We've gotten good at faking normalcy. To everyone on the outside we just look like a group of friends going through the motions of being teenagers. We hang out together, we study together, we eat lunch together. We avoid the desert. We don't bring up Nasedo or the dreams. We don't even acknowledge when we have them, but we can always tell. The one of us who has lain awake all night looks tired, haggard. Scared. Max comes in with dark circles under his eyes and Isabel comes in with her hair uncombed and no make-up. Most of the time I'll throw on whatever clothes are closest to the bed and ditch the make-up thing too. I don't know about Michael. I rarely see him, which is an amazing feat considering he works at the Crashdown too.
The only conversation I've had with him since our little run-in in the eraser room almost three weeks ago occurred there. We were arguing over an order I still maintain he messed up, but it was obvious we weren't fighting about whether the customer wanted a Will Smith or a Sigourney Weaver. We were arguing because we were frustrated. Because I think we missed each other. And it was dangerous to do that, to argue, because, fighting, as bizarre as it sounds, is our version of foreplay and the madder we got at each other the more I wanted to grab him and do it between a plate of Kielbasa and the deep fryer. If Liz hadn't have walked in
But she did. And we haven't been alone together since. We haven't spoken to each other since. Everyone blamed it on him not trusting me. Because I was new, or because he was angry that Nasedo still had not shown himself. No one knew the truth, that we were avoiding each other because we wanted each other too much. Because he was trying to prepare for the day when it became official, when Nasedo flat out told us that he and Isabel, myself and Max, were supposed to be together and any chance we might have had would be lost forever because he wasn't brave enough or stupid enough to tell destiny and Nasedo to go to hell.
Aside from my non-relationship with Michael everything else was great. Max and I were finally starting to feel comfortable around each other. Liz and Isabel became the sisters I'd never had and had always longed for, and Alex and I completely bonded one day after school when he drove me home and discovered I knew all the words to Boston's "More Than a Feeling", and was more than willing to scream sing it along with him. Even my mom was happy. Things with Jim were going well, and my grandfather's condition seemed fairly stable. Even grandma seemed to be lightening up. Still I couldn't forget about Michael and what I felt for him and it was making me miserable. No matter how wonderful everything else was, there was always that yearning, and on top of that no matter how much we all tried not to think about it, the dreams were still hanging over all of us like a storm cloud threatening to burst open and wash everything away.
I flopped down on the couch in the employee lounge. Liz and I had made a study date tonight for this horrible English test we have on Friday and I was really early. She wasn't done for another half an hour. I laid down on the couch and closed my eyes figuring I might as well take a nap since last night I had had a Max dream and hadn't slept very well afterwards. It was the first one in a while though. At least they were getting more sporadic.
I squirmed my way into a more comfortable position and closed my eyes.
I don't know how long I slept before it happened. I had a dream but it wasn't of Max. Everything was silver, black, gray and white, jagged and cold. There was a shadow in the shape of a man, watching me as I watched black and white pictures flash through the sky of the colorless desert. I saw what Michael and Isabel dreamt about. I saw a baby, I saw them happy, I saw them in love. I saw Max and myself in the same way, and I tried to force myself to wake up. The shadow reached out to me to stop me from leaving and when he touched me I saw something else. I saw the inside of a white room from the perspective of someone lying on their back. I tried to move and found I was strapped down. There were people in masks hovering over me, waving sharp things over my body that blurred as the vision moved on to something else. I was no longer being held down. I was holding something, someone. A little girl with blond curls soaked with blood. She was dead. The image blurred again and I saw my mother at sixteen, sitting with a group of her friends in the bed of a pick up, hooting at a police car as it drove past. She looked at me, coolly giving me a once over, then looked away. After a second she looked back. Stared. Smiled. The shadow man yanked his hand away from mine. He was angry. I wasn't supposed to have seen all that.
"Puhlman Ranch. Midnight." He growled at me in a voice thick with annoyance and barely concealed surprise that I had seen something he had been trying to keep hidden. He stalked off into the silver desert and when he disappeared into the horizon all that was left of the cold colorless dream was sucked into his retreating back and I shook myself awake rather than face the black hole he had left behind.
I tore myself out of the dream with a gasp and nearly fell off the couch and into Michael who was kneeling beside it. He stared down at me, concern etched across his features, and he reached out to brush my hair out of my eyes either forgetting or ignoring our unspoken rule that we weren't supposed to touch each other. "Are you okay? You were having a-"
"Nightmare." I whispered and sat up. A wave of dizziness hit me and I slid off the couch and into his arms.
"You're shaking" he murmured and held me tighter. My heart was racing, I couldn't breathe. All the things I had felt in the dream, all the terror, the pain, the anger, came flooding through me and I didn't know how to stop it. I was sobbing, I felt like I was going to be sick. "God, what was it?" I pulled away from him, feeling the tide of borrowed emotions pull back and recede until I was okay, until I was myself again. I wiped the tears from my eyes, still practically lying in his lap. I took a deep breath and started to get to my feet. He helped me and I took my hand back as soon as we were both up before the sparks became too much to ignore.
"What happened to you? What did you see?" I shook my head. I didn't know how to describe it. I needed to be alone to think about it, to sort it all out so I lied.
"Bull shit. That was not nothing." He stepped in closer, trapping me like always so I was forced to deal with him.
"It was a dream okay? But it was different. There weren't any colors and it was so cold. There was a man, a shadow. He said to go to the Ranch at Midnight." He frowned at me and I shivered, still chilled. "It was Nasedo wasn't it?" I whispered, and after a moment he nodded.
"He's never dream walked with anyone but Isabel before. She said that it's strange when he does. Empty, cold." I nodded and whispered a shaky "yes".
He stared at me, still so close. I reached out to him. I put my arms around him because the dream had scared me, because the parts of it I hadn't told him about terrified me and I needed someone. I needed to pretend everything would be okay. I would have wanted the same from anyone right now. Michael just happened to be the only one here.
I'm such a liar.
Love me when nobody else can see
Touch my soul, then treat me like I am a stranger
This is not the way I want to feel
Should have known a love this strong
Would bring some danger
But if it's all in my head
I'll find a way to make it end
And it's tragic
Slingshots, whisper, my teardrops, an answer
What am I to you?
"He showed me what you and Isabel dream about. He showed me the baby." He stiffened but I didn't let go. "You looked so happy," I murmured into his chest, hoping he realized it wasn't an accusation, as he buried his face in the curve of my neck.
Slingshots, you forgot, my kisses, don't miss this
What am I to you?
"I hate this" he whispered. "I hate pretending that I don't see you, that I don't"
"I know. I hate it too."
Shame - how you got me
Ripping words off my lips to keep from asking
I fall when you call
Press my ear against the phone to hear your lips move
I guess it's all in my head
And in time I'll make amends
"What do you want?"
but it's so tragic
"I want you to hold me."
I want you so bad
"I can do that."
What's wrong with me baby
"I want you to kiss me."
I want you so bad
A kiss slow and deep everything I needed, his breathless whisper, "I can do that too", and my last request. "I want you to say it." He pulled back like I knew he would.
What's wrong with you baby?
"It's not that simple." I swallowed painfully and nodded, thinking, It should be.
Love me when nobody else can see
Touch my soul and treat me like a stranger
This is not the way I like to feel
I should have known a love this strong would bring some danger
Slingshots, whisper, my teardrops, an answer
What am I to you?
Slingshots, you forgot, my kisses, don't miss this
What am I to you?
Slingshots, you forgot, my kisses, don't miss this
What am I to you?
"We should call the others. He wants us to be there in an hour."
Beads fall from a delicate string
My love is too strong to want you in the way we've been taught to take
I reached out and clicked off the radio as Michael picked up the phone and dialed Max and Isabel's number. He listened for a moment, silently, looking at me. He hung up.
"They aren't there."
"Try Is's cell phone." He dialed again. I couldn't stop shaking. He had to reach them. We couldn't meet Nasedo by ourselves. He'd be angry if we did and I had no desire to see this guy pissed. I breathed a sigh of relief when he got through.
"Hey, Nasedo paid Maria a visit. Did he dream walk you too? No she's not okay, she's freaked. Midnight, yeah. I know. Do you think we should? Well we don't know what this is about, you really want to put them in danger? Isabel I'm not-" He sighed and ran a hand through his hair frustrated. "Fine. Whatever you want, just get here. We don't have much time. Yeah, I'll tell Liz." He hung up, and leaned against the wall folding his arms in front of his chest. "He contacted her too a few minutes ago. She was just on her way to pick up Max from Alex's. She wants to bring him and Max wants to bring Liz."
I nodded. And we were both quiet until he stepped away from the wall, towards me.
"We're not finished."
"Talking. I didn't get to tell you what I mea-"
The door swung open and Liz came in untying her apron. She smiled at Michael
"Hey I thought you went home." She frowned at the expression on his face and followed his gaze to mine. "What happened?"
"Nasedo." He said. "He wants us to meet him in less than an hour. Max and Isabel and Alex should be here soon." Liz nodded, her jaw set, and hung her apron up on the hook. She took her jacket out of her locker and pulled it on. The look on her face said that she had been expecting this, waiting for it. Too bad I had conveniently forgotten that just because Nasedo skipped out on us the last time didn't mean he wouldn't want a rematch. I wasn't prepared at all. Before I hadn't been scared of meeting him. I'd been kind of excited, curious. But after seeing what I wasn't supposed to seeI wanted to run and hide.
"Are you okay Maria?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I want this too be over with." Liz sat down beside me on the couch.
"Me too", she murmured.
Michael went to the door and looked out the window into the café, looking for the jeep out front and said gruffly, "Yeah well I have a feeling it will be. Tonight."
We locked up the café and waited out front, standing there in a tense silence. Liz and I nervously kicked at each other's shoes while Michael stared sullenly at the ground. His head shot up the second we heard the screech of the jeep's tires around the corner. Isabel pulled up in front of us and got out.
"We need more than one car to fit everybody." She looked at me. "Did you bring yours?" I nodded and she motioned for Michael and Liz to get into the jeep. "I'll go with you so you don't get lost". We took off in a jog across the street as Max started up the jeep again and sped off down Main Street.
I followed Max's headlights down the dark highway and glanced over at Isabel who had her knuckles pressed against her lips. She caught my eye and tried to smile.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Everyone keeps asking me that."
"Well, they know how weird it is, someone coming into your head. Especially Nasedo. When he does it it just feels different. You know he's there and there's nothing you can do with about it. Usually dream walking's pretty cool, and if you're with the right person it can be nice" I could tell she was blushing even in the darkness of the car. I bit my lip and decided to just ask her. I had nothing to lose. Michael was already pretty much gone anyway.
"Isabel do you love Michael?"
"Yes. He's my brother."
"No, I mean are you are you in love with him? Because itit just seems like you and Alex" Isabel turned slightly in her seat to look at me, and I kept completely focused on the road and the steady glow of the headlights.
"Nasedo showed you our dreams didn't he? Me and Michael together?"
"He showed me yours too."
"I know how you feel about them Maria and I know how Max feels about them. Michael and I don't want this either. I mean at least you and Max don't consider yourselves to be related. It's different for Michael and I. It's likeborderline incest or something." She laughed breathlessly and I said tentatively, "Are you sure Michael feels the way you do? I mean I saw him with you and the baby and he looked so happy."
"I think that's because a part of him wants that. I mean not necessarily a baby, and not with me, but a family. A real family. Max and I have never really been enough for him, and I understand that even though it's hard not to feel hurt. He'sMichael's had a hard life. He's had to go through stuff no one should ever have to deal with, and it's made him afraid to open up to people. And he's so goddamned pig-headed. It took him forever to let us help. He's afraid that showing how he feels, showing when he's hurt makes him weak, vulnerable, leaves him open to people taking advantage of him. I think he just needs to feel safe and accepted. Loved. Not that he'd ever admit it to anybody And we've tried to give him those things, and I think it's helped make things a little better, but it doesn't seem to be enough. He still feels so alone." Isabel took a deep breath and brushed a tear away from her cheek. "He's always been so obsessed with finding out why we're here, where we've come from. Even when we were kids. The three of us would camp out in the desert and just lay there. He used to cry when he thought we were all asleep, but I always heard him. The one time I reached out to him, and he let me hold him he said that there had to be something out there for him that was more than this, more than Roswell and Hank. Something better. He's been looking for that something all his life."
"What about you?" I asked softly and she took another deep breath to steady herself.
"I like my life. I love my brothers, Liz. And I'mI'm falling in love with Alex. I don't want to let that go. I think that scares me more than anything else, losing him when I've just found him." I reached over and found her hand. I squeezed it comfortingly.
"I know what you mean." I let go of her hand and licked away the tear that had settled at the corner of my mouth.
"I know you do." I looked at her and she smiled. "I dream walked Michael to find out what he had against you, why he was so cold anduh he wasn't there in the dream." I blushed, and she caught it. "Don't worry, it wasn't an icky boy sex dream. It was sweet. You two were lying on the sand, staring up at the stars. He was holding your hand. I never knew Michael could be so sweet. He was happy there Maria. He was happy with you. Do youdo you care about him?"
"So much" I whispered, my throat threatening to close up.
"I thought so. You guys are terrific actors - we all thought you hated each other."
"No one else knows do they?"
"No, no. Michael doesn't even know I know. I don't really make it a habit to go into his head, so he'd never suspect. He'd be pissed if he found out."
"I won't tell."
"Does Alex know how you feel?"
"He will. No matter what happens tonight he will."
I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe I thought he would drop out of the sky, or come walking up to us from the depths of the midnight desert. I don't know — something dramatic. I did not expect him to pull up next to the jeep in a dusty brown Chevy that looked older than all of us put together. We had fallen into place when we arrived. Liz stood beside Max, their hands together, fingers entwined, and Isabel immediately went to Alex who put his arm around her. Michael and I were left standing beside each other, but not too close, when we heard the car.
A man got out. He looked like he was in his late thirties, early forties, and he was balding and wearing a suit. He looked unassuming, like anyone you'd pass on the street and not give a second thought to. He looked boring actually. He took one look at us and shook his head, his lips pressed together in a tight line of annoyance/disappointment. He looked like my third grade science teacher when Kody Dempster and Joe Smalley tried to make a pyramid out of beakers. I almost laughed, but the look in his eyes chilled me to the bone and I took another step towards Michael as he passed by me.
"This is unacceptable. They don't belong here." He waved a hand at Liz and Alex like the gesture could just wipe them away. He swept a hard gaze over the group, lingering a moment on me before turning back to Max and Isabel. "I've told you before how things are meant to be, how they will be. Now I don't care what happens to them, but if you did you would let them go."
"You keep telling us how things are meant to be, but you won't tell us why" Max frowned.
"Children," he sighed condescendingly and I felt Michael bristle beside me, "You've had the dreams — all of you. They should be self-explanatory. This," He sent us a vision of the squares connected by an "x" with the strange lima bean designs inside of the boxes, and us standing in our "destined" places beside it, and then it was gone. "- is right. This," another hand fling at Liz and Alex, " - is wrong. Accept it and we can move on."
"Yeah, on to what?" Michael said stepping forward. "You actually gonna tell us something useful this time? Like who we are, and where we come from? Or are you just gonna send us on another scavenger hunt and disappear?"
"It's not my job to tell you those things. My only job is to keep the four of you together and keep you safe."
"Safe?!" Michael exploded. "Where the hell were you when Valenti was on our asses all that time?"
Valenti? Jim Valenti?
"Or when Hank was beating the shit out of me just for being there! Where the fuck were you!"
"You took care of those problems yourselves. I had to protect you from Pierce. When I "disappeared" as you put it, I was attempting to lead Pierce away from you all. He was getting too close. I knew you could handle the Sheriff." A sigh and a rolling of the eyes. "It's not that I don't care Michael, in fact I dealt with your foster father personally." Michael stared at him and Isabel frowned.
"Who the hell is Pierce?"
"You don't need to know right now. I'm taking care of him."
"If he's a threat to us you should tell us-" Max argued and Nasedo cut him off.
"The only thing you need to know about Pierce is that he is dangerous and if you want to survive him you need me. You all need to trust me that I know what is best."
"And you're saying it's "best" if we paired up like in the dreams."
"Yes, Max that is a part of it."
"Why is it so important?"
"For one, you were meant to be together. You were designed to be together. Your subconscious knows this. Where else do you think the dreams were coming from?"
"I thought they might be coming from you actually." Isabel answered looking him straight in the eye.
"Afraid not my dear. And secondly, it's a matter of biology. You four are different from those two — different in a way that cannot be overcome by what you children believe is "love"."
"Wait a second." I said, speaking up. "I'm only half "different". I'm not a perfect biological match for Max."
"There are exceptions."
"Why? Why are there exceptions?" He stared at me and I asked the question again in my head, instinctively knowing to push at him with my mind. I saw the flashes again. The ones from the dreamwalk he had been trying to keep hidden. I saw a blond haired girl lying in his arms lost in an eternal sleep and I saw my mother. I saw him watching my mother. I saw him pick her because she was wearing a necklace with a star pendant that caught the light when she turned her head to look at him. "What did you look like to her?" I whispered.
"What are you talking about?" his eyes narrowed. I think he knew I was on to him, that I knew what he had done, who he was.
"Show me what you looked like when you called yourself "Nick". I want to see you. I want to see if I look like you looked."
"Maria" Michael said softly and Isabel and Max stared at me.
"What are you saying Maria?" I heard Liz ask me in a quiet voice, but they knew. They knew what I was saying.
"You're my father." I whispered and he glared at me.
"Of course" Isabel whispered.
"Why did you choose her?" It couldn't have just been her taste in jewelry.
"She was easy." He snapped, and I flinched.
"Why did you do it?" Max stepped up. "I thought we weren't supposed to have any "contact" of that kind with humans. You obviously did, so we know it's not impossible to be with them, to live with them, to love-"
"I did not love her. I did not live with her."
"No, you used her and then you walked away when you discovered I could pass for human." I was trying not to cry, but it hurt. Finding out that I was an experiment of sorts. That, and I guess I had wanted to believe that even if my father didn't love me, he had at least loved my mother. This thing didn't love anybody. He was so cold. Even as angry as he was right now with us challenging him, making him tell us things he had never intended to tell us, he was as cold as ice. "Why didn't you take me with you?" Not that I wanted him to have. I was just curious. He rolled his eyes.
"I didn't need you yet." Oh. Well, fuck you then.
"What about the pod?" Isabel said suddenly. "In the chamber there were four pods."
"There was a girl. A little blond girl" Max murmured.
"That you left behind. She was found. She was killed. Dissected. They caught me when I tried to retrieve her. I was foolish then. I didn't understand all that I could do yet. I was not able to perform my duty in her case. I am able to now for you all."
"The girl — the fourth alien died and you needed a replacement." I said quietly, finally understanding. "You figured half would be better than not at all huh?" I stared at him. He looked bored with the whole thing. Annoyed (since that seemed to be his natural disposition) and bored. "You made me dream of Max. You made Max dream of me. He wouldn't have on his own becausebecause if what you're saying is true his "soulmate" or whatever the hell you want to call it is dead. "Destiny" was altered and you tried to fix it by getting my mother pregnant and filling the missing space with me. Max and I are not destined for each other."
"Are you finished?" he sighed.
"No I'm not finished! I dreamt of him once" I said gesturing towards Michael, and ignoring the surprised looks from everyone but Isabel and Nasedo "Was that real or did you make me have that one too?"
"I couldn't have you with him because they couldn't be together. We don't do that on our planet either." Nasedo growled wrinkling his nose in distaste at the idea of Max and Isabel.
"Wait," I said realizing something else. "I was born before any of them were, before they came out of the pods, before they left anybody. Before she was killed. How did you know I would be needed to take her place?"
Nasedo took a deep breath and said with forced patience, "She was born too early. She came out of the chamber and left it alone, without me coming for her and without you three to protect her. Of course she wouldn't survive on her own. The only reason you three did was because you drew your strength from each other. That and the fact that you were ready, grown. She was not ready to be born. She was not meant to be released. She was weak. If I had known to be there she would have been fine. I could have returned her to her place with the three of you, to continue her growth, but she was captured. I found your mother just in case I needed a replacement, and then I attempted to retrieve her. If I were able to do so I would have found you and disposed of you."
"But we saw her in the pod chamber when we were "born"."
"I made you see her Max."
"You still haven't told us why we're here." Michael said, his voice deadly calm, as he came up beside me and carefully placed a hand against my back where no one could see trying to give me support, comfort from the harshness of his admission that he would have killed me without a second thought. "We know there were originally four of us. One was killed and you brought Maria into the picture to fill the space. Why did that need to be done? What purpose is there to a pair up? If you could just randomly fill it with anyone it must not be that important. If you would just tell us why we're here and why we have to be together maybe we wouldn't be fighting you so damn hard."
"It's not my pla-"
"Not your place to tell us, right. You know what I think Nasedo? I think you're full of shit. I think you don't know any more about why we're here than we do, and Maria is just your attempt to cover your ass. I think you made up this four square bullshit to keep us isolated, to keep us from caring about humans because you don't." Nasedo shook his head.
"You'll find out soon enough," was all he said before turning away, but I stepped in front of him before he reached the car.
"You made us have those dreams didn't you?" He tried to step around me and I held up a hand warningly, because I knew now. I understood. "All I have to do is touch you to know the truth. I don't even have to do that do I? I'm connected to you and you hate that don't you? You hate that you can't hide the truth from me." He smiled tightly, denying nothing, and stepped around me, getting into the car.
"Father." It was so very civil, this cold acknowledgement. I closed my eyes as he drove away and asked my question once again like I had before, pushing with my mind and waiting.
"Shit." I heard Michael curse behind me and I turned around. They were standing in a half circle before me. Neither Max and Liz nor Alex and Isabel had left each other's sides, and Michael stood behind me staring at the brown Chevy's disappearing headlights through the cloud of dust he had left behind. "We still don't know for sure if he's making us have those dreams. And we still don't know why the we're herejust more questionsmore fucking doubts?I!" he kicked angrily at the ground, and I put my hand on his arm after finally receiving a reluctant answer.
"He's making us have the dreams because he honestly believes that we are supposed to be paired up."
"How do you know?" Isabel whispered, taking Alex's hand. I stared at their fingers how easily they found each other and just held on.
I didn't know how to explain it, how I knew that if I wanted to know what he knew all I had to do was ask and push, forcing the question until he had no choice but to answer.
"When he dream walked me to tell me about tonight, he touched me and I saw her - the little girl and I saw my mother. He opened some kind of connection between us when he touched me. I think it's because I'm hishis daughter. I don't think he can keep things from me. Not if I want to know."
"Why are we here?" I shook my head at Max.
"All I saw were two stones. They both had this mark on themlike this." I traced the design in the sand with my shoe and Max and Isabel looked at each other.
"Liz and Iwe found one a few weeks ago buried out in the desert." Max blushed as Liz smiled at him, and stepped in a little closer to him. "But we only found one."
"There's another one. You need both of them to" to I don't know. Do something important.
"To what?" I sighed.
"I don't know. I asked him why you three are here and all he sent me was an image of the two "orbs"."
"Does he know where the other one is?" I shook my head.
"I didn't ask. I don't think I'll be able to get him to answer me. I think it only works if he's near me. I can't really feel him now. Before, since after the dream I felt kind of weird inside, kind of cold. I don't feel like that now, I feel okay. I didn't really notice I felt any different until now, now that the feeling's gone. I thinkI know he'll be back. He's just angry now."
"Tough shit. We're the ones who should be angry."
"There's nothing we can do now Michael." Max and Liz walked over to the jeep and after a moment Isabel and Alex followed them. "We have to find the second orb. We'll study the one we have tomorrow. Maybe it will tell us where to find it. Maybe the rocks Riverdog gave us can help too. Other than that I don't know." Michael nodded, seemingly satisfied with waiting until tomorrow to go any further. Isabel ran over to me and gave me a hug before getting into the jeep beside Alex and said quietly, "You know you have us right? You'll always have us no matter what Maria."
"I know Is." I hugged her back and Liz put her arms around me after I returned Alex's small smile and said, "If you need anything Maria, if you want to talk about...about anything just call me okay? Anytime you need me I'm here for you."
"Thanks Liz," I whispered and Max came to me and rested a hand lightly on my shoulder. I nodded at him and he gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before joining the others in the car. I silently watched the jeep drive away leaving me alone with him.
"I'm sorry" he said after a quiet moment and I turned to look at him. "I'm sorry about what he saidabout the way he is."
"It's okay" I shrugged, "It's not like I expected if I ever did find my father that he'd actually be in my life. That he'd actually be a father. I've never really missed not having one. My momMy mom is amazing, and youI mean all of you — Max, Isabel, Liz and AlexI don't need Nasedo to feel complete. You guys are my family. I don't need him, I don't" I couldn't hold back my tears anymore. I was tired of pretending I didn't care what Nasedo thought of me, how he regarded me as a barely acceptable replacement to the real thing, how he used my mother, how he manipulated me, all of us. Michael held me as I cried, stroking my hair, and whispering in my ear that I had them, that everything would be alright because they would always be there. He would always be there.
I stared out the window as he drove my car down the dusty road back to Roswell. My fingers traced the moon outside and when I pressed them to my lips to stop the shaky breath that threatened more tears, I found they retained the coolness of the glass, and leaned my burning forehead against the window. It's amazing. All of this is amazing — who Max, Isabel and Michael are — who I am. Who Nasedo is.
I'm not sorry for anything that's happened. Because I'm here. I'm here in Roswell with people I care about and who care about me. It makes it worthwhile. Really. I'm not angry at Nasedo anymore. He is who he is. He did what he felt he had to do. It's pointless being pissed off and it's even more pointless being hurt by it. Still, it's hard not to feel. My relationship with Michael is testament to that. No matter how many times you try to turn yourself off it's there. The yearning, the desire, the love, the anger, the disappointment, the fear. I could say it's the human side of me that feels these things but I know that's not true. I've witnessed these emotions in Max, Isabel, Michael, even Nasedo, and it makes me wonder if aliens are as "different" from humans as Nasedo believes.
I turned my head to look at him in the darkness, studied his profile as he stared out the window. A muscle in his cheek clenched as he swallowed uncomfortably under my scrutiny.
I wonder how things will be between us now. If he'll be uncomfortable around me, if we'll continue our little charade, dancing around our emotions. I wonder if what we've learned tonight means anything at all to him. The fact that Nasedo was the one who sent us the dreams. Or maybe that doesn't matter. Nasedo believed what he did so strongly that he violated us — the ones he was sworn to protect. Maybe Michael believed there was some validity to the idea since Nasedo had gone so far to make us believe we were meant to be paired off. Or maybe he just didn't want me anymore.
He stopped the car in front of his apartment building and turned to me.
"Can you come up for a minute?" he asked softly, his voice coloring in the silence that had stretched on for so long between us.
I followed him up the stairs just like last time, trying not to remember, trying not to feel. I didn't know what he wanted. Probably to make it official. Nothing was going to happen between us ever again.
He closed the door quietly behind me and I stood there in the middle of the room, taking it all in. It was neater than last time, like he had made an attempt to clean. The sleeping bag we had shared twice was not in a tangled heap on the floor. It was draped over the arm of the sofa. Maybe he hadn't been sleeping much either.
I sat down at the kitchen counter waiting for him to work up the nerve to tell me whatever it was he was going to tell me, and noticed there were spoons on the counter. Five of them were pretty mangled, like they had been melted, their stems gently twisting and frozen in a permanent drip. The two closest to me were untouched, but they were much smaller than the others and identical.
Yes, this was the work of an insomniac. Melting spoons. I had to ask, if only to break that awful silence that was creeping in again.
"What's with the spoons?"
"I wanted it to be perfect"
"This." He held out his hand to me, and lying in his palm was the ring. He stepped in a little closer and lifted my hand from my lap, carefully slipping it onto my finger and watching me for a sign that he should stop. It fit. It fit perfectly. I looked up at him, speechless, and he shrugged, running a hand through his wild hair embarrassed. "I was umtrying that romantic thing out. Y'know cause girls like that sort of thing."
"You made me a ring out of a spoon?" He blinked at me and frowned.
"No, I made it out of half of mine. I just had to practice first so I wouldn't mess it up. I wantedI wanted it to be perfect." I stared at him and he stared at the floor. I took his hand in mine and pressed our palms together, ring over ring. Together they were the same width it used to be.
"So do you like it?" He looked up when I didn't answer and I kissed him. I put all my love into it, all my heart, trying to give him what he had put into the ring. The sparks crackled into life again, dancing over our skin and tangling with our breath.
"I can't believe you did this" I whispered against his lips between kisses, "This is so"
"Romantic?" he asked hopefully, and I breathed a "Yes" in his ear as he held me. "Well good. Y'know cause that's what I was going for." He pulled away slightly and brushed my hair away from my eyes, gazing into them before saying quietly. "I want you to know that I did this before tonight. Before we found out that Nasedo forced the dreams on us. I want you to know that I did choose you. I was going to tell you tonight."
"I thought youI thought you said it wasn't that simple"
"It's not. It's not as simple as just saying it. I had to believe it, and I did. But I didn't think you did. I looked into your eyes and I saw you waiting for me. I saw you waiting for me to let you down. I thought if I showed youif I showed you that you were the one I wanted, the one I've always wanted by fixing this, maybe you'd believe it. So I was going to give this to you, but I chickened out because I was afraid it wasn't enough." He wiped a tear away from my cheek with his thumb and said gently "You had every reason to doubt me"
"No," I whispered, "No I didn't. I should have known what you meant when you gave this to me the first time. I should have believed you then."
"It doesn't matter, you believe me now right?" I nodded and he smiled, resting his head on my shoulder as I ran my fingers through his hair. "So it's alright then? If I love you?" I laughed breathlessly and pulled back to look at him and traced the line of his jaw, marveling at him, at all of this.
"Only if I can love you too."
"I was going to anyway."
"Me too." He kissed me again and breathed against my lips, "Princess."
"Buttmunch." I answered and covered his mouth with mine as his fingers danced up and down my spine in an endless caress that made me tremble in his arms like I always did and always would.
It didn't matter what Nasedo thought or what anyone else thought. I decided I didn't believe in destiny. I believed in us.
I've always felt a little different, like maybe I was always walking a little faster or slower than everyone else. I don't know, out of synch anyway. I thought it was normal to feel not normal, to feel out of place, like I don't belong. I never expected this, never really believed it was true that I do belong. In Roswell. With Max and Isabel, Alex and Liz. With Michael.
I love him.
I love the fact that he knows who I am, and loves me anyway.
I love his crazy hair that's as stubborn and wild as he is and his infuriating smirk that melts into a smile when I kiss him.
I love the way he roped me into this, convinced me to go with him, convinced me into leaving my little shit town for his, because I found everything I've ever wanted here. A family. Friends. Acceptance. Love.
Whatever happens now will happen because of the choices we make. Our destiny is what we make it, and I know we'll be fine because we'll face it together with our arms around each other and our souls full of stars and love.