Woah, y'all, it's been a minute since I last updated this. Well, if you read this, thanks for sticking around! Who has watched the new reboot? I admit, despite my promise to not watch it, I did, and while I have an issue with the mega dose of PC this version has, they have a Maria in it, so . . . I watched it. Personally, I think it was a mistake to change THAT much, but we still have the original! I had this saved on my computer and was feeling the motivation to write tonight, so I decided to finish the chapter of this. Please read and review! You guys are awesome :)
"Manifested early," Maria and Michael repeated in sync.
Her eyes caught on his, his expression as blank as hers felt. Mutely she looked back at Max, ignoring the others in the van, struggling to understand.
Abilities. The word rolled around inside her like a loose coin in a pocket.
She shook her head as if to clear away the dust. You've gotta be kidding. "But . . . but how?" she asked in a voice that climbed more octaves than she otherwise would've liked. "It took Liz two years before anything happened to her! How could it only take me a few days?"
Max opened his mouth to speak but it was Liz who answered. "Biology," she said softly, looking at Maria with that scientist eye of hers that low-key made Maria feel like something under a microscope. "It makes sense. Everyone's genetic makeup is different, so maybe your body has just reacted at a faster rate than mine did."
"That's a pretty fast rate, Liz," Maria deadpanned, her mind struggling to catch up. Science wasn't her strong suit. Give her music sheet, and that's where she flourished. Talk genetics, and staring competitions ensued.
Liz shrugged, gesticulating with her hands in a very scientist-like manner. "If you think about it, we don't know what the standard rate of developing . . . abilities . . . is. Max has only healed me and Kyle. That's hardly enough recipients to determine a median."
Great. Math. Maria bit her lip, momentarily too baffled to speak.
"Then why haven't I gotten any . . . 'Houdini tricks' yet?" asked Kyle, face turned toward Liz while his focus remained on Maria, as if she were an anomaly.
Maria caught Liz's hesitation. "Could be because your rate is slower, like mine. Maybe you'll get them sooner than I did. Maybe it will be longer."
Kyle's expression fell, lips pursed to a thin line. "That's so unfair."
"So . . ." Maria started, disregarding Kyle as she struggled to grasp what it was they were telling her. "So then what, I can . . . disappear at will to those I don't wanna be seen by?"
"That would be awesome," came Kyle's quiet whisper from the front, expression awed.
"Try it again," Michael said suddenly. Maria's focus snapped back to the alien closest to her and she blinked at him. Then she felt her eyes narrow. She hadn't forgotten their previous discussion. "Try it again?" she extended her hands palms-up in a display of mock appeal. "Do I look like a windup toy, Guerin? I can't just 'try it again'. I don't even know what I did to do it anyway."
"Yeah, I thought. I do that. It's a surprisingly frequent occurrence. You should give it a try sometime."
"You were fighting," Kyle pointed out.
Maria turned a blank look on him. "I think we're talking about things out of the ordinary, Kyle."
"No, he has a point," Isabel interjected, a pensive look crossing her features, eyebrows pulled together. "Our powers have to do with focus, obviously. But when we first discovered ours, it usually had to do with emotion. Max and I aren't as impulsive as some of us," she cut a glance at Michael, "so our powers are a little more predictable. It would be reasonable to assume that your incredibly vocal discussion here was enough of an emotional prompter to make Maria do . . ." her brown eyes skipped over to the woman in mention. "Well, whatever is you can do."
Isabel's words, oddly, took less than a moment to sink in and Maria crossed her arms, her annoyance burning in her blood at the implication. "Are you saying I have about as much emotional control as Michael does, which is namely none at all?"
Isabel scoffed. "No. Well, yes." At Maria's look of pure disbelief, Isabel rolled her eyes. "Really, Maria. I would find it difficult to believe that a couple who fights as much as you two are hardly reticent."
Maria actually gawped at her, grasping for the right words to correct such an insane notion. She glanced at Michael, who was still standing as much as he could in the van, dark eyes somewhat unreadable, which Maria knew meant that he was trying to figure something out. That, or he was still a little shell-shocked. Who wouldn't be, not after being told that she had abilities, but that her control was the equivalent to that of Michael Guerin, streetlight-explodinaire?
Maria couldn't help it; she laughed. "No. That's ridiculous. My emotional restraint is much wider than Michael's crazy straw." She wagged a finger. "No."
Liz sat back down, resting her arms on her knees. "You say what you're thinking because you care. You both do."
Maria swiped at a loose strand of hair, wishing to focus intently on anything else that hadn't begun to rub her increasingly the wrong way. Leave it to Liz to make Michael's mood swings sound like a sign of sensitivity. "Yes, but some of us just have a better way of showing it."
That quizzical look of Michael's was quickly replaced by one of disbelief, not unlike the one she'd worn just moments before. "Oh, like going AWOL without telling anyone?"
Maria shook her head for the umpteenth time. Her shoulder was starting to get a crick."More like not suggesting you put yourself in danger on purpose just to be alien-ified."
"It was just a question."
"It was a stupid question and you know it."
Maria was about to reply-with what she didn't know-only to pause as she registered his statement. Wait. She felt her eyes widen. Fine? He was never the first one to say fine, and never out of capitulation. Never drinking another Snapple again would've been easier for him. "What?"
Michael gave her a curt shrug. "You're right; it was a stupid question."
She looked at him so long she had to blink the dryness from her eyes. "What?" she repeated. Then she held up a hand. "I'm sorry, did you just say that I'm right?"
Michael raised a shoulder. "Yup."
Maria was almost impressed. That is, until a moment later, when his focus shifted from her to Isabel and he added, in a somewhat inflated tone, "See? Control."
Indignation clung to Maria like humidity and she glared at him. "I knew there was a catch."
Those eyes went back to her. "Weren't you the one saying you had more self-control than me?"
She wouldn't bother with false humility. She was better at controlling her emotions. If she weren't, Michael wouldn't have been the only one breaking sugar canisters and exploding boutique windows. And she didn't need powers to manage that.
So, instead of deigning to reply at all, Maria just folded her arms across her chest and took the seat Michael had been using.
Two could play at this game.
"What are you doing?" he asked, looking down at her.
She sighed. "Not engaging."
"That's my seat."
She opened her mouth to say something but then slammed it shut, catching herself. "I've been in the back since yesterday. Sharing is caring, Spaceboy. Or are you going to object?" she asked sardonically, unfolding one hand to wave it listlessly. "What was that thing you were just boasting about again? Oh, right. Self-control."
Maria smirked up at him, revelling so much in this small victory that she momentarily forgot what it was they were discussing. Her and her newfound abilities. It was surprising how something so simple with Michael could distract her from something so monumentous. Suddenly her focus found Max and the others again. "So . . . now what?" she asked, teasing tone gone. "How am I supposed to . . ." she wiggled her fingers ominously at Max, "go full-spook?"
With a sigh, Max took the seat opposite her as Michael situated himself in the back, his dark eyes still fastened on the both of them.
Max scrubbed a hand down his face, disturbing his hair. "Practice."
"But how do I initiate the practice?"
"Same way you did this time."
Maria grasped his words slowly, really unwilling to follow their meaning. "You mean . . . An emotional trigger?"
"Like . . . like fighting?"
A scoff snagged her attention and she looked over the row of seats until her gaze found Isabel. "I'm sorry," she said, catching Maria's eye. "It's just I never thought I'd see the day when you guys are given an actual reason to fight."
Maria smiled without humor. "I get the irony."
Isabel smothered a smile with her hand, exchanging another muffled laugh with Kyle, who'd suddenly decided to join in on the fun. "Oh, I know."
With a last narrowed look, Maria looked back at Max. "Okay. I'm in."
But the alien opposing her gave a small shake of his head. "Let's wait on practicing until we've reached the city. We'll get our supplies and find a decent place on the outskirts."
Maria wanted to object, but it was as if Max had read her mind, because before she could propose her argument, he added, "It takes energy to do what you did. You need to rest before we try again."
Maria grimaced, disliking that rational decision, and then quickly bit back on that thought. No, she liked rationality. Rationality was good, and she was full of it, and she wouldn't, she wouldn't, let anyone else convince her otherwise.
On that note, she relaxed in her seat she'd claimed from Michael, trying to slow the hype of nerves tumbling through her.
She had an ability. What it was exactly, Maria didn't know, but she had one. It was odd and a little exhilarating, and maybe, if she were being honest with herself, exciting.
But it would be a long while before she told the impulsive alien in the back that.
As it turns out, a decent place on the outskirts was quite literally on the outskirts, complete with a brown tent secured beneath a clutch of pines. One tent, as it was all they could afford.
The look of it made Maria purse her lips. It was going to be a cozy night.
It had dropped a few degrees, but her nerves were keeping her warm as she stood on the slight incline, dead pine needles in ample supply at her feet. It was the closest she'd been to a veritable forest in a long time. So long in fact, she couldn't decide if she liked the smell. It reminded her how far from home she really was.
As covertly as she could manage, Maria snuck a glance at Michael, standing across from her along the stretch of hill, looking about as uncomfortable as she felt. It would've felt reasonably more tolerable, if not for the bobheaded alien sitting on a rock beneath one of the trees, eyeing them like some gaming judge.
Isabel crossed her legs and cupped her hands over a knee. Waiting.
Michael stared at her, as on edge as a cat in water. "What?" he snapped at Isabel's expectant look. "You looking for us to just start fighting on cue?"
Isabel responded with a slow nod, as if she were speaking to a child. "Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. So go." She leaned against the tree's trunk and crossed her arms. When Maria didn't move, Isabel motioned towards them with a flick of the wrist. "To your mutual corners."
Maria didn't need to look behind her to know that the others were there, gathered on some imaginary sideline. Max's calculative eye was already burning into her back.
Michael shook his head, muttering. "This is ridiculous," he said, louder.
Maria imitated Isabel's crossed arms, her own annoyance piquing. "I agree."
Isabel couldn't hide her surprise if she wanted to. Her eyebrows practically shot up to her hairline. "Hold it. You're choosing the time when we give you free license to argue to agree instead?" She gawked at them, lips parted in shock. Then she shook her head. "No. No. No." Her attention snapped to Maria. "What about all the times you've told me how you wish Michael could tap into his human side? Or how you felt like he's not emotionally there for you?"
All true, Maria thought, but she shrugged it off.
Isabel looked at Michael. "Or you. How many times have I had to hear you complain about Maria's relationship questions or her date nights or her . . . her . . . perfume?"
It was Maria's turn to raise a brow and she turned it up on Michael. "You complained about my perfume?"
Michael raised his shoulders dismissively. "You were puttin' too much of it on."
"You could've just told me that."
Again, that shrug.
"I mean I always knew our communication was a little . . . underdeveloped, but how bad of a place do we have to be at for you to feel like you can't even talk to me about perfume, Michael?"
"Girls are sensitive about those sorts of things! I didn't want you to think I was saying you smelled bad. Look, you don't ask me about that guy perfume, do you? Same thing."
Maria squinted her eyes. "Guy perfume'? You mean cologne?"
"Yeah, that stuff."
"Why would I ask you about something you don't even we-"
"Yes!" Isabel's sudden interjection had Maria looking back on her. "This is good. Little more drama though."
Maria rolled her eyes away, taking a deep breath. "Fine. If I ever find myself wearing perfume again, I'll try not to fumigate the place, happy?"
Michael stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Thanks."
She nodded. Then she looked back across at Isabel, who only stared at them, not even bothering to mask her look of incredulity. "That's . . . that's it? That wasn't a fight. That was barely even a conversation. No. Again."
Michael looked away from her. Maria kicked at a pile of pine needles, tired and becoming more irate by the minute.
"Let's try something," Isabel ventured after the moments of heavy silence. "An exercise."
"Fabulous," Maria couldn't help but mutter.
Isabel ignored her. "Why don't we dig a little deeper?"
"I don't remember asking for a therapy session," Michael said, shoving his fists deeper into his coat pockets and tapping his foot.
"We'll consider this a crash-course then, pun somewhat intended." She shifted her attention to Maria, who almost reflexively narrowed her eyes back, suspicious. Maria thought her own ideas were occasionally out there but Isabel . . . was a bit more practiced in all things overt.
"Tell me about a time when neither of you felt that the other was really there for you. When you needed the other person, and they didn't provide for your emotional needs. How did that make you fee-"
"Oh no," Michael instantly protested, pulling his hands out of his pockets and holding them out in the closest semblence of surrender he could probably ever muster. "Look, we didn't escape being assassinated, a couple times, to shack up in the middle of nowhere and talk about our feelings. I didn't sign up for this."
"In case you need reminding, this isn't for you, Michael," responded Isabel, vehement. "Maria's the one who has to live with her abilities and I think we can all agree it would be a good thing if she knew what those abilities were, and probably how to use them. So, if this route isn't quick enough for you, I suggest you pick up the pace."
He scratched the back of his neck. Maria knew a nervous Michael when she saw one and she found it almost endearing.
"Isabel," began Maria, "I don't think that this will-"
"How about you tell Maria how much you care about her?"
Michael's brows knitted together in a look of utter confusion. "What?"
Isabel leaned forward, looking at her intensely. "I said to tell Maria how happy you are that she came. Get in touch with all your happy feelings."
A long stretch of quiet pulled taut between them, and Maria couldn't help but think how much Michael resembled a deer caught in the headlights. "I-I care about you. A lot."
If it weren't broad daylight, Maria was sure a cricket would be sounding at this point.
"Those are your happy feelings?" she asked.
Michael shrugged. "I wasn't counting on performing Shakespeare for anyone, okay?"
But there was something else. Something in his expression that Maria didn't miss, because however much Michael tried to hide some things, she saw them.
I want you to see me.
And boy, did she.
"You're happy I'm with you, but you aren't happy I'm here with you," she said quietly, her voice even, free of accusation. She wanted to hear his defense before she got defensive.
His expression went from confused to one like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "We're day, what, six, seven into this vigilante trip and I've already watched you almost die." He shook his head. "I'm not exactly looking forward to what else there might be coming."
Maria felt that heaviness in her chest loosen and she closed the distance between them, folding her arms around his neck and burying her face in the crook of his neck. She didn't have anything else to say and apparently, when his own arms encircled her waist, neither did he.
"Not that I'm not a fan of reconciliation," interrupted Isabel, "but you guys choose now to have a moment? You two are the most backwards couple I've ever met."
Maria smiled sheepishly and hugged Michael a bit tighter, if only to spite Isabel's methods a little. Then they broke apart.
Isabel crossed her arms. "You're right; this isn't working."
"Here," Max chimed in, seemingly to materialize from out of the thick clutch of trees.
Maria caught Michael's flush. "Have you been there the whole time?"
Max had the decency to look guilty. "I wanted to be close by. In case things got out of hand."
Michael shook his head, muttering something about privacy under his breath.
Maria watched, feeling antsy, as Max came up to her. "I want to try something."
Already a bit tired of the various techniques implimented, Maria gave him a quizzical look. "What kind of something?"
"Give me your hand."
Maria cast a look at Michael, who was already watching them intently. He crossed his arms, fingers thrumming a silent melody on his arm. "What are you thinking, Maxwell?"
"Something," Maria murmured to him as she extended her hand to Max. She would not let her mind run to the possibilities, and she absolutely refused to acknowledge that tingle of excitement that danced up her arms at the idea of knowing what she might be capable of.
For all of Michael's assurances, even spoken in the heat of fear, she wouldn't become a liability. Like Isabel said, Maria wanted to know what her abilities were. And she wanted to know how to use them, even if the existence of them had been against the will of a certain hothead.
Max's fingers enclosed around her wrist. "It would be better if you closed your eyes."
"Ominous much?" Maria said, but she obliged, tensing ever so slightly when his face disappeared behind her lids.
"Good. Now I'm going to need you to think of something. Something powerful. Hold that image in your mind. Do you have it?"
Maria squeezed her eyes tighter.
In hindsight, she would've expected the memory of gunshots and lying in the middle of a moving van to be at the forefront of her memory depository. Of hearing Liz screaming. Of catching the terror in Michael's eyes.
But no. The first memory that came to her was of a dog. A hoppy dalmatian, sporting a red collar and licking the tears from the face of a little girl crying on the porch.
On instinct, Maria's eyes sprang open. Her eyes found Liz first, who was looking around, seemingly suddenly on guard.
"Max, there's a hiker coming," said Isabel, her voice ringing with concern.
Her words didn't even make him flinch and Max stared back at Maria, a look of intense concentration on his face. "What makes you think that, Iz?"
"His dog. Max, we have to-"
Max released Maria's hand so abruptly, it dropped. She looked from Isabel, to Liz, to Michael, all wearing an identical expression of utter confusion.
"Where'd it go?" asked Michael after a moment.
Maria didn't know why, but a sense of fear washed over her as she looked around at the trees. "Where'd what go?"
"The dog," the three responded in unison.
The excitement Maria had been feeling was suddenly gone. She looked back at Max, waiting for some kind of explanation.
But Max wasn't looking at her anymore. His gaze was fastened on the others, first on Isabel, then Liz, and finally Michael, standing stoic, his arms still crossed, his hand still tapping nervously against his forearm.
Max stared for a long moment, and when he finally registered Maria calling his name, he returned his attention to her. But there was something in Max's face that set Maria's nerves on edge. She knew him long enough to know that look. It was the same one he wore when he was climbing out of the back of an ambulance. His hesitancy was cloying.
"What? What is it?" she ground through gritted teeth, heart suddenly pounding again, because she'd known Max Evans long enough to identify when something was good and when it wasn't. She bit the inside of her cheek. "Just tell me."
His gaze skirted hers. A bad sign. He seemed to sense her trepidation because a moment later Max fixed those eyes pointedly on hers, not as intensely, but the gentleness of them raised her hackles. "I could be wrong."
He broke eye contact long enough to look at what Maria supposed was Liz. "You . . . seem to have the ability to manipulate perceptions. Senses. The others could see the dog. They saw that memory as if it were here. They saw what you wanted them to see."
Maria waited, her heart pounding against her sternum. "Yeah?"
Those eyes were unbearably soft. "Manipulating perceptions . . . it was Tess's ability, Maria."