Title: Last Chances (tentative.)
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Okay, you've yelled enough at me to do a straight CC fic... hope this is straight enough for y'all. (I could never follow the herd perfectly.)
Spoilers: up to Heart of Mine.

The ringing telephone dragged Max out of a deep sleep. He listened to the bell sound off as he lay there in the darkness. Two rings. Three... **if it goes on longer it might wake up Isabel or my parents...** He made a blind grab and picked the handset up. "Hello?"

"Uh, hey Max... sorry for calling so late."

"That's okay," Max replied softly, trying to place the familiar feminine voice on the other end of the line. "Who is this... Tess??"

"Eww... god, no, how could you say that??"

**Okay... not one of Tess Hardings' bigger fans.** Still sleep-fogged, Max tried again. "Liz?"

"No, MARIA! Look, I'm betraying a confidence entrusted to me by my bestest friend in the whole wide world here, so you can't let Liz know that I told you any of this. Are we clear??"

"What??" Max wasn't processing this well. "How can I agree to that when I don't know wh--"

"Are we *clear*, Maxxie boy?" Maria repeated, more firmly. "If the next three words out of your mouth aren't 'yes we're clear' I'm hanging up this phone and forgetting that I ever had this impulse and if I do that, you'll be best adviced to foget it too, so help me God."

Whoa. Someone was cranky. Max paused a few seconds, then started "Yes... we're...." He waited again to make sure he was absolutely sure before finishing it. "Clear. Whatever you tell me now, I'll keep it secret, never even tell Liz you told me."

"Okay. First off, Liz never slept with Kyle."

It took a second for that to register. "What?? But... do you know what actually - why did she try to convince me that..."

"Okay, this is where it gets confusing. This future Max - which I guess would be you, fourteen years down the road or something -- he came back in time, to meet Liz last fall. He told her all this stuff - that in his timeline, you and Liz got back together and became, like, the cutest couple ever sighted in the state of New Mexico, which flipped Tess out and she took off, never seen or heard from again. Which would have been fine and dandy for all concerned except that when aliens invaded Earth in the year 2015, Michael and Isabel died and things were getting really bad, and somehow you got the idea it was because Tess wasn't with you. Why you thought she'd actually be that much help is beyond me..."

"Maria?" Max interrupted. "Is there a point here?"

"I'm getting to that..." Maria aasured him. "So, Future Liz and her best friend Serena whipped up some math equations that turned the granolith into a time machine, and Max from the future came back to keep Liz from getting back together with himself - with you - but that wasn't enough. She had to get you to move on, which she did, by making it look like she'd slept with Kyle. She got the idea from me, apparently, and that whole Michael/Courtney thing, even though I didn't find out about this till weeks later. Not that Michael slept with Courtney, you know, but I thought she had..."

"Right, Max." Maria managed to interrupt herself just a second before Max could again. "Get to the point. So Liz pushed you towards Tess, but Future You also filled her head with all kinds of stuff about the future she'd never have with you. Like your wedding in Las Vegas, and the party we had for you guys afterward. So that's the reason that Liz has been acting so schizo on you, she's more totally in love with you than ever, but she doesn't think she can do anything about it because it would mean the end of the world."

"W..." Max had to swallow to get some moisture in his throat. "Wow."

"Yeah... except the thing I can't get her to admit is that maybe things have changed since last fall. Tess' relationship with all of us - I mean, it's changed, right? So it's not like you and Tess need to become a couple and marry again and everything - we just kinda need to keep her in the group, keep her from freaking out when you hook back up with Liz. Which we're closer to - she has that little sister thing going on with Kyle, apparently, and even I'm learning to tolerate the tramp. On the other hand, I think you really hurt Liz over the last few days - she saw you, at the prom, you know. Kissing Tess. Any more of *THAT* and it'll be you pushing Liz away - forever. So the person who needs to make the final call, Max, is you. So that's why I called. Well that, and I'm low on sleep and possibly my brain isn't functioning very well."

"Wow," Max repeated again. "Well... I'm still half asleep, and probably my brain isn't functioning very well either, but can I ask you about this again? When we're private??"

"Sure, Maxxie boy," Maria yawned. "You know, I'm starting to feel sleepier already..."

"Wait a second," Max interrupted. "Why are you doing all this? Breaking Liz's confidence... telling me a secret so big that neither one of us can give away that I know it."

"Because Liz is my best friend, and I want to see her happy, Einstein," Maria informed him with that trademark DeLucca sarcasm. "And ever since the shooting, happy Liz meant *you*. Got it?" Maria didn't wait for an answer as the echo of a faint ring on her end cut to a dead connection.

But when Max had hung up the phone, *he* couldn't get back to sleep. Images and thoughts kept swirling around him. Liz and Kyle... Tess... an alien invasion fifteen years in the future (maybe fourteen, now...)

Liz again. Liz still in love with him. No matter what the craziness or confusion, that made it all worth while. He hugged that thought to himself and waited for morning...

And drifted away into happy dreams.

* * * * *

The next day, in the bright light of the West Roswell hallway, everything looked a whole lot more complicated to Max. The secrets that Maria had revealed gave him hope - and a new perspective into Liz's mind that he'd been without for far too long. But one thing was clear - if he hoped to get back together with Liz and avert a horrible disaster at the same time, he was working with far too little information.

If it was only some nebulous homeworld out in space that was at risk, Max would probably have been more inclined to take the plunge and risk the consequences. But Maria said it was *Earth* that would pay the price if he made a mistake now. And Earth, speaking generally, was pretty much a given to include Liz herself. SHE had to live a long and happy life, even if it wasn't with him. All that Maria had said to the contrary, Max was sure Liz would be able to move on if she had to.

But Max couldn't let this chance slip by without giving it every ounce of effort he could. Right now, that seemed to mean finding out as much about 'future max' and his theory as he could, and putting the brakes on with Tess without upsetting her. For the first part, Max had an idea, that he was going to put into action as soon as he could get a chance to talk to Maria in private. As far as the second, the longer he could afford to put that off, the better...

And of course, in the same moment as Max thought that, standing in front of his locker and getting his books for the moment, he noticed that a pair of soft footsteps were coming right up to him from behind. **Oh, no.** Smooth, slender arms slinked around his chest, and before Max could react, he felt a soft kiss on the side of his neck. The familiar spicy/sweet fragrances of apple sandlewood perfume filled the air around him, and looking in the small mirror on his locker door Max could see the curtain of pale blonde hair falling over his shoulder.

**Come on, be a man about it. Remember, gently, you don't want to upset her any more than you ABSOLUTELY have to, but the braked go on. Right now.**

"Hey!!" Max disengaged himself from Tess Harding's arms and closed his locker door, stepping forward two paces and turning her around, very deliberately facing her with personal space between them. "Good morning, Tess, how are you doing today?" He was semi-consciously putting a formal tone to his words.

"Umm..." Tess seemed confused by his reaction. She started to move towards Max, and her eyes narrowed as he obviously took another half-step back. "Max, is something wrong??"

"Wrong?!" Max repeated in far too high-pitched a gasp, and tried to deep-breathe himself back under control without being too obvious about it. "No, umm... nothing's wrong. I was just thinking..."

"Thinking?" Tess repeated in turn, biting her bottom lip ever so slightly and looking at him with puppy-dog eyes. **Oh, no, not the puppy-dog eyes. She has to have a clue what's going on here. C'mon, think of Liz. You need to do this for Liz... Okay, you probably shouldn't be thinking about that MUCH of Liz right here in the hallway, or this is going to get even *more* embarassing...**

"Yeah," Max said, charging back into the breach. "I mean... it's obviously been a highly emotional few days for both of us... each of us coming out of a situation that was pretty emotionally intense - you with Kyle, me with Liz. So -- uh, well, I think before we go any further, maybe we both should take a step back and try a little perspective on this whole you-me thing."

"I don't need to take a step back..." Tess started.

"I'm not so sure of that. And I think I *do*," Max emphasized.

Tess' eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't have an ulterior motive for wanting us to go on a break, would you, Max Evans??"

Max's mind raced. "What can 'ulterior' mean in a situation like this? Everything that's going on in my life is a factor, obviously. And everything that *isn't* going on in my life. But I'm very sincere about it."

Tess weighed that for a second. "Okay. But can we get together for something as just friends? Maybe tomorrow evening, dinner at the Crash."

"I'd love it." Max surprised himself that he could say that completely honestly, on every level. Since he'd gotten to know Tess over the past few months, he actually enjoyed hanging out with her as 'just friends.' She was offbeat compared to just about everybody he knew, of course, but that was part of her charm.

And, of course, if he was going to get back together with Liz without driving Tess out of town in some impulsive act of vengeance, selling her on the value of friendship would have to be a huge part of the deal. He had a glimmer of what Tess wanted in her life aside from a chance to jump his bones, and a place to belong, a way to make her life matter, and friends who would accept her for who she was without judgement were all high up on the list.

Time was passing by, and Max had only a few minutes if he wanted to meet up with his friends before first class. He wouldn't have made a big deal if Tess had tagged along, but she said her goodbyes and headed down the corridor the other way. But Max didn't actually make it to the quad.

He got held up at Alex Whitman's locker, where Isabel was showing an irrepressible streak and continuing her series of wild stunts to try to get Alex to give her a second chance. Today's attraction was a reasonably good a capella version of 'Everything I do, I do it for you.' Young Mister whitman was heard to remark 'a guy could get used to this.'

To be continued...