|posted on 14-Sep-2001 8:52:45 PM|
Crash Into Me
Disclaimer: Don't own the characters or the concepts; just borrowing them! If Jason Katims wants to pay me to do this, I'd be more than happy to oblige him, but meanwhile this is just for fun.
Summary: Alex reflects on pieces of his history with Isabel.
Spoilers: Yes, through Cry Your Name. One pretty major one, though I've taken many liberties with the details.
* * * * *
He is aware that it is a hopeless chase - one he cannot possibly win. Even as he darts through the crowd, weaving intricate patterns between the people gathered at the edge of town for the annual fireworks display, he knows he will not catch her. She is too fast for him, despite his most recent growth spurt that has at last made him taller. He thinks at the very least his longer legs should give him an advantage over her, but instead they merely make him gawky - awkward - as if the rest of him has yet to adjust to his new proportions. Grimacing, he briefly considers giving in. He could claim greater maturity along with height; surely at twelve he is too old to be chasing his best friend across the fair grounds just because she has swiped his snow cone.
A musical laugh rises above the low murmur of the crowd, and a flash of wavy blonde ponytail catches his eye up ahead. He pushes forward with new determination. "You're gonna get it, DeLuca," he threatens, spurred on by her answering giggle. He sees Maria dodge into a cluster of people and sprints to catch up. If Liz were here, instead of helping her parents back at the café, he imagines she would cheer him on. He can almost hear her if he concentrates.
It happens suddenly. She seems to come out of no where - another blonde with a ponytail, this one straight and smooth and held by a deep red ribbon. Startled, dark eyes that swallow the star light materialize in front of him. She is blocking his path, only inches away. There is no time to stop, no time to do anything except crash into her, sending them both tumbling to the dusty ground in a heap of tangled limbs.
He stammers a hasty apology, wondering if his face matches the bow in her hair. As he reaches out to help her up, he is conscious of his hands, sticky with grape syrup from the now-forgotten snow cone, and of the way her skin feels against his. Warm. Soft. Clean. "Are you okay?" he asks, though what he really wants to say is, "Are you real?" He has dreamed of this moment, of being near enough to smell the sweetness of her shampoo, to feel her breath whisper over his cheek. This is not quite how he pictured it.
She smiles and he is surprised at how shy she suddenly seems. He has watched her from a distance for over a year, and though he suspects there is more to her than her public persona, he is nevertheless familiar with her image. At school she is Princess Isabel, always self-assured, always perfect, surrounded by friends who consider themselves equally so. But now she is alone. Her long eyelashes dip, masking her expression as she nods in reply to his question. She dusts off her denim shorts and the action seems perfunctory, as if she doesn't really care about the dirty patch on the cuff or the smudge that mars her crisp white shirt. "How about you?" she asks quietly, and her voice is deeper than he remembers.
"Me? I'm fine. Just fine," he mumbles, wondering what more he can say, how he can prolong the moment.
Another smile, this one holding a hint of amusement. "I guess neither of us were watching where we were going," she says. "I'm looking for my brother, Max," she adds. "Have you seen him?"
He knows who her brother is, the same way he knows all of the kids in their grade at school, and shakes his head. "Sorry," he says. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices that Maria has doubled back and is doing a restless little dance a few feet away. Her lips are pursed, as if she plans to say something and is only waiting for inspiration to strike. He braces himself for inevitable embarrassment.
But Isabel's attention has already drifted. "Well, I'd better find him," she says as she starts in the direction of the food vendors. "He's probably off with Michael someplace. See ya 'round," she calls back casually, as if they are in the habit of hanging out together during summer vacation.
He watches as she vanishes into the crowd. A series of small explosions above alert him to the fact that the fireworks have started, but he doesn't bother to look up, too engrossed with tracing the progress of the red hair bow as it works its way across the fair grounds. Maria comes over and pokes him in the ribs, finally drawing his attention, and when he turns back again the ribbon has disappeared.
It is only years later that he appreciates the irony of his first official encounter with Isabel Evans.
* * * * *
Like most people, he hates hospitals. He has a healthy fear of pain and death, and he associates hospitals with both of these things. His opinion is based on experience, his previous trips to the emergency room having occurred when he fell out of a tree and broke his arm back in elementary school, and when his grandfather had a heart attack shortly before passing away. No one in his circle has ever been in a car accident. Not, that is, until now.
Despite Maria's assurances on the way over, he discovers he can only breathe easily once he has actually seen Liz for himself. She appears to be fine, unless you count the bandage on her arm or her worried expression, which he doesn't as neither are life threatening. Max, on the other hand, does not look so good, and he wonders if his condition is serious, though he guesses if it were that none of them would be allowed in his room. Still, it is strange to be standing only feet from his bed while he is lying in it, unconscious.
Maria was sketchy with the details of the crash, of how Max and Liz ended up driving off the side of the road, and why it is that he, Alex, is the only one who can help. Her relative silence in of itself is enough to make him suspicious, despite the fact that both she and Liz have recently developed a reluctance to confide in him. He was foolish enough to be glad when Maria sought him out, thinking the tide had turned. Now, however, it appears he still is on a need-to-know basis - where he only needs to know what they want from him, not why.
Alex's mouth gapes when Liz comes closer and whispers in his ear, telling him exactly what it is she wants. His stomach contracts abruptly, and he cannot honestly say whether it is due to her request or to the sickening scent of antiseptic - a distinct hospital smell - that fills his nostrils. What she is asking of him is illegal. What she wants could very well get them all in serious trouble. Over Liz's shoulder, he spots Michael Guerin on the opposite side of the room, his perpetual scowl in its usual place, his suspicious glare taking everything in. Beside him stands Isabel, her brow furrowed with a concern that seems to go beyond worry for her brother. Something akin to fear glitters in her dark eyes. It occurs to Alex that, whatever else is happening, they already are in serious trouble.
He allows Liz and Maria to guide him down the hall and before he knows it he is perched on a cold metal stool with a strap around his upper arm and Liz is holding a syringe. A part of him stands back and watches as he argues with her over whether or not she can actually do this. During his years of friendship with Liz and Maria, he has frequently played the willing guinea pig for their numerous experiments, but this is a far cry from determining the merits of blue nail polish. His muscles clench involuntarily as Maria calls out that someone is coming, and he feels an odd sense of relief when Isabel snatches the needle away.
It's her eyes that affect him, he realizes. Her touch is gentle yet firm as she takes his arm, her hands warm against his cold skin, but her eyes somehow speak to him. He can read her apprehension, her distrust. Of him. The idea that anyone - especially Isabel Evans - would consider him in any way dangerous amuses him for an instant. But then her words slice through his thoughts and he remembers that this is actually happening.
"It'll be best if you don't look," she warns.
What he wants is to watch - to watch her - but he turns away, braced for the inevitable prick of the needle. He can feel his blood being drawn from his arm, knows it is flowing thick and hot and red out of his vein and into the glass vial. Isabel now holds his blood in her hands and it seems oddly intimate, yet he still doesn't know why he is doing this. Standing in front of him, Liz mouths her thanks, but he shuts his eyes, blocking her out so he can concentrate on the rush of his blood and the nervous pounding of his heart and the faint whiff of perfume that drifts in his direction whenever Isabel moves.
* * * * *
After Sheriff Valenti drops him off, Alex goes straight to his room and shuts the door, even though there is no one else home. He throws himself on his bed, causing the headboard to crash into the wall. It leaves a mark that his mother will see and comment on later, her disapproving tone indicating that his behavior is that of a six-year-old instead of a high school student. Now, however, he is preoccupied with trying not to hyperventilate, and fails to notice the marred paint, though it is unlikely he would care if he did. Surroundings are vastly unimportant when you are struggling to breathe - when you suspect you have narrowly escaped something.
More questions, more secrets. That's all this means, he tells himself. He doesn't even know for sure what just happened, or at least almost happened. A mysterious car with tinted windows, a voice in the dark that knew his name, an overwhelming wave of fear… followed by relief at the short burst of Valenti's siren and the swift flash of red and blue lights. To think he would ever be grateful to have the Sheriff, who just a few months ago had thrown him in a jail cell, show up behind him in a dark alley.
They have too many enemies. Now they are starting to shift and reorder themselves into different levels like some crazy video game. The Sheriff. Agent Topolsky. Nasedo. An evil, alien-hunting FBI agent who may or may not have just attempted to drag him off the street. Who is worth the most points? Which one drains more of your lives? He shivers abruptly as it occurs to him that, as terrifyingly real as all of this has suddenly become for him, it is ten times more so for Max, Michael, and Isabel. They are the ones truly in danger - the ones all of these enemies actually want. He refuses to consider what would happen if the wrong person actually discovered the truth.
Isabel said they cannot show weakness, and he knows that a part of her believes that will make a difference. She has a strength, deep down inside of her - one that enables her to keep her cool façade. Perhaps it is a result of growing up with two brothers - for he knows she considers Michael to be equal to Max in that respect - one silent and reserved, the other brooding and antagonistic. He suspects she has found herself caught between them on more than one occasion when Michael's stubborn recklessness has clashed with Max's stubborn caution. But more likely it comes from growing up on a planet far from home - and the knowledge that you must keep your identity a secret - that your life depends on your strength.
He thinks of the night he learned the truth about them - and of the day he and Isabel sat in a booth in the Crashdown and talked about that truth. He remembers the way she took hold of the ketchup bottle, altering its contents. He recalls the way the yellow swirled under the glass, swallowing the red, mutating and shifting until it was something different altogether. He thinks about the way she spoke to him honestly, quietly, telling him who they were - who she was - and how little information she actually had in her possession. He had felt the barrier between them beginning to crumble and in that instant - the moment when she spoke of being afraid to let anyone see inside of her - he had understood what her life might be like. He could see her loneliness and her fear of being different lurking beneath that stronger version of herself.
How foolish he was, he realizes now. Foolish to think that one revelation could permanently open the door to someone's soul. He wanted so badly to be part of her life that day - to be accepted and trusted as part of the group, but also to mean something to her. Would he change things now that his life was in danger? He told her he wanted to protect her… was it only earlier this evening? He claimed he would do anything. Does he still mean it?
He had wanted to be part of her life, her world. He had wanted to be in the know. They say that knowledge is power, that the truth will set you free. He is beginning to feel wary of "them" and their endless advice.
* * * * *
He is doing his best to stay mad at Isabel. It isn't difficult when he glances at the cop's uniform draped in plastic that is stretched across the back seat of his car. More than a mere symbol of his abject humiliation, the costume is tangible proof of his seemingly never ending ability to crash into a brick wall without the slightest care for his own well being or pride. He realizes he has only himself to blame for the act itself - for his nothing-held-back, ass-smacking, semi-striptease - performed with great abandon in front of an audience that included Isabel's mother. But he holds Isabel fully accountable for the rest. For ignoring him, for considering him nothing more than a good friend, for wearing red to please Grant Sorenson (though rationally he knows the dress had more to do with making herself feel good), and finally for disappearing from the party her brother and friends had worked so hard to plan.
A part of him wants to hate her. He wants to cut her out of his life with a sharp-edged instrument. He wants to put her back into the mold - to consider her selfish and shallow and not worth the trouble. He wants to remember a time when he wasn't sure there was any warmth beneath the cold exterior.
It should be easy to restore the old façade. The Ice Princess Cometh.
A corner of his mind holds onto an existence when he didn't know there were aliens living in Roswell, when his idea of a relationship was dinners and movies and moon-lit strolls - not proving your mettle by fighting off the Feds or making grand gestures. He watches Maria going after Michael and Liz weakening in her attempt to hold Max off, and he wonders what they're all doing. What are they thinking? None of this can end any way but badly.
He parks on the street in front of the costume store and turns to drag the uniform from the back seat. The plastic catches on the center seatbelt and when he tugs harder it comes free abruptly, causing him to hit himself in the head with the metal hanger. Cursing, he gets out of the car and slams the door a little harder than necessary. Once inside the store, he plunks the costume down on the counter and waits for the clerk to return with his deposit. They make you pay ahead, and then tack on an extra sum to make sure you bring back the outfit, as if someone would really want to keep an overpriced cop's uniform that had been worn by numerous people and carries a lingering scent of cigarette smoke and cheap beer.
Walking back to the car, he is surprised to see Isabel across the street. Somehow she seems out of context, though he has been thinking about her. She is walking alone, oblivious to his presence, her head down, hair escaping from a clip at the nape of her neck. He stops and watches her for a moment, noting her distracted air and somewhat disheveled appearance. And he remembers why he is having so much trouble staying mad at her.
He knows what happened with the Congresswoman and how Isabel rescued Tess. Maria called that morning to tell him. At the time he had still been angry, and so had been enormously impressed with his self-restraint when he failed to comment on the lead time between the actual event and someone letting him in on it. But after he'd gotten off the phone, the reality of the situation had hit him and he'd begun to soften. It had been a lot to take in; Liz had been working for a Skin, Tess had been held hostage, Isabel had killed Whitaker. It was that last that really got to him, not because the idea of death makes him particularly squeamish, but because he can't imagine Isabel in such a terrible situation. Each time something like this happens, every time someone is threatened or hurt or forced to take drastic measures, he is reminded of how insane things have become. The truth is that they have no idea what they're up against.
When Isabel disappears around the far corner, Alex gets into his car and heads home. He glances at the empty back seat and realizes that his anger has fled. It is too difficult to maintain, and pointless when he considers the magnitude of what is at stake. Not to say he is willing to excuse Isabel's behavior entirely, but he understands that it is not directed at him. He did, after all, insist on being a part of this world, pushing his way in uninvited. It is hardly fair to complain about the boundaries at this late date. Ultimately, he is always free to go - to cut himself off from the hurt and humiliation and the danger. He has a choice. That is a freedom Isabel will never have, and he suspects that knowledge is weighing heavily on her these days.
* * * * *
He is aware that it is hopeless even as he watches from above. In a way, he feels almost disinterested in the entire scene, as if it isn't his own life that hangs in the balance. Probably because he knows the eventual outcome. There's nothing Max can do. Not even alien powers can bring him back - not now. Yet Max keeps on trying, his hands cupping Alex's head as it lolls against the headrest, doing his best to maneuver into the small space allowed by the crumpled dashboard on the passenger side of the car.
It's remarkable, really, how quickly everything has happened, but then Alex supposes he has missed part of it. It isn't like those periods of lost time he has been experiencing lately. He knows what those feel like - and what causes them. This was more like a brief blackout - probably from the shock to his system. One moment he was driving down the road, his eyes fixed on the enormous tree at the edge of the upcoming curve, bracing himself for the crash, and the next he was hovering above the median, watching Isabel as she knelt by the car, his limp hand cradled between her breasts. Tears were streaming down her face and she was whispering to him to hold on, to please not leave her, that she couldn't stand to lose him. Her hair hung loose and the long blond strands seemed to have a life of their own, creeping around her face and shoulders and across his chest as she leaned over him.
When Max arrived and pulled Isabel away, there was blood on her hair, and it transferred itself to her clothes and her skin, leaving dark red splotches and streaks everywhere. For a moment Alex could see Max panicking, thinking Isabel had been hurt as well, but then he noticed Mrs. Evans' Toyota parked just past the wreck and realized that all of the blood was Alex's.
Isabel must have called Max on her cell phone, he thinks. An SOS to the resident healer. Too bad Max won't be able to bring him back. Alex isn't sure why he knows that, but he does. In some corner of his mind he understands he must die - that if Max were to save him, it wouldn't solve anything. Yet Alex is touched by Max's efforts, even though he hopes that he will stop soon, because he is wearing himself out. There is a desperation visible in his eyes, and a profound fatigue. Alex can see the strength draining out of Max's body, coloring the surrounding air. He does not understand why Max refuses to give up, why it is not obvious to him that his friend is gone - that all that remains is a hollow shell.
It is Isabel who ends it, finally. Isabel who sees that there is nothing more that can be done. A shudder runs through her frame, as if the realization is a physical thing, and she takes her brother by the shoulders. "Max, stop," she says gently. "He's gone." Her voice is hoarse, as if she has been sobbing instead of merely crying silently.
"No," Max says, and tries to pull away, still holding Alex's head in his hands.
"Max. No one wants it more than I do, but it's too late," Isabel says. There is a touch of the old firmness to her words. Alex can see her grip tighten as she pulls Max from the car.
When he turns, there are tears in his eyes. "What happened, Iz?"
She shakes her head and crumples into Max's arms, her momentary strength vanished. Alex feels a pang and wonders if his heart can still break. There are so many things he wants to tell her - that he admires her bravery, that he wants her to be safe, that she deserves happiness, that he loves her in ways he is only beginning to comprehend. He wonders what the future might have held, and whether they were meant to be together. Then he remembers that he doesn't believe in destiny, and that life is a series of choices. He hopes one day Isabel will understand the choice he has made, and know he made it freely and with no regrets.
Alex watches as Isabel continues to cry on her brother's shoulder, as the faint sound of a siren begins to fill the air, and everything gradually fades to black.