All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.
– As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Liz didn’t want to let the electricity burning against her skin fade away; it was a violent and useful security blanket that she was fast becoming accustomed to, but she could see the strain Ava was under in keeping them all concealed, and she reluctantly pulled the energy back into her core, still glaring fiercely at ‘Leanna’. She had been there, she had seen Alex, and if she really was on their side, then why the hell had she allowed him to die? Biting back an angry sob, she pointed furiously at the back booth. “Sit down. You will tell us everything, and you’d better hope we like your answers.”
‘Leanna’s’ green eyes flashed for a moment, showing a bevy of conflicting emotions that Liz couldn’t quite decipher but knew included both anger and guilt, two emotions she could identify strongly with, but didn’t particularly give a rat’s ass about when it came to this alien woman who had done nothing but deceive. She was so unbelievably sick of alien revelations. Not a single one had ever done anything but cause devastation, and she wasn’t sure just how much more she could take before she snapped. And with her new powers, snapping was a dangerous, if tantalizing, proposition.
The alien sat down, sliding along the bench until she was against the wall, Michael taking the seat next to her to block her in. Ava dropped her warp and sat across from them, while Liz went to check on the older couple who were still obliviously enjoying their meal, before sitting down next to Ava, doing her best to control her anger. “So talk,” she said bluntly, not trusting herself to say anything else, and ignoring the probing and cautious glance Michael shot her.
‘Leanna’ cleared her throat, her hands clasped on the table where they could all see them. “My name is Canaich of the House of Saoidh, and I was sent by Queen Rìghan, and your father, Lady Avaelithe. You would have been sent help sooner, but the one you called Nasedo killed your original protectors, and it wasn’t until I was called that we learned of the Granilith’s interference with your rebirth.”
“What interference?” Michael ground out, before Liz could say anything. She resisted the urge to glare at him and fought to get a handle on her anger, exacerbated by her lack of sleep and the returning feelings that they had absolutely no control over anything, that no matter how much they learned and trained, they would always be ten steps behind.
“You should have been reborn shortly after arriving on Earth, but Khivar sent Nasedo after your ship and he killed all of your protectors after the crash, except for one who shall be dealt with for abandoning his duties.” Canaich’s voice was calm and informative, but developed a hard edge on the last few words that made Liz’s hands twitch. If she truly was on their side, that edge could be useful, if she wasn’t, well, it wasn’t like they weren’t used to betrayal. “The Granilith delayed the growth cycle of your pods, for reasons it has not chosen to reveal yet, so while the Queen and Lord Bethadh knew you were alive, we had no other information about your condition or location until I was called.”
Liz carefully kept silent, too many questions bubbling over to decide on one. Although Ava had revealed the true importance of the Granilith earlier that day, she hadn’t had much of a chance to truly think over the ramifications, and it seemed that she still didn’t understand just how much power it held. How, and why, had it delayed the pods? All of them apparently, since the New York set hadn’t hatched until later either. She tried to imagine her life if the eight hybrids had been born fifty years before her, and couldn’t, too many changes for her to comprehend. How could they ever hope to understand something that held the power to change, to influence, the course of so many lives?
“I arrived last year,” the blonde continued quietly, her pale green eyes focusing on each of them in turn. “After locating you, I discovered several colonies of Skins and did my best to keep them away from you. Once the one you called Nasedo had disbanded the human threat to you, I killed him, implanting the suggestion to warn you about the Skins. The next time I returned to Roswell, I found the other Ava acting suspiciously, and followed her to Las Cruces. She spotted me following her so I had to warp her. I knew she was manipulating your friend, but his life was not in danger, and I was being tracked by two different groups of Skins, so other than implanting myself in her warps, I did nothing.”
After speaking those words, words that sent anger roiling like acid in Liz’s gut, she turned all of her attention on Liz and placed her right hand over her heart, bowing her head. “I misjudged the situation and I take full responsibility for the death of your friend. Elizabeth Parker, I acknowledge and accept the life debt I owe you.” Beside her, Ava inhaled sharply while Liz exchanged a confused glance with Michael, wondering what exactly the woman’s words meant, and if this was a good thing, or just another messy complication.
Michael stood on Maria’s porch, staring at the front door, unable to knock. In the past year, despite their rocky start, he had been there for her when she needed him, had opened up to her, and now it was slipping out of his grasp. Maria had always been easily excitable, subject to extremes of emotion, but while dramatic, she had never shied away from the reality of his life.
On the contrary she had shoved herself in, even when he didn’t want her to, especially when he didn’t want her to. But now, now she flinched if he used his powers in front of her, even for something as simple as cleaning up a spill or removing a stain she’d pointed out. She wouldn’t allow any mention of anything alien related, and having to hide that part of him, now when he was finally getting answers, finally learning his true past and potential, from the one person he’d finally gotten used to sharing with, sucked.
It hurt every time she pulled away from a kiss, or ended a hug when before she would have clung, as did the sinking feeling in his gut that told him it was only a matter of time before she ended things completely. He clenched his fists and then relaxed them, focusing on the pool of energy inside of him that he was finally learning how to control, and then raised his hand, knocking on the door three times before dropping it again.
Moments later, Maria opened the door, a patently false smile on her face as she reached up and kissed him on the cheek before pulling him inside. “Hey you, how was work? Sorry I couldn’t make it; mom wanted some bonding time. Been on one of her ‘I’m your mother and your friend’ kicks lately.”
He grimaced behind her back before forcing a pleasant tone. “Work was fine; pretty slow.” He couldn’t mention Leanna or Canaich or whatever her name was, or everything she’d told them, or that she was living in town and meeting them in the morning, that would be breaking Maria’s rules. Rules he was growing increasingly tired and wary of, just waiting for the other shoe to fall when she accused him of lying to her.
He thought he understood where she was coming from; the loss of Alex, the truth of his death, it was a lot to deal with, but if anything, it had proven that denial was both stupid and dangerous. However, he wasn’t prepared to throw in the towel yet, he still cared more than he liked for the aggravating blonde, so if that meant he had to withhold information until she was comfortable again, he would.
When she led him into the living room, and gently pushed him onto the couch, false smile starting to falter, his blood ran cold as it became clear that it didn’t matter that he was still willing to try if she wasn’t. His own smile disappeared into a stoic mask and she winced as she sat down on the coffee table in front of him, beautiful, green eyes wide with regret and sorrow. “I’m sorry Michael; I just can’t do it anymore. I’m not me anymore; I haven’t been for a long time, and I need out, of all of this.”
He felt his fists clenching again and forcibly uncurled them, trying to figure out how to reply to that; what he could say to her, when apparently all she wanted was to be away from him, and everything that made up his life. “Are you leaving?” he asked quietly, wondering just how far she was going to go to get ‘out of all of this,’ and unable to ask anything more personal, not without losing the control he’d so painstakingly built.
“No. I mean, mom wants to go on a road trip this summer, but I’m not moving away, and I want to still be friends. I just can’t be a part of, well, you know,” she said earnestly, reaching out to take his hands, a gesture he allowed but didn’t return.
Michael searched her face, looking for any hint of hope that this was just one of her phases, and found nothing. “Whatever makes you happy, I guess,” he finally replied, unable to keep an edge of resentment out of his voice, and not truly caring, only the faintest flash of guilt surging through him as pain flickered in her face. She had fought and pushed her way into his life, and now was just walking right back out. If only everything was so simple. If only he had that option.
She sighed and squeezed his hands before pulling away. “I’m sorry Michael, but I have to do this, for me, before it’s too late.”
He nodded, not trusting himself to reply, and managed a weak, almost smile. He really did want her to be happy; he just wished she could have come to this realization at any other point in the past two years. He was also wondering what else was going to be thrown onto his plate, because clearly the universe wasn’t done fucking with him, and he was beginning to think that Liz, this new angrier Liz, had the right idea when it came to dealing with all the shit thrown their way.
Liz glared at the milkshake machine, wishing that she could trust her powers enough in her current emotional state to clean it that way, instead of toiling by hand. Ever since Leanna (she refused to use her ‘real’ name) walked in the door, her already volatile emotions had been completely uncontrollable. She’d had to work hard just so that she didn’t spark up in the middle of the diner, thanking her lucky stars that they were in that dead period after the first summer rush, before the tourist season really picked up in July and August.
Getting answers was supposed to make her feel better, but each new piece of knowledge felt like a punch to the gut, more painful and ominous than helpful. The deceitful blonde woman apparently already had a place in town, which she had retired to shortly after declaring all that crap about the life debt, something that still hadn’t been explained to Liz’s satisfaction, and would meet them at Michael’s apartment in the morning to discuss the current state of Antar, and their enemies on Earth. All things that made her want to blow up every single breakable thing in the restaurant, and scream until she was hoarse, because she just couldn’t do it anymore.
She had never truly regretted being healed, becoming a part of this ever growing alien abyss; after all, she had come to the realization that whatever Future Max said, war would have come, or would come, to Earth regardless of her involvement. But she was seventeen, almost eighteen, and while first loves were always dramatic, always life and death, or so they seemed while in the depths of them, the fate of a planet, of two planets, was a bit much to have resting on her shoulders. With each new piece of the puzzle, a puzzle they really had no idea of the true size of, she felt herself shatter just a little bit more. In the end, she wasn’t sure that there would be any of Liz Parker left.
Someone knocked on the glass of the front door and she shrieked, dropping the rag she was holding, and spun around, hands raised defensively and heart seizing in her chest. When she saw who it was, she briefly considered keeping her hands lifted, but reluctantly dropped them and moved around from behind the counter to let him in. “What do you want, Max?” she asked wearily after opening the door, too tired to pretend that this was normal, that he hadn’t been avoiding her since that night in Michael’s apartment.
He was rocking on his heels, wearing rumpled clothes that looked like they’d been slept in, and sporting dark circles under his eyes along with rough stubble; he looked nothing like the Max she’d always known; more haggard than he’d been even after being captured by the FBI, and she felt a surge of concern, and wariness. The strange feeling he’d given her the night of the last meeting he’d attended was stronger now, and pulling on her powers, she could see dark, unhealthy streaks in his aura – something was definitely wrong with him; something deeper than the trauma they’d all been through, and she had no idea what to do about it.
“I just wanted to see if you were okay, if everyone was okay, since I couldn’t make it to the meeting,” he said quietly, voice rough as if it hadn’t been used in a while. His eyes were locked on her with disturbing intensity and she fought a shiver, not wanting him to see how much his presence unnerved her.
But despite being afraid for him, and for herself, she couldn’t stop herself from saying what she really felt. “No Max, we’re not okay. You and Maria are avoiding us; we’re all trying to deal with Alex’s death and learn everything we can about our powers and what we can expect from Khivar and the Skins, and it’s hard, and it sucks, and you should be there, dealing with this, and you’re not, and that’s not okay.”
One of his hands started to curl into a fist as she spoke, and he reached up to agitatedly rub at his head with the other. “You have no idea what I’m dealing with, what I’m doing,” he bit out when she finished, voice rising in volume with every word until he was almost shouting. “None of you would help me, none of you know what it’s like, so don’t tell me it’s not okay!”
The streaks in his aura were spreading and she thought she saw a glowing flicker of power in his clenched hand, making her pulse speed up and her mouth go dry with fear. “We want to help you Max, but we can’t if you don’t talk to us, if you won’t listen. Come to the meeting tomorrow, Max, let us help you,” she pleaded, careful to keep her own hands down and to appear as non-threatening as possible.
He sneered, leaning forward menacingly, and she flinched back despite herself. Something, some hint of awareness, flickered in those eyes she had once lost herself so easily in. Then he turned away, stalking out the door and slamming it so hard behind him that the glass shattered, leaving her staring at his retreating figure and wondering hopelessly if any of them were ever going to be okay again.