posted on 16-Jan-2003 3:16:07 PM
Title: Double Negative

Authors: Lauren (Lauren2135) and Linsey (JadaLyn)

Rating: R/NC-17

Disclaimer: Don’t own them, didn’t like the guy who did. Would be willing to buy them, but as poor college students we have no money.

This story was based on challenge # 2 from Bennie and Reese's "Common Ground" hopefully we are doing it justice.

Feedback is much sought after and always appreciated! Okay, that’s just because I’m a feedback junkie. ~Lauren

After such great inspiration from Queenie and Romantic Heart, how could we resist the temptation to collaborate on a story of our own? Big thanks to Lauren for getting my act together for this, and Stacie for coming up with the title and listening to me whine. Enjoy!

“We didn’t know. How could we have possibly known?” The bathroom was ornate, all marble and gold fixtures, hidden track lighting, the feminine voice echoing off the cold walls. The woman before me was adjusting her makeup in the mirror, the lipstick tube she gestured with a garish shade of red. I could almost hear my inner Isabel screaming about how the color clashed with the burgundy of the woman’s dress. It seemed odd given the high quality of the evening gown that faithfully hugged her upper body. In fact, the whole setup struck me as odd, and it took me a moment to figure out what was really bothering me: the woman had no reflection. Her dark hair, falling across the side of her face, hid what features I should have seen. “Up until a few weeks ago I would have sworn to you that a dream was but a dream or whatever it was that old song Maria liked to sing said. If you had asked him or me what we thought it had meant, I would have answered something about hormones, REM and the psychology of the subconscious while he would have just told you to fuck off. Besides, I wasn’t even supposed to know about his dreams; Maria never had a clue so she couldn’t have told me about them during our midnight ice cream fests.”

How the hell did she know about Maria? What dreams? Calm down Liz, deep breaths. I started to approach her but the woman halted her lipstick application to halt me with her hand. “No, I had to be the lucky one to get an unsuspecting glimpse into the Guerin psyche; I had to be the one to get a drive-by flash in the middle of a Las Vegas elevator, fifteen stories up. If I had known then what that dream was a portent of, I’d like to think that I would have done things differently.”

I watched as her whole body seemed fall in on itself when she sighed. It was like all her hope left her body with the rush of air. Her voice, when it emerged again was sad, distant. “I’d like to think that Alex would still be alive, that Tess would have been exposed, that we wouldn’t be running for our lives from the very men that he dreamed about so long ago.”

What the hell was she talking about? Alex wasn’t dead. He was here with them in Vegas. And what was this about Tess? I glanced around the bathroom again and finally understood the sense of familiarity. It was the bathroom at the hotel, the one we were having dinner at. I couldn’t remember anything beyond the meal, and a glance at my own reflection revealed that I was still in my evening gown. What was going on? Was I dreaming? God, Alex would call this X-files weird. The woman paid no attention to my agitation, simply continuing her monologue to the mirror. “I didn’t listen though, didn’t give it a second thought except for the realization that he seemed as uncomfortable with the brush of our arms as I was.”

She brushed her fingers over her left arm in remembrance, and gave a bitter laugh. “The flash was relegated to the back of my mind because we were in the city of lights and I didn’t want to destroy everyone’s fun, even though he let me know I was doing a pretty good job of it anyway. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from this whole experience…it’s that hindsight’s a bitch. And she isn’t afraid to bite you on the ass when you wander into her territory.”

This time when she laughed, she turned to face me. The dark red shade that colored her lips did not distract me from the shock of her face. I was looking at myself, me, older somehow but still…“Sad that I have finally realized that when I don’t think we have much time left…No, let me correct that statement, if my dreams are indication, I know we don’t have much time left. It is a small comfort to know that if I die, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of paging Dr. Freud and telling him sometimes a gun is just a gun.”

I could not make myself respond, and the older me, she…I?...did not seem to mind. She just shook her head, almost like she had expected nothing less. God, she spoke so causally of Freud who would have a field day with this. Who was this he she kept talking about?

As she walked past me towards the door, she tossed me the lipstick case. “Funeral-pyre Red. You’ll find it will be very appropriate in the future.”

With that last explanation of nothing, she left me in the bathroom alone.


Are you scared, boy?

The hallway was dark, so dark that I couldn’t see anything. In fact, I couldn’t seem to locate any colors anywhere in the corridor. It seemed like all the tones had been sucked out of the picture, leaving nothing but a black wasteland. My breath came in ragged gasps as I ran frantically, not wanting to admit that I was scared shitless.

You can’t lie to me, Mikey. I know you’re scared. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I know that the badass, stonewall persona of Soldier Boy-Michael Guerin just crumbles during these dreams leaving poor, scared, frightened Mikey alone in his room, gasping for breath and trembling.

I didn’t really know what was chasing me. Hell, I didn’t even know how long I had been running, just that my legs were starting to burn with fatigue. I ignored the pain though; part of me knew that I had to keep sprinting down that endless hallway. It vaguely reminded me of school without the lights on, but I didn’t really recognize anything concrete that I ran past. I didn’t have a moment to consider anything fully, I just had to keep running and hiding, because if I stopped, if I let my guard down for a moment, I would die.

Not just you, Mikey boy. If you stop running, everyone will die.

I recklessly looked over my shoulder, frantic to see if I could make out who the fuck was talking to me. A moment later I realized why they always said to never look back as I slammed into something solid and bounced backwards, landing painfully on my ass. I slowly looked up taking in the worn motorcycle boots to tattered black jeans, until finally staring into the face of someone I never expected to see. A thin, gaunt, older version of me stood in the hallway, mocking me with the smirk I saw in the mirror every morning. His eyes hardened slightly at my apparent shock.

Why, hello there, Mikey. I seem to remember that my old stonewall was never at its strongest during these dreams…I still remember how I used to carry myself, like nothing could fucking touch me. I was wrong, we were all wrong.

Nothing can touch me, I was engineered a soldier. The words skittered across my mind before I could stop them and when he opened his mouth to answer me, I could feel the tremors of fear start racing through my arms.

You can keep thinking that, or you could listen to me for one fucking minute. One fucking minute that might save your life and the life of the woman you love. The lives of your king, your people…

What’s wrong with Maria? I interrupted in my mind.

Maria? Damn, I had my head up my ass when I was kid. You’ll find out, what it’s like to really have a woman love you, and vice versa. I can’t tell you everything, in fact, she warned me against it or else the entire existence will implode or some shit like that, but I can tell you this… These aren’t just dreams like you think they are. Shit, think about it. Have you ever had any types of dreams or flashes that weren’t significant?

Dreams are just some sort of subconscious bullshit. You know, that mom-fucker guy and shit.

The older version of me snorted in disgust. Mom-Fucker guy? That would be Freud. She’ll teach you about him… him and so much more, Michael.

His shoulder’s sagged slightly at the thought of her and for a moment I could feel the remorse and frustration radiate off of him. Before I could ask about who the hell this she was, he shook his head slightly and spoke again.

That doesn’t matter now. All I gotta say is this is your only warning before some seriously nasty shit goes down. You’ll better heed my words… or else, nothing will be the same.

He started to turn away, to walk back down the hallway and return back to wherever he came from when I jumped to my feet. Wait! Please! His stride didn’t falter as opened the nearest doorway and disappeared.

With that last movement, I awoke and he left me alone and trembling in a Las Vegas bed.

Death Valley Twinkling Palms Hotel, 2009

She knew the moment he came out of it, his fingers tightening briefly, crushingly on hers before relaxing as he opened his eyes. Catching the tail in end of her grimace of pain, he ran his thumb softly along the edge of her palm. “Sorry, I just…Fuck. I got so mad at myself. How are you feeling?”

The stronger their connection became, the harder it was for her to lie to him, but she tried anyway, dropping her gaze to their joined hands, “Fine Michael, don’t worry.”

“Liz if you don’t think you can do this…” His voice faded as her eyes met his, blazing.

“We don’t have a choice, not anymore. We can’t let it all happen again.” She pulled away from him, getting up from the floor to stare out the window framed with cheap orange curtains. She could feel his worried gaze on her, but she refused to let him know how tired she was. Astral projection was always draining, but the effect was doubled in the attempt to cross time. It was a good moment to draw his attention back to the matter at hand, “I couldn’t help but get angry too. I didn’t say half the stuff I wanted. We’ll just have to be more prepared for that next time.”

Liz heard him leave his spot on the floor to come up behind her. His tension crackled along their connection causing the muscles in her neck to knot tighter, binding in on top of each other in a hard, thumping pressure. She struggled to keep her face clear, not wanting him to catch a glimpse of the pain his unruly emotions added to her already overloaded senses. His reflection in the glass reassured her, his searching eyes concerned but not overly worried. She wondered briefly why she was always more aware of his feeling than he was of hers. Maybe it was some karmic way of equalizing their relationship given the fact she verbalized better. She thought back to the events of their projection…Usually verbalized better.

“He’s waiting. They will want to know what happened,” Michael murmured, and she tried to ignore his little slip. It caught at her mind though, a barrier refusing to be removed. Max would always be there…between them. A calloused hand came to rest hesitantly against her neck, strong fingers pausing momentarily before digging into the cramped muscles, easing both her tension and her overworked mind even as her eyes alighted on the battered VW van below them. “We need to go.”

Then there are those times he seems to know exactly what I’m thinking. She relaxed back, closing her eyes against the sight of the van, their reflections, and the events of the day. God, it had been so long since she could just let herself feel, truly feel. The heat of his body poured into her as he crowed closer, his lips brushing her temple as his palm slid away to rest against his shoulder.

“I don’t want to leave either.” The exhaustion from the day was starting to creep into his voice. When was the last time the two of them had actually felt energized? After the adrenaline of the first year had worn off, energy was hard to come by…as was hope.

She didn’t open her eyes as he gently lead her from the room, there was no reason to remember one more anonymous hotel room, one more thwarted attempt. She needed conserve all her energy for what, who, waited for them in the van. The reality of her husband, life and their enemies was almost more draining then the astral projection across time.

“Don’t worry, we will fix this,” she heard Michael murmur. Unfortunately it wouldn’t quiet the part of her mind that worried that it was already too late.

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 7-Feb-2003 4:04:31 PM ]
posted on 27-Jan-2003 5:21:20 PM
Chapter Two: Reality

The Monte Carlo Hotel, Las Vegas 2001

I've laid here in my bed for five hours now, staring at the white stucco ceiling of the master bedroom in our penthouse suite, trying to calm myself down about my newest dream. I never used to dream when I was living with Hank, partly because I didn't get to sleep much because I was too worried about him beating the shit out of me on a regular basis. Unfortunately, since I'd become an emancipated minor, these dreams had become more and more frequent. But I'd never had a dream like this.

I mean, I had lots of dreams that were just dreams, some of them with me just sitting around in the Crashdown, another with me eating dinner at a bowling alley with a bunch of guys I've never met, and then, Well, there was this freaky one with me standing above an unmarked grave just rubbing my jaw over and over. Don't get me wrong, I had been having strange dreams lately, but none of them ever featured an older version of me and certainly none of them ever came true before. So, why should I start to worry now?

"All I gotta say is this is your only warning before some seriously nasty shit goes down."

Every time I convinced myself that a dream was just a dream, his warning came back to echo in my mind, bitter, tired. It had gotten so bad that I couldn't go back to sleep, so bad that I couldn't focus on anything else, and so bad that I now had a fucking migraine at 10 o'clock in the morning. I pulled myself up to a sitting position in my bed, leaning back against the headboard angrily. Jesus. What the fuck happened in the future that would be so fucking bad that I had to visit my dreams and warn myself?

No, damn it! It was just a crazy, fucked up dream.

Taking a deep breath, I shot a quick glance at my surroundings in an effort to relax. Last night, when we had finally arrived in town, I had staked my claim on the master bedroom inside the penthouse suite. Considering the surreal quality of the dream, I was glad that I did because I didn't want anyone to overhear anything that they didn't need to know anyway.

Look, everybody's got problems. If it wasn't this, it'd be another thing. I'm a big boy. I could handle it. Last thing I needed was someone trying to butt in on my problems.

The penthouse suite that Maria had reserved sounded reasonably quiet beyond my bedroom door; apparently everyone was worn out from the night before, the Las Vegas excitement being too much for eight kids from Roswell, New Mexico. I had the fifty grand from the Dupree's and I couldn't wait to get rid of all of it. This goddamned money that the Dupree's gave me has been nothing but bad, fucking luck. This money has been giving me bad karma, bad thoughts and probably was the reason that I had that crazy-ass dream about myself. I mean, there's no way that my dream was serious. And fuck me, Buddha Boy is apparently leeching away my brain cells with all his Buddhist preaching's. I think I'm losing my mind.

An older version of myself, coming back across time to warn myself in my dreams?

Yeah, right. I would have to be completely crazy to have even seriously considered that my dream was some type of message.

Not just you, Mikey boy. If you stop running, everyone will die.

Angrily I picked up my pillow and flung it violently across the bedroom at the sound of his voice in my head again.

"Geez, Spaceboy. Hello to you too." Maria's voice rang out as she watched the pillow bounce off the far wall next to the door. Giving me a pointed once over to check for any more projectiles before slipping inside. "I always knew that you'd be a grumpy first thing in the morning, but I never thought you'd be that violent. Anyway, I'm glad that you're finally up. Everyone else is ready to head down and go to the brunch buffet."

I started to tell Maria that I needed a second to get dressed and take a shower, but the voice chose that moment to slip back into my mind. "You'll find out, what it's like to really have a woman love you, and vice versa." If Maria isn't the woman who really loves me in the future, then who would it be? I mean, Maria and I fight more than anything else, but seriously, she's the only potential person I can think of¡K Yet another sign that I'm totally fucked.

"Fuck, I can't take this anymore," I muttered as I attempted to push all thoughts of my crazy dream out of my head for the moment.

Maria shot me a pointed look. "Listen, pally. You put me in charge for this vacation because no one can spend money like I can spend money. I've got our entire trip planned out,"

Holy shit, was she taking fucking Vacation Nazi notes from Isabel or something? I shook my head as I tuned Maria's rambling out for a moment. I pulled out a pair of clean jeans and a t-shirt and dragged myself to my bathroom to change so Maria would shut up. Unfortunately, she was still talking as I returned from the bathroom.

"... I know that you can wave your hands, or whatever you Czechoslovakians do, to clean yourself quickly so that we can head down to the buffet. Because, heaven help me Michael, if you smell bad..."

I sighed. "Knock it off. I'm ready to go."

Maria looked at me, apparently considering my choice of clothes for the day and then reached out and grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the room. "If makes you feel any better, Spaceboy, I just had to drag Liz out of bed too." She mentioned as we walked across the Penthouse suite to where everyone else was gathered by the TV.

"I'm sure that Parker must have spent a wild night of partying to be so tired." I commented to Maria dryly.

"Shut up, Michael. If you ever took a moment to notice, you'd realize that Liz is a really great person." Maria snapped at me as she dropped my arm.

"Hey, I know that Liz has gotten us out of a lot of jams in the past, but hell, there are times when you barely notice that she's around, Maria. The girl does her best to fade into the woodwork lately."

"Michael, you've never even tried to get to know her, so I don't understand how you can always talk shit about her!" Maria told me.

"Whatever." I shrugged. I didn't bring the rest our homely group to Las Vegas to spend time with me. Shit, I didn't even invite them. I had two objectives for this weekend to blow fifty grand at the casino and to maybe spend time with Maxwell. To put it bluntly, our friendship has sucked a big one lately and I needed to spend some time with him.

I sighed and wearily ran one hand through my hair as I looked at everyone gathered on the couch around the TV. Kyle and Alex were both engrossed with the TV- apparently the Discovery Channel was playing "When Animals Attack 15 - Attacks on State Parks" episode that I had seen a million times at home, thanks to my crazy-ass dreams waking me up at 3am. Max was trying to ignore Tess' air headed babbling while she tried to deep-throat a sucker to impress him. Isabel was too busy changing her nail polish colors with her powers and Liz was sitting there silently, apparently captivated by "When Animals Attack" as well. Oh yeah, this was the exact crowd I wanted to bring to Las Vegas to have a wild time.

... or else, nothing will be the same.

My hands clenched into fists at the sound of his voice from my dream. I couldn't function in Las Vegas with this haunting money, I had to go and spend it. Now. "Let's get going Maria." I growled to down to her.

"God, Spaceboy, we're just about to leave. If I didn't drag you out of bed, you'd still..."

"Maria." I glared at her as she glared back and then she tossed her hair over her shoulder angrily. "Okay guys!" She called out as she walked to the front door of the penthouse suite. "Let's get going, or else we'll miss the Brunch Buffet downstairs." She opened the door and pointed down the hallway. "The elevator is right over there."

"Really, Maria? That's an elevator?" Kyle asked with an amused grin on his face as we all trooped down the hallway, like some herd. I smirked at his comment. I guess I wasn't the only one that had noticed Maria's sudden foray into Nazism. "Hey, does this remind anyone of that scene out of Speed, you know the one where..."

"Shut it, Buddah Boy." Maria snapped at Kyle as the elevator doors opened with a loud bing.

I dragged myself into the elevator and leaned against the back wall as everyone else piled inside. I noticed that Liz and Max were standing in front of me in the center of the elevator. Liz looked like she wanted to tell Max something. Fucking wonderful. Didn't I tell that girl, no moralizing, rationalizing or anything like that on this trip? Why can't this girl partake in fun and debauchery?

Tess apparently had noticed this as well, because she started to push everyone out of her way so she could be closer to Max. As she squeezed in between Max and Liz she seemed to duck down a little and lean in. In hockey, it would have been a body check, and Tess seemed to be well practiced at the move. Was that a little elbow action in there? Liz stumbled back from the blow, reaching out and grabbing my arm for balance. As her hand locked around my forearm, our eyes met.

And that's when all fucking hell broke loose.

[center]* * * * *[/center]

Something was tickling my nose. As if it wasn't bad enough that I had woken up at five am from that dream after going to bed far later than usual last night because we arrived in town at midnight, and then spent the next half an hour rationalizing it, now something was tickling my nose. Sure, it was probably a sign just like my bizarre mental wanderings that I should get my butt up and go talk to Max, but was it too much to ask for a few more minutes of sleep? I mean look how much time I had to spend decoding with Freud, it was enough to make anyone brain dead.

At first the weird manifestation of my unconscious mind had me freaked out a little. I mean, what was I talking about: Alex dead, Tess exposed of God knows what, and a glimpse into the Guerin psyche... Not in my lifetime, nor Maria's either for that matter. Obviously there had to be a deeper meaning.

Every scientist knew that you had to break down a problem into its simplest components to find an answer. Take the dress I was wearing for example, as Isabel would tell anyone who went shopping with her that red was the color of passion, and guns and lipstick were obviously phallic symbols from the Freudian perspective. All of this could be alluding to sex, sex I did not have. Besides, did I not mention Freud in my dream, a psychological hint to be sure.

Plus there was that mysterious older version of me telling me that I had done wrong. Blend that all together with a dash of sleep deprivation from having the trip over to Vegas double in length from four hours to eight hours, and I get a dream telling me I was wrong to break up with Max and that there should have been another option. Hell, Maria had been telling me that for weeks. Maybe my subconscious didn't get the memo.

It was clear that I had to tell him, had to explain what had really happened if for nothing else then to repair the state of our friendship...if we ever had one. I was going to do it too, today, after I got some more sleep. It wouldn't do to have me yawn in the middle of my big confession. So with that heavy subject nicely shelved and compartmentalized and a mental note to strangle Maria if I ever heard the words "take the scenic route" come out of her mouth again, I put myself back to bed to catch some much needed hours of unconsciousness. Only now, something was tickling my nose.

"The subject is not responding to treatment Dr. Frankenstein, what should we do," a giggly voice off to my right asked.

"Ve have vays of making her vake." The more masculine tones broke into evil maniacal laughter and the tickling returned. Maybe my dream had been right in one aspect, Alex was definitely not going to leave this hotel room alive.

"Alexander Charles Whitman, if you don't stop right now I'm going to show those pictures of "Alice" to Isabel," I growled pulling the blanket up over my head.

"That's okay," he replied ripping the covers away with the help of his fiendish assistant Maria the Traitor. "Not like I have much pride left with that girl anyway. I did strip for her."

"And you had very," Maria responded, her hesitation would have been noticeable to the average deaf person. I saw Alex shoot her an evil glare, before squeezing my eyes shut. That was right, deflect, divide and conquer, then the gruesome twosome couldn't torture me. My politics teacher would have been so proud.

"At least I don't spasm," Alex replied in a haughty tone while he tried to pry my eyelids back open. Damn, obviously not distracted enough.

"I do not spasm! You take that back." Ah, hell now they were dragging me into a sitting position and bickering. Why did I come along on this vacation? Oh yeah, so I could relax, and talk to Max. What one had to do with the other I was not sure...

"Enough already. I'm awake." Grumbling I pushed them away and got up on my own.

"Works every time," Alex murmured giving Maria a high five.

"I think we set a new record." Screw it, they were both going to die. Death by down pillows. I could see the headlines now. I would of course plead temporary insanity, although if I had a tape of these I might be able to pull off self defense. I grabbed my pillow and came up swinging.

"Ack! Enemy fire, abandon ship, or hotel, or whatever, just run," Alex yelled heading towards the doorway. Maria ducked my follow up swat and threw something in my face. "Here, clothes from the gift store. Such gratitude for the friend that bought you Versace. Now hurry up, we've got a brunch to go to and I still have to wake up Space Boy."

With me thoroughly distracted by the little pile of clothes now lying at my feet, she slipped away.

"Next time, Gadget, next time," I yelled after her. I could hear her laughing as she made her way towards Michael's room, and they thought I was a hard person to wake up. To be a fly on the wall in there. I could just see it now, Maria going in there and Michael waking up all heavy eyes and crazy hair...whoa, where did that little image come from. Keeping everything from Max was obviously more psychologically damaging than I had thought.

I snatched up the red tank and Capri pants and headed into the bathroom. A one hundred and fifty dollar Versace top, I shook my head, in some far eastern sweatshop children working twenty hours a day were probably cursing my name. I looked down at the wrinkled condition of the clothes I had slept in, and immediately exchanged them for the new items. I guess some morals did not put up much of a fight when one was sleep deprived. I looked at the mirror and for a moment I saw myself wearing a deep burgundy dress, not the red far-too-expensive top I had just put on. I shook my head and the image disappeared. Alright already, I would talk to Max! At the rate I was going Harvard might not accept me, but a mental ward would.

I walked into the living room to find everyone sprawled about various pieces of furniture. Immediately my gaze landed on Max, but Tess seemed to be trying to talk to him, and I really was not in the mood to try and break in. Although how Tess could talk and give oral pleasure to that lollipop, I did not know, but I made a mental note to never have a sucker again. Besides, it wasn't like I didn't have the whole weekend to talk to Max, another opportunity would happen. I just needed to get him alone.

Sighing, I turned away the man of my dreams and his queen. Since Isabel appeared to be in high Ice Queen mode, I plopped down on the arm of the couch next to Alex and Kyle. Frowning, I noticed they had their heads slightly cocked to one side, their attention rapt on the TV screen. Mimicking them I followed their line of vision, "Hey, what are you watchin..."

Oh dear God, did I just see...

"When Animal's Attack," Alex murmured. I could just image that the expression on his face mirrored mine. I don't think my eyes could open any wider. I smashed my mouth closed, whether it was to prevent flies from getting in or simply to halt the possibility of puking I really couldn't say. Oh no, that Grizzly did not just...

"Fifteen, When Animals Attack Fifteen: Adventures in State Parks," Kyle interjected. I couldn't say what disgusted me more, what was happening on the TV screen or that he had just "snapped into a SlimJim" while watching this carnage. I was going to be scarred for life.

"It's like watching a train crash," Alex murmured again, clearly as hypnotized by the horror we were watching as I was. "Only the train has teeth, and claws."

"And fur," I interjected.

"Please tell me that wasn't his intestinal track."

"Number Eight, Man's Best Friend, really was the best," Kyle announced after swallowing a big hunk of the stringy red meat byproduct. "Very Kujo."

I managed to tear my eyes completely away from the mauling taking place before us and glare at my onetime boyfriend. "Remind me again why we ever dated."

"Because you wanted my body, Parker," Kyle grinned around the jerky. I decided to add him to my hit list as well. I really needed to find a good place to hide the bodies; Harvard did not accept applications from convicted felons.

"Okay guys!" Maria called out as she headed to the door bringing a halt to my murderous planning. Michael was following along behind her looking grim. Hell, he always looked grim, grumpy or just plain "grr" if that was a reasonable adjective. "Let's get going, or else we'll miss the Brunch Buffet downstairs."

I noticed Max trying to separate himself from Tess by walking quickly to the elevator. This was my chance. I slid inside the opulent metal compartment to stand next to him pointedly ignoring Kyle's comment about whether or not being packed in reminded anyone of that scene in "Speed," I had enough to worry about without wondering whether or not the elevator was going to explode. Max cast me a puzzled expression as I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut again. No, I could do this. It was simple. All I had to do was take a deep breath in and then say, "Dear god..."

I didn't even see it coming, but Tess' pointed little elbow drove into my stomach throwing me off balance. I threw my hand out, desperately trying to catch onto something to keep me upright. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Michael and before I knew it, I could feel the skin of his bare arm under my hand. I looked up to say thanks, or sorry, or whatever was appropriate, but the words were lost as pictures flashed before my eyes, and words filled my ears...

Men chasing Michael down the hall...SWAT Team wait that wasn't right...the FBI? Scared, running, pain, can't stop.

Michael talking to an older man, an older version of himself...The danger is still there, gotta keep going, keep running, where are Max and Isabel?

"If you stop running, everyone will die."

"...One fucking minute that might save your life and the life of the woman you love."

Mom-Fucker guy? She'll teach you about him... him and so much more, Michael.

"All I gotta say is this is your only warning before some seriously nasty shit goes down."

Michael suddenly not standing in the hallway so clearly the school's, but in front of a grave. The letters were small, hard to make out. It looked like it said...

"You know if you two are just going to stare at each other like that and NOT leave the elevator... Well, you might as well go back up to the bedroom and get it out of your systems, because of the rest of us want to go have some other types of fun." Tess' voice jarred its way into my brain. I was too confused to add her to the hit list. What the hell just happened?

[center]* * * * *[/center]

The pictures flashed before me, a sickening continuous loop.

A dark haired woman dressed in a blood red dress, carefully applying lipstick in front of a mirror while Liz watched in shock.

"We didn't know. How could we have possibly known?"

Maxwell with long hair and a leather jacket.

"...REM and the psychology of the subconscious while he would have just told you to fuck off."

"...It is a small comfort to know that if I die, at least I'll have the satisfaction of paging Dr. Freud and telling him sometimes a gun is just a gun."

The woman throws Liz the lipstick. "Funeral-pyre Red. You'll find it will be very appropriate in the future."

"You know if you two are just going to stare at each other like that and NOT leave the elevator... Well, you might as well go back up to the bedroom and get it out of your systems, because of the rest of us want to go have some other types of fun." Tess' bitchy voice suddenly wormed its way into my brain and the connection between Liz and I severed.

"Hey, Tess why don't you go back to sucking off that candy and mind your own business." I muttered to her as my mind was preoccupied with the flashes from Liz.

Tess turned up her nose at me. "Sure, whatever you say." She turned her back to us and tried again to engage Maxwell in a conversation as they exited the elevator.

I looked back over to Liz, who was sharing a meaningful look with Maria. "I hope she chokes on that stupid sucker," My currently ex-girlfriend murmured.

Liz smirked, "Death by oral fixation, Freud would be so proud."

"What did you just say?" I almost reached out and grabbed Liz's arm at the mention of that familiar name, just stopping myself in the nick of time.

Liz looked up to me, confused, her eyes seemed to be searching for something. "I said that Freud would be proud," she repeated slowly. "You know, Sigmund Freud... He was a pioneer in the study of the Psychology of dreams..."

Dreams. Freud. Holy Shit.

I walked out of the elevator in a daze.

"Michael?" Maria pulled on one of my shirt sleeves. "Are you okay?"

No, Maria. I was definitely far from okay. But, I couldn't force any words out at the moment and chose to push my way past Tess and Max, driving a nice elbow in her side on the way down the hall.

What the fuck was happening? My mind was spinning as I tried not to sprint down the hallway, away from Liz Parker, the guy named Freud and the apparent fact that maybe my dreams weren't all bullshit like I believed.

You can keep thinking that, or you could listen to me for one fucking minute.

[center]* * * * *[/center]

"I hope she chokes on that stupid sucker."

"Death by oral fixation, Freud would be so proud." Up until this point I didn't realize that one could be sarcastic on autopilot. This discovery didn't exactly fill me with joy since I was the person on autopilot, but hopefully it got filed away somewhere to be examined again later. Always the scientist, that's me, of course that scientist was currently trying to discover what the hell was going on. I did not get flashes from Michael. It would be a scientific anomaly because I only get flashes from kissing Max, not from just touching Michael. Notice how I cleverly avoided the fact that flashes themselves were scientific anomalies. Cleopatra had better get out of my way because I was Elizabeth Parker, true Queen of Denial.

I would like to claim that my quick, if weak, mental thinking had saved me from agonizing over whatever the hell had just happened, but I was actually feeling especially hypersensitive. I nearly jumped out of my skin when it looked like Michael was going to reach out and grab me. Hallucinations or not, I was not quite up for another dizzying tour of what could be the Guerin subconscious. I barely held back my sigh of relief when he halted his fingers inches from my arm.

"What did you just say?" The way he was frowning at me, you'd think I had threatened his life. It took me a moment to realize it was my turn to respond. Truthfully I was used to people who spoke more than one short sentence at a time. I could do it though, answer without staring moronically up into his eyes trying to figure out what was going on. Just needed to concentrate on what was truly important. Freud. "I said that Freud would be proud. You know, Sigmund Freud... He was a pioneer in the study of the Psychology of dreams..."

That was when Michael got all twitchy and for some reason his response made me zero back in on to what I had felt and seen when we had touched. There had been fear and exhaustion blurring the visions somewhat, but I was pretty damn sure he'd been thinking about...

"I just don't understand that boy sometimes," Maria huffed, and it was then that I noticed Michael was making really good time in putting some distance between us. What had set him off? Maybe Maria would know, they could be having problems. "I thought things were going better since taking Laurie back to Arizona."

"Yeah well, I thought so too. Everything was going as great as it ever did with us right up until we left Arizona when suddenly Spaceboy reverts to his old, charming self again..."

Go me! It was official that I could carry on a conversation with Maria and quietly go insane at the same time. I should put that on my Harvard application, "Can multitask." Besides after years of listening to it, her babbling was rather soothing.

"...Not that I miss his attitude. The good doc would have a field day with all that boys hang-ups..."

The good doc?

Mom-Fucker guy? She'll teach you about him... him and so much more, Michael.

Oh God. Oedipus Rex. Oedipal theory. That mom-fucker guy. Freud. No wonder Michael couldn't wait to book it away from us. I had seen inside his head...and he knew it! Why hadn't I arrived at this conclusion earlier? I decided to blame excessive travel time and little sleep. Still if I was getting flashes from him and we were both having dreams about older versions of ourselves...and both dreams warned of danger. It was suddenly clear that my nicely sewn up dream analysis earlier was a load of crap. I needed to find Michael and find out what was going on. I needed to find Michael like five seconds ago.

"Hey, where are you going? Why does everyone keep running off? It's like I have the plague." I heard Maria call out after me as I headed down the hall in the same direction Michael had taken. I was already rounding the corner when I realized I hadn't said goodbye. Well hell, chalk it up as more craziness caused by Czechoslovakians. My talk with Max could wait.

[center]* * * * *[/center]

Outside the Twinkling Palms Motel, California, 2009

The sound of crunching gravel echoed through the air as Liz and Michael solemnly walked up the beaten van that they had called their home for the past seven years. Liz sighed as she approached the door, rubbing one hand over the bridge her nose in worry as her eyes slid shut briefly. Upon a silent, mutual agreement they had stopped all physical contact between them before coming into view of the van, but God, she could use the comfort of Michael's touch right then. The muscles he had coaxed into releasing only minutes ago, knotted once again. This was not going to be pretty. They had nothing to report and Max would want to know what had taken them so long.

"You okay, Liz?" Michael murmured his hand that had been reaching for the door handle faltering.

She turned and faced the man that she had considered her best friend for the last seven years of hell. His well worn boots and motorcycle jacket were both from a Nevada Landing outlet store, bought in a rare relaxing moment where they weren't being chased by the Skins or the FBI. Michael was the very embodiment of the group's protector and as of the last couple of years, her protector. Her protector and the only other person that could understand the talent that now caused her so much pain and guilt. Liz felt him reach out with his mind, wondering if she was okay. Michael's simple gesture made her smile briefly, Michael had changed so much from their years on the run, that he, not Max, was the one who knew just how to make her feel safe. He had come so far since the boy who used to run from his problems...

Liz sighed again. It was so tempting to just start running though, but...

They couldn't. They had responsibilities... to the world, to their friends...

They had responsibilities to Max Evans. One as a King, the other as a husband. Besides, there was no where to run to anymore...

"I know." Michael told her quietly. "Let's just make it through one thing at a time." Liz nodded imperceptibility and he reached forward once again to open the van door, pulling it open with a small tug. It was their third van in the last seven years. It was still relatively new, but she didn't like it. Something about the three rows of seats constantly haunted her, the empty seatbelts reminding that now they didn't even have enough people to fill them. She knew that Michael felt her hesitation, but the silent urging of his hands as helped her inside reminded her once again that this wasn't the time.

"Well?" Max asked quietly. He sat in the very back row, alone, but his hard stare wasn't missed by either Liz or Michael. "Status?"

"Plan A didn't work out so well, Max" Liz started off gently as she sat down in the middle row of van seats and looked at her husband.


Liz bit her lower lip before answering. God, it was so hard to say aloud, to admit that they had failed. "I couldn't talk to Kyle because it seems like the Skins have set up some sort of mental shield surrounding his mind. I couldn't contact him without alerting the Skins to our current location."

"This means, you don't have any idea where he is." Max replied icily.

Before Max could start in on their failures thus far, Michael swiftly interrupted. "I'm positive that if Liz attempted contact with Kyle or the Sheriff, we would have been caught. I could feel Lonnie lurking on the edge of my mind, searching for clues to our location, Maxwell." He took a deep breath. "Liz made the right decision."

Max's eyes flickered between the two sitting in front of him while he internally debated their actions. He nodded and then settled down in his seat, already deep in thought.

Liz stared at Max for a long second and then turned away from him, her anger and guilt too great. Max had continued to make it painfully clear that it was Liz's fault that the Skins had captured Kyle and the Sheriff six months ago, all because of a miscalculation of Michael and her visions. It was the reason that she had convinced Michael not to explain about contacting their younger selves, not yet, not until it was completely necessary because all of their other options had failed.

"Liz?" Max's voice quietly penetrated her thoughts. "I'm sorry. It's just losing Kyle and the Sheriff... I swore that after we lost Maria, we'd never lose another member of our group..."

Michael felt Liz flinch slightly next to him at the emotion she heard in her husband's voice, it happened so rarely these days. But Jesus, couldn't Maxwell see that Liz already felt if was her fault that Kyle and the Sheriff had been captured after one of their visions had been slightly wrong without adding the additional ache the memories of Maria's death would bring. He himself had tried to explain to her that it was no one's fault; it was not like there was a fucking science to what they were practicing. He had told her a million times that there was nothing anyone could do, but she couldn't seem to get past the fact that she had let Kyle and the Sheriff down. Sometimes he worried that she had the added burden of what he was feeling too. He had been the one to make the final decision on whether the two would do recon.

Liz closed her eyes and sighed, the loss her best friend and the blame for her mistakes too great to bear at times. She tried conjure memories from earlier happier times, to fool herself into believing things would get better, but she feared the reassuring smile she tried to send her husband appeared more like a grimace. "I know, Max. I understand how hard it is for you."

Michael resisted the urge to shake his King over the van seats. How could he not see what he was doing to the woman he professed to love? Max was so caught up in making the right decision he didn't even notice he had added to the responsibility she already felt.

Fuck, he blamed himself on a daily basis, but he needed to be strong for Liz. He needed to be strong for someone, because he sure as hell couldn't carry on for just himself anymore. The situation had been weighing down on them all for so long, that all of them had reached their own personal breaking points.

Which made what he had to tell Max all the harder to say. Michael took a deep breath and plunged in with both feet. "Maxwell."

"Yes, Michael." Max replied in a cold, flat tone that had become his norm.

"We couldn't find Serena either."

"What!?" Max yelled as he fairly leapt from his seat. Michael tried remain calm. "I thought that you had told me that you and Liz were so close to finding her."

"No, Maxwell. What I told you is that Liz and I are going to try to find her." Michael leaned forward towards Max. "We don't know where she could be, what she looks like, or even how fucking old she is! We're doing the best that we can and you're just going to have to accept it." Michael matched Max's glare until Max collapsed back into his van seat as defeated as they all felt from the blow.

"Max, we'll come up with something." Liz told him as Michael settled back down next to her, his body weight comforting against hers. He briefly placed his large hand over hers, unseen by Max, as an apology for his actions. He knew she didn't need the stress of them fighting.

Liz smiled for a moment, And Maria used to complain that he was oblivious... At least something in this mess has changed for the better.

The euphoria of Liz's moment was ruined by a panicked Isabel suddenly throwing open the driver's side door and jumping in the van. Her starkly pale face reflecting in the window as she turned the key to start the van without even bothering to close the door.

"Uh, guys? Let's just say that Plan C didn't work and it's time to get the hell out of Dodge." She gasped as she quickly threw the van into reverse and slammed her foot down on the gas petal. The momentum of flying out of the parking spot full speed slammed the door shut, the explosion of metal against metal echoing loudly.

To Be Continued in: Chapter Three ¡V Playing the Odds

[ edited 3 time(s), last at 27-Jan-2003 5:41:18 PM ]
posted on 7-Feb-2003 4:03:33 PM
A/N: One line from “The End of the World” was commandeered for this chapter. Also we do not own rights to the following movies, TV commercials/products, etc: The Usual Suspects, Flatliners, Back to the Future, King Henry V, Ortho Evra, McDonalds, Nyquil, Lincoln Mercury, the Emergency Broadcast System, Gone with the Wind, Quantum Leap, or anything else we might have forgotten to add but slipped in as a clip. They are the works of the various writers, CEOs, advertising agencies and directors who (living or dead) have offered their work up to public consumption. Their intended use is not for profit or key plot points, but simply as background to the build of a scene. Sadly Ferris Bueller was unable to make the cut, but in honor of that movie, we would just like to quote these famous words, “Bueller…Bueller…”

Chapter Three: Playing the Odds...

Monte Carlo Casino, Las Vegas, 2001

I slipped through the front entrance of the casino with a large group of tourists all of whom spoke German, or maybe Dutch...No, definitely German, the language of science… God I sounded like Maria, this was definitely a sign that we spent far too much time together. Well that, and we were both currently obsessing over Michael, not that there was any love/lust issues in my court, oh no, this was purely for the betterment of my sanity.

"If you stop running, everyone will die."

Apparently he had taken that little instruction to heart, because now I had to dodge security guards and the eye in the sky to find out what the hell was going on. I had tried to enter from the elevators, but had been stopped by “He of Many Gold Chains,” who promptly informed me that he didn’t believe that I was twenty-one at all. Cursing Dr. Love for dubbing me Shirley Temple the night before when he changed our IDs, I barely restrained myself from sarcastically commenting on the guard’s fashion faux pas. He looked like he belonged on the Soprano’s, like eating little brunettes was how he woke up in the morning, and my momma didn’t raise no fool…well except when it came to aliens. So I just giggled, doing my best airhead impression, and backed away slowly so as not to provoke an attack. You know, on second thought he did kind of resemble that Grizzly on…my stomach suddenly rolled and I realized this was not the time to let my mind wonder. Better to think about the dreams, those crazy, screwed up pieces of…

"We didn't know. How could we have possibly known?"

Great, just what I needed, the older versions of Michael and me duking it out for the supremacy of my brain. I broke from my German entourage, and headed towards the Craps table. Michael struck me as a dice kind of guy, controlling his fate with the toss of his hand. Try not to look conspicuous… I passed a woman in a skin tight, see through, gold gown leaning against a man with a handlebar mustache and a big hat. Did she know it was ten o’clock in the morning? I glanced around at the gamblers, their clothing ranging from shorts and t-shirts, to gowns and tuxedos. Maybe this all was just a dream, a dream within a dream. Just call me Alice in Vegas Land…

“Up until a few weeks ago I would have sworn to you that a dream was but a dream…”

“…this is your only warning before some seriously nasty shit goes down.”

Where the hell was Michael? The Craps table was minus one brooding alien, and the Blackjack and Baccarat tables showed no sign of him either. If I didn’t find him soon, I was going to scream, and that would get me kicked out of here for sure. Little Lizzie Parker, disturbing the peace, she was driven mad by alien intrigue, you know…

I nodded politely as I passed to little blue haired ladies, sliding by them into a row of slot machines to dodge a roving security guard. The clash of clinking coins and the circus-like music assaulted my ears, as machines upon machines filled my vision, their garish lights combining with the geometric pattern of the floor to make me dizzy. Geriatrics were as far as the eye could see, pumping quarters mechanically into the slots that blinked and flashed. People called this fun? The machine next to me blasted out a jingle and a flood of coins, the elderly winner desperately trying to scoop them into his cardboard tub.

“Miss…” Out of the corner of my eye I could see a security guard approaching me from the top of the row. Shit. Pretending I didn’t see him, I quickened my stride down the aisle way, careful to avoid tripping over fallen canes and purses. Ahead of me the sea of blue, white and gray parted to reveal a familiar golden brown head. His angry jabbing at the slot machine’s button seemed to have scared everyone away from the surrounding area except for one woman in her sixties with steel gray curls and leather biker chaps. As I got closer, I noticed that the tattoo on her arm had “Biker Boyz” scrawled through a heart. I smiled to myself. Wasn’t that sweet, Michael had found his soul mate…

Clearing the mirth from my eyes, but filing that image away for later, I tapped him on the shoulder, “Listen Michael, we have to— ”

Hard fingers wrapped around my upper arm, “Excuse me, Miss.”

Oh Hell. I shot Michael a vengeful look for the little smirk that graced his lips before turning my eyes upward. Dear God, it was “He of Many Chains’” clone! I forced my features to assume an innocent expression, while trying to ignore Michael’s snicker. He was going down for this. “Yes Sir, can I help you?”

“You are aware that the casino is only for those twenty-one and older.”

Why was it that no one could believe that I was twenty-one? Did I have “Minor” tattooed on my forehead while I was sleeping? Maria and Alex’s laughing faces flashed before me, and I barely resisted reaching up and feeling the skin just below my hairline. No they wouldn’t have done that to me…I just needed to play it cool. “Yes Sir, in fact I was just—”

“She was just coming to find me,” Michael interjected smoothly, wrapping his arm around my shoulders to pull me up against his side and away from the guard’s grasp. “Honey, I thought I told you to stay in the room.”

At his patronizing tone I had to physically restrain myself from slamming my heel into his toes. What game was he playing?

“She’s with you sir?” The guard had apparently ruled out the idea that we could have been siblings and from the way he was eyeing us it appeared his mind had delved into the gutter. Maria was right; Men were pigs.

Michael gave an indulgent chuckle, “What can I say Man, I like them young…”

Dear lord, how old did I look, fifteen? I discarded the idea of doing him physical harm. I didn’t want to be the one that told Maria that her on again, off again boyfriend had been irreparably damaged sexually. Besides two could play this game. I crowded into Michael’s body, angling my head against his shoulder and running my fingers playfully up and down his chest.

“But Daddy Love,” I cooed in my most breathless voice, “you promised we could play doctor an hour ago and you never showed. Surely I’m more fun than these dirty machines…”

I fluttered my lashes up at him for good measure, his face was turning bright red. I might have given the dear boy a heart attack. So sad. It would almost make it worth not knowing what these freaky dreams were about. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the guard was looking especially titillated. That’s right buddy, you wouldn’t believe I could possibly be twenty-one, but you completely bought the idea that I was a fifteen year old sexpot. Vegas was a sick town. Since Michael appeared to be still choking on his tongue I decided to go in for the kill. “Come on Daddy Love, I’ve been having the most interesting dreams. I can’t stop thinking about what you have in mind.”

“Well then, Shirley, I’d hate for you to be kept unsatisfied,” he gritted out, his arm around me felt like iron as he started to herd me away from the other man. The guard was still watching us, and I should have known that Michael would have to have the last word because he called out over his shoulder, “Don’t worry Man, she won’t be back down here. I plan to keep her real busy.”

I was fuming. Screw it, Maria wasn’t together with him at the moment anyway. She wouldn’t care if he was sexually damaged. I waited until we cleared the front doors to drive my elbow into his ribs. I had to admit, Tess’ move had the desired result, he let go of me immediately and began rubbing his side. “Oh, so you’re going to keep me real busy, huh? What…busy listening to your explanations on why you ran from the elevator?”

“Fuck this, it’s crazy anyway,” he growled before striding up the street towards the Bellagio. Oh hell no, he wasn’t getting out of this that easily. I ran after him, I had to know what happened to us. We had to figure out what was going on. Cursing my shorter legs and his head start, I finally caught up to him in front of the Boardwalk, the crowd taking pictures of their family members up in the giant Ferris Wheel blocking his way.

“So do you always refer to yourself as Mikey in your dreams?” That was great, I opened my mouth, and any tact I ever had promptly headed for the hills.

“In your fantasies does Max always have long hair and wear leather?” He shot back. My heart felt like it had stopped beating. How had he seen a flash of Future Max? I hadn’t been dreaming about him.

“Any dreams of Max like that are nightmares,” I murmured aloud without thinking. It brought home the real reason why I hated Las Vegas all over again. This was the place I was supposed to get married, this was the place where the future took a turn towards the deadly, this was the place of my broken dreams. I had to blink back tears. Why the fuck was I doing with this pigheaded alien when I really should have been talking to Max.

“What do you mean by that, Liz?” Michael’s subdued tone brought me from my thoughts to find that he had maneuvered us through the crowd and in front of a car rental place. The sunlight glinted off the hoods of cars built for speed, splashes of red and silver showing among the lethal looking black.

“Mean by what? It’s nothing.” This wasn’t about Future Max, it was about the dreams. We had to talk about the dreams. “Why did you run away when we mentioned Freud?”

Michael ran his hand through his hair, turning away from me to take in the cars and the tourists mobbed around them. “Maybe I don’t like old dead guys.” He shrugged clearly uncomfortable, “Hey, want to rent a Viper and go for a ride?”

“Well you know that old dead guy would just say you were compensating for something with that car,” I told him trying to lighten the mood.

“I don’t have to compensate for anything,” he smirked, but it was a pale imitation of the one I had received earlier.

We stood there for a minute, awkwardly taking in the people and the cars, each trying to think of the right thing to say, the right way to explain. A fine tension began to play along my nerves, stretching them, knotting my muscles, someone had to break the silence. “Michael, we…uh…we need to talk about what happened.”

“Yeah, I know. Just not here.” He looked at me for a long moment before grabbing my hand and pulling me with him through the masses that filled the side walk. Stumbling along behind him, I was about to ask where we were heading when I felt a cool mist brush my skin. In front of us the Bellagio fountains rose majestically. Avoiding a group of picture snapping Japanese, he led me around to the side facing the hotel. “Listen Liz, I don’t understand it but—”

“Oh My God! There you are!” Maria’s breathless scream cut off whatever he was going to say as she came dashing out the hotel doors. “Brunch was a total bust, but Isabel and I caught the monorail and decided to go shopping for tonight…”

It wasn’t until he dropped my hand that I even realized he had been holding it the whole time. My fingers felt cold suddenly, and I wrapped my other hand around them to regain some warmth. How I could have felt cold when it was eighty degrees out, I don’t know. We both turned to face Maria.

“…Spaceboy, Liz, you’ll never guess what’s happening, they’re filming some movie inside called ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and I saw Brad Pitt and Matt Damon—Oof!”


In her huge hurry to tell us something, Maria ran into some bald headed man smoking a cigar. Dammit Maria, could you at least watch where you’re going?

“Oh God, I’m such a klutz. Are you okay?” I heard her ask him as she reached down to grab the glasses that she’d knocked off his face. “But hey, nothing’s broken at least…”

I watched Maria's face as she apparently recognized this stupid looking bald man from somewhere. Her look of pure joy could mean only one thing – she was standing in the very presence of a "star."

“You’re Kal Langley!” she screamed.

Were my ears bleeding? Tell me they weren’t.

"Oh my god!" She tore open her purse and started frantically rummaging through it.

"Can I please, please have your autograph?" Maria shrieked as she handed him a scrap of paper. I didn’t think the human register could go that high.

"Sure, whatever, kid." He quickly signed the paper and with a look in my direction, handed it back to Maria.

Maria grinned and held his autograph up for my inspection. "Isn't it fantastic, Michael? My mom is going to be soooo jealous."

I peered closer at the slip of paper, pulling it out of her hand for a moment. Kal Langley. Well, hoo-friggin-ray. As I handed the paper back to Maria, a set of images suddenly appeared in front of me.

Stars, desert, screeching metal…

I shook my head, slowly. What the hell? I looked up for Kal's figure, but for a moment I was surrounded by women on a shopping high. In fact, I was so intent on finding him in the crowd that I didn't even realize Maria was talking to me until she grabbed my arm to get my attention. Well, that and I just tended to tune her voice out occasionally. Frequently. Okay, okay…. all the fucking time. It’s not my fault she was a babbler.

"So, anyway Spaceboy. I'm done with you monopolizing Liz's time here. Isabel and I have set up a fancy dinner that we're all going to tonight." Maria told before turning to Liz and latching on to her hand. "That means, chica, we're going dress shopping!" Liz gave Maria a small grin, but returned her questioning eyes to me.

"You can have her, Maria. I gotta go find Maxwell anyway." I shrugged. "You know, time for Doctor Love and Rob Roy to go and tear shit up."

Maria rolled her eyes at my comment, but the lure of shopping must have proved far too great because she began to pull Liz off in the direction of the Bellagio shops instead of making a sarcastic comment. Liz looked like she was trying to tell me something with her eyes, but I ignored her. The little bit of insanity that had possessed me to try and enter into a conversation with her about some insane flickers of my imagination had been broken by Maria’s entrance. Finally, a moment of peace. Free from Parker, Maria and those crazy-ass dreams. It was time to visit Vegas, baby.

But, first, I needed to find that Kal guy and see why exactly I got a flash from his autograph. Well, maybe not a flash, maybe I was just losing it. In fact, this was all probably some kind of post traumatic stress syndrome after Arizona. Still I couldn't seem to stop my eyes from scanning the crowds anyway, looking for that Hollywood guy so I could figure out what was going on.


I sighed, turning to find Liz just a few feet from me. She was just standing there, that look still in her eyes. Maria had already wandered a few steps away, but I lowered my voice anyway. "C'mon Parker, can't you just let things lie for once in your life?" I gave her a pointed look in return, hoping she'll get the hint that all this dream bullshit could wait until we got back to Roswell. I turned my back on her and started to walk away.

"Go find that guy, Michael. I felt it too." I spun around to face Liz again, surprise evident on my face. She sighed. "I know you want to go, but just do this one thing. Please?"

Whether I moaned or growled in frustration, I don’t remember. I reached out and grabbed Liz's arm and quickly pulled her into the Bellagio's side doorway. "What exactly did you feel Liz?"

"You just had a flash from Kal Langley," She hissed at me. "I felt it, just like you did. But you've made it perfectly clear that you don't want to figure out what's going on here with us, so fine, we won’t. Now will you let go of my arm, Michael? People are going to think that we're in some sort of lover's spat or something, when we all know how you find my presence annoying." She wrenched her arm from mine and before I could do anything, Liz was already stomping back down the Bellagio hallway towards Maria.

I stood there, resisting the urge to smash my head against the wall or blow something up, as wild and crazy as Vegas was purported to be, I didn’t think it would be acceptable behavior. Or go unnoticed for that matter…

"Liz!" I called out.

She halted her stride mid-step and turned to look at me. She didn’t seem surprised. I motioned for her to come back, but she shook her head at me. God damn it, this girl was frustrating. Gritting my teeth, I quickly walked up next to her. "Listen. Just go with Maria, I'll go back to the hotel and talk to Max."

Liz thought about it for a moment, her face suddenly pensive and scared. What was up with that? I thought she and Max used to tell each other everything. “Michael, don't tell him exactly what's going on. Just, uh… probe around the surface?"

I shrugged, I would never understand women. She wanted to talk about our situation but not share it with our alien king. In my mind I saw the picture of Max with the long hair and leather jacket. Earth girls were definitely weird. “Fine. If you’ll promise that we’ll leave this alone until we get back to Roswell. This is Las Vegas, Liz. The place of fun and debauchery, it’s not the place for some fucking alien crisis!”

[center]* * * * *[/center]

I. Hate. Men. Correction: I. Hate. Michael. For about two point five seconds I actually thought that Michael and I might be able to figure out what was going on, but then the semi-thoughtful guy who brought me to the Bellagio fountain disappeared behind a Hollywood smoke screen. Or, better yet, given our situation, an alien smoke screen. After what happened with the mutual flash from Kal Langley, one would think he would see the need to investigate, but no. “This is Las Vegas Liz,” I mimicked, “The place of fun and debauchery…Well debauch this Michael Guerin.”

I really would have flipped him off if he was still standing behind me, but apparently he’d taken off to go bond with Max. Who coincidently was the last person I wanted to see after learning that Michael had gotten a flash of his future version. Maybe the electrical pulse thrown off by the lights of Vegas were too much for our systems.

“Hey Liz, whatcha mumbling to yourself about,” Maria’s voice intruded into my thoughts. I hadn’t even realized that I had caught up with her.

“Nothing,” I replied, I didn’t need to start a conversation with her about how much a jerk her ex-boyfriend was, we’d had it a million times already.

“Don’t give me that, chica,” she said pulling me to a stop in the middle of the lobby. “It was Michael wasn’t it? Did he drag you out here to tell you off? Because if he did let me tell you, Spaceboy’s got some obvious issues and if he just got to know you better—"

“Maria! It’s nothing, really.” I forced a smile on my lips, “I’m just sad because it’s Vegas, the place where I was supposed to be married, and now Max and I are barely on speaking terms.”

It was partially true, I told myself as I forced my eyes to not waver from my best friend’s. Maria was a lot sharper than she let on to most people though, and I was pretty sure that she didn’t believe me. Fortunately the subject was tabled as Isabel called out to us from her spot at a lobby sitting area, “Oh, you found her, that was quick. Well, hurry up you two, I managed to get an appointment at Chanel and if we don’t find what we’re looking for there they also have a Giorgio Armani. God, I love this town.”

“Me too,” Maria agreed, “I love the way it’s always moving. I imagine New York must feel a little like this.”

“New York?” I asked, “You mean like New York, ‘I’m infested with Dupes’ New York?”

“Noooo Liz, I mean New York, Musician’s Paradise New York.” Her eyes seemed to glow with the possibilities that far off city held for her. “Home of Broadway, New York.”

“That’s New York, New York, just so everyone’s clear,” Isabel intoned as she led us towards Lake Bellagio and the shopper’s heaven that lay along its banks. “Oh and the Bellagio has an eighteen and under policy so try not to draw too much attention.”

“Oh well, we’re out of luck there Is, apparently I look like a fifteen year old Lolita,” I informed the other girl thinking back to my escapade in the casino, which inevitably brought my thoughts back to Michael. God, he pissed me off! I shouldn’t be shopping, I should be finding out what was going on…

Isabel snorted and looked down at my top, “Fifteen year old Lolita’s don’t wear Versace.”

Maria just ignored us both, still caught up in her imagination, “Can’t you see me up on stage Liz, singing and dancing? People chasing me for autographs and not the other way around…”

When we were little we used to talk about what we were going to be when we grew up. Maria was going to be a Broadway star with a lucrative recording contract on the side, and I was going to teach Molecular Biology at NYU so that we could share an apartment in Greenwich Village. Future Max never told me if either of us got to fulfill those dreams, though I doubt I was living in Greenwich if I was a nineteen year old bride. What had I given up in that last lifetime? In the end, had I though it was worth it? Maybe it’s for the best… Max’s words echoed in my mind. Maybe we would all get a chance to experience our own dreams, live out our happiness.

“I found this flyer for a singing audition and got Alex to agree to accompany me,” I heard Maria say, she was looking right at me like she knew what I had been thinking. “This could be my big break.”

We made our own destiny. We were in charge.

“Well then, we’ll have to get you some great clothes to wear,” Isabel broke in, gesturing to the elegant shop open before us. “So let’s get started.”

Turning to one of the elegant women standing to her right, she introduced herself and immediately began rattling off our sizes and needs. How Isabel knew what sizes Maria and I wore could only be the result of her aliens powers or far too much time reading Cosmo. I started to ask Maria which she thought it was, but she was whisked away by a woman bearing a pile of glittery clothing. They were efficient here at Chanel, that’s for sure.

My own personal clothing Nazi…I mean, helper led me to a private sitting room with three curtains hanging over openings in the walls, “You friend mentioned that would like a little privacy while trying your items on. I’ve already started a small selection of evening gowns in the third dressing room, so you can go ahead and begin. Would you like some cucumber water or tea?”

Having never been shopping anywhere nicer than the Albuquerque Mall, my head was spinning from the opulence. I felt a little like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”, only I wasn’t a redhead…or a prostitute for that matter. I could hear Isabel and Maria rustling around in their own rooms. Great, I was blown away, and they were getting busy. Two to one odds that they would yell at me for being so slow. Stripping my clothes off, I grabbed the first red dress off the hook and stepped into it quickly. I didn’t bother looking in the mirror to check out the fit. I really didn’t care about buying a dress that would cost the same as all my college books for my freshman year classes. I was here for Isabel and Maria, I was here because I was avoiding Max. I tied the straps behind my neck. I was here because Michael didn’t want to talk about what was happening.

“Liz! Hurry up!” Maria called out. Brushing my hair out of my face, I tried to ignore the feeling that I was responding like a trained circus monkey and thrust my way through the curtain. Immediately a smile lit my face, bitch as I may, Maria looked good in her caramel colored top and brown striped skirt. “Very elegant.”

“The same goes for you Chica,” Maria bubbled, “You have got to get that dress. It’s gorgeous.”

“My brother won’t be able to keep his hands off of you,” Isabel added. I took in her all black attire. The leather bustier looked very Zena, and yet she managed to pull the look off. Isabel Evans, Alien Valkyrie. Briefly I wondered if that was what Alex saw when he looked at her and I shuddered. I didn’t like to think that my best guy friend was into S & M.

Shaking my head to clear the blinding thought from my mind, I walked over to the standing mirror to get a look at this “oh so sexy” dress I was wearing. Taking in the V-neck front that exposed entirely too much of my chest, and the clingy deep red fabric that fell past my knees, I felt a little niggling in the back of my mind. The dress seemed so familiar to me. Racking my brain for what magazine it must have been in, I turned my head over my shoulder to take in the drop back.

“Oh God…” I murmured. I remembered now…

“Take it from me, it’s definitely out of this world,” the Isabel joked, but I barely heard her. The dress now clinging to my skin, the dress that the two other occupants in the room liked so much, was the very same dress the future me had been wearing in my dream. Suddenly I felt a little faint…

[center]* * * * *[/center]

Fuck this.

I'd been wandering around the Strip for over an hour now, but I hadn't seen Kal Langley's shiny chrome dome since he gave Maria his autograph. I had traveled across the street to Caesars Palace, then over to Bally's, Paris, and for good measure, I scouted around the Bellagio casino once more. Nothing. It was like he disappeared.

So, it was official: I had wasted an hour of my life, an hour where I could have been gambling or having fun, but nnnnnnoooooooo. Parker and her big brown doe eyes had to keep invading my brain, pleading with me to find a guy who probably wouldn’t know an alien from a special effect.

But now? Fuck this. I was going back to the casino, finding Max, and we were going to have some fucking fun in the town or else. Yeah, yeah, and in addition, I was planning on talking to Max about the dreams. Screw “probing around the surface.” It was not like this crap really meant anything… I mean, it was probably the stress of the last couple of weeks fucking with our brains, but to be on the safe side, I really did need to talk to Max. You know, far be it for me to forget to inform mine liege of my every move.

I flicked a glance at the people around me on the strip as I walked, all these idiots here trying to make a quick buck and while I was here to lose it all. The irony was amusing, but it’s not like I had anyone to share it with. I stared straight ahead as I passed the idiotic Boardwalk casino, making my way to the Monte Carlo and considering the mindlessness that it offered within its very walls. Maybe this really was all stress related, or a the curse of the money. Maybe I didn't need to talk to Max about our dreams after all, maybe all I needed was to get my thoughts away from everything alien related.

This was my chance to bond with Max, my supposed best friend. Never mind the fact that I'd been feeling more and more alone with every alien incident that came down the pipe. Max was too busy trying to impress Liz, Tess was too busy trying to impress Max and Isabel was too busy trying to impress the boyfriend of the month. And as for Maria, she was too busy sniffing her oils and dreaming dreams I could never be a part of…

Aw, you know what? Fuck this.

I took the stairs in front of the Monte Carlo two at a time in my rush to find Max and stop thinking about all this bullshit. Grabbing the gold plated handle, I swung the front door open and strode inside before I could think of anything else concerning “Universal” matters. The sounds of beeping machines, money dropping onto metal pans and cheering blue haired grandmas filled my ears, while I blinked and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darker lighting.

"Hey, Michael! Wait!"

I heard a voice call out and I reluctantly turned back around towards the front doors. Max caught up to me, huffing and puffing slightly. "Damn, Michael. You were walking like a man possessed! I've been trying to catch up with you since you walked out of the Bellagio!"

I grinned at Max, who was leaning against a wall weakly. "So, you finally were able to get rid of that nasty growth you've been sporting the whole trip, and now you’re ready to have some fun?"

"Huh?" Max wheezed.

"You know… that growth. I think it's referred to as 'Tess'…" I gave Max my patented smirk as he finally pushed away from the casino wall.

"Very amusing, Michael."

"I know, I try." I pointed to the rows of various casino tables spread out before us. "You wanna go and try our luck at the tables today, Mr. Roy?" I rubbed my hands together, trying to build up some excitement and looked over at Max, who was trying to put an interested expression on his face.

"C'mon, Maxwell. This is Las Vegas, you know…"

"…the place for fun and debauchery. I remember your speech from last night, Michael." Max quietly stated.

I grabbed him by the arm and practically dragged him to the nearest Blackjack table. "Sit." I pointed to an open chair. Max gave me a dirty look, but sat anyway. "We're gambling now."

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill and handed it to the dealer. The dreams could definitely wait till later. "Can you change this for my friend and I?" The dealer nodded and gave Maxwell and myself 50 dollars each in chips.

"Uh. Doctor Love? I don't want to gamble right now." Maxwell handed over all of his chips to me and got up from the table. Gritting my teeth, I pushed our combined pile to the dealer as a tip, jumped up from the table and followed Maxwell to the hotel elevators corridor. He stood there looking pissy, waiting for the doors to open so he could go back to the room.

"What's your problem, Maxwell?" I asked him as I mentally congratulated myself for not strangling him.

He response was to sigh and look off into the distance. "Michael, I can’t do this right now. I have too much on my mind. I'm losing her."

Jesus Christ. How sad was it that I didn’t even have to ask who “her” was? We were in Las Vegas and the boy can only think of Parker and his apparent loss. Never mind that she’d dropped him months ago…right before those rumors started circulating that she’d slept with Kyle, if I remembered correctly. Although who ever believed that bit of nonsense had to have an IQ of ten. I took in Maxwell’s hound dog expression. If he wasn't my friend, I would seriously consider kicking his ass just based on the principle of it all.

"Maxwell, I hate to inform you of this, but you lost Liz a long time ago." I ran a hand through my hair as an attempt to calm down. "You know, if you even paid the tiniest bit of attention to her instead of focusing on the past, you'd realize that there's something strange going on. Liz told me today that she's been having weird dreams. And besides that I got this—"

"Well, thanks a lot, Michael!” he interrupted, “You know, I try to open up to you and all you do is shut me down and…"

Maxwell looked up at me when the words I had just spoken finally seeped into his thick skull. I should really time that process someday. "… what did you say?"

I sighed, I knew this was going to happen with him. I should of told Parker that if she had a problem, she could talk to him herself. Hell, Maxwell probably would have pissed his pants in pure happiness if she did. Damn that Parker. This wasn’t my war, I was here for some relaxation. "I said, that Liz has been having weird dreams. She thinks that they could be important."

"Since when does Liz bring her concerns to you?” The little vein in his temple was starting to thump as he clenched his jaw.

"Probably ever since you became bestest pals with Tess." I shrugged. "At least she knows that I'll actually do something about them." Eventually…

"You know that I don't feel anything for Tess! I love Liz and I wish she would love me back," Maxwell protested.

"Oh yes, our wonderful King – too busy worrying about some piece of ass to help his fucking people!" I shouted at him, not caring if we were starting to gain the attention of several people walking by.

"Whatever, Michael. That's bullshit and you know it." Maxwell's eyes flashed as he suddenly was right in my face. “Liz knows that I’d listen to her. She knows I’ve forgiven her for Kyle. You’re just jealous of what we had, what we’ll have again.”

Maybe it was a flashback of the same violence in Hank's eyes, the frustration over Maxwell’s pigheadedness, or the closeness of his body to mine, but whatever it was it caused my fight-or-flight instinct to kick in. As was true in most cases not involving a female demanding commitment, I chose to fight, placing both of my hands squarely on Maxwell's shoulders and pushing him back as hard as I could.

"Damn it, Michael! What the fuck’s wrong with you?" He hit the other side of the wall with a thump and I saw the motion of his arm starting to swing up towards my jaw. Hank used to have more form and speed, Maxwell was all over the place. Unfortunately, I never had the time to duck or move out of the way because the punch was effectively blocked by a Mr. T look-alike wearing 10 pounds of gold chains.

In fact, I never even got the opportunity to smirk at Max because he was effectively pushed to the wall as another Mr. T clone caught hold of both of my arms and pinned me to the floor next to a gold colored trash can.

"It's policy of the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino to immediately remove all patrons that engage in uncivilized behavior and transport them to the Las Vegas Police Department's holding cells." One of the two Mr. T twins calmly stated as they began to haul Maxwell and myself out of the casino.

"We hope you enjoy your time there."

Maxwell shot me a dirty look as we were roughly shoved into a police car. I shrugged as best as I could with my hands in cuffs behind my back.

Vegas, Baby, Vegas.

[center]* * * * *[/center]

Room 214, Coos Bay Queen’s Clover Motel, Oregon, 2009

“…this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System…”

Liz tried to shut her ears to the harsh squeal of the television. Seventeen hours and nine minutes…They had been on the road seventeen hours and nine minutes, and Isabel had driven the entire time. Death Valley to Coos Bay, California to Oregon. She had stopped only twice: once for a bathroom break that could not be put off any longer by any of them, and once when the van’s engine started producing great clouds of white smoke. That had happened early on, that was when she had made the unilateral decision that they would keep moving, that they would just use their powers to keep the van together. No one had thought to argue, the panic in her expression indicated that she was barely hanging on to her sanity. And there were her words, “She’s in my head, if we stop she’ll find us…I can’t get her out of my head.” Better to get as far away as possible, better to be safe and live to try again some other day…

“…Yet another plan for Universal Health Care was introduced in the House…”

Plan C should have worked. They had been counting on it to work. It should have been simple for Isabel to slip through Jim’s unconscious mind and connect to his son’s, slip in the backdoor using the father/child bond. Lonnie shouldn’t have been able to monitor the unconscious man and still lurk at the edge of Liz and Michael’s own attempt, she shouldn’t have had the energy to. Just like Tess shouldn’t have had the energy to mind warp Alex for months without strain? She had though, she had slipped into Isabel’s mind as quite as an asp, and twice as deadly. Liz could see the malignance eating away at her, the fear of sleeping, of leading Lonnie to them. It had driven her to take two “No Doze” to stay awake at the wheel. She shuddered to think what would have happened if a cop has pulled them over, the blonde girl’s twitching and shuddering had been obvious and long lasting. It was a miracle that she had been able to keep the van on the road.

“…Did you take the pill today…?”

“…Once more unto the breach…”

Liz wondered if Isabel was also haunted by the same thoughts that transversed her own mind. Don’t think about why Jim’s unconscious, don’t think about the possible tortures the Skins have put them both through, don’t think about what could happen next. She had not slept on the long two hundred mile stretches of US-95 or I-5 N though her body had cried out for rest, but not even the buck and shudder of a van pushing a hundred could clear the thoughts from her mind.

“…Lincoln Mercury has the car for you…”

“…McDonalds, we love to see you…”

“…Nyquil will help you get your…”

God she needed to get some sleep, to let her mind and her body shut down. She was having trouble keeping her connection with Michael closed so he wouldn’t suffer too. She had been sure that they would stop in Ashland or Grants Pass, but Isabel had just kept driving, possessed by the need to get to the coast. Maybe she prayed that the clean air would drive Lonnie out. She certainly didn’t seem any more relaxed as she sat on the bed next to Liz, flipping through the ninety free cable channels the motel provided along with the vibrating beds. Somewhere deep inside Liz smirked at the fact that she didn’t have to bother paying the seventy-five cents, the restless tapping of Isabel’s right foot against the blankets vibrated throughout the entire mattress, and up into her cotton wrapped brain. She wondered if the other girl would try to stop if she asked.

“…Frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a…”

“…with the Jensen Ab Toner, you can…”

“…and now back to our…”

“…you built a time machine out of a DeLorean…”

Time travel, that’s what it all came down to, the ability to go back and try to fix the mess they had made once again. She sometimes felt like asking if this time was worse than before, or if all the events were par for course. They couldn’t go back without learning how to run the Granolith that Tess had so thoughtfully returned before blowing herself up. Alex was dead this time around though, no help from him, which meant the only other person left who could figure out how to run it was…

“…back by sundown…”

“Jesus, how can it take so long with the combination of your mental capabilities to find one damn woman. I think it’s a pretty reasonable thing to ask, seeing as I leave you two alone together for hours on end,” her husband’s voice cut across the room. Beside her, Isabel flinched, but never stopped channel surfing, the caffeine running through her alien blood making it impossible to hold still.

“…Einstein’s theory of Relativity was the result…”

“…Emergency crews have been unable to locate any survivors…”

“Did you ever consider our inability to find Serena might be linked to the fact that the future you was so fucking closed mouthed.” At Michael’s harsh reply Liz turned her head to take in the two men huddled around a map on the rickety motel table. Pain shot behind her eyes at his tone. He was supposed to bring up the idea of astral projection as way to contact their younger selves, he was supposed to get Max to listen, but…

“…I don’t know how to say this…”

“…Start your engines…”

“…Promise to honor and obey…

“Maybe Liz didn’t think to ask the right questions.” This time she was the one to flinch. Michael’s jaw just tightened in response. A surge of his anger overwhelmed her guard for a moment, and she had to battle it back.

“…Flood warnings have been issued in the Northwest tonight…”

“…Now for a limited time…”

“Liz isn’t the one at fault here. She just got caught up in the whole mess. Now the way I see it, all we currently know, at all, is this: everything goes to shit in 2014, so bad that the Skins are able to kill both Isabel and myself and we’re forced to send you back in time to save our asses. So it looks like we have another five years to get it together before we waste another fucking lifetime….So are you going to listen to me.” She could tell Michael was trying to calm himself down, counting to ten like Maria had tried to teach him all those years ago. Maria…The pain was traveling further back into her head. Migraine. Just tune it out, tune it all out…Rest…

“…The world is complicated…”

“…And like that…he’s gone.”

“…seventy-five percent of us have gum problems…”

“…It were as if we had no fear, as if we were already dead…”

“…Serena Winston, noted physicist…”

“…Sam Beckett stepped into a quantum accelerator and vanished…”

“…Now for a limited time…”

What? Serena Winston? Jesus, Serena Winston! “Isabel give me the controller.”

Glazed eyes stared at her uncomprehendingly, even as Liz clenched her hands around the little black box, growling, “Give me the God damn remote.”

“…3.5 cash back with the purchase of…”

She didn’t notice that the Michael and Max had stopped yelling at each other, that they were watching her strangely, uncomprehendingly. She had to get back. Had to hear what the announcer was saying. Serena…Shit, what channel was it on? “Jesus Isabel, were you going up or down?”

“Up.” She spared no notice of the other girls shocked tone, of the sets of male eyes boring into her body. She had to know, had to find out…

“…unknown force to change history for the better…”

“…and now on to the local weather…”

No, no, no…It had to be there somewhere, on a different channel…

“…overwhelming the powers that be with the force of our passion for science…”

“Welcome back to Fox News…”

Yes, this was it. Please God, please… “Liz, what’s wrong?”

“Everyone, shut the fuck up!” Didn’t they see, hadn’t they heard… “Listen…”

She pointed to the screen, pointed to the picture of the shy looking woman with red hair.

“Topping our national news of this hour is the death of one of America’s up and coming physicists. Serena Winston was found in her apartment this morning, killed during an apparent robbery attempt. While police have not released the cause of death, Fox has learned that the circumstances were highly unusual. Miss Winston became noted in the scientific and math communities in 2003 when she was able to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem in only twelve steps with a new mathematical equation she had discovered, simplifying the work done by Andrew Wiles in 1994. The youngest professor to ever be hired by the Harvard Physics department, she was best known for her work regarding Einstein’s theory of time travel. She is survived by her father, Dot Com Wizard Tony Winston, her mother Anna, and her adopted sister Ava…”

For a room that had been so completely filled with noise, it was suddenly dead quiet but for the rumble of the newscaster.

“In other news…”