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The Truth is Right Here

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Nothing terribly interesting had turned up on their first watch. Or their second. Alex was trying not to be annoyed or impatient. It was nice being here. Working a normal case, doing normal things.

Or it would have been nice if Michael didn’t seem dead-set on seducing him and Maria.

(No, that was nice too, he had to admit. Even if he had no idea what to do with any of it, since their issues were still their issues.)

For once though, Michael wasn’t immediately flirting. Instead he was leaning against a fence post, looking a little bewildered and annoyed, not even taking immediate notice of Alex as he came up the walkway.

“Taking a break?” Alex asked. 

“Waiting for Arnie. We’re going to let some of the herd out to graze,” he replied, sounding a little distracted. “While the rest are getting sheared.” 

“Ah,” Alex said, settling against the fence post, facing Michael. He probably shouldn’t. During the last few days, Michael had made it his mission to torture Alex by being unfairly gorgeous. 

But it would be lying if Alex said he wasn’t enjoying the tease. Plenty of people had flirted with Alex, but he’d never been actively pursued before. Honestly, if it were anyone else, he was sure he’d be annoyed. But something in Alex enjoyed being wanted so much by Michael, being considered worth it enough to go through all this trouble. 

Michael, however, was worth enough to not have to do any of this. He deserved the yes without so much struggle and resistance. Alex wanted to say yes, very badly. The word was sitting on the tip of his tongue, wetted across his lips every time he caught sight of Michael, golden in the sun, and he wanted nothing more than to kiss it into every inch of him.

But he couldn’t. Every time he thought he might, his brain reminded him of the very long list of perfectly valid reasons as to why the answer should be no. But the one that was circled and underlined was fear. Nothing in this space was controllable. And that was dangerous. For him. For Michael. 

“Have you seen Maria?” Alex asked.

Michael wrinkled his nose just a little, looking even more annoyed. Alex frowned, wondering if they had a fight.

“She’s in the barn,” he finally explained.

“Okay?” Alex chuckled, soft and confused.  Michael took a drink from his water bottle, now looking a little embarrassed. Alex wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed. Normally he’d just leave it. Either Michael would tell him or he wouldn’t and that was that. But this new situation with them, one that was still in flux, malleable, ever changing… it made Alex stupid.

“Guerin?” He stepped closer, resting a hand on Michael’s bicep. It was solid and warm to the touch. Alex had to force himself not to squeeze or rub. To keep his touch light.

Michael looked at him, and his frustration only seemed to increase.

“Mia’s teaching her how to shear.”

“Okay?” 

“She saw Mia grab a big male sheep by the face and handle it to the ground for shearing and--” Michael released a sound of frustration. But he seemed embarrassed. At himself?

Alex was startled for a long moment. Putting the pieces together. And then he couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of him. “You’re jealous .”

“I’m not.” The mulishness of his tone made Alex laugh even harder. “I’m not. I don’t get jealous.” 

“But you’re out here sulking.”  

“I’m not sulking , I’m waiting for Arnie,” Michael said. Stubborn.

Alex took a breath, glancing around as he went to take Michael’s hand. Realizing what he was doing, he started to silently berate himself. This was the last place he should be worried about being seen, letting any of that bother him. He held Michael’s hand with a stubborn sort of surety, rubbing his thumb over rough knuckles. Strange how he hadn’t really noticed how strong Michael’s hands were, before.

Michael looked up at him, startled. Maybe a little flushed, but with a slow grin breaking out over his face. “Distracting me?” 

“Something like that,” Alex said. It was simpler than the truth. Holding Michael’s hand like this felt like a rebellion. “Carter was saying they offered you a permanent position.”  

Michael laughed, squeezing Alex’s hand gently. “Afraid I’m gonna slip through your fingers?”

“I mean, I have to admit you do make a better rancher than an FBI agent.”

“Well don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere,” Michael said warmly, stroking his thumb over Alex’s hand. “So, while we have a minute,” he started, in a deliberately casual way that left Alex ever so slightly on edge. “Want to tell me what went wrong? Between us?”  

No. He definitely didn’t. Didn’t want to hash this out again, hurt Michael’s feelings all over again. He glanced briefly at their joined hands. Consequence of rebellion, he thought wryly.

“Did you forget the whole disastrous morning after?” He tried to deflect with a soft self-deprecating laugh. 

Michael wasn’t having it. Shaking his head. “Not that. You know what I mean. And I think I deserve to know. If I did something wrong --”

“No,” Alex said quickly. God damnit, why wasn’t Maria there? Or couldn’t Arnie hurry up and get there? He spent a moment wildly looking for any sort of escape from this conversation. But no one was coming to save him, apparently. He took a deep breath, held it for a few beats, then let it out, heavily. “It’s not you. It’s the situation,” he admitted. 

“Your dad?” Michael asked, frowning, tilting his head. “‘Cause fuck him.” 

“No. It’s-- god damnit, Michael, you have to know how unethical this would be. The power differential alone…” He trailed off, looking at Michael, whose eyebrows had disappeared under his hat. 

“I’m sorry. Power differential?” He asked. Sounding like he was very tightly controlling himself. Alex tried not to read into what emotion Michael was trying to suppress.

“We’re your wardens , Guerin. I mean. You’re stuck with us. We have the power to throw you back in prison. It doesn’t exactly make for an equal relation--”  He stopped, blinking, as Michael burst out in laughter.

“Are you serious , Manes?” Michael got out, breathlessly. 

“Guerin,” he said, in a tone that he hoped was warning, starting to draw his hand away.

Michael hung onto it tighter, getting control of himself. But his eyes were sparkling with the dampness of a good laugh and mischief.

“Hold on. Let me be real clear for a minute here. Neither the Department of Corrections nor the Federal Bureau of Investigations are keeping me here. I could have popped that anklet off and walked anytime. Hell, I almost walked at least four times.”

Alex blinked. It felt hard to breathe. Especially since Michael’s hand had slid up to his forearm, tugging him in more. 

“So... so why didn’t you?” He asked, stumbling over the words a little.

“Mn.” Michael dragged his hand up and down Alex’s arm, as if he knew exactly how to short circuit his brain. “Once I did it, I wouldn’t be able to come back. Guess I just didn’t want to burn this bridge.”

Michael slid his hand up Alex’s shoulder as he spoke, letting it rest warm and solid against the back of his neck, fingers playing lightly with the little hairs there. He didn’t say anything else to Alex, just looked at him with some combination of exasperation and desperation. Like he wanted Alex to understand and was utterly annoyed that he didn’t. 

Alex was mostly stuck on Michael leaving. How easily he could have done it. As effortlessly as he caught that spoon, Michael could have disappeared into the night without his knowledge. Four times. Alex couldn’t for the life of him figure out when those times were. 

It was terrifying, how close he’d gotten to losing Michael. Alex had to close his eyes, focus on Michael’s warm, solid hand on him, waiting. The variables that plagued him earlier hadn’t gone or changed but they seemed less consequential. 

He knew in his gut that losing Michael would destroy him. So he needed to fight like hell to keep him.

 


 

Their progress hit a wall in Santa Rosa. They were only able to hit a couple of the storage units a day -- well. A night, thanks to better security at the facility Jones had chosen. A lot more cover-of-dark breaking and entering than Kyle personally felt comfortable with.

There was more to be found at any of these storage units. But they were still little clues that did not seem to fit into a whole. A passport that expired in the 70s, with the name John Jones and Max’s face. A handful of stamps in it, written in what looked like Arabic. A box of strange turquoise-like rocks that glowed. New Mexico local newspaper clippings from the 40s and 50s.

“Huh,” Max said, pulling out a set of rolled up papers as they ransacked the last unit on their list. Kyle moved closer and he could see that the rolls were yellowed and a little frayed on the corners. “I think these are maps--wait, no, blueprints.”

“What?” Liz asked, looking away from one of the boxes she was rummaging through. She and Kyle moved closer, kneeling down on the ground next to Max who had stretched the pages open against the floor. 

Those were floor plans all right. Hand drawn on extra large sheets of regular paper. Kyle could see that corrections had been made here and there over time. Lines erased or drawn over. An added staircase here, a doorway moved there. There were little notes in the margins that he didn’t understand, faded now after so much time but… Kyle squinted a little and, yes, that was more alien writing. Interspersed with what might be English though. 

“Does that say Theo?” Kyle asked, squinting. Yeah, that definitely said Theo with a little question mark next to it. Louise, further down, crossed out. And Nora with a checkmark, followed by a slew of alien writing. What the fuck? 

“Yeah...” Max said, sounding as confused as Kyle felt.

“There’s numbers, too. Are those times?” Liz asked.

“Looks like it,” Max said. “About an eight hour difference between each. Maybe shifts? Maybe those people worked there?”

The next two pages were the same, more schematics. Probably different floors. But the last was an old map, blown up so it showed only an area around Santa Rosa. A spot a little south of the city circled in red ink.

“What’s out here?” Kyle asked with a frown, leaning over it. 

“No idea.” Max looked a little troubled. 

“Nothing’s there,” Liz said, turning her phone so they could see Google Maps. “No businesses. No nothing. Just desert.” 

“These are old,” Kyle said, picking up one of the floor plans. “Maybe there used to be some big building out there for whatever reason and it’s gone now?” 

“Or abandoned…” Max continued, thoughtful. 

Liz let out a breath. Looking curious for a moment before she shook her head. “Rosa is our only priority,” she said, firmly. “We should focus on finding her. The dust on these makes me think he hasn’t thought about this place in ages.” 

Max looked up at her, a small pensive frown on his face “...I think this is near where Michael, Maria and Alex are though. Why don’t we send them the information and ask them to swing by after their case?”

Liz nodded, apparently satisfied by the compromise. “Put it in the pile.” Motioning towards the small  pile of items they thought were interesting enough to take with them, for future research. “Have we gone through everything?”

“Yeah.” Max rolled the maps back up. “Let’s get this out to the car. It’s getting late and the shift change is gonna be on soon. We should get some sleep, we’re done here anyway.”

“We’ll take care of the packing, you go do your thing, Max,” Kyle said, suddenly feeling bone weary, and trying to keep it out of his voice. These past couple of days had been draining, physically and emotionally, and he couldn’t wait until this was over.

Kyle wasn’t stupid. He didn’t think that finding Rosa would solve all their problems. He was already anticipating quite a few new problems that he was keeping to himself for now, for obvious reasons. But at least once -- if they found her, they could all have a full night’s rest. Maybe he could go on an early morning run, finally get a chance to process all the thoughts and emotions brought by the alien reveal.    

They collected their small stack of curios and headed towards the car, which was waiting right outside of the unit for them. Nothing they’d found was especially fragile but Kyle still flinched from the force with which Liz slammed the trunk shut.  

Right. Liz was tense as a piano wire after two days of fruitless searching.

“I cannot believe we’re walking out, empty-handed again,” Liz burst out frustrated, glaring reproachfully at the closed red door of the storage unit they’d just finished ransacking. They were stuck waiting by the car until  Max did whatever alien magic he needed to do to get them back out past security.

Kyle winced. “Liz…”

“Four fucking days and a hundred mile drive and we’re back where we started.”

Kyle glanced back into the backseat of the Honda Civic, at the dusty maps Max had carefully left there. Thought about the other things they had back at the hotel. They weren’t completely empty-handed. But none of that mattered, he knew. Nothing mattered right now except clues as to  Rosa’s whereabouts.

“We’re not out of options yet,” he said, trying to refocus her. 

“I’m sick of wasting time!” Liz snapped. 

He reached out, grabbing her elbow and pulling her closer, gently but firmly. Liz didn’t pull away but she was still as he pulled her in, annoyed with him. Stubborn about being comforted. But he could be just as stubborn. 

“We’re not though,” he told her, gripping her by her shoulders. Part of him wanted to shake her, but instead he just rubbed her shoulders, a futile attempt at getting her to calm down. Stop her from being so hardened and closed off. 

“Yes we know all about how this Jones asshole likes dogs and beer, and is apparently a billion years old but we’re no closer to Rosa,” Liz said. She pushed away from him, needing to pace. Kyle watched her for a few moments, rubbing his jaw, trying to think of a good way to approach her. 

When they first met, Liz had been distant and dogged, single-minded then too. It had taken a long time for her to open up, to see him as something more than a scratching post and drinking buddy.

It took time to get through her walls then. But he was nothing if not persistent. Liz respected persistent. 

“I know this is the closest you’ve been to finding your sister in years,” Kyle said. “But driving yourself crazy is not going to help.” 

“I’m not. I’m focused and determined. Maybe you need to be a bit more yourself.” 

“Lashing out at me isn’t going to fix this, Liz.” He tried to keep his voice calm, but he was mad. No, he was just frustrated, mostly because he didn’t really know how to help her. On the subject of Rosa, he was always inadequate. Was never sure how to help her deal with her pain and guilt. But he tried damnit, tried to support her and help her however he could.  

Kyle stepped in her path, so she had to stop or run into him. Had to look at him, frowning at her. Hurt and annoyed. Liz looked challenging for half a second longer before she sighed, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re being amazing.” She took his hands, squeezed them. Her voice was a little more measured now. “I’m just angry at myself.” 

“I know, babe,” he said, softly. “But none of this is your fault. Not exactly an alien self defense course back at New Roswell High, right?” 

Liz shook her head, unhappily. “All these years, Kyle. I almost gave up .”  

Kyle sighed, and reached to smooth his hand over her hair. “You never would have.”

Her grip tightened, uncomfortably so. “I got married. I liked my job. I let myself be happy--” 

“When we get her back, should we ask her if she’s mad about any of that?” Kyle asked, dryly. 

Liz sniffed, shaking her head again and glanced up to him--a flash of guilt. She stepped into him, arms around his waist. “It’s not that I regret our life together. That’s not what I mean. It just feels like I let all the bad assumptions win. I gave up on my sister, like she always said I should. When I promised I never would.” 

Kyle wrapped his arms around her tight, kissed her hair. “Being happy doesn’t mean you gave up. Unless that murderboard I let you keep in the office is actually avant garde interior décor.”  

Liz chuckled wetly.

Kyle kept stroking her hair, offering comfort as best he could. He knew she appreciated it, but he couldn’t shake the feeling holding her was helping him more than her. 

“We’ll be in Santa Fe by midday tomorrow,” he said, keeping his voice even and calm “There’s gotta be some answers there. Or at least a clue. I know you’re not going to be able to sleep right away, so why don’t we grab you a bottle of red on the way back? You can get in some walkman time.” 

Liz squeezed him tighter, kissing him. “You’re the best husband.” She pressed her face into his neck, breathing softly. Her arms tight around him

“I accept payment in old family space jam recipes,” he smiled softly. 

Liz laughed, a little raggedly. “If we find Rosa, I might even be able to convince dad to give it to me.” 

Back at the hotel, Liz broke out Jagged Little Pill and wine, as well as her laptop. More research. Obsessively looking through all her old notes, trying to see if the alien reveal would connect dots she previously missed. Kyle thought it was a waste of time and was half tempted to lay on top of her again to make her sleep. But he decided what she really needed was for him to back off, let her process.

Unfortunately her processing was a little disruptive. As much as Kyle would like to sleep, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to until she wound down.

So Kyle slipped out of their room, wishing he had brought his sneakers for a run, figuring a walk would give her some space, and give him some time to clear his own head. Attempt to work through his own frustrations at being unable to do more for her. 

It was still dark out, though the sky was starting to lighten on the horizon. He paused to stare out at the horizon, hoping the light could provide him a little perspective. 

“Can’t sleep?” The voice startled him, and he glanced over to a bench along the motel wall. Max was sitting there, a book on his lap, looking just as tired as Kyle felt. 

“Nah.” He shook his head. “Need to wind down a little.” Kyle hesitated. Max was really good at keeping his emotions pinned down. Stoic and focused. But as hard as this was on Liz, it had to be just as hard on Max. Maybe even, in some ways, harder. Kyle felt for him. “You okay, Evans?”

“Fine,” he replied, though it sounded a little hollow. Shaking his head. “How’s Liz holding up?”  

“Stressed.” Kyle went to sit next to Max, trying to peek at what book he was reading. Not that Kyle expected to recognize it, he wasn’t much of a recreational reader. “But she’ll be fine. Really. How are you? It can’t be easy, chasing an evil alien who’s wearing your face.”

Max hesitated for a moment, before he shrugged, slouching back on the bench. “It does suck,” he admitted. “But I’m trying not to dwell. I just want to make sure Liz gets the answers she needs.”

Kyle frowned at him for a long moment. Liz had been pretty terse with Max, to put it mildly. Kyle knew she didn’t really blame him, but… Kyle sighed. This entire situation was frustrating and miserable. 

He shifted to bump Max’s shoulder with his own. “Hey. None of this is your fault. You’re allowed to be upset and angry. And you’re allowed to be annoyed with her.” 

Max let out a deep breath. “I can’t blame her for being…” He trailed off.

“A bitch?” Kyle filled in, dryly. 

“No,” Max said, quickly. “I was going to say prickly. I mean, I’d be losing my mind if this were Isobel.”

Kyle nodded. Max was diplomatic. Kind. It was almost a character flaw. Kyle appreciated Liz’s frustration with it, because honestly it would be a lot easier if they could just be mad at the aliens. But Max was too nice. He’d been nice this entire time. It was easy to forget that he was quietly enduring his own trauma. A whole hell of a lot of it. Liz’s misplaced, impotent anger was only the icing on the cake. 

“Just try to remember her anger… it’s not about you,” he said, eventually. 

Max shook his head, looking up at the sky for a moment. “Michael always wanted to learn more about our past,” Max said. “I wanted the past to stay there. Just wanted to look forward. Focus on blending in. But now…” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. One bang flopping back into his eyes, endearingly. “If I had helped him instead of fighting with him, maybe we’d know more. Wouldn't’ve been caught with our pants around our ankles. Could have spared Isobel and Liz so much pain.” 

“Or you could have been sent to prison too,” Kyle offered in return. “And Isobel would have been alone.” 

Max looked distressed, letting out a sharp breath.

“I’m not trying to upset you more,” Kyle said when Max dropped his head into his hands, elbows on his knees. He hesitated a moment before resting his hand on Max’s shoulder blade. They barely knew each other. Kyle worried he was overstepping a boundary but at the same time, he was a firm believer in the psychological benefits of physical touch.  

“Have you seen the Butterfly Effect?” Kyle asked, starting to rub his shoulder gently when Max didn’t pull away.

Max groaned. “Please don’t tell me everything happens for a reason.”

“No.” Kyle huffed a laugh. “I just always think of that movie whenever I’m in a what if spiral. Wishing you could change the past is useless. Yeah maybe I shouldn’t have gone away for school. Maybe I could have helped mom convince dad to get screened sooner. Maybe he’d be alive right now. And I’d be happy, sure, dad and I were close. But mom would have been miserable.” At Max’s frown, Kyle elaborated. “Dad was a cheater. She knew but wouldn’t leave him.”

“I’m sorry,” Max said, sitting up a little.   

Kyle shook his head. “I’ve made my peace with it. Anyway, my point is, you should stop chastising yourself for stuff you didn’t do in the past. Focus on the choices you have to make today.”  

Max nodded, sighing softly. He shifted, slouching back against the bench and Kyle missed the warmth of him against his palm. The feeling surprised him. But Max was attractive with his floofy hair and soft brown eyes, somehow both vulnerable and guarded. It didn’t help that he was out of uniform right now, wearing jeans and a soft grey henley. They suited him a hell of a lot better than the uniform did. 

Max looked cozy. And Kyle needed a little cozy right now. 

“Thanks,” Max said after a moment and Kyle just nodded, shifting in to lean his shoulder against Max’s gently. The suggestion of a hug.

Max didn’t pull away. Straightened a little, leaned back against him. Kyle felt some of his own tension--tension he hadn’t even realized he was carrying--ease. 

They didn’t say anything else to each other. Just watched the sky brighten in comfortable silence, Max’s shoulder pressed against his, his warmth comforting in the cool night air. 

 


 

“Mornin,” Arnie said, waving at Alex and Maria, sitting on the porch outside the ranch house, a fire crackling in the firepit in front of him.  

It was mid-morning, and they’d just gotten up after another quiet night of patrolling. Alex still felt groggy and out of it. Patrolling always drained him. It was boring as hell and Michael’s tiny bed did not help. Maria was made of nothing but elbows.

“Morning,” Maria said amicably. “Have you seen Guerin?” 

“Michael?” He asked, stressing the first name a little. Alex raised an eyebrow, wondering what that was about. “He’s inside. Getting coffee.”

And just as if summoned, Michael emerged from the ranch house, in dusty jeans and a flannel shirt that was just barely buttoned, holding two cups of coffee in little tin cups. He paused when he saw them, smiled.

“Hey,” he said. “You’re up.” Handing a cup of coffee to Arnie.  

“Yeah,” Maria nodded. “There more of that inside?”  

“Yup, I can get it,” Michael said. “Honestly shocked Alex is awake.” 

“You and me both,” Maria laughed. Alex grunted, rolling his eyes. “Sit. It’s your break, right? I can pour myself my own damn coffee.”  

“I...” Michael started. Looking at the cup in his hand. He was pretty obviously about to hand it over to her. But Maria made a motion for Michael to sit and he did after a moment’s hesitation. “Okay.”  

“Maria, do you mind?” Alex asked, noting how closely Arnie seemed to be watching their interactions, watching Michael. It felt a little judgmental and Alex had no idea what the hell that was about.  

“Already planning on it,” she said, dryly. “I know you.”

“You’re the best,” Alex sighed. He took the seat next to Michael, stealing his mug to take a drink from it. He hummed in pleasure. Yes, caffeine. 

“You finish it,” Michael said, with a chuckle, waving Alex off when he tried to hand it back. “I’ll take the fresh one.”  

Alex opened his mouth to tease but was suddenly conscious of Arnie’s eyes on them. He looked up at him, frowning -- and no, Arnie wasn’t looking at them . He was staring at Michael, eyes soft, almost... worried? Huh. 

“Quiet night?” Arnie asked, noticing that Alex was staring back at him. 

“Yeah,” Alex replied as Arnie broke eye contact to take a drink from his coffee. “Nothing but the odd owl. Some bats too.” 

“No lights then,” Michael said, smiling over at Arnie, as if sharing some kind of inside joke.

“Lights?” Alex frowned. 

Michael waved his hand in dismissal. “From the cars.” 

Arnie chuckled. “Still clinging to that line, huh?” Shaking his head a little. “Michael and I saw them a couple nights ago. Around the water tower. Didn’t he tell you?” 

Alex was honestly less interested about the lights and more interested in what the fuck that tone meant to insinuate. 

“Gonna assume he didn’t think it was worth mentioning,” Alex replied, dryly. He glanced over at Michael. That was it, right? Just Michael being his skeptical self. Not… hiding anything. Right?

“Hey babe, I saw some orbs of light floating around,” Michael replied, knocking Alex’s foot with his own. “Think I’ve finally found proof of extraterrestrial life.”

This shit . Alex snorted. Seriously, how did he miss all the thinly-veiled alien jokes? He must be stupid. 

“So they come here? Instead of a bar?” Maria asked lightly, slipping out of the ranch house with coffee. She went around Alex, sitting down on Michael’s other side, handing him a coffee. 

Michael snorted, but he was smiling fondly at her as he took it. “I’m saying.”

“Black, no sugar,” she told him. Clearly having anticipated Alex’s coffee theft. It made Alex smile. They almost felt routine. Well all this time working together, they already were, he supposed. 

Michael nodded. “Thanks.”

“Why a bar?” Arnie asked, sounding completely nonplussed. 

“There is nothing else of interest on this godforsaken planet,” Alex quoted Michael, dryly. He remembered, too. 

Michael rolled his eyes, but he was smirking. “Anyway, the floating orbs were likely just lights from passing cars.”

“Keep telling him the highway’s not that direction,” Arnie said lightly. “But he’s a stubborn skeptic ain’t he?”

Arnie’s voice was soft. And too damn fond. Alex was trying not to bristle.  

“Actually,” Maria said, with a slow smile. “Arnie, did our husband here tell you how we all met?”  

Oh no . Maria’s eyes were full of mischief. And a hint of possessiveness.  Alex wondered if she was picking up on Arnie’s clear interest in Michael. A heartbeat after that idea occurred to him, he rolled his eyes at himself. Of course she noticed.

“Surprisingly, we haven’t talked much about you at all,” Arnie’s smile was a bit forced, cool. His eyes still on Michael. He had barely looked away from Michael this entire time. 

Michael cleared his throat, looking over at Alex, seeming almost guilty. That bothered Alex more than Arnie’s brazenness. Alex tried to convince himself that it was just over maintaining their cover. But was it more than that?  

No. This was stupid. Why the fuck was he getting jealous over Michael working with someone? Making conversation?

Maria looked speculative, calculating. And if Arnie wasn’t already on Alex’s shit list, he might feel bad for him. “Well. It’s a great story.”

“I’m all ears,” Arnie said, waving his hand for her to go on.

“Crash Con, down in Roswell,” Maria said. “Alex and I were in the neighborhood and bored and there was Michael in full silver suit and little antenna.” Michael choked on his coffee in surprise. He wasn’t the only one -- Alex laughed outright, because the idea was so absurd. He could only hope that Arnie read the laugh as one of nostalgia, reminiscence.  

Really ?” Arnie shifted in his seat to face Michael. Eyes sweeping up and down his body as if trying to envision it. 

Trying to envision something , Alex thought sourly, taking a drink of his coffee. And really, did Guerin have an allergy to buttons? He was making this all too easy for Arnie.

Come on Alex, you know who those buttons are for. Fuck, he was giving himself a headache. 

“Oh yeah,” Maria continued, rubbing Michael’s shoulder. “Don’t let him fool you. He’s a total sucker for that stuff.” 

Michael was staring at her, his face twisted somewhere between offense, disbelief, and amusement. It was enough to distract Alex from the way Arnie was looking at Michael. 

“Feel like you guys are messing with us,” Arnie said, nodding at Michael. 

Us? Seriously? Fuck you.  

“Oh no,” Alex said, flatly. Wanting to make Arnie eat those words. “You should see the radar equipment he insisted on buying.”  

“You--” Michael sputtered.

“Are there not maps of Foster ranch over where a kitchen table should be?” Alex asked, resting his chin in his hand and looking at Michael with a bland smile that he knew would drive Michael insane. 

“And don’t get him started on aliens living among us,” Maria continued, eyes sparkling. “Apparently a whole bunch of them integrated in our society and are just living normal lives as mechanics, cops, party planners....” 

Michael groaned, draining his coffee. “Arnie, I think we’ve got work to do.” 

“C’mon, sweetheart,” Alex said, catching Michael’s hand before he could get up. Softness cut through Michael’s exasperated expression and he squeezed Alex’s hand in return. 

“No we really should, I think,” Arnie said. “No time to be teased relentlessly about one’s interests when there’s work to do.” 

“Agreed ,” Michael said, but he tugged Alex’s hand up, brushed a kiss over his knuckles, holding Alex’s eyes as he did it. And fuck if it didn’t feel like the heat rising to his cheeks was directly proportional to the warmth in Michael’s gaze. 

 


 

None of them were prepared for what they would find in Santa Fe.

“What’s the number again?” Kyle asked as they quietly moved down one of the rows of storage units. 

It wasn’t a terribly large lot, the units pressed closely together. About five in each row, large and imposing in the dark of night. 

Max checked his phone. He didn’t know why, but he felt taut, stretched. Nervous.

It wasn’t because of all the security here. The complex was a lot easier to breach than the one in Santa Rosa. Here, there were just a couple of security cameras and an electronic lock for the walk-in gate to disable. No night security guards that they saw.

“Ninety-three.” The number felt significant somehow. And Max rolled his eyes at himself, trying to shake that feeling off. 

The problem with having a writer’s brain is that it was always trying to come up with a story. Always looking for meaning and significance, looking to fill in the gaps with symbolism and metaphor. 

“Here,” Liz said, grabbing Max’s arm, tugging. Her grip was confident and strong, it felt secure in a way that Max was also attributing to his writer’s brain. But despite living in a scifi nightmare, he was never much into fantasy. 

The storage unit looked just as nondescript as all the other ones. He sighed. Better get to it. Max might not have Michael’s TK, but Max had picked up lock picking at some point on the force.

It took less than a minute to bypass the lock. When he rolled up the door, the first thing that stood out was a large shape, toward the back of the unit.

It was oblong, covered in blankets. His stomach sank. Max knew, instinctively, that it was to contain the glow. 

Everything else fell away. Kyle and Liz were saying something, but it sounded distant. Max swallowed, moving toward it as if in a trance. Pulling the blankets off with cold, clammy hands.  

He supposed he’d been expecting a clone with his face. But that wasn’t at all what he found. 

“Holy shit,” Max breathed out. Feeling his throat closing up, as the horror of what he was looking at sunk in. 

A woman, floating in the pod -- and she looked so, so like Liz.

“Rosa,” Liz was suddenly next to him, and she sounded lost , bewildered. Max turned to look at her -- in the soft glow of the pods, she looked unnaturally pale. Stricken. Broken. She stepped up closer, pressed her hand against the oily sheen of the pod, staring up at her sister for a long moment. Free hand over her mouth, eyes wide. Then she started frantically examining the pod, running her hands over it like she was looking for the seams. “Get her out.”

“I...” Max started. 

“Now. Right now .” She was rounding on him, shoving at him. “Get her out .” 

“I can’t,” he said, softly. “I don’t have what I need, and--” he cut off as she shoved at him again, hard. Leaving him aching, trying to speak around his guilt. 

“What’s the point of you!” Her voice was shattered glass and Max felt every bit of her rage, her pain.

“Liz. Liz...” Kyle was saying, going to catch her shoulders. “Stop.”

She barely allowed herself to be restrained. Shaking, eyes full of unshed tears. Kyle wrapped his arms around her tight though, kissing her hair. 

All three of them stood there for several beats, Liz staring at him in mute fury. Max had to drop his eyes, look at the ground. Unable to look at her. Unable to look at the pod. Never had one looked so sinister.   

He took a breath, collected himself. He could wallow in his horror and guilt later. Right now, he had a task to complete. 

“Michael made a solution that can penetrate the membrane.” He looked over at the pod, swallowing hard. He really really wished Michael were here right now. Or Isobel. Someone better equipped than him. He wasn’t really good at the science or the interpersonal. “I think it’s just a silver solution but I need to check in with him.”  

“What are you waiting for, then?” Liz snapped.  

Max nodded, but paused in digging out his phone. “I’m just worried. I don’t know why she’s in the pod. Can’t tell from here if she’s sick, or hurt. If I have to heal her…” he hesitated. “I think we should take the pod back to Albuquerque, at least. Get out of here.” 

“Makes sense,” Kyle began, gently. When Liz made a sound of angry protest, he continued, “even if she’s not injured, who knows what kind of emotional state she’ll be in. We didn’t exactly walk in here with the blessing of the owner. Wiser to wait ‘til we’re back in Albuquerque.” 

Liz pulled away from Kyle, moving angrily towards a pile of boxes stacked neatly against the left wall, kicking one as hard as she could. “Fuck!” she yelled.

Max moved towards her, unsure of what to say, but wanting to say something. Kyle grabbed his wrist and shook his head, mouthing give her a sec . Max nodded and Kyle squeezed his wrist, offering him something approximating a smile. Max was glad, almost relieved that Kyle was there. Not just because he could provide a buffer and comfort Liz. Kyle was kind, understanding, even when all the evidence told him not to be.

Finally Liz turned back to look at them, determination replacing the impotent rage. “Ok. That isn’t fitting in our Civic. We can order a U-Haul online, pick it up tonight without even talking to anyone.” 

Kyle pulled up his phone. “Could work. What about the security? The gate? Cameras?”

“I can take care of that, while you go pick it up?” Max looked at Liz again, hoping this was good enough.

“I’m not setting foot off this lot without her,” she warned them both. Max nodded, couldn’t blame her.

“Ok I’ll go get it then,” Kyle sighed. “You can help him with the security.” 

“Ok,” Liz said before Max could argue. Her tone seemed to change a little, more collected. Maybe it was the plan. She still had that fierceness to her but it seemed tempered. Focused.

Kyle put the order in on his phone, after they all spent a few minutes trying to figure out how big a cargo trailer they’d need to get. 

“Big and glowy, your people weren’t about subtlety,” Liz said dryly, once Kyle had left. 

Max shrugged. He hadn’t quite relaxed but he was a little less tense now. “I’m gonna assume they didn’t have this scenario in mind when they built the things.”  

Liz half-laughed. It was good to hear, even if it still sounded brittle. “Probably not. What do we need to do about security?” 

“I just need to overload the drive-in gates for Kyle.” Max said. “I don’t think there’s a night guard but do you want to keep an eye out for me? Just in case?”

Liz nodded and followed him back out of the unit. Max slid the large door closed, on the off chance they weren’t the only ones sneaking around. 

They moved swiftly towards the gates, looking for the breaker. It wasn’t hard to find, and after a quick look around to make sure they were still alone, Max moved right to it. Checked to see if it was maybe unlocked first, save himself the trouble. But he wasn’t that lucky. He pressed his hand against the metal door and concentrated. 

Max could always sense and feel the ever-present current of electricity, even when he wasn’t actively trying. Like he had a whole sense, just dedicated to it. A prickling under his skin or a taste in the air. A song in his head and his bones. But not just in him. Cities, houses, powerlines -- they were almost deafening. 

When they were kids, Michael, curious as ever, had asked him if it was just machine harmonics. And that was a decent enough explanation, if not entirely adequate. It wasn’t just the machines. Life too. Even out in the desert, the plants and animals and air whispered and hummed with it too. 

Normally, it was easy for him to ignore, let it fade into the background. But if he didn’t ignore it, he could direct it. Draw it into himself or push it out. Collect it in the palm of his hand. He focused on doing that now, driving more current through the wires than they could ever hope to accept.

It was only a moment before the acrid smell of burnt plastic and blackened metals hit his nose. 

Pulling away from the broken breaker, he opened his eyes and found Liz staring at him. He flushed immediately. Having an audience was weird. 

“Got to admit, that’s pretty cool,” Liz said, a grudging note in her voice as they headed back to the unit.

Max wasn’t entirely sure what to say to that. “Yeah I guess…”

Liz looked at him and he couldn’t really figure out what she was thinking, until she started talking. “I have a million questions about your anatomy. Do you generate the electricity or do you just control the currents?” She paused, raised an eyebrow. “Can you summon lightning?” 

Max blinked, feeling both  uncomfortable and flustered. But anything to prevent the same tense, loaded gun silence of earlier. 

“Uh. Not that I know of?” He started, chewing a little on his lower lip. “But to be honest I don’t use my powers all that much. Not nearly as much as Michael does.”

“But you can all do the same things right?” Liz asked, curiosity definitely getting the best of her, he supposed. Double edged sword too. On the one hand she was calmer, wasn’t looking at him with so much suspicion. On the other, he wasn’t used to talking about his abilities or his origins with humans. This was damn weird. 

“Theoretically. I mean. Noah could do everything we can, as far as we can tell.” Max grimaced. “But we aren’t sure how much is natural talent and how much is universal. And we don’t know what powers we don’t know about.”

She hummed, pulling the door to the unit open. “So you’re telling me you’re not going to be able to float this thing into the U-Haul?”

Max winced. “Sorry. But they do sort of… glide. It’ll take some work but it won’t be impossible.”  

She nodded. “Good thing it comes with a ramp, I guess,” she said dryly, stepping back into the unit, moving right back towards the pod.

Liz placed her palm against it and whispered something in Spanish, the low volume and the speed of her Spanish making it hard for him to follow. Not that he really wanted to eavesdrop. But he heard the words sister, soon, and maybe something about their dad? 

Max took a deep breath, finding a seat on a sturdy stack of boxes. He had to make this right for her.

 


 

It was a nearly moonless night, punctuated with bleating of sheep here and there. Alex and Maria were on patrol, with nothing but the stars and their flashlights to light their way. They followed the fencing, looking for anything strange or supernatural, and paused for a break when Alex caught sight of Maria shivering in the cool night air, wrapping her heavy jacket tighter around herself. Instinctively, he leaned a little more against her, offering his own body heat. She scooted in closer, gratefully. 

The buildings behind them were quiet, as were the various trailers littered around the main house. No strange lights or saucers to be seen yet. Alex could see the lights on in Michael’s--their--trailer, and he was glad that Michael was staying warm. As cozy as the back of the truck looked with the pile of falsa that Guerin had produced from seemingly nowhere, nighttime temperatures were swinging wildly low the last couple days.

“Maybe we should have timed this for a full moon,” Alex said, half-laughing, leaning on a fencepost. 

“Would be easier to spot coyotes, bigots, and werewolves alike,” Maria agreed. “But the night vision goggles help.” She scanned the property line ahead of them, looking for any suspicious figures, mundane or supernatural. 

Alex grunted in agreement. “Yeah. Should have brought the dog.” He was really starting to get used to her presence. 

Maria laughed softly, in agreement.

He took a drink of warm coffee from his thermos. Michael had made it, pressing two thermoses into his hands before he and Maria had left for their shift, and he’d handed Maria a bag full of sandwiches, too. He’d done it every night they’d gone on patrol. 

Michael Guerin was a caretaker. Alex felt something warm and fond at the realization. It was nice, getting to know this other side of him. He took another drink, then screwed the cap back on. 

“This… is kind of nice,” Maria said, after a bit of silence, where all Alex did was stare at the thermos, like it held all the answers to the universe, but more importantly, to his romantic troubles. “Just a normal case. Well, as normal as our cases usually get. He was right to choose it.” 

Alex hummed softly. “Yeah. Low stakes for us. Don’t you tell him that.”

“I would never. He’s already insufferable enough strutting around half naked, sweaty, and flexing.”

Alex groaned. “Seriously. I can’t believe he -- is there a romantic equivalent for Parent Trapping?”

Maria laughed, shrugging helplessly. “Fake married. Such a trope. Apparently revenge is a dish best served shirtless.” 

“I am definitely being punished,” Alex laughed a little before quieting down. “And what the fuck is going on with Arnie?”

“Oh my god, right ?” Maria gasped. “The audacity of this bitch, trying to steal our husband right in front of our faces.” 

“He’s not our husband,” Alex said. Felt like he needed to say it. Maria turned to face him fully, hands on her hips. “Doesn’t mean I’m not going to kick his teeth in if he doesn’t lay off.” 

“Okay, first of all, Arnie doesn’t know Guerin isn’t our husband. And second of all, get in line, Alexander.” 

Alex couldn’t help but laugh. Maria rarely got so cranky. Apparently Guerin had really gotten under her skin. 

He had a habit of doing that.

“You’ve been flirting,” he said, starting to tease her. But somehow it came out all wrong. Faint accusation instead.

Maria blinked, raising her eyebrows. Alex could read from her body language that she was taken aback. Slightly defensive. “Part of the cover. Besides, I’m always flirting.” 

He wasn’t used to it. Being so out of sorts. It was so damn hard. It was like Michael had moved into his home without telling him, and then proceeded to move everything he owned around. And Alex hadn’t noticed until it was too late. Until he’d gotten used to how his life had been re-arranged. 

And now all he could do was worry about what would happen if Michael left.  

Maria's eyes were just wide enough that he could see the whites clearly in the darkness. “Alex it’s just flir--”

Fuck. 

Alex’s hand shot out, grabbing hers. Maria looked concerned, confused. Alex licked his lips nervously, gripping her hand tightly. 

"You... you and I don't change,” he said. Did he sound a little desperate? Probably. Did it matter? No. “No matter that I lov--no matter how we feel about him--you and I don't change."

He knew he was gripping her hand tightly, too tightly. But he suddenly felt like she could slip through his fingers. That was just as intolerable as Michael walking away without Alex’s knowledge. 

His relationships felt so fucking fragile, impermanent. It was like he had woken up and realized the foundation of the life he built in the last ten years was done over sand. 

Maria sighed, shaking her head at him. "And break up this badass husband and wife team? Never," she said, pulling him in a tight hug. “I told you Alex. He’s pretty. But not that fucking pretty. Not pretty enough that losing you is worth it.” 

“You also said that what’s happening between us is inevitable,” Alex continued, anxious. He wasn’t so clueless that he couldn’t see her frustration with the situation, if not entirely with him. 

“I mean, you don’t feel it? I know I’m the one with the precognition, but that doesn’t feel like an alien power thing. It feels… I dunno. Cosmic?”

Alex groaned, and shoved her gently. “Don’t be corny,” he grumbled, but shook his head. “...I do feel it. But I just... I’m scared of what it means, I guess. For us.”

“Alex, it’s between us,” she added, wrapping an arm around him. “All three of us. And I think you and I are going to come out stronger than ever, if we give this a chance.” 

“Don’t you think you’re being naïve?” He asked, best to just call her out on it. “Relationships fall apart every day, over much smaller stuff than this.”

Maria was quiet for a moment, fiddling with the ring on her finger. She’d been doing it a lot, Alex noticed.

“Not naïve,” she finally said, before smiling wryly. “Maybe a little naïve. But… I think we could work, Alex. I’m not risking us for just anyone.”

A knot in his chest loosened at her words. Maybe deep down he knew she was right. Maybe he needed her to be right. Maybe he just trusted Maria implicitly, or detrimentally. 

In the end he didn’t disagree with her, just nodded, squeezing her again, quietly, before reluctantly pulling out of the hug. “Okay.”

“... So does this mean that you’re seriously considering this plus one situation?” she asked, sounding teasing and hopeful, all at once. He hated that he was standing in the way of her happiness. 

Alex huffed. “I... guess I’m just starting to realize that we might both be happier...” He started, awkwardly. It seemed that no matter how much he thought or talked about being with Guerin, he couldn’t stop feeling completely out of control. 

“He clearly wants it,” she pointed out.

Alex snorted. “He wants to get laid.”

Maria let out a frustrated noise, pushing him lightly. “He isn’t bent over a hay bale with Arnie yet.”

Alex’s nostrils flared at the mention of him. Point taken. But thinking the worst was easier, safer. He waffled for a moment with safety. 

“Ok. Fine. You’re right.” He let out a heavy breath. “Even if Guerin seems hell-bent on seducing us, it’s more than just about that .”

Maria glanced down, and Alex didn’t even need to be able to see in the dark to know that she was looking at the ring on her hand. “Yeah. It is.” 

Alex swallowed, running his thumb along his own ring. “Maybe it’s just that... I just don’t know what to do with how he feels about me. I mean seriously, Maria, what the fuck? How is this so easy for you?”

“Easy?” She burst out, sounding incredulous and frustrated all at once, and he felt immediately guilty. “I’m so out of my depth. Are you kidding? The difference is that I’m not content to let an ugly white gremlin in dress blues convince me that I don’t deserve to be happy.” 

That stung. He knew Maria wasn’t trying to hurt him, but it still stung. “Now you’re not being fair.”

She fell silent for several beats. Shifting from foot to foot, the movement crunching rocks underfoot. “Maybe not. But I’m not wrong, Alex. You… we both deserve all the love that boy can give, and more,” she said, reaching to squeeze his arm. “And I’m kind of tired of seeing his kicked puppy eyes whenever we jerk him aro--Look!” Maria cut off, voice quiet. She nodded up ahead, at an inky shape moving through the darkness.

The fuck….? Alex tracked the shape with his eyes. Heading slowly towards the railing, far enough away that it hadn’t noticed them. The figure was tall and slim, head abnormally large and...hairy? Alex glanced at Maria and together they moved after it, quietly. 

The figure slid over the fencing, slinking towards the ranch house, not towards the pens. Not something a hungry animal would do. Alex frowned and picked up his pace, Maria right next to him. 

“Hey!” 

The figure stopped, ramrod straight before turning towards them, and in the light of their flashlights it was horrific. Long muzzle, and yellow eyes, wild, wiry hair growing from its head. But it was... wearing plaid and jeans?

The air around them was suddenly filled with a cacophony of sound. Howls, growls. Deep, gravely laughter. They both swung around, startled, finding themselves  surrounded by a half-dozen figures  All of them tall and imposing in the dark, just out of flashlight range. Where the fuck had they all come from? It was like they materialized out of thin air.

One started to move faster, skirting the range of their light at first but then loping towards Maria. She got her sidearm out quickly, firing a warning shot near its feet. Alex followed suit, drawing his sidearm and firing at the feet of two other figures that had started to advance on them from the other side. 

He moved, almost back to back with Maria now. Tense but ready. 

The howling cut off, silence falling, deafening in its suddenness. Punctuated only by harsh breathing.

Something about the way they moved didn’t seem right, the way they shifted. Looking between each other. Alex had to shake off the thought that they were communicating somehow. 

And as suddenly as they had appeared, they melted back into the inky darkness.

“Stop!” Maria called out, hurrying after them, Alex cursing and running with her. Of course the figures did no such thing, moving quickly back over the fence. They moved too quickly. It was eerie. 

One stumbled as it scrambled back over the fence, dropping on the ground with a loud groan. Though it was undeterred, standing up inhumanly fast, and running into the darkness. 

“Fucker!” Maria pulled her night vision goggles down, scanning the darkness for any sign of them. She let out an annoyed groan, scanning the terrain -- dotted with rocks, mesquite, and sagebrush. Plenty of cover. “The hell did they go?”

“I don’t see any of them either,” Alex said, grimly. “Those weren’t human… yeah?” Alex knew he sounded a little unsure but he hadn’t gotten a good look at them. “For a moment I thought I saw a wolf’s head on--”

“On a human body. Yeah I saw it too,” Maria said, which Alex was relieved to hear.

“I think I saw jeans… Carter mentioned a militia…” Alex suggested. Covering his bases. He didn’t want to hear it from Guerin later.

“Yeah but they did move kind of fast.”

“And those sounds…” Alex added, unsure. 

“Yeah… something about that didn’t feel right either…” Maria looked at him, just as bewildered, and he nodded. 

It was hard to make a decision either way. Adrenaline, the desert, and poor light… they needed more evidence. “Let's look for footprints?” 

“Yeah. Ugh, I can’t believe those assholes gave us the slip.” She started shining her flashlight on the ground -- not that the ground was soft or wet enough to take much of a print.

“Hold up,” Alex said, crouching down. 

“What’s that?” Maria asked, heading over to him.

“Matchbook.” He straightened, holding it up to show her. “Trading Post Saloon.” 

 


 

Sitting still never really suited Liz. She was the kind of person who always had to be thinking, always had to be doing

She’d tried to distract herself by asking Max about his powers. He’d awkwardly answered some of her questions, very much looking like he’d rather be doing anything else.

He probably would. He clearly wasn’t a big fan of talking about himself or his siblings. Liz had to guess he was doing so out of a sense of guilt, or obligation. And normally she wouldn’t be above leveraging that to satiate her curiosity. Now, though, she couldn’t really focus. Not while Rosa, who’d been lost for more than a decade, was right there floating in a pod. Serene, untouchable.

It was intolerable. 

Liz lasted five minutes before she was up on her feet again. Starting to dig through boxes. Looking for a better distraction. Maybe she could find something that could lead her towards this Jones fucker so she could kick him in the balls. 

“You don’t have to do that,” Max said, softly. He sounded tired. 

“I can’t just sit here,” Liz said. “I need something to focus on. Usually it’s the science but right now I don’t have any so…” she shrugged, pushing a box out of the way and finding a long case, maybe a toolkit? She almost ignored it but no stone unturned and all…

“Michael’s the same way,” Max said. “Can’t sit still. Super curious.”

Liz pulled the case closer but turned to look at him instead of opening it. He looked soft. Max always looked a little soft when he talked about his siblings. “Yeah, I actually think that’s why we work well together. We’re--Oh wow! Max, come look at this!”

She’d been distracted, barely looking as she opened the toolkit, not expecting to find anything of note. Her full attention was on the contents now. It was a sword made of what looked like stained glass with that same simmering oil-slicked color the mushrooms and pod had. But it was a deeper, darker color, setting off yellow markings. The language of Max’s people, she now knew.

“Is that?” Max asked, surprised.

“A sword!” Liz said excitedly, reaching to grab the handle.  

The pain was immediate, searing. Liz had burned herself plenty of times in her life--cooking, being a little too careless with chemicals--but those instances were nothing compared to this. Time seemed to stop, her world narrowing down to the burning. It was what she imagined hellfire to feel like, and the pain didn’t stay just in her hand. It licked up her arm and shoulder…

Then the pain was gone. The source of it, anyway. Max had grabbed the sword, yanking it out of her hand. As he held it, the part of her mind that wasn’t alarmingly aware of the numbness in her hand filed away that he wasn’t injured. 

“Liz, your hand!” He hissed, dropping the sword on the ground, and moving closer so he could look. 

Liz hadn’t actually looked at her hand yet, half afraid she’d find that the heat of that sword had melted away her flesh, that it had sluiced off leaving nothing but charred bones. But as Max pulled her hand closer, Liz forced herself to look down, relieved to find that it still retained flesh, even if it was charred. 

She let out a shaky breath, squeezing her eyes closed. Trying to think past the pain. The middle of her hand curiously numb, the pain most intense on the edges of the burn, sharp enough to radiate up her arm. “There’s first aid in the car… fuck Kyle took the car.”

“I got it,” Max said, gently, placing his right hand over her burned one.

“Max!” She would have pulled away but his hand felt cool , comforting.  

Then his hand started to glow.

The hair on the back of her neck and her arms stood on end. The room smelling and feeling like a thunderstorm, all ozone and petrichor.

She caught her breath, staring at him, wide-eyed. His face pinched in concentration, eyes screwed shut. The lights in the storage unit flickered wildly, sparking, the bulbs breaking. And then suddenly Max was pulling his hand away, heavily. 

It was the lack of pain that finally drew Liz’s attention away from Max. She looked down at her hand, to find it whole. As if it had never been burned. 

“Are you all right?” Max asked, his voice rough. She looked back up at him, startled. 

She swallowed. “Fine. Thanks to you…” Max was breathing heavily, pale and clammy in the remaining light. The pod; the only source of light to survive. “Are you okay?”

“Nothing a little acetone won’t cure,” he joked, sitting down heavily on the ground. He looked like he was about to lose the contents of his stomach. 

Liz looked around quickly, grabbing an empty cardboard box. “If you’re going to hurl, do it here, okay?”

Max nodded, hugging it to himself. He lasted about thirty seconds before losing the contents of his stomach into the box.

The sour, acrid smell of vomit filled the enclosed, windowless space. Wrinkling her nose, she started to look for a second box to reinforce the one Max was puking in. It would be best not to leave any evidence behind.

Once he was done, he closed the box and placed it into the large one she found, closing that too. Liz studied him, worried. Max still looked wrecked, and not in the good way.

“Acetone?” She asked finally. Curious.

“It’s.. it’s like a painkiller.” He wiped at his mouth, cleaning his hand on his pants and not looking terribly pleased about it.

“Healing really takes it out of you.”

“Yeah.” He nodded “Any time we overextend ourselves. Healing’s the hardest though.”

“So if Rosa is hurt and you have to… we’d be vulnerable,” she said, softly. Understanding his earlier reticence, and feeling a flare of concern. Not just for herself or Kyle, or Rosa. For Max.

Max shifted to stand, gritting his teeth through it. “Let’s make sure there isn’t anything else important in here before Kyle gets back.”

“Sit down,” Liz said, grabbing his shoulders. “Take a break.”

“Liz--”

“I can feel it, Max; you need to rest,” Liz said, the realization striking her hard. She could feel him, even stronger now that she was touching him. Could feel the physical and emotional pain he was in, the concern for her, the crushing sense of responsibility. “FBI remember? I can hold my own.” 

“You can--” Surprise now. But not too much surprise. He knew what was happening. “ Oh .”  

Liz took advantage of that surprise to get Max to sit down again, leaning up against a stack of boxes, wishing she could offer him water at least. But that was all in the car too. So instead she sat next to him, slipped her hand into his. Trying to offer comfort, at least.

Max squeezed her hand grateful, eyes closing momentarily. But Liz felt his surprise and didn’t she feel shitty about that. 

“So is this… feedback loop a normal side effect?” She asked. 

Max opened his eyes, looking and feeling contrite. “It’s not a loop, exactly. Not once I stop using my powers. Just one way. Sorry. And yeah it is.”

 “Is it permanent?” Liz asked, startled. 

“No,” he said quickly. Trying to reassure her. “It’ll fade when the print fades. About a week though.” 

“Print?” She echoed, letting him go to lift her hand up and look at her palm. Clean, smooth skin.

“Usually develops in a day, plus or minus,” Max said, sounding apologetic. “Distances helps. I can…”

“Oh stop,” Liz huffed. Not about to let him go traipse back down to Roswell just so she couldn’t rifle through his emotions. “You need to be around to help with Rosa. And...” she trailed off. Awkward. “I don’t want you to go.” 

That startled him, and she supposed that was expected. But there was an undercurrent of relief and something like delight, though it was pushed away before she could really examine it. That was weird . Given her recent behavior, she would have expected Max would be glad to see the last of her. 

She squeezed his shoulder and got up, moving towards Rosa’s pod and almost stepped on the damn sword.

“You were able to touch that,” she said, looking back at him. “No pain?” 

Max shook his head. “Before you ask, I don’t know why.”

She couldn’t help but smile at the fond exasperation that lay under his words. She had been getting under his skin. But he was being so damn generous about it. So Liz didn’t press, just raised her hands, placatingly. “So you guys use swords . I would’ve expected ray guns or something.”

He looked at her flatly for a couple beats before sighing. “Yeah it’s news to me too,” he said, getting up. “Let me put this back in the toolbox before Kyle tries to touch it. Maybe Michael can figure out why it’s so lethal to humans.”