Chapter Seven: Guilt All Around

"Maria, tell me what's wrong," Max pleaded with her. He had been driving down the road, overly excited at having a new lead, when he had decided to call her. Part of the reason was to rub it in her face because she thought he was going down nothing but a dead end. But Maria was being unusually silent and Max knew something was amiss.

"Nothing is wrong, Max," she denied.

"Aren't you happy, Maria? I mean, this could be it. I could find them."

"Or you couldn't and you could be getting your hopes up for nothing," Maria snapped harshly. She was about to utter an apology but Max spoke first.

"You know, you keep thinking like that, and I'll be using a wheelchair to get around and find them," Max chastised.

"Can you just stop, Max?" Maria exploded suddenly. It was too much for her. This conversation was happening too soon after she had found out the truth. She didn't know why she didn't just *tell* him but lying to him was a completely different matter.

At first there was silence on the line and then Max's cold voice reached her ears. "Tell me that you don't want to find them. Tell me that if I'm right, the day you see them-that it *won't* be the happiest day of your entire existence."

Maria bit her lip to keep from crying. It would have been before she had known the truth. Now, she never wanted to see them again. She felt betrayed but most of all, she was sad for Max. The words he had just spoken to her was something he believed, something that was holding him together. She didn't want him to fall apart again.

So she lied to him. "I believe you can find them, Max. I just don't know what you're finding."

She could practically hear Max's smile over her forced admission. "I know you're worried about me. And I was too, for a while."

"What changed?"

"I didn't think that I *could* change. It's been five years since I saw her, Maria, and I know that she doesn't want me in her life. Liz is too smart for hero worship. If I save her, it won't change what I had done. It would kill me to find her and then have to let her go, you know that…," Max trailed off.

Maria took a shuddering breath. "But you would," she whispered in near-amazement.

"It's what I deserve for all those years of being completely incapable to do that exact thing. But I can let her go now. But I just need to find her first."

Maria's blue eyes looked up at the ceiling, suddenly feeling very low. "I want to be there with you if you find them.. Can you come and pick me up before you go to the PI's office?"

She knew he would be surprised and Max stumbled over his words. "You….are you serious?"

It wasn't about protecting Max….or being there to get her two cents in. If Max could let go, then maybe she could give it a try.

They made arrangements and Maria numbly hung up the phone. It was a slow walk to her bedroom, placing one foot in front of the other, trying not to fall. Her room was still austere, a far cry from the bare spare room it had once been. At first, Amy had been reluctant to admit that she had kept it like that, especially for Maria.

But now this was Maria's room, littered with what Amy had saved from her old room back in Roswell. Alex's guitar, a couple knickknacks, pictures of her friends-of how they used to be. Clutching a picture, of her and Liz in her hand, she sunk onto her bed. She was reminded very harshly in that moment of how far away those days had been. That was back when Max was the control freak, the mighty leader; yet now, he was talking the higher path. Maria wasn't even walking.

She had pushed her best friend away, her jealously consuming her. She always saw Max and Liz, as one unit, the only two people who didn't have to worry about being alone. So she had forced Michael into a relationship he didn't even want. Maria wasn't stupid. She knew that he was reluctant but she also didn't want to feel so alone. She needed someone.

He had left her, ran as far away from her as his legs could carry him. And she understood.

Suddenly anger seemed better than the guilt she could not fight.

Snapping out of it for a moment, she rushed to get into the shower. Max was coming in a half an hour.

Guerin Residence

Kyle sat in the living room wondering how all the shouting hadn't woken Bella up. Michael and Liz's random muffled argument was enough for Kyle to piece the majority of it together. He should have never mentioned it at all. Now, he was just causing more problems.

Michael reappeared from the guest room without Liz. Kyle raised a questioning eyebrow. "She alive in there?" he teased lightly.

Michael had the decency to look embarrassed. "She's tired and stressed. It's been a long day. Besides, I want to talk to you alone."

"Let me just start by saying that I didn't mean to-"

Michael held up a hand. "I know."

There was an awkward silence until Michael spoke again. "You shouldn't have told Maria," he said simply, not accusing him.

Kyle hung his head slightly. "I get that now."

"But then again," Michael drawled out. "I should have told her myself-a while ago. But I haven't done a lot of things the way some people want me to."

"You never were one to do as you were told," Kyle tried to joke.

"Yeah, I tend to shy away from the sensible thing," Michael said while grinning rakishly. Then he said somberly, "But this is the last time I'm going to say this, so listen up. The things I did five years ago and things I've done since then, have never been about me. It's been about my girls and protecting them from whatever or whoever I thought would hurt them."

Wishing he could take back his harsh words from earlier, Kyle looked away from him.. "I know that. I just-"

Michael held him with a stare that would yield no arguments. "You're like a brother to me and if I had known what you would have…I wish we would have found you and told you the truth so you didn't feel alone. We didn't realize that you would think we were dead too."

Kyle looked at his friend with open affection at his words, knowing it was all he would get. But as far was Michael's apologies went, it was the best one he had heard yet. "But you were right," Kyle said in understanding.

Michael looked mildly shocked. "Right about what?"

"What you just said means so much to me, Michael. But you couldn't have known and it wasn't…..," Kyle stopped, dark clouds forming in his eyes. "I was in a dark place and it felt like I had no one. But I would have felt that way despite what you had done. I should not have made it sound like it was your or Liz's fault."

"Why didn't you do it? What changed your mind?" he asked cautiously.

"I tried and I was too drunk, so I passed out before I could pop the pills. Apparently, I overestimated the liquor to pill ratio," Kyle admitted. Then the clouds in his eyes began to storm and he looked down at his hands. "And then the fucking gun wouldn't work. I forgot to turn the god damn safety off."

Michael's face was blank but inside everything was churning. It was difficult hearing his best friend talking about trying to kill himself. "Maybe it was a sign," he offered, his countenance softening at last.

"We don't know that. I would like to think it was, but it was probably just my drunken stupidity ," Kyle finished softly. "No one around me could have made me feel like I wasn't alone. I didn't want to push this on Liz. I never even wanted her to know, I swear."

Michael let out a defeated sigh. "Liz will be alright."

"Liz takes all of this on her shoulders because that's just the way she is. It doesn't really have anything to do with you," Kyle offered. "If it helps…"

"Well it doesn't, " Michael snapped.

"She doesn't want to hurt them."

"She should!" Michael yelled in frustration.

"But why do you want to? You planned all of this, you and father, to some extent to hurt them. And I don't understand *why*. No one asked you to protect Max. Liz married him because she knew we needed him to be stable and you could have walked away from Maria at any time. They were in the wrong a lot, Michael, you made the decision to stay there. Liz feels too much guilt, I'll give you that, but you aren't feeling any."

"They don't deserve it," Michael said, lacking the strong conviction he once had.

"And that's fine. But don't go looking for forgiveness if you can't dish any out yourself."

"I don't want any-" Michael began to protest. But he was cut off by the doorbell ringing.

"Are you expecting…," Kyle started to ask.

Michael paled and his entire body tensed. "No."

"Oh shit."

Outside the door, Max and Maria waited for someone to answer. Max was bouncing on the balls of his feet, excited and anxious as to where this new lead would take him. Maria, on the other hand, was sweating bullets. She wondered if Max would forgive her for not saying anything to warn him about what was on the other side of that door.

Maria was beginning to realize how domesticated this house looked. White picket fence and all, it was obviously not just one person living here. It just screamed 'family' to her and that's when she began to panic.

Michael and Liz had never really spoke to each other, never got along even. They should have been the last two people banding together and planning a mutiny. And Kyle hadn't known when she and Max would told him about their demise those years ago. Why had Michael and Liz kept it from him? Gone to such extremes to not leave a trail of any kind?

*When had Liz ever taken off her wedding ring?* Max's words echoed in her mind. They way Kyle had worded his declaration of their existence…..God if it were true, Max couldn't know.

"Max," Maria blurted out, her panic at a full level now. "We can't do this."

"What?" Max asked in surprise.

"Can we just go? This was a bad idea. This could get us nowhere."

Max's lips formed into a tight line, his anger apparent. He rang the door bell again. "No," he said stubbornly. "He's here. He's going to help me find them."

Maria began to pray she was wrong, convince herself out of the possibility she now could not ignore. Slowly the door started to open and Maria could barely hear over the erratic beating of her heart.

"Oh my god."