I really wasn't sure what to expect when I walked through the door. At this point every scenario seemed plausible. Maria could be screaming and crying, trying to make a break for a window, or even clawing at Max's face. She could be apathetic, rocking back and forth in a corner, or cowering like a frightened animal. There was also the possibility that she could be putting the pieces together and come out on top with a frail (and fake) sense of control over the situation.

At my momentary hesitation about opening the door, Alex almost walked into me, stopping so close to my body that his warm and nervous breaths lightly ruffled the top of my head.

He had blocked himself off; regaining control over his ability. I couldn't feel any of his emotions. But I could still read his body language and the regular telltale signs of very real human nervousness. From the small trembles of his chest as it pushed up against my back - due to our close proximity - to the slight squeak at the end of his deep inhalations.

I clenched my fists so tightly that my nails dug into the softness of my palms while taking a deep breath and steeling myself for, well, anything.

Automatically, I searched for Max at the back of my head, but he was silent. Worryingly so. The sudden fear that Maria had somehow managed to hit Max over the head with something and rendered him unconscious, had me instantly turn the door knob to get into the room.


The knob didn't budge.

Alex's breath was warm against the back of my neck as he looked over my shoulder. "Did he lock it?"

I frowned and tried to figure out how I had gotten out of the room in the first place. I remembered quite clearly that Max had locked the room with his powers coming into the room. So how had I gotten out of the room earlier?

An uncomfortable shiver slid down my spine, my hand hanging limply and forgotten on the handle. I felt Alex's confused gaze on my face before he gently pushed my hand off the handle and grabbed it in his own, trying to jiggle it open. As if my failure at opening the door was simply because I didn't know how to.

"Wait," I whispered and attempted to swallow my trepidation.

I was ignoring the fact that there was complete silence on the other side of the closed door. Right now, I would have preferred there to be a lot of screaming and even the sounds of things being broken.

The deafening silence was frightening.

My hand was shaking as I curled it around the handle again, pushing Alex's hand out of the way with the movement. In some way, I had managed to open Max's locked door before. Unless he had the ability to unlock the door from a distance, just before I had reached the door, I had been the one to somehow unlock it.

Something Max had told me was not possible. Not when it was protected by someone's energy. Which was tied in with someone's genetic code.

But maybe that was it. Maybe our energies were blending. Maybe they were becoming the same. Maybe, energy-wise, I could pass as Max now.

I had no idea how I had done it before. I hadn't given it a conscious thought. And now I had to somehow replicate that unconscious action.

Which essentially meant that I turned to what Max had instructed me to do, not too long ago, when he had wanted me to make water boil.

Visualize it.

"I can try and unlock-" Alex started, trying to push me away again.

My grip tightened on the knob and through impatiently pressed teeth, I said, "No, he hasn't locked it with a key, Alex. He's locked it with energy."

Alex sighed. "Then he needs to unlock it."

Frustration at being interrupted, at not being able to focus on the task, had my words spew out in a clipped fashion. "Give me a sec, okay?"

His eyes were on my face. His body language was hesitant. But he pulled back without a word, letting me have the stage.

With a deep inhalation I closed my eyes and imagined a see-through padlock, shimmering and golden - since it was made exclusively of energy. I loosened my grip on the handle to visualize inserting a golden key in the lock and feeling the small click reverberate through my hand as it was unlocked.

Opening my eyes, I snaked my fingers around the smooth metal handle once again and slowly turned the knob.

The elation I might have felt at being able to unlock the door successfully was smothered by the sight of Maria in one corner of the room and Max in the opposite.

Maria's eyes were already on me as I took in how she was flushing her back against the wall, how even the palms of her hands were pressed up against the wall along the sides of her body - as if she was trying to push into the next room through the wall, and how glaringly white her face was.

The terror widening her eyes was so prominent that I was momentarily afraid that her eyes might pop out of their sockets. Her lips were squeezed so tightly together that they had turned as white as the rest of her face, and her chest was moving up and down too rapidly to be healthy.

Max - having taken up residency in the spot furthest away from Maria's position - quickly walked up to me and wrapped his warm arm around my waist. My body felt stiff against his natural heat when not even his presence could get me to look away from Maria.

"Alex," Max said shortly, quietly, and I got a whiff of the unique smell that was just Alex as he quickly moved past me towards Maria.

"No," Maria squeaked, her voice sounding nothing like my strong friend. Her chest rose sharply with a frightened gulp of air, before she repeated, "No," and seemed to want to melt further into the wall.

Max's arm tightened around my waist in response to my obvious distress as I watched Alex slow down his pace the closer he got to Maria.

"You're one of them," Maria whispered and by the sound of her voice I was surprised that she left the word Traitor out.

My knees were softening, my legs wanting to give out, as Alex's calm and comforting voice drifted to Maria. "I know you're scared, Ria, but you can trust us."

The knee-buckling effect was all due to Alex's ability. Even though it was directed at Maria, it was slightly unfocused, affecting me as well. But the bulk of it was on Maria. I could tell by how the tightness around her large eyes started to soften, by how she let herself blink, by how large tears started to roll down cheeks that were already filling with more color.

I could see her whole body softening, making me worry that she was going to fall over, before Alex reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, an obvious struggle of emotions in that simple question. From the frown between her eyes it almost seemed as if she was confused by her own reaction. The wobble in her voice told me that she was still deathly afraid.

But the manner in which she took one step away from the wall and consequently one step closer to Alex - one of the assumed enemies - told me that whatever he was doing was working. She wanted him to comfort her. She was - albeit reluctantly - asking him to make everything bad disappear.

He was making her trust him.

Something that made me very conflicted. Because it was an immense relief to see Maria relax, to watch that fear fade away from her very being, but a large part of me still hated the fact that Maria was forced to feel something she didn't. Just to make it 'easier' for someone else to deal with her.

"Come on," Alex said gently. "Let's sit down."

Maria's eyes flickered to Max and the coldness in them as she looked at my boyfriend, at my bonded, was like a knife plunging straight into my heart.

Forget about your best friend rejoicing over you having a boyfriend.

Instead, concentrate on preventing your best friend from murdering said boyfriend.

"I don't want him here," Maria said, the hostility in her voice light. From the irritation flashing in Maria's eyes she had intended for it to be more acidic, but she couldn't know that Alex was tuning down her negative feelings right now.

Alex's hesitant face was blurry next to Maria when I failed to stop looking directly at her face. But the silent communication between the men could not be missed as Max tensed next to me, his fingers tightening into the curve of the right side of my waist, before he whispered to me, "Let's go. Give her some space."

Since my eyes had yet to leave Maria, it was impossible to miss how her eyes widened yet again and the abrupt step she took in our direction. "No."

Max had instinctively angled me slightly behind him at Maria's loud and firm protest. I don't think he even realized he had done it. That he was essentially trying to protect me from my best female friend. My best human friend.

"You're not taking her anywhere," Maria threatened.

I didn't know what to say. I wanted to tell Maria that it was okay, that Max loved me and presented no danger to me. But at the same time, I didn't necessarily want to leave with Max. I wanted to stay with Maria. To make sure that she was okay.

"I'm not leaving Liz here," Max countered, his voice intimidating in its firmness.

Finding both by motor skills and my tongue, I laced my fingers with his fingers that were pressed warmly into the side of my waist, gave his fingers a gentle squeeze and said, "It's fine, Max. I need to be with Maria."

Maria was back to staring Max down, some of the more familiar fire that was Maria shining brightly in her eyes.

I don't know how much time we have. Max's voice was grim in my head. It sounded sharp and clear in the absence of his thoughts and feelings. For not the first time, I wondered what he had done on his side of the connection.

My eyes drifted closed with love as he nuzzled his lips against the side of my neck and told me, I'm partially blocking you. And with a deep sigh, he seemed to reluctantly take a step back and change direction. You need to focus on Maria right now. Not me.

Max, I- I started to protest, but even without an audible voice he was able to interrupt me.

Be with her. She needs you.

He pressed a kiss to my skin, his lips lingering as a flood of love broke through his block, flowing over the connection and making me lose my breath. At the same time his body was strained against mine, as if he was resisting what he was suggesting, subtly letting me know that he didn't quite approve of leaving me right now. I'll try and buy you as much time as possible, but I can't make any promises.

My eyes blinked open and I met Maria's tear-filled gaze. I couldn't hide the sadness in my voice as I whispered, "I know," hating that we couldn't take this slow. That I couldn't give Maria the time she would probably need to absorb all of this.

His arm around my middle tightened and he nudged the side of my face gently, making me break eye contact with Maria to turn my head to the side and connect my lips to his expecting ones. A shiver of pure love moved through me at the contact and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut to prevent myself from crying.

I loved him so much.

So so so much.

I opened my eyes to look at him, missing his eyes, missing the sight of his face, only to find him already looking at me. His lips moved against mine and judging from the small crinkles forming around his eyes I knew that he was smiling.

His voice was husky and intimate, like we weren't being watched by two other people, when he told me warmly, "I love you. So so so so much."

I turned in the circle created from his arm around my waist to press my front to his, while I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my face into the warm angle between his neck and shoulder.

I knew that time was of the essence. I knew that Maria was most likely disgusted by this display. I knew that we were being watched and that our timing for lovey-dovey stuff probably wasn't the best.

But I needed a moment. The last couple of hours had gone by too fast. Too much had happened. I needed to breathe. Needed just a second to melt into his presence and feel the security his love brought me.

His arms were strong around my back as he pressed me hard against his body, tightening the embrace, making me wish that we didn't have to face reality. That, instead, we could just stay here. In each other's arms. Forever.

But Max, being the responsible one, started to loosen his grip way too soon for my liking. With a mild groan of protest I started to loosen my own grip around his neck, leaving the smell of his skin. Before I got too far away, though, Max had re-captured my lips in an all-consuming kiss.

His lips fondled my bottom lip, before his tongue brushed heatedly against mine and he re-angled our mouths to capture my upper lip. His fingers were pressing into my jawbone, the lower part of his body pressing against mine as his frenzied breaths filled the air between us, mingling with the labored sounds of my own breathing.

"Max..." Alex's uncomfortable voice pierced our bubble and with a frustrated grunt of objection, Max pulled back, meeting my eyes as I looked up at him.

My heart was hammering loudly against the inside of my ribcage while I floated in the passion visible in his eyes. The rushing of blood in my ears was drowning any other sound around me.

He gave me a softly crooked smile before leaning in and pressing his lips tenderly to mine. I pressed back, needing more from him, but his response was as dependable as I would have expected. While I pressed for more, like the lovesick teenager I was, he pulled back, like the rational alien he was.

"I'll let you know what's going on," he promised in a low tone, before taking a step back away from my body.

He paused, his eyes tracing down my face, before he lifted his hand to slowly brush his fingers down the side of my cheek, his light touch sending shots of fire through my system.

"Love you," he whispered.

"I love you," I replied, my voice sounding weak as it got lost in all the emotions.

With a small comforting smile, he removed his hand, winked at me, glanced over at Maria and Alex, and left the room.

The silence of the room grew even louder as the door clicked closed behind Max. Maria had returned her eyes to Alex and inched closer to his body. She was being pulled in by the 'Alex-effect'.

It made me feel like an outsider, even though I knew that 'the effect' in question was a result of Alex's powers. I slowly wrapped my arms around my waist to fight off the sudden chill.

Maybe I was an outsider nowadays. I was the conundrum, the one that no one could figure out at the moment. Which meant that I barely had a place in the world. No definition. No identity.

"You're an alien," Maria whispered, her sudden break of the silence making me jump.

She had grabbed Alex's hands and wrapped her long slender fingers around them. Her nails were painted. Pink.

I was rooted to my spot by the door as I watched Alex slowly nod confirmation. I didn't notice any discomfort or nervousness in his appearance, but maybe he was just focused. Maybe he was hiding behind a 'role', just like Max did.

"I would have told you..." a tentative sheepish smile grazed his lips, "It's just not such an easy thing to tell. With the risk of you possibly attempting to get me committed."

Maria still looked uncomfortable and her voice wavered with unbelief as she pointed out, "Hey, I wouldn't do that."

The discomfort he had probably been hiding slipped through his mask as he dropped his eyes from Maria and mumbled, "It's not real. What you're feeling right now, the reason why you can stand to be this close to me now... It's not real."

There was a pause in Maria's breathing as her unblinking eyes were stuck to Alex's face. It made control flow back into my legs, enabling me to start moving forward and get closer to my friends.

"What do you mean?" Maria whispered.

Alex's visible discomfort turned glaringly obvious, and as he clearly struggled to find the words, I found the words instead, "Alex's brain works differently than that of a human."

Maria blinked large glistening eyes to me. Her lips were dry. There was a flush to her cheeks even though the rest of her face was white. She was worryingly calm.

Was she still under Alex's powers? She must be. Otherwise she would be freaking out right now. Maybe she was freaking out on the inside? Trapped, but without the ability to react. Screaming at the top of her lungs while Alex was smothering the cries.

An ice-cold shudder rocked me and I momentarily met Alex's eyes, silently wondering if it worked like that. Because it would make Alex more alien, more frightening.

"Because he's an alien," Maria repeated, her voice detached. As if saying it over and over again would make it real.

With my attention refocused on my freaked out friend, I nodded, licked my lips, and clarified, "He can use his brain to push his will on someone else."

I noticed how Alex blanched next to Maria. I noticed how the small spots of life on Maria's cheeks started to fade when she felt the same feeling of hurt - which Alex was not only feeling but also unconsciously sending out - that I was.

I wet my lips again and tried to swallow even when my mouth felt dry as sand. "I'm sorry. I..." I flicked my eyes to Alex apologetically before looking back at Maria. "I don't meant to scare you, but that's how I would explain it."

"I can push my own feelings onto you," Alex said, accepting my poor excuse of an apology with an uncomfortable twitch to his mouth.

Maria looked back at Alex, her features crinkling with confusion.

"Which means that I can make you feel happy if you're sad and comfortable if you're uncomfortable." He cleared his throat when his own very real discomfort put a break in his voice. "Theoretically anyway."

Alex's own discomfort was interfering with Maria's fake feeling of comfort and I could see tremors returning to her frame, her back tightening up, as she slowly turned to look at me. With a demanding and gradually chilling look in her eyes.

The real Maria was returning.

"Alex is still the same person," I said quickly. "Believe me, I was skeptical at first, but he is. He would always give you better feelings, not the other way around." With the exponentially cooling expression on Maria's face, I desperately looked to Alex for confirmation. "Right? Alex? You would never make someone happy feel sad, right?"

Alex shook his head. "No. No." He was searching for eye contact with Maria, but she had the side of her face to him while she silently traced every syllable coming out of my mouth. "Of course not."

"The good aliens-" I started and took another step closer to the bed, mildly comforted by the fact that Maria didn't move away at my tentative approach, "-are good. Believe me. They want to blend in with humans. Lead normal lives. Use their abilities for good."

With large air quotation signs, Alex picked up my line of explanation and said, "The 'bad' aliens are really really bad. Dangerous."

I couldn't be sure if Alex was consciously pulling back his powers to prove that he was one of the 'good guys' who wouldn't use his ability to control someone against their will, or if he was simply losing his control of it, but Maria was slowly becoming herself.

As though backing away from a dangerous animal, avoiding any sudden movements, she slowly placed her hands a couple of inches behind her hips and used her strength to pull herself backwards slightly. Creating more space between her and Alex.

"How many are there?" she asked, her voice gaining strength with every spoken word. "How many of you are there?"

Alex cleared his throat again. "Around 600, give or take."

Maria's mouth dropped open, her eyes widening, words failing her.

My reaction was the same. I had come up with around 150 families of alien descent in my research, but I hadn't done any further calculations than that at the time.

600 was a lot.

Also, it probably meant that a lot of them didn't live in Roswell.

Which is what Max had alluded to; that there would be no place for us to hide were we to attempt to escape the alien community. 600 was not a large number when considering taking over Earth or something like that (if that was part of anyone's plan), but it was enough to place people in important social positions.

"How many in Roswell?" Maria whispered, her voice lifeless.

"72," Alex replied, as if that number had been closely imprinted into his memory.

Maybe it was an important detail to know...?

From the sharp movement of Maria's chin forward, I could tell that she was trying to swallow, but seemed to be just as unsuccessful as I.

"All pretending to be human?" she asked, her calmness impressing me more and more.

Maria had always been impulsive, full of life, emotional. A whirlwind of energy. A hurricane of opinions and emotions.

This collected and methodical side of her was one I rarely saw. I had seen it when my mother had died, when I truly realized how caring and protective she was of me. I had seen it on the rare occasions when her own mother had fallen ill and had needed taking care of. On those occasions, scatter-minded Maria had turned into this pillar of strength that would take care of Amy's business, run errands, cook, do laundry while simultaneously continuing with her own life of going to school, doing homework, hanging with friends, and gossiping.

I had been too deep into the whole alien-Max-grief-for-my-mother-era earlier to have fully noticed, but I saw it clearly now.

Maria was an incredibly strong woman.

"Some of us are actually part human," Alex replied.

Silently I watched the interaction between my two best friends. How Alex now seemed to relax some more. Maybe because he too recognize this calm 'let's get things done'-version of Maria. Which was always easier to deal with than the emotional and threatening Maria.

"I'm a hybrid," Alex continued. "A mix between alien and human." He didn't look away from Maria's stoic face. "So are Max, Michael and Isabel."

"But you can still force people to do things they don't want to?" Maria asked, her voice cold enough to freeze the air in the room.

I knew what she was hinting at. It was the same problem I had with the aliens since the start. That they robbed us of our free will. Which made us - the humans - feel helpless and vulnerable when we were informed of this little fact. Like we had been played for fools, used like puppets.

"Yes," Alex replied, reluctantly, wiping the palms of his hands up and down his thighs. "Alien traits are dominant. So even if they were 99% human, a hybrid would most likely still be able to use non-human abilities. But we haven't lived on Earth long enough to be able to try that theory out yet."

Maria stared at Alex for a couple of long seconds before she loudly exhaled. "I don't..." She started shaking her head, her calmness withering at the edges. The coldness in her eyes had dimmed as she turned to look at me again. I had inched even closer and was standing a mere two feet from her. "Is my mom okay?"

My stomach plummeted to my feet.

I hadn't thought of that. I didn't know that. Would the Antarians attack Amy?

"Yes," Alex replied when I didn't, instantly attracting Maria's full attention. "She's being looked after."

Relief flooded me.

Thank God.

"Why did they come after me?" There was wet emotion in Maria's voice now as she either allowed her feelings to come through or couldn't fight against them any longer. "I have nothing to do with this." She pointed a trembling hand at me, barely throwing me a glance before looking back at Alex, "According to Max, Liz is a..." She scrunched her face up and waved her hands around in the search of the word. Just as Alex opened his mouth to fill in 'gaea', she waved the whole thing away with a, "Whatever it was called." Irritation made her talk faster. "So she's forced into this. But why am I here? Why do they want to kill me?"

Fear made her voice break with restrained tears and I carefully sat down right next to her, next to her stiff back.

"We're not sure," Alex explained. "But most likely because of your association with Liz. Maybe they were attempting to use you as leverage. To lure Liz out. And..." Alex looked at me over Maria's head, "...if they got a hold of Liz, Max would follow." He swallowed, a look of grim nausea settling over his thin lips. "Mission accomplished."

"So that's why Mr. P is here as well?"

"Yes," I whispered. No one had told me the reason to my father's presence straight out, but it must be part of it. To keep us all safe. We were all in this together now.

Even Maria.

I jumped out of my thoughts as Maria's hand, reaching behind her, tentatively clasped mine. My eyes flew to her face, to search for a clue to what might be going on inside her head. But her profile didn't give anything new away, as she kept her eyes firmly on Alex.

A tremble of emotion, tempting me with the longing to cry, moved through me and I instinctively squeezed her cold hand in mine.

"What else can you do? What...'abilities'- Is that what you call it?" Alex nodded quietly and let Maria complete her question before he answered. "Do you have any other abilities? How have you managed to keep all of this secret?"

Relief wanted to take a hold of me. Questions were good. If the ever inquisitive Maria was back to asking questions - especially while holding my hand - there was hope.

"We have basic abilities, which are the same to everyone," Alex licked his lips. "Like, all of us can defend ourselves with energy blasts - shot from our hands - simple heating and cooling of molecules and simple mind techniques."

Maria's hand was squeezing mine tightly.

"Then there are special abilities, the ones unique to every Antarian. You can-"

"Wait," Maria interrupted. "Antarian? What's that?"

"That's our race," Alex answered calmly.

Maria leaned her body towards mine, the effect of her moving closer to me squeezing my heart with warmth.

I could almost hear her swallowing, her voice weak and trembling, "Of course it is."

Alex stilled, searching Maria's face silently, before stating, "You need a break."

"I'm fine," Maria replied quickly.

"You're not," Alex countered. And I knew that he was basing that information on his readings of Maria's emotions.

A more familiar irritation pierced through Maria's voice as she bit out, "Your buddy Max told me earlier that there was no time. So, I want answers now. Before it's too late. Before you whisk me off somewhere else against my will."

Alex hesitated, locking eyes with me in question, looking for support.

"Tell me more about your special ability," Maria said and there was a surprising softness to her voice, making me lean further into her body, my shoulder now touching the top of her spine, our hands clasped between our seated bodies.

Alex cleared his throat. "Okay." He shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. "I'm an empath. I read and regulate emotions - feelings - of people in my vicinity." He hesitated, possibly expecting Maria to freak out. When she didn't, he continued, "But like Liz mentioned before, I don't make someone feel bad. I always try and send out good feelings."

There was a beat of silence, before, "How many times have you done it on me? Regulated my feelings? Made me feel things that were not real?"

Alex's face was completely serene as he answered. There was not a flicker of hesitation in his eyes, no wavering of his voice. "I haven't. Not until today."

Maria's hand squeezed mine tighter. "Are you telling me the truth?" She shifted slightly. "Or are you making me feel like you're telling me the truth?"

Before Alex had a chance to answer, Maria had ripped her hand out of mine and had gotten to her feet. Even with her side facing me, I could see the redness of her cheeks and the fire in her eyes. No one could miss the way her hands tightened into small firm fists.

"How would I know that that is the truth? How can I ever trust you again?"

Alex rose from his seat, a warm red blushing his face as he took a step towards Maria with arms stretched out calmly in front of him. He didn't back down, not even when she took several steps backwards to increase the distance between them.

"This, for instance," Alex said slowly. "I would never make you feel like you're feeling right now. Instead I would try and make you feel better."

"Who's to judge what's better?!" Maria questioned acidly. "What if I need to feel anger right now, because that's the emotion my body needs?!"

It was around the time that saliva was flying in small angry droplets off Maria's lips with her every angry word that I started to feel Max's presence getting closer. And before Alex had a chance to defend himself or attempt any explanation at all, the door flew open, startling both Alex and Maria into stillness.

Because I had felt him coming, the only thing that was making adrenaline surge through my veins and my heart wanting to beat out of my chest at the sudden appearance of my alien boyfriend, was the look on his face.

A look I barely had time to see before he had stalked across the room, grabbed me firmly around the upper arm and pulled me up from my seat.

"We're leaving," he barked between clenched teeth. "Now."

His warm hand was sliding down the length of my arm to lace his fingers tightly with mine as he pulled me along towards the door, all the while angling me behind me.

I didn't like the tension in his body. I didn't like that he was still mentally blocking me. I didn't like the frenzy with how Michael and Isabel stormed into the room after Max.

I almost lost my footing when trying to look back over my shoulder with Max still pulling on me, to catch a glimpse of Maria. I had time to see her widened frightened eyes as Michael hurriedly approached her, reached an abrupt stop in front of her, and put a hand to her forehead.

My scream of protest at the sight of my best friend's eyes rolling back in her head before her legs folded beneath her and she sagged towards the floor, was immediately cut off by Max's hand over my mouth and his lips close to my ear as he pulled my resisting body up against his side.

"Shh... Don't make a sound." I felt the tips of his fingers press into my cheeks, the heat of his palm against my dry lips. "They're here."

___________________

A/N: I'm so sorry for making you wait so long for this update. I'm in the middle of moving and working three jobs (6 out of 7 days a week) so everything is a bit upside-down. Please let me know what you think about the chapter. Either through comments, voting or both :D

Thank you so much for reading!

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