Isabel had never felt so conflicted in her entire life.
She turned the coffee mug in her hand, staring down into the murky black-brown depths as if to find the answers that she not only wanted, but needed, too.
Stay here and help these people who God only knew how badly needed her help? She could organize with the best of them, get a good deal, and manage a household like nobody’s business. There was precious little management and organization around here, from what she’d been able to tell in the few hours since they’d ‘officially’ moved in. She could… do good, for lack of a better phrase.
Or she could go home. Back to her family and a town that carried with it not only good memories, but bad ones, too. She could go back there and try to come up with a cover story for what had happened at graduation for everyone in that dusty little hamlet; make excuses for things that they’d never understand and couldn’t possibly be able to comprehend. Sure, she’d get to see her mom and dad again – but was that enough?
And how could she possibly even think about going back there without Max? No amount of explaining in the world would make her parents understand why she’d allowed herself to be separated from her brother.
She’d said back there, in that room with the others, that she wanted to stay. Under Michael’s hooded scrutiny and Liz’s confused gaze she’d made her decision.
So why was she sitting here staring into a mug of lukewarm coffee at almost midnight?
She lifted the mug to her lips, grimacing as the liquid touched them. Lukewarm was far too generous for this chilled concoction.
Placing the mug on the counter, Isabel leaned forward to rest her elbows on the smooth tile, her chin in her upturned palms.
Could she be happy here, with these people? Making a difference in the only way she really knew how?
Yeah, she was pretty sure she could learn to live that kind of life. Maybe it wasn’t settling down and having a happy home like she’d always pictured. It wasn’t idyllic or picturesque – what these people did was dangerous and frightening – but if she couldn’t return home to save her own people…
… why couldn’t she do her best to help save –these- people?
Michael looked up, only to look immediately away again. She had that look on her face. The one that said, plain as day, that she wanted to talk.
And he knew what about, too.
Liz sighed softly. “You don’t want to go back, do you?”
It was definitely something else to hear the words come out of her mouth, a very verbal confirmation of what he’d only been thinking up to that point.
“I’m not like you,” he muttered. “No family to go running back to. No one to welcome me back with open arms. You and Isabel are all I’ve got –“
Don’t make me make that choice, he wanted to say to her, oh so reasonably. Her or Isabel. A life in Roswell that would really be no life at all. Or something here, helping this merry band of freaks that made even him look like something almost normal.
It was a hard decision – Liz versus everything else.
But, yeah, he’d already made up his mind. His choice, her choice. No matter how much he wanted her to stay here with him, he wasn’t going to ask her to. He wasn’t Maxwell – he didn’t make his girl give up everything just for love.
Because asking someone to sacrifice themselves for your happiness wasn’t what love was.
Even he knew that.
“I…I can’t make up my mind yet,” Liz whispered, voice breaking in a way that made Michael want to take her in his arms and make the pain go away.
Too bad he couldn’t do that. Not for this.
“I mean… I guess I could still visit… and call.”
“Right,” Michael nodded, his thumb caressing the back of her hand absently, some part of him afraid to let go. Sounded to him like she’d already made her choice, whether she was ready to admit it or not. She was going back to Roswell, back to her family.
Just like he knew was best for her.
“It’s just so hard…” she sighed, leaning her head down onto her shoulder. “They’re going to want to know why I’m not coming home. What am I going to tell them?”
“You’ll –“ Michael paused, replaying her words in his head. “Huh? You’re not going back to Roswell?”
“Unless you want me to?”
“Well, no,” he frowned. “But your family –“
“I’ll visit them. Probably a pretty long visit at first,” she nodded, more to herself than him, as the gears began to spin in her head. “We left that town behind in a blaze of mystery – what kind of life is that going to be? Always being pestered to know what happened by everyone who was there or heard the story?” She snorted. “Not fun. It’s not like I was going to go to college anywhere near Roswell, any…way…”
Her words trailed off, face lightning up from within to the point that Michael was pretty damn sure she was glowing.
And he didn’t have a clue why.
Until she spoke again.
“I can go to college… finally.”
Michael snorted with amusement. “I always knew you were a geek, Parker. You just got a get out of hell card and all you can think of is going back to school first change you get.”
She grinned widely. “You love me anyway.”
“Think we could get you a pair of glasses and one of those long white lab coat things?”
“Got a scientist fantasy I don’t know about?”
Michael smirked. “Babe, I’ve got a whole lot of fantasies you don’t know about yet. Now – back to you, the glasses, the lab coat… and nothing else. Do able?”
She’d been sitting there for at least fifteen minutes, just staring at the cup of coffee, near as Xander could tell.
And that was just since he’d been standing in the doorway watching her.
When Will had fessed up and said the new addition to the WCOA was pretty, she had been seriously lacking with the details.
Needless to say, details were so not necessary now that he had the real thing in front of him.
Alien or not, Isabel was something special all on her own. He could tell by that slightly maniacal gleam she’d gotten in her eyes when she and Will had started working on plans for the house. Oh, sure, that was the kind of look that would scare most men away. He’d seen it a time or two before – usually right before the woman in question tried to make him her afternoon, or early evening, snack.
Oddly enough, he wasn’t scared by it. He was the Zeppo and it would take more than a eye-gleam to frighten him away.
In fact, he found it pretty darn attractive.
Just went to show that years of living on the Hellmouth had warped him in ways he hadn’t yet begun to realize.
“You know,” he began slowly, giving the object of his thoughts a smile when she turned to look over her shoulder at him. “If you have some weird alien power to heat up cold coffee by staring at it –“
She laughed, saving him from the end of what he was sure was about to be a lame line.
“I’m thinking,” she shrugged.
“Ah – another odd alien power that us earthlings are still working on. And when I say ‘earthlings’, please translate that as ‘me’. According to the G-man I don’t do nearly enough on the thinking front.”
“Yet they keep you around anyway,” she smiled softly with a shake of her head.
“Yeah, well, someone has to provide the donuts and comic relief.”
Isabel’s lips turned up, the smile growing.
“You want a fresh cup?” he gestured at the half-full mug of cold coffee.
“No sense making a whole pot just for me.”
Xander laughed softly, already reaching for the filters and can of coffee. “The girls on patrol will be home soon. They’ll want some, too. No worries.”
“Patrol? You mean they’re out there right now?”
“Yep. Every night for a few hours. Don’t worry. They’ve got cells with them. If anything goes wrong – we get a call. No calls by now means they’re on their way home and a-okay. Hopefully.”
He slid the filled filter into place, turning back to Isabel. “No ‘buts’. We don’t think about the ‘buts’ – easier to sleep at night that way. You start thinking about every ‘what if’ or ‘could have been’ and you’ll never stop. Live in the now, plan for the future – and don’t get caught up in the junk along the way.”
It was a deep comment, coming from him. But she didn’t know that and he let the moment slide without playing it up with a joke or witty remark.
She looked down at her hands, picking at one nail before sighing softly. Ah, how he knew that kind of sigh. Resignation, confusion, and a lot of other things rolled into one breathy little gust of air.
He was a big fan of the sigh-age.
The soft sound of the coffee percolating behind him was the only noise in the room as she looked from her nail to the countertop. What was she thinking about? Maybe something along the lines of how she’d gone from one messed up situation straight into another?
Yet another feeling he knew far, far too well. One step forward, one step into a gaping Hellmouth – wasn’t that the motto around here?
Her fingers drummed absently on the countertop, eyes wandering around the room until they alit on him, flying immediately to the eye patch before darting away. Her cheeks flushed.
“You can ask, you know,” he joked lightly. “I’m used to it.”
“I –,“ she paused, looking back his way. Xander could almost see her resolve to just ask the question mere seconds before it came from her lips. “How did it happen?”
“There – wasn’t so hard, was it?” he teased with a chuckle. “Wait until the coffee’s done and I’ll tell you all about me and an unfortunate run in I had with… a would-be man of the cloth, otherwise known as psycho preacher guy.”