posted on 15-Dec-2002 12:52:29 PM
Title: Fateful moments, part 1
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own anything in Roswell, more's the pity. ;-)
Spoilers: Up to the beginning of 'Cry your name'
Dedication: For Lealea, Kat, and Borders. )

Shipper warning: Diehard dreamers will appreciate a Tess advisory, but rest assured that a happy ending for our favorite dream couple will be in the offing before the end of the fic. Stargazers and Candypeople have no reason to fear here. )

(Isabel):

I didn't look up when the bell attached to the front door of the Crashdown cafe rang out. I didn't pay attention to the footsteps crossing the dining room to my table. To be honest, I only barely twigged when he said my name.

"Huh?" As I looked up, my eyes slowly coaxed each other into focus. "Alex??" A second's pause to make sure it was him. "Alex! How did your studying go?"

"Let's not bother with the lame excuse, Isabel," Alex said, dropping casually to the chair opposite mine. "I think we both know I wasn't studying for any big Robert Frost test tonight."

"Then..." I glanced away to check the clock. Twenty-five after one in the morning. Somehow it all fell into place.

"You wanted to see if I'd wait here all night, just on the off chance that you'd come by?" Alex nodded slowly. "Well, I'm here, aren't I??" I couldn't possibly have admitted that I *had* lost hope that he'd show up, but had been too tired by then to move, could I? Besides, that wasn't entirely the point.

"Yeah, you're here," Alex agreed with a smile. "And so am I, now." He reached out and took my hand into his, and somehow that simple touch took my breath away more than any kiss in my life.

"You know that I'm crazy about you, I know," Alex said, looking deep into my eyes. "And you know that it's burned me. If you want to start something up again, I have to know that it isn't going to be like before."

Oh, no. Somehow I knew that I was not really in the right state of mind to be making a solid commitment. But it would totally ruin the moment, and maybe more, to admit that to Alex. Plus... well, hadn't I worked this out to myself already?? 'Being of sound mind and body...' as the saying went, I had decided to pursue things with Alex, and I was *not* the kind of girl to make a decision like that lightly. So... yes, I would trust my own judgement now, while I was *not* of definitely sound mind. "I know, Alex. I know that you've been there for me ever since you've come into my life, and I want to be there for you. I want to be there for you." Oh, god, I was repeating song lyrics now. Time to shut up, Isabel.

Alex seemed to have come to the same decision. He scooched over from the chair to sit on the long bench beside me, wrapping one arm around my shoulders and brushing a locks of hair out of my face with the other.

'Kiss me,' I mouthed silently to him. I felt like I was always making the first move and kissing Alex. This time, I wanted to be the kiss-ee.

He did.

It's funny how the things that end up changing the course of your life happen to you when you're not expecting them. Well, you'll see what I mean.

------

(Tess):

Mrs. Evans smiled politely and turned away to call up the stairs: "Max! Tess is here to see you." Max appeared quickly enough, smiled when he saw me, and soon enough, the two of us were sitting alone in the Evans family den.

Before I could begin, Max blurted out what had obviously once been a carefully prepared speech. "Tess, I don't think we should jump into anything. Yeah, I know the 'moment' we had at the prom was intense, and I do have feelings for you, but it was really such a long time ago that I fell in love with you, and so much has changed and everything's complicated now. So, to sum up, I think we should take a break before..."

"That's nice to know," I broke in, but I didn't come hear tonight to talk about us. Well, not 'you-and-me' us, at any rate. I..." I didn't have strength to form the words any more, so I just tossed the computer printouts over to Max without a word of explanation.

He picked them up and browsed through each sheet slowly. "Tess, what's all this about??" he asked once he had gone through the full cycle.

"It's an article I printed out off the Web," I explained slowly. "About these 'Quantum' computers they have down at the University of New Mexico in Las Cruces and how they've been using them to break codes and decipher unknown languages."

"Yeah, I got that much," Max clarified with a shake of his head. "What I'm missing is the reason you're showing them to me."

Is Max really that dense or is he just playing dumb?? I let his statement hang in the air for long seconds, trying to figure out which. "I thought it would be obvious," I finally said. "We have a book written in an unknown language, or at least a language that no-one we can trust seems to understand. A book that hopefully holds the answers to a lot of our questions, if we could decipher it."

Max nodded slowly. "Are you proposing that we go up to Las Cruces and ask the computer scientists if they want to translate our alien book?"

I shook my head at him. "No, mister Devil's advocate, of course not! I'm proposing that we find a way to use those computers and translate it ourselves!!"

There it was. Max nodded. "Okay. Well, leaving to one side the practical issues involved in faking our way into a research project at a major state University... there's the question of how to actually use these machines. I mean, I know my way around windows, but I'm pretty sure that a quantum cryptography computer is way over my head. Yours too."

"I know," I conceded. "But I'm not sure it's over the head of some of your friends..."

------

(Alex):

"One of the earliest uses to which electronic calculating machines were put to was code-breaking, and for more than forties they've been kept on the job," I read aloud quietly, letting the words sink in. "But Doctor Jonas Pryor and his team at UNM (Las Cruces) are taking this old idea to a new level. Using a new design of multiprocessor computer servers, thirty of the most talented computer scientists in the southwest, and some revolutionary new theories about how to quantify the idea of 'language' so computers can understand it, Doctor Pryor's project is progressing towards developing a cryptograph program capable of translating a foreign language without a dictionary for it - long the holy grail of computercrypters." Alex shook his head silently at that last non-word.

"'There's nothing magical about the basic idea,' as Pryor explains. 'A language, fundamentally, is a mapping from a common set of core ideas into patterns of letters - words. Of course there are uncounted trillions of possible 'languages,' but once you actually have a sample of text in a particular language, the number of possible mappings that remain consistent with that sample break down astonishingly quickly... according to my theoretical calculations, at least. Actually constructing a feasible algorithm that can isolate that unknown language is the tricky part, but we've had some astounding successes so far.'"

"So..." Tess Harding said, staring right at me. "Can you do it?"

"Can I do *what*, exactly??" I countered. "I can follow the code listings that were included with this article. But they were obviously chosen and simpified to be read by average... college students. Whether I could actually use these quantum computers... well, there's really no way to know ahead of time. Speaking of which... do you have any ideas as far as actually getting *into* this project?"

"We're working on that," Max said, sharing a glance with Isabel and Tess. "If we figure out a way, will you go in??"

I looked over at Isabel myself. "Are you sure you really *want* to know what this book says about you??" I know it didn't work this way really, but subconsciously I tend to blame the damn 'Book' for the Michael/Isabel stuff last spring and Isabel's pregnancy scare.

She reacted to the question like she'd been burned, for an instant, which surprised me. What was Isabel scared of finding out? But after letting that reaction pass, she nodded seriously. "We *have* to understand where we came from. You can understand that, can't you??"

I looked over at Max, and he nodded in agreement. "Then I'll do everything I can, of course."

"Any idea what it would *take* to become a part of a research project like that?" Isabel asked in an aside.

"I dunno," I admitted. "Aside from stumbling upon a key formula or equation that they need... and what are the chances of that??"

"Well, you never know," Max said with a soft laugh. "Can you find out more about what they're doing from here in Roswell? Maybe something that they might need??"

I wasn't sure I wanted to know what Max was planning. "I should be able to."

Tess smiled at me. "Thanks again for all of this, Alex."

Then someone came close to our table, and the subject of conversation beat a hasty retreat to the lunch menu.

------

(Maria):

So... I was sitting in the dining room after school, working on some stupid geography term paper, when the doorbell rang. As I got up to answer the door, I wondered who it could be. Michael was on shift at the Crash right now... and that pretty much finished the list of usual suspects, not that Spaceboy is especially big on ringing doorbells.

I wasn't quite prepared to see Jim Valenti out there when I peeked out of the little window set into the front door. As I opened up said door, he did a double-take and put something small and dark back into his jacket pocket.

"Oh... hey Maria! Is yer mom around?"

"No, Mister Valenti," I said, shaking my head for emphasis. "She's down in Hondo all day, meeting with a prospective client. Should I leave her a note on the bulletin board that you dropped by?"

"Yes, th..." Valenti caught himself in mid-phrase. "Actually, Miss DeLuca, I'd consider myself much obliged if you did no such thing." He must have been able to tell how surprised I was. "You know, keep this just between you and me for now." And with a tip of the hat he wasn't wearing today, he headed off back down our front stairs.

"Okay, that was weird," I muttered as I closed the door and headed back into the living room. My geography stuff was still strewn across the dining room table, but I couldn't focus on that right now. Valenti comes by, not knowing that Mom is out of town, and doesn't want me to tell her he was here. Well, *why* didn't he know she would be gone. This trip wasn't a secret or anything... Mom was excited about maybe getting some more business. So... had he intentionally not said anything about today? That kinda fit in with the rest of the secret-ey stuff.

Then there was that mysterious thing Valenti had tried to hide when I opened the door. Looked like a tiny black box. And there was a third... or was it fourth? ... thing that was bugging me about Valenti's visit.

Then that last clue hit me, and with it the answer to this minor mystery: Valenti had been *flexing one knee* before I opened the door!!

I took off like a shot, geography homework forgotten. I have no memories of locking the front door behind me, though I later found out that I had -- guess that just to show you how things become second nature. Anyway, aside from some blurry imagery of dashing down the streets of Roswell in a mad panic, the next thing I recall is bursting through the kitchen door of the cafe and puffing over to the grill, where Michael had stopped flipping galaxy melts and was staring at me like I was a crazy lady.

Well, by this point I was *way* too worked up to worry about playing into type. After checking to make sure that no-one else was around, I burst out with "Mister Valenti is about to ask my mom to marry him!!"

Spaceboy paused and let that news sink in for a moment. "So??" was his first response. "I mean, you like Jim, right?? Heck, *I* like Jim... and considering he was the sheriff up until two months ago and was at one point crusading to expose me as an alien... goes to show you that he's an okay guy."

"Yeah, I know that he's an okay guy!" I replied, trying desperately to keep my voice below shriek level. "But that isn't enough when we're talking about *marriage* here!"

"It isn't?"

"God, no! They aren't serious enough to be thinking of marriage. I mean... yeah, they've been on and off for a little more than a year, but that's exactly my point! They've never acted like it was anything more than a casual thing. And I think it's a little more than co-incidence that James Valenti junior, career lawman, has lost his job when he suddenly comes to the decision to remarry. It's like he's on the rebound from his career, and everybody knows you should NEVER jump into big commitments on the rebound. Plus... well, this is a little selfish, but my mom's just getting by, and the way Kyle tells it, the Valenti family is sinking fast." I sighed. "It's selfish to say it, I know, but I don't want to get dragged down with him."

Michael was smiling and shaking his head. "What??" I barked at him.

"Well... I hate to say it, but don't you think you might be over-reacting, just a bit??"

"No!! I mean... well, think how everybody would react if they found out that WE were getting married!! That's really what it would be like."

"But they're not 'getting married' yet," Michael said. Wait a second - since when does Michael get to be the voice of reason?? "You say that you think Valenti is going to ask, but your mom hasn't said yes. She's a pretty together lady, deep down. If there are that many reasons that it's a bad idea, she'll..." And then he trailed off.

"Yeah, she'll *what*, exactly?" I cracked back, and sighed. "Tell him no, puncture his ego and drive him away forever??"

"Well... she might be able to find some way to squelch it short of that," Michael mumbled feebly.

"Plus..." I sighed. "Amy DeLuca might be a 'pretty together lady'... I'd like to think so. But she's starting to creep up on the big four oh... a single mother with a wild and crazy teenage daughter..." make a silly face, "and she's been lonely for a long time, I know. There's a lot of reasons she might jump at Valenti's offer that don't necessarily make it a good idea."

"Oh, damnit, wait a second..." Michael flipped over a burger and looked at it critically. "Orders up!!" He slapped two patties that had a little too much black on them by *my* standards into buns and took it over to the dining room window. "Agnes, orders up!!" He shook his head, took an order slip from the window, and started putting some unsuspecting crashdown customer's food on to cook. "What makes you think that a popping of the question is imminent anyway?"

I opened his mouth to explain, then stopped short. "You'd better not make fun of me for this, Guerin."

"I make no guarantees."

"He was flexing his right knee before I opened the door, he put what looked like a jewelry box in his jacket when he saw it was me, and he didn't want me to tell my mom that he had stopped by." I could see a broad smile fighting to get to Michael's face. "Fine, don't believe me. In fact, I'll bet you... that we find out he WAS going to ask my mom to marry him if she was at the house today."

"I didn't say I didn't believe you!!" Michael quickly disclaimed.

"Then why were you almost laughing??"

He stepped in close to me and leaned down to kiss me on the forehead. "Because you're so cute when you play the little detective, DeLuca."

Nothing had prepared me for that. "Oh."

"So... maybe you should give Kyle a heads-up on your little theory," Michael went on. "See if he can find any corroborating evidence. Plus, if you're right... I'm sure he's gonna need all the advance warning he can get about becoming your step-brother."

I laughed a little at the notion. "Maybe later." I hopped up onto an empty table. "For now, I think I like it right here. So, did you hear about Alex and Isabel??"

"Oh, my god. She couldn't shut up about it today at school..."

------

(Liz):

I leaned against the railing a little, breathed in the fresh air of a cool snap by Roswell April standards, and watched the little people and cars bustling around the street.

I'd come up here to try and get some 'perspective' on my problems, as corny as that sounds. For the last few days since the dance, I'd been able to avoid thinking about Max and Tess kissing by throwing myself into coaching Alex with his Isabel problems. But he wasn't having 'problems' per se any more, which left me right back where I had been. Plus... the two of them had been inseperable all day whenever I'd seen them, talking, whispering, giggling occasionally. Max and Tess Harding. Obviously I had pushed him into her arms for the last time.

But that was the point, wasn't it?? That was exactly what Future Max had strong-armed me into doing, using every trick of emotional blackmail he could think of. To get me to reject Max soundly enough to nudge him into Tess' orbit. He had understood more about what made me tick than I do myself, yet... from fifteen years' of experience living with me in the future, and he used that advantage without the tiniest scrap of mercy. I hated what he made me do, but there was no question of saying no. The bastard pushed my buttons a little too well...

"Hey!" I jumped a little, recognizing the voice, but couldn't bring myself to look away from the street far below. "Is this a private mope, or can anyone join??"

I finally broke away. "Sean! What on earth are you doing here??"

"I know you a little too well, Parker," Sean DeLuca replied, reaching out to rub my shoulder briefly in a familiar gesture. "I remember way back when you and Maria were just little brats, how you'd sneak up here when I'd broken your doll or some kid at school was picking on one of you." He smiled wryly. "So I guessed you might be bummed enough to come back... after trying a couple of other places first where you *weren't.*"

I couldn't fight back the giggle at Sean's self-deprecation. "God, I haven't been here for years and years. I guess I haven't had a bad mood that moping around on my balcony wasn't good enough for until now."

Sean wrapped an arm around my back, in a nice way, and we watched the little ant people for a while. "So... you never did tell me what went wrong at the dance." That was right. I'd been far too upset to get into it after seeing Max and Tess frenching in the hall outside the gym, and running over to the bowling alley... I'd just made a wisecrack about bowling being an addictive sport and before I knew it, we were lane-dancing.

"You didn't find out anything about it from Maria?"

Sean shrugged expressively. "I haven't asked. She hasn't volunteered."

I sighed. For Sean to have gotten caught up to speed by Maria would have been less awkward in a way, but I wasn't going to avoid the issue. "Well, let's see... I told Max..." Uh-oh. How to phrase this part of it in a way that wouldn't spoil the 'Czechoslovakian factor' for Sean?? "Umm... well, to make a long story short I told him that I couldn't stay in a holding pattern with him and that we should let go. I went to hang out with Maria, because Michael didn't take her... and later I saw Max and Tess kissing outside of the gym. That's about when I took off and I... I found you."

"Oh, man." Sean sighed. "That must have been rough. But... if it's worth anything, and it probably isn't, I think you were right... right about the holding pattern, and that it was time to move on. Of course, I could be thinking so because that decision happens to work in my best interest..." He shot me a silly, goofy grin. "But I don't think so."

I laughed. "Okay... Mister Sean DeLuca... I guess it's my turn to ask you a tough question."

He turned to face me. "If you insist... ask away."

I took a deep breath, not quite sure if I was actually going to ask what I had been thinking of. I'd wondered before, but never really had the nerve. "Just what did you do to end up in juvie??"

Sean made a face. "God, I wish you hadn't asked me that."

"Come on," I said. "Whatever it is, it can't be worse than some of the things that I've heard. Or imagined."

Sean grimaced a little at that. "Didn't you find out anything about it from Maria?"

I laughed. "She hasn't volunteered. I didn't ask."

"Well, I'm not proud of this." He sighed. "Actually, I've done a lot of things that I'm not proud of, but the one that they actually caught me at was..." He broke off again, obviously not sure how to phrase it, and then blurted out, "Drugs, okay?? It was drugs."

I opened my mouth, but somehow there was nothing that I can think of saying. "I didn't use the stuff myself," he quickly disclaimed. "I just... I knew a guy, and even though I could tell it was a bad guy I'd buy stuff from him to sell as the school. It was easy money, and I never had any problem finding people who wanted to buy... most of them found me, actually. And it wasn't something I did all the time, just every now and then, but..."

"But that excuse didn't go over too well with the cops when they caught you in the act?" I finished.

"Now that you mention it, no." Sean sighed. "You probably don't want to have anything to do with me, know that you know, huh?"

"You'd be surprised." I whispered, reaching out and brushing a little hair away from his face... at least, where there SHOULD have been hair. I tried to make it look like I was wiping a little bit of dirt away.

And then he kissed me.

I meant what I told him. You say the words 'dealing drugs' and everyone shies away, but we've all of us done things that we're not proud of, just like Sean. If anything, I respected him more, for trying to put that behind him, for admitting it to me.

So why did I feel a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I kissed him?

"So," he said casually once the kiss was over. "I could do with a bite. Wanna try that pizza place over on Crailey street?? My treat?"

I thought about it. "Ah, sure, what the heck."

As we headed over for the stairs, Sean asked, "So, how are classes going? You said you had that special English seminar with Miz whats-her-face."

I chuckled. "Ahh, it's not doing too bad. Once you get used to how obsessed she is with Petrarchan sonnets the rest just kinda falls into place, y'know??"

------

(Alex, again):

I ran my hands along Isabel's arms as we sank deeper into a french kiss, curled up on the couch. When I felt slim, soft fingers run through my hair, I hoped that I hadn't died and gone to heaven.

Oh, give me a break. I've been waiting years to be able to say something like that!!

Anyway, an incredible minute or two later, after we'd broken for breath, Isabel looked over at me and shook her head a little. "This whole 'book' thing has popped up at just the worst possible time," she muttered. "I know I was a little carried away when Max and Tess first came to us with the idea, but you don't have to do it, Alex. Really you don't."

"Don't worry about it," I assured her. "I'm happy to do it. I *want* to do it."

"Why??"

The question caught me off guard a little. "I dunno... because I always enjoy getting into the middle of a caper?" After a pause, another reason occured to me. "Because knowing you, and Max and Michael, has changed my life in such an incredible way, and so I want to do something special for all of you."

"You don't have to do anything like that, Alex," Isabel replied, smiling at me. "It's not as if the 'changing lives' thing hasn't gone both ways, you know."

"I know," I admitted. "But I still want to, okay??"

"Well, as much as I hate to let you go now that I've finally found my way back to you... I guess it's alright with me," Isabel replied with a straight face.

I couldn't help laughing at that, and I lay a little closer to her on the sofa. "I don't think there will be that much 'letting go' involved," I countered. "It'll be weeks at least before the preparations are done and I can go to Las Cruces. School will be out by then and you can come up and keep me company, Miss Evans."

"Hmmm..." A broad, lazy smile crossed Isabel Evans' face as she contemplated that. "I'll need an alibi, I suppose."

"*You've* got an easy one, miss high school graduate," I reminded her. "Taking some summer courses to see if you're actually ready to start college in the fall. My parents may be tougher."

"Oh, we'll figure out something to tell them," Iz assured me. "We've got time, remember??" She sighed happily. "We should do something this weekend. Something special, you know."

"I do..." I chuckled. "In fact, I think I have just the thing." I pulled out a little folder from my pants pocket and handed it to her.

"What's thi-- Oh, my god. Tickets to the Beth Orton show on Saturday??" She looked over and stared incredulously at me. "When did you get these??"

I shrugged. "Monday."

Her eyes grew even wider. "Monday?! Monday when you were playing it so cool with me?" I managed to nod. "Well, I gotta say I'm impressed."

"Thank Liz and Maria."

"Actually, I'd rather not," Isabel laughed. "This is going to be so amazing, thank you."

"Happy to do it," I beamed.

"So..." Isabel stretched out beside me, let out a long, contented sigh. and then perked up. "Oh, you had some close encounters website you wanted to show me?"

"If it's the right time for it." I know Isabel didn't want to have 'alien stuff' intrude on her life when she isn't in exactly the right frame of mind.

"Nah, it's cool." She got up and gestured for me to precede her to the computer.

TO BE CONTINUED...

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 19-Feb-2003 7:29:55 PM ]
posted on 17-Dec-2002 10:06:16 PM
quote:
But Max and Tess...Liz and Sean.

No!!! Thats very difficult to read! I agree completely with BorderInsanity.

Well since its CC I am hoping that It will end up M/L!
PLease! I know you never write them but could you maybe. Just this once! PLease!

Post more soon!
britt


Just to re-iterate what I said in the shipper warning... this fic WILL end Max/Liz and will have a substantial amount of Max/Liz content... as well as a certain amount of non Max/Liz content. ;-) It's not that I 'never write them'... but I seldom write them without mixing it up, heh heh heh

TTFN
posted on 6-Jan-2003 8:41:19 PM
Title: Fateful moments, part 2
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own anything in Roswell, more's the pity. ;-)
Spoilers: Up to the beginning of 'Cry your name'
Dedication: This part is to Martina, Britt, and jeremiah

(Max):
After carefully loading up a tray with items that seemed not too likely to upset the palate, I looked for a place to sit in the crowded West Roswell category.

Oh, there was Maria! And Kyle, and Tess, and quite a few empty seats near them. I headed over to the nearest, which happened to be next to Tess. "Hey, guys, what's up?"

Maria got up quickly, shot me a cross look, and stalked off. "Ouch," I whispered. Since the fallout from prom, I've gotten the impression that Maria is intentionally boycotting Tess and I, as people in the same vicinity. If I'm walking to class with Tess and say hello to Maria, she ignores me, and pretends that nothing's wrong later. Yesterday Maria and I were hanging out in the quad, talking about new CDs we were excited to listen to, when Tess came up, waved hi, and sat down on the other end of Maria's bench without interrupting us. A sentence later, Maria says she has to go and walks away. This was the first time I'd seen her with Tess since the whole thing started, but otherwise it fit the pattern perfectly.

I was losing patience with the routine. I understand that Maria is Liz's best friend, but if she has a problem with me and Tess she should say something, not play elaborate games of cold shoulder. I mean, I don't know whether anything is happening between Tess and I, or if it will, or if I want it to. But I'm pretty sure it's between me and Tess, not anybody else's business. Not even Liz's, by this point.

"You'll have to excuse Maria, she's a little upset right now," Kyle mumbled through his sloppy joe, startling me out of my thoughts.

"Yeah, I know," I agreed, starting in on my own lunch.

"Really?" Tess piped up, flashing me a brief and friendly smile. "Who told you about it?"

"Well, I guess no-one really told me," I said, surprised at the question. "It wasn't very difficult to guess what was bugging her."

Kyle gave me a doubtful look, and then jumped a little in realization. "Max, we're talking about my Dad maybe asking Maria's mom to marry him. Is that what you're talking about?"

I blinked in surprise. "Well, no." I guess I had jumped to conclusions, maybe the me-Tess thing wasn't the *only* reason why Maria ran off so fast. "Umm... excuse me for asking, but just why is this upsetting news? I mean, Jim and Amy make a great couple. I'm..." I trailed off uncertainly.

"Yeah, she's a good influence on my Dad," Kyle allowed. "But Maria's pointed out a lot of problems with the situation that probably escaped the notice of our dearly dating parental units. There's the financial situation, pracitcal issues... and I'm just not that wild about having Maria for my sister."

"I'm not even sure where I'd fit into this happy little family," Tess pointed out.

"Where would we all live?" Kyle ranted. "Both the DeLucca's house and ours are tiny little two-bedrooms, no way a total of five people could move into either of them. And the real estate market in Roswell sucks for any kind of trade-up."

"Hey, I've got an idea," Tess said, grinning at Kyle. "Amy can move into Jim's room, you can take your own back, and Maria and I can live together in the DeLucca house. It'd be like a sorority of two."

"They would *never* let either of you get away with that," Kyle chuckled.

"Hey," I said, struck by a sudden thought. "What happened to the house Ed Harding bought in Roswell last year? I guess I kinda forgot about it."

"After you dragged me off kicking and screaming to the Valenti's?" Tess kidded. We all knew it hadn't really been like that. Tess had not been eager to remain in that house after a skin - presumably either Vanessa Whittaker or Courtney Devlin - had burgled it looking for evidence of Harding's activities as Nasedo or clues to the identities of the Royal Four. And after we had settled things with the Skins of Copper Summit, the fact that Ed Harding had disappeared and Sherrif Valenti had taken in his teenaged daughter had spread around town sufficiently that it would seem strange for Tess to move back out.

"I'm pretty sure that the money for the mortgage is still coming out of his account," Tess said softly. "They're almost tapped out by now though - he never expected to stay this long in Roswell without making more arrangements, and his Army salary was cut off long ago, of course."

"What have you been doing in Ed's accounts, anyway?" I asked in an aside. I didn't even know Harding had money stored away, though it makes sense, he was always anal about preparedness and so on.

"Just doing my part to help keep the wolf away from the door," Tess mumbled. "Well, *somebody's* part, anyway -- I know that isn't my money, and a lot of it may be blood money for all I know, but at least it's something I can do." She sighed. "And most of it's gone into the mortgage, as I said."

"Just how big is that house, anyway?" Kyle asked. "I don't think I've ever seen it."

"I was inside, once, but I didn't get the grand tour," I said, gesturing for Tess to field the question.

Tess sighed. "Three bedrooms, two bath. Ed liked his space. I think it would do for all five of us... Maria and I could share a bedroom."

"And once we've moved in, we could sell the other houses to get money for making the payments," Kyle said, getting into it.

"That's only if we move in right away, and who knows what the wedding timetable would be," Tess pointed out. "If the bank forecloses on Harding House, the door swings shut."

"It's a good idea, though," I put in. "You should mention it after the engagement officially begins... or if Maria's information was a miscue, it couldn't hurt to let Valenti know about Harding House... just to see what he thinks."

"Yeah," Tess agreed softly. "Well, that's enough family finance for me. Who has anoter topic for conversation?"

------

(Michael):

As I left the high school behind, I noticed a familiar figure emerge from the thinning crowd about a block ahead of me. Quickly and quietly, I sped up to catch up with her, sneaking up behind the girl as she continued walking away, tapping one of her shoulders and then ducking around the other way.

I didn't fool Isabel for a second though, as she instantly turned her head right to stare me in the face, without having even gone towards the left for an instant. (Her left shoulder being the one I had tapped.) "Hi, Michael."

"Whoa!" I exlaimed, surprised. "Tell me I haven't tried this trick THAT often!!"

"Not really," Iz admitted, as I fell into step beside her on the sidewalk. "I dunno, I guess I just had a vague sense you were around even before I saw you, so when I felt the touch on my shoulder I knew exactly what kind of stunt you'd pull."

"Wow," I admitted, impressed. "Do we think this is a... a Czechoslovakian thing?" I whispered, kinda liking using Maria's word for us. "Knowing I'm there without seeing or hearing me?"

"Could be." Isabel shrugged. "Or maybe I just picked up your musk subconsciously," she kidded me. "So... how's everything been."

"Pretty good," I admitted, then noticed something. "Hey, where's Alex? The two of you have been joined at the hip for the last few days."

"He's putting some extra time in at the computer lab," Isabel admitted, blushing shyly. "Maria?"

"Yearbook committee meeting," I explained, a little piqued by the implication that Maria and I are ever inseperable. I mean, things are going okay at this point, but we've never even at our best been one of those couples that HAVE to be around each other ninety percent of the day. A little Maria DeLuca goes a long way, I've noticed.

"Hey, wait a second... computer lab?" I added after a moment. "Computer lab? Does that have anything to do with the... the whatsit, the translating computers thing that Maxwell told me about??"

"I think so," Iz agreed. "He didn't say anything straight out... but then we weren't really alone when he mentioned that he wanted to stay late after school, so he couldn't talk freely."

"Okay. So, what's the deal here? I couldn't seem to follow much of what Max was explaining."

"I don't know too much about it either," Isabel said. "Just that there are these special computers up at the university in Las Cruces - and special software too, that they're developing - that might be able to analyze the alien book and logically..." she waved a hand vaguely, "compute what it's saying, or whatever. I couldn't really understand it either. But Alex says it may well work."

"Cool, I guess," I sighed. "I still don't really get why we can't read it ourselves."

"It's not an instinctive thing, Michael. Language has to be learned... for those of us not of the electronic persuasion, that is, and there's been nobody to teach it to us. I don't think even Nasedo knew... either that or for some weird Nasedo reason he didn't think it was his place to teach Tess."

"Yeah, well? There've been so many other aliens running around this year..."

Isabel smiled. "Well, the dupes probably don't understand it either, for the same reasons as us. Larek... might, but given the problems with bringing him here to Earth, I don't think he can help us out with this one. He might not even be able to read it when he's in a human host anyway. That leaves... the skins, and do you REALLY want to hand this over to Nicholas or one of Kivar's other henchlings and ask them what it says??"

I groaned. "Point made, Mrs. know-it-all."

"Sorry, I kinda got off on a rant there, didn't I?" Iz made a cute little I'm-sorry face, like she used to when we were younger.

"It's okay. So... you and Alex, huh? Back and tighter than ever."

She smiled. "Yeah. Well maybe not 'than *ever*', but we're getting there. I dunno, it just... when I'm around him, everything feels right and I can't understand why I let it take me so long to get back here, you know??"

I grinned back at her. "Yes, I think I'm familiar with the feeling, even though it didn't take *me* NEARLY as long." Isabel backhanded me in the shoulder lightly.

"Yes, but you and Maria keep losing time 'cause you flub things up with her every other month," she teased me. I just smiled. We walked along together silently for a little while.

"What do you think about this Max and Tess thing?" Isabel piped up suddenly.

"I dunno," I admitted. "Maria's really upset about them kissing after the dance... because she says Liz was really broken up about it. Myself... well, when I see them around, it's not like they're a couple. Just that they're around... together. But Max hasn't been saying anything about it."

"I kinda wish he and Liz could sort things out," Iz commented. "You and Maria have, me and Alex -- I think. They had the big soulmate thing going on. If they can't get past a few little obstacles... well, what hope do the rest of us have, you know?"

"I think I know," I agreed. "It would be cool for them to hook up. The original gang, back to where we were heading before all this destiny garbage got in the way. But... well, Max keeps reaching out to Liz and getting his hand slapped away. And I don't understand why she's still doing it anymore. What's she so scared of?"

"Tess?" Isabel grimaced, making a face.

"I'm not so sure. Liz is a smart person, and if you and I can tell that whatever he might feel for Tess is nothing compared to the way he still feels for Liz, surely she's got the hint too." I thought about it for a second. "Maria's kind of accidentally let slip that she knows some big secret about Max and Liz that she absolutely, *positively* cannot tell me under any circumstances. Surprisingly, she's actually managed to keep a lid on it since then."

"What were the odds," Isabel replied with a small laugh. "Well... what context was this secret in?? Did she say anything else about it?"

"Hmmm... something that happened between them, sometime between when Liz came back home from the summer and... um, and the harvest. I don't think I can pin it down any more than that."

Isabel mmmm-ed back in response as she thought. "Maybe they *did* it!!"

I blinked back in surprise. "You think? C'mon, Max would have told us about that."

"Even if it was really weird and ended incredibly traumatically for both of them?" Iz continued. I opened my mouth to say something, but when I looked over I could see a familiar twinkle in her eye. Iz was trying to tease me.

"C'mon, stop that," I said, shoving her playfully. "We don't have enough information to stop guessing, and it probably isn't any of our business anyway."

"Okay." Isabel sighed. "So, what's up between you and Maria these days, anyway?"

I blinked in surprise. "Oh, haven't you heard?" Now it was Isabel's turn to be surprised, and as I reviewed things I realized that there might not have been a grapevine path to her yet. "About Maria's mom and ex-Sherrif Valenti??"

"Nope... what about them??"

"Oh, Maria's got the notion into her head that Jim is about to ask Amy to marry him," I said, as we headed down the street towards my apartment. "She's all worked up about it, convinced that the merger would be a hasty idea. She even had a 'summit meeting' with the Valenti kids at lunch about it, and when you think about what it would take to get Maria to willingly sit down with Tess, gives you a clue how seriously she's taking the whole thing."

"Wow, yeah," Isabel agreed. "What do you think? Is he actually going to do it?"

"I've leaned to believe in Maria when she's done her detective work," I chuckled, remembering how she had figured that the deed to the Dupree house held the key to getting past Laurie's greedy relatives. "Somehow I think if it does happen, they'll find a way to make it work."

"Yeah," Iz agreed. "Those two families do have a way of doing that... imagine how good they'll be at it if they become one big family."

------

(Liz):

The front door to the Whitman house was open, so I called in. "Um, hello??" No response. Ahh, well. I stepped inside and headed up to knock on Alex's door.

"Isabel??"

"Sorry to disappoint," I laughed, walking into the room. "You said in your message that you wanted me to come over. What's the 'up'?"

Alex smiled slightly, and gestured for me to sit down on the bed while he swiveled the desk chair to face it. "It occured to me that I'm not sure how good you are with computers."

"Oh, not too good at all," I quickly disclaimed. "I know how to run a few programs, but aside from that you can count me firmly in the 'computer illiterate' category."

"Why is that?" he asked in an aside tone of voice. "I mean... you're great with just about any kind of science you've been exposed to. I'd think computer science would be a natural."

"I dunno, I guess I've never really seen the fascination with them. Science, to me, is about understanding the natural world. With computers, you're getting more and more into a world that people have built inside these strange machines. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you or anything, that's just how I feel about them." Alex's face had dropped after I called them strange.

"Your loss I suppose... except that it's mine too. I could really have used your help on this stuff if you'd been up to speed." He waved a few papers around.

"What's 'this stuff'??" He passed the pages over to me, I rifled through them, but couldn't immediately make much sense out of them... long listings of what looked like computer code and even more indecipherable prose... research papers about some sort of computer science? I've read a few academic journals in my time, but as I said I tend to stick to physics, biology, chemistry - you know, the basics. "In plain english please??"

Alex chuckled softly. "Well, there are these experimental computers at the state University in Las Cruces that can decipher unknown languages - at least, theoretically. Max and... the gang... were thinking maybe they could decipher... 'The Book.'"

Ah, yes, 'The Book.' Capital T, capital B. At least Alex hadn't called it the Destiny book to my face, as if by their mere existence those pages gave Tess the right to Max's love, and forced Michael and Isabel together to boot. And... "Level with me, Whitman. Whose idea was this really?"

Alex grimaced. "Well, I'm not completely sure, but I think Tess may have had something to do with it, yeah."

For a second, I couldn't think of what to say. And then, all of a second, it was pouring forth. "Every time I'm out, *they pull me back IN!!*"

Alex was staring at me. and then he laughed. "Liz... just answer me one question, for my own peace of mind. Was that even an attempt at an italian accent??"

I giggled myself, softly. "Not consciously." Alex smiled at me, and I sighed out loud. "I don't want to have ANYTHING to do with that damn Book!!"

"Well, no-one is telling you you have to," Alex reassured me. "Especially if you don't know much about computers."

"Why are *you* in on this??"

Alex took a long moment before he started answering that question. "Isabel told me she needs to know," he said slowly, carefully. "I can understand that. I can't even imagine what it's been like for her, for all of them actually, not knowing where they came from all these years... not *knowing* for sure. They've come across bits and clues, but that isn't the same. Maybe this book is just another clue, or maybe it'll actually be the root she needs to reconnect her to her heritage. I have to try."

"Even if what it tells her is that she's Michael's soul-mate??"

"I don't believe that, not that it'll really change her mind," Alex continued softly, though I could tell the trace of fear was buried deep underneath his voice. "Michael and Isabel have been friends, have been practically brother and sister long enough that I don't think either of them could ever make the jump to lovers. They've had months now since they first found out that they were lovers, in their past life, and they've chosen not to go down that road again. Michael's chosen Maria again. Isabel's chosen me. I have to have faith that she can stand by that choice."

I sighed. All of that sounded very good for him, and even for Maria, but it didn't comfort me one bit. "Well, I guess I'll leave you to your computer stuff. Except..." I couldn't finish that sentence.

"Yeah, Liz??"

"If you *do* need my help... don't be afraid to ask for it."

"Are you sure about that?"

I breathed deeply, doing a gut check. "Yeah. For Isabel's sake... and Max's too, I want to help."

Alex smiled. "I don't need to do any more on this right now. You wanna go down to Senor Chao's, play a game of pool or something??"

I smiled, pushing back the rush of memories of Max that threatened to bowl me over. "I'd like that. Except... what if Isabel comes by here, looking for you?"

Alex laughed. "That's a risk I'm prepared to take."

I got up from the bed, pushing another chair close to Alex's computer. "There's one thing I *do* know about computers... how to find a pool game on the internet. We can play right here..." I reached over and tapped an address into the keyboard.

------

(Tess):

"I still say it could work," I insisted fiercely as we walked through the alley gate into the back yard.

"C'mon Tess," Max sighed. "Just think about it. How many people you'd have to mindwarp to convince everybody that counted that Alex was some... some computing teenage genius visiting from another university. You know that I have nothing but the highest respect for your talents, but large numbers and forced repetition on different individuals over a short time period are your biggest weaknesses. You told me so yourself."

I had to admit that Max was right, which was so annoying because my plan would have been *SO* cool. If it could have worked. "Okay then, what's your angle?" We were inside now, and I looked around to see if anyone else was about, even though the chances of anyone being here in the Valenti house who wasn't in on the secret were slim to none.

But as it happened, there was no-one around at all. Except for Max and me. I always liked the sound of that. Nevertheless, and Max chewed over his answer I started leading the way up to my room, both in case Jim brought Amy home and, well, for the sake of the atmosphere.

"I dunno, I just think that we need to bring these people something real," Max decided. "Something that they need. Then we can lie through our teeth about how we got it if we need to... quite frankly I'm not sure if they'd even care."

"So what, we find some poor guy - or girl for that matter - who invented a gizmo that the university geeks need, and scam her or him out of it? Without even letting that person know that they were being scammed? Or maybe we can just whip um an electromagnetic processing booster with our alien powers."

"It doesn't have to be a tangible 'thing', like hardware," Max corrected. "Maybe just an idea." He sighed. "I know, it isn't much of a plan, yet, but I'm all planned out." He dropped down into the small armchair I'd bought last month, while I crossed my legs lotus-style on the bed.

"Well, I've got a new topic," I said, taking a deep breath to nerve myself up. "A few days ago... the night I came to you with all this Quantum project stuff, in fact, you told me that we were riding off of high emotions from the dance, and that we should take a break, or something like that. When do we get off of break?" I tried to smile innocently at him.

Just as I had been afraid of, Max's face twisted into an awkward attempt at a smile. "Eeeeehh..." was the only sound that came out of him.

"That's not really something that a girl wants to hear," I teased him.

Max smiled again, this time more naturally. "Okay, Tess, here's the thing. You know that I like you. All other things being equal, I think I'd probably say sure, let's jump in and give it a try. See if we *really* have true love waiting for us or not."

I took a second to digest this. "'All other things being equal.' Why do I get the feeling that that's just a euphemism for 'if there wasn't something else'?"

"Because you know me well by now," Max agreed, shaking his head. "Well, let's forget the euphemism. There IS someone else. Tess, I've already found true love, and I'm not ready to give up on it yet."

"Even though for most of a year, Liz Parker has done nothing but run away from you or push you away?"

"Even though," Max agreed. "I think love can be a scary thing as well as a beautiful one, and movies have taught us that the big love tends to bring big obstacles with it." He laughed very softly. "To be honest, I don't know exactly what Liz is scared of - I haven't been able to get her to tell me. And that's beside the point. I'm not ready to walk away from what we had. And that means I'm not ready to start anything with you, despite what we did at Prom. That was probably already crossing the line, especially considering who caught us kissing."

Now this was news to me. I didn't know that anyone had walked in on Max and me, which meant that whoever it was had left without making a scene. Not Maria, then. Liz herself? I couldn't be sure, and didn't want to ask Max.

"Can you accept where I'm coming from, Tess?" Max asked softly, probably misunderstanding what I was thinking about.

"Yeah, yeah I can," I assured him quietly. "I'd be lying if I told you it was what I wanted to hear, but I can understand. I hope you don't take offense to the comparison, but it sounds like how I feel whenever someone implies that I should give up on what I feel for you." I forced a deep breath, as if making sure that my system didn't rebel against me and wither away despite what I was about to say. "So go ahead and take all the time that you need, Max. If you..." Breathe, damnit... BREATHE!! "If you and Liz get everything sorted out, I'll... try to find some way to be happy for the two of you. If not... well, this may be beyond obvious, but I'll be waiting."

Max smiled a little sadly. He could see how much this was tearing me up inside, and I think that hurt him too, but he was damned and determined to follow through on what he had told me. Somehow, I actually think I admired that, crazy as that sounds. "Thanks, Tess. Your... blessing... means a lot to me, for this." He stood up and looked around nervously. "I should probably go now."

"Yeah. Th-thanks for stopping by." Try as I might, I couldn't keep the quiver out of my voice. The sarcasm was mostly purposeful.

"Are you sure?" Max asked. "You're going to be okay??"

My heart, as torture-tested as it was from this whole conversation, melted a little at the simple concern in his voice, and for a second I wanted to tell him anything just so he would stay and be nice to me. Play hard on the vulnerability card, maybe, and see if I could use that to maybe even change his mind. The 'better judgement' category vetoed that plan, though. I treasured the respect I've earned from Max this spring too much to risk it all on a foolish caper like that. Better to get him out of here before my willpower cracks, though. "Yeah, g'wan with yah," I called, waving him out of the bedroom and trying my best to force a smile.

He left, without another word, and I collapsed back onto the bed, trying not to break down in tears. Somehow... the whole damned scene... I meant what I had said, but I felt -- I don't know. I wanted to go find Kyle and kiss him like he's never been kissed before. 'Trim his lamp' maybe, even. But there were two problems with that. One... Kyle thinks of me as a little sister now, apparently, and two, whatever my chances with Max are, they'd go down two notches if he found out that I was skanking about and hitting on other guys so soon after we had this talk.

I dunno, I guess I just wanted to feel... desirable. Flirting with Kyle always used to be good for that, especially when Max got that moony look in his eye, talking about Elizabeth Sara Parker... well, that was out. And I really didn't *want* to go trolling for guys just so I could feel hot, if it came to that. I just... wanted this to hurt less.

I rolled over and started fantasizing about other worlds. And other lifetimes.

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 2-Feb-2003 3:09:29 PM
Title: Fateful moments, part 3
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own anything in Roswell, more's the pity. ;-)
Spoilers: Up to the beginning of 'Cry your name'
Dedication: This part is to shari, dymond, and the ever-mysterious roswellluver ;)


[if anyone's having trouble reading this page, by all means let me know and I'll tell one of the mods.]


(Michael):

"Spaceboy??"

The nickname brought me gently out of unsettling dreams with dark rooms and a stranger who looked like me. "Huh, what's going on??" I realized that I had fallen asleep on the couch, chemistry homework still spread out all around me. I looked up at Maria, who sat smiling down on me from the arm of the comfy chair. "How did you get in??"

"Your door wasn't locksd," she told me with a slight smile and a shake of her head. "I'd mentioned that I was going to come by once my shift finally finished, so I didn't think you'd mind. Didn't realize you'd be..."

"No, don't apologize," I pre-empted. "For one thing, better you than a robber wandering in while I'm snoozing, huh??" I yawned. "Sorry... I didn't even realize I was so tired."

"Well, science assignments have that effect on me too," Maria joked, moving a textbook from the couch and perching it as best she could on the coffee table, on top of my big green binder, so that she could sit down beside me, in just that way she does where my arm kind of automatically falls down around her shoulders. It felt... nice. "So... I've made a decision."

"You have?" I repeated, unable to help the smile forming on my face. "And what's that??"

"I'm not gonna drive myself crazy about my mom and her relationship with Jim Valenti. Marriage or not." She sighed. "It's not like anything I can do would really change their minds, so any worry I put into the whole situation is just wasted effort."

I tried to sit up to look into Maria's face, which was a little like a dog chasing its tale considering that she was resting her head against my shoulder, so I gave it up before someone got hurt. "I have to ask - who are you and what did you do to the real Maria DeLuca?"

She laughed. "I hope you don't mean that literally, because I'm just about as real as you get." She sighed. "But I guess I'm tired of it, stressing out, making myself crazy over every little thing. What will be, will be, you know??" After a second, she very obviously changed the subject. "So, how did the chemistry go? Make any headway before fatigue did you in?"

"I... I think so." I tried to reach out to the coffee table to get my binder, but in the position we were in, it just wasn't do-able, and I really didn't want Maria to have to move, so I gave it up. "Believe it or not, these organic molecular structures are actually starting to make sense. Even the benzene-rings." I yawned. "Still haven't finished all the homework exercises for tomorrow's class, though."

"You're really making an effort, aren't ya, Guerin," Maria observed, then added, "mind if I ask why??"

"Not sure," I admitted, thinking of it. "Because I'm tired of my teachers giving me crap when I bump into them trying to find someone when a crisis is going down. Because enough people look down on me already without adding 'high-school dropout' to the story of my life." I thought a little more, then added one last reason in a rare moment of honesty. "Because I kinda feel the need to do *something* to prove to you that I'm not an absolute and total screw-up."

"Ohhh..." Maria managed to curl around enough to face me. "First off... you do realize that you don't have anything to prove to me, right?? You're not a loser... you're my space-boy and I love you. You know that, right?" I nodded, silently. "But... I'm proud of you for trying to turn something around in your life like this. And I'll be even prouder if you pass all your courses for this spring." She kissed me sweetly on the cheek.

"That's the plan," I agreed, sighing at all the make-up work it would entail. "Now come here, earth-girl." I brought her lips to meet mine and we went from there.

------

(Liz):

I had been wandering, a little aimlessly, ever since I left Alex's place. I didn't want to go home yet, but where else to? Not Max's place, for obvious reasons.

So I found myself walking past the DeLuca house, and muttered to myself "Why not?" Maria had probably gone over to Michael's after her shift ended, but Sean might be around.

Sean DeLuca. I still wasn't quite sure how I felt about him. Was he a rebound guy or something more? Well, in any event, given that Max and Tess were busy making plans to translate their little book, I felt like tonight was a great time to do a little rebounding.

"Oh, hi Liz," Mrs. DeLuca said when she answered the door. "No, Maria isn't back yet. You could probably find her at Michael Guerin's... but then again, unless it's important maybe you'd better not." She smiled tolerantly.

"Um, actually Mrs DeLuca, I'm here looking for Sean." Amy blinked with a little surprise at that - I guess she hadn't realized how much time her black sheep nephew and I were spending together. "Is he around?"

"You could try the garage, as far as I know he's been in there all day," Amy smiled a little. "Trying to keep that bug of his out of the junkyard... and without paying a professional mechanic."

I laughed. "Well, look at it this way - you never know when you might need someone handy with a car."

"Yeah... if only I can decide whether I'd trust him trying to fix the Jetta," she joked back. "Well, you know the way, don't you??"

I did, of course, and soon I was standing in the doorway to the garage. All that could be seen of Sean were his boots, the rest disappearing underneath the car, which is all the more surprising since a VW bug is hardly any longer than Sean himself is.

"Hey hey, knock knock," I called out.

"Who is it? Liz, is that you??"

"Why don't you come out and see??" After a second, more of Sean rolled into view, and then his face, smeared here and there with brown and black stuff, but he smiled when he saw me and I couldn't help but smile back. "How's the patient doing, doctor mechanic??"

"It looks pretty bad, but I think I can pull her through," Sean told me with that irrepressible grin. "How are you doing tonight??"

"Ah, you know. Same old, same old. Nothing much seems to change."

"Oh, so you mean..." Sean cleared his throat, and when he spoke again his voice was slightly higher-pitched than normal and trembling with fake emotion. "Your life is FALLING apart!!" I just stared at him. "Sorry, I just... I *had* to mock you for that once. It's out of my system now, I promise." A series of giggles started to escape me as I saw the funny side of it.

"No, no, no," I assured Sean, sitting down in an old rickety chair while I tried to get my breathing back to normal. "I'm doing considerably better than *that*, so I guess some things definitely do change."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"So..." I pointed over to the bug, its hood still propped up. "What happened to your wheels, anyway?"

"Well, let's see... basically the car was a pile of junk when I bought it, and this morning I seem to have had a chain reaction of things go wrong... do you really want to sit there and listen to me talk about auto repair, Liz??"

"Well... I guess not 'want' as such," I admitted. "Though I wouldn't mind if you wanted to talk about it."

"Well, your classes are going to be finished pretty soon," Sean said in a non sequitur. "Got any big plans for the summer holidays?"

"I'm not sure, I hadn't exactly thought past finals," I admitted. "I'd love to travel, but this summer might not be the best time for it. I'll probably just hang around Roswell, taking some summer courses or working at the Crash." I looked over at Sean. "Yeah, I know, I know, such are the excitements in the life of Liz Parker. So, tell me, Sean Deluca, do you have any plans for the future? I mean, I know that right now you're probbably focusing on just trying to keep your life together on the right side of the law, but you must have hopes for something more than a part-time job and crashing at your aunt's house, yeah?"

"Sure I do," he agreed, heading towards the door before he caught my questioning look. "I've decided I'm done in here, by the way," he added in an aside. "The patient won't get any worse overnight, and I'm very aware of how filthy and hungry I am." As we headed back into the DeLuca house proper, Sean returned to my question. "Aunt Amy is pushing me to save up for courses at the vocational college. If I can get some more hours at the store, I could swing class a few days a week and still probably float my own apartment, if I settle for a dump."

I ignored that last bit. "So, what kind of vocational classes would you want to take? Or should I guess 'auto mechanic'?!"

"Nah, tinkering around with cars as a hobby is fine, but I don't think I could cut it as the real thing. Maybe electrician. Hang on a sec." Sean stepped inside the bathroom, but didn't close the door as he started to fill up a sink with hot water. "Of course, the kind of job I'd really like to have they don't have a course for at Roswell vocational Training Institute."

"Of course," I agreed from out in the hall. "So what's that?" But Sean was busy soaping his ears.

"What was that?"

"I asked what the job you really want would be."

Sean busied himself washing his face, and just when I was about to repeat the question a third time, he blurted out, "You have to promise not to laugh at it."

"Why... of course I won't laugh, Sean."

"Private Investigator."

I was speechless for a few seconds, and had to firmly choke down some nervous giggles. "Well, that's certainly unique. But somehow I can picture you as a dick... a private dick, I mean. A Sam Spade."

Sean shook his head, and started filling the sink up again, which he had just drained out. "Not like in those old books from the twenties and movies like the Maltese Falcon... though that was a pretty cool movie, I have to admit. A private eye for the twenty-first century.

"Well, of co..." I broke off somewhat awkwardly, as Sean pulled his T-shirt up and over his head. "Umm, uhhh..." C'mon, girl get your head back in focus. I struggled to ignore Sean Deluca naked from the waist up, or at least to be aware of it only casually and unemotionally. "Well, obviously you're not gonna be a stereotypical thirties private eye, because they only exist in the movies..." Sean was leaner than Max was, but his torso and arms still showed some nicely defined muscle groups.

"I dunno what it is," Sean continued as he lathered himself down, seemingly oblivious to the show he was putting on. "Possibly the thrill of action - not that I'm some death wish danger nut - and putting my brain to work trying to catch *real* scumballs. I'd never make it as a cop... don't have the discipline for it. I don't think I could ever work in a chain of command. But a lone wolf investigator kind of thing... working on behalf of those who have nowhere left to turn... okay, I realize this is sounding way too much like the opening narration to 'The Equalizer.' But cool, nonetheless." He finished rinsing himself off. "Uh, I hate to ask this, but could you get me a clean shirt while I dry off??"

"Um... shirt?" I repeated, still sounding *way* too clueless. "Uhh... from where?"

"My knapsack should be beside the couch," Sean answered with a smile.

"Sure, then, no problem." I hurried into the living room, spotted the unobtrusive canvas rucksack sitting there, opened up the top flap and started looking for shirts. Ah, blue, this would look nice on him. When I had gotten back to the bathroom Sean had almost finished toweling himself off. But he wasn't the only guy waiting for me there.

"Max!!!" I almost launched the shirt towards the ceiling in my surprise. "What are you... why... how..."

"I've been looking for you," Max Evans said softly in that understated yet intense way he talked sometimes. My heart swelled with some kind of emotion that I couldn't put my finger on at the time. **Dammit, heart, now is not the time.** As if to underscore that fact, Max glanced significantly in the direction of shirtless Sean, not asking for an explanation, just noticing.

Belatedly I tossed the blue shirt the short distance into Sean's waiting arms. "Thanks," he said while scrambling into it. "Feels good to be at least halfway clean after all that grease and grime."

"Mrs. Deluca let me in," Max commented in the awkward silence. "Said if I was looking for Liz, I should try looking for her in the garage with Sean."

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," I blurted out, then realized it was an iffy case since that had been a direct quote. Oh, well. "Sean was fixing his car when I came, but then he called a break to come in here and get cleaned up."

"Umm... okay," Max said after a moment, and then turned to me. "Liz, I need to discuss something important with you. Alone."

I looked at Sean, and he was shooting me a concered look, like 'If you don't wanna waste your time with this guy, just say the word and I'll show him da door.' I almost laughed out loud.

"Okay," I started, hoping it was a clear enough agreement to call Sean off. "Well, should we... I dunno, step into the back yard or something??"

Right then, the doorbell rang faintly, (hmm, why hadn't we heard it from here when Max came to the door? Oh, yeah, the running water would probably have downed it out. Or draining water, yeah, that fit the timing better.) Amy Deluca's voice called from up the stairs "Hey, could one of you kids get that? I'll be down in a minute."

"I've got it," Sean said, pushing politely between Max and I. (Boy, how's that for symbolism?) "At least I'm temporarily part of this household."

Max shot me a look and nodded his head both towards the back and front of the house. I shrugged and pointed in the direction of the front door. No sense in going off to have our talk in private if whoever had come to the front door was looking for one of us. Given the pattern of visitors to the Deluca house so far tonight, that seemed more than likely.

By the time we got to the front hall, Sean had already opened the door, revealing Jim Valenti on the other side. "Well, hello Sean. Is your Aunt in?"

"Yeah, Mister Valenti. Said she'd be down in a minute. Won't you come in?" Sean backed away from the door, and I could see that he was smiling broadly. Max seemed to be trying to hide a goofy grin. What was going on here?

"Thank you." Jim stepped inside, closing the door, and noticed Max and I standing there. "Mister Evans, Miss Parker?" His polite nod seemed forced.

It was at this point that Mrs. Deluca appeared at the top of the long open staircase in the front hall, still wearing the casual clothes that Liz had seen her in earlier - a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Her face practically shone when she caught sight of her most recent visitor. "Jim!! What are you doing here?"

"I have something to ask you," Valenti replied, still shifting nervously. "C'mon down here before my nerves give out."

A puzzled but intrigued look on her face, Mrs. Deluca hurried down the stairs. "Should we make ourselves scarce?" Sean whispered over in a voice that only Max and Liz could even notice.

"Only if one of them asks," Max murmured back. "I'd rather not miss this moment if I don't have to." It was definite - both of them knew something about what was going on that I didn't.

"Amy," Valenti started as she stepped down the last stair, taking one of her hands lightly in his. "I think you know that I... how much you mean to me, Amy, and it's something that I've had trouble saying for a lot of years now. But I've had a lot of time to rethink my life and my priorities, and I've come to the decision that I always did best when I let my actions speak for me."

There was a slight pause, and I think Amy and I might have realized what was going on at the same moment. "I know that I don't have much to offer you any more, except for everything that I feel about you, but I know that we could make it work with half of that." All of a sudden, James Valenti the second was down on one knee, an opened jewel box in his hand. "I know that we've both been down the road of marriage before, and had our hearts broken for our trouble, but when you love someone as much as I love you, you don't let something lie that stop you. Will you marry me, Amy??"

She was stunned speechless for a few seconds, and then a resolved look crossed her face. "Yes. Oh, yes, Jim. I would be DELIGHTED... and *honored*... to become your wife." Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and Valenti stood back up and kissed her sweetly on the lips. Once the tender clinch was done, with one arm still wrapped around Valenti, Amy stretched out her left hand towards the jewel box, third finger widely seperated from its neighbors. Jim did the honors.

"It's gorgeous, Jim," she said, examining the token of his love. Where on earth did you get it? I mean..." She trailed off - we all knew what she meant. The Valenti extended family had just been getting by ever since he had been fired by the city council.

"It was the ring that Grampa-ray gave my Nona," he whispered back, or at least I think that was it. "I tracked down my Aunt Bethany and she agreed that you should have it, since you're going to become part of our family."

It was at that point that Max stepped up towards the happy couple, right hand stretched out. "Congratulations. Mrs Deluca." Amy extricated herself from her new fiancee just enough to accept Max's congratulatory handshake. "Mister Valenti. I wish you all the happiness in the world. No-one deserves it more than you guys." After the handshake with Valenti ended, Max paused and then said casually, "Have you thought at all about where you're going to live after you're married?"

----

(Alex):

I was sitting on my bed, halfway through my third runthrough of the differential phonematic isolation subalgorithm, surrounded by printouts I'd made from the Quantum project website and scratch paper, when the telephone rang. By sheer reflex my hand shot out to the bedside table and picked up the cordless handset. "Um... hello?" I said uncertainly. Was it one of mom's baking club friends?

"Alex, hi." The voice was Isabel's. "How's it going?"

"Slow enough that I'm glad I have an excuse to put aside the proximity indices and transciption invariants for the night," I replied. The clock radio belatedly informed me that it was well after midnight. Again. "And you? How was your, umm..." c'mon, Alex, think, "...thing tonight? The... er... something to do with university?"

"The scholarship committee meeting?" Yeah, that was it. Isabel had gotten tapped as a student board representative for some nonprofit foundation that gives out scholarship and college grant money, mostly to inner-city kids from places like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The idea being that as a honors high school student herself, she'd be able to help judge exceptional candidates, but because they didn't cover Roswell she'd be unlikely to run into a conflict of interest. "Mostly long and tiring."

"Oh, did you have to drive long?"

"No, they met right here in Roswell - almost half the board members live in the area. Just a lot of student records to go through and listening to arguments from people dead-set on deciding one way or another."

"Sounds... tiring, yeah," I agreed with a sigh, and stretched out, lying back on the pillow. "So... we've got the concert on saturday... what about tomorrow night? Big Friday date night... wanna make any plans?"

I could almost hear Isabel smile across the telephone line. "Yeah, that'd be really great. Something really fun. Got any ideas??"

I blinked in surprise. "Something *fun*?"

"You heard what I said, Whitman." Isabel's unmistakeable laugh rang over the line. "What's the matter, you don't have any clue how to have a good time?"

"Actually, I do have one notion," I admitted. "But it'll have to be a surprise."

"Ahh... so I have to trust you, is that it? Well, I can do that. Tomorrow night, I put my fate into your hands."

I couldn't resist the setup. "Mmmm, that sounds like fun."

Isabel laughed again, and then deliberately changed the subject. "Say, you don't know anything about what happened between Max and Liz last fall, do you?"

"Um... I know quite a bit about what happened between them last fall," I reminded her. "I was right here, getting the play by play from Liz of every little detail. Is there something in particular you're asking about? There was an awful lot that happened between them in those few months."

Isabel giggle. "Something secret. Michael said that Maria let slip she knew something in confidence about our favorite soulmates that she couldn't ever divulge, even to him." Isabel sighed. "Of course, if you're sworn to secrecy as well, I can respect that, even though I haf vays of makink you tok."

"You probably do," I admitted. "The thing is, I don't think I'm in the loop on this particular secret. Any hints as to what kind of surprise it is? Time frame??"

"Sometime between, uhh, my birthday party," Isabel let out a loud groan at the very thought, "and, um, the harvest? After all, something drove a pretty bid wedge between Max and Liz back then."

"No, can't think of anything," I confirmed. "Unless you count the infamous 'Kyle incident', and that isn't exactly a secret, is it?"

"No, no it isn't, you're right. Hmm... you know, I'd forgotten about that. Wonder if Maria's secret relates to it somehow."

"I don't have a clue," I admitted, a little tired of talking about this.

"Sorry," Isabel said softly. I blinked in surprise.

"Umm... sorry about what?" I asked, half in disbelief.

"For pushing the subject." I was speechless for a moment, almost disbelieving that Isabel had been so sensitive to my tone of voice.

"It's okay," I assured her quickly. "So..."

"I dunno, it's late," Iz agreed. "I wish you were here."

"I do, too, come to think of it."

"Where are you?" she asked suddenly. "I mean, right now. Are you in your room??"

"Actually..." I smiled as I looked around and stretched out a bit. "I'm in bed. And you?"

"Me too." Isabel giggled wickedly. "What are you wearing??"

"Isabel!!"

"What??"

"I..." I struggled to put my thoughts in order. "Well, for one thing, it's a little corny, and for another... well, we've only been back together again for a few days now."

"Relax," she whispered reassuringly. "We don't have to go that far. I just thought it'd be fun."

"Uhh... okay," I finally decided. What the heck, sounded like it might be fun. "Well... I'm wearing a button-down white shirt..." I had had an appointment with my guidance counselor today at school, "and blue jeans. What about you?"

Isabel laughed softly. "Well, I've got a blue blouse and dark blue skirt on... do you remember the time Micahel invited us all up to Tucson to meet Laurie?"

"Yeah, yeah." The mental picture came loud and clear... one of the few really nice moments to come out of the past few weeks. Max, Isabel, Michael, Maria, and I had all gone up for a formal dinner in the fancy house that Michael's DNA-sister had inherited,

"I lean over, brush a little hair out of your face... and kiss you, very gently and softly, on the lips."

"Mmmmmmmm...." I let that sit for a while, enjoying the imaginary kiss, and then took my turn. "I look up deep into your eyes, running one hand through those silky tresses of yours. I memorize every curve and detail of your face." I took a deep breath and steadied my nerves. "Slowly, slowly, I lower my face to the ivory skin of your neck, kissing it, and then sucking on it a little."

"Oh, Alex." A low, throaty moan came over the telephone line. "That feels so good. Nibble at it! Nibble on my neck."

"I'm nibbling," I assured her. "Taking your skin between my teeth gently, softly... Letting you feel them stimulate you. How's that??"

"Incredible." Another sigh. "I'm running my hands over your arms. Across your chest. Feeling the grace of your muscles... teasing you with each touch."

"Don't tease me too much, beautiful lady," I warned her. "I'm working my way up to your right ear... leaving a trail of kisses along your neck as I go."

"Oh, hang on a second, let me take these earrings off," Iz warned. "Keep sucking on my neck."

"Sure."

"Okay now, you're good."

"I nip on your earlobe lightly," I say, taking in a deep breath, "then kiss it.. mmmmm... massaging you with my lips."

"Ooooooooohhhh..." Isabel groaned. "Okay, my turn. I unbutton your shirt about half-way... pulling it away from your left shoulder, and start running my tongue along your collarbone."

"Unhhhhhh..." was all I could manage for a few moments. "Ohhh, that's great baby."

"I start running my lips down your chest... and then back up to your throat."

"My hands are rubbing the base of your neck. Kneading the muscles there."

"Ohhh... thanks, I really needed that. Let's see... where were we. Right... I tear open your shirt a little bit further, and lean down to suck on your... nipple."

"Whoaa!!!" Just hearing her say the word sent a shock through me, not to mention the mental imagery added onto the rest of this phone makeout session.

"You like that, don't you?!"

"Yeah... I have to say I do."

"What else do you like??"

I gathered my nerves once again. "I roll us over so that you're the one lying on your back. And run my hand over the front of your blouse."

"Ohhh... oh, that's nice, Alex. Oooh!!"

"I untuck it from the waist of your skirt and start to slide my hands up under your top."

"Ooohhh... that's even better."

"I..."

"Alex??"

"What?"

"I'm really sorry... but I think I need to get off the phone now. I can't *wait* to see you tomorrow."

I sigh a little bit. "Okay. Sweet dreams."

"Like I could help it." She paused. "You're not mad, are you?"

I smiled to myself. "No, no I'm really not. Thank you. This was an incredible idea."

"I know. Sweet dreams, loverboy." The phone clicked off.

I pushed the 'END' button and unsnapped my jeans, getting ready for... bed.

TO BE CONTINUED.

posted on 19-Feb-2003 7:29:31 PM
Title: Fateful moments, part 4
Author: Chris Kenworthy
E-mail: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Homepage: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own anything in Roswell, more's the pity. ;-)
Spoilers: Up to the beginning of 'Cry your name'

(Liz):

I sat down on the wooden bench with a bit of a thump. "Okay, Max, what's this thing that it's so important we talk about?" He stayed silent at me for a second, staring at me so intently with those deep, gorgeous brown eyes...

Wait a second, I just remembered, I need to catch you guys up a little first before we get to that point. Okay---

Amy was able to put together a nice little spur-of-the-moment engagement party. Grape soda, little powdered donuts, and cashews were the refreshments. Amy called over to Michael's apartment to tell Maria to come home, and Michael came over too to congratulate the happy couple, and Jim invited Kyle and Tess over too.

When the party was over, Amy had realized how late it was and was insisting that everyone who didn't live in her house get driven straight home. But Max made this impassioned plea about how he had come overe there in the first place to find me and talk to me about something extremely important. Finally Mrs. Deluca relented, though she said that she's driving us home as soon as we're done and she's not letting us off her property in the meantime. So that's why I'm sitting on a wooden bench in the DeLuca backyard. Amy is probably calling Max and my parents right now 'so they don't worry.' Valenti took drive-home duty for Michael and his own crew.

Okay, so now I've pretty much caught you up. I asked Max what was so important, he looked at me soulfully for a few seconds and admitted, "I'm not quite sure where to start."

"At the beginning is traditional," I pointed out. "Some might say it's become cliche, but I don't hold with that." I was getting a little giddy and struggled to control it, since Max had obviously gone to a lot of effort to set up a venue for a serious conversation.

"I don't think I need to tell you about the beginning, do I?" Max said, smiling slightly. "You were there, after all."

Oh. So it was going to be another one of THESE conversations. God, I don't think I have the energy to figure out a new way of turning Max down. "Max..."

He must have been able to read the tone in my voice. "Don't... just don't, okay? At least let me babble on until I think I've said most of what I need to say." He took a deep breath and spun around with his hands in his pockets before locking his eyes onto my face again. "I can't let you go, Liz."

"That doesn'..." I started, but Max cut me off.

"It has to," Max insisted. "It *has* to change things. Doesn't it? I... I have to get us back, the way that we used to be. How do I do that??"

"Maybe you can't," I answered with a sigh.

"I've called things off with Tess..."

"Oh god, Max, no..."

"What do you want from me??" he exploded. "I mean... you can't stand Tess... that's clear. And yet you keep pushing me towards her. Which means that you're pushing me out of your life too, because it's clear that nothing could ever be the same between us if I really did get together with Tess, not that that's..."

I groaned and looked up into his eyes. "Max... you *belong* with Tess, not with me. It tears me up inside, but I know that that's what's right."

"WHO ARE YOU..." Max's eyes were staring right through me, "TO MAKE THAT DECISION???"

That stopped me for a second, I mean, obviously I had no right myself to force one interpretation of Max's destiny on him. And even Future Max's decision... well, how long did I have to hold onto that? It had been six months since he had come, and gone. Six months since the timeline had changed.

No... I still had to stay the course. Unless I could be almost certain that something meaningful had changed. I looked up and realized that Max was staying silent too, an awkward pause surrounding the both of us.

"Max, I'm sorry, I don't have any right to decide your life for you, but..."

He cut me off. "I've told Tess that I can't go any further with her... not until you and I settle things, and when I say 'settle', I don't mean you arguing me out of this. At least give us one more chance, Liz." He reached out a hand to me.

Something odd struck me about that. "You told Tess... how did she take it??"

Max made a face. "Well, she wasn't particularly happy, as you might guess, but she accepted it. She said if we worked everything out, she'd try her best to be happy for us."

Somehow, that got to me, as nothing else Max had said got to me. I hated that, but there it was. If Tess had really come to terms with the concept of us... did that mean that Max and I could get back together without driving her away from the group? Was this the 'something changed' that I had been looking for??

Max groaned again. "WHY does Tess' opinion mean more to our relationship than mine does??" he groaned, obviously seeing a tiny bit of what I was feeling in my face.

"It's not that," I sighed. "For one thing, your opinion has never been that much in doubt. But Tess... well, she's your wife, or she was. If we're going through with this, it would have to be with her understanding and acceptance. That's the least respect I can pay to your marriage vows, even in a weird situation like this."

"Don't lie to me," Max whispered. "You were never very good at it."

"Okay, then I won't!!" I flared. "But then don't ask me for the truth, because that is something that I can't tell you. As far as what you wanted to talk to me about, you and me... I'll think about it, okay? That's as much as I can promise at this point, it's been a long day and a long night. I may want to talk to Tess about it too."

"Okay," Max said, nodding slowly. "Be discreet with her about it though, okay?? I hurt her pride some tonight, I think, and forcing her to repeat some big declaration of surrender to you could be even worse."

"Well, duh," I sighed, though that was a mental image I'd have to revisit later as a fantasy. I stood up.

"Can I ask you one last thing before we go inside and Amy drives us home??" Max asked.

I tried to hide a smile, guessing what was coming. "Ask."

"One kiss."

A part of me was telling me I shouldn't, yet, but I couldn't refuse Max that... or myself, to tell the truth. I stepped into his arms and his lips came down to meet mine, softly and sweetly.

FLASH. It was... it was myself, with short hair and wearing some kind of leather outfit, watching Max who seemed to be inside a giant inverted cone... that was future max! Was I... watching Future max go back in time using the granilith? Watching future myself watch him go??

The kiss broke. I couldn't help but ask... if Max had happened to see the same thing I had, he would have questions. "Did you... did you get a flash??"

"I was seeing you and Kyle, all over again." Max's voice was hurt. "Why should I still be seeing that?" He took a deep breath. "You??"

"Ummm..." Quick, think of something. "You in the white room."

Max sighed again. "Okay, let's go."

My mom was waiting when I walked into the closed-down cafe. "So... why did you and Max Evans have to stay late after the party?" she asked softly.

"I'm not sure I can explain that." I looked at her. "Maybe I don't even know myself. Why don't you ask Max? He was the one who insisted on it, the one who convinced Miss Deluca."

"It's pretty late." I shot her a look.

"Yeah, I know, I know. As a mother, though, I'm required to say that in a situation like that. So... Max Evans. He's crazy about you. It's easy to tell."

"I guess it is," I sighed.

"And are you still crazy about him?" I looked away from her.

"You know, as you said, it's really late. Can we do the female bonding thing some other time??"

"Sure. Sweet dreams, baby."

------

(Maria):

I walked to school the next day. It was *supposed* to be one of my days to have the Jetta, but all of a sudden my mom had 'errands to run', (translation, acquaintances to visit, tell she was engaged, and show off Valenti's grandmother's ring.) Ah well. If anyone deserves to be able to make some people jealous, she does.

As I approached Wilson and Sandstem, I saw Michael loitering against the streetlamp pole. I couldn't quit believe my eyes as I hurried up to him. It was the spot that we often met when we both had to walk to school, but...

"How did you know I'd be walking this morning??" I kissed him hello quickly.

"Just a hunch," Michael smiled. "That Amy would suddenly find a very pressing need for the wheels this morning."

"Well, I guess your intuition has been proven right once again," I told him with a grin as we headed on towards the school.

"So has yours," Michael replied. I shot him a look, not sure what he was talking about. "That Valenti was going to ask your mom to marry him? And that she would say yes?"

"Oh, right, that," I laughed. I had started to think of that as a foregone conclusion, but it was nice to think of it as a testament to my detective skills.

"So... it's offcial, huh??" Michael sighed. "How do you feel about it? Still think it's a bad idea??"

"Nah, I'm over that now," I replied, somewhat surprised that it was true. "I'm happy for her. For both of them."

Spaceboy thought about that for a second. "Cool. So am I." Short pause. "So what now??"

I giggled. "In what context? You, me, and this conversation? My mom and mister valenti?"

Michael was shaking his head ruefully. "I don't know, I just wasn't sure what else to say."

I smiled back at him. "Kyle volunteered to try and get his dad apprised of our notions for the housing situation without clueing him in that any of us saw this coming. After that, the ball's in their court as far as that." I sighed. "God, it's such a beautiful day. You wanna ditch?"

"Better not. I didn't spend all last night slaving away on my chemistry homework just to blow off class, and there'a a big geography test today."

"Oh, right, I forgot about chemistry." I lightly thumped my forehead for dramatic effect.

"We... we should do something tonight, though," Michael added, straining for uber-casual.

I almost stopped walking. "Really. Like what??"

"Not sure," Michael shrugged. "You got any ideas??"

I thought hard. Was Michael giving me a 'blank cheque date' here?? Only one way to test it. "Well... we could go see 'Bridget Jones' Diary.'"

He tried to conceal his reaction. "Umm, sure, yeah, I guess. If you want." His voice was not exactly level.

I threw an arm around his shoulders. "You're sweet. But you don't really have to do something you don't wanna do for me."

He smiled goofily back at me. "Naw, it'll okay. That Colin Firth guy is pretty cool, actually."

When we got to the school, Michael excused himself to do a little last-minute studying for his geography test, so I headed over to Liz's locker for a catch-up session. We haven't seen that much of each other lately... Liz has been wrapped up in her own thing and so have I, I guess, being stressing over the proposal thing. But it was time to make time for my best and oldest friend.

She was staring into the inside of her locker as if it had turned her into a braindead zombie. "Uh, hello? Earth to Liz Parker??" I joked, waving a hand in front of her face.

"Huh... Oh, hi, Maria," She smiled that quintessential Liz smile at me. "Sorry I didn't notice you."

"'Sokay," I assured her. "What were you zoning out about??" She didn't say anything for a second. "Does this have anything to do with Max wanting to talk with you after my mom's engagement party??"

"Yeah, you could say that." Liz sighed, took one last book out of her locker, closed it, and stepped close to whisper to me. "This is *HUGE*, and I don't know what to make of it." She paused for a second. "I think I know what you'd make of it, though."

I could feel my eyes grow round. "Really??"

She giggled. "Well, I've got a guess anyway. Any idea where we can talk in private for a moment before class?"

"The eraser-room is probably a no," I joked. "Umm... oh, I don't think there should be anyone in the purple room right now. And if there is, we can tell 'em we're actually working on schoolwork and kick 'em out." We headed down to the purple room, a small chamber near the auditorium backstage, and sure enough it was deserted. Liz sat down with me on the small couch and told me what Max had told her, about his decision to fight for one last chance with Liz, about how he had told Tess that that was what he had to do.

"Well, I think you're probably right, you know what I'm going to say," I agreed, "because it's what I've been either saying or wanting to say for nearly a year now. Give Max his chance. I really do think that things have changed enough that 'the end of the world' isn't a concern."

"And what about Max's past with Tess, his destiny?" Liz asked. "I want to believe that's not a factor anymore, I know Max believes it, but how can I be sure? I've lost Max before, I've given him up, but it's taken a worse toll on me every time. If I give my heart to him again, and destiny takes him away from him... how could I survive that??"

"You're Liz Parker," I reminded her. "You can survive anything. As far as giving your heart back to Max... I'd suggest taking it one step at a time, for now. Max isn't looking for any big dramatic gestures now, he's just asking for a new beginning. As long as you stop shutting him out of your life... whatever is meant to be will be."

"I... I think I get what you're saying," Liz said after a moment. "Thanks." And she leaned over to hug me. "So... how are things going between you and Michael right now, anyway?"

"Pretty great," I bragged. "He's even made plans to take me to a complete and utter chick flick tonight!!"

"Will wonders never cease," Liz laughed. "Which movie, someone like you?"

"Bridget Jones," I replied. Liz blinked and nodded in agreement.

"Hope you have a great time."

"Yeah, me too." I stood up. "Well, much as I hate to admit it, trig is calling me, and you'd probably better go to your AP english class."

"Yep." Liz smiled at me as we left the room. "You know, we haven't spent too much time together lately, Maria. We should make it a point to do something."

"Yeah, that's a good idea." I thought about it. "Oh, we could go up to that spa in Artesia that my mom likes. Make a day out of it tomorrow."

"Oh, that sounds perfect," Liz moaned. "Okay... see ya!!" And she took off for the stairwell.

(Isabel):

Tess came into European history perhaps four seconds before the bell rang, and she looked... well, at the time I wasn't sure how to describe the way she looked, but certainly not at her best. Our seats are right beside each other in that class... (I think we were discussing something dreamwalking-related that first day that Mister Hyde drew up the seating plan,) so once the lecture on the root causes of the Russian revolution had gotten off to a good roll, I tore a sheet of lined paper out of my binder and wrote her a note. (Okay, you caught me, I didn't *tear* as such, I carefully unsnapped the rings and removed a page. Satisfied??!)

Me: 'So, I hear I missed out on something of a shindig last night.'

Tess: 'Oh, yeah. Shins were dug, all right.'

Me: 'What's buggin' on U??'

Tess: 'Do you really want to know, or are you just writing that to be polite?'

Me: '(pause.) Yeah, I really do want to know. If you don't mind writing to me about it.'

Tess: 'It's about Max....'

(She passed the paper to me at this point, but I just passed it back to her with a nod.)

Tess: 'Okay, just giving you fair warning.'

Me: 'It's okay... I don't mind.'

Tess: 'He shut me down last night. Said that he still wasn't ready to give him and me a shot, because he wasn't ready to give up on you-know-who yet.'

Me: 'I'm sorry to hear that.'

(Continuing on the flip side of the original sheet.)

Tess: 'Are you really??'

Me: 'Well, I'm sorry for your sake. I can't say that I'm surprised, or...'

Tess: 'Go ahead, finish it. Or what??'

Me: '...Or that I don't hope the best for Max and Liz.'

Tess: 'I know. Apparently I hope the best for them too.'

Me: 'You do??'

Tess: 'Not really... or at least I'm not sure. I said something like that to Max... I could tell he really wanted me to say something encouraging and positive, so I did. But... on one level I really do want to see Max happy with whomever he truly loves most. And I don't hold anything against Liz any more. But if they live happily ever after... what about me?'

Me: 'I know. It's a messy situation -- I care about all three of you guys now. But you're stuck in a love triangle, and there's really only one way those ever end happily. One person... or possibly all three people... have to move on and find love with somebody new.'

Tess: 'And it looks like I'm the front runner in the odd-girl out competition. Happen to know any cute hybrid guys that you could set me up with? ;-)'

(New page.) Me: 'No, afraid I don't... why hybrid? Would you have a problem with dating a human guy, Harding??'

Tess: 'Umm... I'm not sure. I mean... you've found a great one in Alex and I'm happy for you. There was a time I might have been open to something happening with Kyle... but he sees me as a sister, so nothing's ever going to happen there. Outside of the group, though... there are too many things that could go wrong. Would I tell him our secret or not, just to take an example?'

Me: 'Good point. On the other hand, do you think there wouldn't be issues with some new hybrid guy that just showed up too--'

It was right at that point that Mister Hyde called out my name, scaring me half to death, (considering that we had been writing notes mentioning the word 'hybrid' and our secret, among other things. But he didn't ask me to read the notes out loud or anything like that... (I was all set to use my powers on them in public, I'm not sure whether to disintegrate them or try to change the writing, but thank god I didn't have to.) He just asked me a question from the reading... something about the russian political factions that the Marxists were struggling against or something, and after I had babbled my way to some kind of answer he made a note in his journal and continued on with the lecture. (I'm pretty sure I gave a bad enough answer to cost myself a participation point in that class, but compared to the alternatives I still count myself lucky.)

After that scare, Tess and I didn't write any more notes, and she took off as soon as Mister Hyde dismissed the class, so I didn't follow her. Once I had gotten all of my own things together and walked into the hallway, a pair of hands suddenly lowered over my eyes. "Guess who?"

Like it was even a challenge. "Alex, how did you get here from gym so quickly?"

Alex uncovered my eyes again and swooped in for a sweet good-morning kiss. "Alas, I could not attend physical education this morn, for that I had to prepare the arrangements for tonight, my Princess."

"Bad boy." I rearranged my books so one hand was free and brushed a bit of hair away from Alex's forehead. "Is it still a surprise?"

"Of course it is!! I'll pick you up at your place at four." Alex laughed. "Oh, and wear pants. Not loose ones."

I swatted him. "Horndog!"

"No, no, there's an actual reason for that," he assured me. "You'll see."

I shrugged and let it drop for now. "Any word on the... you know, the computer stuff?"

"Yeah, actually I was able to put some time in this morning before nine." Alex laughed. "I was *hoping* to get the arrangements for our date settled then, but the... the place wasn't open. So I've got some notions for how you guys might be able to get me into the project. I was thinking of calling a meeting about it for lunch today, actually -- you, me, Max, Tess, Michael if he wants to join us."

I frowned. "Might be better not to include Max and Tess at the same time. They had a... thing last night. It could be awkward. Tess was really upset in class just now."

Alex thought about that. "Well... which one, then?? This quantum computer thing was Tess' idea. But Max is... well, he's like 'the boss of you.' It doesn't seem right to leave either of them out."

I nodded, appreciating the dilemma. "Maybe you should talk to Max, mention that I was concerned about this and see what he thinks. He may back out and say that you or I can brief him later. Or whatever. If he's 'the boss of us,' let him make the tough decisions!" Alex laughed at that.

And then the bell rang, and we had to quickly kiss goodbye and rush off to our next classes.

----

(Tess):

We were in bioology class, working in partners on a bunch of research questions about how human cells work, (I think I see a little bit of irony there,) when Kyle, who's my partner in this class, suddenly whispered, "I kinda get the impression that you've been avoiding me and not talking much when we're together. Like you're uncomfortable around me all of a sudden."

I took in a quick breath. "You're not exactly wrong."

He nodded. "It's the sister thing, right? I blurted it out and now you're not sure how to take it." He sighed. "It's okay, Tess, I get it."

I blinked in surprise. "You get what?"

"That you don't feel the same way," Kyle explained quietly. "That you look at me and don't think of a brother, just this annoying guy that you're kinda-friends with and you have to live with. Believe me, it's okay."

I shook my head at him. "For one thing, Kyle, to me you're much much more than a 'kinda friend.' I'll admit I was surprised to hear you say that. For one thing, I kinda still thought you had the hots for me." I giggled nervously. "But I'm getting used to the notion, although I suddenly feel very aware that if we've become brother and sister to each other, it means that our friendship can't proceed in a *different* direction." Okay, you've thrown out the line. See if he takes the bait.

"Yeah," Kyle agreed calmly. "Okay... what do you have for this cytozoan thing?" And with that conversation turned firmly back to biology.

As the two of us headed out of the biology lab, Alex Whitman walked up to me. "Can I have a word?"

"That's my cue," Kyle said, flashing that trademark grin and turning to go. Well, thank you very much Alex. That was my chance to try to steer the conversation back, now that we weren't in class anymore... but maybe it's better that I didn't, after all.

"So... what can I do for you, Alex?" I sighed.

"Meeting at lunch, my progress report with project Quantum," he whispered. Oh, right... that. I'd almost forgotten about my little idea what with all of the Max/Liz stuff.

"I've already talked to Max..." Alex continued. "He wants to come, but will stay back if it would be awkward for you."

"Why would it be awkward for me?"

"That's just what he told me." Alex must have been able to tell that that line wasn't cutting any ice with me. "Okay, Isabel mentioned that you and Max were in an awkward place. But I don't know any of the details."

I sighed. "Well, I think I'd be okay with Max there. I don't want to cut him out of my life or anything, after all." Pause. "Who else is coming?"

"Um, me of course, Isabel and Michael."

I nodded. "That it?"

"And you and Max. Why??"

"Would you mind if I invited Kyle? He's got a devious mind that may come in handy."

Alex considered a moment. "Fine by me, and I don't think any of the others would mind. Except possibly Kyle himself," Alex chuckled. "Ooh, I'd better be jetting. See you, eleven-fifty, 'the usual place.' And he took off.

TO BE CONTINUED...