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“Misleadings”

Written by: Jeslyn, Shira, Annie, Liz, Mark

Edited by: Liz, Katie, Sherry, Tiff and Mark

Song Playlist:

1. “Sweet Surrender” by Sarah McLachlan (acoustic version)

2. “Ascension/Nature Boy” composed by Craig/Ahbez and Eden Armstrong from the Moulin Rouge Soundtrack Volume 2

3. “End of the World” by Cold (acoustic version)

Outside Yosemite, California – Day 2

It had been a long drive, the tight metal restraints cutting deep into his wrists. But that was the least of his worries as the car stopped quickly on the damp gravel road, the doors heard opening almost methodically. This was the moment he had thought about repeatedly for the past 6 hours- the moment where someone would remove the damn hood covering his head and probably shoot him, throwing his lifeless corpse into some shallow, unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere.

“Wh- where am I,” he said, his eyes struggling to make out any clue as to his position. Through the coarse fabric making up the hood covering his head, he could see what looked like several small shops or buildings in a row, abandoned and dusty just like a western ghost town looks. That is, all the shops looked this way accept for the one in the center, which was brightly lit and abuzz with people, probably agents. However, that was not where he was being led.

“Mister Ramirez, you’re on a need-to-know basis, and right now, you don’t need to know.” Came a tired and accomplished voice. The pair of arms holding him pulled and tugged, directing him past the bright area and all the way to the dank building on the end. “That must be the torture chamber,” Jesse thought wearily. “Or the experimentation room.”

Jesse couldn’t stand it any longer… he had to get free, get out of here. He turned around suddenly, kicking one of the agents squarely in the crotch. Losing his balance and falling to the ground, Jesse wrapped his legs around the other agent, tripping him. There on the ground, he rubbed his head on the moist ground, pushing the hood messily up and off his head. When he looked up, there were a dozen armed agents surrounding him, their weapons pointed at his head.

“So much for that idea,” Jesse said aloud, defeated.

Agent Windler approached Jesse, both annoyed to be woken so early, and pleased the package had arrived. “Well, well, acting up on your first day, eh Ramirez?” came his sardonic reply.

“What? Hey look here mister, I don’t know who you -”

“Save it,” Windler barked. “There’ll be plenty of time for complaining later,” he added with a grin. “Adams - you and Daniels take our guest to the brig,” he commanded triumphantly.

“Aye sir,” the agents said, picking Jesse up and dragging him into the small room. Inside were all the amenities of a typical jail cell. An uncomfortable-looking mat sat in one corner of the room, and a dusty, stained, but assumedly functional toilet sat on the other wall. Two surveillance cameras adorned opposite corners of the ceiling, completely out of reach. In the center of the room was a sturdy steel eyelet, bolted to the floor, with a new, thick chain emanating from it. On the end of the chain was a pair of handcuffs offset by about three feet, which the agents carefully placed on Jesse’s right wrist and ankle. Then the handcuffs restraining his arms behind his back were removed, and the began to once again flow into his hands.

There was no use in fighting, these agents handed over their weapons at the door; policy probably. Even if he could hold one of the agents hostage, Windler proudly waved the keys to Jesse’s restraints, just so he understood.

Jesse immediately went to stretch his aching arms, but found he couldn’t raise his right arm at all due to the ankle shackle.

“Have a good night,” Windler teased, everyone leaving the room.

“You’ll never get away with this!” Jesse exclaimed, pulling violently at his heavy restraint, an overwhelming anger surfacing.

“Oh I think we already have,” he added, and walked out the door. Jesse heard a series of clicks, which he knew were locks on the door.

“Damnit!” he cursed, tugging again at the chain.

~.~.~.~

Michael woke up suddenly. Somehow he was aware they were no longer moving, the droning and hum of the wet road passing beneath them missing. The driver’s side door and seat was wet from a recent opening, and Kyle, the driver, was nowhere in sight.

Looking out the windshield and illuminated by the van’s headlights, Michael could make out Kyle. He was chasing after a small hooded figure in the distance. Michael thought to wake the others, but glancing at the clock, felt he could handle Kyle and one little stranger by himself. Michael quickly and quietly moved towards the front of the van, sidestepping Liz and Maria, almost stepping on Max’s hand. At first he thought all the hours on the road had finally driven Valenti insane, but as he stood looking from in-between the front seats, the little figure’s hood slipped, revealing a length of sodden auburn hair. Michael knew that this must be the girl from Liz’s vision.

Michael’s apprehension grew when the girl struggled to get away, and he instantly clambered over everyone and landed in the front passenger seat, but then stopped there when he saw Kyle catch hold of the girl to bring them both to an abrupt halt, both gazing into each other’s eyes.

As Kyle stood there with Serena’s warm hand clasped lightly in his, something almost electric seemed to pass between the two. The promise of a warm and cozy ride home, and his inviting gaze hung in the air, and not even the rain pounding all around them could drown that hopefulness.

Serena’s words balled up in her throat. “My ankle… I uh, twisted it,” she managed to say, licking her dry lips in the pouring rain. The cold water trickled down Kyle’s kind face, dripping lazily onto his soaked t-shirt, which clung to his broad chest like a second skin. Serena could see every little detail.

In Kyle’s mind, syllables had never sounded sweeter. For reasons unknown to him, he was drawn to this woman and he would be damned if he was going to let the opportunity to find out why pass him by. “Here, let me help you.”

Serena smiled quickly, Kyle’s warm hand removed from hers, wrapping around her sodden shoulder and providing support for her to walk with. It had been such a long time since she had felt a man’s arm around her.

“So…what do you say we get back to the car?” Kyle said, using his free hand to wipe away the cold rain from his face.

“Okay,” Serena said, looking at his sincere expression. Gingerly she took a step forward, the ankle feeling much more sensitive now. Kyle was there for her when she leaned on him, her arm wrapping around his waist for added support.

Deliberately, slowly, they made their way to the van, both aware of the experience they shared but yet still cautious of each other. The second Kyle reached the passenger side door, he noticed that Michael was sitting there, looking at him expectantly.

”Climb in back,” Kyle ordered without a second thought. Michael was shocked, and even Kyle surprised himself. Serena raised her eyebrows as Kyle opened the passenger door for her and motioned to get in. It was now or never, and she was unsure she could do it.

”Did you just order me in the back?” Michael exclaimed, his mouth hanging open.

Suddenly, some rustling came from the back of the van. Both Kyle and Michael whipped their heads around to look at who was making the noise, hoping that they hadn’t woken anyone.

Maria whimpered a bit in her sleep, shifting until her head rested against the cool glass of the van’s window. Her head had been hot for the past several days, and the cool glass likely felt good. Even though she quickly settled back into a motionless slumber, concern gripped Michael. She was restless and that worried him.

“Fine,” Michael agreed quickly, without looking back. He was just thankful the panic from waking the others had passed. Serena just stood at the door, uncertain if she was going to get in. As Kyle reached the driver’s side, Michael opened it for him, whispering softly, “Be careful, and try to find out something, anything.”

Kyle rolled his eyes slightly, and nodded.

Kyle watched Michael quietly climb in the back and settle down in the empty seat next to Maria. Gently, Michael pushed a lock of hair off her face and tucked it behind her ear, watching her sleep for a moment before closing his eyes. However, Michael had no intention of sleeping, not even a wink.

Serena had been quiet the whole time, still contemplating whether or not to hop into this Pandora’s box of strangers. Was going for a joy ride at three am with an unknown group of people the best idea? Then Kyle looked over at her and any fears she had seemed to evaporate. He had the kindest eyes she had ever seen. The deep blue depths drew her in, holding all of her thoughts for a brief, perfect instant.

“Are you going to get in, or stand there all night?” He half asked, half joked, grabbing a pair of towels for them to dry off with. He tossed one on her seat, hoping she’d get the point.

1

Mutely, Serena awkwardly climbed into the passenger seat. “This is definitely not how I planned this,” she thought aloud as she pulled the door closed. “What the hell am I thinking?”

“That some nice, absolutely hot guy is giving you a ride in the pouring rain,” Kyle answered for her.

Serena bit her lip in embarrassment that she had said her thought aloud.

“I didn’t mean to say that,” she quickly replied. “I was just -”

“Thinking,” Kyle finished for her, shifting the car into drive and slowly entering the highway. “I figured. It’s not like I can blame you. After all, you don’t know us or anything.”

“I know that you pushed me,” Serena retorted, feeling her inner defenses rise. “And dragged me half way though the woods.”

Kyle looked over at her thoughtfully for a moment and then back at the road. “Correction, I saved you. And all I got in return was a set of teeth marks in my arm that I suspect match your pearly whites.”

“Hey, I was scared,” Serena defended herself. “Like you said, I don’t know you guys – any of you. All I know is I was about to be hit by a truck and couldn’t move; it was terrifying.”

“Well now you’re here, you’re okay, and you can put that all behind you.”

“I suppose,” Serena said, hesitating. “But something else happened. I uh, remember things.”

“Things? What kind of things?”

“When that brunette girl touched me, I saw images of her life I think. People and places, it was very strange.”

“You mean Liz, at the carnival?”

“Is that her name? I don’t know who she is, but it freaked me out.”

Pondering that for a second, Kyle slowed the car’s pace so he could turn to look her straight in the eyes. “Then, why are you in this van?”

The intensity of his gaze allowed a small gasp to escape from Serena’s throat. It was a good question; one that she didn’t have an answer to. So, she did the only thing that came to mind. Attempting to stay as elusive as possible, she answered his question with one of her own.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

Now it was Kyle’s turn to be shocked. “What do you mean? You know something I don’t?”

“Six teenagers in a beat up 60’s Volkswagen driving around the country,” Serena listed off. “Either you are trying to put together a very cheap version of Road Rules, or you’re running from something - something big.”

Kyle swallowed hard. He had to give her credit; Serena sure was perceptive. It kind-of reminded him of Liz, in a remote, scientific way.

“We’re all on the run from something,” Kyle finally managed to say. Even though he wanted to spill the beans, he was not about to lose control over the entire conversation.

“Ahhh,” Serena sighed, nodding slowly and fixing her gaze on the window. “A philosopher.”

There was a tinge of anger in her voice, although she was unsure if it was caused by the situation, or her feelings for Kyle. Things were looking worse now; these people were on the run from something, probably the law.

”Buddhist,” he corrected.

“Pardon?” came her distracted reply.

“I’m a Buddhist,” Kyle said plainly as he attempted to lighten the mood. He knew she wasn’t going to give him any information if she was uptight.

“From?” Serena questioned pointedly, her defensive eyes melting a little as they caught a glimpse of his.

Kyle shrugged his shoulders. Give a little, get a little, he thought.

“New Mexico,” he told her. “And you?”

Serena pondered answering the question. Give a little, get a little, she decided.

“Born in California, but we moved around a lot,” she replied, turning back to the window.

Kyle took the lead. “We?”

Looking down to the floor of the van, Serena took a deep breath. Even though it had been years in passing, it was still hard for her to talk about. “My mom,” she answered softly. “She died several years ago and after that I went back to California.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyle told her gently. Good going, Kyle mentally scolded himself, let’s see what other painful memories we can stir up.

Yet it was more than that. Seeing that look on her face put a knot in his stomach. He didn’t just want to get information out of her. He didn’t care about that. He only wanted to help her. His arms were practically itching to hold her, to comfort her, to fix the error he had made. Truthfully, he couldn’t say which was scarier, the fact that he wanted to hold her, or that he wasn’t.

Serena nodded her head, wiping the moistness away with the back of her hand. “It’s okay, you didn’t know. Whenever I think about my mom I just kind of lose it.”

“No problem,” Kyle reassured her, trying to lighten the mood. “Besides, I’m used to it. Been traveling around with three girls.”

Managing a tiny laugh, Serena looked back out the window just in time to see a sign for a nearby Motel-8. “There’s a place to stop at the next exit,” she informed him.

Kyle nodded, watching her for a moment. The darkness in the van, despite the occasional street lamp, did nothing to hide how exhausted she must be. The weariness was in her eyes, her voice.

“Okay,” he said, steering the van to the off-ramp.

The remainder of the drive was spent in silence; Serena lost in her own thoughts and memories and Kyle trying to decide how best to tell the others that they had found their missing redhead.

He knew that Michael was awake. There would have been no way that Michael would have fallen asleep after finding Serena. He had probably heard every word they said.

Cautiously, Kyle parked the van in a secluded spot behind the hotel, taking special care not to jar the others into consciousness just yet.

Leaning over toward Serena, he whispered softly. ”Why don’t you go ahead and get a room for yourself, Serena? I’ll be there in a minute and maybe we could finish talking?”

“But I have no money, remember?” Serena said. “That’s why I was walking home when you found me.”

“Oh yeah, of course. Here,” Kyle said, pulling a stack of seemingly brand-new $10 bills out his wallet. “Don’t worry about it, we have plenty of money.”

Serena’s eyebrows scrunched together quizzically, and this reminded him of Liz a little for some strange reason.

“You guys didn’t rob a bank or anything did you?” Serena said, genuine concern on her face.

“Oh, hell no! It’s nothing like that, trust me,” Kyle said quickly, looking into the back. “Now hurry, before the others wake up.”

Serena nodded, confused but believing Kyle. She proceeded to climb out of the van with surprising stealth. Kyle watched her exquisite form disappear around the front of the building and into the lobby.

Michael shot straight up in his seat. “Way to go man,” he said quietly, a heated look on his face.

“Outside,” Kyle motioned, opening his door.

Michael followed, meeting him in front of the van. “So why did you let her go like that? She could try to get away!”

“Look around, Michael. We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Kyle informed him dryly. “Besides I think she’s had enough of us for one night.”

“Someone has got to stay with her,” Michael insisted.

Kyle rolled his eyes. “Like who?”

Michael thought for a moment. “Liz seems to be on her side; she can stay with her.”

Crossing his arms on his chest, Kyle shook his head. “Run that past Max and see how far you get.”

“Right,” Michael agreed, racking his brain for another option. “Isabel.”

The second the name came out of his mouth, Michael realized his mistake.

“Like hell,” Kyle exclaimed. “We could just give Isabel a gun while we’re at it and see who makes it out in the morning.”

"Well, then you come up with someone,” Michael challenged.

“Maria,” Kyle said calmly.

Michael shook his head no. “Not a chance in hell. I’m not putting my sick girlfriend in the same room with an alien.”

Kyle looked at him. “Well, that decides it then. Since I seriously doubt that she will let any strange guys stay with her, and the girls are out of bounds, she goes by herself.”

“Fine,” Michael conceded. “So do we tell the others tonight?”

Kyle’s eyes widened. “And make her a sitting duck? Real smart.”

Now Michael was getting mad. “If you’re such a genius then you tell me what to do.”

Kyle thought over the idea he came up with earlier in the van. “We tell them in the morning. That will give both Serena and the rest of us a chance to rest. Then we continue to Fresno, barring anything else happening.”

Michael nodded his head. “Seems like our best option. You make sure she gets to the room. I’ll wake the others.”

“Okay,” Kyle said, starting in the direction of the hotel.

~.~.~.~

From the outside looking in, Maria appeared to be peacefully asleep, but behind her rapidly moving eyelids, a world of chaos was taking place.

*Flash*

"You remember when Max & Liz would kiss and Liz would get the flashes? And when we would kiss, you wouldn't? I know how much that hurt you."

*Flash*

“It hurts me now,” Maria's subconscious replied.

*Flash*

"I can't put the words in your mouth Michael, it's got to come from you, it's got to come from your -- it's got to come from whatever organ you have sitting in for your heart."

"Okay."

"Think you can handle this?"

"Hey, I'm not completely emotionally retarded, I do have feelings."

*Flash*

Emotions...Feelings. The words seemed so...unfamiliar. Almost as unfamiliar as...

*Flash*

"I'm dying." Rath choked, gazing up at Calypso, who possessed Maria's every feature with the exception of midnight hair and piercing violet eyes. She was Maria, and at the same time, a completely different person, with a completely different personality.

Calypso pressed her hand to the bleeding wound that would eventually drain her beloved to his death as she leaned down closer to him, trying to ignore the doomed war that raged around them. She whispered softly against his lips, words of hope. "We will live again--"

*Flash*

"Maria!" Isabel called, shaking her. "Maria, wake up!"

Maria moaned and rolled over, the remnants of her dream fading from memory. Isabel groaned in frustration.

Liz walked in just in time to see Isabel's attempts at waking Maria fall on deaf ears. "It's useless, Isabel. Waking Maria is like waking the dead."

Isabel scoffed. "I'd rather not ask Michael anything, but since he's calling this meeting at the crack of dawn, I guess I don't really have a choice," she stated.

Maria managed to pull herself up out of the pillows and said with a yawn, "What time is it?"

"Ten after seven," Liz replied. "Michael wants to tell us something."

Maria only blinked before there was a sudden bang at the door. "Be down in five!" Michael charged, his boots clanking loudly down the hall.

"Speak of the devil himself," Isabel quirked as she checked her hair again, watching in the mirror as Maria groggily pulled herself out of the motel bed and into some clothes. "You okay?" Isabel asked.

Liz turned away from the window to look at Maria. "What? Is something wrong?"

Maria dropped her head down into her hands. "I'd be fine if you people would stop asking me how I am over and over again," she snapped, realizing too late that they were just concerned… for once. "Sorry… I just had this--"

Max tapped at the door. "Liz, you in there? We need you guys downstairs now."

"Yeah!” Liz replied hurriedly. “Come on guys, let's go," Liz said as she brushed past both Isabel and Maria and out the door with Max.

“Or maybe not--” Maria thought with a sad shake of her head.

Giving a sympathetic look to Maria and a slight shrug as well, Isabel said, "You know, she's got a lot on her mind right now. She doesn't mean it."

Nodding, Maria stood and sighed softly. "Yeah, I know. I just miss my best friend, you know?"

Maria dazedly walked past Isabel and into the bathroom.

"Me too," Isabel whispered faintly.


~.~.~.~.~

Downstairs, Michael sat on a wide couch in a secluded alcove of the lobby. Michael looked at Max and Liz nervously as they approached and sat down. Even though there was nobody else around at this hour, Max still kept a watchful eye.

They looked up suddenly when Kyle appeared from the elevator. Kyle was whistling to himself and combing his wet hair. Michael gave him the look. You know the look you get from your mother when she finds the vase you broke last week was swept under the rug… That look.

“What?” Kyle said, looking at Michael. “Did you tell them already?”

“No,” Michael stated. “But I should have.”

Kyle was going to say something, but didn’t feel like it just yet. Instead, he changed the subject. Putting the comb in his back pocket and sitting down next to Michael, he whispered, "So do you think we look suspicious?"

Casting Kyle an equally potent look, Michael looked to Liz and Max and asked, "Where's Maria? And Isabel?"

"They're on their way down now," Liz answered just before the elevator dinged again and the duo stepped out of it.

Michael's eyes were immediately drawn to Maria, her ragged form looking like she hadn't slept in days. There were dark circles under her eyes and her hair was in disarray around her head. "Are you…" He stopped abruptly, Isabel furiously shaking her head and waving her hands from behind Maria. Maria turned slightly, and Isabel relaxed.

Michael recovered. "Are you...are you...hungry?" That was random.

"Or thirsty?" Kyle helped.

Maria shook her head while Max's suspicious look changed into one of confusion. "Right, well then, what did you want to have this meeting about? We really need to get back on the road. We'll be in Fresno in just a few short hours..." Max trailed a moment to finish a yawn. "And then we'll have to find Serena and decide how to approach her," he finished with a sigh. “One thing after another,” he thought. Liz must have read his mind because she started rubbing his tensing shoulders.

Michael and Kyle exchanged glances, trying to decide who was going to break the news. Finally Michael spoke up. "Well, you can check finding Serena off your list; she's here."

"What?!" came the unanimous reply.

"We found her last night," Kyle stated, his manner suddenly turning into that state of deep thoughtfulness.

"Where?" Max asked incredulously.

"On the side of the road," Kyle replied. "I stopped and we gave her a ride -"

"Here," Michael finished. Seeing that Max was about to spew, he continued. "We didn't wake any of you because we figured you all would have overreacted. And you know you would have.”

"Of course we would have, Michael," Isabel retorted sarcastically. “She’s an alien!”

“Now we don’t know that for sure,” Liz defended.

"And I didn't think that it was particularly wise that she recognized Kyle and ran," Michael explained, his eyes wandering to Maria again, who was drifting in and out of the conversation. Isabel caught his gaze and gently elbowed Maria back into reality.

"It's true," Kyle stated. "I had to convince her to get in the van."

"Convince?" Michael scoffed. "More like coerce."

Kyle glared over at Michael. "Oh, coming from you; that's rich."

"Boys!" Liz called out. "You're saying she's actually here - like here, here?"

"As opposed to so many other here’s, yes," Michael replied sardonically.

Everyone went momentarily silent.

"We should be able to talk her into a ride to her house this morning," Kyle suddenly said.

Max looked from Michael to Kyle. "I guess you handled the situation to the best of your ability," he said with a nod as both Michael and Kyle released a sigh they hadn't been entirely aware they were holding. “But you still should have told me first.”

Michael rolled his eyes behind Max.

Liz turned to Max. "So what should we do? Do you think we should confront her?" She turned to Kyle. "How much did you tell her?"

Kyle shook his head. "Nothing really – just that she'd meet you guys. But nothing else. If Serena is one thing, it’s highly perceptive. I think she knows that there was something strange going on."

"And she recognized you, you said," Max stated. Kyle nodded, so Max turned back to Liz. "Do you think she'll recognize you too, Liz?"

Liz shrugged helplessly. "I have no idea, Max. I suppose she probably will."

Max thought for a moment and then nodded. “Well then, we can use that and stay quiet. Try to find out what we can by playing innocent. She can’t find out about our identities."

"You want us to play dumb?" Michael asked, with the quirk of an eyebrow.

Max nodded. "Essentially."

"How can we?" Isabel pointed out, “she’s suspicious and she might have seen something back at the carnival.”

“The point is,” Max clarified, “unless it’s absolutely necessary - and so far we’re no where near that point - we tell her nothing about our identities.”

"So, we have a plan," Kyle stated, more to himself than anyone else. "An actual plan... exciting."

"What kind of plan?" came a feminine voice, unfamiliar to everyone in the room except Kyle.

Kyle jumped up and stared past Isabel and Maria. "Serena," he nearly whispered, everyone turning.

Serena looked from person to person. Everyone expected her eyes to stop abruptly on Liz and light up with recognition of some kind, but they continued on by and stopped abruptly on Maria, who hadn't really acknowledged Serena's presence yet.

"Jeez, are you ok?" She turned to Kyle and whispered, "Is she ok?"

Maria nodded her head and collapsed back into the chair as her reply.

"She’s just tired," Kyle replied quickly, ignoring Maria as he came forward. "How are you?"

Serena shrugged with a small nod. "Breathing… check. So far, so good."

Kyle nodded with a small grin, and for a moment, they just stared at each other.

"Ahhem," Max cleared his throat, becoming impatient.

"Oh, right! Serena – these are my good friends Max and Liz." He gestured to the couple sitting together on the couch, and then turned towards Michael. "Over there is our friend Michael... and there somewhere is Maria." Turning back, he gestured towards Isabel who stood the furthest away from Serena. "And this is Isabel."

Isabel managed to look up for a split second and smile at the woman she had nearly slain with her new powers.

“Hi," Serena replied to everyone. Looking back to Liz, she suddenly remembered the carnival incident.

Liz caught her gaze and knew she just remembered the carnival incident. “Nice to meet you,” Liz said as innocently as possible.

"So, we were about to leave. Do you want a ride? We're heading to Fresno," Kyle asked.

Serena glanced around. As strange as this whole situation seemed to her, surprisingly she wasn’t afraid of these people at all. They obviously had some secrets, but she knew they couldn’t be bad. Perhaps on the ride home, she could get some information out of them.

"Oh, I don't want to be--"

"It's no trouble," Michael interrupted. “No trouble at all.”

“Um...okay, I'm headed there anyway. So, why not?" Serena replied with a nervous smile.

"Alright," Kyle said, trying to contain his excitement as he gathered his things and led Serena to the front desk to return their room keys.

Max watched them go and then stepped up close to Liz. "Will you sit with her, find out what you can? But be discreet," he asked. Liz nodded, seeing his unease.

"I really don't think she's dangerous, Max."

Max nodded. "Maybe not, but we can never be too sure," he said, leading Liz toward the counter. She stopped just short of the foyer and turned back to the others. "You guys coming?"

Isabel tapped Maria on the shoulder, and as Maria stood up, Isabel nodded. "Yeah, we're coming."

Michael stood as well, and gave Isabel another worried look as Maria walked right past him again. "What's going on?" he whispered to her harshly.

"Something's wrong," Isabel pointed out.

They both turned their heads to watch as Maria blankly walked up to the others.

~.~.~.~.~

The morning air was crisp. The kind of cold that could, with the help of the gentle breeze that was blowing, waft through most clothing and permeate all the way to the bone. In Roswell, there had rarely been any need for winter clothing, except perhaps when Christmas caroling. However, here in the higher elevations, the air was much cooler in the mornings.

For Maria, the cold brought the first few coherent thoughts to her mind since the chaos at the strip club. While she thought the cold was a nice change of pace, everyone else seemed to disagree - their arms crossed snugly as they hurried toward the van. It was a good distance to the rear of the parking lot, but Maria was not cold at all. Or perhaps she just couldn’t feel the cold. All of the group’s attention had been directed towards finding Serena. Now that she had fallen into their lap, they could finally learn why Liz insisted this woman was so important and move on. Maria was glad they found her.

“I cannot believe you applied for a job at that – that tasteless – strip club!” Kyle said, trying his best to look shocked and not thrilled.

“What? I needed the money,” said Serena. “Hey if you had this body and were flat broke, and the only place for miles was some no-name topless strip club you’d never see again – who’d notice?”

“Dancers can make $300 or more a night,” Liz piped in. “Uh, not like I have any experience in that sort of thing,” she continued quickly, seeing Max light up.

“Good point I guess,” Kyle said, trying to be modest.

“My thoughts exactly Liz. It’s not a matter of being daring; it was a necessity. Thanks to you guys,” Serena pointed grudgingly to Kyle and Maria, “I was in such a hurry to leave Yosemite that I lost my money running out of the café. I looked all over but never found it,” Serena replied wistfully. “I even lost my cell phone.”

“You saw us?” Kyle said with the look of total surprise etched on his face.

Michael started rubbing his head before turning towards Max, who shared the same level of concern. Isabel turned to look at Serena also, the first time she’d purposely set eyes on the woman since the carnival. Isabel was afraid to look at Serena directly, afraid of what she might do. But the encounter was not as bad as she was anticipating, and she felt a great sigh of relief afterward. Serena didn’t appear to be as evil as Isabel had imagined

“You betcha… how could I not? You were staring right at me!”

“I was?” Kyle said, blushing slightly. “I wasn’t staring. I was looking in your general direction.” When he saw that she wasn’t buying it, he held up his hands in defeat and said, “Okay…maybe I was staring.”

“Yes, then I saw your friend yelling for you, so I got the heck out of there,” Serena concluded. “Her name is Maria, right?” She looked at Maria, who wasn’t paying attention at all. ”Are you okay?”

Maria grumbled unhappily. “What? Oh, yeah, I’m sick,” Maria said, rubbing her eyes. “Flu, probably.”

“Oh, yuck. Hope you get better.”

Maria nodded.

Michael looked back at Maria, but it was too late - she was already blankly watching the sidewalk pass by underneath her feet. Suddenly it felt much colder outside to Michael, and the icy glare Max shot him didn’t help.

“I wouldn’t worry about the things you lost,” Liz stated. “They can be replaced quite easily.”

Max’s expression was priceless. Even Isabel donned a stunned expression. What exactly was Liz getting at?

“How’s that?” Serena replied, confused. Her brow scrunched up, reminding Isabel vaguely of Alex, leaving a lump in her throat.

“We are pretty resourceful people, you know, living out on our own and all,” Liz said, smiling softly.

“The phone I can understand, but the money? It’s not like they were traveler’s cheques.”

“Hmmm,” Liz added. “We’ll have to see what we can do about replacing it.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Serena said. “Driving me back home is payment enough.”

“Nonsense,” Liz replied. “It’s our fault you’re in this mess, and we’re going to make it right. We owe you that much.”

“If you say so,” Serena said with a chuckle. “But I’d settle for some vanilla ice cream in a pinch.”

“No way, that’s my favorite!” Liz exclaimed. “That and strawberry. And don’t even get me started on chocolate chiffon.”

“How can you be talking about ice cream at a time like this?” Michael said, shaking his arms briskly.

“Oh, GOD you’ve got to try the German chocolate mousse at a little place called Timon’s uptown; it’s absolutely to die for,” Serena said. “Kevin and I used to get it there all the time before he left for the service.”

“Kevin, was he your boyfriend?” Liz asked.

“No, he was my research partner.”

“Research partner? For college?” Liz asked.

“Yeah,” Serena replied. “Please don’t think I’m a geek or anything… but I’m studying physics and quantum mechanics. Kevin was my research partner. We’d go to Timon’s occasionally to escape reality. But he ended up joining the Air Force. He said he wanted to be stationed at Area-51 and rebuild alien spacecraft. Crazy, huh?”

“Wow, is that so…” Liz asked, trying to take it all in.

“Yup, that’s pretty much the last two years of my life,” Serena said factually. “See why I kind-of keep it hush-hush?”

Liz didn’t know what to say.

The short silence gave everyone the opportunity to fully appreciate the morning before reaching the van. Serena was standing next to the very people she had been running from just a few days ago, a group she knew next to nothing about. She knew instinctively that she could trust them but with all that had happened… she needed to keep an eye and an ear open at all times.

The morning’s rays streaked down through a line of thinning trees on the far side of the road, the wispy branches casting shadow patterns lightly on the parking lot, the energy feeling warm and welcome to the skin. Kyle especially noticed how the light played with Serena, almost dancing around her, an occasional ray illuminating her sparkling emerald eyes or glancing off her ruby hair. He quickly caught himself. “Buddha help me,” he thought to himself.

There was no set plan or goal for the day. Both Max and Michael knew it. They’d discreetly go into town and drop off Serena; that much they knew. What else was on the agenda was anybody’s guess. One thing was certain, everyone was darn sick of living out of a cramped van.

“Okay, who’s driving and where are we going?” Michael questioned, still shaking his arms.

“I’ll drive,” Isabel said, happy for the distraction. “Kyle, keys.” Being the gentleman he was, he first unlocked the passenger doors and helped Maria and Serena inside before handing Isabel the keys.

“Hey, would you fire up the heat already,” Michael snapped, briskly loading the bags and slamming the door shut behind him. “It’s like freezing in here.”

“It’s not that bad, is it Michael?”

“How would you know, Ice-queen Izzy?” Michael said with a grin.

“Aaah!” Isabel almost became mad and assaulted Michael with a few choice words, but blew it off instead. “Whatever you say,” she said instead, the old Volkswagen clinking and clanking to life once again.

Liz was still processing everything Serena had said.

“So what part of town do you call home, Serena?” Liz asked. “Isabel needs an idea of where to go.”

“North end, Maple Street, University of California in Fresno. You know where the California 180 is?”

“Nope, but I’m sure it’s on one of our maps. We’ll find it no problem,” Kyle said, reaching up front for the pile of maps and handing Liz a stack of them. “We’re near Planada, not far from 99.”

Liz took these and started thumbing through. Her expertise in dealing with maps showed, it only took a few seconds for her to pinpoint and orient herself.

“Looks like we can get there by…um, 99 south. We went a bit out of the way last night, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, kind-of; it was late, roads were dark,” Kyle said quickly, dodging the question. He busied himself by turning on the heater, much to Michael’s approval.

Serena smiled at Liz, the van rolling lazily out of the parking lot and onto the open road.

~.~.~.~

As the van embarked onto CA99, Serena looked around. For the first time, there was enough light and silence that she could take a moment to actually look at the van. The automobile looked old and worn out, but she figured that the condition was more due to age than from the people inside it. After all, the van looked to have come out of the sixties, and had to have come to these people after a lot of previous use.

The cloth on the ceiling was torn near the back and part of it was hanging loosely by the back window. The cloth covering the seats was worn through in spots and there were several stains on the floor that were no longer recognizable, discolorations that had probably seeped into the carpet flooring decades ago. They seemed to be almost part of the carpet itself. She had to wonder why six young people would be traveling in a van from another era and seemingly without any particular purpose or destination.

“So now that you know a little about me, tell me something about yourself,” Serena said to Liz.

While Liz thought of something to tell Serena, Isabel was finding it easier to look at the redhead without feeling guilty or paranoid, but she still looked away whenever their gazes met. Having the ability to use the rearview mirror helped. Max and Michael had already decided that they were to give Serena the benefit of the doubt, but it was unanimous everyone keep their guard up at all times and never leave anyone alone with her. They still didn’t know exactly who or what they were dealing with, despite Liz’s fervent pleading that Serena was, in all actuality, a good alien.

Isabel looked at Maria. Maria had not been herself at all this morning, no bubbly wisecracks or tiring banter with Michael. Nothing at all. She was dead silent, and seemingly lost in thought. Normally Isabel would not involve herself so much in anyone’s business except that seeing Maria like this made her wonder if she’d looked the same way last week. One thing was certain though, Maria could use some help.

~.~.~.~

“What do you want to know?” Liz spoke to Serena, breaking Isabel from her private thoughts.

“Don’t tell her anything,” Isabel thought to herself. Isabel tuned out the conversation between Serena and Liz again to get Kyle’s attention, anything to keep her mind off of Serena. Of course, Kyle was set on Serena and Isabel was not all that surprised. She nudged him briefly, hoping for some annoyed response, but he didn’t even register her hand pushing his forearm. Giving up, she rolled her eyes and looked at Maria in the rearview mirror. Someone had to watch her because whatever Michael did to her… she wasn’t acting at all like herself.

“Why are all of you in this old sixties van together?” she heard Serena say, “I mean why this van?”

“Yeah, it’s not the most luxurious vehicle to travel in,” Liz agreed. “But this is all we had on short notice.”

“Which one of you found it?”

Isabel swallowed hard, remembering Jesse delivering this very van after graduation. “Don’t blast me or whatever it is you guys do…” those words he spoke stuck out in her mind.

“Doesn’t matter,” Michael insisted, glancing at Max. “It’s all part of the plan.”

“Plan?” Liz gasped, unsure of what Michael was talking about. She looked at Max, thinking he’d be just as confused, but the serious look on his face told her otherwise. So she decided to go along with Michael’s idea.

“Oh yeah, the plan…which we deviated from while we were in Yosemite.”

“Okay…” Serena reluctantly accepted the idea, not sure what to think. “Can I ask what the plan is?”

“Yeah,” Max said, looking at Michael. “We’re thinking about staying in Fresno for awhile.”

“And ditching the van,” Michael added. “This old hunk of junk will be lucky to make it another 5 miles.”

“Ok, so why Fresno?”

“Sheer dumb luck,” Liz replied with a smile.

~.~.~.~

After seeing nothing but small towns and farmland for so long, entering Fresno felt overwhelming. There were so many buildings, houses, apartments, and masses of people walking, cycling, and driving to and fro. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the windows. Being away from civilization for a little over a month and a half, at that moment, felt more like the absence stretched at least a year.

Being re-immersed into civilization caused both a new tension in the van and a sense of anonymity. Ahead lay a whole new city, one that hopefully had no FBI special unit or secret government UFO hangars. Michael glanced at the city through the windows of the van and tried to ignore how the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. So many people in Fresno … and any one of them could be the FBI.

He noticed how a lot of people glanced toward the van, making him a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it was only the fact that the van came straight out of the sixties, but Michael’s brain was racing over all the other reasons those people could be looking at the van. Eyes had always regarded him curiously, even in Roswell, but he had never really cared until now.

Yet, the bonus of being in a big city was that they could easily disappear. And with all the colleges in Fresno, blending in with the natives wouldn’t be difficult, so there would be safety in numbers. If Serena could disappear in Fresno then they could definitely do the same. All they needed was time and money, only one of which was lacking. After all, they couldn’t make fake money with alien powers forever. The risk of attracting unwanted attention with the fake money was honestly too high to continue making it.

Kyle’s attention had been focused on Serena ever since he’d saved her at the carnival. Michael was the only one completely concerned about Maria's condition and Isabel knew better than to question him about it yet. Michael rarely shared any personal matters, as did Isabel. It was a given, that they would not talk about it. Especially because of the whole “destiny” thing.

“Where to after Shaw?” Isabel spoke up.

“Make a right, up here on Maple and I’ll point out my apartment complex. It’s called Vintage Wood.”

Soon they reached the apartment complex and Isabel pulled into the lot while Serena spoke again, “Here’s my stop. Thanks for the ride.”

“You’re welcome. Hey, let’s get together later,” Liz suggested to Serena while Kyle opened the van’s sliding door. “Maybe tonight for dinner or tomorrow for lunch?”

“Well, I could use a rest so how about tomorrow for lunch,” Serena told her. “Besides, I have to find out if I still have a job.” Thinking quickly, Serena grabbed a random book from the floor of the van and jotted down her phone number so that Liz could call her later. She grinned at Liz and handed her the book before climbing out of the van.

“Call me.”

“I will,” Liz assured her. “We’ll see you later.”

Serena moved to climb out of the van and smirked at Kyle who was standing outside, his hand extended to help her out. She ignored his outstretched hand and climbed out on her own, waving at the others when her feet finally touched the ground. One step at a time she walked away from the van and turned around when she heard the door slide closed with a growling bang. Kyle was standing there still grinning at her. She didn’t quite understand why he seemed so concerned about her well being when he still knew as little about her as she did about him. She liked the attention anyways. “I can get to my apartment on my own,” she assured him. “I’ll see you later.”

“Let me walk you anyway,” he insisted.

There was something so alluring about the way his blue eyes looked at her just then. She couldn’t help it; she had to give in. After a moment she sighed and nodded her head in agreement. They began to walk to her apartment when she realized that he moved in front of her and a soft chuckle erupted from her mouth. He turned around to face her, his eyebrows raised in confusion.

“What’s so funny?”

She covered her mouth and forced herself to calm down before she spoke.

“I better lead. You don’t know which apartment I live in.”

“Of course, silly me,” He said, gesturing for her to lead. She smirked at him and walked on, stopping at her apartment. Kyle glanced at her door number and then back at her.

“Bye, Serena. See you tomorrow.”

She opened her apartment door and walked inside, turning for a moment to reply.

“Bye, Kyle. Thanks for the help.

“Anytime,” he assured her.

The others waited in the van for Kyle to return. Isabel took in the scenery, while Max, Michael and Liz talked about Serena. Maria was still staring into space.

“Vintage Wood Apartments, Maxwell,” Michael spoke up. “4770 North Maple Avenue.”

“Apartment number one-hundred-fourteen C,” Kyle added as he climbed back into the van.

“Great. Now, where to?” Isabel demanded as she shifted the gear from park to drive.

“I saw a motel back there on Shaw,” Liz suggested. “We could stay there for now.”

“Okay,” Isabel sighed, “I just hope one of you knows how to get back there.”

~.~.~.~

After a few minutes of searching, they found a Super 8 Motel on Shaw Avenue. The place was definitely not the Ritz, but it would do. Their stay was only temporary anyway, just until they could figure out the next step in their plan.

“Liz, can I talk to you?” Maria started to say.

“In a minute,” Liz replied hurriedly, obviously distracted.

Michael opened the van’s sliding door and was about to help Maria out onto the parking lot when Liz spoke up.

“Wait a minute guys, we need to talk.”

Maria moved closer to her and Michael shut the van door. Isabel turned around and looked at her with curious eyes; it was unusual for Liz to be making group announcements. Max put an arm around Liz for support and Kyle looked at her, waiting for her speak.

“I need to tell all of you something about Serena … something I probably should have mentioned a long time ago. I wasn’t sure how you’d take it, I mean, it sounds crazy to be honest.”

“What sounds crazy?” Isabel demanded. She was growing tired of surprises.

Liz took a deep breath. “Last year, Max came to me from the future, using the Granolith.”

Max nodded in agreement, and tugged a bit on her shoulder for support.

Michael gave her a quizzical look. “Max came back from the what?”

“Yeah, I know. It’s a long story… anyways, he wanted me to break up with Max, the present-day Max, so that he would go to Tess and… what I’m getting at is he said I would be preventing the end of the world by doing that. He said that Serena, a girl who would become one of my best friends someday, would be some quantum physics genius and find a way to turn the granolith into a time machine. That’s how future Max came to me last year … and that’s how I recognized Serena. I just, after I bumped into her at the carnival and got those flashes, I knew it was her. Now you know how I knew that it was Serena. I had to keep it from you though, please understand. Future Max insisted that I couldn’t ever tell anyone, he said it would screw up the space-time continuum or something like that. But now that Tess is gone for good though, I guess it doesn’t matter.”

Silence. No one was quite sure what to say. Tension grew in the van and Liz watched Michael glance at Max, his eyes narrowed in thought.

“You knew,” Michael accused Max.

“He’s my husband,” Liz spoke up, trying to maintain order. “I was just as scared to tell him, but I knew I had to.”

“I told her to tell Max,” Maria spoke up, “But I didn’t know the whole story.”

“Great,” Michael sighed unhappily. “Why did you wait until now, after we found her and talked to her?”

“I wanted to find her,” Liz insisted. “I had to be sure I was right, and I am. She is going to be a great friend to us.”

“Okay you said Max came from the future, back in time, through the Granolith?” Isabel piped up, completely skeptical. “Just how is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” Liz replied. “One day I was standing in front of my dresser mirror and I saw this blinding flash outside my bedroom window. When I turned around, an older version of Max was standing there. He told me that the future of the entire world depended on reuniting the foursquare, else Earth was doomed.”

“What do you mean, doomed?” Isabel asked.

“I don’t know. Doomed to invasion, or possibly extermination by Khivar probably,” Liz admitted sadly. “Future Max was adamant that it be prevented at all costs though,” she finished.

“Wait a second, you mean to tell me that without Tess, the Earth is doomed?” Max replied, startled.

“Guys, I just don’t know. Future Max wouldn’t give out any details. He said it was safer that way.”

“But I have Tess’s powers,” Isabel pointed out. “Do we still need Tess?”

Liz just shrugged.

“Fine, let’s just get some rooms,” Kyle said, bringing the discussion to a close. Tess was still a sore subject for him regardless of whatever he was feeling for Serena and he knew that inevitably the mention of the curly blonde’s name would cause them to rehash what she had done to them and how that was supposed to affect the future that future Max wanted to prevent. “I really want some time out of this van.”

When Michael opened the van’s sliding door again, the tension faded. Maria followed Liz out of the van, ignoring Michael’s hand when he offered it. Until just a few hours ago, she just wanted to be close to him – now she wanted distance from him instead, because of the flashes. She wanted support, but not from him, not after what he did to her outside the strip club. The thoughts swirling in her mind had gone from realization, to empathy, to abuse.

“Liz, what are you doing tonight?” Maria asked, rubbing her eyes.

Ordinarily, Liz would have spent time with her best friend in a heartbeat, but not now. She was completely distracted by the fact that they had found and met the girl who gave her the flashes. Serena was the foremost issue on her mind.

“Sorry ‘Ria, Max wants to ‘talk’ to me about the future.” Liz reasoned apologetically. “And besides, this whole Serena thing…”

“Okay, well what about -” Maria began, but was cut off abruptly by Max tapping Liz on the shoulder.

“Liz, we’ve gotta talk about Serena,” he said. “Now.”

Maria tuned her out, returning to her own thoughts as they headed toward the motel office. Now that they’d found Serena, Maria really didn’t want to talk about her. Too many thoughts were swimming in her head, so much noise, and she was so tired of the stress from the situation weighing her down. If Michael looked at her with eyes narrowed in concern, she didn’t notice. All that registered was Isabel’s soft voice.

“You can stay with me, Maria,” she told her. “It’s been a while since we had any girl bonding time.”

Isabel smiled softly when Maria nodded. She saw that Maria seemed out of it and she hoped she could spark some life back into Maria’s eyes. Seeing Maria in such a lifeless state since whatever happened at the strip club had Isabel worried.

~.~.~.~

Since Isabel and Maria were sharing a room that left Kyle and Michael paired up with Liz and Max rounding out the third room. Kyle was accustomed to being the one stuck with Michael, and although most people would think Michael was not the greatest of company, Kyle seemed to understand him more than most - even if they didn’t always get along.

“I noticed you walked Serena to her apartment,” Michael spoke up as he set his bag on the floor by one of the twin-size beds.

“Yeah, and?” Kyle questioned. “I’m sure you’ve done the same.“

“Hey - I’ve walked Maria to her door before,” Michael retorted defensively.

“I never said you didn’t. But how else was I supposed to get her room number?”

“Good point.”

Michael plopped onto the bed beside his bag and lied down, closing his eyes contentedly as if he was going to take a nap. Kyle had a feeling Michael wouldn’t sleep because he was worried about Maria, but the guy had a reputation for being unpredictable. He too was worried about her and decided it was time to give Michael some good advice. He sat on the empty bed facing Michael while he searched his mind for the right words.

“Can I give you some advice, Michael?”

He watched Michael rub his face with his hands and glance at him out of the corner of his eye.

“What?” Michael demanded tiredly.

“Look – whatever happened to Maria back at that strip club, ever since then she’s been mentally and emotionally in another world. Despite all that I know, the feelings between you two are deep. I think you are the only one who can help her, Michael. When someone you love is hurting, the right thing to do is support them and be there for them when they need you. Right now, Maria needs you.”

“I know.”

“When someone you care about is lost, you help them find their way back home.”

“I get the point, Kyle. Thanks for the advice.”

“Anytime.”

Michael smirked at him for moment before closing his eyes again. He was sure that Kyle was not only giving this advice because of the situation with Maria, but also because Kyle needed to hear it for himself, too. Kyle hadn’t found anyone special since he dated Liz Parker as far as Michael knew … until now.

~.~.~.~

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Isabel threw her bags on the bed and threw an incredulous look to Maria, who also looked annoyed. "Who could that be? We just stepped into the room!" she ranted.

Maria shrugged and grabbed a petite toiletry bag out of her larger one as she headed towards the bathroom. "I'm in the shower regardless of who it is."

"Isabel...Maria?" Max' voice penetrated through the door.

"Now I'm definitely in the shower," Maria stated as the bathroom door closed behind her, leaving Isabel to deal with Max. “One more word about Serena, and I’m gonna puke.”

Slowly Isabel opened the door, giving Max a 'what the hell do you want?' look. "Yes?"

Max could feel the annoyance, but said what he needed to anyway. "Once you get settled, we're all meeting downstairs to discuss a course of action for tomorrow, start to get things figured out a little, you know. Michael and I discussed it before, and I think we came up with some--" but Isabel raised a hand to silence him.

"Alright, I'll be down, but Maria just got in the shower, so she'll be a few minutes,"

Max shrugged. "That's okay, we'll just--"

"That's great Max," Isabel interrupted and closed the door before he could finish. She was exhausted and really just wanted a few decent hours out beauty sleep without being jarred by being in a moving vehicle. Releasing a muffled scream of annoyance she stalked back over to the bed, picked up her purse and then knocked on the bathroom door. "Maria!" She called over the downpour of the shower.

The hot water seemed to amplify the congestion in her head; with every passing second the intensity growing by an undeterminable amount. For a moment, she considered shutting the water off, but the warmth felt so good.

"Hmmm?" came the muffled and reverberated reply.

Maria fumbled around the shower, looking for something to steady herself with.

"They called another meeting; so when you get out, come downstairs, alright!" Isabel called and waited until she thought she heard a muffled ‘all right’ before heading out the door, and slamming it behind her.

From in the shower, Maria could hear the door close in slow motion and could tell that Isabel hadn't heard her cry for help. Something was wrong...way wrong… she kept seeing them...

...over...

*Flash*

"Didn't we just sleep together?"

"We did."

"But it doesn't mean anything."

*Flash*

... and over...

*Flash*

"I want to break up."

*Flash*

... and over again ...

*Flash*

"I could tell you to stay, because that's what I want, but I don't want to be the guy that you blame for ruining your life."

"Michael..."

"I think you should leave now."

*Flash*

Stumbling out of the shower, she reached for her robe and put it on, leaning against the sink while holding her head in her hands. Her head...it felt like it had just been crushed between two Bricks. Opening her eyes to look into the mirror, she saw only a haze of colors swirling in front of them. Colors that were swirling so fast that she felt as if she were getting motion sickness.

The steam from the shower seemed to be fogging her brain. She quickly reached for the moist door handle and it slipped from her grasp. Everything was moving so fast yet at the same time it seemed as if everything was moving in slow motion.

Tears flooded her eyes as she finally got it open, but she couldn't focus on where she was going at all, it just faded to a mass of color. The room seemed to be tipping on its axis as she stumbled across it, until suddenly she wasn't walking anymore...she was falling and someone was screaming, screaming a name... Michael? Someone was screaming Michael's name? Of course, she didn't realize until she had already hit the floor and the black clouds started descending upon her that what she was hearing were her own screams.

~.~.~.~.~

Michael blinked suddenly, snapped from the drone of Max’s voice as a wave of unease settled upon him. Of course, lately unease had been happening a lot, with being hunted by the FBI and all, but this was different. It seemed to take control of his mind and block everything and everyone else out - except for Max, of course. It took a lot more than unease to block him out of anything.

"Michael?" Max called.

Michael’s head snapped up. "Yeah?" he replied, trying to shake off whatever was bothering him.

"You okay?"

Nodding, he shrugged. "Yeah, just tired I think."

Max nodded in understanding. "I think we're all pretty tired, so why don't we just think about what we've discussed tonight, and talk more tomorrow."

Isabel sighed. "That sounds wonderful," she said and turned back towards the elevator.

"Wait, Isabel, where's Maria? She never came down," Liz asked, concern starting to creep across her features.

Isabel turned with a slightly worried look. "You know...I don't know. She was in the shower and I told her to come down, but that was like--"

"At least 20 minutes ago," Kyle finished. He glanced at Michael who was sitting next to him and leaned a little closer as he said under his breath, "You know maybe she needs you... and you should go support her." He patted Michael on the back for emphasis and Michael nodded.

"Yeah I know," he muttered.

Michael stood up. "I'll go and check on her."

"Don't upset her please," Max said.

Michael turned back to Kyle. "Maybe you should give him your little support speech, huh?"

“Oh, no that speech was saved just for you roomy,” Kyle grinned, tipping his fingers in good luck.

Michael walked over the elevators and as he stood there, that sinking feeling hitting him again. A feeling that told him that the elevators were moving too slowly. He looked back to the group. "I think I'll just take the stairs," he said as he swiftly headed towards the stairwell, not hearing Isabel when she said, "But Michael, it's five floors!"

The unease that had settled itself inside him by the time he'd reached the fifth floor was so thick that he barely noticed how exhausted he was. He had taken the stairs two at a time to get there.

Breaking into a run down the hall, he quickly got to Isabel and Maria's room. That's when he realized he didn't have a key. 'Oh well...' He thought, looking around nervously before pressing his hand to the lock and seeing it glow a faint red. The door clicked open and swung forward, Michael stepping inside. It was completely silent. The kind of silence that hurts your ears. He started forward and then stopped dead cold when he saw a form sprawled across the middle of the floor. A cold of realization hit him as he fell onto his knees next to her.

2

"Maria?" he called first, almost calmly, as his brain could barely understand the prospect of her being hurt in any way, but it slowly started sinking in. That’s when he started yelling her name.

“Maria!”

But there was no response.

Images of Monk’s death flared in his mind, and a knot formed in the pit of his stomach. There was no way he was going to let Maria die.

Gathering her up into his arms, he gently felt her neck for vital signs. He was ready to carry her limp body all the way down to the lobby if needed. Although he didn’t realize it, Max and the others were walking down the hall, and hearing him yell Maria’s name had them sprinting into the room. All Michael knew was that he had to get to Max. Max could help her. Max would help her.

“What happened?” Max demanded, kneeling across from Michael and looking at Maria with worried eyes.

“I don’t know! She was lying on the floor!” Michael managed to say, his arms shaking as he set her body down on the floor in front of Max. “Do something, Maxwell!”

“No!” Isabel shrieked, tears welling up in her eyes. She had walked in to see Michael set Maria’s body down on the cold floor.

“What’s goin’ on?” Kyle said, rounding the hall and stopping behind Isabel, who turned around with her hand over her face.

Liz walked in, and with a quick glance ran over to her best friend’s body. She could not believe she was watching Maria die on the floor of some hotel.

“Close the door!” Max ordered, kneeling down and placing his hand on Maria’s motionless form. His hand quickly radiated a soft white glow as he scanned for the source of the problem. Stopping at her head, he fumbled for a minute before grabbing on with both hands. He had healed several mortal wounds in the past, but nothing like this. The mind was much more complex.

“I don’t know if this will work!” he said, beads of perspiration forming on his forehead.

Suddenly wave after wave of emotion hit him like a ton of bricks, the floodgates of Maria’s mind flung open.

Flashes of what Michael did to her made it all too clear to Max as to why this was happening. One after another, each one increasing in brutality, the images came… and came, and came. While the flashes hit Max, he couldn’t help thinking of what happened to Alex, of what Tess had done to Alex.

When he had done all he could do for Maria, he looked up to Michael with wide, scornful eyes and said four slow words which singed Michael’s very core.

"What did you do!?"

Michael shook his head and looked away, wiping his eyes with a trembling hand. He didn’t have a chance to say anything before Max continued.

“She should live, but I don’t know how she’ll be affected.”

Michael nodded and wanted to pull her into his arms again. Instead he simply hoped that she would be okay.

Kyle was glad to see that Maria wasn’t going to die, but his mind was stuck on something else. More specifically, he kept going over what or rather who he noticed as he followed Isabel out of the lobby toward the elevator. He could have sworn that in the quick glimpse he had of the front desk that he saw Jesse standing there.

~.~.~.~

“Something’s wrong,” Isabel commented quietly as she looked at Maria with narrowed eyes filled with concern.

“You’re telling me,” Kyle replied just as quietly, looking with her.

Michael pulled Maria into his arms again, but she simply lolled against him, looking as if she was drifting in and out of consciousness.

“What’s wrong with her, Max?” Liz asked quietly, looking up at her husband.

He hesitated for a second. “I don’t know.”

Isabel saw the glance between the two of them. “I've noticed her being weird, Michael. How long has something been wrong?” she asked Michael. "I know you know."

Michael's eyes met hers before he meekly replied, “Since the strip club.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for the next time I get the urge to see live-action porn,” Kyle said dryly.

“It wasn’t because of the strippers, Kyle,” Isabel told him, but it was more to openly erase that possibility. She leaned closer. “I can see if I can dream walk her.”

“No!” Michael said suddenly, bringing Maria’s body closer to him if that were possible. Isabel pulled back in surprise.

“Wait, Max,” Liz turned to him. “When you tried to heal her did you, you know… see things?”

“Liz,” Max started, his eyes avoiding hers.

Liz’s eyes widened in surprise. “Max,” she said firmly. “What did you see?”

He glanced up for approval at Michael, who looked pained. Liz followed his gaze; her mouth opened in shock.

“Michael?!” Liz nearly shouted with glaring eyes before turning back to Max. "Did Michael do this somehow?" she demanded.

Max kept his gaze steady with Michael’s. “Yes,” he finally whispered.

“What?” Isabel asked in shock, whipping her head around to look at Michael. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Liz sitting next to her.

“Get away from her,” Liz said, her tone even and low, her eyes piercing straight through Michael as if he were glass.

“Liz, I didn’t – “ Michael’s voice was wavering.

“Get away from her!” Liz yelled. “You hurt her and now you’re protecting her? From what, Michael? You’re the one who did this to her -“

“Now, wait a minute,” Kyle interrupted. “We don’t know that. Michael hasn’t explained what happened yet.”

“Yes,” Liz said, drawing a pause between each word. “We do.” She glared at Michael. “All that Michael’s been doing is fighting with her and following his own selfish views on the FBI. He did something to her when they went off together - alone - at the strip club.”

“Liz, you don’t know that. You can’t just accuse Michael of something he did or didn’t do because of the way Maria is acting now,” Isabel countered.

Liz looked back at her husband. “Max?”

Max hesitated. Then he seemed to come to a decision. He stared into Liz’s eyes while he spoke. “It’s true,” Max admitted. Isabel gasped. “Liz had me go find Maria because she wasn’t with the group and I found her with Michael.” Every word seemed to be edged with pain. “I tried to heal her but something’s wrong.”

“What do you mean, you ‘found her with Michael’?” Isabel inquired, her voice business-like.

“His hands - they were holding her head like he was trying to hurt her,” Max explained.

Liz was now crying, her eyes filled with unshed tears. “Michael, what did you do to her?” she begged, her voice soft as fear quickly began to replace the rage that was held there only moments before.

Michael opened his mouth to speak.

“I -“ He looked at everyone, everyone he cared about - and they were looking back at him like he was some sort of murderer. Which he was. He had killed a man. And he could have killed Maria if Max hadn’t stopped him. Feelings from when he killed Pierce came flooding back into his senses.

“I have to get out of here,” Michael announced. Gently moving Maria to Kyle’s startled arms and climbing to his feet, he hurriedly left the room. The overwhelming need for space from the tension of admitting what he had done to Maria consumed him.

He started walking down the dimly lit hallway. Where to? He didn’t know. He just needed to get away from them all – their accusing stares. What if he had killed Maria?

“Michael!”

He glanced back on reflex and saw Isabel following him. Great; just what he needed. The sister of the fearless leader was coming to talk to him instead of the actual leader, which meant that Max had wanted to stay with Liz - again.

“Michael, what did you do to her?” Isabel asked, panting a little from the short run.

“I don’t know,” he replied automatically and turned to get away from her and her eyes.

“Yes, you do,” she insisted vehemently. “You just don’t want to tell anyone because you’re afraid of what people might think of you.”

Michael stopped walking. Isabel did the same and turned to face him. “Look, Isabel, I don’t know what I did to her. All I know is that she’s now like this. And if Max can’t heal her, then we’re screwed.”

“You mean you’re screwed,” Isabel clarified. “Michael, all Maria has been doing for the past two years is being a great girlfriend to your pathetic -“ She took a good look at his head. “Hair. Jeez, do you ever cut it?”

Michael rolled his eyes at her. “Thanks for the moral support, Isabel,” he said dryly. He still had stonewall and was using it with all his might to hide his hurt over Maria from everyone else

“The point is Michael, you’re going to have to tell us what you did to her sooner or later. If it’s sooner, the more we can help her. If it’s later, well, who knows what might happen if we wait too long?”

~.~.~.~

Liz was cradling Maria in her arms when Michael and Isabel returned to the room. Kyle sat on the other side of Liz, and Max sat in the seat in front of them, watching.

“Any change?” Michael asked, looking at the small group.

“No,” Liz replied, smoothing Maria’s hair down. Michael rubbed his eyes.

“Can I see her?”

Liz glared at Michael. Then she glanced at Max who was nodding his head as if he approved of Michael caring for her best friend. Reluctantly, Liz got up and Michael took her place. Kyle moved out of the way and when he did, he noticed Isabel. He hadn’t seen her come in.

“Isabel,” he said, motioning her to the door with his hand. She silently followed him out of the room, closing the door behind her.

“What is it, Kyle? It better not be some more Hinduism phrases because I swear to God-”

“Okay, first of all, it’s Buddhism,” Kyle interrupted, folding his hands in front of his mouth in decision. “And second of all,” he phrased the words carefully. “I think I saw Jesse.”

Isabel suddenly stopped moving. “What?” she seethed, her voice tinged in anger.

“I think I saw Jesse,” Kyle repeated.

“What do you mean ‘you think you saw Jesse?’ Did he like, appear to you in an apparition? Speak in your mind?”

“No, Isabel, I think I really saw him,” Kyle said sincerely. “Here.”

Isabel didn’t answer. She was looking at him with a visage of utter shock. He was telling the truth. “But,” she tried to say, her voice wavering.

“Look, after Michael ran upstairs to check on Maria we followed and, while we waited for the elevator I was ‘people watching.’” Isabel gave him a look. “Yes, I know, shocking. Anyway, someone who looked like Jesse wearing a business suit was standing at the front desk checking in. I would have told you sooner, but we’ve all been preoccupied.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, poised between running for the front desk and crumpling into a ball on the ground.

“You can go check the register at the front desk. I’m sure if you asked what room he was in, they’d tell you.”

Isabel still seemed undecided about going in. “Kyle…”

“Look, Isabel, just go. Go and find out if he’s here. If he’s not, well, then I’m buying a nut cup.”

“You’ll have to buy more than that, Valenti,” Isabel smirked, taking off for the stairs.

~.~.~.~

Isabel tried to run, but found her legs would only let her walk briskly towards the front desk. Her life seemed to be happening in slow motion as she approached the hotel’s front desk.

“Could you tell me what room Jesse Ramirez is in?” she asked in her best “people’s person” voice.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t give out that information,” the girl on the phone said, looking up at her briefly before turning back to her conversation.

Isabel clenched her fists and breathed out slowly before speaking again. “Well, you see, I’m his wife and he never told me what room we were staying in.”

The clerk typed something on her keyboard quickly. “He’s in room 105.”

“Thank you,” Isabel said, breathing erratically. She pushed herself away from the desk, feeling light-headed. One-oh-five… one-oh-five, she kept repeating to herself.

She passed the elevator and walked further down the hall noting the room numbers to be sure she was headed in the right direction. Thoughts of how she’d react at seeing Jesse flooded her mind. She was so deep in thought that she didn’t notice anything, but the hotel room numbers.

“Isabel?”

Startled, Isabel jumped and looked in front of her.

“Oh, my God.”

~.~.~.~

“Max,” Liz asked softly, looking up at him. “Is she going to be okay?”

Max smiled sadly. “I don’t know, Liz. I don’t know.” He brushed her hair off her nose and planted a kiss there, tugging her closer to him.

“She’s moving,” Michael announced from one of the full size beds where he had placed Maria a few minutes ago. Max and Liz turned. He was sitting beside Maria, gently rubbing one of her arms in hopes of causing to show some kind of reaction. Restlessly, she did keep twitching her legs. Kyle watched from the sidelines, arms crossed, his head bowed.

“She always does that when she has covers on,” Liz observed. “I know because she’s kicked me a few times at sleepovers.”

Suddenly Maria’s eyes opened and she seemed to blankly stare at the ceiling, blinking slowly.

Michael's breath caught in his throat and his hands tightened on her as he stared down at her, waiting for some kind of response. When he didn't get one, he brought a hand up against her forehead and gently brushed her hair back with his fingers. "Maria?" he whispered softly, traces of fear still lingering in his voice.

"Michael?" she whispered back, but not as someone who had just been through a traumatic experience, yet hadn't seen him in years.

Michael looked at her in surprise. “You know who I am?”

“Yes, of course.” She turned away from him, eyeing the rest of the group who had shocked looks on their faces, "I know who all of you are."

“Maria, something happened.” Liz stated as she scooted a little closer to her and wrapped her arms around her. "I was so scared that something had happened to you."

Confusion crossed Maria's features and while Liz was hugging her, she turned her head up towards Michael and whispered, "Scared? What is she talking about?"

Michael got a blank look before replying. "She was just worried about you."

More confusion. "Worried?"

Michael glanced at Max and maintained eye contact while his best friend, the alien healer, stared at Maria with a knowing look. "Maxwell? Are you not telling us something?"

Liz leaned back up and turned around to face Max. "What?"

But Max just kept his gaze fixated on Maria as he replied. "She's still not the same as she was before the strip club.”

No one said anything, they only looked at Maria as she stared off out the window, a slow smile creeping across her lips as she settled back more comfortably in Michael's arms. For the first time in months, she had no worries...she had no feelings at all.

~.~.~.~

“Isabel.”

Jesse stared at his wife in shock. She was here, standing right in front of him. Her hair was a little longer than before and she had small bags under her eyes, but she still looked like the same woman he had married.

“Jesse?” Isabel took a step closer, swallowing hard. “Is it really you?”

He grinned. “It’s really me. The question is, is it really you?”

Isabel ran forward and threw herself in his arms, pressing up against him tightly.

“I can’t believe you’re here - I thought something had happened to you, I thought you-”

Jesse chuckled, “Nothing happened to me. I’m fine.” He pulled back. “I expected you to be on a completely different continent by now. What are you doing here?” he spoke firmly, his eyes searching her face.

Isabel brushed her hair out of her eyes, stuck there because of tears. Despite the fact that she looked worn out, Jesse thought she looked absolutely ravishing. He reached up and helped her push her hair back to where it belonged.

“You look beautiful, Isabel,” he said, placing a hand on her back. Isabel smiled.

“I look terrible, Jesse,” Isabel corrected her husband. “But it’s okay, because now you’re here.”

They gazed at each other longingly again and then Jesse enveloped his wife in his arms.

“I’m so glad I found you, Isabel. I thought I’d never see you again.”

Isabel sighed. “Me too, me too.” She pulled back and gazed at his face. It was more worn than she remembered – bags had formed beneath his warm brown eyes, and crow’s feet bracketed the corners as though they had been etched there by tension and stress.

They had both been through hell in the past few months and she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything separate her from him again.

Before she could think, she pressed her lips to his, capturing him. His lips were still as soft and warm as they were when she left. That was the only constant thing that they had to hold onto: their love.

~.~.~.~

Isabel and Jesse walked into her hotel room, holding hands and talking closely as they entered. The others looked at them, a mixture of shock and confusion on their faces.

“Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?” Michael leaned forward and whispered low in Max’s ear.

“You too?” he replied, leaning back a bit.

“Just when you think you’ve seen it all,” Kyle mumbled.

“Wasn’t he supposed to be in Boston by now?” Michael said again.

“Apparently he got on the wrong plane,” put in Liz, her big eyes wider in shock.

Jesse chose that moment to look around at everyone in the room, a hand outstretched toward Max in greeting. Isabel’s head whipped up to look at everyone as well, a tissue suddenly disappearing into her fist. She looked from the gang to her husband, tears of joy threatening to spill.

Liz was the first one to make a move. She glanced up at Max and gently pushed him forward to where Jesse was now standing, waiting for them.

He put his hand out.

“Max.”

“Jesse.” He shook his hand, giving Jesse an odd look. “Aren’t you –“

“Supposed to be in Boston?” Jesse finished, laughing. “Yeah, but I decided to visit a friend from law school before I went out east.”

“Oh,” Max stuffed his hand into his jeans pocket. “So, how did you and Isabel –“ he gestured to the couple. “Meet up?”

“Kyle saw Jesse down stairs at the front desk while we waited at the elevators earlier,” Isabel explained, smiling and linking her arm through her husband’s.

“Really,” Michael commented, looking over at Kyle with a highly interested look. “When did that happen?”

He knew Michael had been too preoccupied with Maria to realize that anything else was happening. “I saw him when you were taking care of Maria,” Kyle reminded him.

“Taking care of Maria?” Jesse started to question.

Now the others had to explain Maria’s situation to Jesse as well- and find out why Jesse wasn’t in Boston like they had previously thought.

~.~.~.~

“See, I have this friend from law school,” Jesse said. They were all sitting in Isabel and Maria’s hotel room, each member of the group perched either on the beds, chairs or the dresser. “And he owns this place in Fresno. He wanted me to house sit for him for two weeks while he went on his honeymoon with his new wife.” He turned and smiled at Isabel, who was sitting glued to his side. She smiled back up at him.

“And – where is this place?” Max asked, cautious.

“It’s a little bit outside of Fresno, in the hills. I was just stopping here on business before going there.”

“You want all of us to invade your friend’s house while he’s away?” Michael spoke up.

“Well, not invade.” Jesse clarified, with a slight cough. “Just stay there for a few days until you all find jobs or whatever you’re planning to do here.”

Everyone looked at each other, trying to decide what to do. Finally, Liz shrugged.

“It’s better than sleeping in the van or a motel.”

~.~.~.~

3

Journal Entry – En-route to Jesse’s friend’s house, in Fresno California

Hope. When I saw Isabel sitting with Jesse, him enveloping her in his arms, I felt hope. God, it has been such a long time.

That's the thing about hope. It has the ability to cut though tension like the sharpest knife ever made. I felt it the first time Max ever touched me. When he put his hand over the gunshot wound and I saw the look in his eyes, I felt it. I had hope that he wouldn't let me die.

And he didn't.

That is what I see when Jesse looks at Isabel for the first time in months. A future for them.

Calm is settling over the group, except for maybe Kyle. Serena is going to meet us there and he’s been tapping his fingers nervously and subconsciously fixing his hair.

Michael is watching over Maria. The tenderness he uses that she is unaware of leaves me in awe. I can see the guilt written on his face, but there is hope there too.

And Max, he is right here with me. Standing behind me, arms wrapped around my waist. I can find nothing but contentment in those arms.

However, there is this nagging voice in the back of my mind. I want it to go away so badly, but something in me won't let it. Over and over, it keeps warning me.

If this is the calm, where is the storm?

~.~.~.~

An hour later, they were standing in the living room of Joseph something-or-other. The specifics weren’t really that important to them. All that mattered was having a decent place to stay. A home, if even just for a few days.

Liz looked up when the doorbell rang. Everyone looked up, except for Maria.

“Maybe that’s Joseph and his wife returning early,” Jesse said, unfolding his legs and getting up to open the door.

As Liz watched his form retreat to the front of the house, she felt a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach.

“Well, well, Mr. Ramirez. It looks like you’re even more reliable than we thought.”

“You’re not going to hurt them; that was the deal.”

“Oh, no I won’t hurt them. At least, not mentally.”

“Oh my God,” Liz breathed. She heard the door open and voices talking low. And she knew that Jesse had tricked them

It wasn’t his friend that owned the house.

It was the FBI.

©2002 Roswell: The Final Chapter. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. Any similarities to events, real or imaginary, are strictly coincidental. Roswell: The Final Chapter is in no way affiliated with UPN, the WB, Regency Television, 20th Century Fox, Jason Katims Productions, or Melinda Metz.

© 2004-2005 Roswell: The Final Chapter. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. Any similarities to events, real or imaginary, are strictly coincidental. Roswell: The Final Chapter is in no way affiliated with UPN, the WB, Regency Television, 20th Century Fox, or Jason Katims Productions.

© 2006-2007 Roswell: The Final Chapter. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. Any similarities to events, real or imaginary, are strictly coincidental. Roswell: The Final Chapter is in no way affiliated with UPN, the WB, Regency Television, 20th Century Fox, or Jason Katims Productions.