|posted on 10-Nov-2001 6:41:51 PM|
|I've been reminded that I agreed to write a small tag of sorts to this story, so I thought I'd better repost the original first. A Night Without Stars is currently in progress on the regular fic board. A word of warning: that one is gonna be NC-17. Enjoy!|
Disclaimer: Don't own the characters or the concepts; just borrowing them!
Category: Max POV.
Summary: 15 years from now, Max finds his comfortable existence threatened once more. What has happened to leave him lying awake nights?
Spoilers: Nope. Assumes only Season 1 happened.
Feedback: Sure! Love it!
Author's note: This piece began as an experiment of sorts, mostly to see if I could write an entire story from only one viewpoint. I would like to thank Blanca and Charliej for their constant support and encouragement, and Danilise for the inspiration - I've always loved her "Max in the middle of the night" fics. Please note that this story makes no assumptions based on my previous works, nor is it intended to be the future outcome of anything I have written to date.
* * * * *
At the beginning, I expected the nightmares to come back. They've all but disappeared over the past few years, as my life has slowly settled into a contented routine. Hell - I'll admit that I've been way beyond content. I have virtually everything I've ever dreamed of - and I mean the good kind of dreams. As far as everyone in the know is concerned, my nightmares are a demon I fought and vanquished years ago, back when the call of duty overrode any private battle and left little time for personal weakness. Only Liz knows the truth; that when I'm worried or things go wrong - when the old fears creep over the walls of this fortress that I've fashioned around our lives - I can still wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Memories of a white room, sterile needles, sharp medical instruments, questions I can't answer - flood my thoughts. The taste of bile mixes with blood and fills my mouth as I bite down in a useless effort to control the tremors wracking my body. Drenched in sweat, my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest, I continue to tremble like a child until Liz's cool, gentle touch and the soothing sound of her voice gradually ease me back to the present. To the comfort of reality.
Stress is what brings the nightmares on. I figured that out easily enough. Which is why I am so surprised to be nightmare-free these days, when I find myself in what may easily be the most stressful situation of my life. Stress, fear, terror, guilt. These are my constant companions. Reality holds no comfort now. And yet, I find myself lying here, staring at the ceiling, my heart beating at its normal, steady pace. The only physical sign that something is wrong is the endless twisting in my gut. My brain has chosen a different path to travel for this new adventure. No subtle workings of my subconscious, needling at me in my sleep until I jolt into wakefulness. Instead I am experiencing a head-on assault. Untamed fears and restless thoughts have combined to visit upon me a new type of nightly curse - insomnia.
The thing about being unable to sleep is it gives you time to think. Not your average daylight thoughts, either, though recently my mind has been taking some particularly dark twists at all hours. I suppose that explains why I've been thinking so much about my childhood. Not to say that's a dark thought - it's more of a defense mechanism against everything else trying to crowd its way into my mind. If I look back, I can avoid thinking about the present, or, God forbid, the future. But, of course, that's a lie. Because everything I was then , surely led to where I am now. And where I am now has me utterly terrified.
I had two wishes when I was a kid. The first was to be normal, by which I suppose I meant human. Michael once asked me why I was so afraid to be alien, but it wasn't fear that I felt. I think it was more an acceptance of our situation, of the rightness of it. I've thought about this quite a bit during these endlessly long nights. Deeply ingrained in my soul was the knowledge, even at a very young age, that this was where I belonged. It was only natural that I wanted to fit in - to be a part of the world around me and not just an observer. Which leads to the second wish. I wanted to be seen, to participate, to actually live my life. I once told Liz that I wished I didn't have to be so invisible, and it was true. People always assumed that I was a shy child, because I held back, stayed on the fringes. I spent my time with Isabel and Michael - or else I was alone. But that was a habit born of necessity - a need to hide what made us different and to avoid discovery. It was not my natural inclination.
My wishes always seemed inextricably linked. I could not have one come true without the other, could not achieve the second without the first. It seemed impossible for me to be open and outgoing, to trust and be trusted, while I still had my secret to protect. And it wasn't just my secret - I had Michael and Isabel to think of, too. Even if I was willing to take a risk with my own safety, I couldn't put them in jeopardy. So I stayed inside, kept to the shadows, and wished with all my heart that things could be different.
The funny thing about wishes is that they sometimes come true - though rarely in any way you could have possibly envisioned. One day I was dreaming for things to change and the next day they actually had. All it took was a bullet and a split second where I thought of someone outside my circle of three. How many people can put their finger on the single most life-altering moment of their lives? That day at the Crashdown Café, a shot rang out, and with it still echoing in my ears, I set the course for everything that followed - not just for me, but for all six of us. And the truth is, I couldn't help myself. The most important act of my entire life, and it required no conscious thought whatsoever. I heard Maria call out, saw Liz lying there, perfectly still on the hard, tile floor, and I went to her. Michael tried to stop me, the café was filled with witnesses, the sheriff was no doubt on his way - and I was oblivious to all of it. Liz was dying and I could save her. It was that simple. And that's what I remember when people start to talk about fate.
It was only later that it hit me - the ramifications of what I had done. Maybe I knew when Michael pulled the Jeep away from the front of the café, whisking me out of there even as the sound of sirens echoed down the street. But I didn't truly feel it until that night. I kept thinking how ironic it was. Of the three of us, Michael was always the most impulsive, forever putting himself at risk by lashing out or losing control. Isabel used her powers most frequently, often in public, almost as if she was daring someone to notice. I was the level-headed one. I was the one who maintained perfect control, riding herd over the others, reminding them of the need for caution. Yet, when it came right down to it, I was the one who put us all in danger.
Interestingly, that was the first night I can remember ever having a nightmare. But it had nothing to do with Sheriff Valenti or alien hunters or government agents. There were no men in white coats, hell bent on subjecting us to more experiments than your average lab rat. Instead, I dreamed that my wish had come true - I was human. And because I was human, my dream-self was forced to stand by and watch that afternoon, helpless, as Liz Parker bled to death on the floor of her parents' café. I woke up in a cold sweat, shaking to the bone. That was when I stopped wishing to be normal.
After that, my second wish came true, with all of the repercussions that accompanied it. I was no longer invisible - I was living my life. There were people who knew the truth about me and still did not turn away. Liz didn't turn away. In some respects, it was everything I could have hoped for. But every coin has its tarnished side. Answers and trouble, in equal parts, suddenly flowed like water. Yes, we learned who we were and why we were here. But we didn't always like what we heard. And we spent a good deal of our time running from one threat or another. Valenti, Topolsky, Pierce. And those were just the first year - and just our human adversaries. The others came later, each progressively worse than the last. It was a very long time before we felt it was safe to slow down, let alone to stand still - put down roots. Now, with sleep continuing to elude me, I know absolutely that we will never truly be safe. There will always be some new fear around the bend, waiting to pounce when we are foolish enough to relax. My mistake was in forgetting that, whatever else has happened, I'm still not human.
* * * * *
Another sleepless night. I'm not sure how much longer I can go on this way. It's more the thoughts running through my head than the actual lack of rest. Tonight it's been the "what if" game, where I torture myself imagining different scenarios for every major choice I've ever made. Some things are obvious - I know I never would have acted differently the day that Liz was shot, no matter what later hardships I might have prevented. Difficult as our lives have sometimes been since then, a life without Liz would have been ten times worse. It isn't even a consideration. Still, I wonder if I could have handled that day better. If there was anything I could have done that might have lessened the danger and pain and fear that followed. Maybe even more important, did something I do then bring me to this point? To the place where I am now - lying here with my heart in my throat, terrified for the future?
That's where the guilt kicks in. I can handle the fear. The not knowing. But it's the guilt that starts to eat away at my sanity. I never felt guilty about saving Liz's life, even though it affected so many people, endangering the six of us, plus anyone else we held dear. I acted in a split second, but it was a completely selfless act. Okay, maybe not completely selfless, given the way I felt about Liz, but I swear at that moment I was thinking only of her. But this time… This time I've done something that is about as selfish as I have ever been. My actions this time could bring it all back down on us in the blink of an eye. And that is what scares me, what keeps me up at night. I've put us all in danger, again. Only this time, my actions were hardly selfless.
What keeps me from going completely over the edge is this little voice in the back of my mind. I vaguely recognize the voice as my own, the words of my younger self coming back to remind me of things I used to know, but have managed to forget through years of supposed normalcy. The voice likes to tell me that what-ifs are tricky things, that you cannot change one variable in any given situation and expect the rest to stay the same. For instance, had I been human on that September day in Roswell, Liz might not have been shot at all. It's possible that, no longer hindered by my secret, I would have confessed my feelings to her long before and we might have been miles from the Crashdown when the gun went off, enjoying a peaceful afternoon in each other's company. On the other hand, I might never have come to Roswell at all, and Liz might have died without our ever having met.
So, the question becomes, not what do I regret, but what would I miss if it were gone? What have I gained by living through those hard times? Because, to change a single event can cause a ripple effect in your life, and you never know what you might lose by the time the water stills. I know this better than most, after all. You take someone's soul and add a little bit of humanity, then transport him across time and space - his destiny is bound to change. In the end, I have to be thankful for each moment of my life as it has played out, because I have been blessed with some pretty wonderful ones. I once told Liz that everything we went through was worthwhile, because we went through it together. That is more true now than ever. I cannot face the idea of a past without Liz. But, it is not my past that is in question - as if I could alter it if it were. What frightens me now is the future, that ever-moving thing over which I seem to have less control with each wakeful night. Because, while my first reckless act saved Liz's life, my latest one might very well kill her.
Again the guilt. Liz would tell me I am being irrational, but she would be wrong. I'm the one who has put her in danger, time and time again, just by being who I am. I've lost count of the times when we were forced to disappear for a while, or even to relocate, because some gung-ho new FBI agent was taking an unusual interest in our neighbors and co-workers, or else a new batch of alien bounty-hunters was hot on our trail. There were years when we only saw the others for a few hours on end, time snatched at some hiding place in the desert or a little-known mountain resort. Liz's parents suspect I work for the government, a belief I know she has encouraged through carefully planted clues and supposed slips of the tongue, all designed to keep them from asking any questions that might require her to lie to them outright. As I said - more guilt.
Granted, things have been quiet lately. We both have good jobs and finally bought our own house. Isabel and Alex are only an hour's drive away, while Michael and Maria live one town over, which I know gives Liz endless pleasure and peace of mind. I confess to being glad myself. I've missed having everyone nearby. Which, of course, begs the question….why now? Why rock the boat? What was I thinking? Like I don't know the answer to that one. I was thinking that my life was what I once wished it to be - normal.
* * * * *
What's so great about normal? That's always been our catch phrase - our way of telling each other that what really matters is that we're together. And I believe it with all my heart, most of the time. I mean, we've always been a little unconventional. Some of the biggest revelations of our lives have taken place in pretty odd surroundings. I first told Liz the truth about who I am in the music room at West Roswell High, then proceeded to fill in the details over the next couple of days in the art room and the eraser room. Not exactly the most ideal spots for true confessions, but they got the job done. It's just that, sometimes, you want everything to be perfect, and for us it seems that it rarely is.
The night I told Liz that I loved her, they had just broken me out of Eagle Rock Military Base and we were running for our lives. The two of us were cold, soaked to the skin from jumping into a river, and I barely had enough strength to stand, let alone to keep running. Liz led me to an old abandoned van well off the road, and there we had what was one of the most difficult conversations of either of our lives. We talked about Tess and Nasedo, and what my destiny meant for the two of us. And I told Liz that it didn't matter, that she was the one I wanted to be with - that I loved her. I suppose I was conscious of my own mortality, focusing on it more clearly than at any previous point in time. There was a very real possibility that I'd never get another chance to tell Liz how I felt, so I told her. Neither the setting nor the circumstances I would have ordinarily chosen for something that important.
There's been a lot of that through the years. Memorable moments occurring in all the wrong places. We first made love on the floor of a cave somewhere near the Texas border. Liz has the spot marked on an old map. It seemed like we had been on the run for days. We were alone, and at a loss as to how to fight back against a dozen aliens with endless resources, yet we were too near exhaustion to escape. So we hid. Three days in that cave, two without food. Never knowing from one moment to the next when we might be discovered, or what excuse we'd feed our parents for this disappearance, assuming we lived to tell the tale. I cannot imagine what we must have looked like when Michael and Isabel finally found us. And all Liz says of that time, a smile on her lips, is, "At least we had each other." She always manages to boil everything down to what's most important, and she never stops believing in me. That has kept me going more times than even she realizes.
I keep reminding myself that Liz is resilient. She has withstood more hardship with me than I would have wished on anyone, yet she never complains. One night we ran out of gas in the desert - the irony of which Michael was quick to point out later. Funny how I was able to unite our band of eight and pack enough food and supplies to last for a month-long battle, yet on a quiet evening drive I was incapable of remembering to check the gas gauge. But Liz gamely walked along the side of Route 285, her hand in mine, humming under her breath, without a single word of reproach. I remember thinking how amazing she was, and how grateful I was to have found her, no matter how far the journey that had brought us together. There was no doubt in my mind that we were meant to be. That was the night I asked her to marry me. The sky was bright with stars and the peace of the desert stretched all around us - sometimes the pieces fell into place in spite of everything.
Remembering that night I can almost relax. I want to believe in the fairy tale - that the good guys always win, that luck is worth more than a two-headed coin, and that the same hand of fate that united us across the galaxies will protect us for all time. Max the leader believes. By day he insists that all is right with the world, and that everything is going to be okay, though the struggle is long and often uphill. But Max the leader is just a character I play when the sun is up. It's dark now, and there are shadows on the wall, and part of me is very human, despite the blood flowing through my veins. I am nothing if not realistic, and I know my fears are genuine and carry weight. It is hard to rely on fate when you know how often you've rolled the dice. Sooner or later, your luck is bound to change.
* * * * *
I have to remind myself that this has only been going on for a few weeks. My insomnia, that is. It's hard to believe. Sometimes it feels as if I haven't so much as closed my eyes in months. But Liz is starting to give me long, sideways looks when she thinks I'm not paying attention. I can see the shadow of something in her eyes, the slightest bit of worry. Things have been good for so long now that I can understand her hesitation to bring it up, to ask me what's wrong, as if asking would make it real. She's hoping it's her imagination and that I am merely working too hard. It helps that I haven't had any nightmares - those she would be unable to ignore. Sometimes I wonder if that's what is causing my insomnia - a subconscious refusal to dream. My own form of denial. If I stay awake, it's my choice; if I sleep and the nightmares return, I'll have to face my fears by the light of day. As things stand, Liz is watching, waiting for me to come to her with whatever it is keeping me up nights. She'll understand soon enough. It won't be much longer before she realizes what is happening.
Part of me wants to tell her - the part that is more thrilled than scared, the little piece of my brain that still insists that everything is going to be fine. I want to tell her and see the light in her eyes, her happy smile. I want to feel her wrap her arms around my neck and have her whisper in my ear how wonderful this is going to be. It could be wonderful. If everything goes smoothly and normally, it will be the most amazing thing in the world, and that is why I hate this fear in the pit of my stomach. It isn't right that I should be terrified of what this might mean for our future. Because I really do want to swing Liz up into my arms and spin in a circle until we're both giddy with it. I want to tell her so much - but I won't. It wouldn't be fair, after all. How many husbands know their wives are pregnant before they do themselves? This one is hers to tell.
I tell myself I need to be ready for the day Liz figures out she is pregnant, because once that happens there is no turning back. Right now, there is still time…. I could end it before it goes any further. A quick connection as she lies there beside me and everything would be as it was. But even as the thought darts through my mind, I know I could never bring myself to do such a thing. Whatever happens, this child is ours - a piece of each of us - created against all odds by our love. I need to believe that it will be fine, that Liz will be fine, because the alternatives are driving me insane.
There are too many questions, too many potential consequences. Will Liz be able to carry to term? Will a hybrid child be healthy? What kind of strain will this unusual pregnancy put on Liz's system? For all of her fight and determination, she is so slight, so small. An incompatibility of blood types can kill an expectant mother when both parents are human - how can I possibly imagine that this is going to be safe? Even assuming the genetic mix is possible, we cannot chance going to a normal doctor or a hospital. The risks involved seem astronomical. Yet I know she will take them, and gladly. She is so brave, this wife of mine. I can hear her lecture even now - how woman have been having babies since the dawn of time and that it would be presumptuous of us to assume we had stumbled upon some new and distinct problem. Whatever her fears, she will do her best to keep them from me, as I am trying to keep mine from her, because we are each of us capable of worrying enough for the both of us. And because we know each other so well, there is rarely a need to explain.
God, what would I do without her? There are other dangers involved here - the ever-present chance of discovery by the government or some new battalion of aliens both ranking high on the list. Plus, anything we do that might reveal us automatically drags Michael and Isabel into the fray, and therefore Maria and Alex by association. But it is Liz that I am scared for, Liz who is my life. I can face all the rest as long as she is with me, and I know that the others understand that, since they each feel much the same way. As a unit we have overcome so much, but without any one link we dissolve. It's a theory we've tested time and again, back when we took turns thrusting each other away to try to protect the ones we loved. We were young enough and naïve enough that we hadn't yet learned that the strength of the whole was truly so much more than that of its individual parts. Together, the six of us can accomplish anything. And Liz - Liz is so much more than my strength. She is my air, my soul, my love, my very being. Without Liz, I would simply cease to exist.
So why did I do it? All these years we have been so careful, never relying on modern human methods of birth control, but instead taking advantage of certain of my more stellar abilities to guarantee Liz never became pregnant. And then one night, I did nothing. Because of the level of our connection, I knew full well that she had most likely conceived, yet I did nothing to stop it. After we had made love, I simply pulled her close so our foreheads were touching, twined my legs through hers and fell into a blissful sleep. That was the last good night's rest I've had in more than three weeks. When I woke the next morning, it was like it had happened to another person. A wave of nausea went through me when I realized what I had done. That night the insomnia began, along with the endless questions.
But the why of it? I don't really need to ask that question. I know the answer. It's really pretty simple. It has nothing to do with wanting to be normal - nothing so selfish or mundane. No. The truth of the matter is that I got my wife pregnant because I know she wants a baby. Our baby. It's nothing we've ever discussed, or even that she has said. I suspect she has been afraid to mention it, sure that I would shoot her down without even a second's thought. And she's probably right, because I've always known what the risks are and I could never ask her to take them. Then about a month ago we were driving home from visiting Michael and Maria when we passed the local playground. It was sunny and warm and there were at least a dozen small children on the swings and the jungle gym, their mothers looking on. A few of the women had infants in strollers or cradled in their arms, as well. This look came over Liz's face. I had never seen anything like it before. It encompassed so many emotions, and passed so quickly, that I could only identify a few. Pain, joy, longing, envy, regret. By the time we got home, she seemed merely wistful, but she was uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the evening. When I asked her if anything was wrong, she said she was just a little tired. But I knew. I could see it so clearly that I wondered why I hadn't realized earlier. Liz wanted to be one of those mothers on the playground, to push our baby in a carriage, then later on a swing. And because I love her more than anything in this world or any other, I closed my mind to rational thought and for just one moment let myself join in the dream. And it only takes a moment to make some dreams come true.
[ edited 2 time(s), last at 10-Nov-2001 9:30:23 PM ]
|posted on 10-Nov-2001 6:48:19 PM|
Shortly before the alarm was scheduled to go off this morning, Liz bolted for the bathroom, no doubt confirming any suspicions she might have been harboring for the past week. Naturally, I went after her. I knelt behind her and held her hair off her face while she was sick, then helped her back to bed and brought some tea and crackers, which seemed to settle her stomach. She didn't say anything the entire time, but I could practically see the gears spinning in her head as she registered more fully what was happening. I sensed the instant her focus shifted from what her body was telling her to my reaction to the situation. She peered at me with her luminous brown eyes, so large in her pale face. It was like the day we drove past the playground - a million emotions spinning in her expression. I could see happiness, but also confusion and apprehension. She wanted this, but she also wanted me to want it.
I sat on the edge of the bed and brushed a strand of dark hair off her clammy forehead, then pulled her into my arms so her head rested against my shoulder. All of my fears and worries aside, the idea of having a baby with Liz - a child that has her fire and determination and hopefully not too much of my pig-headedness - well, it melts my heart. I never want that to be a concern for her, never want her to doubt my underlying desire for us to be a family. But I wasn't sure if I could keep my fears from her. So much terror was locked inside of me at that moment, I was afraid that some of it would seep through and show in my eyes. And Liz knows me so well, she would tune into my emotions immediately. So I rocked her back and forth, my chin resting on the top of her head, comforting and supporting, yet avoiding her gaze.
"I suppose it would be pointless to get one of those home pregnancy tests," Liz finally said softly.
For the first time in nearly a month, a genuine smile graced my lips. Her voice held a teasing note, one I knew so well, and if only for a moment, it warmed me after so many nights of lying awake in cold terror. "I think we both know what it would say," I replied, conscious of how hoarse my voice suddenly sounded. I cleared my throat, not wanting her to question the emotions welling up inside of me. When I spoke again, I sounded like myself. "So, what do you think? Are you ready to be a mother?"
I felt, rather than saw her smile. "I think you know that answer, too." She snuggled closer to me, her arms wrapped around my waist. "Max?"
Her tone was tentative, and I knew at once what she had decided to ask. "What?"
"Are you planning not to sleep at all until this baby's born?"
I blinked. That wasn't the question I had been expecting. "I don't know," I answered truthfully. "I'm not sure I have much say in the matter."
She pulled back to look at me, cupping my cheek with one small hand to force me to face her. "Why now? Why make me pregnant if you're going to be so afraid?" Her eyes were serious, questioning.
I should have known that it was useless to hide from Liz. There are times when our connection has its disadvantages. Touching, sometimes just being in the same room, can be enough to transmit our emotions to each other. Each year we have spent together has strengthened our bond, so that I sometimes think our thoughts are truly one and the same. She knew exactly how afraid I was for her, the same way I knew how much she wanted a baby. When you're two halves of one whole, secrets become virtually non-existent.
She was still waiting for an answer. It occurred to me as one came to mind that it was actually the answer to everything, to all of our questions. Why had I gotten her pregnant? Why did I want to have this baby? Why was I so afraid of the potential consequences?
"Because I love you," I told her quietly.
"I love you, too," she said softly, her fingers on my cheek slowly tracing the line of my jaw before she leaned in and kissed me. "But that doesn't tell me why now?" she whispered against my lips.
I tugged her closer so I could inhale the sweet perfume of her shampoo, surrounding myself for a moment with the familiar feel of silk and the scent of roses. "I could see how much it means to you… how much you wanted it, despite all the risks involved," I replied, my voice partially muffled by her hair. "I knew that, no matter how scared I am, no matter how badly I want to protect you, the choice was really yours to make. And it was clear that you had made it."
"It's going to be all right," she murmured in my ear. "We can do anything as long as we're together, remember?"
"I want to believe that," I said, and this time nothing could mask the sound of my voice cracking. "Liz, you mean everything to me. I can't lose you."
"You won't," she told me.
I wanted to argue with her, tell her that she shouldn't make promises like that when we both knew she had no control over whether or not she kept them. But I just held her tighter, because it mattered too much, and because I needed desperately to believe her words. She must have understood, because she didn't say anything else, though my hold on her must have been uncomfortable. Instead, she rested her head on my shoulder and let out a little sigh.
"Do you want a boy or a girl?" she asked after a moment, and I knew then that she was caught up in the joy of the moment and her fears, and mine, were forgotten. Which was probably a good thing.
"Yes," I replied, allowing some of the excitement I felt way down low to bubble up to the surface. "I want a boy or a girl."
She sat up and swatted me, her face flush with renewed color, the early morning pallor chased away by the blooms in her cheeks. I understand now why they say pregnant women glow, because the mere knowledge of her condition had made Liz positively radiant in a matter of moments. "I'm serious," she said.
"So am I," I replied. "Either is fine with me."
"And you're happy about this?" she asked me, a trace of the apprehension I'd seen earlier evident, despite her joyous smile.
"Of course I am. Extremely. Happy doesn't do justice," I assured her. I pulled her back into my arms and stroked one hand up and down her back. "Liz, you have to understand that I'm afraid for you and the baby both. We don't know what kind of complications you might face. But, if it weren't for that, I'd be swinging from the rooftops. I swear."
"I promise to be very careful," she whispered. "But I can't believe that it isn't possible for us to have a healthy child. The fact that I'm pregnant at all is a point in our favor."
"Just the same, I'd rather we not say anything to anyone for a while, okay? Not even Maria."
She was quiet for a moment. "They're going to know something's going on," she said finally. "Michael already called me at work the other day to ask what was wrong with you."
I pulled back and stared at her. "Really?"
Liz shrugged. "You shouldn't be so surprised. None of us are blind, Max. You've been on edge for weeks. Did you think Michael wouldn't notice?"
"That's not what I meant," I told her. "I guess I just didn't think it was that obvious."
"It wasn't," she said softly. "Except to the people who love you and know the signs."
I sighed. "What did you tell him?"
"That you were having trouble sleeping. That you hadn't told me what was bothering you yet, but that I'd let him know if I thought it was anything to worry about."
"I'll talk to him," I promised. "But I still think we should wait and see how things go before we start telling everyone."
After thinking about it for another moment, Liz finally agreed with me. "But I think we'll have to tell Michael, Maria, Isabel and Alex fairly soon," she said. "I can understand holding off on telling our parents," she added with a regretful look. "It could involve too many explanations if things don't progress normally. But we're going to need the others' help, Max."
She was right. We're going to have to rely on them as this pregnancy advances. In another moment of irony, which seems to define my life more and more these days, I realize that I am once again the leader. And I admit the role sits less comfortably on my shoulders than it once did. While plotting strategies and heading into battle was never something I did gladly, it was a responsibility I accepted as necessary. But being the first of our group to have a child - to determine whether interspecies mating is indeed feasible - makes me feel a little too much like someone's science experiment. Shades of government testing loom over us like so many horrid memories. I am grateful that we are far away from Roswell and surrounded by the people we trust most in the world. Because in this, as in so many things before, we will need each other to face what the future holds.
* * * * *
We finally told them today. Assuming Liz's pregnancy is moving at the standard human pace, she has just finished the first trimester, which she insists is a positive sign. Her morning sickness seems to be over and so far there have been no unusual symptoms other than an increased craving for Mexican food, something we both find vaguely amusing. I have told her that if she starts putting Tabasco on her ice cream, I will never let her hear the end of it. It is important that we both maintain our sense of humor in the face of something that has the potential to turn serious at any moment, especially in light of the scene that played out in our living room this evening.
It never ceases to amaze me how, in the face of change, people reliably revert to type. For nearly fifteen years it has been the six of us, a unit through thick and thin. Yet tonight I watched like a rubbernecker at a four-car pile up as backs stiffened and battle lines were drawn. I knew it would be hard for them to hear that Liz is pregnant. That questions would be asked, concerns voiced. After all, I myself can barely keep my fears in check, so I can hardly expect them to be any different. But I never thought I would see the day when it would suddenly become us and them again.
Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but not much. It felt for all the world like the day after I saved Liz's life. The words weren't ten seconds out of our mouths before Michael was pacing the length of the room like a cat in a cage, running his hands restlessly through his hair in a gesture I haven't seen for years. Every movement screamed his fear and frustration, as if I had deliberately set out to put us all in jeopardy. Isabel snapped at me in that tense angry whisper she uses when she wants to hide that she is terrified, and only recognizing that fact kept me from taking her head off for questioning my sanity. Maria, ever the protective best friend, was at Liz's side in an instant, glaring at Michael like she used to when we were kids. Her arms went around Liz's shoulders in a supportive hug, but I could tell from Liz's expression that whatever Maria was whispering in her ear had more to do with the physical dangers of the pregnancy than with congratulations. Only Alex, with his typical grace and sensitivity, managed to come up with a suitable response. After sitting silently, taking in the others' reactions, he finally stood, cleared his throat, and proposed a toast. His quiet strength managed to transform both Michael and Isabel back into the adults I know they have become. Isabel looked ashamed and started playing with the hem of her blouse, while Michael shot me an apologetic look and sat down.
But the damage had been done, at least for tonight. I know it hurt Liz that their first reaction couldn't have simply been to be happy for us, at least for a few minutes, before the worrying began. And to be honest, it hurt me as well, though partly because their outbursts hit a little too close to home. I, in my own way, am guilty of acting not much better when I first realized Liz was really pregnant. I allowed my fears to get in the way of what was important at that moment.
To be fair, I know they weren't only thinking of themselves or the possibility of our secret being revealed. Isabel has come to look on Liz and Maria as true sisters through the years, and I know that Liz feels the same way. The idea that Liz could risk so much to have a baby - I think it terrifies Isabel in a way the rest of us will never understand. For her the risk would be even greater, since we know next to nothing about the reproductive cycle of our own people. If anything were to happen to Liz, not only would Isabel be losing a sister, but all hope for having her own child. For all of her outward strength, my sister has an insecurity that lies deep within her that not even Alex has been able to conquer. There are only so many things she is willing to chance emotionally.
Michael is even more transparent. Although he and Liz got off to a bumpy start, something happened somewhere along the way that made Michael fiercely loyal to her. I've never known exactly what it was, or even when the transition took place, but whatever it was I have been endlessly grateful for it. More times than I like to consider, Michael has been there for Liz when I could not be. And though love is not a word Michael uses often, I know he loves Liz. But while I have no doubt that he is concerned for her health, I know his first thought is for Maria. What works for Liz and me, would work for the two of them. The same goes for our failures. As couples, there has always been a special bond between the four of us. Two best friends married to two best friends. So I know when Liz and I made our little announcement, it was natural for Michael to project his fears onto Maria. Can they have a child? How would it affect Maria if something should happen to Liz? Those were the two questions foremost in his mind as he threatened to pace a groove into the carpet. It's hard to be angry at him for echoing some of my own fears.
As for Maria, she reacted more to Michael and Isabel than to the news itself, but I know she was at least somewhat pleased for us. Still, she has always been protective of Liz, especially when it comes to me. I can recall the threatening looks she would shoot in my direction back in high school, when Liz and I were in an "off" phase. As if our being apart meant I would ever do anything to hurt Liz. It was only natural for Maria to be on Liz's side - that's what best friends are for. But it was a long time ago. And while Maria's right to worry now, she has to know that there's nothing she could possibly have thought of that hasn't already crossed our minds. Liz didn't need her concern so much as her enthusiasm.
It is curious how Alex can be our voice of reason. He has an ability to stay level-headed that seems to stem from his good natured personality. There is an ease to the way he does things that the rest of us lack. I often wonder what would have happened if we had told him about ourselves from the beginning, when Liz and Maria found out. While I don't fool myself that anything material would have changed, I can think of more than one occasion where his humor would have been welcome. As for tonight, his toast went a long way toward making us feel better. He didn't mention good health, or even happiness, but simply congratulated us on the start of our family. Somehow he knew that was exactly what we needed to hear.
Tomorrow things will be fine again. Maria will call Liz and offer to take her shopping for some baby-related items. Isabel and Michael will each call me at work. Iz will apologize, then call Liz and do the same. Michael will ask if I can meet him at the park after work, where he will proceed to talk about a dozen unrelated subjects, and when we play basketball, he'll let me win. When he is pretty sure we are okay, he will mumble something under his breath that I will interpret as an attempt at an apology. Two weeks from now, he will drop by the house while I am out and do something helpful for Liz, like mend a leaky faucet, and no one will be precisely sure why.
Sometimes it is good to have friends you know so well. But that doesn't mean that they never disappoint you. The key is to realize that you move on, push forward, because that other stuff, the things you can rely on, that makes it all worthwhile. Lying here in the dark, with Liz curled against my side and her arm across my chest, I am infinitely thankful for the people in our lives, and the unconditional support they ultimately always give.
|posted on 10-Nov-2001 6:55:42 PM|
Today started out to be an ordinary day, just a quiet Saturday at home. I spent the bulk of the afternoon in the backyard, planting a dozen newly purchased tomato plants in an effort to keep my stubborn wife from doing so herself. She had appeared with the seedlings shortly before lunch, fresh from the nursery on the other end of town, and had been unable to understand why I considered her pregnancy sufficient reason for her to avoid spending three hours kneeling in the garden digging holes. After insisting twice that she felt perfectly fine, however, she finally abdicated the chore to my admittedly less capable hands, and went inside to work on the miniscule sweater she has been attempting to knit for the last two months. Liz's patience with such matters, I might add, is in much shorter supply than when she is faced with other, less domestic projects. But I love the way her nose wrinkles as she frowns with concentration, carefully counting off stitches and muttering under her breath.
So that was pretty much what I was thinking about while I was patting the dirt down over the roots of the tomato plants. I was trying to make those little walls of earth around them that are supposed to help the plants absorb as much water as possible. The trouble was, only a very small portion of my brain was actually paying attention to the chore. The rest of my mind was inside the house with Liz and her knitting. I don't know what my reaction would have been had I been concentrating fully on the gardening - whether it would have been worse or better - but it makes no difference now. All I know is that I was kneeling on the ground, my hands working the soil, when I heard Liz call my name on the top of her lungs. The next instant I was up and running across the yard, my heart in my throat.
Liz isn't one of those women who shout for their husbands. She has an independent spirit, which means whatever needs doing she will do herself, a quality I admired to no end until this pregnancy. I don't mean to say she is careless, because she isn't. However, there are times I wish she would let me do more for her, if only for my own peace of mind. So I knew, when I heard her call, that it had to be something serious. Anything else and she would have simply come wandering into the yard to tell me what she wanted. That thought was enough to bring all the fears I've been working so hard to suppress screaming back to the foreground. My feet felt like they were moving in slow motion and I envisioned her collapsing on the floor before I could get to her.
I tore into the house, barely noticing the sound of the screen door slamming behind me in my hurry to get to Liz. I found her still in the living room, standing a few steps from the sofa, her hands clutching her stomach. It wasn't until I was across the room and reaching for her that I registered the look of wonder on her face. Her eyes were wide, but not with fear or pain, and she was smiling. She reached out and gently took my hands, placing them to either side of her rounded abdomen, oblivious to the fact that I was getting dirt all over her loose red shirt.
"Max," she breathed. "The baby moved….."
Three little words and my world righted itself. There wasn't anything wrong. Everything was fine. I met Liz's warm gaze and the first thought that crossed my mind was that she was doing it again. She was glowing. It was the most remarkable thing I had ever experienced, or so I imagined. But then I felt it - just a slight fluttering beneath my hands - a shifting that sent a ripple through Liz's skin. The baby was moving. Our baby.
"Did you feel that?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper, as if she was afraid to speak louder and scare the baby into stillness.
I nodded, unable to speak. I didn't know the words to tell her what I was feeling. I'm not sure there were any. In a split second, it all became so incredibly real for me. I kneeled down in front of her and gently lifted the hem of her shirt. Liz watched me, her hands resting lightly on mine, tracing my movements. When her smooth, bare skin came into view, I leaned forward and brushed a kiss over her stomach. I had done it once before, when she first became pregnant, but I think the gesture then was more for luck than anything else, as if I could ward off any potential harm by kissing away the problems. But this time was different. This time it wasn't Liz I was kissing, but our child.
After that we both pretty much lost interest in the tomato plants. Now it is late, and Liz is sleeping peacefully beside me. I suppose I should go outside and put the gardening things away, but I'm not going to. I don't want to disturb Liz, but there's more to it. There is a peacefulness and … rightness…to this moment. If I move now, I might ruin it. For the first time since I got Liz pregnant, I think things could actually turn out all right. Feeling our child move was like witnessing a miracle, and it reminded me that miracles have been a part of our lives from the very first. Some force of the universe brought me to Liz. I have always believed that, since the day I saved her at the Crashdown. The odds of us being soul mates when we come from different galaxies are incalculable. Yet here we are. And now Liz is pregnant, despite our biological incompatibilities. Who am I to question that kind of gift?
I have always made my decisions based on what I believed in my heart to be true. It hasn't always led to the easiest paths, in fact more often the opposite. But I can say, with perfect honesty, that I have never once regretted a choice based in faith. It was that trust in my heart that allowed me to save Liz, and later to turn my back on a destiny that no longer held any meaning for me. My heart has also led me into battle, to fight side-by-side with those I hold dear, to protect a home that is more mine than any planet orbiting some other sun. So, I am going to do my best to swallow my fear - and to believe. Because what is a baby but the union of two hearts - two souls? If Liz and I are truly meant to be, then so is our child.
Rolling on my side, I wrap my arms around my sleeping wife, pulling her gently into the curve of my body so as not to wake her. With my hands resting lightly on the curve of her stomach, I am able to connect with our baby. The link is tentative, but I can still feel the reassuring beat of a heart, swift as the flutter of a tiny bird's wings. There is more - things I sense rather that know - but it is enough for now. As I feel sleep slowly overtaking me, I take comfort in what I do know to be true. Our child is alive and strong and growing more each day. The rest I'll take on faith.
* * * * *
If preparation can serve as a talisman against disaster, we might very well be ready for the apocalypse. There isn't a book on childbirth available that Liz has not committed to memory, and in anticipation of their roles as midwives, both Maria and Isabel have plowed their way valiantly through a number of similar tomes. The sight of my sister's pretty nose buried in a medical text is not one I'm likely to forget anytime soon. I admit that I am all the more appreciative of her efforts having myself slogged through virtually every book Liz has passed along.
Not to be left out, Michael recently dusted off a few of his more questionable skills from our high school days and somehow managed to acquire various medical supplies from one of the area hospitals. We are now in possession of an array of vials, test tubes, and hypodermic needles, and several bags of blood matching Liz's type have been tucked away in the mini-fridge in our basement. As grateful as I am for all of Michael's efforts, however, I panicked when I overheard him plotting with Alex the other day. They were actually trying to determine the best way to get their hands on a fetal monitor. It didn't take much for me to convince Alex that he should limit his illegal activities to computer hacking. Michael, however, was being his usual stubborn self, and I was forced to remind him that the last thing any of us needs right now is to worry about bailing him out of jail. That finally persuaded him, though I know I have done little to calm his underlying anxieties. I still catch him sneaking worried glances at Liz whenever he thinks no one is watching.
I'm hardly in a position to criticize, since I am still worried as well. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't. Every night, I fall asleep with one hand resting on Liz's swollen stomach, as if I can protect her by holding her until morning comes. There are still sleepless nights when I lie in bed, listening to every breath she takes, watching the gentle rise and fall of her chest, assuring myself that everything will be fine. At times my fear is a tangible thing, wrapping itself around me like a heavy, oppressive fog that makes it difficult to inhale. As each one of us has learned through the years, not all anxieties go away simply because you wish them to do so. But I have gotten very good at masking my fears. I am almost to the point where I can talk myself out of them, especially when I can feel the baby's heart beating beneath my hands and the tenuous connection that links us when I concentrate. Each time it hits me anew - how truly amazing it is to be a part of this act of creation - an act of renewal that is perfectly ordinary and absolutely miraculous all at once. And it is that way for all expectant parents, not just for Liz and me.
Still, on the nights when my fears are closer to the surface and I find myself imagining the worst, I can't help but wonder whether we should have adopted instead. I mean, Isabel and I couldn't possibly have loved our parents any more if they had given birth to us, and there are always children looking for a good home. Yet Liz and I never discussed the possibility. It wasn't something we even brought up. I think, deep down inside, it is important to both of us to do this ourselves - to have our own family if it is at all possible. I know my parents tried for a very long time to have a baby before Isabel and I wandered into their lives, and that we came at a time when they had given up hope of ever knowing what it was like to have children of their own. In some way it would be cowardly to put forth any less of an effort. I will always be thankful that Philip and Diane Evans found me on the side of that road. No child could have asked to be raised with more love and understanding, especially given the unusual circumstances that often manifested themselves while Isabel and I were growing up. But I still have hope, beneath the worries and fears that have been plaguing me during these endless months - hope of having a family that is truly mine.
Other adopted children have the comfort of knowing that they are surrounded by people who share, if not their genes, at least their genetic code. Whereas I know, without a doubt, that only two people remain in the entire universe who share my physical make up - Isabel and Michael. We are not entirely human, nor are we like those left behind on our home planet. The three of us are unique unto ourselves. And sometimes, even with Liz and Maria and Alex to share our lives, we can feel very isolated and alone. I can't help but want a little piece of me to go on - a child that is the best of both Liz and me and who will belong to this world from the moment it is born. Selfish as it sounds, I want a real family - one with all of the inside jokes and inherited quirks and shared traits that come from both nature and nurture. I want to scoop up a toddler that has my eyes and Liz's sweet smile and swing it round and round until it giggles uncontrollably. I want to watch my child grow up, and to catch glimpses of Liz or myself, or perhaps Isabel in its gestures and habits and interests. I want happily ever after, just this once.
And so we wait. I know it is harder now for Liz than it will ever be for me. She shares in all of the emotional turmoil I am going through, yet carries the physical burdens alone. She has reached the stage where every movement brings some new discomfort, and while I do my best, I cannot ease the majority of her aches and pains. At night she lies in bed, pillows propping her at every angle, while I rub her lower back and concentrate on relaxing her muscles enough for her to sleep. She rarely complains, though I can tell she is growing weary of being pregnant, and despite her fatigue there is still a light that shines in her eyes, telling me each day how much this baby means to her.
There is no way to tell when the baby will come, or even if we are guessing correctly. All of our calculations have been based on a normal human pregnancy, and so we find ourselves in a constant state of readiness. Both Maria and Isabel have their cell phones with them at all times, and I have taken to carrying a pager. Michael and Alex call frequently, though there is nothing for either of them to do but wait like the rest of us. If we are right, Liz could give birth at any time now. We are all anticipating and dreading that moment - the answer to our every question and prayer. The only thing we can do is hope.
After all the worries, after the preparation and the pacing and more than a few heart-stopping moments, Claudia Marisa Evans slipped into the world at 4:32 this morning. She is every bit as beautiful as her mother, with dark brown hair and amber eyes and a dimple to the right of her rose bud mouth. I don't think I have ever seen anything quite as glorious as my tiny daughter. She is perfect in every way.
All in all, it was an uneventful birth, though I suspect after eighteen hours of labor, Liz might disagree with that pronouncement. I won't claim that everything went without a hitch, as there were more than a few moments when I was genuinely worried. The sight of Liz in pain has never been something I could stomach - I would sooner die than see her hurting. When the contractions gripped her she would grab my hand with such force that more than once I found myself staring at her, wondering where she had found the strength to grind my bones to dust. But Isabel and Maria assured me that everything was going normally, and there was never a time when I truly feared for either Liz or Claudia's safety. Given my earlier doubts, that was more of a blessing than I had ever expected.
Now Liz sits in our bed among a sea of pillows, cooing softly to the infant sleeping in her arms. She looks more beautiful than I would have ever thought possible. There is a light radiating from within, despite the endless hours and pain of childbirth. Her eyes are shining with a happiness that I know full well is reflected in my own, both of us secure in the knowledge that we once more managed to defy the odds. Just one more sign telling us that we were meant to be together.
And so we are a family. I am a father. It hasn't quite registered yet. Funny, when you consider how many months I've had to adjust to the idea. But it honestly didn't even occur to me until this afternoon, when Michael slapped me on the back and called me "Papa". I had known I was going to be a father, but I had yet to make the jump to present tense. Then Michael shot me one of his rare grins and I knew that everything had changed. I could see it in his eyes, and in Isabel's as well. Liz and I have opened a world of possibilities for them. Hope can be contagious. It starts as just a little trickle in the middle of a vast lake, but then it spreads outwards, the ripples shifting through the water and carrying you away, until you can no longer remember what it was like to remain perfectly still.