel that had presumably been set up in a clearing on the other side of the narrow strip of forest - along with the rest of the fair, presumably. "I thought you'd like it."

"Awww..." As Michael pulled off his own helmet Maria swooped in and kissed him quickly on the lips, holding it for several seconds. Once the kiss was over Maria broke into a wide grin, and Michael just looked at her for a second, semi-stunned.

"What was th-- oh, never mind," he decided, taking her hand. "Come on, let's go. What do you want to do first?"

"Umm..." Maria thought as they walked towards the midway. "I want you to win me the best prize they have in the ring toss!!"

"Oh, boy," Michael groaned...

Of course, it wasn't quite that easy. In fact, Michael got onto a bit of an unlucky streak, and they had to wander around the midway a little while until he finally used his powers to knock down the bottle tower before Maria got her prize - she picked a pretty green crystal key ring and was thrilled with it. Then sharing some fried chicken and french fries from one of the food shacks, and they got strapped in together for a ride in the biggest roller-coaster Maria had ever seen. Michael said something about it being more fun than the labyrinth, with none of the monsters.

"Well, what now?" Michael asked, as they left the coaster exit. Maria slowed to a stop, still a little unsteady on her feet after all of the high-G motion, and looked around.

"Oh, they set up a tunnel of love somehow!!" she exclaimed suddenly. "Come on, Michael, we *have* to try it out!"

"Hmmm..." Michael considered the suggestion, and his eyes took in Maria from top to bottom all over again. "Yeah, I think that's an idea I can get behind."

It took a little while - (waiting in a line, mostly,) but finally the two of them were helped into a small, comfy boat by a discreet attendant and set loose to drift through the tunnel. Soon the dimness closed in and they might very well have been the only two people in the world - which was obviously the point.

"So... what happens now?" Michael asked, vaguely nervous. "Do we just start... doing stuff??"

"Umm..." Maria could understand how Michael felt. This seemed a little bit too much like the feeling she had heard about from makeout game parties in high school - where you were *expected* to kiss so much that it sucked all the fun out. (Maria had never been invited to those kinds of parties.)

"No... not yet, we don't have to," she assured Michael. "It's not like there are 'tunnel of love' rules. We can just sit here and talk for a while." She leaned back, snuggling into the crook of his arm.

"So..." Michael let that word hang in the air for a few long moments. "How've you been doing?"

"Me?" A loud sigh of contentment escaped Maria. "I've been great."

"You really mean that?"

Maria turned around slightly to look at the young man she had fallen in love with. "Well, yeah! No..." She caught herself and looked around carefully. Nobody seemed to be within earshot, but she couldn't be sure how far their voices would carry in this tunnel. Still - they weren't hearing sounds from any other boats, and she doubted that everybody would be completely quiet. A bit of caution would have to do.

"No 'out of this world' crises for the past almost two weeks... everybody in the gang seems to be getting along great... and then there's you, spaceboy." She dropped her voice to a throaty whisper instinctively for that last bit.

Michael smiled a wide smile. "Little ol' me?"

Something snapped a little inside of Maria at that point, and she swatted Michael soundly on the shoulder. "Stop that!"

"Hey!!" Michael protested, and then her words registered. "Stop what?! What was that for?"

"Being too sweet," Maria accused him. "That's not the rude, stubborn, son-of-a-bitch that I fell in love with." And she grinned teasingly at him.

"Really?!" Michael's eyes glinted in the dim mood lighting. "Well, I'm not the only one here who's been acting a little saccharine lately."

"Who, me??"

"No, the little gingerbread girl hiding in the far corner of the boat," Michael mocked. "Of course, you."

Maria considered that a moment, and Michael's face widened suddenly. (Was he evaluating the expression on her face the way she kept track of his mannerisms?) "Guilty as charged," she finally confessed. "I've just been so... so *happy* lately."

"And I haven't??" Michael pressed.

"Gotit," Maria nodded. "So we're agreed - we'll just have to make the ultimate sacrifice for our relationship and bitch at each other more."

"Sounds good to me, shrill and compulsive!!" Michael joked along, turning Maria around in his arms and bringing his lips to hers for a passionate kiss.

The kiss was slow, not like the one Maria had initiated in the parking lot, or the smooches they'd been trading back and forth around the fair. Luxuriant. Maria was glad that she was already lying down, because none of her muscles wanted to work the way they usually did, the way her body felt when Michael was kissing her like this. She managed to put enough effort into raising her arms to get her hands onto *Michael*'s arms, stroking them, feeling the buff lines of his skin.

Michael's hands were both at the small of her back, and when he took his lips away from hers, Maria let out a sound that seemed a mix of a sigh, a moan, and a mew - all of it dissapointed. "Don't stop, Michael -- no stopping."

Michael smiled in that infuriating way he had. "You want more of that, babe?" He waved beckoningly, sitting up beside her. "Come and get it!"

Maria took him at his word, launching herself up with an energy she hadn't realized she had thirty seconds ago, wrapping her arms tightly around Michael's neck, and kissing him as well as she knew how. It was different from the last kiss, more energetic - was that because she was the initiator this time? The difference between hers and Michael's 'kissing perconalities'? Or were serious, no-kidding-around kisses like snowflakes, no two alike?

Maria didn't waste too much energy wondering about such things, in fact, most of her concentration was razor-focused on holding Michael as tight as she could and licking at his tongue with hers. Even remembering to inhale through her nose she was starting to feel short of breath, but Maria didn't care. If she asphyxiated here in the tunnel of love, french-kissing Michael Guerin... **well, let's be honest here. What better way to check out!?**

When Michael moved his mouth away from hers a second time, Maria didn't protest. Now, she could tell from the passionate glint in his eyes that all Michael was interested in was moving on to better things. Sure enough, soon Michael's lips found their way to her neck, sucking in that way that always used to take her breath away. The way Maria was feeling right now, 'taking her breath away' seemed like a moot point, but that only heightened the effects that Michael's talented lips created througout her body as they played across the sensitive spots on her skin. The dark, water-filled tunnel was gone as far as Maria could tell, replaced by a puffy pink cloud of delerious pleasure.A current of sensation was coursing through every level of her without stopping, slowly growing more and more intense. Hotter and hotter.

And then Michael flipped up her skimpy little belly shirt, tucking it into place just under her collarbone, and started stroking at the material of her light blue cotton bra.

HHOOOOOH-MAAMMAAAA!! If Maria had thought she was in make-out heaven before, (and the thought had managed to cross her mind,) this brought everything to another level. As Michael's fingers started to fondle her chest more strongly, (and yet quite tenderly,) and his lips started to suck at her right earlobe, Maria started to become aware of a new sensation entering the mix - and a question popping into her mind.

All of the lust and energy that had been spreading throughout her body was starting to converge... at a single point, as it were, and a strong need began to build at that point. **How much further do I want to go here** Maria wondered silently as one of Michael's hands ran carressingly over her stomach. She wasn't ready to... well, you know. At least she didn't think she was. And the idea of losing her virginity (or even coming close,) in a tunnel of love at the county fair was not quite her idea of 'making it special. But the temptation to unsnap her jeans (or ask Michael to do it,) and let things proceed from there was almost overwhelming.

"Umm, uhh... excuse me?" It would be hard to say whether Maria got her shirt pulled back down before or after the blush covered her face, and Michael jumped back away from her so suddenly that the boat almost started taking on water. After staring for a long couple of seconds, Maria's vision cleared to the point where she could make out the owner of the voice - the attendant who had gotten them into the boat at the first place. Obviously, they had gotten to the end of the ride, (or maybe the beginning again, depending on how you looked at it,) and hadn't noticed.

"Ummm... I can set you off for another go round," the twentysomething man said helpfully, "but we'll have to get the boad through this channel here."

"Ohh..." Maria considered for a moment, and then got somewhat wobbily to her feet. "No, I think we're good, thanks." As much fun as 'another go round' might be, Maria suspected that she might get into something that she really wasn't ready for. Michael had at least as much trouble maintaining his balance as she did.

"Okay, uh... here we go," tunnel-guy said, helping them out of the boat one at a time. "Have a nice day at the fair. Ohh... check yourself, buddy," he whispered to Michael, so quietly that Maria could hardly hear it.

Michael looked around at himself, and blushed again. Instead of heading for the exit, he walked over and leaned against the wall as the attendant took their boad away.

Maria headed over towards him. "So... what are we doing here?"

"Umm... I dunno about you, but I'm trying to get ready to be seen in public?" Michael whispered, with a significant glance downwards.

"Oh, uh, right..." Maria muttered, blushing herself. "Gotcha."

* * * * *

(November 5 2000.)

The door cracked open, revealing a wary eye. "Come on in, Maxwell." Michael opened the door to his apartment wider. "Everyone else is already here."

Max smiled and nodded as he came in. "Thanks." After a second, he commented, "What's this I heard about you beating some college student up at the carnival?"

Michael shrugged. "Well, he was insulting Maria." Max knew he had a dubious look on his face. "Don't worry, I did my best to keep everything low-profile. It's a non-issue."

Max was about to reply, but Tess called him over to the coffee table. "Hey, Max, glad you're here -- now, can we get started??"

"I guess so." Max went over to sit in one of the living room chairs, waving hello to Alex. Michael emerged after a minute or so with a big piece of paper, a hand-drawn enlargement of the cave map. (Had Michael drawn that himself?? It was really a very good reproduction.)

"Okay, Alex," Tess said with a sardonic gleam in her eye. "Here you go. Do yer washer-y thing."

Alex ignored any edge in Tess's voice and started keenly surveying the paper. "Okay... It's a map, obviously... these icons seem to indicate particular places on the map." He gestured to about half a dozen intricate pictures, spread over the map area. "And then there are the six lines of text, written in..." he concentrated, grabbed briefly for the alien washer in his pocket, and then seemed to get it. "They're written in a very old and convoluted alphabet from your home planet - something vaguely like chinese syllable-letters."

"Okay," Michael said, pulling the couch closer (to Tess' muted surprise, since she was sitting at the other end.) "What do they say?"

"I..." Alex shook his head in frustration. "I... I don't have all the answers here."

"You don't seem to have *much,*" Tess pointed out snidely. Max shot her a glare, which seemed to quiet her down.

"Your language is huge... well, I guess most languages are huge, but this is probably bigger than most languages on earth. I... I can't sort through it all. I can't process." Alex shook his head. "I'm sorry."

"Well, let's just take it one step at a time, okay?" Max suggested calmly, and reached out to point to the first few symbols on the first line. "What's this?"

"Umm... 'Kree-tur-vant,'" Alex recited slowly.

"And what does that mean in english??" Michael asked impatiently.

"That's just the trouble," Alex growled back. "I can access a huge amount of vocabulary from this thing, but it's all hit and miss, and I can never seem to find what I want. 'Varistor' is mentalics. 'guon' is a pronoun roughly corresponding with 'she'." He pronounced the alien word almost like 'goon,' except with a slightly sharper and more intense vowel sound. "'Aditars' is a companion. 'Venrik' is the color white, but how does any of that help us??"

"It's something to start with, at least," Michael shot back. "None of us have ever been able to get as far as you've gotten, Alex. Don't quit on us now. How would the rest of that line get pronounced??"

Alex sighed and turned his attention back to the map. "Kree-turvant, eg ad itar muant. The next line begins with--"

"Wait a second!!" Tess broke in. "You just listed 'aditars' in your sample vocabulary, Alex! Is that the same as the word you listed for these three symbols?" She ran her finger along three of the symbols in the first line of the message.

"I don't... wait a second!!" Alex exclaimed. "It's not exactly the same, but it's a variant on that root meaning. I guess it would be the plural form, 'companions.' And possibly past tense." He frowned. "But why didn't *I* make that connection?"

"I think I might know," Max said. "You've got the theoretical know-how in your head, but you're human. Your brain isn't set up to make the neural associations to truly learn our language -- at least, not easily. Whereas we..."

"Yeah, I get the point," Alex broke in. Max and Michael - all of them were different. He didn't need to be reminded about that. "Well... maybe you guys should be the ones trying to read the message then, and I'll just furnish my theoretical knowledge when you need it."

"We need it all," Max laughed. "Let's start with the phonetic pronunciation of the second line." He picked up a small notepad and a piece of paper.

It took them nearly three hours, and a substantial order of barbecue chicken delivered to Michael's apartment, to finish up a reasonably accurate translation. Once it was done, Max read over it again wonderingly.

"All my companions dead,
Alone and hunted am I.
That which I could salvage,
I've hidden around this land.
When you fathom my message,
You will know where."

"It sounds a lot better in the original language," Alex assured him. "Almost poetic."

"But it doesn't tell us anything we couldn't have guessed," Michael interjected as he turned on the TV to football and turned the volume down slightly. "Presumably Nasedo wrote that long before we emerged, as an instruction in case he couldn't meet us himself. The military had killed or taken prisoner the rest of the guardians, the police and the special unit were hunting him. So he drew the map to mark anything of value he'd been able to save from the wreckage of our ship."

"Like our pods," Max repeated, seeing it. "Which is the symbol you followed to take you to the public library the night of the contest, Michael?"

"Umm..." Michael scanned over the map briefly. "This one." He pointed to a marked spot on the paper. "The same symbol that we found in the woods."

Max stared at Michael for a second. "Umm, Michael?? That *isn't* the symbol that was in Frazier woods."

"It's not?"

"No - the symbol from Frazier woods was the whirlpool, the same symbol that was on Atherton's necklace and the orbs. THIS --" And Max pointed to the map too, "is the planet-with-ring symbol -- the same one that was on the book from the..." and that's when it hit Max. "From the library."

"You followed the wrong symbol, Michael?" Tess observed.

"Hey, it could happen to anybody," Alex said. "Well, let's see... if the planet-with-ring is the library, and the four-square is the pod chamber, then the REAL whirlpool symbol would mark..." He frowned, trying to work it out in his head.

"Of course!!" Max exclaimed. "That's the old radio tower by Highway forty-two -- where Liz and I found the first orb. Which was marked with the whirlpool symbol."

"Okay," Michael said. "So, we've got three symbols accounted for so far... four left - this mountainy-looking thing, the row of little blocks..."

"I think maybe they're supposed to be cells, Michael."

"The big whirling circle that is maybe supposed to be a galaxy, and... a wheel segmented in five parts. Hey, isn't this..."

"Just like the one River dog used to heal you," Max finished. "And... yeah, the balance wheel icon is in the Mesaliko reservation. Where the map itself was... but I guess that's not a big problem." He sighed, looking at the map. "Three more caches of stuff that Nasedo was able to save from the crash. I wonder what might be there?"

"Hey," Alex piped up. "How did you know to go to the library to get the book anyway, Tess?"

"Ed told me about it," she said, confirming Alex's guess. "He didn't tell me to take it, just that it was there. I... well, I wanted something to draw Max out, since he seemed to be avoiding me."

Somehow nobody had an immediate reply to that.

* * * * *

(November 10 2000.)

Isabel turned Max's jeep behind a rocky outcropping and parked it there. "Okay, here we are."

Alex looked around. "And where is 'here' specifically?" The area looked a little familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. Isabel had nabbed him at the start of lunch period (which was now almost half over, they had been driving so long,) and not said a word about where they were going. Alex had gone along with it, not particularly interested in 'ruining her surprise.'

"You'll see," Iz said, pulling him in for a quick kiss, and then jumping out of the car. Alex followed as she led him up a craggy foot-path on another desert hill.

It hit Alex where he remembered this place from about three-quarters of the way up - when Max had shown him the pod chamber. "What's going on?" he blurted out. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I'd say something's right," Isabel assured him cryptically. Sure enough, she stopped at that unassuming rock face and waved her hand in the same spot that Max had. The glowing silver handprint emerged in the rock, as before, except this time Alex could sweat that it exactly matched Isabel's hand - right down to the long and slender fingers. She pressed her hand into the mark and like magic, the passageway opened before them.

"Come on in," Isabel said, stepping over the threshold. Alex followed her in uncertainly.

"Did you take me up here just to show me the pod chamber?" he couldn't help but blurt out. "Because I hate to steal your thunder, but Max already took me here, remember??"

"No, I didn't take you up here to 'show it to you,'" Isabel said, turning around to look him in the eyes. "I brought you up here for a picnic lunch!!" She waved down to the floor of the chamber, where surely enough a picnic basket was sitting, waiting for them.

"A picnic lunch," Alex repeated. "Here??"

"Why not?" Isabel shuffled over to the wall, touching a particular spot on it, and the doorway closed in on them. But the air inside seemed fresh and cool, and the light from the glowing ceiling seemed yellowish and blueish at the same time without becoming green. "No-one will disturb us here, at least."

Alex shrugged and smiled. "I guess I can't argue with that." He grabbed Isabel's hand and walked her over to the basket. "So when did you set all of this up? This morning before school??"

"Yeah," Isabel confirmed as they sat down. "Don't worry, I put ice packs into the basket to make sure that nothing went bad. A little trick I learned from mom."

"Oh yeah," Alex said, rifling through the basket. "Ice cold pasta and meat sauce. Great trick."

Isabel just waved a hand at the plastic container Alex had brought out of the basket, and suddenly it was hot enough that he almost dropped it. "Could you toss me a seven up and a tuna sandwhich, please?"

Alex did. "I keep forgetting that you can pull stunts like that."

They chatted about small stuff over the first course, schoolwork and the other members of the gang and family situations. After rooting around in the basket again and taking half of a chicken sandwhich, Alex changed the subject.

"Isabel, have you... thought any, about what this challenge means?? I mean... if we can pull it off, that means in less than a year you're going to be on your home planet, and we don't know if any of you will be able to come back."

"I dunno, I'm trying to just take it one step at a time," Isabel admitted. "I mean, it's a lot to grasp all at once." She cocked her head prettily at him. "Are you thinking about what will happen to us when I go?"

Alex smiled sheepishly, knowing that he was probably blushing. "I was trying very hard to avoid putting it in those terms, but yeah." He sighed loudly. "I mean, I *know* that we aren't really that serious, yet - but sue me, I have high hopes."

Isabel put her drink down and took Alex's hand. "Alex -- I love you too." Her eyes were locked onto his like a laser targeting scope. "And if there's any way -- I would love to take you across the galaxy with me, so that we can be together."

Alex gulped. "Do... do you really mean that, Isabel?"

She paused for a moment in self-reflection. "Yeah, I really really do!" And then, all of a sudden, it seemed as if she had launched herself at him like a... well, cliche intended, like a rocket ship. Her arms wrapped around Alex's chest and her lips found his like a guided warhead. The chicken sandwich was getting squashed somewhere between them, but nobody cared.

Isabel had initiated the kiss, but Alex could see that she was signalling him to take the driver's seat. (As it were.) That was fine with him - he felt like Isabel was always the one who was kissing him - (mostly because he never felt very certain of the reaction he'd get if he tried to make the first move. Maybe that would be different, after this.) He pushed his tongue between Isabel's lips, and the sensation when it met hers was incredible. They kissed french-style for about a minute, and then Alex moved away.

With one hand he carefully brushed Iz's golden-honey hair away from her right ear, and then bent in to kiss her on the earlobe. Isabel moaned quietly. "You're so beautiful," Alex whispered in her ear.

Alex saw a catlike smile slowly spread across Isabel's face. "Really?"

He hadn't really thought of that as anything but completely obvious. "Of course."

"What's the most beautiful thing about me?" she purred. Ahh, so that was the deal here, was it?

"Well, now, that's a tough one," Alex teased back flirtingly, planting a quick peck on her cheek. "There's your incredible heart, which has so much love for everybody who's become a part of your life..." he readjusted position slightly to look her straight in the eyes, "and there's your incredible rich brown eyes... so deep that a guy could get lost in them. He'd just keep staring deep into their amazing depths, and bit by bit -- he'd fall in, and never again know or care about the world he was leaving behind."

Isabel laughed throatily at that - Alex had to admit it had a high corniness factor, but so what? "Is that all?" she flirted back at him.

"Hmmm..." Alex kissed at Isabel's neck and gave her a playful once-over glance. "Let's see... there's your pretty blonde hair... your sense of humour... and those sweet -- lush... lips..." and Alex started passionately kissing her again.

"Alex..." Isabel moaned around their merging lips. "Touch me. Please..."

Touch her?? For a second, Alex didn't understand what she was talking about. And then a sudden flash of imagery popped into his mind. Alex's eyes popped open instantly - Iz's were still closed, but somehow he couldn't doubt that she had just used his mentalic talent on him.

Alex reached out and started stroking his hand across the front of Isabel's blouse. "Oh, yeah," she moaned. Alex started rubbing the luscious curves harder, though still tenderly, and grinned when he saw Isabel's eyes start to glaze over with pleasure. Soon his fingers found a hardening point, and started massaging into it. Isabel's moaning grew louder -- and louder --- and stopped with a contented sigh.

Alex looked over at Isabel with a pleasantly scandalized grin on his face, and found a very similar expression on her face. As they disengaged, Alex started rooting around inside the picnic basket.

"Dessert, anyone?" he asked. Isabel's eyes widened.

"No, I meant... do you want a pudding cup??" Alex clarified.

* * * * *

TO BE CONTINUED, still. :]

posted on 25-Jul-2002 6:19:45 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4a
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

Part 4a: Three and a half weeks. (Post three out of three.)


(November 12 2000.)

He knocked three times on Isabel's bedroom door and waited.

"Who is it?" Before the visitor could make up his mind how to answer, the door swung open. "Michael! You didn't tell me you would be coming by!"

"That's the way it goes," he said, catching hold of Isabel's fingers lightly. "Avoiding reality day."

Isabel gasped. This was a tradition that hadn't been played out between them for years - since freshman year, at least. "Why now?"

"Are you telling me you *aren't* a little stressed?" Michael asked with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. He didn't list out the possible sources of stress -- it wouldn't be in the spirit of avoiding reality (let's see, there was schoolwork to the max, alien assasins still on the loose, and a deadline looming over their heads...) But Isabel got the picture.

"Just let me change into something a little more 'young and reckless', okay??" She winked at Michael and closed the door again.

"Where are we going?!" Isabel yelled into Michael's ear as his motorcycle zoomed them down Baldon road. Michael didn't answer, and Iz couldn't see his face, but she could have sworn from the slight shrug he made that he wanted to grin tauntingly at her.

By the time Michael had turned off the main road and pulled the motorcycle off at the point where the path changed from paved concrete to packed dirt, though, Isabel knew the score. Michael took off his helmet, looked back at Isabel, and delivered that teasing smile. "Well, here we are."

Iz climbed off the bike and pulled off her own helmet. "Yep, we are here," she confirmed. "And there we go," she concluded, pointing at the leftward branch of the fork in the path up ahead, which led up Danning's hill. "Whatcha gonna do about the bike though? Wouldn't want one of them crazy junior high kids making off with it."

"Not to worry." Michael concentrated, and a wall of foliage dropped from the nearby trees to wrap up the motorcycle. It would be hard to notice the vehicle like that, and practically impossible to get it free without alien powers.

"Somebody's been learning a few new tricks," Isabel commented with a wide smile. "Are you sure those vines won't hurt the bike any? No, I take the question back - of *course* you're sure or you wouldn'ta tried it huh?" Michael nodded, taking the jibe with good grace.

He searched his mind for a conversation starter as the two of them started along the path. Most of the things he could think of to say to Isabel didn't really fall under the guidelines for 'avoiding reality.' Finally Michael just blurted out "Free association!! Blue."

Isabel smiled briefly while thinking of a response. "Gold."

"Treasure,"

"Ring."

"Phone!"

"Number," Isabel replied with a grin.

'Math' flashed through Michael's mind, but free association or not, he couldn't bring himself to say the word on an avoiding reality day. Isabel shot over a sidelong glance, probably wondering what was keeping him, and Michael's mind blanked. "Um, uhh... prisoner," he finally managed to dredge up.

Isabel seemed doubtful of the connection there, so Michael felt honor-bound to defend it. "'I will not be filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed, or *numbered,'" he quoted. "'My life is my own!' THAT prisoner."

"Okay, fine," Iz retorted, trying to make it seem as if she hadn't forced him into that little recitation. "Prisoner... castle."

"Princess," Michael shot back as he started over the rise of the hill.

"Hero," Isabel blurted out, blushing slightly.

"Destiny," Michael answered, and then stopped short. Isabel was staring at him, wide-eyed. "I... I can't believe I just said that," he said quickly. "You don't have to respond to it if you don't want to."

"No, it's okay," she assured him. "Destiny... bad!"

Michael laughed softly. "Good."

"Great."

"View!!" Sure enough, the two of them were just getting to the point where they could look down from the clifflike heights of Danning's hill to Liberty park spreading below them. Isabel smiled at took her old spot from years gone by, leaning her back against a tree and soaking it all in. The game was forgotten now - that was as good a point as any to end it on.

Liberty park was where the Crash festival was held every year. About fifteen feet below the place where Michael was standing, in fact, was the carved out niche where a mockup alien ship perched until the height of the festival, when carefully arranged firecrackers shot it out of the rock face and swinging down a steel cable towards its doom, in a grisly (Michael had always thought,) commemoration of the Roswell Incident.

But that slightly squicky association hadn't been enough to keep this hilltop from being a favorite hangout of Michael and Isabel - and Max too - when they were young. Partly because of the incredible view of the park and Roswell itself that Danning's hill offered.

Michael looked over at Isabel. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply, as if she could appreciate the vista beneath them better if she didn't actually bother looking at it. (The way she was spending so much time training senses beyond the human capacity, maybe she *could* at that.)

"When we were in the fourth grade," Michael said all of a sudden, "I used to daydream about a flying saucer coming back for us, right here." Isabel opened her eyes again and followed Michael's gesture, covering a huge swath of space near the overlook and above the park far below. "So big you almost couldn't see all of it. And they'd bring the three of us aboard with some kinda cool tractor beam thing, you and me and Maxwell, and our parents would be on board. And their friends and all our relatives and some cool alien kids about our own age. And they'd all throw a big party in our honor while the flying saucer headed for home at hyper-speed."

Isabel was smiling widely. "That's a nice daydream, even still."

Michael nodded slowly. "Yeah. But the sad reality is it's not gonna be that easy, is it?"

"Michael!" Isabel swatted him on the arm. "What is it we're supposed to be avoiding today?"

"Sorry." They stayed there for a long timee, just looking down at the park.

"Ya wanna go to the mall and set off sprinklers??" Isabel asked suddenly.

Michael thought for a second. "Yah, what the heck."

Isabel grabbed Michael's hand for no good reason he could see, and he didn't say anything about it or push it away. A long moment and a half later, Iz took it back herself, and smiled at him in the same old way she always had.

* * * * *

(November 14 2000.)

"Mercury roaster with tomato and relish, green cheese mash, and a pepsi," Liz recapped as she slid the food onto the table. "Anything else?"

"Not a thing," Alex assured her with a smile.

"Okay." Liz smiled to, and left, but when Alex looked up after taking the first bite of his megaburger she was standing near his table again, looking faintly nervous. "What is it, Liz?" he asked softly.

"Are you expecting anyone, Alex?" Liz stalled, looking around. "Iz??"

"Nah," Alex sighed. "My darling Isabel is taking a well-deserved night of vegging in front of the television. First a quick trip to Capeside, and then she'll swing by new york and catch up with Felicity."

"Sounds nice," Liz said, slipping into the booth across from Alex. "You didn't want to join in?"

"Nah... I may drop in later. But I'm not particularly in the mood for all the..." Alex searched for the mot juste, "intensity of a night of teenage soap opera. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I think so," Liz said, nodding. "Listen. My dad's been bugging me to mention something to you, but it never seemed like the right time."

Alex blinked in surprise, his curiosity piqued. "Really, what?"

"Well, remember how you and Maria were telling me about going and performing at that open mike night?"

It took Alex a moment to place the reference. "Yeah. I've been meaning to talk to Maria about setting up a time to do that again, but with the big schoolwork push and everything else that's been going on..."

Liz interrupted Alex's big ramble. "My dad's thinking about starting a live music thing here at the crashdown, and he needs some regular performers who'll do their thing for next to nothing, to start. How'd you feel about playing here in exchange for some free food?"

Alex blinked in surprise. "I feel pretty good about it. But what about Maria, does she know?"

"Not yet." Liz shook her head. "Since my dad hasn't had any luck in two years convincing Maria to so much as sing in front of him, he thought I should run this by you first. Then we can work together to convince Maria just in case."

Alex grinned. "Sounds cool, I'm in." Liz smiled back, and stood up as she noticed Michael waving her over from the kitchen window.

"Gotta go, order's up. Oh, and you might have to deal with my dad's musical preferences. See ya!!"

Alex smiled and took a bite of his mashed potatoes, which had started to cool. "What the heck does *that* mean??"

* * * * *

(November 16 2000.)

Michael intercepted Liz as Max was walking her to her first class. "Did you talk to her this morning?" he asked in a low voice.

There was no need to ask who 'her' referred to. "No, I haven't," Liz sighed. "And I don't think any of us need to be bugging her, or just calling to say hi, or asking how she's doing more than usual. She's feeling the pressure already and it's still early."

"Yeah," Max weighed in softly. "It's only just coming up on three weeks and three days. 'Three and a haf weeks' is vague enough that it could mean at any time in the next two and a half days."

Michael sighed a sigh that was only half of a groan. "I know," he whispered. "I'm just nervous about this message-from-the-future stuff. I mean, what we learned on Labyrinth day has changed all of our lives over the past few weeks. What is Maria's life has changed enough that she doesn't find it? What if none of us ever do."

"Relax," Liz urged the teenage alien. "Future Alex would have taken all that into consideration. He knows where the book is, and if he told Maria to just wait instead of telling her where it was, it must be somewhere where its discovery by us is pretty inevitable. If not now, then soon."

"Plus, it's not like the timelines have really changed," Max pointed out. "The timeline Future Alex came from is one where you and Maria got a message from him. How else did he know where to find you guys?" Michael seemed doubtful about that.

"Maria!!" Liz called out suddenly. Sure enough, she was heading straight towards the three of them.

"You can stop talking about me," Maria groused sourly as soon as she was within range. "Good news is, I've found the damn book. Bad news is, my mother's had it all this time!!"

Liz looked from Maria to Michael and then Max - the shock on their faces echoed what she felt.

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 27-Jul-2002 5:51:30 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4b (first half)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

Part 4b: End transmission (part title may change.)

(Stil Thursday, November 16 2000.)

"I didn't ask her any questions about the book or how she got it," Maria told them quietly. The seven core members of the gang had gathered out at the table next to the school baseball diamond as quickly as they could - which turned out to be the short break between second and third periods. "I kinda thought it was more important to bring the news to you guys that it had been *found.* Plus, you know, if I said the wrong thing and perked up my Mom's suspicions, it'd make whatever we're trying to do here that much harder, right?"

"Translation, you didn't want to be the one blamed for messing this up," Isabel said, "and came to us to spread the responsibility around." Iz noticed the look on Maria's face, a mixture of hurt and embarassment. "Don't worry, it's probably what I would've done in your place too."

"And it was the right call to make," Max decided. "So, what *do* we do next?"

"If Mrs. DeLucca knows that that book is real, she's got to be plenty suspicious already," Tess pointed out.

"But there's no reason to assume that she does," Michael counterpointed. "All of our reasons for assuming that whoever found the book wouldn't realize it was genuine hold double for Maria's mom. She makes alien Roswell memarobilia herself. She presumably found the book in her friends' alien-theme restaurant. She'd have assumed it was a fake, a prop or a souvenir."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "Let's take that from the other side. If Amy realized it was real, it would probably have resulted in a noticeable change in her behavior. Maria, has your mom been acting any differently of late??"

"No..." Maria said slowly. "Well, she's been cutting me a little more slack, But that could just be because she's actually hearing good things about me from my teachers."

"That better be it," Michael grumbled under his breath. He and Maria had been spending a truly heroic amount of time on schoolwork over the past few weeks, time that Michael at least would rather have put to other activities.

"Well," Alex suggested, "We do need more information, and Maria, you're the one who can ask your mom questions and attract the least suspicion." He thought for a moment. "Try to keep it simple and as normal as possible. You noiced the book - which is true enough - and you're asking her what it is and where she got it." Maria nodded in quiet agreement, resigned to her role.

"If all goes as we hope and Maria's mom really hasn't noticed anything weird about tthe book, then you're probably the best one to talk her into giving it up, - Liz." Max had seemed an instant away from calling Liz 'sweetie' or some other affectionate name in front of Tess. "She thinks it came from the cafe..."

"Yeah, I know, I know," Liz sighed. "My mom needs it back, we've been looking for it, Agnes didn't tell us she'd sold it or whatever, as per Maria's recon. I know the drill." The bell rang.

"Well, is there anything else?" Alex asked quickly. Nobody said anything. "Well then, let's get to class people!"

As Max got up and hurried over to follow Liz, the dark-haired girl fixd him with a powerful stare. Her lips moved silently, fairly clearly mouthing 'tell her.' Her head jerked ever so slightly in Tess' direction.

Max was about to protest, then thought better of it after a second. Liz had a point. As the rest walked away, Max returned to Tess, who was still sitting at the table. Liz hung in the middle distance, trying to make it seem as if she was waiting for Max but not paying attention to what was going on.

"Um, Tess, uh..." Max started awkwardly. "There's something that I've been, er, that is, I think you should kn--"

"You and Liz are together again," Tess cut to the point simply. "I was wondering when you'd get the balls to actually tell me. Actually, Kyle thought you'd be the first to crack, Liz." Liz blinked and dropped the pretense of not listening in.

"Umm... when, I mean..."

"Labyrinth day," Tess supplied helpfully, "when I first tumbled to it, that is. You weren't exactly discreet with the smoochies that night. And don't think I've missed the lengths you two have gone to sneak alone time on the quiet since then either. You don't exactly rock at the masters of secrecy thing."

"Oh," Max said, blushing up a storm by now, not quite sure how else to respond. "So, aside from that, how do you..."

"Don't worry, Max," Tess answered his half-unasked question a third and last time. "I'm not gonna make some embarassing scene." She looked up at Max, and he was struck by the bittersweet expression on her face. "You've made your choice, and I hope you will be happy with what you find. I'm not about to embarass us both by trying to force you into believing in us." A short sigh. "Again." And she got up and left.

Somewhat dazed by a reaction that he had not even considered, Max wandered over to where Liz was waiting. "Wow." A long silence resumed. "Did you have any clue that that was coming??"

Liz considered for a long moment, then shook her head. "Come on, we're late for class already." She took Max's hand and led him the way Tess had gone, towards the nearest doorway into the school.

* * * * *

"Okay, is there anything else?" Liz asked. She and Maria were up in Liz's room, discussing strategy for getting the book away from Maria's mother. The 'recon,' as Liz put it, had been done and apparently went smoothly. (Amy DeLucca had purchased the book from Agnes, the Crashdown's most irresponsible forty-ish waitress, as Maria had guessed, for the sum of thirty-five dollars and ninety-nine cents. She didn't appear to realize that it was anything other than a clever prop.)

"Just one - whose money is that? Are you paying for this mission out of pocket?" Maria pointed to the collection of bills Liz was folding into a small change purse - planned refund money. "Are you taking this hit out of pocket?"

Liz shook her head. "Nah, everybody pitched in. Well, me, Max, Michael, Isabel, and Alex. We didn't bug you about it since you were the one who had to find out what your mom knew."

"And you didn't want to face Tess again today," Maria sussed. "Well, I guess that's it, Let's go." She led Liz down the Crashdown stairs and out into the cafe's parking lot, where she had parked the DeLucca family Jetta. It was a quiet drive back to the small house she and her mother shared (and her mom just usually managed to make the mortgage payments on.)

Maria called her hellos as she walked in the front door, and her mom's answering call came from the kitchen. The strong odor of mom's vegetarian stew filled the air as Maria walked down the hall, made the perfunctory reference to Liz having something important to tell her about, and stepped back to let Liz make the spiel.

It worked well. Amy was upset to learn that she had purchased an item which hadn't been meant for sale, didn't seem suspicious about the hints that to mention the subject directly to either of Liz's parents would only be embarassing for them, and she graciously refused to take back the money, since there was no indication that Agnes had put the money she originally recieved from Amy into the till. She asked Maria to keep an eye on the stew while she went to fetch the book back.

Liz and Maria had only shared a short smile of incipient victory when they heard Amy's footsteps coming back down the stairs. "You know, I bought this thing, I never even really had a chance to look through all of it." She reached the landing and started back towards the kitchen. "You mother must have put a lot of detail into this, Li--" she broke off in mid-word, flipping a page and staring at it in shock, then going to another. **Oh, NO!**

Liz, at least, had enough composure to try to bluff it out. "What is it, Mrs. DeLucca??" she said brightly, stepping forward to meet the older woman half-way.

"I... these are..." Without words, Amy dropped the book and showed the page to Liz - it was the sketches of 'the royal four' as adults. The shock evident on her face, Amy flipped back through the 'teenagers' pictures to the 'children' ones.

"Oh, that, yeah," Liz said nonchalantly. "Mom asked some of our friends to model for it - I wasn't sure why at first, but it does look very 'alien-ey', doesn't it? Pictures from when they were six or seven, then current, then her guess of what they'd look like five years from now. Pretty good huh??"

"Umm... yeah." Still a little dazed-looking, Amy let Liz take the book back, and Maria couldn't help but feel a little jump on her spine as he best friend finally took posession of this thing they'd been searching for so long. Right then the front doorbell rang, and Amy headed back into the kitchen, taking the stew stirring spoon back from Maria. "Could you see who that is sweetie?"

Maria headed over to the door and opened it. A middle-aged man stood there nervously. "Hi," he said. A short pause in which Maria didn't answer. "Do you remember me, baby??" Maria shook her head, but something was starting to click...

"My god, Ryan?!" Maria's mom headed over to the door, heedless of the stew. "What the hell are you doing here, you son-of-a-bitch?"

If the name hadn't clicked it in Maria's mind, her mom's attitude would have. Ryan DeLucca. Her father, the one who had run out on them when she was seven.

"I think I need to sit down," Maria whispered to no-one in particular.

* * * * *

(Sunday, November 19 2000.)

Alex picked up the ringing cell phone, pushed the talk button, and held it to his ear. "Hello?"

"Hey, Alex, it's Liz," the familiar voice announced. "Just thought I'd call in and see how the translation's going."

"It's going - slowly, but going," Alex sighed. "Still not beating a word every five minutes, but we're getting a notion what's in this book and where. What about you, how's the studying going for that big history test??"

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Liz groaned. "Another reason why I called over there, actually - was wondering about coming over there and hanging around."

"Yeah, just a sec," Alex said, and tossed the phone across Michael's living room to Max, who caught it effortlessly in one hand.

"Hey, Liz?" Max said into the phone, and paused for a response. "Yeah, you know I can't wait to see you either, but we're just about to go back from break and put another hour or two into this. I'll come over there after we're done, okay? ... miss you too, darling."

"Don't hang up," Alex asked Max, and Max smiled and tossed the phone back - Alex tried to catch it two-handed, bobbled it, and just managed to get it onto the table without bouncing it too hard and picked it up. "Yeah, Liz?"

"Still here."

"Just wondering if you've heard from Maria about the whole 'returning father figure' thing?"

"Uh, yeah, she called me after she got back from dinner with 'him' last night. She's got a lot of issues to work through with him, but I think she's happy that he's come back and is at least making an effort to be a part of her life again."

"I'm glad," Alex commented vaguely.

"I think she'd like Michael to talk to her about the whole situation, but she's not sure how to bring up," Liz said meaningfully.

Alex smiled. "Well then I guess maybe someone else will put a bug in mister Guerin's ear about it," he teased. "See ya?"

"Bye, Alex." He hung up the phone and looked up - the four pod squadders had gathered around the book again.

"I think this is the page to focus on," Isabel thought out loud. "It's obviously about the orbs, and Future Alex told you that we had to learn how to use the orbs as communicators. Right, Michael??"

"Yeah, he did," Michael agreed. "Hey, Alex, any idea what this word might mean? I don't think we've ever seen anything like it before."

Alex smiled to himself and headed over to help with the translation.

* * * * *

(Monday, November 27 2000.)

"Hmm..." Alex carefully scooped up some rice on the cooking spoon, dropped it carefully down onto his tasting spoon without letting them touch and gave it a try. "Hmm... yeah, that's *almost* done. Where's the chicken?"

"Umm... here, yeah." Isabel smiled as she passed a small plate heaped moderately high with little pieces of roasted chicken breast (some with browned and seasoned skin,) into Alex's hand. He poured the cubed meat into a big frying pan on the stove and started stirring energetically.

"So... how soon is this gonna be ready?" Isabel asked softly. "Michael and Maria aren't back yet, and you told me how this stuff doesn't do well if it has to wait long once it's done."

"Once it finishes cooking, it's alright if it cools for five or ten minutes," Alex assured his girlfriend, stepping up and kissing her quickly on the cheek. "Don't worry - they'll be here. Michael probably just stopped off at some point to have a talk with Maria."

Isabel's brown eyes twinkled with mischief. "Or else they're gettin' it on in the backseat of the Jetta. Are *you* ready to be the godfather of a quarter-alien crossbreed baby?"

"Very funny," Alex said, but he was grinning back at her. "You keep an eye on the rice - I'll go set the table."

Sure enough, Michael and Maria walked in the door when the risotto had been cooling for about four and a half minutes, and even Alex couldn't see signs that any more than first base had happened while the two of them were off running errands. Cake went into the fridge, videos onto the coffee table, and by then everyone was ready to sit down to dinner.

"Hmm... you know, this is pretty good, Alex," Michael mentioned, sprinking some tabasco sauce on his dinner. "Even though for a guy, cooking is pretty dorky."

"Um, I dunno, Michael," Alex said softly. "Right now, I'm pretty glad my parents taught me how to cook." He shot a glance over at Isabel.

"A guy cooking is *totally* sexy," Isabel commented.

"Oh, yeah," Maria chimed in, shooting a look over at Michael.

Michael caught Maria's glance, hesitated a moment, and turned to Alex. "We'll talk later, right?" he whispered, almost inaudibly. Not quietly enough, though, because a gigle spread from Maria to Isabel.

"Um, so..." Maria said after a moment, trying to get the conversation back to safer territory. "How's this thing you guys are doing tomorrow going to work?"

Isabel and Michael both looked at Alex, so he shook his head and tried to explain. "Well, we all go up to the pod chamber. It's designed, in part, to function essentially as a huge communications antenna - so the orbs will work there and only there. And the direction in which that 'antenna' is pointing roughly has to match up with the planet we're trying to communicate with, which is why we all have to be out there around four in the morning."

"Max and Isabel will each take one of the orbs, key them and activate them, and will send out a message to K'starnis D. That's a colony world run by their people around 30 light years from the homeworld - we thought it'd be safer than transmitting directly to the home planet and having this tyrant Kivar or his people listening in, maybe tracking the transmission -- plus, the star maps in the book seem to indicate that it has a strong support for the old royal line."

"And then we try to get in touch with someone in charge there and verify the situation at the homeworld," Michael put in.

"So - the orbs weren't just to recieve that message from your mom, huh?" Maria asked, trying to keep it all straight.

"No," Isabel agreed. "That was just the first step - probably a probe placed in stationary earth orbit to transmit a recorded message on the communicator frequency. But now we have to move beyond that, and actually make contact with another star system." Isabel shuddered for a second. "I wonder what it'll be like."

"In the general pattern, it should be very like getting the message from your mom," Alex reminded her. "You'll see the image of another person or persons there in the pod chamber. They'll talk to you in english, and they'll hear and understand you when you talk to them. They may appear considerably more human than they actually are. The holographic communication through the pods is largely mental, so things like language and physical appearance are compensated for."

It was much later that night when Alex, Isabel, and Maria finally got themselves out Michael's door. "We have... about four hours before we have to be heading out of town to get to the pod chamber," Alex commented.

"Are you complaining?" Isabel asked him in a throaty murmur, and Alex grinned and shook his head.

"You know, we didn't even take the cake out of the fridge, and though we *played* the movie, I don't know if anybody actually WATCHED it," Maria added. "I think I'm slightly upset that all of Michael's and my 'errands' didn't count for much."

"Really, Maria?" Alex asked. Maria smiled over at him.

"Not at all!"

* * * *

(Tuesday, November 28 2000.)

Maria yanked her hands back into her jacket sleeves as she got out of the Jetta. "The desert should never be allowed to get this cold!!" she muttered under her breath.

"Who're you gonna complain to, the weather control board?" Michael asked as he followed her. Maria shot him a withering glance over her shoulder. "I'm sorry, it's just... deserts are known for swings of temperature, not just heat. It's almost December, it's four AM, and it's been on the cool side for a week. Of course the desert is gonna be cold."

Maria didn't say anything in reply. Three cars had parked spread out in the vicinity of the angular mountain peak - Max's jeep, in which Liz had rode, the Taurus, in which Alex, Isabel, and Tess had come, and the Jetta. All seven young people were filing into the broken pathway that made its way up the slope.

Isabel was the first to make it to the top, and she put her hand into the outlined indentation casually, watching the doorway open with an almost blase look on her face. Maria knew that she was probably still a little nervous about the part she had to play in this morning's event.

They gathered inside the chamber quickly and let the door close again. This was actually the first time that Maria had ever seen the pod chamber, and she looked around eagerly, soaking up the significance that it held, especially in its relation to her beloved Michael. The four broken pods dominated the chamber, as far as design features. Which had been his??

But everyone else was taking their places. Max and Isabel stood near the front of the rectangular outline in the floor, facing an alcove which was presumably designed to act as a reception area for this kind of communique. Alex was hovering near Max, wanting to be able to help in any matters of protocol or alien custom that came up.

That left Maria standing with Michael, Liz, and Tess off near the solid rock wall, nearer to Isabel than Max. Michael took an orb out of his pocket and crossed over to hand it to Max. Tess fished the other out of a disguised wall recess near the pods, and passed it to Isabel, and then each of them resumed their places.

"And we're sure that this isn't gonna lead the skins right to us or something horrible like that?" Liz blurted out at the last second.

"The skins know where we are already, Liz," Alex reminded her softly. "And we can't summon any more because only four of them are allowed in Roswell at a time, according to the terms of the challenge." Liz didn't seem too reassured by that, but she waved Max into continuing.

When Max and Isabel held the orbs in their hands and concentrated, the reaction was almost instant. White spears of light burst out of them - out of the whirlpool galaxy symbols on them, Maria knew, though she couldn't see that kind of detail directly. The entire pod chamber started to brighten as the energy, the signal coming out of the pods fired up relays and transstators, and the entire chamber took on its role of 'communications antenna.'

Something seemed to be appearing in the space in front of Max and Isabel, but Maria couldn't tell very clearly what it was yet. It seemed to be just a black patch with stars sprinkled through it - of course. They hadn't made contact with anyone yet, they were just beaming a signal out into space. Communication would depend on someone else sending a signal back.

As if on cue, Max called out loudly. "I am Max of the Royal four, once known as king of the planet Azt. I wish to speak with the governor of the K'Starnis D colony!!"

They waited long seconds. Maria was all too aware that their window of communication with this planet was only ten or twelve minutes long - if they failed, they'd have to try this all again some other morning. (Well, Maria herself didn't really have to be here, she was just showing team solidarity. Next time she could beg beauty sleep, couldn't she??)

And then, suddenly, the space representation in front of Max and Isabel changed into a fifty-something bearded man dressed in something that looked halfway between medieval robes and a government worker's uniform. Maria was shocked - except for a slight whitish gleam about him that came and went, Maria couldn't have told that he wasn't physically present. "I am the one you seek," he said softly. "But 'Max,' you rule no more. I have sworn allegiance to the successor to the throne, and can obey your orders no more. What reason would you have to talk to me?"

Max was ready for this. "I am only looking for information - information about my homeland, in the long years that I have been gone, and particularly information about a challenge made between the mother and the usurper, if such a challenge does exist."

The governor blinkes. "I may not speak with you about such matters. Allow me to fetch the local Arbiter of challenges. If any can tell you that which you seek, it will be she."

Max looked quickly over at Alex, who nodded. "Do so, as quickly as possible," Max instructed the older man. "We have a limited window for communicating with your planet at this time."

The old man vanished, replaced by a spinning design that looked vaguely like it might be an alien coat of arms. Max looked at Alex again. "Arbiter of challenges?"

"I'm not too clear," Alex confessed. "But I think that they are in charge of administering tests, bets, and the kind of dares like the one we believe has been issued on your behalf. Get as m..."

But Alex was cut off as the coat of arms turned into a woman - a reasonably unattractive woman, but human standards, though still undeniably human in appearance. Her medium brown hair was stringy, her figure showed few curves except for the ones near her stomach, and her face seemed dominated by a slightly mis-shaped nose. "I am Geralet, arbiter of the challenges for the K'Starnis colony," she intoned. "You claim to be of the reborn royal four??"

"I... I do," Max agreed, nodding.

"Permit me to verify before we speak further." Max, caught by surprise, had only nodded silently before the image of the ugly woman picked up a small metal rod and pointed it at Isabel, and then Max. As the red light bathed over each of them they staggered, and the red was echoed in the formerly pale blue glowing walls of the pod chamber.

And then she put her device away, and things returned to normal. "Your claim has not been disproven, so I shall proceed," Geralet continued. "You are correct in surmising that a challenge has been made by Kivar Andraikus, lately styling himself overlord of Azt, and the queen emeritus of the old royal line. Might I be permitted to ask how you came to posess this information?"

"Um, you may," Max stuttered out, and then decided it would be quicker to simply answer her question. "One of our number, and a human friend, were drawn into a space/time labyrinth, presumably by agents of Andraikus. While there, they receieved a message from the future self of another of our human friends."

"Interesting," Geralet mused. "Proceed, then - ask your questions."

"As far as we know, these are the terms of the challenge," Max said. "That the four of us have to return to Azt in a little over the year, and if we win I regain control of the government. If we fail to meet the time limit, Kivar keeps the power of the throne until he dies. Kivar is allowed to use four of his agents at any one time to keep us from accomplishing this, but they cannot kill humans or reveal that aliens are upon the earth to its population. Is all of this correct?"

Geralet paused to consider. "It is."

"Is it complete? Nothing of obvious significance missing?"

Geralet considered again. "Two considerations. First, you must not only reach the planet within the time alloted, but the royal palace grounds themselves. Kivar's people cannot interefere with you once you reach Azt, but time may be your undoing. Second, you must understand the limitations on your communications."

"They are these: You may use the orbs to communicate with anyone you can call by name, or make an open call for an arbiter of challenges, a common peasant, or a royalist soldier on any particular world. Of all the people you may contact, only the arbiters are bound to be honest to you, or to respond to you in any way." She paused. "Are there any other questions?"

"Yes, one," Isabel spoke up. "When we come back... can we bring others with us? Humans, I mean, earthpeople. Would they be welcome on the homeworld??"

Geralet seemed surprised by the question. "I do not believe anyone has raised the point before. But if you win the challenge, the word of the royal four will become law, and you may do as you please, particularly you, Max, once you reclaim your throne. I doubt that any but the followers of Kivar would refuse you in any case. One further point for he who would be king -" she turned to Max.

"Although you will reclaim the throne if you are victorious, you will not be able to pass it on to your immediate heirs. This body which is now yours is half human, and the people are not ready to accept a dynasty of mongrels. However, you may choose to select any Aztan of full blood and groom him or her to be heir to the throne, including some of your younger brothers and sisters that survived the purge and have been protected by the challenge."

"Thank you," Max said nervously.

"Would you prefer that I keep our discussion secret, your highness, or make it known?? I can defer to your wishes in this matter."

Max blinked in surprise. They had chosen this colony world for the sake of secrecy, but since the news seemed good (relatively speaking at least,) it seemed a good opportunity to intimidate the enemy. "Yes, let it be known that the Royal Four are coming home to free their people!!"

"I will let it be known that I was contacted regarding the rules of the challenge. I cannot pass along substanceless boasts in regards to a challenge." The arbiter fixed him with an icy stare as she said this.

Max sighed. "Very well. Tell..." Suddenly, Geralet's image winked out and the glowing walls of the pod chamber faded. "What happened??"

"It's four twenty-three," Tess said, checking her watch. "We probably just slipped out of alignment with the colony."

"But we've learned a lot," Michael pointed out. "The challenge is confirmed. There's only one question left we need answered."

"And what's that?" Maria asked, guessing what it would be.

"How the heck do we get home??" Michael asked with a sarcastic grin.

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 3-Aug-2002 3:08:29 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4b (second half)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

(Tuesday to Wednesday, November 29 2000.)

Alex sighed as he pulled aside his covers and climbed into bed. It had been hard to go to classes and act like everything was normal after what had happened that morning. The impossible was happening to them lately with remarkable frequency, but still - to have communicated with an alien planet, more than seventy light-years away from the earth - that was special. Trigonometry paled in comparison.

After school, a meeting of the gang over euchre had attempted to develop plans for moving forward. Aside from returning to translating the book (they only had a small portion of the text transcribed to english so far after more almost two weeks' hard work,) and attempting to find whatever other 'salvages' Nasedo had marked on the cave map, they didn't seem to have many ideas. Tess seemed to think that finding the artifacts that the military had recovered from the crash site, instead of the few scraps that Nasedo had been able to escape with, probably held the key to their escape. But where did that lead them?

Any pieces recovered by the military had probably been handed over to the special unit, not long after it had been formed. The special unit was gone now, dismantled by congress after Nasedo had torpedoed it in committee hearings (under his role as Agent Pierce.) And any attempt to track down what had happened to the personnel involved in the special unit, to the objects it had in storage would almost certainly draw suspicion their way - if there was any way to find such information at all.

Alex sighed, switched the lamp on his bedside table off and tried to fall asleep. For a while, he was too nervous to relax, but he must have fallen asleep because he dreamed - not alien dreams, but strange human ones with sneaking into foreboding buildings that were serving roasted chicken, and arguing with a little handheld computer that was trying to convince him that he was the Baker. And Isabel, kissing Isabel, more than kissing her - except Isabel's hair had turned dark, so dark a brown that it was nearly black...

He woke up to feel something sharp playing up and down the side of his leg, under the covers. Instinctively, he turned to the clock - 1:27 AM.

"Now, just relax, do what I tell you, and you're gonna be just fine," a familiar voice advised him. But familiar from where? In the darkness, Alex could see a tall man's shape sitting next to his bed, holding whatever weapon underneath that had been used to wake him up.

"S... Steve??" Alex guessed sleepily. "Steve Banks??"

"Oooh, I knew you were a sharp one," Steve told him. "Well, come on now Alex. Get up and get dressed. We've got a lot to do tonight."

Alex blinked - reached out tentatively for the lamp, and when no refusal of the idea was forthcoming, he switched it on. His bedroom sprang into relief in the pale light from the corner, including his unexpected visitor. Next he lurched somewhat unsteadily to his feet and opened a dresser drawer.

"What should I... do I have to..." he mumbled.

"I don't care," Steve snapped curtly, "so long as you don't attract undue attention." Guided by that, Alex tossed an old sweater on over his t-shirt, pulled on some jeans, socks, and shoes. He was almost painfully aware of the presence of the washer, hanging by a length of soft string under his shirt, where he usually kept it, and felt determined not to draw any attention to it. This was one advantage that they had that the skins maybe didn't know about, and he would keep it that w...

"Wait a second. You're one of the skins, right?" he clarified, looking up from a half-tied running shoe. "Kivar's agents here on earth."

"Bright boy again," Steve said, but his voice was clearly impatient.

"Then what are you gonna do to me if I don't co-operate? You can't kill me, or it'll cost your side the challenge. No killing humans, right??"

"So you guys *do* know about the challenge," Steve said wonderingly, shaking his head. "Well, think about this, you little snot." He stood up and suddenly the knife he carried was at Alex's throat. "If you cross me, I know a few little things I can try out without killing you. Lifetime of pain is what we're talking about here. Plus, you've got a father and a mother in this house too, right? Don't think I won't use them as incentive too. Let's see, there's the male human sex organs, for a start, right?" Steve gestured his knife meaningfully towards Alex's crotch. "Extremely sensitive to pain, and just as a bonus, any permanent mutilation or amputation is highly traumatic in social terms. So I'm gonna tell you again, Alex -- finish getting dressed and let's go."

Alex breathed deeply and realized he had lost this round. The alien known to the world as 'Steve Banks' almost certainly had the power to make good on his threat - and the inclination to. He wanted Alex for something, but Alex couldn't dare refuse. Not... yet.

The two of them headed silently out the of the house, and Steve stretched out his free hand commandingly to Alex once they were out the front door. "Keys?"

Alex shrugged. "In my other pants. You didn't say to bring them."

Steve smirked, "Whatever." Bringing his weapon hand close to the lock for a second, it spun around for a second and sound of the deadbolt sliding over could be heard. "Good luck getting back inside once this is all over."

Alex headed down the porch stairs, Steve behind him, and naturally headed right towards the driveway. A gentle poke from the knife brought him to a stop again. "Where do you think you're going??" Steve asked in a low voice.

"Umm... to my car?" Alex muttered, though he had realized that the assumption was flawed by now. Steve guided him left (straight over the lawn, of course,) to where a forest green Viper was parked. Steve fished in his pants pockets and produced a key ring, which he handed to Alex. "Get behind the wheel."

For a second Alex was surprised, but he knew that Steve meant it. As we walked slowly around the car, he realized why. If Steve was driving the car, his attention would be split between the controls, the road, and Alex. For Alex himself to be doing the driving meant one last distraction, so that Steve could concentrate totally on Alex and where they were going. He unlocked the door, clicked the master unlocker and slowly got behind the wheel.

"Where to?" Alex asked nervously as Steve got behind the wheel.

"First, your girlfriend's place. I assume you know the way, right?" Alex chuckled nervously and started down the familiar route to the Evans' house. The sports car was a lot more responsive than anything he was used to driving, and he had to make sure not to give it too much gas or turn too quickly. Soon they were there, and Steve pointed out that he should park in what was left of the Evans' driveway, across the sidewalk.

As he got out, Alex noticed a few other figures waiting on the Evans' front walk. It was Liz - and Grant Sorenson. Suddenly another aspect of the plan clicked into Alex's brain. This was bigger than him - probably a LOT bigger.

"Where were you?" the geologist growled as Steve and Alex walked over.

"Little Alex here is a deep sleeper," Steve said casually. Alex noticed that Grant was holding a hand behind Liz's back. He opened his mouth, but Grant quickly spat 'no talking,' and Alex fell silent.

Liz caught his eye as they walked towards the house though, and nodded ever so slightly. Alex wasn't quite sure what to make of that.

It followed through as Alex had expected. Grant broke into the Evans' house with his powers as Steve must have gotten into his, even disabling the fancy security system with no more than the wave of a hand. Alex was hurried up into Isabel's room, while Grant and Liz went to fetch Max. "Wake her up," Steve whispered to him.

Umm... Alex walked towards the bed. "Isabel??" He kneeled down - noticing that Steve stayed close to him as he did - and brushed a lock of Isabel's hair away from her face. "Iz, baby?? We've kinda got a problem here."

"Alex??" Isabel murmured sleepily.

"Yeah?"

"What is it?" At this point Isabel turned his way and opened her brown eyes - and nearly screamed in shock. Her mouth slammed shut, muffling a surprised exclamation -- that was probably Steve's power at work. Once she could open her mouth again, Isabel whispered softly "What is *he* doing here??"

"Keep it quiet, sweetheart," Steve said softly. "And don't go getting no brave ideas either."

"Meet Steve Banks," Alex said sarcastically. "Friendly neighborhood 'skin.'"

"Also, if you're trying to contact your brother," Steve related, "you can probably tell that he's also being taken care of. In fact... SHIT!!!" Quickly the alien tossed a small object to the other side of Isabel's bed and hurried out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. "SOREN! TAKE COVER!!" Alex could hear the yell from where he was.

"Alex, what's..." Isabel said, still not quite awake, but obviously with it enough to worry about what their enemy had just done. Alex climbed over the foot of Isabel's bed to try to grab whatever bomb Steve had dropped there, but it went off as he got near. Alex recognized the device.

FWOOOMM!! Again the blue pulse passed through his body without any apparent ill effect, but Isabel moaned and spasmed as she sat on the bed. Alex noticed idly that she was wearing a pretty pink shirt as a pajama top, though he couldn't tell what else.

"Alex, what was that?" she asked, instinctively crawling into his arms.

"It's like that device we found in the UFO center," Alex said, reaching awkwardly down to pick it up off the floor. "We might be able to use it, if..."

Of course, at precisely that moment, Steve Banks threw the door open again, snarling with frustration. "Okay, children, let's go. Where's is it?" Alex shrugged weakly and Steve pushed the two of them aside long enough to look over the bed. "The trithium amplifier, Whitman, *where is it??*"

"I... I dunno," Alex said with as much confused veracity as he could summon up. "I didn't see the damn thing, just what it did, yahh, to..."

Steve had pushed Alex and Isabel to their feet by this time, (probably again with the help of his powers,) quickly patted down the pockets in Alex's jeans (like they were big enough to hold the device, and rooted through the covers on Isabel's bed. "Now, how did it get here?" He muttered, pulling the generator from out under the sheets. "You're a real smart-ass, aren't you Wh--- WHOA!!"

While the skin had been looking for his little weapon, Alex had been busy too - grabbing the nearest heavy object he could find (some sort of trophy sitting on Isabel's bookcase,) and had been in the very act of whipping the thing towards the base of Steve's skull. Unfortunately, he didn't have quite enough time. With a quick narrowing of his eyes, the alien sent Alex and his makeshift weapon flying through the air and solidly into Isabel's closet door. For a second Alex's feet dangled several inches off the floor, and when the force suddenly eased, he dropped down in an uneven bump, tearing the poster of Scott Foley down as he went. (Well, not like *that* was any great loss.)

Steve grabbed Isabel's hand and charged over to Alex. "That crossed a line, Whitman. I've been a sport about this up to now, but you have to realize that your actions have consequences here. *That* choice of action..." and he threw Isabel aside violently so that she landed on her butt next to her large armoire, "has THIS consequence." And he grabbed Alex's left forearm and drove the knife into it.

"Ahhh!!" The pain was intense and startling, but not incapacitating. Alex watched in a mixture of discomfort and morbid curiosity as his blood filled the wound and started to spread around his arm, falling to the floor of Isabel's room in a series of irregular spatters. But Steve didn't look like he was done.

"Almost - ah, here!!" He dug the knife in harder, and this time the pain was overwhelming, like a river of molten lava streaming up his arm and into his head, his chest, filling the rest of his body. His legs lost strength and after a second Steve let him fall to the floor.

The next thing Alex knew clearly, the pain was starting to fade and Steve was wrapping a length of cream-colored fabric, (another of Isabel's shirts? A skirt, he couldn't tell) around his arm as a makeshift bandage. "If you don't get that looked at by a doctor before midmorning, you'll probably lose feeling and motion in your left hand permanently," Steve told him casually. "Call that another incentive." With a dramatic flourish, he cleaned away the bloodstains on Alex's sweater and jeans, on the floor, and on Steve himself. "Ready to go??"

Isabel got dressed in street clothes quickly, (Alex looked away in gentlemanly fashion even though he suspected she wasn't going to let anything show any more than he did, and even Steve did her the courtesy of only watching out of the corner of his eye.) They saw Grant, Liz, and Max heading out, but the parties headed back to two separate cars - apparently they were synchronized as far as schedule but separate otherwise.

Alex got ready to get into the driver's seat again, but once again Steve stopped him. "That's not in the plan even if your arm was okay, Whitman," he muttered gruffly. He was right, Alex still had no strength left in his left hand, which would make driving difficult or worse.

"Hand the keys to Evans." Alex dug out the Viper's key ring, passed it to Isabel, and let Steve bundle him into the back seat. **This makes sense too. As long as he's got me back here, Isabel isn't likely to try anything stupid.**

"Where to?" Isabel asked dully, turning the ignition.

"Head east out of town on route 380," Steve instructed. "I'll let you know when we get to our turnoff."

For a while, there was no sound heard inside the Viper but the hum of the motor and Isabel's breathing. Alex wanted to say something to break the silence -- but what do you say in a situation like this?? He wasn't sure about directly reassuring Isabel because, well, one, Steve might not like it, and two, he couldn't promise her that everything was going to be all right. And nothing was popping into his head that seemed like reasonably small talk with the alien mercenary who's just kidnapped you and your hybrid girlfriend and stabbed you in the arm.

"Turn right here," Steve instructed Isabel. She slowed down as they left the highway (such as it was,) for a flat but almost invisible country road. "You might as well turn the brights on," their alien abductor recommended. "I doubt there's anyone else out here." She did, after a few tries to find the control, and it seemed to help. Another vehicle (presumably Grant Sorenson's four-by-four,) turned off the highway to follow them, but thankfully its headlights did NOT switch into bright mode, since that would have shone directly into Isabel's eyes through the rear-view mirror.

About ten minutes later Steven Banks was once again issuing instructions on where to park his car. They piled out, (Alex having to awkwardly open the door with his right hand,) and Steve led them over to something that Alex couldn't immediately identify in the dimness. There were tall metal poles, and crosswise support struts forming triangles. With Steve's help, they found a ladder, and Alex started to climb up awkwardly with his one good hand, hooking the left arm around the ladder occasionally for what support that could provide and lifting himself with his legs. Isabel climbed nervously after him.

Fortunately the ladder wasn't high, only about five feet. Soon all six of them were crowded onto the top of a slightly crowded metal platform (set up here, Alex assumed, so they wouldn't have to walk on or stand on jagged rocks - probably part of Grant's standard gear as a geologist.) A bright light mounted on an edge of the platform was lit, its bright beams standing in harsh relief against the night. Also - there was someone else already there, someone who Alex vaguely recognized.

With one member of the group, though, it was anything but vague. "YOU!!" Liz said, charging over to the new man. "You were the drunk who roughed me up at that party!!" She whirled back on Steve. "At *your* party! Boy, that really was a set-up, wasn't it?"

Steve smiled graciously. "Yeah, it was. Too bad it didn't work any better."

"And which of you planted the space-time labyrinth crystal in Michael's apartment??" Isabel demanded.

"Actually, I just switched it for the lamp he had actually purchased," Steve said solemnly. "But that's enough rehashing the old days. Zentar, the ray gun, please??" Steve brought out a hand, and the third skin put a gleaming red crystal that was shaped a bit like an old plastic gun into his hand. Steve pointed the device at a rock hill-face next to the platform and touched a particular spot on the crystal.

BAMMMMM!!! A spear of ruby-red lightning shot into solid rock, and within seconds a maw ten feet in diameter had opened up. Of the rock that had occupied that space, nothing remained but dusty vapor and a gray sludge that poured down the hillside underneath the platform.

"I don't like this," Alex muttered under his breath to Liz.

"I know," Liz whispered back. "But we don't dare take them on yet. Wait for my lead. If the right moment comes up..." she sighed. "I feel like I have a notion, I'm just not really sure what it is."

Steve had been inspecting the tunnel wall carefully, and now he gestured Max and Isabel over. "Come on in, guys!!"

"In... in there?" Isabel stuttered, paling.

"Yeah," Steve said simply. "The walls are still a little warm, but that's the least of your worries." His eyes narrowed at her. "You know what'll happen if you don't."

Isabel shot one forlorn look over at Alex and marched into the tunnel. Max hesitated, but when Liz nodded at him she followed.

"Stay well back," Grant warned the two hybrids. He picked up another device, and suddenly a field of sparkling red light covered the tunnel entrance. Alex could feel the warmth from where he was - that was a heat field of some sort.

"Oh, no," Liz whispered under her breath. They all knew how deadly heat could be to individuals of alien origin, how Michael had almost died simply from spending a few minutes in an Indian sweatlodge with River Dog. Apparently these aliens knew all about it too.

Steve was watching the opening again, waiting for something. In about thirty seconds it happened - a soft pulse of blue energy coming from within the tunnel, mixing with the red of the heat field to form a temporary purple. "Looks like they went down in far enough to trigger the trithium amplifier I tossed in there," he bragged to Liz and Alex. "That should help keep them out of trouble." He turned to his henchmen. "Tie those two up in the chairs," he instructed, pointing to Liz and Alex. "Keep a close guard on them. I'm heading back into town for DeLucca and Guerin." And there was the third shoe dropping, Alex thought. Maria and Michael were going to be put through this macabre game too. That was everyone but...

"What about Tess Harding?" he asked suddenly, figuring that it was worth a shot to get some information. "She doesn't have a human boyfriend, you won't be able to control her as easily."

"We don't need to worry about Harding," Zentar told him snidely. "She's driven out to Frazier woods by now, like she does every night. She won't notice anything's wrong until morning. By which time it'll be much too late!!"

"Frazier woods every night?" Liz repeated in wonder. "What does she do out there??"

"I don't know," Grant said, swatting Zentar on the side of his head, presumably for loose talk in front of the prisoners. Alex noticed that Steve had already left. "And it doesn't matter, does it?"

Liz, meanwhile, had walked over to an unoccupied part of the platform. Alex moved next to her and raised a questioning eyebrow. Liz, looking a little confused at herself, shook her head and gestured to the other side, so Alex went over there.

Zentar walked over to the edge of the platform and concentrated. Soon a nondescript wooden chair was floating up and towards him. He took it over to Liz and started securing her to the piece of furniture.

* * * * *

(Still Wednesday, November 29 2000.)

"Wake up, Michael." The words dragged him ever so slightly out of a quiet and peaceful sleep. "C'mon, Michael, I know you're not gonna like this but you gotta wake up."

That was Maria's voice. Worried himself now, Michael rubbed his eyes and looked up. He didn't need to turn on a lamp, he never did. The streetlamp outside his bedroom let in enough light to see, even with all the shades pulled.

As Maria's warning had hinted, for a second Michael wished that he *couldn't see what was happening. Maria was standing next to his stereo table, dressed in navy sweats and a horrible paleness in her face. And then there was the tall guy standing next to her with the knife.

"I'm getting a little bored with the pleasantries already, so let's cut to the chase, huh Michael?" the unwelcome intruder, (*where* did Michael know him from?") said brusquely. "You're like that too, aren't you, straight to business, right? Well, let's see - I have your girlfriend, I have a knife, not to mention more than enough powers to match your own. Her good health depends on YOUR good behavior. Am I making myself clear??"

Michael sighed. "Painfully."

"Good." The bad guy smiled with a savage pleasure. "Well, go throw on some clothes and let's get going. The sooner this is all over the better for Maria, I think." The guy waved Michael to his dresser.

Michael sighed and went over to open one of his drawers. Just as he had finished pulling on his jeans, the enemy alien swore and bent over. Michael realized that he had dropped his knife and launched himself into a flying elbow slam. Powers could wait for a few seconds -- Michael wanted to get in about three good hits on this joker with nothing but the real McCoy before turning to the palm of death strike.

Except the guy wasn't quite where Michael had thought he was... and he *did* have his knife - in fact, the deadly blade was right in Michael's path. He tried to avoid it, but his momentum was too great to change course quickly, and the enemy was compensating for his every movement -- until he faded his weapon hand back smoothly, at the very last moment when it was actually touching the skin on Michael's neck. As he stumbled to a stop, Michael had to check his throat with his own hands. Not a trace of blood. "What the heck??"

"Just a demonstration, Michael my boy,"the bad guy gloated. "You saw only what I wanted you to see, until I was ready to attack. Think about that the next time it looks like you have the opportunity to stab me in the back." He raised his free hand into the air, and a sweater flew up from Michael's dresser to him, which he tossed casually off to Michael.

What Steve wanted him to see. This guy knew the mindwarp. That made him dangerous indeed, Michael realized. When he couldn't trust his own eyes...

"Why didn't you kill him, Steve?" Maria blurted out as Michael shrugged on the sweatshirt. Something clicked in Michael's brain. Steve - Steve Banks, from the party. THAT was where he remembered this goof from!!

But Maria was continuing to talk. "That is what you want, isn't it, to kill Michael and the others? Are you afraid?? Even with your weapon pointed straight at him, didn't you have the guts to do the deed?!"

Steve ignored her and turned to Michael. "Ever driven a Viper, kid??"

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 4-Aug-2002 9:06:59 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4c
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

Part 4c: The hybrids strike back.

(October 20 2001 again.)

"Oooh," Maria shuddered as they walked down the porch steps to the front walk. "I know we've been through a lot over the past two years, but that night..." She couldn't find words for a few seconds. "I hope I never have to live through something like that again."

"Or to *not* live through it," Max pointed out soberly.

"You know what I mean." Maria sighed with the stress of the memories.

"Yeah, I do," Michael said, looking tenderly over at his ex-girlfriend. "Hear, hear."

"You'll get no argument from me," Alex chimed in softly.

* * * * *

(Back to early morning of Wednesday, November 29 2000.)

When it didn't look like either of their guards were paying very close attention, Alex called over to Liz in a hoarse whisper. "Hey! How're you doing?"

Liz twisted her neck awkwardly to look back towards Alex despite her bonds. "Doing okay under the circumstances, I guess. More worried about Max than myself. You?"

"Panicked out of my mind for Isabel's sake," he confessed. "And my arm hurts like hell." He tried to gesture indicatively with the wounded left forearm, but between the way he was tied to his chair and the injury itself, he couldn't do more than twitch it a little.

It was apparently enough to draw Liz's attention to the pale cloth bandanging his arm. "Oh god, Alex," she moaned apologetically. "I didn't realize you were hurt. What happened?"

Alex sighed. "I tried to bash Steve's brains out while he wasn't looking, but he caught me at it. Gave me this as a 'consequence."

"I only wish you'd succeeded," Liz giggled, and then instantly returned to a more serious disposition. "How bad is it??"

"Bad," Alex whispered. "I can't move or feel my hand, and Steve said that if I don't get to a doctor by midmorning that'll probably become permanent. I think he intentionally damaged the main nerve in my arm." The thought of going through all his life with a limp hand gave him the shudders. Had his future self moved his left arm when Michael and Maria got the message from him? They hadn't said anything about it, and probably after so long neither of them would remember. After all, most people Alex knew hadn't clued in to Bob Dole the first time they saw him on televsion...

"Don't worry," Liz whispered, cutting in on his mental ramblings. "Once we all get out of this, Max'll heal you. He can do a better job than any human doctor." Liz smiled in pride for her hybrid sweetie.

Alex nodded somberly, unable to be as optimistic as his best friend. "That's assuming Max in particular *does* get out of this," he sighed softly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Liz shot back.

Alex groaned. "Liz, I wasn't meaning to pick on Max especially. But that..." He gestured with his head towards the tunnel mouth, since it was the only part of his body that could move much, "is a deathtrap. Once they get Michael inside too, up the tunnel goes the heat field and Steve and Grant have toasted themselves three hybrids. No fuss, no mess."

Liz's eyes were wide in stark horror, perfectly outlined by the reflected light from the floodlight against the mountainside. "Oh, my god!! And you let Isabel walk in there, knowing that?"

Liz's words hadn't been accusing, but Alex felt about three inches big. (Actually, he wished he really *were* three inches big, since then the ropes wouldn't fit him and he could scamper across the platform -- assuming he could keep from jamming his tiny feet in the grilles -- and try to turn off the heat field device. But enough about that.)

How could Alex tell his best friend that he had been terrified of fighting back again, and so had chosen the path that kept both himself and Iz alive and okay for as long as possible, hoping that some unnamed *something* would come along to save them all? That instinct, after all, was exactly what Steve and his cronies were counting on - that faced with the proper mix of authority, cruelty, and determination, the roswell home team would simply follow the path of least resistance until too late?

"Se norge a, Palex," Liz blurted out suddenly, and it took Alex a few seconds to realize what she was doing. There was a secret language that the two of them had cooked up as precocious eleven-year-olds, a mix of the french they were learning in Miss Cooper's class at the time, a little German Alex's maternal grandfather had taught them, (before he died two years later,) and a few other odds and ends, the whole of it camoflaged with a systematic pattern of spoonerisms. Cudgeling his brain, Alex ciphered out what Liz had just said to him. Switch the front consonant sounds on each pair of adjacent words, and... it was 'don't worry, Alex.'

There had to be more to it than this. The only reason Liz would suddenly start talking in 'Olde Roswellian' was because she has something to tell him that she didn't want to rish their captors overhearing. After all, they had been missing for a while, perhaps at least one of Grant and Zentar was hiding and eavesdropping on them. "Alb," he said, keeping a straight face, It was the affirmative term, the equivalent of 'yes.'

Liz broke out into a longer stream of the gibberish, and this time it came back to Alex like it was second nature. 'I'm *sure* that my dream holds the answer to this.' Noticing Alex's doubtful look, she elaborated 'The dream I had when I was with Max, weeks ago. It can tell me how to beat these guys, I know it can. I just need to be able to act at the right moment. I need you to do something for me, Alex.' When he nodded slightly, Liz continued. 'When I give you a signal, create a diversion. Make sure that all of them are focusing on you, not on me.'

Alex considered, and nodded again. "He joofnung ce queci lavaille, triz," he replied. 'I hope this works, Liz.'

Right then, things started happening. Alex couldn't see the details immediately because the chairs had been set facing towards the tunnel opening and away from the ladder, (probably intentional,) but he knew what it would be. Steve had shown up with Michael and Maria. This time Maria was tied to her chair (off on the other side of Alex from Liz,) before Steve lowered the heat field and waved Michael in. Not much had been said.

"Don't go in there, Michael!!" Alex called out suddenly, not sure why. To make up for not having warned Isabel similarly? "It's a deathtrap!!"

Michael froze and spun away from the tunnel opening. Steve was right of him (from Michael's perspective, left from Alex's,) working the heat shield controls, the ray gun at his feet, and Zentar was on the other side. Grant stood opposite him, right between Alex and Maria's chairs, fingering his automatic pistol ominously. Three against one odds, plus the hostage factor. Not Michael's best situation.

But maybe not as bad as it seemed - Alex noticed Max and Isabel walking up the tunnel cave behind Michael. With the three of them working together, it would be even odds, and Alex knew his hybrid friends were clever enough to dethread the threat against himself, Liz, and Maria.

But at the last possible moment, the heat shield blazed up again, knocking Max and Isabel backwards into the tunnel again and Michael forwards away from it momentarily. Grant must have
given Steve the cue.

Michael picked himself up, looked sadly over at Maria, at Alex himself, and then turned to nod to Steve. "It's okay. I'll go in peacefully. I'm sorry, man." That last was directed at Alex, and Alex immediately realized that Michael felt the same frustrating helplessness that Alex himself did.

The heat shield was let down just long enough for Michael to go in. **Come on, Liz," Alex thought to himself. **Give me the signal, any time now. Time is running out on our friendly neighborhood aliens.**

* * * * *

As Max groaned and picked himself up, he could just make out Michael trudging down the tunnel to meet them by the reflected light originating in the heat-field above. "Hey, man," he mumbled, disappointed. "For a minute there, it looked like we were gonna get an opening."

Michael shrugged. "Damn, these guys are good."

"So, what happens now?" Isabel asked softly.

"They start moving the heat field down the tunnel until we have nowhere safe left to stand," Max said softly.

"Yeah, that's pretty much what Alex said was the deal," Michael agreed.

"Oh, come *on*, guys!!" Isabel exclaimed. "Do we have to be this pessimistic *all* the time? They might not be trying to kill us right away. Considering all the effort these skins have gone to, maybe they're just holding us here until we can do something for th-- Oh." Max had pointed up towards the cave mouth, where the reddish shine of the field was getting brighter. Getting nearer, slightly. "Good point, Max," Isabel growled.

"Come on." Max led the way back up the tunnel until he was about three feet away from the edge of the field. Even at this distance he could feel the effects of it, the infrared radiation that had to be pouring out of that heat zone, the overexcited air molecules that were leaving it every second, the thermal energy that was spreading down the wall. He concentrated, and a wall of green energy sprang up a few inches shy of the red line. And waited.

No effect. Whatever things Max's shield was able to protect against it, heat - hot air molecules and radiant heat energy - was apparently not on the list. After long seconds the red field moved far enough down to entirely swallow the green shield, and Max let it lapse.

"Let's go down to the tunnel end at least," Isabel sighed. Having nothing better to suggest, Max and Michael followed her.

"Oh, by the way," Max persuaded a large object out of his jeans pocket and handed it to Michael.

"What the heck is this??" Michael asked, though the expression on his face told Max that Michael already guessed a little.

"Trithium amplifier," Isabel told him.

"It's a skin weapon," Max explained, "that Steve used to knock out our powers when we were first tossed in here. Apparently it's the same model as that thing of Brody's that knocked you out. How he got ahold of it I don't know."

"We figured that if we get out of this alive somehow, it might be useful," Isabel put in. "Don't worry, we got it set to its 'off' state while it was recharging.

Michael nodded vaguely, they were reaching the end of the tunnel now, it ended in a vaguely semi-spherical curve. Max turned around to look behind him. The heat field was still approaching them steadily, and he could already feel the spillover heat.

It stopped about nine feet away from them. "What's up with that? Is Steve *trying* to make us suffer??" Michael groused.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Max said with an angry sigh. "Or this might be as far as the range on that generator goes, or maybe he's counting on us making a break for it and running right through the heat field." He wiped the sweat off his forehead. "One thing's for sure, we can't last forever here."

Isabel looked at both of them, and took a deep breath. "Don't try to stop me." She stepped forward, two paces towards the field, and before Max knew what was going on the air around his sister, all the way to the tunnel edges, had turned white, like a big puffy cloud stuck inside the dark tunnel. He felt cool air starting to waft back from the cloud.

"What... what's she doing??" Michael asked. He tried to step forward into the cloud, but some kind of turbulence buffeted him back.

"She... she's providing a barrier between us and the heat," Max realized. "Slowing down the air molecules before they can get to us." Already the temperature in their little pocket seemed even on the cold side of comfortable.

"But... but Isabel!" Michael exclaimed. "Not only is she bearing the full effect of the heat, but she's using her powers on overdrive! That's a double hit to her balance." He tried to charge forward into the cloud again, but again was bounced back. "We can't let her do this, let her sacrifice herself for our sake."

"I'm not sure we can stop her, Michael," Max said sadly. In his mind, he was wondering what would happen when Isabel's reserves were exhausted - would Max do the same thing to protect Michael? Or the other way around??

* * * * *

To Alex, it seemed like forever since Steve had set the heat field controls and they'd all watched the zone of red sparkles disappear down the tunnel. Alex had been watching Liz intently, trying to make it look like he wasn't, hoping for that sign she said she would give him.

Finally, after so long, it came. A small gesture with her hand, unremarkable if you weren't expecting it, unmistakeable if you were. Alex was on.

"Hey, Grant!!" he called out. The skin turned to stare at him. "So, all that time you were flirting with Isabel, that was just scouring out the opposition, right?"

Grant smiled tightly. "More or less. She's very beautiful, in any species, and the 'flirting' you speak of was fun for its own sake. But yes, I was probing her subconscious mind for information about your little group, and testing the state of her own mentalic abilities. If you choose to dignify them with that term." He laughed softly.

Oh, boy, Alex thought. Grant's a mentalic too. Plus, Steve doesn't seem too diverted by this discussion yet. The seeds of a plan started to develop in Alex's mind.

"For having no formal training, I'd say she's doing not too bad," Alex shot back. "How many years did *you* spend in the Academy to get to where you are today, Grant??"

The leading question had the desired effect. "Just how do you know so much about our world, anyway, little human child??" Grant said, moving closer.

"That's for me to know and you to try to read out of my brain, you stupid alien," Alex shot back.

"Hmmm... I guess that's right." Grant held his ground and concentrated. Steve and Zentar seemed to be following this event quite closely now, Alex realized. Come on, Liz, make your move. Any time now...

"We know that something started to change over a month ago," Grant said teasingly. "Probably just before Steve threw his party. It's as if you came into posession of a source of information right then. Not the project Nemasee book -- you only got your hands on that more recently, and it's the wrong kind of information besides. What *was* it, Alex??"

Alex realized that Grant was trying to provoke a subconscious thought about the washer, but he didn't know how to stop him from succeeding, and wasn't quite sure if he wanted to, anyways...

"Ah-ha!!" Grant strode up to Alex, reached down the front of his shirt, and pulled up the string. Soon, he had the alien washer dangling before him. "A neuralizing memory archive," he breathed wonderingly. "Didn't know the royalists had sent one of these along!! Well, since it's probably already attuned to you, we can't figure out what's on it, but that doesn't matter. Bye bye, alien memories." Grant lifted up his free hand, about to melt of vaporize the washer or destroy it forever in some other way.

* * * * *

Maria was the one with the best view of it when it happened. She was watching the drama play out between Alex and Grant, of course, but she had a good view of Liz past them. Grant had stepped back once he had the washer. Liz reached her foot out and quickly kicked a lever on the side of the platform.

WHENNKK!! Suddenly the entire platform tilted forward as the supports dropped down by about two feet on the tunnel side. Maria felt her chair sliding forward. But Liz, who had been waiting for this moment and ready for it, managed to use the energy of the shift forwards to shift her weight from the chair to her feet and spin the chair around.

BOMMPPP! The side of Liz's chair, right where the seat, the back support, and one of the rear legs joined together, went crashing into Grant Sorenson's right temple. He staggered, and the chair broke away mostly in pieces. That was all it took for Liz to scramble out of the ropes that had held her, and she charged immediately for the ledge where the ray gun and the heat field control were kept.

About this point Maria's chair fetched up against the mountainside, which kind of limited her view. She heard a few ray gun blasts, and what sounded like alien cursing. Maria had just managed to turn her chair around when the three skins were surrounding Liz from various points of cover. "Come on, darling, you can't stand up against all three of us with that little toy." As if to prove his point, Steve stepped out from behind Alex's chair, (which he had been using for cover,) and when Liz took a shot at him he deflected it with a glowing purple energy field.

And that was when Max and Michael charged out of the tunnel opening screaming Braveheart-style battle cries.

* * * * *

Max saw Michael boost Steve away with a surge of telekinetic force, trying to throw him off the platform. But after a surprised second, Steve compensated, and flew with the ease of practice to land on the edge of the platform, bracing himself against the slant. Michael shot out with what looked like the handprint of death strike, but Steve shielded.

"Max!!" It looked like Liz was so glad to see him that she had stepped out of her cover, and Grant was raising the gun at her. Max acted without thinking. He lifted his hand up to point at the alien enemy, and he could feel his power reaching out.

Grant screamed in pain and the gun dropped from his hand. "God! NO!!" Max tried to stop whatever it was that he had put in motion, but he didn't seem to know how. Suddenly Grant's body exploded into a cloud of... of not even dust, just vapor, scattered molecules that merged with the air and were lost in it forever. Somehow Max knew, deep in the core of his soul, that Grant Sorenson wouldn't be coming back. That he had killed.

"You... you..." The third skin, the flunky, pointed at Max in return. "You discorporated him!!" A pulse of yellow energy streaked out of Zentar's hand and dashed Max to the floor. "You'll pay for that, boy-king."

"I don't think so!!" Liz was pointing the ray gun straight at Zentar, and he had forgotten about her. The ruby red lightning speared through Zentar's body, exploding it. Chunks of skin and bone splattered over Max, most of them looking pretty inhuman now that the facade Zentar had lived under was now shattered.

"Maxwell!!" Michael yelled. Max brushed a particularly disgusting chunk of shoulder away from his jeans with a shudder and hurried over to see what Michael was screaming about. Steve had jumped (or flew) off of the platform and was making good time to his car. "We've got to catch him!"

"Isabel!!" Alex yelled out. His chair had gotten stuck half-way between the platform and the mountainside, very ignominously for the poor boy still tied to it. "What happened to Isabel?"

Max froze, remembering. Isabel had collapsed in a heap when the heat field finally dropped. Max and Michael had gone on ahead, somehow realizing that bringing her out of the cave would do no good until they had settled Steve and Grant. But now...

"You guys catch Steve," Michael said, gesturing to Max and Liz. "I'll make sure Isabel, Maria, and Alex are all right." The distribution of labor sounded great to Max, and he could tell from the fierce grin on Liz's face that she was up for it too. The two of them hurried down the ladder as quickly as they could (Max not being willing to try to mimic Steve's flying trick unless it was a true emergency.)

As they reached the desert floor, Max suddenly noticed that it was brightening twilight, something that hadn't been easy to see up above with the floodlight shining in his eyes. How much time had passed?

A third car was driving up to the platform, parking closer than Steve's viper and Grant's SUV, and the driver got out and intercepted Steve. As he ran towards them Max could see that the new person was Courtney Banks, Steve's 'sister.'

"What's going on out here??" Max could vaguely hear Courtney calling out. "What have you been doing all night??"

With an offhand wave, Steve sent Courtney flying through the air, landing on the sand hard enough to hurt though not, Max hoped, hard enough to break any bones. And then Steve was rushing on, heading for his viper again.

"Hey!!" Liz nudged Max. Unbelievably enough, *another* car was pulling up to the deserted site - a red Chrysler Prowler that Max recognized from somewhere. Liz was flagging it down.

As the car screamed to a stop right in front of them, Max recognized the driver - Kyle Valenti. Liz hopped into the back seat (the top was down,) and gestured that Max should take shotgun. "Follow that car, Kyle!!" Liz said, pointing at the viper screaming away.

"Uh, sure, whatever," Kyle said, gunning the motor up again. Even with all the power that Kyle had rebuilt into the classic engine, catching up with Steve's lead was slow - the viper was also a car with an extreme amount of oomph to it, and the rough terrain in this area complicated things for both drivers. Just as they were starting to pull up behind Steve, Max could see him making something of an crosshand throwing gesture through his open window.

"Kyle, look out!!" Kyle swerved the Prowler out of the way just in time to avoid the ball of purple energy that Steve had lobbed back at them. "What now?" Max muttered to himself.

* * * * *

"There you go." Michael straightened Alex's chair with an offhand pull, and then he waved his hand where the human teenager's hands and feet were tied, and the ropes parted as if they had been cut. "Don't worry," he promised. "Isabel's gonna be fine."

Alex smiled weakly, lurched to his feet, and grunted as surprise as Maria tackled him with a hug. "Oh, god, Alex..." Maria said, hyperventilating into his ear. "I didn't know if we were all gonna get out of that okay."

"Ssh, ssh..." Alex said, brushing Maria's hair, feeling a little embarrassed about holding one of his oldest friends and another guy's girlfriend like this, but obviously she needed company. "It's alright, we've won. Max and Liz are gonna catch Steve and settle him, and we're all gonna be safe."

Maria pulled back and smiled at him, the tears shining in her eyes. "Thanks, Alex. Now, do you think we can turn off that damn floodlight??" She raised up a hand to shield her eyes, which had the glare streaming straight into them. "It's almost morning."

Alex grinned, and they headed over to the lamp and figured out how to switch it off. Alex was just starting to realize how dim the morning twilight was in comparison when he heard footsteps coming up the tunnel. Only one person worth of footsteps...

He rushed over. Michael was carrying Isabel in his arms, or at least Alex could only assume it was Isabel. Her body was wrapped in the same kind of webbing that had surrounded Michael when he was in the last stages of alien heatstroke after barging into River Dog's sweatlodge. Her figure had that same awful, dead stillness, and yet there was something else wrong with her. She seemed shrunken, withered underneath the webbing.

"What happened to her??!" he asked Michael angrily.

Michael shook his head. "She sacrificed herself to protect Max and me from the heat. She used her powers to cool the air that was coming through to us..."

"So she was using her powers hard," Alex muttered, seeing it. "And exposing herself to the heat at the same time. God!! Why didn't you sto-- no, you probably couldn't not when Isabel had set her mind to it, could you??" Michael shrugged awkwardly.

"Healing stones," Michael thought out loud. "Dammit, we moved them up to the pod chamber when we were getting ready to do the communique this morning... or yesterday morning, or whatever."

The ramifications hit Alex like a medicine ball to the face. The pod chamber was practically on the other side of Roswell from them, northwest of town near the Puhlman ranch, while they were east south-east right now. It would take - probably an hour and a half to get there from here. Which looked like more than an hour and twenty minutes longer than Isabel had.

TO BE CONTINUED...

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 4-Aug-2002 10:18:00 PM ]
posted on 13-Aug-2002 6:00:31 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4c (second half)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'


"We can't keep dodging fireballs like that and keep on his tail," Kyle called out to Max over the roar of the engine. "Either you find some better defense or we'll have to turn back!! He's doing it again!!" Sure enough, Steve was lobbing another charge of energy at them out of his window.

Taking a quick chance, Max summoned the shield, trying to make it so that it would keep up with the car. No such luck. Steve's purple energy ball splattered against Max's shield, (making him wince,) and dissipated, but the barrier Max had created was stationary with respect to the ground, and thus seemed to be screaming towards them itself. Max tried to collapse the shield before they reached it, but couldn't, quite, and only luck had the car screaming past it mere inches away. "Don't do that again!!" Kyle called out unhelpfully.

Third energy charge. This time Max focused his powers on it as if it was a physical thing and *lifted.* That worked considerably better - it gave Max's powers the equivalent of hot potato to touch the energy charge, but it zoomed well above the car and detonated in the desert beyond them.

"My turn," Liz said, standing up in the back seat of the Prowler and steadying herself with a hand on Kyle's driver's seat and aiming the ray gun at the viper ahead of them. Steve tried one more energy charge again, and Max sent it screaming right of the car.

"Try not to kill him, Liz," Max suggested. "If we can take him captive, we might be able to learn something from him, even use him as a bargaining chip." And they had killed more than enough skins this morning. "Aim for the right side of the car, Steve will be left."

Liz nodded and did her best to suit action to Max's word, but her first shot rocketed too far to the right, missing Steve's car entirely. "Damnit," she muttered under her breath. (Max supposed it would be a little too much to expect Liz to be a crack shot.) She tried again, and blasted a crater in the dirt road just behind Steve's car, making Kyle growl and do a course correction again. Route 380 appeared above them, and one by one the cars turned right onto the four-lane highway, heading east out of town, towards... towards Tatum, yeah, that was the next town along this route. Not a big place.

Liz was aiming for her third shot when suddenly... "Wow, look at that!!" Steve's viper was accelerating far faster than even a car like that had any right to expect. Caught off guard, Liz took her shot, and the ruby lightning missed again, passing over the viper like a clap of thunder and disappearing into the sky. And the viper was still gaining speed.

"Must be doing better than 350 miles an hour," Kyle said wonderingly. "No, four hundred..." He turned to Max. "Unless you can give me a little help with that, I think he's getting away."

Max knew that alien powers had something to do with the speed of Steve's getaway - he could feel them. But he wasn't about to try *that* trick right now either; it had danger written all over it. "No, I think you're right." But you won't be able to hide from me forever, Steve Banks, he silently swore.

"Max!!" Liz said, grabbing Max's shoulder as Kyle slowed down to a leisurely cruise for the moment. "Alex! Steve hurt his arm, while they were getting Isabel. It's really hurt, Steve went for the nerve. We've gotta go back to the platform site so you can heal it."

"Okay," Max said, nodding. "Hope ya don't mind, Kyle."

Kyle pulled the prowler through a u-ie, and sped up as he headed back west down the highway. "I'll drive you anywhere you want if you explain what the hell has been goin' on."

* * * * *

Michael shrugged off the frustration and came to a decision. "We're heading for the pod chamber. Izzie's a strong chick, she'll hold it together until we can get there." He stood up, carrying the girl who had been closest to him in his life in his arms again, and looked out over the edge of the platform again. No way could they carry Iz down the ladder safely without spending *way* too much time on it, so... Michael stepped off the edge, focusing his powers, and coasted to the ground like he was in another invisible elevator. There were still two cars in the area, but since one of them seemed to be occupied... "Looks like we're taking the SUV," Michael called up to Alex and Maria, who were already heading down the ladder."

"Wait a second!!" Maria called out from above Alex. "The SUV... Was that Grant's car?"

"Yeah, I think so," Alex said, "Liz and Max were the only ones to ride with Grant, but I saw it at the Evans place. Why??"

"Let's search it!" Maria replied, running ahead as soon as she got to the bottom of the ladder. "He might have had healing stones in it!!"

Michael felt as if he'd missed a step. "Well, I suppose anything's possible, but why?"

"Come on," Alex hurried Michael along. "These healing stones are basic alien first-aid supplies or something, right? And Grant and Steve were heading into a dangerous mission. Why wouldn't they have brought some healing gear along?"

More hopeful now, Michael left Isabel's body laying on the ground as the three of them tore the car apart in search. "Um, Spaceboy, a little help here?" Maria called back to him from the front seat. Michael backed away from the trunk and came to see what she was talking about. It turned out to be the glove compartment, which had been locked.

Michael waved a hand over the lock, focusing on manipulating the internal mechanisms, and the compartment door popped open. A lot of papers and complicated geology handbooks, the inevitable collection of maps - a few bottles and vials Michael didn't want to know about right now, and... "Yes!!" Two familiar-looking amber crystals.

"Only two? Two people doing the healing??" Alex said over his shoulder. Michael understood his point. Admittedly, they only had three people here, if they didn't wait and hope that Max, Liz, and Kyle would be back soon, but when Michael himself had been ill, and not as badly off as Isabel, there had been four participating in the healing ritual.

"I'm one of them," Michael said softly. "I'm a hybrid, like her, and my balance is strong right now. Because she took the heat for me." He thought a moment. "It should probably be me and Maria, Alex. Your hand is hurt, we don't know if that might interfere..."

"I have to do this for her," Alex said in a low voice. Maria pur her hand on Michael's other shoulder and whispered in his ear.

"He's right. You wouldn't want to be cut out of the process if something had happened to me, or I to you. And love can work miracles."

Michael nodded in deference and passed one of the stones over to Alex. All three of them hurried back to where Isabel's body had been left.

"What now?" Maria asked nervously. "Do you need to do that thing with the water and the chant??"

"No water, unless Grant had some evian in there," Michael pointed out. "No wooden bowl."

"I think we can do this without all the external trappings," Alex said. "From what I can remeber..." and then he did a double-take. "The washer! What... no, time enough to worry about that once Isabel's all right." He sighed and tried to resume his train of thought. "Just concentrate on the stone and on your inner energy, your balance." Michael realized that though he presumed his balance was stronger, he was the one member of the group who had really no experience with these healing stones. He had been on the recieving end in River dog's cave, entirely out of it until the healing was over, and he had been inside the labyrinth while Liz and Kyle had been using the stones to boost their hybrid partners' power to help him and Maria get out.

But he concentrated, following Alex's hint, and soon enough it seemed like something was happening. The healing stone lit up in his hands, and Michael could feel his power going to Isabel, helping her, replenishing her drained reserves. Across from him, Alex's stone lit up too, and there was another stream of power buffering his own.

And then, suddenly, something was going wrong. Isabel was missing too much, and what he and Alex could provide through the stones wasn't enough. Suddenly it wasn't like they were pouring energy into her, but that something deep inside Isabel, something instinctive, primal, was *sucking* it out of them. Something that lay too far down to comprehend friendship, love, or caring, but that knew survival quite well. It was going to get enough energy for Isabel to survive or kill both of them trying.

And what if even that wasn't enough??

"What's going on here??" Michael recognized the voice, vaguely. It was Courtney. He couldn't even move his head to look at her. "What are you guys all doing out here in the middle of the night? What's wrong with my brother?? He acted like he didn't even recognize me just then." **Damnit, Courtney, not now!!**

"I got news for you babe - that wasn't your brother..."

Suddenly the conversation between Maria and Courtney -- the healing stones themselves became irrelevant as Michael felt his balance being drawn in by Isabel's...

* * * * *

Michael found himself in the middle of a snow-covered field. He caught a glimpse of himself in an ice-mirror stretching between the branches of a tree and to his surprise, he looked... older? More rugged, with a beard... like he was in his late twenties or something.

"Your ordeal is upon you, Michael Guerin." Michael jumped and found River Dog standing behind him. "I am your guide. Take the rope and pull it back that way." There was a rope and pulley hooked up to a telephone pole just next to the old Indian. One end was loose, the other stretched back in the direction River dog was pointing - into a snow-covered forest.

Michael shrugged, took a good hold of the rope, and started hauling. At first it didn't seem too hard. Then whatever was at the other end pulled the rope taught, and Michael really had to put some effort into it to get anywhere. He was so focused on the task at hand that he didn't hear the footsteps approaching him at first.

He looked up. It was Max, and he was holding out his hand to Michael. Michael sighed, made sure that that the rope was secure, and stretched out his hand to the guy who'd been somewhere between a best friend and a brother all of his life.

Something weird happened as their hands met. It didn't hurt, but Michael was sure that he saw blood between their hands - mixing, mingling. It actually felt good, revitalizing, which was good considering the job he had ahead of him here.

"Best team in the galaxy, huh?" Max asked with a wide smile, and then he faded out and disappeared. Michael shrugged and resumed his haul, realizing that river dog was trailing him without helping out. Well, he was old and probably didn't have much strength to spare, even if the vision quest guide's rulebook didn't prohibit direct assistance.

The next figure that Michael saw, just before he reached the tree line, was Maria. She was wearing a long wool skirt, boots, a shiny winter jacket, scarf, and knitted hat, and looked *incredibly* adorable and cute to Michael. She walked quickly up to him, wrapped his arms around him, and kissed him warmly and sweetly. It was like a little piece of heaven.

"Je t'aime toujours, Imzadi," she breathed into his ear after the kiss was done.

"Say what?" He pulled back to look into Maria's face, she smiled at him but didn't elaborate. "I'll see you soon, babe, back out in the real world, but I need to keep hauling this rope along. Isabel might not have much time." Maria continued to stare at him, but she didn't look like she was quite getting the message.

So Michael pushed her away, very gently, and Maria took a few steps back. Then there was this ominous creaking sound, and BOOM! she was gone. Michael stepped forward, appalled. He hadn't even realized that they were on an ice patch, but Maria had broken through, and it looked like she was having a hard time finding her way back to the open air.

"Maria!! It's over here," he yelled, not sure if she could hear him. Michael wasn't sure if he should try to use his powers to save her or just diving in himself.

Suddenly, there was a dark shape, swimming under the ice, and it took Maria with it. Michael felt a touch on his arm, and he turned around and stared accusingly at River Dog.

"The swimmer's magic will save her," River Dog said enigmatically. "And you must continue with your own task." Michael hated it, but he knew that his vision guide had to be right.

One footstep after another, he dragged himself onto the forest path. Just what was this he was pulling, anyway?? He saw another ice mirror, and peered into it. Maybe this one was magic or something, because he could see Tess, struggling through a blizzard, looking very lost and alone. And then the picture faded and he saw only the trees behind him.

Again. Again. Again. Michael's feet, his arms, his shoulders, his back were all killing him, probably some other parts of his body too. (Except this probably wasn't his real body here - so was his spirit killing him??) And then his foot didn't clear a root or something. WHHUMPP! Faceful of snow and dirt. Man that's nasty.

"Come on, Michael." He looked up - it was Liz, extending a hand to help him up, which he gratefully took. "It's not much further. I've gotta say, Michael, I really respect what you're doing."

Michael brushed some snow off of himself and shrugged. "It's not like I really had much choice."

"That's not how I saw it." Liz walked further down the path, and Michael shrugged and carried on in his own direction. **Not much further...* he repeated silently in his mind.

Sure enough, soon a forest glade opened before him. Finally now, Michael could see what the other end of his rope was attached to - a huge bundle of wood, which was being pushed into the glade from the opposite direction by a familiar twenty-something guy -- wait, that was Alex!! Older, just like Michael himself was in this vision. But when Michael had seen Max, Maria, Liz, even Tess, they were teenagers. Weird.

On a wide, flat space in the middle of the glade, there was a block of stone, and on top of the stone there was a person-sized cocoon. All three, the flat space, the stone, and the cocoon, were covered in snow. Alex was just pushing the wood into place near the middle of one side of the flat space, near one end of the stone, when Michael reached him. "Now what, Alex??"

"I have the key." Alex pulled out a lighter, pointed it at the wood, and suddenly the whole pile was burning in a raging bonfire. The snow around them started to melt away without leaving water behind, and Michael realized that what he had only seen as a flat space was actually a huge open book - THE book.

The cocoon opened from within, except it wasn't just a cocoon, it was like a perfect, silky chrysalis, and from within, like a butterfly, emerged Isabel. She seemed older, like Michael himself and Alex, and to Michael she had never looked more beautiful; she seemed so elegant and graceful. She was wearing a multi-colored gown, and... did she have wings? She did, Michael decided after a second, but not material ones - wings floating behind her made out of pure energy.

"Thank you," she said, stepping down off the stone and walking around the bonfire to Alex and Michael. She got to Alex first, and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him deeply and slipping him the tongue. After about twenty seconds, (the point where Michael started feeling *really* embarrassed,) Isabel broke the kiss and stepped close to Michael, putting her arms around his chest.

Michael heard a faint tinkling around his feet, and he realized that Isabel was crying, and her tears were turning into ice and shattering. "Why are you crying??" Isabel didn't say anything. (Why could nobody answer a straight question in this loopy vision.) He reached out a hand to catch her ice-tears as they fell, and they started to melt as they came into contact with his warm skin. Then a few fell into his hand that didn't seem cold and weren't melting.

Surprised, Michael brought his hand up for closer examination. There were crystals there, but not ice crystals. They seemed like... diamonds??

* * * * *

Alex looked around, trying to get his bearings. How had he arrived here?? He was standing on a small path through a thick forest, in early spring, it looked like. How had he been moved from the desert to here?? Stepping out from between the trees appeared -- his father??

"What's going on??"

"I'm, um, your vision guide," Doctor John Whitman explained with a trace of nervousness. "Apparently. Uh, you need to start by pushing this rock, er, thataway." He pointed down the forest path.

The rock was mostly round, but with a wide flat bottom that would make rolling it awkward, and it was almost five feet high and four feet around. "Can you gimme a hand here??"

"No, I can't do anything to help Isabel directly this time," Mr. Whitman said mysteriously. "But you won't be alone - see the rope?"

There was indeed a rope wrapped around the rock, and a length of it stretched away on the far side, Alex realized. The rope pulled taut and attempted to pull the rock with it. Alex got the cue and started pushing from behind it.

After a few minute's effort and about fifteen feet's progress, the rope went slack for a bit, and Alex took a break. He noticed a pool of standing water nearby and looked into his reflection - to his surprise, he looked at least eight or nine years older!! He heard a faint voice from beyond the trees, a voice plaintively calling out for help. "Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me? It's Tess..."

"You can't find her now," John Whitman told his son. "Come on." Sure enough, the rope had gone taught again. Alex hurried over and started pushing again.

Second break. This time Alex noticed people walking up from down the path, the way he had come from. Max and Maria. "Here," Max said, taking out a little angular piece of metal and holding it out to Max. Alex held out his hand, Max put it in, and Maria followed suit with another.

"Two parts of the key you'll need," Maria explained. "Good luck. We need Isabel."

Alex shrugged, thanked them with a nod, and started pushing again. A minute or two later he noticed that he was pushing the rock past Kyle, who was standing between two kisses on the edge of the path.

"Here you go, that should finish it," Kyle said, holding out another key fragment. Alex took it. "Watch the new kid carefully."

Alex shrugged, not sure what to make of that, and when he turned around he noticed a mass of dark curls at about his chin height. He couldn't immediately make out the identity of the person, since she (or he? No, he didn't think it was a he,) was several inches shorter than he was and standing very close, so he couldn't see the face. The slender fingers of a small hand held his own hand, and a slight touch tapped him in the middle of his chest, creating a reaction that Alex couldn't immediately identify. And then she was turning away and dashing into the forest cover.

After not much more pushing Alex got the rock into a forest glade, the spring sun shining down on them. Michael was just getting into the glade too - he had been pulling the other end of the rope or something. And in the middle of the glade, on top of a giant replica of the book, was a crystal box a la snow white, and inside he could see Isabel, sleeping beautifully. He noticed suddenly that both Isabel and Michael seemed older too. (Weird.)

"Now what, Alex?" Michael asked, looking at the big rock that they had dragged here.

"I have the key," he said. It also ran through his mind that his dad had disappeared sometime just before he got into the glade. Had Michael had a guide too? He fumbled out the three metal pieces that had been given him, fitted them together into a circle, and found a matching spot on the stone where the key would fit. Suddenly the entire hunk of rock started to shine with a blue light.

Isabel woke up, effortlessly opening the lid of the case from inside, and walked towards them. "Thank you." She put her arms around Alex's neck, and kissed him passionately. He kissed back, but after what seemed like far too short a time she broke the kiss and went over to hug Michael.

"Why are you crying?" Alex heard Michael ask. And then... and then, suddenly it seemed, Alex was back in the desert. Isabel seemed unchanged, but Michael had grown some webbing himself, and was furiously trying to snatch it off of his body and throw it away.

"Come on, Iz," Alex said, bending over to look into Isabel's face through the webbing. "Come back to us!!"

And then Isabel was moving, tearing the cocoon of webbing open from the inside, dust and grit flying everywhere as it was broken. "Oh, god, Alex..." She crawled awkwardly into his arms... and Alex was once again reminded of the dead feeling in his left hand. How late was it getting?? But he shoved that thought out of his mind and focused on comforting Isabel.

"I was... I was so far away, I didn't think I'd ever be able to come back to you..." Isabel was moaning softly.

"It's okay, it's okay," he whispered reassuringly, stroking through Isabel's hair, which, like the rest of her physically, seemed full of life and none the worse for her ordeal. "We found you. We brought you back... it's alright."

Isabel turned and looked around, at Michael, who was still sitting somewhat awkwardly, the healing stone in one of his hand, and at Maria and Courtney, who were both watching. "What... what happened?" Isabel asked somewhat belatedly. "How did we get out of the tunnel?"

"Liz turned off the heat field," he told her gently, "and Michael carried you out. You had the heat stroke, like he did after going into the sweat lodge, except instantly, and worse."

"I remember... I remember stepping up to protect them from the heat," Isabel said somewhat doubtfully.

"...Which was quite a stupid idea, while we're on the subject," Michael declared, getting a glare from Alex. "Well, it was. You coulda died, Isabel."

She smiled weakly at him. "But I didn't. And because I shielded you and Max from the effects of the heat, I bet you were able to kick some skin butt, am I right?" Michael was silent, he couldn't deny *that*. "I can't use my powers to fight like the two of you can - I don't have that nerve of steel. But I could protect you two so that you could save us, and I did. And the two of you were here to bring me back."

Alex sighed with relief for that, and then got them off onto another topic, to pre-empt any further argument. "Iz... did you see anything during the healing? I did, and I think you did too, right Michael?" Michael nodded in agreement.

"Um, let's see..." Isabel closed her eyes, still relaxing in Alex's embrace, and tried to remember. "I was standing on a giant replica of the book. Max, Liz, and Maria each said something cryptic to me..." She paused here for several long moments, probably assembling the mysterious clues in her mind. "I'll go into them later. I noticed Tess, trying to get to the book, but it's like she was being dragged away by something. Kyle was a picture on the open page. And then... and then I was coming out of the cocoon, in the dream, and you and Michael were there, except you seemed older. I kissed you, Alex, and then..." She coughed and blushed. "And then... I don't remember." Alex didn't buy that for one second. The way she reacted - she remembered the end of that sequence the same way he did, with hugging Michael. She just didn't want to admit it.

"Sounds wild." All three of them looked up to the owner of the new voice, and Maria and Courtney turned around to see Max (said owner) walking towards Isabel and Alex, Liz following beside him. Kyle was still behind the wheel of his car. "So... we all good here??"

"Not bad, Maxwell," Michael said. "What about Steve, did you let the SOB get away??"

"Couldn't help it, my man," Max sighed. "He had this funky hyperdrive power that we have simply *got* to learn. Ummm... Courtney." Max turned to face the new person. "How much do you know about what's going on?"

"Only what Maria told me," Courtney said. A few stares focused on Maria, who shrugged helplessly. "That there's some weird alien invasion stuff going on, and it looks like my brother was killed and replaced by one of them. Also... from what I can tell, all you guys seem to be psychics or something??"

Max didn't challenge *that* misplaced assumption. "About your brother... that's the way it looks. I'll tell Sheriff Valenti about your brother, he... 'knows' about this sort of thing too. Are you going to be in any immediate trouble without him? Financially, I mean."

"No, the house is in my name and I'm doing okay for cash," Courtney shrugged, a stunned look on her face. "I don't know what to tell the radio station if they call to ask why Steve's not coming in to work though."

"We'll work on that," Max said softly. "For now... why don't you go on home, okay?" Courtney considered that, waved at everyone including Kyle, and went back to her car.

"We'll need to search the area," Alex said as soon as she was gone. "The washer is missing, Grant had taken it from me when Liz pulled her little kung-fu spin."

"Oh, my god," Max breathed. "I hope I didn't..." He made a 'whoosh' gesture with his hands.

"No, don't worry," Maria commented. "Grant dropped it when Liz's chair slammed into his head. I saw it slip down beneath the platform."

"But first things first." Max knelt down next to Alex, took Alex's left hand in his, and slowly unwrapped the fabric around the wounded arm. "Look at me."

* * * * *

The rush of connection images hit Max as soon as Alex locked his eyes on Max's own. Alex as a little kid - boy, he couldn't be any older than four, playing with a toy spaceship in a pretty backyard surrounded by oranging trees. Max let the memory become part of him as he focused on the healing. Alex and Isabel sitting together and looking up at the stars - this would be the Fazier woods trip, Max guessed. Before they had snuck away to investigate the 'sighting.'

Alex at twelve or thirteen, leading Maria and Liz down into a rocky canyon somewhere. The nerves in Alex's arm that Steve had so cruelly torn apart were stating to knit back together, but would they fire the same way that they had done before?? Alex touching the washer for the first time, in the UFO center. Ten years old, dressed in a black suit and sitting in a church pew - Alex's grandfather's funeral, Max somehow knew.

The images were coming more quickly now. The holding cell in the Roswell county sheriff's station, as Liz pointed a single finger and tried to explain to Alex where Max and Isabel came from. Why they were so scared. Another Isabel memory - Alex pulling the front door of his parents' house open and seeing Isabel there waiting for him, wearing a blue top -- Max wasn't sure when that was from...

And then one of those moments hit Max that seemed to transcend the term 'flash', where for a timeless moment he *became* a memory from the connection. (It had happened with Liz and her cupcake dress.)

Alex had been climbing a tree and looking down at the houses and streets below him. Alex and his parents had just moved to Roswell and he didn't have any friends here.

And then the connection was over, and Max just sat there for a second staring at Alex curling and stretching his fingers as if testing them out to make sure that they were okay.

Max would never have thought that someone human could feel the same loneliess that Max had, but there was no mistaking what he had felt from Alex. In some ways, actually, that moment had been even more intense, because as long as he could remember, Max had always had Isabel.

He couldn't find any words. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Michael who broke the silence. "Your hand okay, Alex? Then let's find that slug of yours."

END OF PART 4C... HOMECOMING TO BE CONTINUED *happy*
posted on 6-Oct-2002 8:26:48 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4d
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

Part 4d: Pick up the pieces

(Still morning of Wednesday November 29th.)

"Ah!!" Maria watched as Alex bent down to the desert floor under the platform and retrieved his small metal disk. He found the string a few inches away, but didn't bother trying to re-tie it around his neck, just putting the washer and the string in opposite pockets.

"So... what now?" Maria asked aloud. The eastern sky was brightening - dawn would come any minute now. "I mean, first off, there are seven of us here and we won't all fit in Kyle's car. Do we hotwire the SUV or something?"

"We were about to, to save Isabel," Alex reminded her. "And I'm not so sure that we should leave it out here."

"The chemical company is going to notice their geologist is missing at some point," Isabel said. "Maybe it'll best if his car is missing too. Make it look like he just bugged out on the job and left Roswell."

"I just hope nobody notices that Grant and Steve Banks disappeared at the same time," Michael muttered. "Assuming of course that now that his cover is blown Steve doesn't go back to the radio station."

"Um, I have a question," Kyle put in. He had finally gotten out of his car and crept closer to the group, Maria noticed. "Where the heck is Tess??"

Mentioning her name sent a double-take through the whole group, except perhaps for Liz and Alex. "Tess?" Isabel repeated. "You mean she isn't back at your father's, Kyle?"

"No, that's why I'm here," Kyle told them. "I woke up in the middle of the night, I was walking around a bit, and the bedroom door was wide open, she was nowhere to be found. I was cruising the neighborhood looking for her when I saw Courtney heading for the highway like a crazed person, and I figured that might be relevant. She led me here."

"Mental note, find out how Courtney knew to find Steve here," Michael muttered under his breath.

"Tess goes up by Frazier woods," Liz spoke up, surprising everyone. "Grant said something about it while Max and Isabel were in the tunnel. She goes up there every night, he didn't know why, but they didn't expect Tess to come running to the rescue."

"Well, *I* wanna know why!!" Michael exclaimed. "We're supposed to be a team, and Tess hasn't been pulling her weight for a while now. If she had our backs, this would have been much less of a close call... no offense Liz, and thanks for saving all our butts by the way." He nodded solemnly at the dark-haired girl.

"Wait a second," Maria put in suddenly. "Alex, you future self said that four skins could come up against the royal four at any one time, right?"

"Yeah," Isabel chimed in. "That arbiter woman confirmed it. Steve, Grant, and that other doof made three. Where's the fourth?"

"That's a good point..." Max said slowly. "Who launches an attack like this without their full complement? Another guard could have been the one to stop Liz before she set us free." He took a deep breath. "Unless the fourth skin is going after the fourth hybrid. Tying up loose ends." He looked pale as he sad it.

"You mean one of these nutcase aliens might be trying to kill Tess?" Kyle exploded. "Then why the heck are we all sitting around here? Frazier woods, next stop, all aboard."

"I think we'd better go check on her," Max agreed. "Even if all this conjecture about the fourth skin is unfounded, there's Steve to think about. He might try to make up for the failure of his plan A by taking out Tess before she's on herguard."

Michael looked over the group. "Max, Liz and I go with Kyle to find Tess," he suggested. "Isabel, you Alex and Maria take the SUV, swing through town just long enough to pick up some spare wheels, and..." he thought a second. "You can find somewhere to hide it where it won't be found, right?" He looked at Grant's ride critically. "It'd be a shame to total it if we don't have to."

"I can handle things," Isabel assured him. "Go and make sure that Tess is okay, And then read her the riot act for me, okay?" She smiled faintly.

Quickly Max and Liz bundled back into the Prowler, this time with Michael, and the other three approached the SUV. Isabel got behind the drivers' seat, waved her hand over the dashboard, and the engine roared into life. Another wave and it died down.

"What's wrong, Isabel?" Maria asked.

"Just think we'd better secure the area first," Isabel said, walking back over to the platform as Kyle's car drove away. "Make sure that there isn't anything left around here that could connect us to it... fingerprints and such..." She was climbing the ladder, and as her head cleared the platform she did a double take. "Wait a second, I thought you said that Liz roasted the third alien doofus with the ray gun up here." She glared down accusingly at Maria.

"She did," Maria insisted.

"Then what happened to the body??" Isabel asked. Alex took a look up from where he was, half underneath the platform. It was obvious that Zentar's body was nowhere to be seen.

"Check for dust," Alex called up. In a few seconds it had been confirmed - Zentar's body had collapsed into dust when nobody was looking, much the same way Nasedo's had in the pod chamber.

They cleared the area, (Isabel doing fingerprint duty with her powers,) and collapsed the platform so that it was nearly level on the rocky ground, hoping to make the tunnel opening less suspicious by depriving anyone of an easy way to look down into it. Then Isabel led the way back to Grant's car.

"So... what do we do after we stash the wheels?" Maria asked as she climbed

"I dunno about you," Alex quipped, "but I think we've earned another personal day."

* * * * *

"That's her!" Max pointed out, spotting a car going the other way down route 380, towards Roswell. Kyle's car had just passed through town, leaving the city limits behind about five minutes ago.

"Probably wanting to get home before Sheriff Valenti wakes up," Liz commented.

"Can you catch her?" Michael asked Kyle from the shotgun seat. "We need to have this out, *now* and out here in the middle of nowhere seems like the safest place.

Kyle shrugged. "Sure." He pulled his car through a U-ie across the bright yellow line down the middle of the four-lane highway and charged off, honking at the Tess-mobile when he got in range and waving at her to pull over. Tess started driving faster, but she wasn't any match for the enging under Kyle's hood. He drag-raced her, pulled ahead, and gradually cut Tess over to the shoulder.

Tess was storming out of the coupe by the time Kyle had parked. Eloquent as always, she glared at the four individuals as they piled out of the Prowler and snarled "What the fuck??"

Kyle was the next to speak up, though he didn't show any sign of having heard Tess' words. "Are... are you okay, Tess? Did any aliens try and kill you too?"

Tess stared at him in confusion for a few seconds. "No, Valenti, I'm fine," she muttered. "What's your problem?"

Michael waded into the conversation at this point. "Well, *my* problem is that Skin assasins came *damn* close to killing me, Isabel, and Max, and the person we expected to have our backs after she's put all of us through so much was nowhere to be found!!" Michael paused a moment and brought his volume down three notches. "What were you doing going out by Frazier woods, Tess??" The intensity was thick on Michael's voice and written in his face.

"I, um... god!!" It took Tess a moment to come to terms with the news Michael had dropped. "I, I go up there to think when I can't sleep, which is all the time, lately," she admitted. "If I'd known that the Skins had an assasination planned, I'd have stuck in town. Everyone's okay, right? Isabel didn't..."

"Isabel's fine," Liz said, her words to Tess somewhat distant and impersonal out of habit. "It was touch and go there for a while, from what I heard, but thanks to Michael and Alex she'll be fine. Alex and Maria are okay too, thank you so much for asking." The sarcasm seeped in on that last sentence. "They're tying up a few loose ends."

"Well, I'm glad everyone's all right," Tess said sincerely looking intently at all of them. "But maybe you guys should get used to the idea that I won't be coming to the rescue any more."

Max got a sinking feeling in his stomach. "What is that supposed to mean, Tess?"

She turned to focus narrowly on Max. "You want me to spell it out for you, sweetie??" she spat angrily. "I'm thinking of leaving Roswell."

The stunned silence lasted for nearly half a minute, and then Liz charged forward and got right into Tess' face. "You selfish little bitch."

"You came into Roswell with your little games, trying to make everyone dance to your tune. Manipulating *all* of us.

"But these people," Liz waved at Max and Michael, "never held it against you. They accepted you as you are, because you were one of them. Max, Sheriff Valenti, and even Kyle have gone out on a limb for you. And Michael and Isabel would do anything for you, because you're family."

"Bull shit!!" Tess declared. "Do you really have blinders on so heavy that you see your friends that way, Liz?? Because the reality is that you declared war with me over Max, and you've won. Nobody wants me around any more. 'The tribe has spoken.' I'm just doing what all of you want me to."

"'Bull shit,'" Liz mimicked. "You're not really planning on leaving, are you Tess?" A cold smile came across Liz's face for a second, and then she caught herself, apparently not being too comfortable with the feeling that went along with it, and shook it off. "You're just trying to blackmail Max into feeling something for you, because you *know* he can't afford to let you walk out on the team, now of all times. This is a time when the pod squad has to be all 'all for one and one for all,' and all you're thinking about is if it gives you a chance to steal your boyfriend back!!"

The two girls glared at each other for a few seconds and then, surprisingly, Tess broke away first. "I'm not tring to change Max's mind," she mumbled towards the highway shoulder, "really I'm not." She looked up and shot a forlorn look in Max's direction. "You get that, don't you? I'm not gonna give you an ultimatum and say 'Love me, or else I leave and you lose.'" The blonde girl chuckled hollowly. "I'd probably give it a try if I thought it stood a shot of working, but it doesn't. Clueless as I am, even *I've* learned that love doesn't work that way." She sighed again, looking away from Max.

"I'm not gonna torpedo the challenge." Though she was avoiding eye contact, this time Tess' voice was steady and loud enough to be heard clearly by all of them. "If you get the tickets home one way or another, you can just let me know. I'll come along for the ride, and try to make a better life for myself on the homeworld than I'll probably ever be able to have here.

"But I can't stay here, not right now, not around you, Max. Please, just let me go, and then maybe I can actually start to put what I feel for you behind me."

"I don't think that would be a good idea," Michael said softly, pulling something out of his pocket and passing it from hand to hand. "Kivar Andraicus' people tried to murder us tonight, as I said. They know that each one of us are keys to the challenge. This time they were dumb enough to go after Max, Izzie, and I at once, and to bring Liz, Alex, and Maria into it, partly because they had cooked up a trap that worked well with that. But if you leave Roswell on your own, Tess, you're going to be the vulnerable target. They won't stop hunting you until they've killed you."

"And plus," Max said, stepping into the conversation for the first time since the Liz/Tess shouting. (It kind of embarrassed him to be the center of such focused emotional struggle, to be honest.) "It isn't enough to not torpedo the challenge, Tess. To be willing to go along at the very end. If we're gonna live up to this thing, we're gonna need your help all the way through. Your talent with the power. Your experiences from growing up with Nasedo." Max tried a slight smile. "Your gift for looking at a problem from a completely different perspective. Our people need you, Tess."

"I don't *care* about our people." That confession was an embarrassed whisper. "I know that makes me sound horrible and selfish, but there it is. If I can't be with you, then..."

"Then *do it for me,*" Max urged her impulsively. "We can't be true loves, or husband and wife or whatever it was that you were expecting, but we *can* be a part of each other's lives. If you'll let us."

Tess looked uncertainly into Max's eyes, and shot glances over at Michael and Kyle. Obviously, she wasn't about to set herself up for another tirade from Liz just at the moment.

"I think," Max began again, his voice soft but still persuasive, "that you're probably right if you think that each of us have, at some point or another, been unfair to you, Tess." Though he was tempted, Max didn't rub her nose in the fact that it had been a two-way street. "But everything's changed now. What would you say to starting over??"

Tess weighed what Max had just said, (and, probably, what he hadn't said. And then she finally turned back to Liz. "What do *you* say to that, Liz?? Can you find it within your heart to give me a clean slate, assuming that I quit putting the moves on Max?"

Liz, stunned, was silent for a long moment, and Tess must have caught the curious looks that some of the others were giving her. "Liz is... the heart of you," she explained in a short soliloquy. "I don't know why, but somehow she IS. If Liz carries a grudge, sooner or later the whole gang will turn against me."

Liz spoke up at this point. "I have a few questions to ask you, before I make my decision," she told Tess matter-of-factly. "The sort of things I might not be able to bring up if we start over. What's the story with the kiss, Tess?"

Tess blinked in surprise. "Which... oh, right. *That* kiss. But what about it? Did I enjoy it? Yes, of course I did."

"Not that," Liz spat out. "Did you use your powers on Max to set up that kiss?"

Tess' jaw dropped. "You think I... No!! Liz... Maz... if my word of honor means anything to you, I swear it: I didn't *make* Max kiss me." Faced with a look of stony disbelief from Liz, Tess tried logic. "If I had that kind of power, to *make* people do what I wanted, why did I never use it when it could have saved all our butts? Against Pierce, or Whittaker for that matter."

Liz was unmoved. "Sensory projections can have quite a subtle effect, especially on someone who isn't out-and-out hostile."

Tess nodded slowly. "Ah, I see what you're driving at. Well, I'll admit that I used a mindwarp on Max once, to try to get him interested in me, the same way as I was in him." She cocked her head slightly, then nodded. "You were there, Liz, yeah - it was earlier that dayin the chemistry lab, when we were first assigned as partners."

Tess sighed. "*Not* the brightest idea I've ever had, I realize that now. But I didn't mean any harm, really I didn't. It was just..." she searched for the right words. "A pleasant little fantasy that occured to me, and I decided to share it with you, to show you what it could be like. I didn't know you were going to stick your sleeve into the bunsen burner." Another deep sigh. "And obviously I didn't appreciate how much Liz meant to you, back then."

"Wait, wait a second," Max broke in. "You're claiming that was the only time you ever mindwarped me, Tess? What about the *night before* that, at the crashdown? You didn't try any little tricks then?"

Tess scrunched up her face in thought. "The night before... I remember coming to the cafe - I thought you'd probably be hanging out with Liz on her shift, and I wanted to see you." She paused. "You and Liz were acting very couple-y, but when I got close to you I got a flash of the two of us together."

"That's what I'm talking about," Max said. "In the backroom, for a second it was like I was out in the desert and you were holding my hand. And, umm, well while I was kissing Liz - for a moment I thought that she was you." He looked accusingly at Tess. "You're claiming you didn't help those effects along with your powers?"

"Only with my proximity, I think," Tess told him. "As I just said, I was having flashes like that too. Venus had moved into Aries, and that was the cue to awaken the instincts that told us who we were supposed to have been..." Tess caught herself. "Not getting into Destiny again, that ship has sailed."

"Okay, but what about that kiss?" Liz pressed. "Are you saying that was probably instinct too?"

"I don't know, Tess told her. "It came as a complete surprise to me. I had set up that meeting between us, the broken-down car... I guess I was hoping Max would offer me a ride home. But he was acting... weird. Like he was struggling against some big shadow."

"Is it possible that someone *else* was controlling his mind?" Michael suggested. "Nasedo?"

"Ed didn't have that kind of power either," Tess reminded them. "And though he wanted the best of luck for me with Max, he was a lot more worried about the special unit right then."

"Well then..." Michael thought a second. "Maybe this 'dark shadow' Max was struggling with was just his alien Venus-in-Aries instincts??"

"Do you remember anything about that night, Max" Kyle put in, just when Max had forgotten that the young human man was there too. "Do you have anything you can tell us about how it felt?? Did you see any flashes or weird imagery."

**He's trying to clear Tess' name,** Max realized. As long as there was any doubt about this episode, Liz would remain slightly suspicious of the hybrid girl. Max was nervous about what this line of investigation might reveal about *him*, but he knew he had to go along with it. "No, no flashes, no imagery. But I remember feeling seriously wigged about Tess - between the flashes in the crashdown and the incident in the chemistry lab, I think you could see why. And I guess maybe I was feeling some kind of vague bond with her - the instinct thing. When you put it all together... I'd been nervous about her all day. Like I was gonna see her again sooner or later and I wasn't sure what would happen then."

Kyle nodded as if something he'd been suspecting had just been confirmed. "Had you already come to the conclusion that Tess had some king of weird power over you?"

"Yeah..." Max agreed with a little surprise. "'She could make my mind go places where I wasn't taking it'," Max quoted Isabel's description... though what Isabel had been talking about might have been one of those Venus-Aries deals. Still, it reflected what he had felt about her at the time.

"And you could tell that she liked you?" Kyle continued, and Max nodded. "Did you think she *wanted* you to kiss you?"

"Yeah, yeah I think I remember that thought passing through my mind when I first saw her on the street." He was so intent on the memory that his eyes were almost closed.

"So Tess wanted to kiss you, and Tess had a power over you. So you kissed her," Kyle said softly.

"Yes. I mean... what?" Max sapped his eyes back open, and flinched a bit at the brightness of the morning, since dawn had broken over the desert while they had been involved in their discussion.

"This is just a theory," Kyle quickly disclaimed, "but I'm remembering something my dad told me once about sollipsism. Police tend to pick up some weird bits of abnormal psych - you can never tell what kind of nut you're gonna run across.

"Anyway, Sollipsism is when someone becomes convinced that real life is a dream. It's known to happen in Alaska when the winter nights get long. The thing is, people with sollipsism act as if nothing matters, very erratic and unhibited, because it's all a dream."

"Max, if you thought that Tess could manipulate your thoughts and emotions, that might be even worse than sollipsism. The world would be real, but you wouldn't, in your mind, because what you did, even what you thought, was only what Tess wanted. I think in that state of mind you might have been psyched into kissing Tess because it's what you thought she wanted. Not your fault, just your subconscious playing tricks on you. Does that fit with what you remember?"

"Umm..." Max thought about that, and looked at Liz, who seemed to have a poker face on. "Yeah, yeah actually it does. It all fits." He shot a semi-apologetic glance over at Liz.

"I'm sorry, Max," Tess told him. "I had no idea..."

"It's okay," he told her. "Not your fault either."

"Why can't it be *somebody*'s fault," Liz griped, but a second later she smiled at Max and he could tell she wasn't really pissed off.

"So, uh... Liz," Michael said, "are you going to put Tess through the ringer any more or are you ready to make your decision??"

Liz thought about it a second, then stretched out her hand for Tess to shake. "If you hurt me or the people I care about in the future, Tess, there'll be payback," she warned. "But the past is behind me."

Tess smiled slightly. "Works for me."

They all looked around for a moment once the deal was done, each expecting someone else to bring up the next item of discussion. Finally Kyle said "Well, are we heading back into town again, or what??"

"Seems like there's nothing else to do around here," Max agreed vaguely, waving at the highway (which was starting to get busier) and the plain beyond.

They started back towards the cars, and then sudddenly Tess called out "Michael!! Where did you get that?"

"Uh, where did I get what?" Michael shot back, confused. Tess pointed silently at Michael's right hand, which was hanging at his side. Michael opened the hand up into a shallow cup. "Have I been fiddling with this thing long?" he asked, a little sheepishly.

"Yes," Liz told him softly.

"What is it? Max asked, stepping closer, as did Tess. Michael showed it to them - a shirt button, on the large side, white with a hint of color in concentric rings - here purple, there green...

"I musta picked it up while we were searching Grant's car for the healing stones," Michael said. When Tess gave that a confused look, Michael explained, "Grant Sorenson was one of the skins that tried to kill us tonight. So was Steve Banks, and the guy who attacked Liz at the Banks party... wait, did you ever hear about that?"

"I heard there was something of a broohaha, but I never asked about the details," Tess said in an abstracted, faraway voice, her eyes focused on the button. "This is weird."

"Why?"

"Because that's Ed's button," Tess replied to Max's gentle prompting. "At least, he had three buttons like that on a shirt he used to wear often as 'Ed Harding.' I've never seen any other buttons like that."

"It is a little distinctive," Liz commented, having moved in beside Max. "So, any idea where the shirt is now, Tess?"

"Probably in our old house," Tess replied offhandedly. "I didn't have a chance to go through his old things before Max bundled me off to Valenti's..."Tess' voice trailed off as she was struck by the connection between tonight and the circumstances under which she came to the Valenti's.

Max picked up the train of thought. "Grant was a skin. The skins broke into your house. Could *that*," he pointed at the button, "have been part of what they were after?"

Tess considered that. "Harding showed me how we could use our powers to archive large amounts of information inside ordinary objects."

"Like Alex's washer?" Kyle put in.

"Not really," Tess explained. "Alex's doo-dah was able to initiate a link with him automatically, and he's a human. That's obviously a much more complicated thing. What I'm talking about is more like a molecular diary - an ordinary object as far as any human could tell, hard to recognize even for other aliens."

"Well, here," Michael said, handing Tess the button. "It is one or not?"

Tess held the button, her fingers sliding over its surface, and then out of the blue she laughed. "What is it?" Max asked.

"It's a molecular archive, kinda, but not really a diary," Tess explained. "I heard Ed's voice saying close but no cigar. This is a decoy, a red herring."

"So where's the real diary?" Liz asked. "Does Steve have it?"

"If I know Harding," Tess said, "he'd have found some way to slip it to one of us. Me, Max... maybe Isabel. We may not know what it is, but I bet one of us still has it."

Michael smiled at Tess. "Can you give me a lift back into town? Kyle's convertible doesn't have much leg room.

* * * * *

Once again, an episode of horror and danger had a subtle effect on the gang in the days and weeks afterwards. The feeling of nervous energy had been moderated with quiet confidence. And yet each of the group felt the need to savor each day after fate had come so close to taking many of them away forever.

Tess, Max, and Isabel started the search in earnest for Nasedo's molecular diary. There was some discussion about trying to find the skin Steve Banks and run him to ground, but a lack of real ideas about how this was to be done. As Michael put it one night over a hand of Hearts, "he can change his name, he can probably change his face though we don't know that for sure, and he has contacts, other aliens working for Andraicus, all over the world. We don't even know how quickly or how far he can travel. Nah, there's gonna have to be a few more surprises in our bag of tricks before we can really plan on tracking Steve down. Call out your spades." (That last bit was about the game.)

Work resumed again on translating the book, though at a less breakneck pace than in the last week and a half in November...

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 3-Nov-2002 10:02:56 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4d (second half)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

(Sunday, December 10th, 2000)

"Hmm... how about... here." Maria parked the Jetta carefully behind a desert hill. "D'you think we could be seen from the highway at all here??"

Liz got out of the shotgun seat, vaulted herself up against the doorframe so that her head was clear above the Volkswagon's roof for a few seconds, and turned her head back and forth. "Considering that I can't see the highway at all, no, I don't think so. What are we doing out here, Maria??"

"You'll see, just as soon as I get my b..." Maria had gotten out of the car as soon as Liz gave the parking job her dubious blessing, and was scanning the horizon herself, focusing on the terrain *away* from the direction of the highway. "Ahh, this way. Come on." Having (presumably) oriented herself, she led Liz away from the car.

After walking in silence for about twenty seconds, Liz felt the impulse to say something. Since their destination still seemed to be a forbidden subject until they had actually arrived, she searched for another topic.

"So... how are things going between you and Michael??"

Maria couldn't hide a goofy grin. "Pretty great. I mean, well, he's been spending a lot of time practicing his powers, but I don't really mind that considering the alternative. And he's been working on your surprise, too - what I'm about to show you."

"Really?" Liz muttered, trying to fit that tidbit of information in amongst the other hints that Maria had dropped.

"Yep. How about you and Max??"

Liz considered. "No complaints. Oh, he's been working on the big diary search with Isabel and Tess..."

Maria harrumphed at the moment the second name was spoken, and Liz glanced at her best girlfriend sidelong. "Sorry, I -- I just still cannot believe that you let the gerbil off the hook so easily."

"Maria!!" Liz exclaimed, pondering the significance of Maria's choice of term for a moment, and then letting it go. "I... I don't want to hold a grudge against Tess or give her a hard time, really I don't. She keeps her..." Liz giggled softly. "Her tiny little gerbil claws away from Max and we're cool."

Maria laughed, and Liz continued on. "I still haven't figured out what to get Max for christmas though."

"We'll think of something, chica, don't worry," Maria said. Oooh, here we are!"

"Here where??" Liz replied. Maria was a little in front of her, but she couldn't see anything other than desert aroun-- Oh, boy!! All of a sudden what looked like a large sinkhole had appeared in the desert ground before them. (Well, presumably *it* had been there the whole time, but until Liz got within a few paces of it she hadn't realized it was there amidst the rocky terrain.

"Okay, this gets a little tricky now," Maria said, holding out a hand for Liz to take. "There's a bit of a footpath over here..." Liz was speechless as Maria led her down into the hole... but she noticed how practiced the other girl's movements were. How often had Maria come down here?? Soon they were standing at the bottom - or were they? Maria fumbled out something from her belt pouch and flicked it on - it was a miniature flashlight, and as Maria started shining it around Liz realized that a winding tunnel passage continued on from the bottom of the 'sinkhole'. It was down this tunnel that Maria led her next.

"Okay, *really* wondering what all this is about," Liz teased her friend. After rounding the second turn, Maria kept Liz from going any further, and to her surprise Liz realized that the way was barred by a jagged chasm - a very deep and scary looking crack in the floor, too wide to jump and too sheer to climb.

"Okay, we're here," Maria announced. Another flashlight hit them from the other side, and suddenly Maria was rising into the air and over the chasm. Once Liz was feeling very alone except for the mysterious light, she felt weight being lifted off her own feet and she was flying through the air too.

"SURPRISE!!" several voices yelled at Liz as she touched down. Liz opened her eyes (she had kept them closed during the trip over the chasm, and looked around. All of the gang was here - Maria of course, Alex, Max, Michael, Isabel, even Tess and Kyle. And the small cul-de-sac left before the tunnel finally dead-ended was especially crowded, because there was also...

A car. A royal blue four-door sedan, to be more specific. Liz reached out to run a hand down the side of the vehicle, wondering how much effort it had taken alien powers to get it here, and where it had come from in the first place...

"Like your present, Liz?" Michael asked. Liz whirled around to stare at him.

"*My* present? Huh??" She shook her head, trying to clear the fuzziness out. "Where did this even come from??"

"It's what's left of Grant's SUV, Liz, now that Michael's almost through with it," Isabel explained softly, and Liz blushed with embarassment for not having made the connection. "We've all talked it through, and we think you should have it. To the victor go the spoils, and all that - and you're the one who saved the day."

"Plus, you're the only one who doesn't already have access to wheels of some description, Liz, what with your parents never being able to lend you the car and all," Tess added.

"I, I..." It was all too much to take in at once. "I... I can't just suddenly 'show up' in a car!!" she exclaimed, turning to Max in a search for support. "My parents would have about a year's worth of questions that I couldn't answer."

Max smiled comfortingly and walked up to her, putting an arm around her shoulder. "We know that, and nobody's suggesting that you just drive it into town. We've got a plan -- or at least, the first draft of a plan. Where's the draft?" Alex passed a piece of paper into Max's hand, who passed it to Liz for her to read.

Liz skimmed over the note uncertainly, muttering the key phrases aloud. "Dear Mister Parker... writing you this letter to say an unusual thank you... A year ago, I was in Roswell on business and ate breakfast at your cafe. I was also in a bad way emotionally at the time -- or at least I was until I talked a brief while with the waitress, a young girl with long dark hair, brown eyes and a dimple in her cheek when she smiled... She probably won't remember me, but her simple kindness and friendliness gave me the strength I needed to keep from taking my own life and seek help for my depression... Due to an unexpected windfall, I'm able to express my gratitude to her in a material way... if for any reason you are unable to get in touch with my personal angel, please don't hesitate to take the gift yourself, with my gratitude..." Liz looked up from the note.

"Lemme guess - this gets sent to my dad along with the faked registration and a set of keys, knowing that the clues planted in this letter will lead him to think it's me?" Michael and Alex nodded. "We'll need to talk details, but -- it could work. And thanks, all you guys." She looked around. "How did you even know that this place was here??"

"I found it years ago," Michael explained. "Poking around the desert was a good way to stay out of Hank's hair. There's a lot of these tunnel caves scattered around the Roswell area, but I've never seen one as this for keeping out unwelcome visitors. Until recently even *we* didn't know how to levitate across that final gap."

"Okay, okay," Kyle broke in. "We've shown her the car -- is anyone else up for lunch??"

* * * * *

(Friday, December 15th, 2000)

Alex strummed to himself on the bass guitar he held across his lap, blinked twice, and took what Maria would call a 'deep, centering breath.' Isabel poked her head through the doorway from the kitchen to the little storeroom where Alex was sitting, (perched on a short bench next to the back door out of the restaurant,) and smiled. "There's my radio star!!"

"Hehe, very funny," Alex shot back.

Isabel's face dropped for a second, and she kicked over a crate so she could sit down opposite him. "I wasn't teasing you -- much," she informed him with a quiet smile. "Seriously, I know this gig may not be a 'big break' but *I* think it's cool. And I'm going to be sitting in the front row out there, clapping my hands together the loudest."

"Nah," Alex told her with a big grin. "You can sit in the last row. Max, and Michael are gonna be back there."

Iz reached out and playfully swatted Alex on the shoulder. "You goof!! I didn't really mean the LITERAL front row, I just... I'm your biggest fan, Alex Whitman."

"And you're my inspiration, Isabel," Alex whispered softly.

Isabel smiled, and then her face quirked into a question. "Max and Michael? What about Liz??"

"She'll be on duty as a waitress, remember??" Alex said. "The whole point of this thing is kinda to sell food and such..."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it, Einstein." Isabel looked around the back room as if seeing it for the first time. "Where's the rest of the group??"

"Upstairs." Alex pointed through the ceiling towards the Parker family residence. "Getting dressed, or made-up, or some such. I came down here to get a little air, and actually, could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, anything," Isabel assured him.

"Can we talk about anything that *doesn't* remind me of my fabulous Crashdown debut performance in..." (he leaned forward to see the wall clock in the kitchen,) "ten minutes?"

Isabel blinked in surprise. "Uh, okay. Well -- Oh, Max and I found Ed Harding's molecular journal today!"

Now it was Alex's turn to be surprised. "Really? So soon?! Where was it??"

"Right around Max's wrist," Isabel said, and beamed at Alex's confused expression. "Somehow he managed to switch watches with Max, probably the night he died. Max has been wearing the journal around for weeks now, hee heh."

Alex chuckled - it *was* an ironic situation. "Tess has been teaching us how to read it," Isabel added.

"Cool," Alex remarked simply, then thought of something else. "Oh... you said something about taking Tess up to see River Dog??"

"Yeah," Isabel agreed. "Actually, it was Michael and Max who went with her, to make the introductions - they know him better. I've only ever really met River Dog the two times, and there wasn't exactly much occasion for conversation at either of them."

"Uh... yeah," Alex muttered, working it out. The first time was healing Michael: all six of them had been there that time. The second would have been on the Frazier Woods camping trip, when Michael and River Dog had met Max and Isabel near Nasedo's old cave and found the whirlpool galaxy icon that he had left for them to find.

"Anyways," Isabel continued, "Max said that she hit it off with 'the Dog' fairly well. She was supposed to go up by herself yesterday afternoon."

"Oh." When she said that, something came together in Alex's mind. "Oh, no!"

"What, what is it??" Isabel asked, her face all concern suddenly.

"I was talking with Kyle... about nothing in particular, but he mentioned that Tess came home last night 'pissed off as all hell.' Kyle didn't know where she had been, but..."

"Uh oh," Isabel muttered. "You're right, that's not a good sign."

"But..." Alex countered, "it's not really our problem. You guys did what you could, you put Tess in contact with him. Working things out is between the two of them."

"You're right." Isabel smiled. "Ohh - there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about," she looked about, and then locked her brown eyes onto him, "and now that I have you alone..."

Alex laughed with only a trace of nervousness. "Well, what is it?"

To his surprise, Isabel didn't say anything immediately, and a faint pink flush spread about her face. "It's a little... I'm not quite sure how to put this..." Alex nodded encouragingly, and she started again. "I almost died. I know... we've had close scrapes before, and probably will again. but this was the first time when it really kicked in that I might not wake up to see any particular tomorrow. And so... well, I've been thinking that I want to... *experience*... certain things, in case I never get another chance to. Are you... do you know what I'm talking about, Alex??"

Alex blinked in surprise and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. "Is this the 'I don't wanna die a virgin' impulse?? Literally?"

"Pretty much." Isabel smiled temptingly at him, and all kinds of things that he'd like to 'experience' with her ran through Alex's mind, but... He couldn't figure out what to say.

And of course, at that moment, they both heard about eight footsteps coming down the stairs, and Maria called out "Alex!! Get yer butt over here, we're on in two minutes!"

Isabel grinned. "We'll talk about it later." She quickly leaned over and kissed him on the lips. "Have a great show," she whispered sexily in his ear, her long golden hair falling against his face and his arms. And then she was gone, presumably heading back to join Max and Michael in the back row.

Just as Maria had said, in about a hundred and twenty seconds the group of amateur musicians that Jeff Parker had assembled were set up on an impromptu stage, and Jeff was making his introductory speech from the piano seat. "Hi everybody, and thanks for coming to our first 'Music night at the crashdown.' Don't be shy about ordering food or drinks between songs, and... I hope you all have a great evening!" (quiet applause broke out here.) "And now... well, no time like the present, right?" He sat down and played an introductory set of chords on the piano.

Someone in the audience laughed. It seemed quite clear that Maria was staring off into space, not really paying attention. Alex nudged her gently with an elbow. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, shaking herself out of the daze. "I forgot where I was."

On that cue, Donald, (the junior college student,) got busily to work on the drum machine, pounding and rapping the various touch-sensitive surfaces with his drumsticks so that a furious rhythm emerged from the speakers. Alex joined in with a deep riff a few heartbeats later, and Maria broke into the song proper.

"I try to think about Elvis,
Memphis,
Oprah in the afternoon.
I try to think about palm trees!
Fig leaves,
The creature from the black lagoon."

Sandra, the marketing secretary in her older twenty-somethings who was on the accoustic guitar joined in with a few well-timed chords.

"I try to think about high heels,
And good deals,
Anything to get me through!!

I just can't con--cen--trate..."

This was where Jeff joined back in on the piano. Maria's stare had a thousand watts of heat behind it and was aimed right at Michael Guerin in the back row as she sang the last line in the verse:

"YOU'RE ALL I THINK ABOUT THESE DAYS!!!

I try to contemplate the cosmos;
What goes,
Round and round the sky at night."

Alex reminded himself to loosen up, throwing little improvisational bits into his bass line. There was something so incredible about being part of a group like this, making music. And the song was a great first number. A lot of people in the audience seemed to be getting into the fun of it.

"I try to think about champagne,
Freight trains,
Slowly rolling out of sight.
I try to focus on the headlights,
Street crimes.
But every time I think I might..."

Max called out from the back "Go, Maria!!"

"...I just can't con-cen-trate --
You're all I think about these days!"

Sandra did some impressive hot-picking to bring Maria into the bridge.

"My mind wanders where it will,
And when it settles right on you.
I forget what I should say,
I forget what I should do!!"

During the pause in the lyrics, Sandra and Jeff each took their turn with instrumental solos, wowing the crowd, and Maria belted out a repeat of the bridge. As she got back to 'I forget what I should do...' all the instuments quieted down for another little joke part as Maria pretended that she really *was* driven to distraction by love.

"C'mon, Maria -- get it together!!" (Instruments break back out of their pause.

"I try to think about Shakespeare,
Leap year,
The Beatles or the Rolling stones!
I try to think about hairdos, (whoop!)
Tatoos,
Sushi bars and saxophones.
I try to think about the talk shows,
New clothes!!
But I guess I should have known...
I just can't concentrate!!"

Alex tried to squeeze a little bit more pizazz into his bass playing as Maria built up to the final climax. She was staring at Michael again, he noticed.

"You're all I think about these days, whoa.
You're all I think about these days!!"

Over four measures, Alex finally brought the bass line back down to nothing with a last flourish. The audience went wild with approval.

* * * * *

(Wee hours of Monday, December 18th 2000)

Max tapped lightly on the window. No response. He tried again, slightly louder.

There was movement within the dark room beyond... and finally Michael opened the window up, wearing a bathrobe.

"Forgive me if this is a stupid question, Maxwell, but as a matter of curiosity why didn't you knock on my front door??"

"Tradition I guess," Max replied, hopping over the window sill and into the bedroom. "Sorry for dropping by so late, but Isabel was asleep already, Liz needs to get her rest for that physics final tomorrow and I didn't think you mind."

"Of course," Michael agreed under his breath. "It's not like I ever get any sleep anyways."

Max ignored that remark and continued on. "I've found something. Something that could be huge." He waved a silver dress watch in front of Michael's face.

"Where did you find..." Something about the look on Max's face clued Michael in. "You found something *in* it - that's the watch that has Nasedo's journal inside?"

"The very one." Max headed out of Michael's bedroom and down the short hall.

"Umm... Max, maybe we should just st--" Michael started, but Max wasn't paying attention, so Michael trailed along.

"We've been working on this thing for a few days now - it's not too hard to learn how to 'read' it, but it still tends to give me a headache and there's a lot to go through. But I think, to borrow a phrase, the jackpot has been hit." He opened Michael's fridge, looked at the door, and waved at the iced tea bottles. "You mind?"

"Hmm?" Michael tried to catch up. "Not as such, but we really shouldn't..."

Max tossed Michael a lemonade snapple and took one for himself. "Nasedo didn't seem to care about the alien artifacts that the Special Unit had taken," he continued as if he hadn't even missed a beat. "His usual tunnel vision - the only thing on his mind was our safety, to the point of monomania." Max sighed. "Not to mention homicide." He held the watch in front of his hands in a certain way, closed his eyes, and concentrated.

"Subject case file number ninety-three." Although Max was moving his lips along to the words, he wasn't voicing them and the voice that he heard aloud wasn't his own - more like splitting the difference between Ed Harding's and Daniel Pierce's. It was an odd effect, but none of the three of them had figured out a way to turn the messages from the diary into words (as opposed to silent thoughts) any other way. Max knew that Michael would be a little creeped out, seeing and hearing the effect for the first time, but he hoped his oldest friend would also be able to pay attention to the content. "Doctor Neil Thompson."

"Despite his doctorate in Psychology from Stanford, Thompson's role in the Special Unit is essentially little more than that of a glorified data bank. He has memorized the details of sensitive Unit activities all the way back to its inception in 1948, and even its predecessors before that -- Places, people, facts, dates, and events. This unique talent has enabled Special Unit top brass to eliminate damning physical evidence of some of their most controversial programs.

"If there is a single individual currently in the Unit who exemplifies the concept of 'the man who knew too much,' Neil Thompson is surely he. The data he will carry locked forever in his brain is just as dangerous to my charges as it is to his old employers.

"And yet I have to be careful at this point how many Special unit personnel I plan to 'liquidate.' If it were up to me I would destroy every last son-ofabitch who ever signed up, but the consequences of such a move would be disastrous. These are paranoid people who move within paranoid circles, and too many 'accidents' would inevitable end up shining the light of suspicion on Daniel Pierce... and on his mission to Roswell. That could expose my charges all over again."

"And Doctor Thompsons' one saving grace is that he has no great loyalty to the Special Unit or its causes. When I engineer the disbanding of the Unit, the chance seems great that he will simply take another job or retire into anonymity as a man of leisure, never telling another soul of the special unit information. Yet can I afford to take that chance, when the lives of my kids hang in the balance??"

"What the heck??" The voice startled Max out of rapport with the diary, mostly because it was *not* Michael's voice. Max had been bracing himself for Michael to say something, but the usually irrepressible teenage hybrid had been quiet during Max's entire recitation of the diary entry. The voice had come from behind him...

Max opened his eyes and spun around in a 180 turn. Through the dimness of Michael's apartment he could just make out Kyle half sitting up on Michael's couch, his legs still covered by one of the comforters Max and Isabel's mom had given Michael as a housewarming present. "Why... why are *you* here, Kyle??"

"Well, after being banished to the living room for almost three months, I thought I would give crashing on someone ELSE'S couch a try," Kyle groused, "and Mister Guerin here was good enough to take me in."

"I... I tried to tell you he was out here and we shouldn't disturb him," Michael said. He had, Max realized that now. He had been so jazzed about the diary thing that he hadn't really been listening to Michael - or letting him finish sentences, even.

"Um... Sorry. Both of you," Max mumbled embarassedly.

"So... what did Nasedo do, anyways??" Kyle asked. "About this total-recall guy??"

"What?" It took a moment for Max to change subjects mentally again. "He decided against bumping him off -- though you're gonna have to find out about all the people he *did* butcher for our sakes sometime, Michael." Max gave a shudder in spite of himself. "I did a quick search for this Neil Thompson guy on the internet before coming over. He's living in this place called Puerto Penasco - tourist town in Mexico, not that far from here. No record of what he's doing there, so he may have retired, like Nasedo thought he might."

"Working for the forces of evil must pay pretty well," Michael mused. "Okay, road trip."

Max smiled slightly. "Road trip?"

"Yeah, right after all the Christmas hooplah is over next week, Wednesday or something, we head across the border. Kyle's dad can come along as a chaperone..." Kyle gave Michael a look, and Michael forestalled the objection before it could emerge. "Well, I'm sorry, but we *need* to do this, those in the group cursed with parents aren't going to be happy seeing their progeny take off to a foreign country without adult supervision, and your father is the only parent in on the secret. We won't be able to find out what this guy knows if we're always worrying about keeping the secret from... Max's mom, say. Or Liz's dad."

Max broke in here. "There's plenty of time to sort out details like this. Like you said, Michael, we won't be able to go until classes let out and Christmas comes and goes." He looked around. "You should probably go back to bed, Kyle. I'll let myself out the front door. Michael??" He nodded to his best friend to come with him.

Once they were outside of the apartment proper, Max turned back to Michael. "So, what's in it for you??"

Michael blinked in surprise. "Come again??"

"Kyle, crashing on your couch. Is it just you being gracious or is there some kind of quid pro quo??" Max smiled at Michael.

"Well..." Michael smiled himself. "He's helping me a little with Maria stuff. Don't ask."

"Uh... okay." Max shrugged and headed off back to the Jeep. "G'night Michael."

* * * * *

(Tuesday, December 19th 2000)

"Hmm..." Liz clicked the mouse on Alex's computer. "Long-stemmed roses??"

"Flowers are not exactly Christmas-ey," Alex reminded her.

"I guess you're right," Liz agreed. "Well, mister Picky, do you wanna take the helm again??"

"I dunno," Alex sighed. "What do you get a girl to tell her 'I love you madly but I'm not sure if I'm ready to sleep with you'??"

Liz blinked several times in shock, and turned away from the computer screen to look at her best guy-friend. "Umm... I'm not sure. I didn't realize that guys ever *needed* to say that."

Whoops. "Ummmm, uhh..." Alex lurched over and crashed into a sitting position on his bed. "Isabel's brought up the prospect of us, ummmm... 'closing the deal,' and I guess I'm not sure how I feel about it. I mean, I know how I *feel* about it... and I know how I *think* about it, and unfortunately they're completely opposites."

Liz was looking at him cooly. "Go on."

"Umm, well... I mean, of course I feel the, um... the push to do it. But I... well, as corny and naive as this sounds, I was brought up to believe that there's a right time and place for making love... I'm not quite sure if it'w the wedding night or what, but I don't think that Isabel and I are quite there yet. You know??"

Liz nodded. "Wow, a teenaged guy capable of rationally turning down sex when his girlfriend offers it. Popular american culture would have it that you don't exist, Mister Whitman."

"Ha ha," Alex pronounced.

"Umm... feel free to say no if this is too weird, but how did Isabel 'bring this up'??"

Quickly Alex related the key parts of the conversation before music night, while Liz weighed each line of dialog carefully. "Well... it kinda seems that the reasons Isabel wants to do this have more to do with the stuff she's working through after deathtrap night than your relationship. Which I can understand... but I think it's something you need to talk to her about. And in the mean-time... I don't think you need to worry about sending any message to Isabel with your christmas present other than 'I care about you very much.'" She smiled.

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Get out of the way." Alex headed over to the computer desk, and Liz quickly scrambled out of the chair to let him sit down. "So... have you decided what you're getting Max, by the way?"

"Uh, yeah... an MP3 disc player for the Jeep. :] I found out that his father's getting him a burner for his computer, and he's always complaining about running out of CDs to play on the long drives we take hither and yon, so I figure he can make a few mix discs that will last for days on end."

"Yeah, that's cool, he'll like that," Alex agreed. "Guys are so easy to shop for. You girls are lucky."

"You're not that easy, bud!!"

"Okay, let's see..." Alex split-screened his online shopping windows on the computer. "We have... the white cashmere sweater... or the golden necklace with sapphire setting. Watcha think??"

"Go with the sweater," Liz assured him. "Isabel will love it."

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 8-Dec-2002 7:25:08 PM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4e
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

Part 4e: South of the border

"Sometimes I can't believe we really pulled that first show off," Maria laughed as they sat around the DeLuca living room, sharing a moment of nostalgia before moving on to the next house. "We had, what, two and a half practice sessions and we totally *killed*!"

"Yeah, you were great, babe," Michael agreed with a soft chuckle. "I can't believe I actually dragged us all off to Mexico so soon."

"There were *some* of us who didn't need too much convincing," Maria laughed.

* * * * *

(Wednesday morning, November 27th 2000)

"You are now entering Dona Ana county," Isabel read off the sign as they approached it on the highway.

"Yeah," Liz agreed softly, keeping an eye on the Jeep, further down the road. "Just, what, five hundred more miles to go??"

"Closer to four hundred and fifty, I figure," Max corrected. Liz shot him a sideways look and forced a smile. "Relax, sweetie, you're doing great."

It was no secret that whatever Liz Parker's many talents might be, a great driver she wasn't, despite having had her full license for about a year - lack of practice. But everyone was so excited about Liz's new wheels from her quote unquote 'anonymous benefactor' that Max and Michael, among others, had insisted she christen the Sedan by driving it off on the gang's latest harebrained scheme.

Max wanted to ride with his sweetheart, of course, so Michael and Maria were driving the Jeep down. Valenti was bringing up the rear of the convoy, along with Kyle and Tess.

"Umm... not quite sure about bringing this up," Liz said softly, still keeping her eyes fiercely on the road, "but is anyone else a little... worried about this whole trip?"

Max, Isabel, and Alex all managed to share a look. "Umm... worried how, exactly?" Isabel probed.

"Well..." Liz sighed, trying to put her thoughts in order without taking too much of her attention away from the driving. "You found out about this professor guy, Max, and that's great. I hope we learn a lot from him. But... well, we don't even know what we want to find out or how we're going to go about it. There's a lot of the 'book' that's still untranslated and avenues of investigation back home that have gone unfollowed - like those other marking points on the map. You guys..." Liz made a vague motion that pointed to Max and Isabel, forward to Michael and back to Tess, "have mentioned ideas for new ways to use your powers, but you haven't gotten any opportunity to practice them. Given all of that, doesn't it seem like this might not be the best time to go and investigate a top Special Unit official in a foreign country? We don't have any idea what we're going to find waiting for us in Puerto Penasco." Liz sighed, realizing how much she had rambled. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Max whispered. "The same thing's occured to me." Alex and Isabel were nodding in agreement too. "But this was Michael's idea, and I guess I didn't want to squelch him again. Plus... ready or not, this is probably the best chance we'll have to take a jaunt like this until spring break, and that isn't for another three months."

"I'm not sure if that's a good enough reason to put our lives in danger," Alex said half-jokingly. "It'll be too much of a hassle to do it later."

"Look, no-one said you had to come along, Alex," Max shot back, a little annoyance in his voice. "But we've got a deadline to meet here, and killer aliens coming at us whether we're taking risks or not. I would think you of all people could..."

"Okay, okay, that's enough!" Isabel called out, throwing herself forward in between Max and Alex as well as she could and stretching a hand out in either direction. "We do *not* need to start bickering about this. Whatever our reservations, we've made the decision and put a reasonable amount of effort into planning this trip, so let's just make the best of it, all right?"

Alex smiled slightly. "Yeah, okay." He looked Max right in the eyes. "Sorry man, I was only joking."

"And I kinda over-reacted, didn't I?" Max admitted. "My apologies, Alex."

"No need." For a little while they carried on down the highway in silence. "Hope we can find a little time to enjoy ourselves too."

* * * * *

"A lot depends on good recon," Michael was saying as he drove the Jeep west down I-10. "We won't have any ideas what the true risk factors are until we arrive and take a good look around. Carefully, of course. I mean yeah, taking off all of a sudden like this is a little foolhardy - I'll cop to that. But this guy is a retired government functionary -- There's no particular reason to expect a threat attached to him. If there is, considering all we've been through so far it won't be anything we can't handle, and I think we'd all feel pretty foolish waiting for months if when we finally make it down, there's no danger."

Maria sighed. Michael had been going on like this since five miles past the Roswell city limits, and she *hated* listening to him talk strategy. Not that it reminded her of his past self, the alien soldier, princes Isabel's fiancee and all that. Not at all -- it's just that about a month and a half ago, she realized that strategy was deeply boring stuff. True heroism, showing up in the nick of time to save the day, 'oh, my knight in shining armor,' yeah, that kinda stuff she could get behind. But if strategy was what it took to get to that point... **Well, work out your strategy, just so long as I don't have to hear about it.**

Maria knew that this attitude was pretty hypocritical of her... there were so many things that weren't Michael's cup of snapple that she had asked him to throw himself into for her sake... and this was so obviously the kind of thing Michael LIVED for. That was why she hadn't said anything so far. And yet, Maria couldn't quit squeeze this topic into the 'He's my darling spaceboy, so I forebear,' category. It was *bugging* her, it was *grating* on her, and she wasn't sure how much more of it she could take!!

Suddenly pushed into action, Maria leaned over, stroked Michael's right leg near the knee with her right hand, and teasingly kissed him on the ear. "...need to make sure we're not over-confident, but WHOA!!" Michael's ramble came to a belated halt as the stimulation of Maria's actions kicked in. "Umm... what're you doing there, 'Ria?"

"Why... can't you tell?" Maria whispered, moving the kiss down along Michael's jaw line and her hand up his thigh. "And, more importantly... don't you like it??"

"Um, yeah, I like, I like," Michael mumbled. "I like so much that I might end up driving Max's jeep into a ditch, and therein lies the problem." Indeed, their course down the road was starting to veer this way and that, and behind them Max had probably already noticed and started to worry. He tended to get a little bit anal about his wheels sometimes. Weighing the cons against the few fun and naughty pros, Maria pouted and retreated back to her own side of the car. "This isn't exactly like you, Maria," Michael said, straightening the car and some of his hair that Maria had ruffled along the way. "What's up??"

"No... I guess it isn't," the young girl agreed. "I guess... I was bored of listening to Michael the soldier ramble on and on and wanted to see if Michael the irresponsible boyfriend could come out to play. Pretty stupid, huh??"

"Umm... not really," Michael agreed. "I mean... I know that I tend to get a little over-obsessed about this sort of thing... I'd hate to see something happen to you or one of the rest of the gang on these madcap capers -- but I have to admit it really isn't going to make a difference if I'm going over counter-offensives right this second. So... do you want to talk about something else while I drive??"

"Yeah. Uh, let's see..." Maria thought for a second, then something occured to her. "'Ria??! We have *got* to get you a better pet name to call me, spaceboy!"

Michael's groan seemed to echo across the desert plain.

* * * * *

At a rest stop somewhere between Tucson and the Mexican border, all three cars pulled off the highway for an early dinner and a stretch break (not to mention another chance to answer the call of nature.) Maria watched from the queue as Max and Isabel left the food stand with their burritos, and Michael with a couple of tacos.

"You know... I don't think there's going to be any shortage of Mexican food once we actually GET to Mexico," she deadpanned with a smile.

"What was that?" Tess asked, following behind Michael. She had an enchilada.

Soon they were all set with their food and sitting around a couple of tables out near the parking lot. As she started in on her slice of pineapple pizza, Maria started conversation again. "Can anybody switch over to the Jeep?? Michael drives me crazy with passenger-seat driving every time *I* get behind the wheel, so he's been driving for like seven hours straight."

The other kids exchanged glances. "Umm... well, I'm good staying with Liz," Max said apologetically.

"Surprise, surprise," Tess mumbled under her breath.

"I guess we could take turns driving the Jeep, hmm?" Isabel said, smiling as she looked over at Alex.

"Sure," Alex agreed. His grin was looking so broad these days that it almost might pop right off of his face.

"I've got a proposal," Kyle piped up. "Speaking on behalf of the Valenti contingent, we'll trade you Tess for Maria."

"Hey!!" Maria, Tess, and Jim Valenti called out in unison.

"C'mon!" Kyle focused his persuasive efforts on Maria. "The three hybrids can get in some quality bonding time... and mister Whitman here with the weird disk memories fried into his brain is kinda half little green man himself these days, so he won't mind, will you Alex??" Kyle took a deep breath. "Just for a few hours, I'd like to be in a homo sapiens only zone. Please??" Kyle's expression was sincere and apologetic as he shot a smile over at Tess.

"Okay, okay," Maria finally agreed. "So that's you, me, and your dad in his car, Alex Isabel Michael and Tess in the Jeep, and Max and Liz get to be all alone."

"Any idea when you figure we'll make Puerto Penasco, Mister Valenti?" Alex piped up.

Jim checked his watch. "If we don't spend too much time eating our dinners... about seven thirty in the evening?"

"Just about enough time to check in, get unpacked, and go to sleep," Kyle groused. "Boy, what a fun first day of vacation."

"All right, Kyle, just what is your problem??" Tess snapped. "You've been like this all day. No-one *made* you come."

"That's not true, he did!!" Kyle's accusing finger pointed straight at Michael, who jumped slightly. "Well, maybe not as such, but it had to be a 'whole gang thing,'" Kyle mocked. "And my dad has to chaperone all week, so I couldn't possibly stay home in Roswell alone, could I?? No-one even asked me if there was someone I'd like to bring along, though I guess that makes sense - god forbid I hang out with someone who isn't 'in on the secret', and everybody who IS in is pretty much sitting around this table."

There was a stunned silence as Kyle's outburst hung in the air. Then Liz repeated slowly, "Like to bring along... Kyle, are you dating someone??"

Kyle paused a second, then nodded slowly. "I didn't *think* you had noticed."

"Who??" Maria blurted out.

"Courtney Banks." At the various expressions of surprise around the table, (though none came from Tess or Kyle's dad, Maria noticed,) Kyle apparently felt he had to defend his choice. "Well... we've kinda been bonding - both of us got dragged into this 'aliens among us' thing kicking and screaming, as you might have noticed. Don't worry, I didn't tell her the real deal about you guys, I know you'd want to break that news in your own time and your own way." He took a deep breath, then continued on. "We've only been on two real dates, but I was hoping to be able to hang out with her over the holiday break, you know?? Get to know each other a little better."

The silence was pregnant. "Man..." Michael finally exclaimed. "You know, you could have said something, man."

"I know," Kyle agreed. "But hey... what's done is done, right? Courtney will be back in Roswell when I get home, and a week's winter vacation in a beach town in Mexico - well, there are worse tortures to inflict on a guy, am I right??"

"Okay," Max cut in on the general soft laughter that followed. "I hate to be the group nag, but precious time's a-wasting, you know? Let's finish our food, anyone who really needs to, hit the head, and let's see how quickly we can get back on the road, huh??"

* * * * *

(Late that evening.)

Max wandered around the motel grounds, trying to relax. It had been quite a day.

The twilight had been fading back when they first got to Puerto Penasco, after more than twelve hours on the road. First checking in to the motel, and figuring out who stayed in each room (two for the girls, Liz and Maria staying together, Isabel with Tess; Kyle hadn't wanted to be in the same room as his father so he was bunking with Michael, leaving Max with Alex and the sherriff in the largest motel room...) then out to find some place to have dinner on their first night in Mexico, then back to the motel to settle in. Max knew he needed to rest, to prepare for the silent campaign that would begin tomorrow, but he felt too keyed up and jumpy. Thus why he had told Jim Valenti that he needed to take a walk.

As he walked around a corner of the building, Max saw floodlights shining down on blue water and belatedly realized that he had stumbled on the motel pool. And that wasn't all he had stumbled upon... he could see a petite, feminine figure floating happily in the water, eyes closed. Max almost turned around and hurried away, not wanting to intrude on another motel guest, but there was something familiar about the cloud of dark brown hair streaming out along the surface. "Liz??" Max called out somewhat doubtfully.

The girl in the pool started in surprise, standing up, and then Max could tell that it was *definitely* Liz, and he felt a little foolish for his uncertainty. "Max? What are you doing here?" She laughed a little and continued in that teasing tone that drove Max wild, "... Or should I guess??"

Max laughed too, and walked up to the edge of the water. "I was just out taking a walk. Can't seem to relax and go to sleep."

Liz Parker's laugh rang out like a soft and beautiful bell. "Me too!! Driving is *hard* work, when you're not used to it." Although Liz had allowed herself to be spotted from time to time by Max and Alex, she had insisted on driving the majority of the way down in her new car, and Max didn't doubt that it had been nerve-taxing. "The pool was a great idea though - SO relaxing." She smiled impishly. "You should try it!"

Max was deeply tempted. "Our respectable chaperone may come looking for me."

Liz giggled. "So?"

He thought about it. "Well, it's almost cliche to say it, but I don't have a swim suit."

"Are you wearing boxer shorts??" Caught by surprise, Max could only nod. "Same difference."

Something inside Max wanted to call the whole thing off, but Liz's eyes were locked onto him, silently daring him to go through with it. Slowly he pulled off his t-shirt, kicked away the new sneakers, pulled off his socks, and took a deep breath before letting his jeans drop to the deck.

Max could see Liz swallow hard and blush a little as her gaze swept across his chest and down his muscular legs, and he couldn't help but smile a little at the confirmation that this incredible girl found him as attractive as he knew she was to him. Wearing only the black boxer shorts that Liz had referred to, he stepped entirely out of his jeans and dove lightly into the water.

As he surfaced and stood up, Max saw Liz walking slowly toward him through the water. Now that he was down in the water himself, he could see that she was wearing a cute one-piece bathing suit in a dark purple that set off her creamy skin and deep brown eyes ravishingly. As soon as she was within striking range, Max darted forward and pulled her into his arms, kissing her tenderly.

"Oh, Max," Liz whispered around their lip-lock. "I love you so much. Promise you'll never leave me."

Then the kiss was over, and Max stared deep into Liz's eyes. "I promise." As soon as he said the words, Liz grinned mischievously, plunging under the water, and pulling Max along with her, Underneath the surface, her lips found his in a second kiss, and the sensation was incredible. It was like their essences were touching as they floated...

*Floated*...

All of a sudden, a flash hit Max, so intensely that he would have staggered if he had had his feet on solid ground, or gasped if his face hadn't been under water. He was still floating... or at least, something that was the center of his awareness was floating, though it would take a quantum leap for Max to be able to reconcile that something with how he felt of himself at the moment.

That something was small... tiny, incredibly tiny, and yet alive, he realized. An embryo. And it was floating in one of the pods. In the next pod over, Max realized as his awareness spread outwards from the embryo, was another embryo, even smaller, younger, less fully formed. Down in another pod... another something living, though this one was so small and formless that Max wasn't even sure if it could be called an embryo... just a cluster of cells that he knew would nevertheless become a person. A hybrid person, probably.

The fourth pod was empty. Max sent his awareness out further - it expanded in a concentric sphere, beyond the four pods, into -- a spaceship. A small spaceship. Mechanical constructs - robots of some description - buzzed about its cramped interior. Three living beings watched the robots calmly, while a fourth was monitoring the controls of the spacecraft.

Max focused on the robots - there seemed to be a knot of them concentrating on something near the pods. As his awareness converged again, he could tell that the subject of all this activity was cells... a collection of cells on which the robots were performing microsurgery. Extract a chromosome here, an mitochondrion from there, inject them carefully into cell C and then...

It was done. A robot carefully carried cell "C" over to the fourth pod and used a mechanism to transfer it into the nutritive fluid. That cell divided into two, and then each of those two cells divided, until they were quickly multiplying into a lump of...

"Max?! MAX!!!" Liz's voice brought Max back to reality, and he realized that he had zoned out into his vision. His lungs ached, and he instinctively exhaled... accidentally spraying a mouthful of water all over Liz. "Hey!!"

After taking in a breath of fresh air, Max couldn't help but laugh. "Sorry. I... I had a flash," he explained.

"Yeah, I kinda figured," Liz agreed. "Though from my experience, flashes are usually QUICK."

"Okay, then, not *quite* a flash," Max sighed. He fell back and sank into the water up to his neck, trying to keep the feeling of 'floating' around him for the moment. "I... I saw the ship in space, I think. Where the four of us were being... conceived. Re-conceived."

Liz caught the point, as she started floating herself and turned around so that Max could wrap his arms around her and spoon in the water, Liz laying her head onto his bare shoulder. "When you were being... being made into hyrbids, you mean??"

"Yes. I was the oldest... two of the others were already in the pods too. The last one was just being finished... his cells being spliced together from, from four or five different cell sources. One wasn't like the others... that was probably the sample of alien genes from the homeworld." Max thought a moment. "MICHAEL's genes... they were male cells, I know that somehow. There were at least three samples of human DNA that were being used to... different chromosomes or parts of chromosomes, selected for I-don't-know-what."

"Maybe the best human genes they could find," Liz speculated aloud, "or the ones that would fit best with your alien DNA."

"Robots were doing the specialist work," Max continued. "But there were living beings there... the four guardians. Oh, my god, Liz... it seemed so REAL!!"

"Wow..." was all that Liz could say for a moment... and then a new voice intruded on them.

"Max??"

"Oh, my god..." Liz breathed. "It's Valenti."

"Yeah, I know..." Max agreed, just starting to dimly realize something.

"Uh-oh... this does *not* look good," Liz sighed, waving at Max's clothing strewn over the deck. "If he finds us here, he's gonna make us go up to bed, and we're not doing anything wrong, are we??"

"Liz..." Max breathed, stunned by something. "I can *see* Valenti."

"What??" For a second, Liz was silent in confusion. "But... he's not here, Max. From what I can tell he's around the corner that way." She waved in the other direction than Max had come.

"I know, but... I can SEE him," Max repeated. "It's like... I dunno, like a new power or something, triggered by that vision. God, I feel like I could *touch* him if I reached out hard enough."

Liz twisted her neck to look up at Max, her brown eyes shining brightly with the reflected floodlights. "Could you... could you 'connect' with him, Max??"

"What??" The suggestion caught Max off guard.

"Like you did with me. If you feel like you can touch him from here... could you connect with Valenti's body, from here??"

"Um, I dunno," Max mumbled. "Why would I want to??"

"You could make him feel sleepy, Max," Liz suggested, a wild daredevil alive in her eyes. "No real harm, just a few simple adjustments... nudge the blood sugar and the nervous activity down. If he's sleepy enough he'll forget about looking for you and go back to his room to bed."

A part of Max was hooked on the idea. It was like nothing he'd ever done with his powers before, but that was part of the appeal. And then there was the way Liz was looking at him.

Max focused on the image of Valenti he could see inside his mind, and suddenly he was connected. A few images flashed into his mind... a dark-haired young woman James Valenti had known when he was reasonably young himself... holding Kyle in his arms in the UFO center... Max accepted the images without committing to them, and moved deeper into the connection. It took only a second to know that the change was done. Valenti yawned, looked around one last time, and traipsed off to the stairs that led up to the second floor of the motel.

"Oh, my god..." Max muttered. "It worked. That is so cool."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "You're like a wizard." And she kissed him again, and they floated there in each other's arms.

Half an hour later, when Max and Liz finally crept back to their separate rooms, they found Alex, Maria, and Jim all asleep. They dried off carefully and hung the towels back up, hoping that over the night they would dry off enough to still seem fresh in the morning.

* * * * *

(December 28th 2000)

All nine of them went for breakfast to a coffee shop around the corner from the motel. "So, what's the battle plan, Maxwell??" Michael whispered as he started into his first croissant.

"No battle plans for today," Max answered in an equally low voice, spreading a little jam on his crumpet. "Remember, we don't know what we might be getting into - or who might be watching for us here."

"Why would somebody be watching for us *here*, Max??" Tess asked. But Max didn't reply to her.

"So here's the plan. For today, we're just teenage kids here from New Mexico for christmas break... and their chaperone, of course." Max nodded to Valenti. "One of us," he tapped his chest quietly, "will find a way to do some recon *discretely* and report back. We'll do war council tonight at the motel, along with the usual parlour games club meeting." He smiled at the group. "Sound cool??"

Alex nodded. "Okay with me."

Isabel visibly re-counted the circle, and smiled feebly when she saw that everyone had been watching her do it. "Nine of us... three groups of three, does that make sense?" Enough people nodded that she felt confident going on. "Well... I noticed that they have a place out on the beach where you can rent windsurfers and take them out. Sounds like fun to me."

"I'm in for that," Alex chimed in.

"Yeah, I'll tag along with you guys, if that's okay?" Tess said tentatively. It was no secret that Tess wasn't comfortable spending much time with Liz or Tess in small groups... and didn't want either of them thinking she was spending too much time with Max. So it made sense that she was interested in joining a group without any of the three of them, and that was alright by Alex.

"Yeah, that'd be good," Isabel said with an encouraging smile.

"Well, I'm for just staking out a place on the beach, vegging out and catching some rays," Maria laughed. "You're with me, spaceboy," she patted Michael's shoulder.

"Me?? But I..." Maria gave him the puppy-dog eyes, and Michael was a goner. "Oh, okay, chilling out on the beach. I guess I can dig that. Who's our third??"

Kyle looked around, noticed that his father in particular was not about to volunteer, and raised his hand. "Okay, I'll go with you guys."

"I guess that leaves us with mister Valenti," Liz said slowly, then looked at the sherriff and forced a sunny smile. "What should we do??"

"I was thinking of doing the *sightseeing* thing," Max said. "There's gotta be something worth taking a picture of in this town." He patted the digital camera his parents had given him for christmas meaningfully.

"Oh, yeah, gotcha." Liz agreed. "Sound cool, Mister Valenti?"

"Yeah, yeah, that sounds fine with me," Valenti agreed.

There was a lingering silence as they finished their breakfasts. "So... uh, how about this Mexico weather??" Alex tried vaguely. No-one replied.

* * * * *

About three quarters of an hour later, Alex Whitman was standing in a small changing room on pier nine. "On vacation in sunny Puerto Penasco," he mused to himself, hardly loud enough to qualify as 'whispering.' "About to head out windsurfing with two hot hybrid babes. Sometimes life just DOESN'T suck."

Although he was only in love with Isabel, of course, Alex would have to admit that Tess Harding was also quite attractive. As far as himself... well, as Alex looked at his reflection in the mirror, he supposed he cut a decent figure in his navy blue swimming trunks. He was too skinny, of course, but some kind of genetic accident from his mother's side had given him a subtly muscular physique without much maintenance. His worst feature, the deal-breaker, was the goofy ears of course, but Isabel said she thought they were cute.

"Hey, come on Whitman, we're missing the wind!!" The call brought him back to the moment and he headed out, his clothes and belongings already arranged in the lock-box he had tied the key to around his neck. (NOT including the washer of course, that was around his neck too - it never left him these days. He had mentioned it to Isabel, and she agreed that while they were risking the possibility of the little thing getting loose and sinking to the bottom of the pacific shore, that wasn't too likely and if he 'checked' it they'd be worrying about skins blasting the lockers apart to get at it.)

"Took you long enough," Tess teased as Alex handed his lock-box over to the attendant behind the counter. "Guys always complain about the time it gets girls to get ready, but we were both changed before you." Tess was wearing a one-piece lycra-type bathing suit in a light powder blue. It wasn't particularly concealing, though, with a cutout below her breasts giving a peek at the upper part of her trim stomach and what looked like two other small vents at the side, reaching down to Tess' waist.

"Uhh... well, what can I say. You can't look *this* good quickly," Alex joked back, striking an over-the-top male model pose.

Tess rolled her eyes. "COME on... like I said, we're losing the wind out to sea." She grabbed his hand and hurried him further down the pier to where Isabel and a lifeguard-looking guy who worked for the rental company. Alex's girlfriend was clad in a stunning orange two-piece bikini that wasn't much more revealing than Tess' suit... though that was quite sexy enough! What skin the top concealed or the bottom refused to reveal was just made more intriguing for the lack of total exposure.

"...guys stick together and you should be fine, even without much experience," the lifeguard guy was saying. "There won't be much tidal activity until late this afternoon, but that'll just make it easier to enjoy a relaxing sail. I'll give one of you a warning flag just in case..." Isabel waved a hand and the flag was passed over. "There'll be a spot to keep that in next to your mast. Don't unroll it outside of a truly serious situation. Oh... the marine weather forecast said there might be a calm today."

"Uh... what does that mean?" Alex said, feeling slightly foolish asking it.

"It means no wind, stupid," Tess supplied unhelpfully.

"That's right," lifeguard-guy agreed, missing the sarcasm. "If the wind dies down, you aren't going to be able to get much of anywhere short of paddling if you're too far out for the tide to push you in. If that happens, just sit tight and wait for something to blow back up again. A calm never lasts too long hereabouts. So... any other questions??"

"No, I think we're good," Isabel told him politely. "Where are our 'surfers??"

For answer, the guy led the way down a ladder off the pier to a kind of a floating hanger. "You got 26, 27, and 28, right down there. Enjoy your sail!!"

Alex noticed the guy staring at Isabel as they walked away, but he wasn't jealous - in fact he felt a odd kind of pride about it. Isabel *was* hot, hot enough to make guys' mouths drop open and *he* was her boyfriend.

Um... okay," he muttered out loud as he stepped on to his windsurfer and clutched the bar tightly. "How do you start this thing??"

To be continued... *happy*
posted on 17-Feb-2003 9:55:37 AM
Title: Homecoming: the Mexican Tango. Part 4e (second half)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own the Roswell characters, though if I did I'd treat them better than Jason Katims.
Category: Sci-fi drama. Canon couples romance leading to UC pairings in later part.
Spoilers: Up to 'ask not'

(Approaching noon. Dec 28th 2000)

"So... we just lay here??" Michael looked out across the crowded beach, then over to his friends... or his girlfriend and conspiracy-mate, or whatever.

Maria cracked open one eye to reveal a pissed expression. "I can't veg out properly if you keep asking that," she informed him.

Michael sighed, lay back on his lounge chair, and tried to get into the vegging out spirit. He couldnt' keep his eyes closed any longer, so he kept looking around... and his gaze kept lingering on Maria, which didn't help relax him. She had come out of the motel this morning, after breakfast, wearing a tiny little string bikini, some kind of khaki color that, to be honest, didn't look a whole lot different from her bare skin. He had appreciated the view, at first, but it wasn't something that exactly made him want to lie back on his own lounge chair and do nothing.

To make it worse, he had noticed a number of other guys, apparently both tourists and mexican locals, checking Maria out since they got to the beach. Watching strangers lust after *your* girlfriend sounded fine in theory, but Michael had quickly realized that it wasn't as much fun as it was cracked up to be. He didn't intentionally show off in front of strange girls like this... so why did MARIA have to?

"Come on," Michael groaned suddenly, sitting back up. "Vegging out is one thing, but we don't have to do *nothing.* We could..." He looked around, trying to come up with some sort of an idea, and ended up staring at the table between all their chairs, with Kyle's empty glass and Maria's purse sitting on it. "We could play quarters."

Maria sat up and stared at him. "What the heck is that?"

"You take turns trying to bounce a coin off the table and get it into the glass," Michael explained. "Not playstation, I know, but this'd be *kinda* fun at least, wouldn't it??"

"The boring kind of fun, maybe," Maria joked, and then sighed when she caught the look on Michael's face. "Okay, okay, I'll play if Kyle will. What about it, silent 'K'? You in?"

Kyle looked up, apparently none too impressed with the nickname, which Michael actually thought was pretty clever. "Sure, I'll play, whatever."

As they got the lounge chairs organized closer to the table, Maria warned in a low whisper, "And none of that czechoslovakian telekinesis to get your quarter into the glass, Michael, right??"

"Of course," Michael agreed. "That would be totally against the point." Not to mention that if he tried it, he'd probably end up with a broken glass. Hmm... maybe something like this would be a good exercise for fine-tuning his powers. **Well, look into that later.**

* * * * *

"Flowers for the beautiful lady, senor??" There was no denying that the word was out on the grapevine.

Liz's arms were already full of flowers from nearly a dozen Puerto Penasco 'street enterpreneurs.' Irises, stargazer lilies, carnations, snapdragons, birds of paradise, a few that Max couldn't remember the name of and roses -- pink, white, purple, and of course red roses. The stream of street hucksters looking to make a buck off an american teenager's romantic ego had trickled off to nothing after the first three sales... as if they were expecting the well to run dry soon. But a couple brave young gamin had proved them wrong and paved the way for even more salesmen.

Max didn't mind. He had plenty of spending money and didn't want anything to ruin this afternoon. On the other hand, he didn't want to embarass Liz by going overboard. "Whatcha think?" he asked the girl of his dreams, shooting her a meaningful look.

Liz gave the matter a moment's weighty consideration. "They do look lovely," she allowed finally. "But this is the last batch, understood, Mister Evans?? Maria may die of jealousy from only half this many."

With that settled, Max turned back to the dusky young man. "How much?"

"For half a dozen... ten dollares," he replied with a strong accent.

I thought about haggling, but handed over the cash without a word. As soon as it had changed hands Liz asked "What kind of flowers are they??"

"They are called... 'Alstroemeria'." He counted out six stems to hand to Max as he spoke, and as soon as they were passed to him Max gallantly gave them to Liz, who managed to add it to the armful. The flower seller took off, hopefully to spread the word that the limit had been reached.

Liz smiled at him, looked around, and noticed something new. "Oh, Max, you've got to get a picture of that!" She pointed behind him, and Max turned around to see the mural that Liz was pointing at... a wide, fantastic landscape that seemed somewhat Tolkien-inspired to Max. He grinned and whipped the digital camera out of his pocket.

"Do... do you wanna get in the scene, sweetie?" he asked, squinting into the viewfinder. 21 pictures left, the digital readout overlaid onto the mural scene reminded him. Quite enough.

"Yeah!!" Liz walked over to stand in front of the mural wall, turned back to face him, flowers still in her arms, and posed. "How's this?"

"A little to the right," Max suggested. "No, I meant my right. You were blocking the fight between the wizard and the demon."

"Cheese!!" Liz grinned. Once the megapixels were all safely recorded and Liz was walking back, Max noticed Jim Valenti hovering silently. He hadn't said a word for about five crowded blocks, Max noticed. "You okay?" he asked the older man softly. "I hope we're not boring you."

"Not at all," Valenti whispered back. "By now, I've found that you can learn a lot if you just keep your mouth shut and listen... and keep your eyes open." The sherriff touched his face briefly in an enigmatic gesture, and then turned away.

"Hey," Liz snuck into his arms and stole a kiss, but Max's mind was whirling too fast to appreciate the nearnessof his dearest beloved. What had Valenti learned. Something he had heard, or seen, since they had started sightseeing, that he felt he couldn't talk openly about??

Should they cancel the reconnoiter at the professor's place, then? No, Max was sure that Valenti could have devised a stronger warning if he thought that such a serious reaction were called for. This seemed like a milder warning... be on your guard. Give nothing away.

Now that he had come to a decision, Max wrapped Liz Parker up in his arms and kissed her, but he made sure to whisper in her ear, as if it were a secret endearment, "Careful. We may be under observation."

It was only a few minutes more before they got to the Professor's place, each of the three of them 'getting into character' by acting as innocuous, as stereotypically 'normal' as they could: Valenti telling the teenagers what not to do, Liz gigging and skipping from one thing that caught her attention to the next, and Max 'snapping photos' of everything in sight (though he didn't actually save many of those pictures.) Finally they were there. Max pointed the building out to the others as unobtrusively as he could.

"Oh, that's a cute house, Maxxie!" Liz exclaimed, running towards it in full ditz mode, and giving the rest of them an excuse to examine the premises. "What do you think? Wouldn't it be amazing to just leave the real world back home and move in to the edge of paradise, here?"

"Sounds great to me, Liz. But how would we pay for a house like this... or the grocery bill, for that matter."

"Reality has no place in this fantasy. mister," Liz scolded, shooting him a dark look, and then let her 'mood' lighten again. "Take a picture of me with the house, Max!"

Max obligingly swung the digital camera in the direction of her voice and snapped off a pic. He had already been acquiring as many relevant pictures of the premises as he could. **Liz looks so pretty right there,** he thought, admiring her through the viewfinder. **Wait a minute...**

He could see most of an arm through the open window. Leaving caution to one side, Max dashed to the side, trying to find the right angle for the face that was attached to that arm. No, wrong way, though he snapped a pic of the hand holding a book, just in case. So...

"Max..." Valenti's voice came.

"Just a second." There it was... a face reading glasses, middle-aged, obviously concentrating on whatever he was reading. Max had never seen a picture of the 'professor' they were looking for, but this guy seemed to fit the cliche. Not to mention that he was the only one supposed to be living in that house.

"Max!!" Valenti called again. "We need to get back to the motel, your friends will be waiting for us." *No, they won't,** Max thought in confusion for a second. None of the three groups were supposed to get back to the motel from the day's activities for more than an hour and a half yet. And then, it hit him.

**This is it. This is the abort-mission warning I was thinking about earlier.** Max couldn't resist taking the picture of the professor's face, but he turned away from the home immediately after, trusting the sheriff's judgement. "C'mon Liz." But she was already waiting for him with Valenti.

* * * * *

"Whoooo!! Oh, MAN!" Alex exulted as he swooshed in a graceful arc past the girls. After some tips from Isabel, (who used to windsurf on the lake at the summer camp she used to go to, it turned out,) Alex was definitely getting the hang of the windsurfer. It was an incredible feeling... as if he were catching the wind with his bare arms and standing upon the waves with his bare feet, instead of depending on a sail and a floating board.

"Go you, Alex!!" Isabel called out, grinning.

"You're a nut, Whitman, you know that, right?" was Tess's response. But she was smiling too. Alex took one hand off the bar to waggle them up behind his head like alien antennae and suddenly Tess was angling her 'surfer towards him, arranging her sail so as to get the best possible speed. Alex tried to take evasive action, but she zeroed in on him like a homing missile, laughing the whole time.

Just as she was closing in on him, though, something changed and with a faint jerk she started falling behind. Alex chuckled and was about to make a victory whoop when his surfer started slowing down too. They drifted to a stop about fifteen feet away from each other, buffeted back and forth slightly by the mild waves. "What the cripes?" Alex muttered even as he remembered the answer.

"Calm rolling in," Tess pointed out. "Nothing for it but to hunker down. We'd better meet up with Isabel again, tho, she's the one with the emergency... oh." Tess looked back the way she had come, where Alex was pointing to draw her attention. Isabel was already paddling over in their direction, sitting down on the board of her surfer and pushing the water back with her bare hands to get forward momentum - a slow process, obviously, but they had time. Alex and Tess also sat down and set about figuring how to turn their 'surfers around so they could go meet her part-way.

Once they had all assembled together and it was established that each of the three was okay to wait it out until the wind picked up enough to get back to the pier, an awkward silence settled in.

"Soo....." Tess sighed. "Heard any good evil alien schemes lately??" That got a brief laugh. "Actually, Isabel, there's something I've been meaning to ask you about, but it might be awkward. You know, in front of Alex. Though his perspective might help, too."

Alex thought about it a minute. "Well, it's not like we have anything else to talk about, obviously. Set a course for 'awkward.'"

"Okay." Tess closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Isabel, how did you... know??"

"Ummm..." Isabel tried for a few seconds to decipher that with sheer will-power, and then gave up. "Know what??"

"That... well, that you loved Alex. Instead of... oh, I'll just come out and say it. Michael."

Boom. There it was. Isabel wheezed for a bit in surprise, and then got her breathing system back under control. "Well, first off... I do love Michael, very much. But it's totally different -- he's like a second brother to me, and I'm not sure that anything's ever going to change that. But Alex... well, his love set me free." She shot him a tender look across the water. "It was the first thing to ever make me really feel safe in the human world. I couldn't help but love him back for it." She paused for a moment. "You're still having a hard time dealing with the Max and Liz thing, aren't you Tess??"

"'Hard time' is an underst..." Tess broke off, then started laughing sardonically. "Actually, 'hard time' is just about right. Some days I feel like I'm in a prison or something." She stifled a sigh. "I love Max so much... but I know he doesn't feel the same way about me. Everything was perfect for Max and Liz that year until I showed up, and I know that both of them still resent me a little for that."

"Well... wait a second!" Alex shook his head. "'Everything perfect'? Where did you get that notion??"

"Umm... I'm not sure," Tess muttered, frowning in concentration. "Why??"

Alex exchanged a knowing look with Isabel, who stepped in to take her turn. "Things were far from perfect with Max and Liz for most of that time. They both had problems opening up to each other right after the shooting, and Max backed out for a lot of months... thinking that it wouldn't be safe for Liz to get romantically involved with an alien. They had actually only really gotten things on track when you moved to town, which probably made it all the harder."

"Oh." Tess was silent for a little bit. "I don't know what to do with that." She sighed. "You know, we could just *push* ourselves in, and take you with us Alex."

"No," Isabel sighed. "No using powers. I know that it's not likely that anyone would notice anything weird, but it's always a possibility."

"Yeah." Alex looked around, trying to see any indication that the wind was coming in. "Anyone up for hand-war??"

Tess stared at him. "What the heck is hand-war??"

Alex smiled. "Have you heard of rock-paper-scissors??"

"Well, yeah, of course."

"Around my old grade school, there were a few variant symbols floating around... dynamite," he demonstrated a hand clenched together with a thumb sticking up, "which can only be beaten by snipping off the fuse with the scissors," and he mimed that with the other hand. "And water, which defeats even dynamite, but can for whatever symbolic reason be beaten by splashing a rock into it." He made the symbol for water, a hand with palm down and fingers spread out.

"Okay, with you so far, I guess," Tess agreed.

"Now, really all that does is replace some of the old symbols. You're left with rock, water, and dynamite, basically. Paper and scissors become sucker bets because in any given situation, water will be an equal or better play than scissors, and dynamite will be an equal or better play than paper. When I was in grade five, I actually worked out a variant with five different symbols, none of them obsolete." He quickly sketched out the essentials of his system.

"So, invasion is beaten by trade, (since the people who sell the weapons always come up on top,) but trade is beaten by politics (since politicians can levy taxes,) and politics is beaten by invasion. All three of them together are the mortal pursuits, and are all beaten by sorcery, which is beaten by religion, which in turn is beaten by the mortal pursuits."

"You had way too much time on your hands as a ten-year-old, Alex," Tess informed him. "But it might be decently amusing in so boring a situation as this. What do you say Isabel??"

Iz smiled, she had known she would have to play as soon as Alex started talking about it, and actually she was kind of proud that he was so brainy. "I'm in."

* * * * *

(That evening.)

"Hi, welcome to the club," Max said, taking Liz and Maria's coats with a smile. Their two guy rooms at the motel had been hastily converted for the 'parlour games club' meeting, with borrowed card tables and chairs brought in and one game board set up on Jim Valenti's immaculately made bed. "We've got a new diversion to try this evening."

"Oh, gawd, what is it with new games today?" Tess complained lightheartedly as she approached the open door. Max shot her a confused look.

"Just something Alex showed us while we were stuck out in the calm," Isabel explained. "So, what's the challenge tonight? Something with dice??"

"Nope," Michael explained as he set down a tray of cola cans down on an end table. "Turn chess." Several dubious looks. "It's like regular chess, except it isn't each piece moving is one complete turn. Each player goes back and forth moving as many pieces as they want to in a go, and once any given piece has moved it can't go again until you start the turn over." He explained the rules a little more and play began.

Max showed his pictures of the professor's house to a few people over the course of the evening, particularly Isabel. She agreed that she would be able to dreamwalk him using the tiny little snapshot that included his face, and that it sounded like a smart way to gather some more information safely.

Valenti's hushed news was more sobering. He had noticed a young man in the vicinity of that house who seemed to be doing guard duty - not noticeably so to anyone without Valenti's kind of training, but he was watching the people who came into that block and on guard for any that might cause a certain manner of trouble.

"Just one guy?" Michael asked.

"That was all I saw," Valenti agreed. "But we have no way to know if he has any backup or relief."

"We can try," Michael argued. "I can go into that area really early tomorrow morning and look for anyone like that. Kyle could try at another time of day. We can be careful not to arouse suspicion."

"Okay," Jim conceded. "I got Max to take a snapshot that should have this guy in it, though I couldn't tell him why." A look of dawning comprehension was coming over Max's face as he presumably remembered the incident.

"So, what else can we do?" Maria asked.

There was a pause. "Nothing I can think of, someone else may have notions,"

But no-one really did. Aside from Isabel dreamwalking the professor, Michael and maybe someones else who hadn't been in the Max/Liz/Jim team scouting out the professor's premises at different times of day, no-one had any better suggestions than enjoying the attractions of Puerto Penasco and doing everything to seem as much like normal american tourists as possible. Maria smiled and started planning her shopping trip.

The 'turn chess' games had a tendency to either be over fairly quickly or last a long time, including a drag-down rematch between Michael and the sheriff that went on for almost three hours. Jim had a lot of practice with conventional chess and an analytical mind that adapted quickly to this new variant, while Michael had a little experience with turn chess and a lot of practice coming up with innovative strategy on the fly. Finally Michael managed to pick off the sheriff's defences and pin his king to the wall.

* * * * *

(Friday, December 29th, 2000)

"...and what happened next?"

"Well... he went over to the picture on the wall, of the dog in the forest, right? He slid the whole painting aside and there was a wall safe behind it... this really high-tech looking wall safe with a number keypad and a fingerprint reader. He put his left index finger into the reader and punched in a series of numbers into the reader. I couldn't tell which numbers they were, and when they came up on the little LED screen above the keypad, they weren't numbers, but letters. I remember the sequence of letters.

Still more than half asleep, Maria felt the words flow past her, wondering vaguely who was talking and about what.

"Really!? What were they??"

"T... B, O, N, T, B, T, I, T, Q, W, T, N. That's it."

"Okay, and what after that??"

"The safe door opened inward, on a hinge at its bottom, so that it sank away into a hidden cavity. From inside the safe, some kind of smoke started to billow out. He was trying to find something inside the smoke, but that was the end. He woke up."

"Weird." Maria was a little bit more awake now, and she struggled to sit up.

"Isabel... what are you talking about and why are you in our room?"

Liz was sitting up in her own bed, the covers still spread over her legs and her lap. Isabel was sitting on the edge of Liz's bed, her hair pinned up and wearing a dressing gown that went down past her knees, so Maria could just get a glimps of the cuffs of her pajamas around her ankles.

"She dreamwalked the professor," Liz whispered, "and needed someone to listen to her talk about what she'd seen. Guess I'm the designated sounding board.

"Hmmm..." Maria thought about that. "Why didn't you pick Alex? Or Max, for that matter??"

"Both in Valenti's room," Isabel confessed cutely. "I don't think our august chaperone would take a bright view of me slipping into a boys' room first thing in the morning... especially not one that happened to contain my boyfriend."

"Good point," Maria agreed, sitting a little bit further up and blinking the sleep from her eyes. "So, catch me up. What did you get, aside from a freaky booby-trapped safe??"

"Not sure," Isabel sighed, turning herself slightly so as to better include both Maria and Liz in the conversation. "I'm not sure. There was some really weird stuff in there... with ugly little trolls and blue sun-umbrellas and mcdonald's fish sandwhiches. Plus, I think he's got a thing for... oh, what's her name? Sophia Loren."

"Man's got some taste, at least," Maria allowed. "Okay, well, there's got to be a lot going on inside this guy's head that's not really relevant to what we're doing here. Was there anything you saw in the dream that you know is relevant??"

"A few bits and hints," Isabel allowed, and picked up one of those small note pads from Liz's bedside table. "Let's see... something about being watched. That guy that Valenti talked about? I think that the professor knows about him, and also... maybe, that there's only the one guy. Or at least, only one guy at a time for a stretch that is at least weeks or months long. But don't hold me to that."

"Sounds promising," Maria agreed. "Anything else??"

"Something about a..." Isabel sighed. "I don't know how to describe it. Some kind of an alien... a vehicle, maybe? Somewhat sled-like... open-air, not very big. Definitely alien in origin. And if his dream is right... he's keeping it in his house, right here in Puerto Penasco."

"Wow," Maria muttered. "Think it came from your guys' ship??"

"Probably," Liz put in. Apparently she and Isabel had already been over some of this before Maria woke up. "We've been assuming that everything from the crash that Nasedo didn't rescue ended up with the special unit."

"But still... I can imagine walking off with office supplies when your company gets disbanded, but an alien vehicle?" Maria wise-cracked. "What about the rest of the special unit stuff you guys were hoping to find with this guy? 'Where the bodies are buried,' and so forth??"

"Ummm..." Isabel blushed. "I actually might know where some of the special unit bodies are buried... but they would be real bodies. As in decomposing people. Not..."

"...exactly what we're hoping for," Liz and Maria finished in unison with Isabel. "Well, maybe you should try a different dream," Liz continued. "It would be too much to expect to get everything you want out of one."

"Yeah... but I think we may need a better source of information than dreams, too." Isabel smiled briefly. "I've been working on learning a technique from the Book that might help. Memory transfer... basically taking a download from the guy's brain. I could do with a guinea pig or two, actually. Don't worry... it won't hurt or anything. I'm pretty sure."

"Does brain damage fall in the 'or anything' category?" Liz joked.

"How does it work?" Maria asked. "Are we talking like mind meld on star tre... Sorry. My bad."

"No, it's okay," Iz assured her. "Well, it's kinda like. I have to touch someone to trigger the connection... ideally firm contact on the head area. We'll probably have to figure out some way to sneak in while he's asleep. Trained practicioners can absorb the memory transfer as it comes in, but I'm sure I won't be able to learn that in time. I'd have to route it somewhere else... like into another person's brain. Then, later, I can decode that message."

"So, basically you'd just be the human network cable??" Maria joked. "Or hybrid network cable, something, I dunno."

"It's getting on for seven," Liz pointed out. "Why don't we get dressed and head out for breakfast or something??"

Isabel stood up. "Works for me. Meet you in the hallway in five."

* * * * *

(That afternoon)

Liz looked around at the small-town scenery, a market district on the edge of Puerto Penasco, and with a start realized that she recognized the young man sitting on a bench across the street, working weith a pencil and a medium-size sketch pad, frowning and erasing something.

"Wow, Kyle," she said as she walked up to him. "Sketching??"

Kyle looked up and smiled at her briefly. "Yeah, it's something I'm trying." He seemed to be well on his way to a quite passable rendition of a very pretty building down the way. "So, where's your siamese twin??"

"Max?" Liz sat down in the empty space on the other end of the bench from Kyle, not wanting to crowd him while he was working. "Oh, he's off looking for a little surprise for me, or something." There was a short uncomfortable silence. "So... you and Courtney, huh??"

"Yep... kinda."

"What's she like?" Liz blurted out. "I mean... our paths have crossed quite a few times, but I guess I've never really taken a chance to get to know her. What do you like about her?"

"Oh god, is this going to be *that* conversation?" Kyle joked.

"I'm not sure... can you answer the question, please?" Liz shot back. Kyle finished a wall, examined it critically, and then put the sketch book down.

"Courtney... let's see. She's really funny in this perfect, sarcastic way... and she thinks I'm funny too. She feels like she has to put up this tough cookie facade, especially since she found out about what happened to her brother, but every so often I can see this little glimpse of sweetness, or sensitivity, or tenderness, and it just makes me melt a little inside. And we're so in sync... last week I was just about to get on the phone and give her a call, I hear the doorbell, and it's her."

Liz was smiling. "When we get back to Roswell, we have to go on a double-date or something. Me and Max, you and Courtney. I mean... if that wouldn't be too weird or anything."

"Compared with some of the weird stuff you've put me through, Parker," Kyle whispered, "I think I'll be just fine." He chuckled.

"What are we laughing about?" a familiar voice asked. Liz looked up, startled that she had gotten so engrossed in her conversation with Kyle that she hadn't noticed Max arriving. She got up and stepped into his arms for a quick hug.

"Never mind, I'll tell you about it later," she whispered. "So... should we head back to the motel?"

"We've got a little time," Max assured her. "Here, open it." He passed her a small bundle made of soft cloth.

Liz unwrapped the makeshift package, and a sigh of approval escaped her lips when a hint of honey-colored metal peeked out.

"It's not real gold," Max quickly disclaimed as Liz uncovered the rest of the charm bracelet. "But it was beautiful, and I thought you'd like it."

"I do, very much." Liz brought Max's head down to meet hers for a quick kiss, then went back to examining her prize. The bracelet was almost empty, only a few 'starter' charms on it, but that was part of the fun, of filling it up. "Thank you."

As the three of them strolled quietly down the streets, Kyle sketching bits and pieces of things that caught his eye, Max whispered to them quietly, his voice so low that no-one could overhear them in the open, noisy spaces. Michael had gone to scout out the professor's home around 4:30 that morning and seen no sign of the guard. Alex had tried around quarter to ten and seen him, thus the assumption that he was on a reasonably normal sleep cycle.

Isabel had gotten into another dream, and decided she was as ready as she'd ever be.

"Tomorrow morning at 3:30 am," Max murmured to them almost silently. "We make our move.

TO BE CONTINUED!