Title: Cat & Mouse

Author: Katjen

Email: katjen20@yahoo.com

Rating: PG13

Category: M&M, AU

Summary: Maria left Roswell the summer before the shooting, and now she's back six years later

Disclaimer: Nope not minenot mine at all

Author's Notes: Song is "Teardrop" by Massive Attack

*~*~*

Mmmm...

I remember this sunwhite-hot beating down on my bare head bleaching my blond hair even blonder and drying up any drop of sweat that dares to try and roll down my burning skin.

I remember this windthis dry desert wind that lifts up particles of sand and rakes them across my body as I lay on the rock stretched out like a lizard worshipping the sun the way some people worship the moon.

It's the first thing I do when I get back here after six years away. I go to the rock and I say hello to this desert that I used to wish upon like a star when I was a kid, and I remember staring out at it from my window, I remember admiring that black and silver-white midnight stillness thinking that thereout there past this stretch of sand is my future, my destiny...

I used to pride myself on being different, on marching to my own drummer, on being that quirky Maria-girl with a fetish for essential oils, but I think in one respect I was just like any other kid in Roswell — or any small town kid anywhere. I think we all believe when we're young that there's something better for us out there, past the cornfield, past the desert depending on what part of the country you hail from. I think we all depended on this idea that if we could just get out there everything would be different, better, more exciting. Very few of us ever get to find out if it's true, because the sad fact is most small town kids stay in those small towns. They grow up there, get a job there, they get married to a boy or girl they've known since pre-school and then they have kids of their own who grow up feeling just as caged in and restless as they had when they were young, and it all begins all over again in an endless cycle of discontent, bitterness, and regret.

I'd like to say that I'm one of the lucky few that actually did get away, but I'd be lying because I'm here again. Six years after getting into my mother's rusty old jetta packed up and piled high with all our belongings and driving away, I'm here again. I'm even driving the same car.

I'm not sure how I feel about it yet except for this vague feeling that I've betrayed that younger version of myself that wanted so badly to get away, to find a future outside of Roswell, outside of New Mexico

I stretch one last time and get to my feet. I wipe the sand off my butt, twist my hair into a ponytail, and smile as the wind caresses my neck like a lover. I feel like it's welcoming me back.

I refuse to feel guilty about being here now. I did get away; I did make that attempt. It's not my fault that my future or my destiny or whatever led me right back to where I'd started from.

And it's not like I'm staying forever.

That sixteen-year-old ghost of Maria Deluca will just have to suck it up and leave me alone.

*~*~*

I'm about half an hour outside of town and I fully expect to be pulled over. For probably the first time in my life I'm in danger of driving below the speed limit. Actually, I don't know if what I'm doing could even constitute as driving since I'm basically just letting the wind push me down the road.

Can you tell I'm not in a hurry to once again become a citizen of Roswell, New Mexico?

An hour ago I was all right with this, with coming back. I was almost kind of relieved. Being there in the desert, sunning myself on that giant rock, I was able to just be. It's a feeling I've never been able to find anywhere else, and it's one of the few things I've always missed about New Mexico. The desert sucks out every bad thing that's inside of you because it's so much bigger, so much more important than anything you could ever have to deal with. You don't have a name in the desert, you don't have an identity, you're just you and somehow that's good enough.

My car creeps past the cheerful "Welcome" sign which of course has an alien on it offering a four-fingered wave, and I feel like I'm suffocating already. Up ahead is the Lift Off gas station and I decide to pull into it even though my tank is more than half full. I need cigarettesstrength and sanity in a box

When I lived here the alien references never really bothered me — I barely noticed them. I don't think I realized until I left this town that other ones weren't plagued by the same space-themed restaurants and, in this case, gas stations too. But after everything It makes my skin crawl now. It's sick. This is a sick town. And I'm sick for coming back here.

But I can't turn back now. I promised.

I buy a pack of cigarettes from the gas station attendant and sit on the hood of my car, squinting into the hazy distance as I light one up and take a drag. I can see the town from here, glimmering like some kind of oasis. The heat is magic, it makes Roswell shimmer, it makes it look interesting, exotic. It's a mirage.

I take a deep breath and exhale with a swirl of smoke, "I can do this. I'm strong enough for this..."

Besides I know the truth now — I know the truth that eludes so many small town kids and keeps them miserable and haunted with "what-ifs". I've learned in my six years "out there" that where you live isn't your problem — it's who you are and sometimes who you're with. I wasn't happier when I left Roswell. I still had the same problems — I still had to deal with my mom, I still had to deal with the fact that I didn't know what to do with my life and unfortunately the answers weren't hurled at me the second we crossed the state lines. I searched for years and found nothing that excited me, that inspired me, I fell into things, things I now regret but can do nothing to change. Sometimes I think it would have been better if I'd never left at all. My life would be so differentI wouldn't feel the need to go to the desert just so I can lose all sense of who I've become and what I'm here to do

Fuck this. All this whining is stupid and self-indulgent.

I slide off my car, determined now. I notice a smooth chalk colored rock on the ground near my foot and I pick it up and put it in my pocket. I want a piece of the outside world to carry with me, just to remind me that I did leave and that when this is over I can do it again.

I can just do what I have to do and move on with my life. I can walk away.

Maybe I'll even try school again. Mom always wanted me to graduate from college. I'm sure Daniel will help me pay for it. He'll owe me after this.

Hell, he'll owe me a lot more than friggin' tuition if this "trip" back is as horrible as I think it's gonna be

*~*~*

I kinda want to drive by my old house. I want to see if it's different even though I know it won't be — no one paints stucco Still I'm curious about the people who live there. I want to know who has my room. I want to look inside my old window and make sure they didn't mess it up.

I come to the street but don't turn off. I keep going. It doesn't matter who's there now. There's no me left there, there's no mom. What's the point?

The apartment complex is just outside of the central area. It's gray. Gray walls, gray steps leading up to the second level. It's kind of depressing actuallybut it's home for now.

I park the jetta beside the steps and grab my bag. I hope my stuff's here. Daniel said it would be.

2b, 2b2b doobey doo

My apartment's right at the top of the steps. I push the key into the lock, turn it with a flick of my wrist and I'm in. He did a good job. He made an effort to make it look like my old apartment. Despite the different layout all my stuff is basically in the same place — TV against the wall with the stereo, my old brown squishy couch in the center of the room with the coffee table my mom and I decorated with random words and pictures cut out from magazines. My posters are upGeorgia O'Keefe, Jimi Hendrix, Ansel Adams, and John Lennon. He even hung up the tie-dye tapestry my mom had had in her first apartment. I smile breathing in the faint scent of incense, and it tickles my nose, making me laugh a little. A lot of my mom is still here. She's in that tapestry, that incense, that alien head cookie jar that I can't bring myself to get rid of because I've had it so long.

I miss her. I miss her a lot.

The phone rings, and I feel a little burst of excitement. My first phone call.

"Hello?"

"Maria" Daniel doesn't talk, he purrs.

"Hey."

"Do you like what we did?"

"Yeah it's greatThanks for getting all my crap down here"

"It was no problem darlin'I tell you whatI don't want you to feel rushed or uncomfortable about all this — I know you didn't want to come back here, but you're doing the right thing and you know I appreciate it so I just want you take your time and re-familiarize yourself with the place alright? You take as much time as you need with this little project"

"Yeah, okay Daniel."

"We're all depending on you." I close my eyes against the sudden stinging sensation, and I bite my lip, trying to hold back a shaky breath.

"I know Daniel."

"You're gonna be fine Maria, you're completely covered — all you're doing is observing. Anything happens, you get scared, you give me a call and we'll work it out okay?"

"I'm fine, I can handle it."

"Good."

"Dan?" He hates when I call him Dan, but he heard me almost cry so I have to make up for it somehow. "Max Evans is the only one you're interested in right?"

"Yes."

"Okay just making sure."

"Have a good first day — I'll be waiting for your report."

"Yeah."

I hang up the phone and wrap my arms around myself. I feel really cold all of a sudden.

I can't believe I' m doing this.

I've been able to put off thinking about all this for a while but now that I'm here, now that I've actually spoken to Daniel here it's all too real. And I want to laugh. I want to laugh until I cry because it's true. There are aliens in Roswell, and Daniel Pierce, my mom's ex-boyfriend who happens to be an FBI agent thinks that Max Evans, quiet Max Evans from third period Intro to Bio freshman year is one of them. And he's using me to prove it.

I sit down on my couch and stare at the braided rug in front of the TV. I trace the pattern with my eyes, trying to keep myself from freaking out.

It's ridiculous. I'm not a special agent, I don't know how to be a spy. And I'm scared of Max. If he really is what Daniel says he ishow do I know he's not gonna know what I'm up to and just melt my brains or something?

There's a hole in the rug, a break in the pattern.

God, Max Evansquiet Max Evans.

I never really spoke to him in high school, but I'd seen him around. He used to stop in at the Crashdown after school sometimes when I worked there with Liz Parker, my best friend pre-move.

He'd always seemed nice. Normal. Not green.

A door slams next door, and I hear footsteps crossing the room. There's a pause and then thumping through the walls comes the muffled guitar riff of some heavy metal song I vaguely recognize. My tapestry is shaking.

Oh yeah I'm gonna looooove my neighbor.

I think about going over there and then decide to just leave. I need to get something to eat anyway. My stomach is not very happy with me right now. I'm not very happy with me right now but

Whatever. I don't know Max Evans, I'm not gonna feel guilty. Besides if he is an alien he's dangerous. At least that's what Daniel says, and why wouldn't I believe him? He's never lied to me before.

*~*~*

I decide to go to the Crashdown for breakfast. A part of me almost believes that Liz will still be there dressed in one of those awful uniforms we used to complain about serving a cherry coke to Max Evans who will smile shyly in thanksand then shed his skin to reveal a green slimy

I hit my breaks as the light suddenly turns red and take a deep breath.

There is the chance that Daniel is wrong thoughI mean he said they suspected him because of something he did with Liz in Septemberbut he never said they had actual proof.

There are aliens thoughhe did have hard evidence proving that

I don't want to think of those picturesof that videothe autopsy on the one they captured in '47from the crash

God, its mind boggling you know? I was so stunned when he was telling me all of this and then showing me all of thisit took me forever to realize that the "Liz" that was involved was my Liz, that the café was The Crashdown.

It's funnyit actually explains a lot about what happened between Liz and I.

My mom and I moved to Houston after freshman year, and all that summer we talked to each other at least two to three times a weekWe'd talk for hours about the difference between living in Houston and living in Roswell, we made plans to visit each other, we talked about her and Kyle Valenti and how he held her hand in front of everybody and what exactly that meantand then it was me calling her, it was me e-mailing herand only me making the effort to stay in touch until finally we stopped talking altogether.

Those last few times I talked to her thoughshe seemed different, like something had happened to her that she couldn't bring herself to tell me about. The same thing happened with Alex. One day I looked in my inbox and there were no more goofy forwards from him. I tried not to let it bother meI tried not to be hurt. It had to happen sooner or later, right? Friends drift apart from each other — even best friendsbut it was just too quick. May went by without any weirdness between us, then June, July, Augustand then September came and it was "Uhsorry Maria I'm reallyI can't talk right now"

I made other friends of coursebut it wasn't the same. I don't think I was ever as close with any of them as I had been with Liz and Alex. I mean I never cried in front of any of them, I never told them what my hopes and dreams were, I never stayed up all night and shared a gallon of sherbet ice cream watching old eighties movies to escape some heartache or another

Liz and Alex were the only good things in Roswell. They were the only reason I ever considered that dry dusty town my home. They were the only reason I cried when I left.

And I haven't spoken to either of them in years.

I wonder if they're still here or if Liz is at Harvard becoming the great scientist she's been planning on becoming since as long as I've known her. I wonder if Alex escaped the militaryif he ever put that band togetherif he ever found a girl who realizes how wonderful he is.

I pull into a parking space and get out of the car. I make my way towards the open double doors of the Crashdown, smiling a little because it hasn't changed a bit. Elroy the life-size plastic alien that used to stand beside the door for picture taking tourists is still there, and he's wearing a Santa's hat.

I step inside and see them. Max. Liz. They're sitting together at the counter. Their backs are to me but I just know it's them. They're talking to each other, their heads bowed. She holds his hand in hers, her thumb tracing little circles across his knuckles.

They're together.

He's brushing back a lock of her brown hair that's longer than I remember. He's smiling at herAnd LizLiz is radiant. She's in love — they both are. I can see it from here, I can feel it from here.

It can't be true thenMax can't be

Thank God Daniel's wrong. He has to beAn alien can't look like that at a human can it? It can't look that happy and in love

Yes, Daniel is wrong and Liz found happiness with quiet Max Evans who has always been in love with her. I wonder how long they've been togetherthey look so comfortable together — the way their hands just fit. It's beautiful.

I wish I'd been there to see it happen, to watch them find each other. I could've taken notes.

I'll go back to the apartment and call Daniel. I'll tell him he's wrong

And then maybe I'll stay here for a little while. Maybe I'll stick around long enough to see if Liz and I can still be friends. Maybe I can have a little bit of the life I ran away from. Maybe I'll even be happy Maybe-

"Maria? Maria Deluca!"

I blink. Liz is staring at me. She and Max are staring at me. Suddenly Liz is vaulting herself off the stool, her long dark hair flying behind her and now her arms are around me.

I hug her back just as hard. I'm crying.

"Hi Lizzie"

"What I can't believe it's you!" I laugh.

"Ditto Chicait's been too long" Liz pulls back and nods.

"MuchI missed you"

Then why'd you stop calling?

"I missed you too"

Max comes up beside us. Liz touches his hand and says a little shyly, "You remember Max, right?"

I meet his eyes no longer afraid of mind melt-age or anything else of the sort. His eyes are still kind, still a warm brown. An alien can't have eyes like that — at least not the kind of alien Daniel told me about. No, this is Max. I smile remembering the time he had helped me study for one of those awful Bio tests from freshman year. He had ignored all my exclamations that I was an idiot when it came to science and had insisted that I could do anything if I would just believe in myself. I had gotten an A on that test. He had been the first person other than Liz who had ever told me anything like thatNot even my mother had believed

"Of course I remember Max. Hi Max." He smiles at me.

"Hey Maria, welcome back" Liz takes me by the arm and leads me to the counter where they had been sitting. There are two milkshakes there — both vanilla — or maybe Max's had been strawberry — it looks a little pink.

Man, I'm hungry

"So are you back for good? Are you staying in Roswell?"

"Ummm" I absently pick up the half empty bottle of Tabasco Sauce from the counter and play with the corner of the label that's coming off. "Well I have a place down the streetso I think I'll be here for at least a couple of months"

"Houston get too boring?" I bite my lip, trying not to cry as I remember the other reason why I've come back. Liz's smile fades a little. She knows I'm upset and I can see her wondering if she has the right to ask me what's wrong anymore. I decide to make it easy for her and lie.

"Oh totally boringI mean I don't know how I managed to survived without seeing one of these guys — " I nod at Elroy, "every five secondsI missed themmissed you and Alex" I blink feeling my eyes sting.

Goddammit when did I become such a wuss?

"Howhow is Alex?" Liz's eyes light up and she grins.

"He's great he'sHe's dating Isabel."

Woahhold the phone

"Isabel Evans?" I look at Max for confirmation and he just shrugs and scratches his head with a little smile. "WowThat's terrificI mean he's only been pining since what? Fourth grade?"

"At least since thenThey went to Florida for Winter Break"

"Mom's not too thrilled" Max chimes in, "She's been wary of Alex ever since Izzy's eighteenth birthday party where he did that striptease"

I stare at him, then at Liz who's trying not to laugh.

"You're kidding me"

"NopeHe was a policemana naughty policeman"

"Oh. My. God." I giggle, trying to picture it, but I can't. I look at the both of them standing there together, remembering that time and maybe a whole bunch of others I've missed, and I have to say I'm jealous. I kinda feel like Max and Isabel have taken my place I clear my throat and smile, trying to force that disappointment away. What, had I expected everyone to juststop living without me? How self-obsessed is that? "Sohow long have you two been together?" Liz blushes and Max smiles swinging her hand in his a little.

"Going on five"

"Months?"

"Years"

"Years? WowI don't think I've had houseplants that have lasted that long"

*~*~*

I ended up staying at the Crashdown with Max and Liz for over two hours. It was funmore fun than I remember having in months. They were going to school together (Harvard — I knew it) and had an apartment together. He was studying medicine and she molecular biology. They were planning on getting married after graduation. Married. It's really hard to believe what can happen in just a few years. I meanthey have a life togetherAnd I

I'm alone.

I'm 22 years old, single, no dog, no cat. I'm a college drop out. I don't exactly have a job

I sound like such a loser.

If everything hadn't happened the way it had things would have been differentI might have stayed in schoolI might have gone with Riley to CaliforniaI might have become a singerI might have met someone and fallen in love.

I step out into the sunlight after waving goodbye to Max and Liz. I feel good about being here now though. Yeah I had missed a lot butwhatever. They didn't seem to want to talk about the past six years too much and that's fine with me. I don't really need to know why Liz stopped keeping in touch. I'd rather not know about September. I've just got a bad feeling about it. Daniel makes me paranoid.

Well not anymore.

I don't believe for one second that Max Evans is an alien. If anything did happen in September six years ago I'm sure it was all some big misunderstanding. If it had been anything real Daniel would have picked him up by now.

Still, telling him that I'm not willing to do this anymore is gonna piss him off, and he is most definitely going to pull the old after-everything-I've-done-for-you card

Well, tough shit.

I'm not spying on Max. It would be like spying on Liz. I'm not doing it.

I dig around in my purse and find my crumpled pack of cigs from this morning and fish one out. I'm not really that big of a smoker. I just do it when I'm stressed or upsetSo basically I've become an addict over the last year. But I'm gonna stop. I am. I'm home nowand if I stick around I won't be alone anymore. Liz wants to have dinner with me tonight. We're going to call Alex long distance and it'll be just like old times. I won't be alone anymore. I'll get Daniel off my back, get a job, pay him back for the apartment and everything else. It'll be great. I won't be stressed. I won't be scared or lonely. I'll make myself forget everything Daniel's ever shown me or told me about aliens.

I pause before lighting up, feeling weird all of a sudden, like someone's watching me. I decide to ignore it. I'm just feeling paranoid because I'm thinking about Daniel. It's not like I'm gonna get mugged in broad daylightbesides there are tons of people out here

I start to light up again and then decide against it. I don't need these anymore. Besides mom hated smoking. I toss the pack into a garbage can and make my way back to my car.

The feeling that I'm being watched is still here, but I'm sure it will go away as soon as I contact Daniel and tell him it's over, that he's wrong.

*~*~*

"Ooookay send" I sign out of my account and shut down my laptop. Now all I have to do is wait until Daniel calls and screams at me.

Ooooh fun.

I swing around on my swivel chair a few times. It's dark in the room. There are no windows in the living room — that's the only thing I don't like about the place. I listen to the slow steady beat of the rain outside and decide that I want to watch it come down. I love the rain. I love the thunder and the lightening.

I pull on a light sweater and grab my keys. I take a deep breath of damp air as I open my door and go out onto the open-air walkway. It's coming down so hardsheets of it. I smile catching the mist on my face.

I go up to the railing and watch the rain bounce back up from the ground, dancing across the pavement like Mexican jumping beans. I laugh and tilt my face up to the sky, letting the rain slide down my neck and tangle in my hair. It reminds me of my first semester at college. I had gotten caught in a rainstorm and that's when I had met Riley.

He had been standing under an awning — warm, dry, and our eyes had met from across the field and he had run out to me. He had taken off his raincoat and put it over my head. I was already soaked butIt was sweet. I'd never spoken to him before and he had run out in the rain for me. He asked me out that night and I ended up dating him untilwell until I came back here.

It wasn't exactly true what I had said before — about not really having any friends that really knew meRiley knew me. And he still stuck around.

I want to call him, just to see how he's doing. It wasn't a bad break up — we'd been headed in that direction anyway. The passion just wasn't there anymore. He's still my friend. I'm not gonna pull a Liz and keep him hanging.

I have to stop dwelling on that. It's so immature.

I turn back from the railing, pull my wet hair away from my face and start as I realize I'm not alone. There's a guy there, slouching against the wall just a few feet away, watching me.

"God you scared me!" I gasp and he shrugs disinterestedly taking a drag from his cigarette. I watch the smoke curl out from between his lipshe has great lipsthen look down at the astro-turfed floor as my mouth waters. Today is not the day to give up cigarettes. I want to breathe in the smoke straight from his mouth. I notice that the door behind him is propped open with a boot. I look at the number. 2A. So this is my jerky neighbor.

You play your music too loud jerky neighbor.

I look up at him, finally meeting his eyes

Umm

He squints at me, still not saying anything. The light from the streetlight baths his face in a warm glow, highlighting the slope of his cheekbones, his nose. I think he has brown eyesdark eyes.

I know I'm staring. I can't help it. It's not everyday you find a god on your front porch

And unfortunately it has to speak.

"You're nuts."

"Excuse me?"

"Nuts. Crazy. Loco. Pick one."

I know this voice. I used to dream about this voice whispering my name I used to dream about that spiky hair he's running a hand throughand those hands

Michael Guerin.

Holy shit.

He rolls his eyes and smirks.

Michael Friggin' Guerin is my neighbor — proof that there is a God. And a Devil.

"Do you want to catch pneumonia?" My eyes narrow as I remember why I had hated him in Junior High, and then he raises an eyebrow and I remember why I had been so attracted to him.

"Yes. I want to catch pneumonia." I say sarcastically and turn on my heel, almost slipping on the turf to go back to my room and blast some Sarah McLachlan just to pay him back for this morning, then stop.

I don't think he remembers me.

Why doesn't he remember me?

He ignored me all through Junior High and that one year at West Roswell — and it wasn't like he ignored me like he just didn't notice me - he purposely ignored me, ignored me. It used to drive me insane when I'd wait on him and Max at the Crashdown. I can't tell you how many times I thought about dumping his damn cherry coke all over that spiky head of his.

I used to think maybe he liked mesometimes I thought he was watching me, but whenever I'd look up he'd look away. And if I kept staring he'd just glare at me until I stopped. I don't think I've ever really heard him say anything more than, "Get outta my way Deluca", "Nice hair Deluca" — like he could talk and "Cherry Coke Deluca." He probably doesn't even know my first name. And it makes me mad. I thought I'd managed to forget about him and in a matter of 30 seconds he's made me feel that way again — like my stomach's dropped out of my body and my heart's doing 100 mph on a treadmill. And he's still a jerk.

"You don't remember me do you?" I ask turning back to him, my hands on my hips in an incredibly pissy pose I thought I'd grown out of.

He takes another puff, and I see a flash of teeth as he exhales. His eyes travel down my body and back up again and I tell my heart to knock it off — God he's not that hot

Okay so that's a lie.

"Maybe."

"Maybe."

"Yeah — you look kinda familiar"

I shake my head in disgust and go back to my door mumbling some embarrassingly juvenile comment about light sockets and his fingers when his voice stops me.

"Okay now I remember."

I step inside my apartment and slam the door. I'm moving. I have to do. I swear to God I'll kill him if I don't

Well Daniel is FBImaybe I can get away with it

I want a fucking cigarette.

I threw all mine away.

"Dammit!" I kick at my couch and stalk back towards the door. I open it and he's standing there with a fresh one in hand.

"How do you know I want it?" I growl.

"Cuz you were staring at me like you wanted to jump me for it. Just take it and shut up — I don't want to have to listen to you pounding on your furniture all afternoon cuz you need a nicotine fix."

"I gave them up." I say and snatch it from him. "Lighter." He blinks at me as I hold out my hand.

"I don't have one."

"Then how'd you light yours?"

He blinks at me again, then says after a slight pause, "I had a match."

I grab his out of his mouth and hold it to the end of mine then hand it back to him and shut my door behind me. I don't need for my apartment to smell like smoke. I'll never give it up if it does. When Riley had tried to quit he used to steal my empty packs and just smell them. I don't want to get that desperate.

I step out onto the balcony again and notice an empty coffee canister by his door. It's full of butts.

"I thought I was bad"

He flicks his cigarette over the railing and mumbles something that sounds like, "Can't drink" and shrugs.

"Later Deluca." He doesn't even look at me. He pushes open the door to his apartment and slips inside before I can see what it looks like, and now I'm alone.

I put mine out in the canister and go back to my own apartment, shivering a little with the cold...and something else that makes me feel a little warmer.

As soon as I close my door, he turns on the Metallica.

Loud.