Sorry it took so long to get this chapter out.  Once school begins, everything starts to happen more slowly since homework and such take up most of my time.  This fic is winding down, however, and I hope to have the final chapter(s) out soon.  (I haven't quite determine whether to have one or two more chapters yet.)

            Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed chapter three: CrazygurlBB, Roswell-Riter1, swimfan, Ruby Fehr, lexi.m.88, CandyDreamer, veggie5, and Colticus—You guys are awesome!

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            His slumbering form sensed her presence before his eyes opened, as his dreams quickly spiraled from calm to chaotic, images of Tess shooting by in hazy flashes.

            The air buzzed, and Kyle wondered why the others hadn't awakened also, before realizing that he was the only one particularly in tune with the energy that was coursing through the room at the moment.

            There she sat, perched on the bed that Max shared with his wife, gazing down at him like she was drugged, her figure silent and still.

             'What?!' was the only thought Kyle's sleep-muddled mind could process, and for a moment he considered the possibility that he was still asleep.  But no, she was really there, in their room, risking herself in the worse possible way. 

            He stopped himself from leaping up and confronting her as curiosity overtook him.  Shifting stealthily in his make-shift bed, Kyle turned so that he could easily peer at Ava's profile without attracting her attention.

            Luckily for her she hadn't had to step over anyone's sleeping form to approach Max's bed, his being the closet to the door, Isabel and Maria resting in the one to his right, with Kyle and Michael stretched out on the floor to either side.

            Ava had folded her legs beneath her body, curling herself up onto the foot of the mattress where the object of her attention lay peacefully recovering after his earlier exertion. His arms were wrapped around Liz, pressing her petite form tightly against his body, a few dark hairs peeking through the sheets the only proof of her presence. 

            Still, Ava's eyes were surprisingly calm, no trace of jealously or anger apparent.  Her gaze was intense, though, never wavering from his body, as though she were drinking him in to store the image for future reference.

            It was interesting, to say the least, for Kyle to observe firsthand what Ava had explained to him that day in the forest.  At the moment she seemed perfectly satisfied just sitting there beside Max, marveling at the contours of his face and body, absorbing the bittersweet electricity that came with his presence.

            But geez, what was it about that damn Max Evans? Kyle pondered, a shadow crossing over his face. Women looked at him like he was some sort of freaking god.

            Still, Kyle was he wouldn't deny her this pleasure; it seemed too cruel.

            Moments later, however, intervention was inevitable.  Kyle watched aghast as she moved slowly, as if in a stupor, her fingers out-stretched in motion to stroke Max's cheek. 

            He could no longer help it. "Ava!" he hissed in a low whisper across the room.  She froze and turned towards him, startled and confused.

            Slowly he lifted himself from his blanket, careful not to disturb the other sleepers.  When he reached Ava, he found her dazed and easily grabbed her wrist to lead her from the room.

            "No!" she uttered, struggling to free herself from his grip once she realized what was happening.  Kyle winced, twirling around to survey the others, but no one had stirred at the exclamation. 

            "Shh, Ava, you wouldn't want them to see you, would you?" he whispered into her ear in a sing-song voice meant to soothe her.  Her arms went limp, and she allowed herself to be dragged out the door, Kyle supporting her lifeless body as she stumbled forward.

            Once they had reached the parking lot, Kyle stopped and faced her. 

            "Ava?!" he spoke urgently, his hands gently shaking her shoulders.

            She moaned lowly and responded, "…Zan?"

            "No, no, Zan's not here.  It's Kyle, remember?"  What was happening?

            The pitch of her voice increased sharply, "Zan? Zan, where are you?" Her arms folded across her chest, and she bent forward, beginning to sob, "Come back!" 

            Now Kyle was thoroughly panicked.  If she didn't calm down soon, who knew what she would do? Part of him screamed to get the others, but part of him wondered whether seeing Max might do more harm than good.

            If she were a man, he would slap her or give her a good punch to knock her back to her senses.  Clearly this was not the smart choice of action at the moment.  She was most decidedly not a man, and the view he had of her thin shirt in the cool night air attested to that. 

He wished he had water to splash in her face, but this would require going back inside, and there was no way he was risking disturbing Max nor, for that matter, was he going to leave her alone for any amount of time.

            Her moans had now descended to low weeping as she crouched above the ground, rocking herself slowly and unstably.

            Finally he did the only thing he could think to do.  Gripping her shoulders, he tugged her to her feet, and gently took hold of her chin, before lowering his lips forcefully over her own. 

            Her mouth remained motionless at first, and Kyle could feel the wetness of her cheeks pressed into his.  After a few long seconds, she began to respond, only to squirm away with a cry, eyes flashing.

            "Get off of me! What the hell do you think you're doing?" she shouted viciously, before stopping, taking in her surroundings. "What?" her voice lowered. "Why are you here?"

            "You were in our room.  I thought you didn't want them to know you were here?"

            "I was in your room? Why? To speak with you?" At the slow shake of his head, she groaned, realizing the truth.  "Oh no, of course not.  I remember now." She massaged her temples wearily.  "I had to see him; I was so worried and angry.  He looked so tired after helping that man…I was afraid, afraid he was sick…"

            Kyle began to understand.  "You were afraid he would die? Like your Zan?"

            His bluntness evidently surprised her, but she nodded.  "Yeah.  When I saw him, I knew he was fine.   Liz had helped him, helping to heal him.  But I couldn't-I couldn't, it was too late…" Kyle's eyes narrowed with concern as he heard the panic begin to bubble within her once more. "He was already gone, and I couldn't heal him. I didn't feel him anymore…"

            He grabbed her, hushing her and rubbing her back.  "Ava, you couldn't have helped Zan.  He knew how you felt, that much I am sure of.  He knew you would have done everything you could.  It wasn't your fault."

            She continued to shudder against his chest, so he spoke again.  "Ava, thank you for what you did today. You really saved us back there."  Her head bobbed up and down in acknowledgement of his words.  "I'm not saying you should mind-warp people left and right…we know the damage that can do.  But if you stayed with us you would be a valuable asset, not to mention how much we would love to have you.  It's not right for…someone like you to be alone."

            Returning to a calmer state, she answered sharply, "Kyle, we've already discussed this."

            "I know what you think, but it's just not true.  I promise Liz and Max and the others, they'd welcome you eagerly."

            "It's not just that, Kyle. Please try to understand." Breathing deeply, she spoke, "When I lived in the City, everything was different.  I was different.  I followed Rath and Lonnie like the weakling I was.  Who knows, if I hadn't, maybe Zan would still be here." She cut off Kyle before he could protest, "I have a life now, Kyle.  I real, true life that doesn't depend on anybody else.  I can't afford to lose that again.  I can already feel myself crumbling when I sense Max."

            "Ava, you wouldn't be a prisoner in our van.  You wouldn't even have to drive in the van if you didn't want to, though I suspect the others may say an extra car might draw too much attention.  You'd be free to come and go as you like, I'm sure of it."  She looked doubtful.  "It's true that we can't, no.  We're being hunted, so it would be too dangerous.  You, on the other hand, are not.  The Special Unit doesn't have you on the radar just yet; never will if your Rath and Lonnie keep themselves out of trouble." He paused then, hoping he hadn't sounded as desperate as he felt.  For some reason, the idea of her leaving them for good shook him deeply.

            She was silent for a long minute, looking into his eyes unnervingly.

             "You lied to me."

             "What!?"

             "Before, you lied.  That day in the woods."

             "Excuse me? What did I lie about? I told you our entire story!  The others will probably kill me for not lying to you!"

             "About Tess.  You weren't family."

            Okay, now he was uncomfortable. "Ava, she lived in my house for months.  She was a daughter to my father.  What do you mean, we weren't family?"

             "I saw it.  When you kissed me.  My mind was too full of Zan to register it until now.  You were kissing her, in the middle of what looked like a bedroom or something."

             "I never kissed Tess!" he replied hotly, glad that he could speak truthfully on that front, at least.

            She cocked her eyebrow at this.  "But you wanted to."

            His neck flushed, and he knew it was pointless to deny it at this point.  Damn those aliens and their freakish mind-reading!

            Ava nodded at his silent admission.  "Why didn't you tell me before?"

            He bit his lip, struggling to come up with a legitimate excuse, but failing miserably.  "I guess I thought it would make things…awkward between us, if you knew."

             "I would have understood.  She and I…We aren't the same people, Kyle."

            A beat passed.  "I know that.  You're…different."

            As if to test him, "Different how?"

            He wasn't sure how to explain, exactly, but felt like he owed her this much after his previous deception.  "Well, you don't take pleasure in keeping yourself a mystery, for one thing.  Yeah, you followed us, but when I found you, you told me everything.  After watching you inside, I know what you said was true, about Max.  You aren't looking to interfere in anyone's life," he chuckled wryly, "Just the opposite, in fact."  You can look outside of yourself, and see others, like you did last year with Liz.  You were still grieving Zan, but you helped her save the one she loved.  Tess's world revolved around herself and her own plans and desires."

            Ava nodded, reflecting on that day so many months ago.  Something occurred to her then, and she looked up.  "When I talked to Liz back in Roswell, she said she could sense Max the way I sensed Zan.  We talked about it, and I remember thinking it was strange that she could feel him like that even though they hadn't bonded physically.  But when she told me about the shooting, I realized it was because she was changed. You were changed, Kyle.  Could you sense Tess?"

            There was no getting around this.  He answered reluctantly, "Yes…sometimes.  She didn't open up to me like Max did for Liz, so it was harder to.  But I could…feel if she were near me, if that's what you mean. When she…"

            Ava waited for Kyle to go on, but he trailed off without continuing.  "When she what?"

            He remained silent, and she realized what he was trying to say.  She understood.  It had taken her just as long to admit it to herself in spoken words.  "When she died?"

            Kyle nodded, and said slowly, his voice cracking a little, "Yeah.  Yeah, I think I felt it.  I'm not positive though.  I've never told the others, but it was like…sudden emptiness.  Like all at once, there was this sharp pain, and she was gone, and I knew it.  I knew it was for good.  I guess that's what happened to Liz too, when Max died that time."

            There was a long pause before either of them spoke, and the silence of the deserted parking lot hung between them. 

             "Kyle, I can feel Max," Ava finally said, and he groaned internally, knowing right where this was leading.  "It's not the same as with Zan, but it's similar.  I know Max and I are…different, but have you felt me all this time?"

            What was this, the night of exposing Kyle's most personal secrets?  Well, he considered grimly, if he didn't tell her now, she'd probably just figure out the next time they kissed anyway. 

            Somewhat startled at the thought of a "next kiss" popping into his consciousness, he nevertheless answered her directly.  "Yes, I have." He stopped awkwardly, unsure of what else there was to say. 

            But before Ava had a chance to respond, a sound echoed across the lot that froze them both cold.

             "Kyle?" came Michael's hoarse voice, "What are you doing out there?"

            His first instinct was to have Ava duck or hide, but on the wide expanse of asphalt there was no where to run.  Desperate panic flashed in her eyes, but was immediately replaced with a strange determination. Kyle watched as she tossed her shoulders back, calmly resigned to the fact that she'd been caught. 

            He turned quickly to intercept Michael, who was jogging quickly over the pavement. 

             "It's okay Michael, I'm just-"

            But his eyes had already searched passed Kyle's shoulders and landed on the young woman behind him.  Immediately his hand was out, in an automatically aggressive reaction. 

             "I don't know how the hell you're here, but I swear, I'll kill you again!" He shouted, preparing to fire.

             "No, Michael!" Kyle dove before Ava, blocking her before he could shoot.  "This isn't Tess!"

             "Kyle, move the hell out of the way! She's mind-warped you again!" Michael's eyes flashed dangerously.  "Move!"

             "Michael!" Now Kyle too began to shout.  "This is Ava, Tess's double.   From New York, remember?"

            He finally lowered his hand, but his face was still suspicious.  "You're Ava?"

            She spoke for the first time, no fear evident in her voice. "Yes," she answered clearly.

             "Why are you here? Is Rath with you? Has anyone followed you?" And most forcefully, "Are you in some kind of trouble?"

            Ava sorted through his questions and replied slowly.  She was alone. She hadn't led anyone to them, having been very careful.  And no, she wasn't in trouble.  She didn't need their help.

             "You never answered my first question," he said sharply, still angry, though seeming to have accepted her identity.  "What are you doing here? And what the hell are you doing with Kyle and not us?"

            This struck her off-guard, and she shrunk into herself, for the first time appearing rather small and helpless. 

             "I'm just the first person she ran into, Michael, it's okay.  She was on her way inside." Kyle purposefully kept his eyes trained on Michael, avoiding Ava's sharp gaze, a mix of gratitude and horror playing across her face. 

             "Why were you out here in the first place, then?" Michael shot back, "And how did she find us anyway?"

             "I just came out to get some fresh air, that's all.  And you'll have to ask her how got here."

            Michael cast an expectant glare at Ava.  She remained silent, then spoke. "I'd kinda like to explain myself once we're all together inside.  It'd be safest that way, don't you think?"

            Kyle hid his smile as Michael relented.  Smart girl…bought herself some time to think up a story. 

            The three figures entered the room quietly, but the others had already begun to stir, perhaps awakened by Michael's shouts from the parking lot.  Liz was the first to gaze sleepily at the door, but her eyes widened in horror the moment she did so.  At her sharp gasp, Maria and Isabel both sat up with a start, looking around wildly before they too caught sight of the petite brunette in the doorway. 

            An eerie silence settled over the room for a moment, but all too soon chaos erupted. 

            Surprisingly, Maria spoke first, not Liz, who sat speechless on the mattress, unable to connect what her eyes saw to what she knew to be true. 

            As Maria clambered off the bed, her eyes slit, and she approached Ava until she stood but an inch or so from her face, towering over the shorter girl, though she herself was slight of frame.   

            Sounding almost amusingly similar to her boyfriend only minutes before, she uttered, "I don't know what the hell you're trying to pull, but I swear if you touch her," gesturing to Liz, "I will hurt you so badly it won't matter that I don't have any special powers to help me out."

            Michael smirked at her, a look of pride on his face, but he reached forward to tug her towards him as he announced, "According to Kyle, this isn't who you think it is."

            Before Michael could continue, however, Liz spoke up quietly, her face calm and wondering.  "Ava? Is that you?"

            A grin broke out across the other girl's face as she nodded.  "Didn't think you'd recognize me without the tattoos and all," she said sheepishly. 

            To everyone's surprise, Liz smiled too, jumping off the bed and wrapping Ava into her arms in a fierce hug.  Looking directly into her face, she talked to her quietly, so that the others could barely hear.  "I've been worried about you.  We wondered where you'd gone and how you were doing.  I'm so glad you're here!"

            Ava, clearly at a loss for words, just nodded happily, if a bit comfortably.  Kyle watched as her eyes, however, settled over Liz's shoulders to a figure still reclined on the bed. 

            Liz whirled around, as did the rest of the group, to see Max continuing to sleep, despite the commotion in the bedroom. 

            Michael gave a loud laugh.  "Wow, some king. Nice to know he's on the look-out for anyone suspicious.  I feel a hell of a lot safer now."

            Maria gave him a quelling look, but smiled slightly to herself.  Liz, however, only looked concerned as she climbed onto the mattress and gently shook her husband. 

            "Max? Max, wake up!" Turning back to the others she cried, "Something's wrong! It feels like he's in a coma!"

            The group's amusement at their idle leader quickly faded.  Isabel shoved past them to sit at his side, shutting her eyes and concentrating deeply.  Moments later, she opened them again, tears beginning to form. 

            "I can't reach him.  It's all black, somehow.  Like a closed tunnel or something."

            Liz's breaths began to come faster in her panic.  "I knew he was tired before he went to bed, but I didn't know it was this bad.  Is it always like this after he heals someone?"

            All eyes turned to Michael and Isabel, but they simply looked helplessly at each other, shaking their heads.  "We honestly don't know," Isabel spoke softly.  "He usually keeps to himself afterwards, sleeping a lot, maybe, and taking it easy for a day or so.  It varies, though.  We never know quite what's going to happen each time.  The amount of exhaustion he experiences is rarely that proportional to the seriousness of someone's wound or sickness."

            Suddenly, shoving past the group, was Ava, her gaze fixed on Max's still form.  The rest of them watched, stunned, as she placed her small hands on either side of his forehead and bent her head down to rest on his chest, her eyes shut firmly. 

            A few tense moments passed, but soon, to their astonishment, Max stirred, shifting from his deep sleep.  Without opening his eyes, his hands found Ava's, and he clutched them, clinging to her as though he were physically pulling himself back to consciousness. 

            Kyle turned to Liz, wondering how she would react to Ava being so close to Max, but all he saw was relief on her face.  He watched as Max's eyes slowly fluttered open, and was momentarily concerned that their leader would do something rash, were he to assume that Ava was actually Tess. 

            The two stared at each other for a long minute, everyone else standing silent as they did so. Though she had not yet said a word, he gently murmured, "Ava?"

            A soft smile spread across her features, and she nodded, climbing back off the bed to recede into the group once more. 

            Still gathering his bearings Max continued, "Thank-Thank you."  A second later his gaze shifted to a teary-eyed Liz who immediately ran to his side, burying her face in his neck.  They held each other as the others watched, amazed and more than a little confused.

            Maria voiced the thought on all of their minds. "So…what was that about?"

            All six of the fugitives turned to Ava then, even Kyle being curious for an explanation. 

             "Okay," she started.  Outwardly she appeared calm and in-control, but Kyle noticed the slight lilt to her voice and the scraping of her boot on the floor that indicated otherwise. 

            "Well, I'm sure you guys are wondering what the hell I'm doing here, huh?"

            Kyle listened as she described what she'd done after she had left Rath and Lonnie, from waitressing to establishing a life on her own, a life she'd always thought was impossible back in New York.  Throughout it all, he maintained a passively interested expression, doing his best to seem as though it was the first time he had heard her story. As she approached the time when she'd begun to follow the group, however, Ava faltered, and Kyle knew she was deliberating whether or not to explain her absorption with Max to all of them.

            Starting hesitantly, she turned, addressing Liz where she sat on the bed beside her husband.  "Liz, do you remember when Max died? How you felt? What happened inside you?"

            Liz's face clouded with the memory, but she nodded slowly.  "Yes, I remember," her tone implying a question.

             "Well, that's how I felt when Zan died.  Except…except mine was permanent.  Forever.  I don't know…it's hard to explain the…I mean, how…"

            To their surprise, Isabel spoke up then to support her.  "I understand," she said softly and whether she spoke from her experience with Alex or Jesse was uncertain.  More than likely, Kyle mused, it was a combination of both relationships that gave her such insight.  "It's like there's part of something inside you that's worthless and broken.  Something that used to connect you to that person, but when you try to grab hold of it…it's empty at the other end.  And you are too."

            Ava nodded, tears beginning to well in her eyes.  "Yeah, yeah that's it.  So anyway I," she inhaled deeply, "When I left Roswell that night, I made a decision.  I'd been in a haze since Zan was killed, but Liz, you helped me out of it.  I dunno, I don't really get it, but you did.  I wanted to be like you.  I wanted to have a life that was mine, that didn't depend on someone bossing me around or telling me what to do. I didn't know how I'd do it, but I knew I had to…for myself, to survive without…him."

             "So anyway, I applied for some jobs.  I started to take a few classes at some school I stayed near one time, but it didn't work out so well.  Too much paperwork and questions and people prying into your life.  So I took off again.  I started being a waitress, like I said before, and that worked out okay…til one night.  I dunno if you all remember this place called Rockvale, but you stopped there once, and I saw you."

            It was the moment of truth, Kyle knew.

             "I don't want you all to take this the wrong way, please.  Don't think that it's something it's not.  Cause it's not, not at all."

             "What?" Maria broke in, confused like the rest of them.  "What isn't what?"

             "What I'm trying to say is that it's Max I noticed mainly.  I couldn't help it…he just was.  They were different, yeah, but he looked just like Zan.  And I felt him…really felt him for the first time in so long.  I could almost fool myself into believing it was really him.  When you guys left, it hurt, really hurt.  It was like the wound I thought had healed was re-opened when Max walked out of that restaurant.  So…I followed you.  I had to.  The pain was too much to ignore." She paused, trying to gauge their reactions before continuing.  "I don't know how much experience you have with our connections, but the bond between two…people who are different," she said with emphasis and a cautious glance about the room, "it's unlike anything else.  I guess it probably works when only one of you is special too."

            Michael and Maria shared a secret smile then, and he said aloud, "Yeah, yeah it does."  He continued with a grin aimed at the girl in his arms,  "Though I happen to think Maria's pretty special herself."  She giggled at this; usually he wasn't so sentimental in public, she thought to herself.  'I'll have to make it worth his while later on…'

            Max, ignoring the happy couple, maintained eye contact with Ava.  "So you followed us for me? To get to me somehow?" His voice was still hoarse, sounding curious with a hint of suspicion. 

             "Not to get to you, no," Ava replied, "I don't know how to make you understand, but it's like an addiction, this feeling I get from you." Turning to the others, she spoke more loudly.  "I actually kinda have a theory about it that might help you all to understand how I helped Max.  It's not that complicated or anything, it's just…well, I kinda think of him as my brother-in-law, ya know? Like, not that Zan and I were married or anything, but we kinda bonded, at least I thought we did.  So if you, Max, are his twin, in a way, then that makes me your sister-in-law, so we're connected, sorta like you're connected to Liz, but different of course.  Ya know?"

            Liz answered her.  "Yes, I see.  That makes sense, somehow.  You were used to connecting with Zan, even more than maybe Isabel or Michael are used to connecting with Max.  It always seemed like your four knew more about that kind of thing that our four did.  And even though Max and I are bonded, I'm not fully…different yet, so you were the only one who could pull him back.  Is that what you mean?"

             "Yeah, yeah that's it.  That's it exactly.  Yeah.  I hope that was okay, what I did earlier.  I just got real worried when I saw him like that.  He looked almost…well never mind."

            The group was silent, until Maria exclaimed suddenly, "Eww!"

             "What? What's wrong baby?"

            Turning to Michael, she made a face and said, "You and I are bonded, so that would make Rath my brother-in-law! Ugh, gross, not that asshole!"

            They all laughed, even Ava, who, Kyle thought, probably had a reason to hate him more than any of them did. 

             "So what now?" Isabel questioned after they had quieted.  "Will you stay with us Ava?"

             "Whoa, whoa, whoa," Michael broke in, "Who says she can? I mean, no offense, Ava, but we can't just let anyone tag along for this ride.  It's hard enough to get by as it is."

             "I hate to say it, but Michael's right," Max agreed.  "It's not that I'm not appreciative, Ava, I just think we should talk about it first."

             "Look, thanks and all, but I'm not asking for an opening into this little group." Kyle's heart sank. "I'd like to be able to see you guys now and then, but I think I'm ready to leave now, to get back on the road.  It's been too long.  And now that I kinda re-connected with Max, I have this, I dunno, feeling of completion or something.  So you guys can talk about it all you want, but I'm not asking for a permanent stay here or anything."

            She turned abruptly, leaving the six of them to stare at her retreating form as the door slammed shut. 

            Automatically Kyle took a step towards to the door to pursue her, before he stopped, forcing himself to join in the group's hesitant discussion.

            Liz was speaking as he approached.  "I know we haven't prepared for something like this, but I think we should let her come with us.  This is where she belongs, Max."

            "But why?" Michael pressed, "Why risk it?  She doesn't need to be here, not like we do.  What good can extra baggage do when we're on the run?"

            "Michael, she does need to be here.  Think about it." Liz paused.  "Ava has been alone for so long, even when she lived with those other three.  Rath and Lonnie ignored her, probably even mistreated and abused her, and we all know what they did to her in the end.  Zan may have been her lifeline, but who's to know if she was his.  And now that he's gone, she is literally alone in a world she doesn't even belong to.  She has to be with Max, Michael, and Isabel.  She just has to."

            Maria nodded her agreement, but Isabel remained pensive.  "I agree that it in a perfect situation we would welcome Ava with open arms.  Of course we would.  But the place we're in now is far from perfect.  We all are forced to be here; we've been torn apart from everything we've ever known.  You heard her yourself.  She wants to make a life for herself, but she's drawn to you, Max.  Why not help her help herself?  By refusing her into our so-called 'group,' we force her to overcome her attachment to you and to start making plans independently."

            "But why should that be our decision?" Liz cried.  "You're contradicting yourself, Isabel! If she wants to live her own life, then why should we make those choices for her?  The only valid reason not to accept her is that it might endanger someone involved, but I just don't believe that to be true."

            "Liz, you're the one who's wrong," Michael interjected firmly, "When we made the decision to bring you, Maria, and Kyle along, it was because we had to.  You three were in just as much danger from the Feds as we were, so it would be pointless, and maybe even more harmful, to leave you behind.  Right now, we don't have to consider Ava in the same way.  She isn't in danger at the moment, so, as far as I see it, the only reason we should let her in is if she's got something to offer us.  I honestly don't think all that 'in-law' crap is enough to justify it."

            Alright, that was it.  Kyle had had enough.  "What the hell is your problem, Michael?" he exploded, shocking the rest of the group as he burst from the silence he had maintained thus far.  "How can you treat her like such an object? Believe it or not, Ava is a person, not some tool for you to consider the worth of! How would you feel if Isabel were alone in the world like Ava is? Wouldn't you want some of your kind to accept her, even if she didn't have anything to 'offer' them?"

            Sufficiently quelled and perhaps speechless at Kyle's uncharacteristic tirade, Michael stood silent as Kyle continued. 

            "And for your information, you don't know how wrong you are!  She has just as much power and skill then you three have, maybe even more!"

            Max grew alert at this.  "What do you mean, Kyle?  How do you know?"

            It was now or never.  Suddenly protecting his own interests seemed less important than protecting Ava's.  "Look, I haven't been completely honest with you guys.  I've actually known that she's been tailing us for a little while now." Ignoring their murmurs of surprise, he said, "It was her who made that man see the medical kit, Max.  She was there, in that store, mind-warping him.  I know I should have told you earlier, but I had given her my word to stay quiet.  Believe me when I say that if you were in trouble, I would have said something."

            Before they could respond, he went on, "You guys think about it.  As far as I can tell, we're split down the middle, but maybe some of you will change your mind."  After a pointed glance at Isabel,  "I can only hope so.  The thought of being stuck in that van with people who would turn away a member of their own race is unbelievably daunting." And so, after one last pointed glare at Max and Michael, he left, following the footsteps Ava had taken only minutes before.

            He jogged out to the parking lot in search of her figure and was relieved to find her perched atop her car, rather than driving away in it. 

            Hopping up to join her, he uttered a simple, "Hey."  She nodded wanly in response.

            Inhaling deeply, seemingly to gather energy, she said softly, "Thank you for everything, Kyle.  You'll never know how much it meant to me."

            His brows furrowed, and upset at the finality in her tone, he questioned her, "Sure, Ava.  It wasn't much.  You know that.  Just kept my mouth shut, that's all."

             "It was 'much'," she countered.  "You didn't judge me, you didn't ask questions, you just accepted me, straight off.  You're…you're what I always thought a real friend would be like.  I got a taste of it with Liz, but with you it seems different."  At this Kyle's pulse raced, but her next words were more vague.  "You're stronger than I am, and I feel like I can really trust you, no matter what.  So, just...thanks."

             "Why does it sound like you're leaving?"  Please, don't go. Don't leave me here.  I feel alone and empty when you're gone.

            Holding his internal pleas in check, he kept his expression stoic as Ava responded,  "I told you inside.  It's time for me to go.  I don't belong here.  Please, don't try to argue with me.  I've made my decision.  I knew it would come to this.  It's the price I have to pay for indulging myself this long."

            As much as Kyle wanted to fight her on the matter, he felt as tired as she did.  Tired and helpless and broken…again.  It was happening…all over again.

            No! A rush of anger and bitter resentment flooded his thoughts.  No, he wouldn't…he couldn't handle this one more time.  It might very well break him.

            With a fervor and desperation unusual for his even-keeled temper, he grasped her face between his hands so that the indigo of her eyes pierced the gray of his own.  In one swift movement, he lowered his lips to hers, pressing forcefully and frantically against her mouth as one final wordless appeal.

            After a moment of rigid shock, her soft body melted closer to his, and their tongues played cautiously off each other, both exploring and staking out their claims. 

            Flash.  A fierce loneliness, a cutting pain, a carving out of empty space inside. Kyle's or Ava's, it was difficult to tell, but the feeling was almost an image itself, it was so intense. 

            Flash.  Spiraling back into a nauseating wave of memories… a stinging slap, a biting insult…being shoved into a corner and ignored, left to wander the dank sewers alone and afraid, year after miserable year…

            Flash.  A golden curl, a burst of life.  Excitement, apprehension, dizziness, and laughter.  Fading into confusion, a haze… a slice of pain.  An aching longing and then…a sacrifice.

            Breaking away from each other, they gasped for breath, their eyes glazed with wonder.

            Hoarsely: "So, are you still leaving?"

*************

            Yikes, cliffhanger, I know.  But I'm fairly certain everything will be wrapped up within the next chapter (maybe two), which should be out soon.  Thanks so much for continuing to read.  Please don't forget to leave a review with your opinion on the story so far, whether it involve encouragement or constructive criticism…Both are welcome!