Hey guys,

Yes, I realize I owe you all a new part for Homes 7. And I swear I'm working on it. But I got a little sidetracked... So here you go. It's just a little something that's been keeping me up nights. *wink* My first Season 3 offering, a tag to "Significant Others". Enjoy.

*happy*
Em

**************

Life Lessons
by EmilyluvsRoswell

Disclaimer: I own none of them, though I'm vastly more deserving than those that do…
Summary: A tag to "Significant Others"
Category: Jeff Parker POV
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Through the aforementioned episode.
Author's note: After the first two episodes of the season, I was completely disgusted with Jeff Parker and his one-note reaction to Liz and Max's misadventures. I agreed with his right to be angry and fearful, but not with the show's insane portrayal of those emotions. By the end of "Significant Others", I felt differently.
October 2001

* * *

They finish totaling the receipts in silence, but it is a good kind of silence, missing the hostility that has marked the past few days. Liz's expression has softened and a smile touches her lips.

She is still in there. His little girl. Beyond the make up and the earrings and the body-hugging top, he sees her. The one who used to stand on his feet when they danced. Who would beg him to twirl her so that her long dark hair would fly outward in a silken circle, going around and around until she collapsed in a dizzy, giggling heap. His serious-minded little scientist, who, determined one night to count the stars in the sky, had stayed awake long after he'd dozed off beside her on the balcony, working her way around the constellations. His Lizzie, who believes he has all the answers, and that they are hers for the asking.

As if sensing his eyes on her, she glances up from her calculations, eyebrows arched. "What, Dad?" Her expression is curious, young, faintly embarrassed, as if she can read his thoughts.

Jeff feels the tightness around his heart loosen for the first time since receiving the phone call from Utah.

* * *

She is waiting for him when he comes down the next morning. Already in uniform, her hair tied back, she is ready for the day. Her eyes are wide and alert, while he is still desperately in need of his morning caffeine injection. Suddenly, he feels unbearably old.

"Dad, I need to talk to you."

He pauses, coffee mug halfway to his lips. So, now it comes. The payment for her forgiveness. "Liz, I don't want…"

"Please?" Her tone is so calm, so reasonable. So adult. No reproach, but no pleading either. How could he have thought her still a child?

He sighs, then nods, leaning wearily on the counter. "Go ahead."

"Thanks." She grabs a second mug and pours herself some coffee - when did she start drinking it black? - then slides onto the stool next to him.

"It's not going to change anything, though."

"Maybe not," she agrees. "Just hear me out."

He nods again reluctantly. For an instant he wishes she would go back to being angry and defiant, because then he could, too.

"I understand that you're upset. And worried," she says. "But I can't promise you that nothing bad will ever happen to me."

"Liz…"

"Dad, please let me finish." Her dark eyes settle on him, and within that gaze he can see just how serious she is. "What I can tell you - promise you - is that whatever happens will be because of something I have chosen to do, a decision I have made."

He feels the rage boil up from no where. "Liz, you and Max robbed a convenience store! You're telling me that was your idea? That he didn't make you hold the gun on that clerk?"

"I'm telling you no one made me do anything," she replies calmly. "And no one robbed anyone," she adds pointedly. "We didn't take a dime from that store."

Her refusal to react somehow deflates him, but he will not be so easily sidetracked. "Max Evans is trouble, Liz. Even he can't deny it. He puts you in danger."

"Getting in trouble and being trouble aren't the same. Are they, Dad?" There's knowledge behind her question, and he closes his eyes, understanding that the footing has shifted. "Because if they are, then I guess I'm trouble, too," she adds.

He remembers being this young. Recalls the sense of invincibility, the belief that your decisions were the only things that controlled your future. The utter power inherent in making a deliberate choice, knowing it was wrong, but that you would come through the other end unscathed because you were special, different, invulnerable. And he remembers discovering how very wrong he was.

"I don't want you seeing him, Liz."

"I'm not asking to see him. I'm asking you to." She is watching him carefully for his reaction, and he fears he has given her just the one she wants - surprise. "Let him come talk to you," she says. "That's all." Pausing, she lets down her guard for just a moment, her eyes dark pools of emotion. "Dad, I love him. That's not something that will just go away."

His first instinct is to refuse. He desperately wants to say no - to get up and walk away and declare the subject closed. But the bitterness of her hate still lingers in his memory, and he cannot muster the courage to risk that again. Besides, he is safe in this gesture. He can agree to this meeting, make this effort for her, secure in the knowledge that he will have no such difficulties refusing whatever request Max Evans might make. He just hopes that Liz will recall his willingness, later.

* * *

It is late afternoon when the chime above the front door rings out and Max walks into the empty café. Jeff watches from behind the counter as the young man slowly crosses the floor, his head angled slightly downward, his expression wary. The leather jacket is conspicuously absent, and Max has made an obvious effort to look presentable - clean blue shirt and jeans, hair brushed back off his forehead, face newly shaved.

"Thanks, Mr. Parker. For agreeing to talk to me."

Jeff wonders how Max knew it was safe to come, what system of signals he and Liz have devised to circumvent the edict that they not see each other. "I told Liz I'd listen to what you have to say," he says, forcing the words from his throat. "That's all."

"I understand." Max looks awkwardly around the room. "Did you want to…?" He indicates a table.

It would be easy to refuse - to hold the entire conversation standing awkwardly at the counter - forcing Max to look up at him. But there's nothing to be gained by such macho posturing, so he nods and walks around the counter. They sit opposite one another, squaring off before the battle. Or is this supposed to be a treaty negotiation? Jeff is not quite sure.

Whatever it is, there is a wistful look in Max's eyes. Not the softness of expression Jeff expects from a punk.

"Do you know that I remember the first time I ever saw Liz?" Max says abruptly. "It was the first day of third grade. Isabel and I had just gotten off the bus and all the kids were playing out in front of the school. We didn't know a soul. Then I saw Liz and somehow… it made things all right." He shakes his head, as if clearing away the memory. "The point is, I've loved her for a long time, Mr. Parker. And I know you don't care about that, and I don't blame you, but it's the truth."

This is not new information. Oh - the details might be - but not the spirit behind them. But it cannot matter. Jeff does not want to recall the boy who used to spend his afternoons in the front booth of the café, books spread over the table, nursing his cherry coke and a piece of pie for what seemed like forever. He doesn't want to remember how the pie and drink always lasted until the exact moment that a certain waitress ended her shift, or the sad amber eyes that would follow her as she headed out the door.

Instead he conjures up his nightmares. Liz holding a gun; a high-speed car chase; his daughter curled on a cot in a jail cell. He focuses on the images that have caused him endless sleepless nights. Hard images that make his heart stutter because he knows they are based in reality.

"I don't know what I ever did to make Liz love me back."

Jeff jerks his head up at the words, though more at the tone. Utter disbelief. Insecurity.

"I know I don't deserve her. I didn't before, and now…" Max trails off, his eyes darkening. "We've had our ups and downs, and the downs were my fault. I… I've been so stupid. Made so many unforgivable mistakes. And yet, she took me back." He looks up and now his gaze is filled with conviction. "I owe her everything, Mr. Parker. If it was just me… just my feelings… I would walk away. It would kill me, but I would do it for her, because you're right. I've hurt her and put her in danger and she deserves so much more than that. But she loves me, too, and I can't bring myself to turn my back on that. I've sworn to make it up to her. Every single thing I've ruined since I've known her. To make her dreams come true."

"You're not convincing me of anything," Jeff says harshly. "All you're doing is telling me that I'm right to want you far away from my daughter. You've hurt her. She'll forget about you."

A deep breath. Amber eyes drop, then rise self-consciously. Jeff braces himself. Whatever ammunition is still out there, it's about to fall.

"She's willing to move out. To leave home to be with me."

"What? Is that supposed to be some kind of threat? She's still a minor, Max."

"I realize that, Mr. Parker. That's not why I'm telling you this." He closes his eyes briefly. "She's going to hate me for saying anything." Barely a whisper, but filled with regret. Then the amber gaze is back, steady and unreadable. "I told her it would be for all the wrong reasons. I meant it. I love Liz and I want to be with her. But not at this price. Not by destroying her. Because no matter what she says, it would devastate her to leave on those terms. Just being at odds with you this way is killing her."

Are they still at odds? She asked to read his poems. She said she doesn't hate him. He saw her smile.

But will it last?

"What are you saying, Max?"

"I want Liz to be happy, Mr. Parker. That's all. I don't want to hurt her. I love her. I know you don't trust me, and I understand why. But she's your daughter. Can't you at least trust her? She's the most incredible person I have ever known. But I can't make her happy without your help. And I would do anything for her. Anything at all."

Again his tone has changed, and Jeff realizes that Max is awe-struck. By Liz. Nearly ten years of watching her, both far and near, and he reacts with amazement. As if it was all still new. It is still his first day of third grade.

Somehow, Max Evans has succeeded in making them allies.

Max understands. He knows that Liz is the poem.

Jeff stands slowly, waiting for Max to do the same. "I think it's time for you to go."

His face falls. Just a little. Just for a second. A second where he is completely defenseless, before the mask settles back into place. And in that moment, Jeff glimpses despair.

"Thank you for your time," Max says.

He watches him walk to the door. Waits for his hand to come up. Waits until he has pushed against the pane, until the cool fall breeze rushes in through the doorway and stirs the air.

It is the last possible moment. "I need to think this over," Jeff says gruffly. And even from halfway across the room, he sees Max's chin lift. There's a quick glance back, a casual nod, a smile. But the amber eyes are glowing.

* * *

He knows what he will find even before entering the back room. She sits on the ratty old couch, uniform rumpled, her bare legs tucked beneath her. Tear tracks mark her cheeks, but the light is back in her eyes, as well.

"No dates," he declares. "No going anywhere in his car. No going anywhere at all," he amends. "He comes to the restaurant or the apartment, but only if your mother or I are home. And so help me, if you make me sorry, I'll have you on the first plane back east."

She has held her tongue throughout his litany. Now she nods, her ponytail bobbing. Standing up, she wraps her arms around him and presses her cheek to his chest. "Thanks, Dad. I love you," she whispers.

He sighs. "I love you, too, Liz."

He watches her run up the stairs, a spring in her step. His Lizzie. The light of his life. And he understands that, thoughhis little girl is still there somewhere, deep inside, she is also someone else now. Someone new. Someone beautiful, intelligent, strong, and stubborn, who has seemingly appeared overnight. She has become a woman…

And the woman belongs to someone else.


END