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Til The Night is Over

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Liz could pinpoint the moment her brain physically shut down her panic, packed it away into a tight little box and started parsing out the possibilities. Max was still warm under her hands, she could still feel him just under her skin, like a whisper, like a secret. The cave was cold, air crisp and dry with the smell of metal and dust.

Rosa was alive. Rosa was alive and Max Evans was dead under her fingertips. If Rosa was alive then Max could be alive again.

Ipso facto.

She was shaking, heart stuck on a beat too fast to maintain as she turned, one hand still on Max. She wouldn’t say his body, that meant he left. He would never leave her. Some things were just true no matter how many times you tested the theory.

This cave was smaller than the chamber off the passage in the turquoise mines. It felt like little more than a scraped open sinkhole. She’d nearly cracked her head open running, roots of the sage brush pushing crooked fingers into the ground, spindly and dark. She had a moment to catalogue what was around her. It was always best to list the tools necessary and collect them before an experiment. There were books stacked in piles of two or three under old candles that had melted down and been replaced over and over. It looked like a shrine with Rosa’s rose set in different places of honor. There was the pod, a strange sickly yellow amber color- not vibrant and alive like the three she was used to. To her left was a camp stove- set to smelting and she’d done this. She knew how to do this.

“Don’t go anywhere,” she said under her breath, voice cracked down the middle as she fisted her hands into Max’s shirt one more time and scrambled to the set up. It was delicate work. “In a fucking cave. Are we serious right now, Max?” She squared her jaw, lighting the burners. The solution was delicate and if it cooled too much it hit activation site and the solute would precipitate. Which, technically, she thought to herself as she started methodically unsnapping the buttons on Max’s shirt, was exactly what she wanted. "¿Por qué pesas tanto?”

The solution needed to cool minutely on his skin, settling the precipitate of silver in a fine layer so that it could breach the barrier on the pod. She’d think about what to do next later- right now she just kept undressing him.

That was her lipstick. That was her kiss on his skin and she had to push both hands flat on his skin to stop her hands from the violent shake that shuddered through her. "Ahora no, céntrate." She moved to his belt buckle, the clatter loud and close,echoing off the curved edges of the cave and back to her. She could hear the solution starting to boil. “You stay put. You stay right here, don’t you dare go anywhere.” Talking was keeping her breathing under control as she shimmied down his body, catching his heel and pulling to tug off his boots. She tossed the left one somewhere to her right, hearing a clatter of something and not caring. She had to be faster. She had to be better. She had to raise the damn dead and of course Max Evans had to be wearing cowboy boots that she was struggling with, twisting and pulling and watching his hair muss in the dirt as his head lolled to the side, eyes still half open.

“Liz?” It was Rosa, still so oddly quiet and Liz closed her eyes at the way her heart just twisted right up and tried to crawl up her throat to flop angrily on the floor.

“Help me get his boots off.” She had a very tight box around what was happening in her world. There were specific instructions she had to follow. She had a theory, she had an experiment, she had the tools. A successful theory is proved by multiple experiments ending with the same results. She turned her head and saw Rosa’s eyes widen. She must look wrecked, hair wild and tear tracks under swollen eyes. She was tugging frantically at Max’s boot, moving the weight of him in little tugs until the boot gave and she gave.

Rosa swallowed and moved to hold Max’s thigh, the boot finally letting go and she almost tumbled back. “Espero que sepas lo que estás haciendo.”

“I do.” Liz wasn’t lying, there were no lies in theory, just unproven concepts.

**
Isobel was thinking about painting the kitchen some ridiculous shade of blue that might match painters tape. She was laying on her back, the shattered picture still glittering on the terrazzo. Everything in her life was beige or taupe. She had the perfect Martha Stewart Eggshell on the walls, the bits of woodwork a softer masculine note among the curated Pinterest board that was her life. She frowned, but maybe it was a pout. She didn’t like that Maria had been right. She’d been living in the perfect shell of a lie and now she was seriously considering putting away the second half of the bottle of Pinot Grigio and maybe the third bottle of Acetate.

She hated how bland she’d become. She hated how taupe and timid her living room felt. “Maybe pink?” She arched a brow, shaking her head even as she said it and tossed the blue cap of the nail polish remover over her shoulder as she sat up, swigging from it with all the bored insouciance she’d watched Michael manage.

It burned before the cool spread numb fingers down her throat and through her chest. “Possibly purple?” She glared at the couch, green velvet and so beautiful. She stroked a hand over the arm trying not to think of the nights she’d spent with her head in Noah’s lap, eyes closed and content as he stroked her hair and suffered through another rewatch of the Notebook. “They’re going to get hit by a car, babe.”

“No, they aren’t and you know this,” she’d reply, turning her eyes up to grin at him. He looked so warm, jawline sharp like she could cut her palms on it, the long line of his nose, plush mouth too soft for his face. She loved the way it would drop open on her name.

“I’m going to fucking burn you,” she told the couch, glaring so hard she felt the way her mind stuttered and sent it skittering back two inches.

The living room was open concept, ceiling soaring up to the railing that tucked the second floor to the west side of the house. She loved how open and airy it felt and now, determined to be drunk and alone, it felt cavernous. She wet her lips and focused on the soft sage green vase, willing it to shatter. It wobbled violently before settling back with a clatter even as her stomach turned once. She had to close her eyes at the way her body simply told her *no*. Instead she let her knees go watery and sat back down, swallowing around the way her mouth watered. She had a second to be grateful that she hadn’t set fire to the couch when Max’s scream scraped across her mind, burning and shattering- something so wild and primal her whole body seized, eyes rolling back in pain at the electric raw scrape of him before it snuffed out.

Cold and quiet like a bucket of water after being set on fire. Her mind gone quiet and blank between the space in seconds.

Isobel Evans lived in a beige house with notes of masculine wood and soft green accents. She puked in the vase. She wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand, eyes watering as she shook. The shattered glass crunched under her feet as she forced herself up.

“Max.”
**

Maria had turned on the neon behind the bar racks and wiped down the wood, but the chairs were still up and the drawers were only half counted. She needed to take inventory and make sure she’d pulled the right amount of the cheap vodka, the case of tequila already tucked under the well. The back door was propped open, letting a cool breeze creep through the back hallway, carrying the vague lingering smell of moldering cardboard and stale wine. Dumpster pick up was on Thursday so she’d had to take the big piece of plywood out to flop over the mess of trashbags, bottles, and liquor boxes. Climbing into the dumpster to bounce on plywood to act as a cheap trash compactor was one of those things that she’d never really considered odd until someone told her it was. She and her mother had done the Dumpster Bounce since she was a little girl.

That’s how she’d found the body.

She could still feel the way the board had cracked strangely, different from every other time she’d done the Dumpster Bounce. There was a sick sound, like someone had wrapped a branch with wet towels and meat. She’d frozen, an animal instinct crawling dread fingers up her spine, that first pump of adrenaline locking her muscles in place as she kept her eyes ahead, out over the pothole pitted parking lot half turned to gravel in it’s disrepair. If she could just keep looking at the horizon, just keep her eyes focused on the distant stretch of plain just past the rural highway she wouldn’t have to look down. She knew that if she looked down she’d scream.

The breeze blew and it shifted her hair, carrying that same overripe wet cardboard smell and something darker, something that smelled burnt and crisp like day old bacon. It’s like everything folded inside out and she looked down, scream tearing out of her like a startled shriek at the sight of a palm, fingers curled loosely against the shiny black of the trashbags. She slipped, falling and smacking her head against the edge of the dumpster, uncaring even as she scrambled back and away. There was a strange noise mewling through the air and it took her a moment to realize it was her, panting scared sounds into the morning.

She was alone and that fact sank into her like ink into water, staining and spreading until she was pushing to her feet and reaching shaking hands to pull the plywood out of the dumpster. She knew there was a body there. She knew it, could see the fingers gone blue around the nails and so pale, but she still screamed again when the trash bags shifted and Racist Hank’s milky blue eyes stared out at her.

Maria DeLuca screamed until her voice cracked hard, a long straight note of fear that faded into little panted breaths as she turned heel and ran. She tore back into her bar, nearly bouncing off the crash bar on the door and into the hallway where the bathrooms and the liquor room huddled tight together. The liquor order wasn’t due in for another three hours and she turned a tight circle, surrounded by her home and terrified in a way that rose like water in her mouth.

The chairs were stacked on the table and the mop bucket was still in front of the jukebox, the handle of the mop a straight line pointing towards the dartboards. The neon lights were on and she still had to count the drawers, take a quick inventory to get the liquor order in, and there was a dead body in her dumpster. Her skin crawled, shivering a sick wave that turned her stomach as she reached out and dialed Max Evans.

“You have reached Max Evans. If this is an emer-” She hung up, pulling up her contacts and hitting the first on the list.

Liz Ortecho is currently un-” She hung up, dialing Alex next. Then Kyle Valenti. She tried Guerin. She suddenly wanted to just call Rosa, old pain welling unexpected and bright.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” She finally took a long shaking breath and called the cops.

It was a mess, five straight hours of questioning, pictures, taped off areas, flashing endless red and blue lights. She spoke in a quiet voice, answering every question Sheriff Valenti asked her in simple sentences. She didn’t want the publicity. She didn’t need the way mom’s in minivans were craning their necks to see what was happening at the Wild Pony. She hugged her arms to herself, feeling the way her hair was whipping around her face and started pulling it up into a quick loose french braid. Five hours of crime scene vans and pictures, casts of tire marks, and endless pictures numbered with little yellow flags.

“Can you fill the potholes while you’re at it?” She joked weakly at the thin man with red hair and acne who just glanced up at her, shook his head, and went back to pouring plaster.

Five hours and she was supposed to open soon, the afternoon drawing up tight to the building. She took Sheriff Valenti’s card, tucking it into the pocket of her shorts and went back inside. She closed the back door, feeling the way the whole bar went still. There was no music, no laughter, no press of bodies and clink of glassware. The toilets were silent, the soda gun still needed to be taken out of the cleaner. She needed to fill and start the dishwasher behind the bar, run it a few times to bring it to temp. She needed to polish the glasses and take down the chairs, but she sat at the bar and put her head down to cry.

Maria saved herself: every, damn, time.

Twenty minutes later she’d sniffled her way to numb. She went to the office, dialed the combination on the safe and pulled the drawers. She walked out, the change a good loud sound rattling on her hip and pulled over a stool. She had to count it three times before she managed to make it through the twenties to start on the tens.

“Hey, DeLuca.” She froze, panic rising high to knot in her throat before she managed to pick her eyes up and see Michael Guerin in the mirror behind her bar. She took a second to realize the front door must have still been unlocked and it warred with how relieved she was that he was here, that he must have gotten her message. She hated the way she went watery at the sight of him, the way he seemed safe after a morning of fear and confusion. She hated that he just came into her bar and smiled at her and she had to physically restrain herself from flinging into his arms. She could smell him from here, dust and sweat and smoke with something more feral and dark under all of it. A little bit unwashed curls and a little bit that musk that came from sleeping in yesterday’s clothes. “Let me guess, you’re closed?”

She spun in the chair, holding onto the bar for balance and stared at him. He would leave if she told him to. He would walk right out the front door with that hurt look and he would leave. He would go and there would still be the memory of Racist Hank staring at her with those dead eyes. She’d be alone in the silence. She’d be alone again with her fear. She’d be alone. “No, we’re... open, actually.” Don’t you dare leave. She watched him take off his hat, the gnawing realization that he was going to kiss her dawning. It fought with the panic and fear of the morning. She stared, heard the strange strangled little noise he made, the way his smile only twitched the corner of his mouth- not even managing the arrogant cocksureness of a few weeks ago. He was safe. She felt safe with him and he’d come when no one else had.

He said something as he walked closer, but she wasn’t listening, not really. She just wanted a moment of her own. A moment to not think about anything, but something as simple as lips on hers and that singing blood pounding sparkle of being alive. She wanted to stop thinking about the way a fly had landed on Hank’s mouth, flicking its wings and starting to crawl over his lips. Michael Guerin kissed her: once, twice, and she kissed him back.

She kissed him back and it hurt when what she was doing became something less than automatic. She ducked her head and pulled back. “But we really need to ta-”

“Talk?” Guerin sounded so defeated with that one word. He sounded lost and repeated it like he was tired of the syllables, the weight of what they meant. He tried to laugh and she almost kissed him again to keep him from making that broken sound.

“Yeah.”

She watched him start nodding, voice tight in his throat like a lie. “Yeah,” he paused, and she could see the way he was struggling with something, feel it in the press of confusion between his palms. “We will.” He was lying, but she let it slide. She didn’t want to be alone and he didn’t either. “But first, do you mind if I?” He made some pantomime for guitar and she nodded, taking a step back as reality started crashing around her, dodging the guilt like a minefield as he picked up Dead Hank’s guitar and sat.

And then, somehow, she was alone again.

He was playing, real and actual, just there in the bar. She’d never heard him play, didn’t even know that he could, had thought the story about being a rockstar was just that- a story. She watched, fascinated for a moment at the way he disappeared into it, leaving her behind to try to push the thoughts of Alex away. She was alone with nothing to push the thoughts of the way the dumpster smelled like burnt flesh, ozone, and curdled beer. Maria couldn’t push away everything that was happening in her small world and find solace and quiet in the music.

It was so loud now, the dishwasher still silent and a picked perfect melody curling around her as she realized that the noise wasn’t hers. It sounded like fire and the crumble of cement and rain and screaming and broken hearts. She thumbed her necklace, world going quieter for a moment like it always did when she stroked over the encased flowers. Michael glanced up, stretching his hand and gave her the saddest smile she’d seen since Alex had told her “Okay.”

He was stretching his hand. The hand that had been broken so badly he couldn’t bend the last two fingers. The hand that always made him look like a dainty girl at a tea party when he held his whiskey. The hand that she’d watched him ask to be healed. She inhaled sharply, eyes going wide as he started to play again. She was about to get up, about to walk across the room and grab his hand, drag it to her so she could see when he hit a sour note.

The bar was quiet, no breeze to swing the light over the felt top pool table gently from side to side. No music pouring from the speakers mounted to the ceiling. No laughter, no raucous bawdy words being tossed casually from one table to the next. The lights were half on, the bar half ready to be open. It was quiet in the breath after the twanged string as it snapped and Michael went stiff like he’d been hit with a cattle prod- head jerking back before rocking forward, falling off the stool onto his knees as he gritted through what seemed like a seizure, but also oddly, how her Mom looked after a nightmare.

He came to, mouth open and wet, eyes red and sunk into his head as he stumbled to his feet, guitar cracked on the floor and hat kicked under the closest table. He looked around, focusing through the wall to a point she couldn’t see and simply said one word.

“Max.”

**

It was dark in the bunker. Kyle didn’t think that was a sentence he’d ever considered as something that would be commonplace. It was dark in the bunker. The string lights catching on the military bland paint and splashing sickly yellow green around the rebar and cement. He was leaning against the long table in the middle, probably something left over from the fifties, heavy and metal with a solid formica top. He was rubbing at the edge of the vest and staring down at where Master Sergeant Jesse Manes was face down on the floor.

“Fuck.”

He was shaking, hands trembling and fingers cold with the wash of fading adrenaline. He hurt, breathing shallow around what was going to be a spectacular bruise. He stared at the sprawl of the man who’d shot him. The man who’d left scars on Alex. The man who’d blown up an entire building full of elderly people. The monster who’d shoved his father into a cell with certain death. He took one quick step forward and kicked him, the weight and shock of it so very different from kicking a soccer ball. It thudded up his body, the swing of his arms pulling at what was probably a broken rib. He sneered down, rolling his eyes at himself before reaching over to steady himself on the table again.

“Worth it.” He nodded once and snagged his phone off the pile of medical texts he’d stacked next to Alex’s mix of cryptolinguistics manuals and a few scattered comic books. He glanced to the side, kicking an ankle and catching Jesse Manes with the back of his heel. “Okay. Now I’m done.”

He sniffed, wiping at his face with the back of his wrist before hooking his fingers into the neckline of the vest and started to walk outside. The bunker had zero cell service. He hauled himself up the stairs by the rail, staring at the heavy blast door for a moment before simply gritting his teeth and pulling through the sharp startle of pain that flashed through him. He’d dislocated his shoulder his first year at U of M falling out of a keg stand at the Frat party and this was worse. The hallway had the same bland lighting and he limped to the front, tapping out the passcode that unlocked and depressurized the vault seal, stepping into the small enclave and blowing out another breath as it closed behind him, air a whirlwind in the space before stilling and a soft click unlocked the front. He turned his good shoulder to the metal and glass.

He hissed into bright sunshine, blinking and covering his eyes. He understood on a fundamental level what vampires felt like now, turning his gaze down and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the late afternoon sunshine. By the time his eye and his phone brightness caught up, he had four solid bars of service and two missed calls from his Mom and one from Alex. “Perfect.”

He thumbed the call back, listening to it ring before it clicked over after two to voicemail. “You did not just-” He squared his jaw, hitting redial. One ring this time. Another and it rang four times before he heard Alex’s voicemail. He almost threw the phone, but instead tilted his head back, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and smiled a little cracked smile.

[sms:] 911. Bro. Seriously. 911.

{sms:} I’m in the middle of something
{sms:} whats up

[sms] What’s up? Really bro?
[sms] what’s up is that I might have-

He paused, trying to figure out how to make it abundantly clear that some shit had gone down.

[sms]- been fucking shot?? Maybe?

Okay, so Kyle wasn’t always the best at the covert secret agent shit.

{sms} WHAT
{sms} where are you

[sms] Where do you think? I’m at the place with the stuff and the things that people who want to get shot are at

{sms} ill be right there

There was a pause and Kyle was about to tuck his phone back into his pocket when it vibrated again.

{sms} be safe

Alex fucking Manes.

**

They hadn’t set a time, but Alex knew that after the night Michael must have had that he’d need to sleep in. He’d waited until around three in the afternoon before starting to get dressed to head over. It was an arming scene, strapping into something that made him feel safe, made him feel strong. He thumbed the edge of the zipper on the jacket, the smell warm and alive and nodded once at himself in the rear view mirror before starting the drive to Sander’s Auto.

Michael’s truck wasn’t there, the lights off in the Airstream and Alex just nodded once, worry curling deep in his gut before he pushed out of his car and started to the metal lawn chair. He should have texted first, but it seemed too impersonal. He threaded his fingers together, leaning forward over his knees and waited.

The auto yard was a mishmash of car parts, half done art sculpture, and gas cans. The main garage bay a large open sided structure with the rolling carts lined neatly against the wall. Michael liked to pretend he was a mess, but Alex remembers the neat way he would line up his thoughts on paper in high school, a branching index that was cross referenced and carefully annotated. He tried so hard to fly under the radar, to be quietly sarcastic as he stared out the windows at the passing clouds. Michael was always halfway to somewhere else and Alex had watched him for two years before he’d finally spoken to him. He was part of the Evan’s circle, the Venn diagram vaguely overlapping more as they moved into senior year. Alex had AP English with Max and AP Trig and AP Chem with Michael.

Michael Guerin, who would smile to himself and tug one curl before scribbling the answer to the question on the board in moments, so he could turn the page and start working on whatever it was he was thinking about. Alex would catch glimpses of it, designs and formulas that were beyond what he could muster through. The math made sense, long strings of proofs that he figured were probably Physics, but he’d skipped that class in favor of band.

The wind kicked up, dancing in a small pirouette dust devil before clattering the hubcaps together. He rubbed his hands together, glad of the jacket. The storm had pushed the little bit of vestigial warmth over the far off mountains, leaving behind the crackling sort of cold that lay light hands on the desert. He could feel his cheeks going red, tip of his nose and ears starting to go numb. He sniffled, rolling his eyes as he checked the time again.

His thoughts veered suddenly, back to the way he’d felt seeing the blood- he was sure it was blood- on Michael’s shirt, his skin. So much, flecked and flaking but still very much painted on his skin and scabbing slightly into the back of his curls like he’d been laying in it. He’d had a moment to take the shirt he’d left behind and put it into the small Airstream sink, setting it to soak. Michael didn’t have bleach, but he had more nail polish remover than Alex had seen outside of a Sam’s Club. He’d had blood on his hands, watery pink and he’d swiped at his jeans. He was shaking, sick with the memory of what he’d said. Sick with how it had felt like lancing a wound until Michael had been silent, eyes always so full of tears when he looked at Alex. That wasn’t the point, it wasn’t the reason he’d said it and now he couldn’t take it back.

Michael had bolted out of the trailer and Alex had been left with the weight of words on his chest, tightening his lungs and he’d practiced it. He’d practiced what he would say this time. How he would phrase it, careful and kind like the way he wanted to touch Michael. Patient and kind, but present. Here, not in the past. He’d watched the way his eyes went firm in the bathroom mirror. “I love you.” He’d said it again, this time without the shrug. He didn’t want to give Michael any reason to question him. He didn’t want to give him any reason to run.

“I love you.” He had blown out a breath, nodding once. It wasn’t much of a speech. It wasn’t much more than three words that sat like salt on his tongue- burning and maybe not enough, but it was all he had.

Alex rubbed at his thigh, the muscle cramping as he lifted the weight of his limb, letting the prosthetic settle slightly differently in the boot. He tugged at the edge of his sock, hiding the titanium and making sure the leg of the dark jeans was a match for the left. He felt his phone vibrate in the inside pocket, startling him with a twist of panic-

Michael bleeding out somewhere in the desert. Michael crying in the dirt. Michael dead by the side of the road. Michael hurt and he couldn’t save him, couldn’t help him. Michael behind a wall of glass trying not to break it from the inside out. Michael chained and gagged with his father holding the key. Michael-

It was Kyle. He sent it to voicemail, swallowing down the panic. His phone lit up again, he sent it to voicemail, hoping Kyle would get the point. He stared out at the winding drive that led to the Scrapyard. He strained, hoping to hear the rough squeal of metal on metal that meant Michael’s truck was coming down the drive, rumbling over the cow bars at the fence line. His phone rumbled again and he let it ring.

He said he’d wait. He was waiting. They would talk, for real this time. He would tell Michael the truth- his truth. He’d stand there in his dark jeans, the jacket and that red he knew Michael liked- the way Michael’s smile had tilted softly sexual when he’d plucked at the line of buttons on the red button up he’d worn to the reunion, the heat of his breath on his jaw, his mouth-

[sms:] 911. Bro. Seriously. 911.

Alex gritted his teeth, closing his eyes and stood, already moving towards his Jeep even as he typed. {sms:} I’m in the middle of something
{sms:} whats up

[sms] What’s up? Really bro?
[sms] what’s up is that I might have been fucking shot?? Maybe?

Alex startled, catching the phone as he dropped it and nearly falling over before he steadied himself with one hand against the roof of his Jeep.

{sms} WHAT
{sms} where are you

[sms] Where do you think? I’m at the place with the stuff and the things that people who want to get shot are at

Alex looked around, desperate for some sign that Michael was on his way, but the junkyard simply sat empty, the hub caps clattering a sad song in the cold breeze. He shook his head, closing his eyes against the way he was walking away again and texted Kyle.

{sms} ill be right there
{sms} be safe

He pocketed his phone and pulled open the door, taking a moment to stare at the empty space where Michael’s truck should have been. He thought about leaving a note, but maybe it was better this way. Maybe it was better to let Michael come home from wherever he was and see his shirt in the sink and the text from him asking when they could talk. He wasn’t intruding this way. He nodded once, only a quarter convinced and got behind the wheel.

{sms}Just let me know you’re safe, okay?

Michael left him on read.

**

Liz was calm. She was calm and she was going to get this done. She took a handful of the silver solution, wincing at the heat of it and turned to where Rosa was staring down at Max. Her sister was trembling and wearing his clothes, five sizes too big, but better than the ratty blanket she’d been wrapped in. It was definitely better than still naked from the pod. They’d cuffed the bottom of his jeans six times, the donut roll of denim at the bottom almost comical over her dainty ankles. His shirt dangled well past her wrists and Liz couldn’t help but think of a toddler wearing her mother’s shoes clopping around the diner before it opened. She’d always been chasing Rosa, running so fast ahead of her that she seemed blurry and out of focus, but here she was alive, alive and watching Max on the ground. He was naked, skin still warm, but cooling.

“This is so fucked.”

Liz squared her jaw and started to smear the solution over his collarbones. He’d been laughing the last time she’d touched him like this, ticklish and wide eyed as she sat over his hips, watching him from under the dark tent of her hair. She smeared it up the line of his neck to the sharp cut of his jaw. He’d turned into her touch, kissing the inside of her wrist as he pulled up, stomach going tight as he circled her waist- hands huge and strong. She’d felt small and delicate, precious and needed. His head just rolled to the side, mouth soft in what was definitely at a right angle from sleep.

“Liz. Liz this is so fucked. What do we do?” Rosa’s voice was behind her. She could hear it in the quiet closeness of the cave, but she had a job to do. She had a job and Max was so big.

“Help me get this on him.” She knew her voice was level, deceptively calm as she worked, reaching over to scoop more silver.

“Liz?”

“Do it!” And she bit her own lip, tasting blood as she reigned in, smoothing the silver over his cheeks and across his brow, into his hair. She turned, catching and holding Rosa’s dark eyes. “Do it. Please. I love him, Rosa.”

Rosa stared, mouth hanging open slightly on the soft panted breaths of panic, but she nodded. She started at his shins as Liz kept working the solution into every part of Max’s skin she could reach. “Liz?”

“We have to make sure the solution is completely covering him, Rosa. The particles will precipitate forming a barrier. I’m going to need help getting to his back.” She nodded a few times, blowing her hair out of her face and reaching for the next handful. “Once we do that, the barrier on the pod slips around the molecules I guess? Like osmosis on a macroscopic level.”

“I have no idea what that means, Liz.”

She nodded, starting over his shoulders and not lingering to count the freckles this time. “He’ll be absorbed into the cocoon. He’ll be safe, like stasis.” She nodded again, eyes going wide as she heard the way her voice shook and she took a long breath, hands still moving, always moving and so careful.

“I could feel him, Liz. Is he like-”

“He’s not dead. I won’t let him be dead.”

“Is he an alien, too?”

Liz startled, looking over at Rosa, stilling for a moment. “Yes.” She nodded once and they both froze at the clamor at the front of the sinkhole. Someone was coming.

“Max!” Isobel Evans’ voice cracked as she stumbled on low heels through the passage into the chamber. Her eyes were wild, over wide and her hair a disheveled that Liz had never seen. She looked wrecked- twisted up and thrown away with her hands out, dirt smudged on her cheekbone and what looked like vomit on her shirt. Isobel gasped, fingers flying up to her mouth as she hit a visible wall of fear- stock still and staring at where Rosa and Liz were crowded around a naked and silver covered Max. “What?” She cast about, catching on Rosa’s eyes and startled back like she’d been hit. “What!”

Liz didn’t have time for a breakdown. “Panic later, help me get him in the pod.”

“What the fuck?” And now it was Rosa. “What the actual fuck? What is she doing here? Get away from me!”

Liz heard the way she screamed, wordless and violent. She screamed, snarling at the two girls. “Later! Panic later!” She looked at where Isobel was shaking and gritted out an exhaled plea. “Help me.”

The cave was quiet for a half breath, just three girls in the fading light and the smell of silver and hot metal, of something dirty and close, and death. She held Isobel’s eyes until the other woman shrugged out of her coat and stumbled to kneel next to her, reaching for the silver even as she and Rosa locked gazes over Max’s naked torso. “Michael’s coming,” Isobel managed after a moment, and Liz would have reached over to calm the tremble in her hands- offered her some comfort, but this was more important.

“Good,” she managed. “I can’t reach his back. He’s too heavy.”

They had finished coating the parts of him they could reach, the dead weight of him bending at the elbow, knee and thigh when Michael skidded into the cave. He was stumbling with a hand in the dirt as he tripped over a branch, clumsy and red eyed. He stared at them, at Isobel and Liz and Rosa and Max.

“That fucking idiot. Fucking stupid, Max. Stupid. What-” He didn’t finish, just shook out a breath and squared his jaw. Max lifted, floppy as a ragdoll into the air and she could hear the way Michael was in pain.

She didn’t care.

She worked, methodical and frenzied. He was going colder, the solution starting to harden and shimmer on his skin. He was turning into a statue of himself and she had to work faster. She had to do more.

He’d saved her so many times. It was her turn now. She squeezed his fingers and started coating his back. “Vas a sonreírme de nuevo. Vas a abrir los ojos y vas a tocarme. Vas a disfrutar de los primeros rayos del sol y vas a besarme hasta que se borren todos mis pensamientos. I love you, Max Evans. Vuelve a mí. You come home.”

The cave was just a room full of the wet sounds of smearing solution and the harsh panted breaths of four people with a single task. She wiped at her eyes, getting silver in her hair and striping it over her cheekbone. She nodded at Michael and he made a low pained noise- pushing with the last of what he had and slipped Max into the pod. It pulsed once, that dark amber glowing bright for a breath before it folded him up small and safe like a secret.

She stared, palm against the barrier, fingers a little smudged into the film and watched his hair float, watched the shadow of his lashes on his cheeks.

“Liz?” She whirled, watching the way everyone in the cave flinched away from the voice at the entrance- the soft warm voice of Maria DeLuca in utter question as she stared around the candle lit cave. She watched Maria’s eyes go wide. She watched the way she skipped from anger to rage to denial and back to confusion as she looked at Michael, his black hat in her hands. She watched Maria startle and drop the felt when Rosa shifted, leaning out from behind where Isobel was standing. “Liz?” She saw the way Maria’s jaw went hard and her eyes sparked rage and stared at her. “What is going on?”

**

Michael Guerin was sick with need of sleep. He’d been up for almost four days. He’d watched his mother burn. He’d watched Noah die. He’d been trapped in a car with Kyle fucking Valenti. He’d had Alex under his hands and Maria’s lips on his breath. He’d been stabbed. He’d been pushed past his limits. He’d been healed and hurt and twisted up and thrown aside. He’d confessed his love and been stabbed in the head with a psychic scream twice in the space of 12 hours. He’d been holding Max’s dead weight. Hell, he’d probably been dead at one point, but he wasn’t keeping count. He was wrung out and numb. He was overfull and bloated with secrets. He was exhausted in a way that reached past the marrow of his bones and into the soul of him.

Maria was in the cave with his hat in her hands. Maria was the last thing that didn’t think he was a freak. She was the last person who had thought he was just a normal run of the mill drunk and delinquent and she was staring at Liz Ortecho like a tower of rage.

“Shit.”

Michael Guerin did the politic thing for once in his life and simply passed out.

**
Isobel Evans watched Michael crumple, nose crinkling as she shook her head. “That’s cheating.”

“What the fuck is going on?” For once, she and Maria DeLuca were in perfect agreement.