by Allegra

DISCLAIMERS: I don't own any of these character. They all belong to Jason Katims, Fox etc. Please don't sue!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I never usually put unfinished stories on the web because I never know how much I'll want to change it later on. However, I'm trying a new tactic, hoping that if people enjoy it, guilt or motivation will suddenly grip me & force me to finish it!
I started this story a long time ago & then my computer lost about seven pages of it which meant I didn't go back to it for ages. Once I'd finally rewritten the lost scenes, I was stuck with wondering whether I should update the story to the end of season two (Tess is gone & Alex is dead). Since I have some Alex scenes which I quite like, I'm leaving him in. I've also made a few references to Agent Pierce so I suppose this story will be towards the end of series one but without (the rather pertinent) Tess Harding. Sorry Tess fans, nothing personal!!

Enjoy! Please, please nourish the feedback monster!

Maria couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned for about two hours, dozing off occasionally but constantly waking at the slightest noise. Slipping off the bed and walking over the covers which she had managed to kick off earlier in the night, she peered out of the window, craning her neck to find the moon. Catching sight of it above the house, she was disappointed to see it wasn't a full moon. That was usually the reason for her restless nights. So what was it? Oh, there was the whole Michael thing.

Flinging open the window to let some fresh air into the increasingly hot and stuffy room, Maria threw herself onto the bed. She reached out one arm to the bedside table and rifled through her collection of aromatherapy oils. Usually inhaling some geranium oil or a bit of rose was all it took to pull her out of a depression and settle her mind.

Tonight, of course, was going to be an exception, because Michael had an irritating way of getting into a part of her mind which no aromas could reach. Instead she found herself thinking about the way his hair curled at his temple or the way he drew his eyebrows into a hurt puppy expression whenever he was worried.

Unconsciously, Maria found herself mentally tracing his figure from head to toe, vividly recalling the shape of his fingernails and the small scar just above his elbow. Sighing, she rolled over onto her side. God! Was she ever going to be able to get on with her life, a life without aliens, a life without Michael? There were plenty of other equally hot guys around campus, so why couldn't she tear her eyes away from the most anti-social guy in the whole of Roswell and turn her attention to someone who might appreciate it.

"Stop it!"

She barely whispered the words, but just hearing the sound of her voice outside her own head jolted her brain out of daydream mode. Running one hand through her bed-scruffed hair, Maria sat down beside the computer and switched on her Buddy System to see which of her friends might be surfing the net at this hour.

Unsurprisingly, Alex's name immediately popped up on the screen and Maria was about to flick it off because she wasn't in the mood for chatting about his lists. Secretly she had been hoping that Liz would be there but it would unusual for her to work late. Miss Parker was always the perfect student and never needed to do any late night studying. Besides, everything was perfect between her and Max so she was probably fast asleep, snuggled up with warm, cosy thoughts about their perfect life together.

Tugged back from her reverie, a message popped onto the screen. Now it was too late to avoid chatting to Alex and Maria could only hope that he was in a sympathetic "girly-guy" mood.

ALEX:Hey, don't girls do beauty sleep at about this time?

MARIA: What does beauty matter when your love life sucks?

She was faintly amused by how long it took for Alex to respond to that particular remark and she was about to sign off when he wrote again.

ALEX:You know you always look beautiful to me.

MARIA: Well done I can see you've been practising your flattering skills on Isabel.

ALEX: Yeah, well the less said about that the better.

MARIA: I think we're in the same boat.

ALEX: I feel that it is time I was brutal with you, Maria. Get over him! He's never going to be the boyfriend you want.

Maria was about to burst into an 'I didn't ask for your opinion' speech when she remembered that that was exactly what she had been doing and, for once, somebody was being honest with her about Michael. She quickly skirted the subject and said she was going to bed, hoping Alex hadn't caught on to her hurt feelings.

Huddling down under the duvet, her mind was in even more of a scramble than it had been before she had spoken to her friend. Why did Michael have to be such a difficult person to go out with? She never knew from one day to the next whether they were in a relationship together or if they had cooled off to being friends again. It may be sickening to see Liz and Max in each other's laps every day but at least everyone knew how they felt about each other. More to the point, Liz and Max knew how they felt about one another. Their relationship seemed so easy, if you discounted the life threatening situations they encountered on a daily basis, and it showed. They craved each other's company like honey bees crave pollen, instinctive and natural. If there was one thing Maria knew for certain, it was that she could never achieve that with Michael. Caught up in her uncertain thoughts, Maria eventually drifted to sleep.

Liz Parker picked up her blue blouse off the bed and held it up in front of the mirror, chewing her bottom lip with the anxiety of having to choose a different and sexy outfit to grab Max's attention every day. Okay, so he didn't exactly need any more encouragement, but it made Liz feel good inside to know that she was like a tantalising gift that he couldn't open until after second period.

Flinging the blouse back on the bed, she toyed with the idea of the new T-shirt she bought from the mall a couple of days ago. It had a subtly glittering butterfly design across the front and Liz wasn't sure if it was a little too dressy for school. Checking her reflection again, she shrugged to herself. Max was worth a little glitter and it wasn't like she was going to wear a mini dress into class. Bidding farewell to her father, she headed out the door.

At school, she was greeted with squeals of admiration from Maria but, true to form, Michael didn't notice anything different and Alex had to be nudged before he could find anything particularly complimentary to say.

"You look very sparkly, uh, it's nice."

Maria rolled her eyes. "You look stunning, Liz. God, how do you look this great so early in the morning? It doesn't matter what time I get up, I always look swollen and puffy until after first period."

She glanced at Michael, vainly expecting some kind of comforting remark or boost.

Picking it up for him, Liz protested, "No, you don't, Maria You always look great. Right, Michael?"

His attention was already directed down the corridor where Max and Isabel were walking towards the group, deep in conversation over something.

Liz tried again, "Michael?"

He blinked in half acknowledgement, looking briefly in his girlfriend's direction. "Uh, yeah, sometimes you get that thing with your face in the morning, but it's fine."

Liz and Maria exchanged exhausted glances but all was dismissed when Max whistled through his teeth at the dark-haired beauty before him.
"Wow, who is this mistress of darkness? She is ravishingly beautiful."

Placing his hands on Liz's hips, he pulled her playfully towards him and leaned down to kiss her. Everyone duly averted their eyes, talking about mundane school stuff.

Liz pulled away, smiling. "I was thinking about you all last night."

"Well, that's strange because so was I."

Their laughter carried down the hallway as the bell rang and everyone else began hurrying off to their first class. Maria attempted to steer Max in the direction of their German room before quickly snagging Liz, "Hey, are you working tonight?"

"Yeah, of course You are, too, right?"

Maria nodded and pursued Max down the corridor. Liz rummaged around for the right books in her locker and headed towards the Maths room. She'd better get into best friend sharing mode because when Maria checked up on what she was doing later it always meant that she was worried about something and wanted to talk. Not that Liz minded exactly, they were best friends after all, but sometimes she doubted if she would be able to find anything else comforting to say to Maria about Michael.

He was difficult at the best of times and, while Liz could see perfectly easily why he was so attractive to Maria, she was torn between loyalty to her friend's pain and the rare moments when the couple were actually happy. If one weighed up the times that they argued and the times that they were passionate together, well, it probably wasn't a good idea.

All thoughts of Maria were shoved to the back of Liz's mind when she noticed that Michael had followed her into the classroom and was about to sit down beside her, despite the fact that he had never taken design. Snagging him by the sleeve, Michael looked at her with a mixture of irritation and surprise, "What?"

"Michael, you don't take design. Don't you have English in 4B?"

He looked confused for a second, glancing round the room as if he had finally reached his home planet without realizing it.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot. See you later, Liz."

Without even looking at her he headed back into the hallway. Liz knew better than to leave it as just a case of early morning forgetfulness. If there was one thing she had learned during her time with the Czechoslovakians, it was that nothing was meaningless, and Michael was a particularly solid example of it.

Following him out, she asked, "Michael, are you okay?"

He stared at her blankly and glanced down at his books as if he had never seen them before, "Yeah, I'm fine, why?"

Liz opened her hands out in a gesture of surrender, "Perhaps because you're completely out of it this morning!"

He looked at her with the accusing expression that only Michael could perfect in the most intimidating way.

"So I'm a little tired, since when was that a crime?"

Liz was about to protest but decided that getting into any kind of argument or discussion with him was useless and pointless right now, especially since Mrs. Matheson was heading down the hallway towards them.

Michael glanced back at the English room door that had just been closed and mumbled, "Yeah, well, see you later."

Turning back into her own classroom, Liz tried to remind herself that Michael was the most paranoid of the lot of them and it didn't take much to send his conscious mind careering into zones that no mere human could reach him in. It was nothing to worry about. Wasn't that what she had always told herself never to believe?

"And then he ate it!"

Isabel was relieved that she had not been around to hear the beginning of Alex's little anecdote, especially considering the disgusted expression on Maria's face and her sudden decision to leave the rest of her lunch.

Alex turned to his sometime girlfriend with a wide grin, no doubt revelling in the glory of achieving the desired effect from today's horrible story.

"Is, you've got to hear this."

He was waving his hands about to illustrate the beginning of the tale before Isabel managed to silence him.

"I wouldn't bother unless you want my yoghurt all over your head."

Alex weighed up the pros and cons of taking the blonde on her word before deciding that her smile only hid a serpentine venom he really shouldn't mess with. Settling back against his usual tree trunk, he sipped his drink demurely, batting his eyelids affectionately in Isabel's direction in the hope of appeasing her.

Max joined them, his hand locked with Liz's in their usual lover's grip, as if the whole country's army wouldn't be able to tear them apart. Sometimes it was a sickening sight to see two people so in love but occasionally, very occasionally, Alex thought, it was quite inspiring. It reminded him of the moments when he had felt like the closest person in the world to Isabel, when it seemed he was even more important to her than Max or Michael. Right now though, all he could think of was how depressing it must be to think you've found 'the one' so early in life, to not want to test other candidates out. How boring is that? Mind you, Maria would argue that if 'the one' was going to be Keanu Reeves, every girl in the world would be happy to settle for their first love.

"Hey guys, have you seen Michael since this morning?"

Max's voice was casual but Isabel immediately queried her brother, "Why? What's wrong?"

Max glanced at Liz, as if willing her not to say anything more. Liz had known him long enough to understand even the slightest flicker of an eyelash and kept her lips pursed as Max merely shrugged off his sister's concern.

"Nothing, there's nothing wrong. I just haven't seen him all morning and Liz said he seemed kind of distracted this morning."

Alex let out a snort of discontent. "Knowing Michael he will have gone and got himself into some kind of trouble or other. I expect he's sitting in Valenti's office talking his way out of a breaking and entering as we speak."

Isabel shot him a cold look, clearly the scenario was too close for comfort. "Sorry."

Maria attempted a lame joke to cheer everyone up but only succeeded in highlighting the unpleasant possibilities of where their friend might be or what he might be doing.

Liz pulled Max down to the ground beside her, opening her lunch box and offering him a sandwich. She was aware of Isabel's eyes boring into her, wondering how much the pair of them were hiding from her. Despite the hardships the group had all endured together, they managed to build more secrets and cover-up stories than the US government and Max looking around the quad suspiciously did not help matters at all.

They were spared any further inquisition as the familiar figure of Michael sauntered over to where the group were sitting, his eyes concentrating hard on a huddle of teenagers in the shadowy corner of the forecourt.

Maria squealed with something to be interpreted as delight when she spotted him, about five minutes after everyone else.

While Alex cracked yet another inappropriate joke at Michael's expense, Isabel was watching her fellow alien with disconcerting intensity, tracking his gaze over to where the huddle of people were standing. There was nothing particularly suspicious about them, in fact, she recognized two of them from the groupies who sat on the bleachers during cheerleading practice, so what was he looking at so intently?

Michael didn't sit down when he reached the others, but stuffed his hands in his pockets and shifted uncomfortably beside Maria.

Isabel held out a packet of crisps in the hope of luring him to sit down, "What's up, Michael?"

Maria was busy picking at the contents of her sandwich but turned her attention to her boyfriend, "Yeah, we were just debating where you'd disappeared to. Sit down."

He shook his head, "No I was thinking I might skip school this afternoon. I need you guys to cover for me."

Suddenly, everyone's attention was directed at him, waiting for an explanation. Max couldn't stand the suspense any longer.

"Come on, Michael, what gives?"

"Haven't you heard about that new building that's being put up outside town?"

The group looked at him blankly except Liz who could see where this was going and decided to try and diffuse the situation. "Yeah, I saw an article about it in the papers. Some branch of the government have taken up the land rights to a plot outside Roswell and I think building started a few weeks ago."

Michael was nodding, fiercely, waiting to get in his say. "Yeah and we don't need Einstein to tell us why they're here."

Max felt his heart sink, all of them were worried about being hunted but sometimes he felt that Michael was willing to latch onto any scare mongering and run with it. His tone was light, if not somewhat exasperated when he said, "They're not looking for us, Michael"

"Come on, Maxwell! Why else would they be here?"

Maria chimed in, hoping that between the lot of them they could calm him out of his paranoia.

"They're a branch of the government. It could be anything, tax offices, housing projects, anything."

Liz backed her friend up, saying, "Maria's right. If the government were going to do some secret testing or anything related to alien hunters, they wouldn't let the public know. They certainly wouldn't let the newspaper run a story on it."

Michael ran one hand through his hair, trying to control his rising temper, "I can't believe you are all trying to dismiss this! Why would they build offices here? As for the newspapers, of course they'd publicise it, it's a cover!"

Isabel, who had remained quiet throughout all if this, suddenly spoke, "I agree with Michael. They know they can't hide the fact that they're building something, so the best they can hope for is to let everyone know so we won't suspect anymore."

Max's jaw dropped open, "I can't believe you're going with Michael on this, Isabel!"

Michael's temper was becoming harder to control, "Why, because you'd rather play at being Joe Normal? Face it, Max, you'd rather ignore all of this than jeopardize your perfect little life."

Liz gripped her boyfriend's hand, knowing how much Michael's words cut him. They only opened new wounds that the pair of them had been trying so hard to heal, or at least ignore.

The aliens' destiny was something which no one could stand in the way of, let alone mere human girlfriends, and Liz couldn't deny that there were times when both of them chose to ignore negative signs rather than contemplate a future without each other.

Max harnessed his desire to punch Michael out and stood up, slowly but steadily.

"I don't know what you think you can achieve by snooping around government property like you have something to hide, but I'm not going to be party to it. You're on your own, Michael."

He looked sternly at his sister whose expression proved to him that her loyalties were just as divided as his were. They both knew that Michael could be right and that they would both go to his aid no matter what he said or did to them. However, Max knew that he had to be firm with Isabel. He was her brother and it was his duty to look out for her no matter what. He also knew that nothing would be gained from pushing her.

He leaned down to kiss Liz and said, "I've got to get to class, set up an experiment. See ya."

He headed towards the science building, trying to ignore the irregular beat of his heart which always signalled the onset of faint panic in his mind, the renewed uncertainty of where his life was headed or if it would be cut short just around the corner.

Isabel had a free period that afternoon which made her an extra special worry for Max since he would have no idea where she was or what she was doing. If Michael was planning a little sortie out to the latest government building, Max would just have to pray that she had the common sense not to follow.

Much to his relief, she never liked to think of herself as stupid and her stubbornness fell behind her better judgement on this one.

"Come on, Isabel, don't you think this is pretty suspicious?"

Michael was pacing in front of her desk in the library. Fortunately, that particular room was the least popular by every student's standards, so the pair had it all to themselves.

"I don't know, Michael. It just seems a little risky."

Michael gave her a condescending look, "Everything's risky, Is. We're hardly normal teenagers here!"

Isabel shook her head, her curled hair bouncing round her face.

"I know, Michael, but we shouldn't get involved in anything unless we are sure there is something substantial there. If we start snooping, it will only look like we're paranoid. She took one look at the manic glint in her friend's eyes and couldn't help but giggle. "Which you are."

Michael gave her a withering look which she chose to ignore but his silence was a good sign that he was thinking about what she was saying at least.

"If there's nothing suspect about it, then we'll soon be able to find out what's going on without spying. If the place has been built with alien hunting in mind, then we should lie low for a while until we can figure out a more foolproof way of getting our information."

Michael sat down and began fiddling with the stationary on the desk, sorting them into piles of pencils and pens.

Isabel waved her hands in front of his face, "Michael. Picking up some of my bad habits?"

He looked at her in surprise and she motioned to the neat collection of HB pencils beside him. One of her favourite pastimes in periods of stress was to sort things out, whether it be colour coding her wardrobe or cataloguing her nail varnishes by make and colour.

She stifled the grin which began to emerge from the prospect of initiating Michael into the world of make up, but managed to focus her mind back on the issue at hand.

"So, what do you say?"

He chewed the bottom of his lip for a moment, staring at her intently as she gave him the potted version of her lecture. "We lie low until we either have a solid lead or we find out that they're just manufacturing government letterheads."

She was surprised at her own sense of relief when Michael reluctantly agreed and decided to return to his afternoon classes.

Turning her attention back to the chemistry book she had laid out in front of herself, Isabel tried to forget every worrying concept he had put in her mind since that morning.

As she leafed through the pages without taking in a single word, she sat back in her chair and let her gaze wander to the window where all the other students who had no lessons that hour were wandering. Some were sunning themselves on the grass, their shirts riding up to expose the pale flesh of their stomachs in the hope of catching a tan before they were called back inside. A few were playing some silly game involving throwing an opened bottle of water around, but most were simply lounging under the trees, relishing some moments of freedom.

Typical, Isabel thought.

Outside, everyone else her age was enjoying themselves, living out their teenage years the way they were supposed to and here she was sitting inside wondering whether to break into a government building or wait and see if she was caught by authorities and subjected to torturing tests for the remainder of her life.

Isabel sighed, they didn't even know how old they all were anyway. She could be forty but in relation to how long an alien lived, she could be only a baby with another hundred human years to endure on this planet. Why was everything so complicated? She would trade her entire existence just for a day of being a normal human being, someone who belonged in this world and had nothing to hide. There were days when she felt a pit in her stomach like something gnawing away at her insides or like she had swallowed a weight. Most of the time she barely noticed it, but there were times like today when her freaky life just got a little freakier and the all too familiar sense of isolation closed in around her.

Michael was right, they might be endangering themselves sooner if they started delving into the new government property now, but it was only to save themselves more pain later. Just like Michael, she and Max were different and there was no point in denying it. She didn't want to be as rash as her friend, but no matter which way they looked at it, the government were the enemy and it was their job to check them out before they got checked out themselves.

Shutting the book with a slap, Isabel headed to her next class, her mind dosed up on a mixture of apprehension and a sense of purpose. The job description was clear, aliens were to be exterminated or at least found and tested on. Isabel was an alien and, along with Max and Michael, it was her role to do everything in her power to prevent being killed or discovered. They had all had too many near misses in their time to dismiss this as nothing important.

"I just feel like we don't communicate anymore."

Liz grabbed the sugar decanter from Maria before it spilled all over the counter and gave them something else to clear up. The Crashdown Cafe had been pretty quiet that evening, much to both girls' relief, but that didn't mean that there wasn't plenty to keep them occupied.

In Liz's case, her main issue was keeping Maria calm enough to actually serve a customer it they should turn up, and she wasn't doing a particularly impressive job.

"Well, it isn't like you two have ever really communicated that much, Maria. I mean, maybe you should just accept that Michael doesn't want a girlfriend like that."

The blonde stared at Liz with a expression of sheer shock that she could betray her in matters of the heart and put her hands firmly on her hips, voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Well, thanks for the support, Ricki, I always knew I could rely on you to make me feel better."

Liz shrugged, her sympathy was wearing off this evening. She had been unable to tear her mind away from Max's expression when they had parted ways at the end of school. His eyes had held that 'thing' that always meant he wasn't saying everything he felt. It was unlike him to hide stuff from her after everything they had gone through together and it was disconcerting that he had chosen to hide it from her now. When he did that, it always spelt trouble. It meant that he was trying not to involve her in something invariably dangerous. Unfortunately for Maria, this fear made Liz's interest in boy trouble dwindle down to a par with what lipstick to wear with which dress.

"Look, I'm sorry, Maria. I just..."

Her voice trailed off, unsure of what else she could say now. Her words about Michael might have been painful but, Max concerns or no Max concerns, it was still the truth and a truth which Maria chose to overlook with every day of conflict that passed between the couple.

Maria spared her the torture of continuing her sentence as she sat heavily on one of the bar stools.

"No, Liz, you're right. We both want different things from a relationship."

She looked past her friend at the clock on the wall with a picture of a little green alien on the glass centre.

"Michael isn't normal and what he needs most of all at this point is support, unconditionally."

She focused her attention back on Liz, who had suddenly jolted her mind back to Maria's words, "And you know, the funny thing is, despite all my ranting about him, I am happy to be that person, Liz. It sounds corny but, even when I hate him, I know in my heart that I would walk to the other end of the earth just to be there for him."
Liz nodded, knowing that Maria was right. That was exactly how she felt about Max. She would do anything if it meant being close to him.

Drawing a deep breath, she put the napkins she had been fiddling with out on the counter top. Beneath all the fuss and chatter, occasionally Maria managed to capture the crux of the problem and this was one of those moments. It didn't matter if Max couldn't tell him what was bugging him because she could stand by him without a reason, she would always stand by him.

Just at that moment Max entered, followed by Isabel and Michael, prompting Maria to be her usual spontaneous self as she ran over to hug her boyfriend.

He looked surprised and even more awkward than usual but his hands went around her waist and kissed her anyway. The others chose to ignore this saccharine show of affection, sitting down at the counter opposite Liz.

"Can I have an Alien Blast?"

Liz nodded, her eyes trailing away from Max, who was staring firmly at the menu in front of him. Isabel immediately sense the tension and caught Liz's anxious stare so made an unusually tactful exit, "I think I'm going to put some music on."

Watching until she had reached the jukebox, Liz put one hand out to Max, "Max, what's going on?"

He looked up, eyebrows raised in mock ignorance, "What do you mean? There's nothing going on."

Liz pursed her lips and pulled her hand away, realising that if he had got as far as lying to her there was definitely something to worry about.

"You're going out to that place, aren't you?"

He said nothing but his silence spoke volumes, "I can't believe you could be that stupid, Max."

At this, he protested, "Why, Liz? We're just trying to protect ourselves."

"No, Max, you're looking for trouble where there isn't any and drawing attention to yourselves. There's nothing to gain through this, nothing at all."

His eyes searched her face, probing into her mind as she stared at him in horror.

It wasn't that this plan came as a surprise but a small part of Liz Parker had been trying to gloss over the truth with some elaborate story involving secret picnics or something equally idealistic. It was the tone in his voice which was the most frightening thing, the fact that he wasn't just giving in to one of Michael's hair-brained schemes, he genuinely believed it to be a good idea.

"What if you get caught, Max? How's that going to look? People already suspect you."

He reached out to her but she pulled her hands away from him in disgust.

Max paused for a second, finally noticing how upset she truly was. "We won't get caught. We'll be careful."

Liz shook her head, trying to get her head around the matter. These conversations were so surreal. Here she was worrying that her boyfriend might get arrested or worse for trespassing on government property while other kids were doing homework and getting grounded and she was powerless to stop him.

Isabel chose a completely inappropriate song about the death of a loved one and came back to the counter, followed by Maria and Michael.

Liz's attention was still fixed on Max, "Everything is so quiet at the moment, Max. We haven't had any trouble for months. I'm asking you, please don't do this."

Their eyes locked in a moment of mutual comprehension. Whatever he chose to do at this juncture was going to have a deep effect on their relationship.

"Liz, I swear we'll be careful Nothing's going to happen."

"Max, if you do this, it's over."

Her heart jolted with the words, as much of a surprise to her as it evidently was to Max. He just sat there, staring back at her blankly, as if he didn't believe it. Swallowing hard, he glanced at Michael and Isabel who seemed to be in shock as well.

To any outsider, the moment would be laughable, the idea that a teenage break-up should be of such significance to so many people, but Liz was deadly serious and they all knew what an impact it would have on the group.

"I'm sorry, Liz, I've got to know."

Liz wished the floor could open up and swallow her as her heart pounded in her chest and she began to feel dizzy. It was like the whole world had ground to a halt with his words and it was all she could do to turn away from him and walk out.

Max exchanged empty looks with the others before getting up and disappearing outside. Isabel looked at Michael then called, "Max, wait!" She followed him outside.

Maria squeezed Michael's hand and headed into the back room to deal with Liz. God knows what a wreck she would be after a break up like that.

"Max, wait up!"

Isabel caught her brother just as he was pulling out of the parking space, forcing him to stop.

"Are you coming?"

She made no move to get in, her eyes betraying a mixture of expectancy and disapproval, "Max."

Staring ahead through the windshield, he refused to meet her questioning gaze. "Don't say anything, Is, okay? I don't want to hear it."

Knowing that this must be tearing him apart inside, she glanced back at the Crashdown before clambering in beside her brother. The wheels squealed and they sped off down the main street.

Alex had been waiting for Liz for over an hour and was beginning to regret his decision to wait on the front step for her. It was starting to get dark and chilly, two particularly unpleasant factors when you're only wearing a thin T-shirt and had forgotten a jacket. Examining the hands on his watch for the umpteenth time that minute, he decided that perhaps she had forgotten after all and he should just give up on the possibility that he was ever going to pass English this year.

Sneaking back inside, already smarting at the prospect of being laughed at by his brothers for not having a social life 'again', Alex braced himself for the horrific task involving studying by himself.

Maria found Liz changing out of her waitress uniform quietly and methodically, carefully folding the apron and placing the alien head band on top.

This was not a good sign. Any healthy boyfriend dumper would be throwing things around and making angry noises. When things got really quiet, that was the time to worry.


Maria was surprised by the meekness of her own voice, a new level of sympathy tone that she had never reached before.

"Are you okay?"

Turning to her friend, Liz managed to shake off the dead, fixed eye thing she had been drawn into and her voice was dead when she spoke.

"I'm fine, I'm good."

Maria watched her closely as if she were some specimen which was about to melt into a puddle of goo in a matter of seconds. Dragging her over to a chair, she forced Liz to sit down.

"This is just shock talking. You just need to let it all sink in. Here, have some cedar oil."

She went to her locker and began rummaging around for the vials she always kept in her bag. Typical that they should disappear into the black hole at the bottom of it just when she needed them most. In fact she probably needed it more than Liz.

"Oh my God, Maria, what have I done?"

Maria turned back to the table and was met with two wild, wide, brown eyes.

"Hey, don't stress, Liz! You just had a lover's spat, all right. It's nothing major, is it?"

Liz stared at her blankly as if she expected her best bud with the completely dysfunctional love life to have the right answer.

"I don't know, Maria. I...it just came out. One moment I didn't know what to say and the next minute I was breaking up with him. God, Maria, what am I going to do?"

Maria's mouth opened and closed a few times, uncharacteristically lost for words, even stupid ones, before she finally managed to form a sentence.

Kneeling in front of Liz's chair, she said, "Stay calm, Liz. Panic is my department. You can do this, you can live and breathe without Max Evans. You've done it for over fifteen years and you can do it again."

Liz nodded, perhaps a little too fiercely for it to be believable, more a case of 'who are you trying to convince' than the response Maria had been hoping for.

"Take deep breaths and put it in perspective."

Liz followed the instructions, putting her hands flat on the table and closing her eyes as she drew in lungfuls of air.

"Okay, I'm looking at the bigger picture. My name is Liz Parker and I'm just a girl who is...in love with Max Evans and I can't believe I just finished it with him. Oh, Maria!"

Maria sat down on the other chair.

"Jesus, that floor has done horrible things to my knees."

Rubbing them harshly with the palms of her hands, she looked her friend in the eyes.

"Listen, Liz. You don't have to see it like that, okay. Max loves you and you love him. This is just a short-term thing, I promise. You two are made for each other, inseparable. Just give it a day or two and everything will go back to normal."

Liz nodded more positively this time which was definitely an improvement.

She hugged her tightly to her chest. "Come on, I'll drive you home."

Liz suddenly pulled away, gasping, "Oh God! I promised Alex I'd meet him to help with his English assignment."

Maria followed her friend's gaze up to the clock, "What time was that?"

"Eight o'clock."

They both burst into giggles at exactly the same time. There was nothing like a tense situation to make the most ridiculous things seem humorous.

"Well, girl, I think you've blown that date."

Smiling, Maria helped Liz gather up her stuff and they slipped out of the back door to her car.

It was a good thing that aliens didn't need as much sleep as humans because Max barely got any that night. Isabel had steered clear of him all evening in the hope that he might just snap out of it - like that was going to happen. Liz had just broken up with him because she was so worried that he might get hurt or killed trying to find information out there, only proving again how much she cared for him.

Typical, he thought, that he would go and blow it, choose Michael's stupid paranoid plan over the person he loved most in the entire world. As if they hadn't been through enough, he had to make matters worse, or perhaps the worst part was knowing that Liz hadn't meant a single one of the three words. "It is over." She had only said it because she was frightened afraid for him.

Whacking his pillow hard in the pathetic guise of plumping it up, Max turned to the wall, his fingertips itching with the self-
loathing he felt but for which he had no ventilation point. Closing his eyes, he placed one hand over each temple and took deep breaths, trying to envisage anything other than Liz, like a walk in the mall with Isabel...where Liz was also shopping, her silky, dark hair lightly resting on her bare shoulders with their chocolately smooth texture. God! How he wished tomorrow would come quickly so that he could talk to her, try and apologise, give up on the original plan and go to her. One more moment of happiness with Liz was better than a thousand years of not knowing what lay beyond the town limits.
Resigning himself to the fact that this night was going to be too torturous to sleep through, he lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling, allowing the fleeting images of Liz to parade across his mind just to remind him of how stupid he truly was.

Liz was apprehensive to say the least when she got up for school the next day, half fearful that Max would turn up to take her to school in his jeep and even more fearful that she wouldn't see him at all.

Fortunately, Maria had offered to give her a lift in her mom's car, so Liz was covered for the first worry of the day. Her best friend honked the horn about fifteen minutes before they were supposed to be in class (a typical Maria habit that always put Liz on edge, wondering whether to take the bus which would make her late anyway or wait for her friend who would probably burn rubber and get them there in time for first class or not show up at all). It was a guessing game Liz didn't like being a part of but this morning there was no choice and, even though she would like to see if Max had turned up, she didn't mind a few more minutes of her romance-free environment.

She had just been debating whether she had time for another cup of coffee when Maria had got there, apologising profusely.

"My mom was being a complete pain. She decided that she needed to go to the store to pick up groceries and wanted the car, but she didn't tell me so I got up at my usual time only to find the car wasn't there."

She wittered on for a few more minutes before she noticed that Liz's attention was firmly fixed on the street outside and started apologising again for being insensitive.

"You don't need to apologise, Maria, I just... Well, I'm just gearing myself up."

Maria nodded and much to Liz's horror, she turned in her seat and began rummaging around in her bag for another vial of one of her oils.

"Here, I made this for you last night. I figured you could use a bit of a pep talk, so this is for when I'm not there to give you a boost."

She punched her friend's arm affectionately and smiled a cheesy grin, forcing Liz to return an obliging smile, "Thanks, Maria I think I'm going to need it."

Pulling up outside the school only presented another concern that had completely slipped Liz's mind - Alex's study date. Catching up with him in the hallway, she tried her most earnest smile but he looked pretty unconvinced.

"Alex, I'm so sorry."

He gave her a mock, cold stare which he couldn't contain for long before breaking into a laugh.

"It's okay, I heard."

Liz frowned for a second, "How? Who told you?"

Putting a protective arm around her, Alex tried to look cool and aloof.

"Oh, on the grapevine. You're a very popular subject of discussion right now, Miss Parker."

Liz gave Maria a horrified stare, "What?"

Maria raised her hands in mock surrender, widening her eyes in protest, "Hey, I didn't say a word!"

Liz turned back to Alex, providing her best 'don't mess with me' expression. "If you've put my private affairs on one of your internet lists, I'll..."

Alex grabbed some books from his locker. "Relax, Liz, nobody knows. I just thought a scare was the least you deserved for
keeping me waiting on my front doorstep for over an hour."

Liz nodded in acknowledgement, "Touché."

Linking her arm through his and Maria's, they began walking down the corridor. "So, I suppose you didn't get anything done last night, then?"

Alex opened his mouth in shock, as if someone had shot him through the heart, "How can you say that, with my reputation? I don't need you to help me study!"

Both girls looked at him, suspiciously, and he looked down sheepishly "Well, you know, the usual kind of studying...a bit of Oprah, some old episodes of 'The Incredible Hulk'. Good quality television that encourages the flow of energy in my mind thus facilitating my ability to complete assignments on time with the highest level of excellence."

Humouring him, the girls nodded seriously before Maria degenerated into fits of giggles. Their banter died down into awkward silence as they universally caught sight of Max heading in their direction. Not that it was much consolation, but he looked as uncomfortable as Liz felt, especially since he couldn't avoid going to his locker which was almost exactly where the group were standing.

Maria nudged her friend gently on the elbow before steering Alex away. For once, Liz felt abandoned and like her friend had read all her signals wrong. The last thing she felt she could handle right now was a conversation with Max. They had only broken up the day before so they certainly weren't ready for discussing where they went wrong or whether they should get back together. Her emotions were in complete turmoil, running from regretting she had ever opened her mouth to thinking that perhaps there was something to be said for her decision, no matter how hasty it might have been. Clearly, Max had other ideas and it didn't help that he looked even more sexy than usual, in a somewhat dishevelled way.

"Hi Liz."

"Hi." He watched her closely as she tucked her dark locks behind her ears in a motion he had seen her do thousands of times when they were together.

It suddenly felt strange that she should be doing that when he knew she was off limits to him. "Can we talk?"

Biting her lip with uncertainty, Liz was spared a response by the bell calling them off to first class. "I don't know, Max. I don't know if I'm ready."

His eyes locked with hers, pleading, "Please, Liz."

She glanced over his shoulder at Maria who was making exasperated faces in her direction, trying to hurry her up.

"Maybe later."

Max nodded quickly, his face lighting up a little. "How about after fourth period? We're both free, right?"

Liz had been hoping for a little more space than a couple of hours but it was obvious that Max was not going to back down and there was a really big part of her that liked that. She wanted to get back together just as much as he did, it was only the fact that she had dumped him in the first place that made her feel like she should stick to her guns for a while longer.

Nodding mutely, her gaze flitted over his face once before joining Maria and seeking the sanctuary of her English class.

Michael sat through morning lessons in his usual manner, his head firmly on anything other than school and today the subject was Maria. She had been unusually tactile last night before the whole Max and Liz blow-up and he wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. Well, that is to say, he liked it a lot, but that only complicated matters further. It meant that she was starting to feel things for him that he wasn't ready to reciprocate. He did love her and they had both said the big three words to each other before now so it was only natural that they should progress, right? It was only right that she want to be close to him, to hug and kiss him spontaneously without him freaking out about it. However, Michael was still frightened of what might happen if Maria stayed with him the way Liz clung to Max.

He hadn't managed to control his powers yet and on the occasions that he did, the results were catastrophic only highlighting the fact that he didn't want his girlfriend to ever be caught in the crossfire. He might be like an abusive husband, hurting her the way a drunkard might hit his wife and that was something Michael never wanted to be.

Everyone in the group had adopted a kind of role to play - Max was the level-headed guy who always considered the options before doing anything, Isabel was the matter-of-fact one who was around to diffuse the situation or say what no one else dared voice...but Michael? Everyone knew what his function was. He was the guy who went off half-cocked, ready to endanger his own life and the lives of his friends without a moment's thought. He succeeded in getting them into trouble at every turn and no matter how many times he tried to check these urges, they just pushed through his rational mind and clouded his judgement. That was the only thing holding him back from Maria, the fear that even though she wanted him in spite of all his faults, he was a bomb waiting to explode and not even he had a clue when that might be.

Called away from his reflections by the shrill sound of the bell, Michael grabbed his books and headed into the hallway, hoping to see his girlfriend. So they were both taking a big risk by getting into a relationship together, but he loved her and she loved him. Besides, every romance was tainted by a few 'what ifs'. Why should an alien's be any different?

Isabel had recognised the signs Max was giving out before she had even made it to her locker and immediately took a swerving right when she saw Liz approaching him. Now was definitely not the time to ask if she could borrow his chemistry book. Maybe Alex would do instead.

She found him with his head buried in his locker as if it were the Narnia wardrobe or something so she couldn't resist the urge to bang really hard on the door, startling him into knocking his head on the top He let out a yelp of pain then rubbed the top of his head, only managing to scruff his hair up instead.

Isabel could never get over how much of a geek he could be sometimes and yet still have something kind of attractive about him.

"Hi, Alex."

He fixed her with a cold stare but it didn't last long. "Do you always do that to your friends? Ouch!"

She laughed, tossing her blonde hair behind her shoulders. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. Besides, I need to borrow a book, but I guess if you could fit your head in there, I doubt there's much room for anything else."

He gave her another withering look and slammed the locker door shut. "Well, after a request like that I don't believe I have any books at school today. You'll just have to plead guilty and try to be humble. Oh, but then I doubt the ice princess has ever come across the word."

"Actually, I do. It is my slaves' favourite state. I am quite accustomed to humble."

Alex gave his head one last rub before nodding towards Max and Liz, "Yeah, well I think Max has got that covered right now."

Isabel followed his gaze to where her brother was standing, his body language betraying his discomfort. Liz didn't appear to be doing much better and, if they didn't know how serious it actually
was, Isabel and Alex might have found the couple laughable.

Linking her arm through Alex's, Isabel steered him away from their friends and outside into the quad.

"I'm so glad you and I are cool, I mean, romantically."

Alex wasn't quite sure what to make of that statement. He knew that Isabel had never really fallen head over heels in love with him or anything and their getting together wasn't exactly the most promising of situations.

She was the most popular and desirable girl in school, perhaps to the entire teenage boy population of Roswell, but yet she had chosen to be with him, little old Alex Whitman, the school geek. He should be thanking his lucky stars that she was doing more than giving him the time of day, but somehow he still felt a bit deflated at the idea that their relationship was nowhere near as intense as Liz and Max's was. Okay, so it was true but he had always hoped that perhaps they were heading in that direction, moving towards something a little more permanent.

Oblivious to his own mental ramblings, Isabel continued, "It must be so exhausting playing those little cat and mouse games, don't you think? Imagine if you and I broke up every time I chose to do something you didn't like! I swear it would be like walking on eggshells your entire life."

Suddenly aware that Isabel had turned her attention towards the groups of people entering the sunshine, Alex nodded casually and decided to drop a hint while he wasn't under scrutiny.

"Yeah, a real relationship...it must be murder."

He hadn't intended it to sound so sarcastic but Isabel picked up on it instantly, "Don't you think we have a proper relationship?"

He regretted his words because now he was starting to feel foolish and embarrassed. Explaining emotions was never an easy thing for any guy, especially a guy who happened to be dating a gorgeous girl and who had very limited experience in that department. Tact was the key and Alex wasn't quite sure how much he had.

"I just think...it's not that..."

Isabel's eyes were getting stonier by the second until he felt certain she was going to either explode or storm off.

"Then what, Alex?"

Bracing himself he scanned his mind rapidly to come up with some convincing argument to settle this.

"Well, actually, I don't think we have a real relationship, not like Max and Liz, but that's not to say I'm not happy."

She was eyeing him suspiciously as if she was weighing up how honest he was being. Alex felt his face redden as he stammered to find the words, "I'm perfectly happy, Isabel, but don't you still count what we have as dating? I mean, we don't run to one another when we have a problem or follow each other round with doe eyes all day. It's just casual."

Unsure what effect belittling their situation would have, he was relieved when Isabel raised her eyebrows, indifferently, and bit into her apple. "I guess you're right, but still...it's good."

Alex nodded weakly. This was a debate he didn't want to get into right now, especially in a public place. Besides, the last thing the group needed was four people not talking to one another. The least he could do was save his romantic problems until Max and Liz had resolved theirs - one way or another.

"Do you want to go somewhere, you know, quiet and talk?"

Max's voice was tentative as if he barely believed that Liz might say 'yes'.

"Sure, I guess The music room is probably free right now."

Liz felt an overwhelming desire to back out of this conversation. She didn't feel distanced enough to be rational on any level and she could already hear her own hysterical voice echoing down the school corridors. To make matters worse, Max's determination to get her alone clearly meant he had something to say. No doubt he'd be Mr. Sense and Sensibility all rolled into one.

He held the music room door open for her and Liz stepped inside like a criminal readying herself for sentencing. Suddenly, her flight mechanism kicked in.

"Max, I don't think this is such a good..."

He cut her short. "Just hear me out, Liz." His brown eyes pleaded with her, silently begging her for a second chance. "Please."

Liz pursed her lips. She didn't want to make this easy for him but she was already melting under that steady gaze. Flinging her bag onto the floor, she leaned back against one of the tables, arms crossed over her chest in a stereotypically defensive stance.

"Fine. Talk."

Max paused. He hadn't prepared himself for the steely side of Liz Parker. Every time their eyes had met, he had recognized the hurt and sadness reflected there. Still, he had come this far.

"Liz, I'm sorry. I understand why you didn't want me to go with Michael and that's just one of the reasons why I love you so much..."

His voice trailed away but Liz made no attempt to respond. If Max wanted to appease her, he was going to have to do it all by himself. She certainly wasn't going to give him a helping hand.

Max reached out to touch her arm, pulling away at the last minute. "I love you, Liz. I don't want this to come between us."

Liz fixed him with emotionless eyes. "That doesn't change anything though, does it, Max?"

His hand dropped to his side and Liz knew this was not the reaction Max had been hoping for. Part of her didn't even know what she was doing. Her body yearned to take him in her arms, to kiss him and forget all about this foolish argument but with every step she took, Liz found herself making it harder and harder to succumb. She loved Max and Max loved her. That was what made it impossible to let go. If he left her now, he might never come back and that frightened her more than anything they had ever encountered before.

"Was that all?" Her voice was blank and Max didn't know what to say. She had blocked him out. Picking up her bag, Liz headed towards the door.

Her hand had just touched the door handle when Max's own closed over it. "Wait, Liz. No, that isn't all. You've got to understand."

Finally, Liz couldn't control herself any longer. She couldn't play the cool, aloof ex-girlfriend anymore. Her heart was tearing apart inside with the prospect of losing Max again. "I understand all too well, Max! That's the problem! I know what will happen if I let you go and I can't do that again!"

Her voice grew strangely strangled and she fought to keep some semblance of control in her shaking body. Max looked startled by this sudden outburst. "Do you have any idea how worried I was when Pierce took you? Max, I was so certain I had lost you. I sat there, uselessly, numb, not knowing if you were alive or dead or worse! But somewhere in my heart, I felt closer to you than ever. Somehow, I knew I'd feel it if...if you left me." Liz's voice stammered to a halt as Max's face contorted behind ripples of tears dancing in her eyes.

Max still said nothing.

"I can't do that again, Max. So, if you're going to leave me like that again, do it now ...because I've got to prepare myself. If I have to go through all of that again, I can't be with you."

For the first time, Max could see into the infinite. He could completely comprehend the depths of Liz's love. It was this that sealed their fate, that made their relationship whole yet doomed. It was a love which would always be tortured but they would always have to live through it, no matter how many miles apart they were.

"Liz, I'm sorry. If I could take it all back, I would. I love you." Cupping her cheeks in his hands, he continued. "And, if it's what you want, I won't go."

Liz smiled wanly, reaching her hand up to grip his. "If only it were that simple, Max." She closed her eyes, losing herself in the warmth of his skin against hers, the way he smelled and the gentle whisper of his breathing. Then, she felt herself moving away from him, watched her own hand turn the door knob as if in a surreal dream. Liz had no control over her own body.

Max's voice followed her, choked with emotion. "It is, Liz! Please, it can be that simple! You said it yourself...we're destined to be together."

Liz ducked out into the corridor, running out into the quad, unsure of where her feet would take her. All she knew was that she had to get as far away from Max as possible.

Isabel lay on her back on the bonnet of her mother's car. The desert air was chill against her flesh, but it was on the cold, clear nights that the stars were brightest. Gazing up into the blackness, she felt a shiver run through her body. Far above, amongst those fiery planets was her home, a home which still ran through her veins, a home still captured in the deepest recesses of her memory.

"Isabel Evans...Isabel Evans...Isabel...Isabel, Isabel..." The name began to sound stranger and stranger to her ears. She couldn't even imagine what kind of names she might have had on another planet. Would it resemble anything from Earth? Chinese? Russian? French?

Her eyes stung with tears. Every time it was time to make a decision about returning 'home', Isabel had found herself desperate to stay here in Roswell. She had a family. Her life wasn't perfect but sometimes she wondered what her home planet could offer which would be so much better.

Her loyalty to Max left her in a difficult predicament every time they returned to the cave. She wanted so desperately to tell her parents what they were, knowing in her soul that they would understand, but still Max refused. He told her she had to remain in Roswell regardless of her plans. Yet, no matter how angry she became, Isabel knew he was right, that she would follow him to the ends of the earth because he was their leader.

She tried to imagine another set of parents as loving and wonderful as those she had been blessed with on Earth up there in the sky. Did they look out at the stars as Isabel did and wonder where she was? Despite all the information the aliens had gleaned about the crash in 1947, Isabel always tried to set up a mental picture of a normal home and a normal family. Of course, she always knew it was nothing but a fabrication of her own making, but occasionally, Isabel liked to believe some of the familiar pictures she kept returning to might be fragments of memories.

It was impossible for Isabel to imagine the kind of contentment humans must be able to find. For an alien, the reaches of modern earth technology were disappointing. Man congratulated himself on reaching the moon while Isabel's home planet was light years away. Humans found solace in one another, in understanding their place in the universe. Their concerns about alien life forms were shrouded in doubt that such beings even existed. Isabel KNEW they did. She was testament to it. She knew so much information which didn't have any place on this rock and there were only two other people to share it with.

There was a world out there waiting for her. Isabel just had to accept she might never see it.

"Maria, quit it. I'm trying to work here." Michael tried to move his girlfriend's face away from his neck where she was nuzzling while he surfed the internet. He knew he was partly to blame for this sudden renewal of affection on her part but it was affecting his concentration.

Since deciding that it wasn't such a bad idea to let Maria get a bit closer to him, Michael had responded to her intimate relations a little too zealously the previous night. They had got hot and heavy before Liz had phoned and the evening had lost its clandestine charm.

Whatever he had felt that night though, Michael's attention was now firmly focused on finding out what the hell the government were doing back in Roswell.

"Maria! You're distracting me."

Ignoring his attempts to shrug her off, Maria breathed, "That's the idea, stupid."

Michael gripped her firmly by the shoulders, prying her off him. "Maria, please. This is important, okay."

Maria pouted and sat back in her chair, crossing her arms. "Sor-ry. I don't know what you expect to find on the internet anyway. It's not like they'd be publicising their activities on a public website, Michael."

Michael snapped, "Yeah, well it's the best I've got to go on, all right."

Maria failed to see the warning signs in her boyfriend's body language and boldly continued, "I don't know why you didn't just go to the public records office. I mean..."

Michael put his hands to his head in a faint attempt at trying to quiet the voice drumming into his head. "Maria! Shut up! Just shut up! You are NOT helping here, all right!"

One of the things which made the couple's relationship so tumultuous was the fact that they were both stubborn and neither one of them knew how to back down. So, instead of walking away like Michael wanted, Maria decided to stand her ground.

"I can't believe you, Michael. Everything is more important than me, isn't it?"

Michael narrowed his eyes in half disbelief, his voice calm, "What? This has NOTHING to do with you.

"That's exactly my point! Nothing ever has anything to do with me. It's always about you and Isabel and Max. I swear, I wonder what I'm doing with you sometimes!"

Michael raised his eyebrows, keeping his reply to that question firmly behind closed lips. He had broken up with Maria way too many times not to have learned something about when he should let her rant for a while.

Maria's tone softened, "Then I remember all the things that make us good together. I think of nights like last night and the stupid little arguments we have and the important stuff."

"Yeah, and this is important stuff, Maria. I need this."

Maria nodded, solemnly. "That's just the problem, Michael. You DON'T need this. You just keep telling yourself that because you can't stand to keep still. You might hate to admit it, but I know you...better than you think."

Michael's hand was paused over the keyboard, refusing to meet her gaze but listening to every word. Maria turned his face towards her. "I know it's tough for you to act like a normal human being but can't you let go of being an alien for one minute?"

She knew how foolish her words sounded but they seemed to tumble out of her mouth, regardless.

Michael swallowed hard, his eyes wandering around the room, resting on anything but Maria's face. Finally, he focused on her. "I can't, Maria. It's who I am."

Maria felt frustration mounting inside her. She felt like screaming sometimes at the absurdity of it all. How could any of this be real? Dropping her head into her hands, she murmured, "I know...God, I know."

A surge of affection washed over Michael and he drew Maria's small frame into his arms, holding her against his chest. She gripped the front of his T-shirt tightly and he ran one hand through her silky, blonde hair.

Maria sighed, "I just wish we could be normal."

Michael nodded, grimly. "I know."

Wednesday passed like a funeral procession. Maria and Michael were sobering out, Max and Liz were still steering clear of one another despite constantly making eye contact throughout lessons. Isabel and Alex weren't much better. Alex's words out on the quad hadn't gone completely unhindered by his alien girlfriend but she was finally starting to understand why Michael had been so cold towards Maria for all that time.

She liked Alex, but then everyone did. Maybe there was nothing out of the ordinary between them. He was the school joker, always good for a laugh. That was it...right? It bothered Isabel how much she was dwelling on this. She had remained detached so far, why was it suddenly getting to her now?

Liz wasn't doing much better. Her talk with Max had only left her with even less idea of what she wanted to do. She wanted to talk to Maria but something told her that her best friend wasn't exactly in a happy place right now, either. In fact, it wasn't until halfway through a lesson on trigonometry that the answer came to her and Liz was itching to get out of school and complete her task.

As soon as the bell went, she grabbed her books and almost careered into Alex in an attempt to get to her locker. "Woah, Liz?! What's the rush? Science club isn't for another five minutes."

Failing to pick up on the joke, Liz stammered, "Sorry, Alex. I'm just...I'm in a real hurry."

"What for?" Maria sidled up alongside her two friends. "Anything I'd be interested in?"

This was not what Liz had been hoping for. Some privacy was what she needed right now. "Sorry, guys, but I really can't talk right now." Grabbing the remainder of her books from her locker, she marched off down the hall.

Maria exchanged a puzzled look with Alex whose attention was already starting to wander, before following her friend. "Liz! Wait up!"

Walking briskly alongside Liz, she asked, "Come on, Liz, what is it? Friends don't keep secrets."

Liz sighed, dragging Maria to one side. "Okay, but you have to promise me you won't tell anyone about this. It's just between us, right?"

"Sure. Whatever you say."

"I mean it."

Maria was hopping up and down with impatience. "Yes, yes, yes! Spit it out!"

Liz lowered her voice again. "I'm going to find out what's going on in that new building."

Maria's jaw dropped. "Liz, no! Why?"

"Because Max needs my help and I stand a better chance of getting information than any of them."

Maria drew Liz down onto the nearby wall. "Wait a minute, Liz. I thought you guys were still apart."

Liz kicked the dirt, casually, avoiding her friend's gaze. "We are."

"Then why? This doesn't make any sense."

"Well, I figured that maybe if I found out what's going on, prove that it has nothing to do with alien hunting, then he'd lighten up. He's only paranoid because, so far, he hasn't been given any reason to be otherwise. I'm sure I'm right, Maria. I just need to make Max see that not everyone is after him."

To her surprise, Maria didn't rant at her like she normally would. Instead, she said, "Well, I guess I'm in, too, then."


"Yeah. I mean, if I can convince Michael there's no threat, I'm sure our relationship would improve."

Liz smiled, wryly. "God, what a pair we are! How did we ever get involved in all this?"

Maria linked her arm through her friend's and directed her towards the internet cafe. "I must ask myself that question about a zillion times a day and you know what?"

Liz looked at her, eagerly. She needed a boost and Maria always had the knack of saying just the right things. "What?"

"Every time it just gets harder to remember where it all began. We're stuck for good."

Liz felt herself deflate inside. Maria WAS right but not in the way she had hoped. "Come on. Let's grab a milkshake and get this over with."

Maria tightened her grip on Liz's arm, "Ride on, girl!"

"Are you coming or what?" Michael stopped short beside Isabel while she packed her bag.

"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm actually getting ready." Isabel brushed back strands of blonde hair from her face.

Michael, graceful as ever, snapped, "Yeah, well don't take all day, okay."

Grabbing her English file, Isabel followed him outside. "Don't get ratty with me just because you can't do things your way."

"Who says we're not going to do things my way? I just don't see why every step we take always involves some stupid meeting."

Isabel grinned, "Because we all know how much you hate them." Michael gave her a humourless smile and she looped one arm through his, adopting a silly voice. "Oh, poor Mikey."

She fell silent when she saw Max's grim expression as he waited for them by the school gates.
"Max, what is it?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. I'm fine. Come on, let's get out of here."

Max was grateful to get down to business when the three aliens reached Michael's house. He needed to get his mind off everything that was happening with Liz and Isabel wasn't making it easy.

The whole walk from school had been taken up with her trying to cheer him up, telling him the whole thing would blow over before he knew it. The problem was, Max wasn't so sure. Every time he had Liz argued about something, he could see shadows passing across those brown eyes. A look of resignation settled there as if she knew that whatever they had together was never going to get easier. At every turn there was another reminder that their love was doomed to be fraught with one crisis after another. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more Max realized that their entire relationship was based on crises.

Michael had eventually silenced Isabel with some cutting comment about taking her own advice in relation to the way she treated Alex. Okay, so it was a cruel shot, but Max had to admit it got his sister off his back for a while.

They made drinks and Michael slumped back in an armchair, hitting the TV remote control. Max sighed. It was going to be one of those days.

"Michael?" His friend looked up with a complete air of innocence. Max gestured to the television. "Do you mind?"

"Fine." Michael hit the standby button and emphatically gave Max his undivided attention.

"Look, I know you hate this...organization, but..."

Michael waved his hand impatiently in the air. "Yeah, yeah, cut the speech, Max. We've all heard it a thousand times before."

Isabel caught her brother's quizzical gaze before turning away. She was always torn in these situations between her gut instinct to go with Michael and loyalty to Max. He was right, of course, he always was, but he could be such a stick-in-the-mud sometimes that Isabel felt ashamed of him.

Max began again. "I'm just trying to hold the group together here, Michael."

"Whatever, just get on with it."

Suddenly, Max snapped. "You know, Michael, have you ever wondered what would have happened if I hadn't been here?"

Michael raised an eyebrow, "I certainly wouldn't be sitting on my ass having meetings, that's for sure."

Max smiled, wryly. "No, you wouldn't. You'd probably be dead." Isabel stared at him in shock. She couldn't believe he was saying this. "As much as you hate to admit it, I'm the leader here. Both of you would be stuck without me. Okay, so get sick of meetings and discussions, but no one would expect you to understand how to function as a family, Michael!"

Michael suddenly dropped his angst-ridden teenager act and fell silent while Max continued, more softly. "I care about you...both of you. You're two of the most important people in the world to me...but we need each other. We were in those pods together for a reason and until we figure out what that reason is we owe to ourselves to stay alive, which means we have to act carefully."

Michael did not respond but Isabel knew the point had hit home. It was easy to forget that Max's prudish attitude was borne out of love and fear for the whole group...and not just it's alien members.

"Michael and I know that, Max," she reassured him. "Go on. What do you want us to do?"

Max sighed. "We have to act normally, go through all the normal channels. No snooping around private government property. It'll only make us look even more guilty."

Isabel nodded. "So what do you suggest?"

"Try going through the local newspaper. We could ask them if they know anything. We could go via some of the environmental groups. They are always up in arms about new buildings being erected all over the desert. Basically, until these people prove themselves to be a threat to us, we don't need to do anything radical. You got that, Michael?"

Michael nodded, soberly. "Loud and clear."

A voice came from behind them. "Does a cult rate high on the threat-o-meter?"

The three aliens turned to see Maria and Liz standing in the doorway. The brunette said, quietly. "It's not the government. It's a cult."