posted on 15-Oct-2001 5:59:24 AM by Destinee
Title: Strong, Dangerous, & Undeniable
Author: Destinee
Rating: PG-13
Category: M/L, a little Mi/Ma, and a strong focus on Michael
Disclaimer: The characters in this story don't belong to me, but to M. Metz, J. Katims, and The WB- or I guess now it’s UPN. In any case, I'm just gently leading them where I'd like them to go. No infringement intended.

Summary: This story begins with the scene in MITC when Liz does her astral projection thing. It follows along with everything in the show up to that point, and goes on to explore Liz's powers, and to resolve the obstacles in the path of her being together with Max.

Author's Note: Boy, I can't even tell you how much I've missed this board! They've done an amazing job of getting it back up and running, haven't they? It's so good to have it back!

I just had to tell everyone how heartwarming your feedback was on the last part. I'm so sorry I didn't get a chance to reply, but you guys definitely keep me going with all your kind words. *happy* I'm glad everyone only had good things to say about Michael's situation, and I was especially glad to hear that everyone would be interested in a sequel. If you can keep putting up with my slowness in posting, we'll definitely go that way. *tongue*

I know I promised another dream in the next part, but it seems two other little incidents insisted on happening first, so I haven't gotten to that yet. Hopefully, the fact that I'm posting two new chapters will keep me in your good graces, though. *big* I promise we'll get to the dream in the next part, and then after that, I think we may have a chapter that will be about M/L spending another night together, then I'll reveal the watcher and the truth about the connection, and that should wrap it up. Just to give you an idea of the timeline I have in mind.

I had added these two parts to the thread I'd already started with the previous 4 chapters, but I couldn't edit the subject line, so I started a new thread. I finally got it up to date on the Repost board though, so if you need to catch up or need a little refresher you can go here.


Okay, that's all I have, so read on! Hope you enjoy it! *happy*

Chapter 49

Liz felt the same prickling sensation across the back of her neck that she’d felt off and on all day, and she turned quickly to try and catch whoever had their eyes on her.

All she found was a moderately populated diner whose occupants were all focused on conversation with their table companions, or on eating their meals. No one seemed to be paying her an undue amount of attention, as had been the case every time she’d turned to look today, and she sighed with frustrated irritation. It was driving her crazy, this feeling of being watched, and it was also freaking her out the slightest bit. She didn’t know if it was just her paranoia kicked into overdrive, or if there was honestly something to worry about, but just the idea that Nicholas, or some other evil mind-warping alien, might be silently stalking her left her completely unnerved.

She hadn’t said anything to anyone today about her wariness, but the gang had stuck pretty close to her anyway, after hearing about the incident with Nicholas from yesterday. Liz realized she was going to have to tell Max about it. He’d gotten so upset when he found out she hadn’t told him the last time. She really hated to, though. She knew it would probably make him crazy with worry. As it was, he was already with her every possible minute he could be. He’d walked her to every one of her classes today, even though sometimes they were extremely out of his way, and she had her suspicions that he’d ended up late for a few of his classes because of it. They’d sat close together at lunch, and she hadn’t had the heart to enforce the two -foot distance rule because it was so comforting to have him near. Fortunately, Tess hadn’t eaten with the rest of the group, but had instead sat at another table with Kyle and one of his football buddies and his cheerleader girlfriend. That had been one heartening aspect of the day. That Tess had felt comfortable enough to break away from the group, and that she had wanted to be with Kyle instead. It seemed a promising sign.

Max had brought her home from school, and probably would’ve hung around the Crashdown during her shift if he hadn’t had to work, himself.

Longingly, Liz looked out the window towards the UFO Center. She wished 7:00 o’clock would get here already. She needed to see him.

“Hey, Earth to Liz,” Michael said at her back, making her jump and swivel around sharply to face the pick-up window. She’d been coming to check on table seven’s Orbit Rings before she’d gotten so side-tracked.

Michael was looking at her quizzically and said, “Spaced out much? I said your name three times.”

“Oh. Sorry,” she said distractedly.

He threw a quick glance out the window to see what she’d been so intent on, and looked back at her with a slight frown when he saw nothing unusual.

“You okay?” he asked with concern.

“Um... yeah, I’m fine,” she replied, her expression one of dismissal. She wasn’t going to make the mistake of letting Michael in on her feelings of leeriness before she told Max this time.

She scooped up the basket of rings and started to turn away.

“Liz,” Michael said insistently, catching her arm to stop her. When he became aware of what he was doing, he jerked his hand away immediately. “Tell me what’s wrong. You’ve been actin’ weird all day. Did you think you saw something out there?” he asked, glancing out the window again.

Her expression softened as she looked up at him. “No, I didn’t see anything. Everything’s fine, Michael. Really,” she assured him.

Michael had been hovering quite a bit today too. Which was surprising to Liz. After sharing so much of himself with her this morning, she’d thought he’d probably be quick about getting his wall back up into place, and would give her a wide berth. But amazingly enough, just the opposite was true. She’d often felt his presence nearby throughout the day.

He’d actually shown up after their first period class was over, presumably to walk her to her next class, but as soon as Max had made an appearance, he’d made himself scarce. He’d sat on her other side at lunch, with Maria between them so they wouldn’t inadvertently connect, and after school he’d ridden to the Crashdown with her and Max, getting out of the jeep with her and going in to start his shift early.

Liz was feeling a lot more indulgent of Michael’s behavior than she had been the past several days, seeing it now for the protective effort it was. And Max had tolerated it pretty well today too, but she wasn’t sure if he’d truly been okay with Michael’s frequent appearances. The two boys had been so careful with each other all day, doing their best not to argue or step on each other’s toes, while both trying to keep an eye on her. Their excessive politeness with each other might have almost been comical to watch if it hadn’t been so painful to see what a strained effort it was for these two once-best friends to merely get along now. Liz hated to see them acting so stilted with one another. She wished they could just get everything cleared up between them.

After looking at her for a moment, unconvinced by her assurances that nothing was wrong, Michael said, “You know I know you’re lying, right?”

Liz made a small sound of exasperation. Thanks to this connection, they were learning to read each other way too easily.

“Okay,” she admitted. “Something has been bothering me a little. But I need to talk to Max about it first, Michael, alright? I don’t want to mess up with this thing anymore. I hate that we keep having so many hurt feelings between the four of us, and I want to make sure we do everything right from now on. I just want everything to be okay with us again,” she said with regretful longing.

“I know,” Michael said, somewhat soothingly.

Liz’s mouth twisted wryly, and she shook her head. “Of course you know. Why do we even bother to talk?”

Smirking, he replied, “Beats me. Not my department.”

She gave a snort of amusement at the truth of that, and left to deliver her order.

She continued to have that crawling feeling that someone was watching her for the duration of her shift. But every time she tried to catch someone at it, no one was looking that she could see. Several times she went to the window to visually search the sidewalks outside, and though she spotted a few people lounging around who seemed to have no purpose, no one really looked as if they were paying the restaurant any mind.

The whole thing was making her extremely nervous, and by the time 7:00 o’clock neared, she was jumpy and on edge. A fact Michael and Maria both took note of rather worriedly.

“Are you okay, Liz?” Maria asked as she came to help her friend with the task of bagging up the trash out front.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Liz answered automatically, knotting the top of the trash bag and shaking out a replacement with a sharp snap of her wrist.

When Maria continued to look at her in concern, Liz sighed in concession. “I’m just tired, I guess. And a little on edge. But there’s nothing to worry about, Maria,” she told her, hoping that were true.

“You sure?” Maria continued to press.

“Yeah,” Liz nodded assuringly. “Really. I’m fine.” Her lips tipped up in a small grin, and she added, “And I’ll be even better in about 20 minutes when I can see Max.”

Maria made a face of dawning comprehension and said, “Is that all this is? Here you had me all worried, and it’s nothing but Max withdrawals,” she teased.

Grinning widely now, Liz said, “What can I say? I need my fix.”

She hefted the two industrial-sized bags of garbage, and Maria quickly took one from her, saying, “Here. Let me help. You takin’ them to the dumpster?”

Liz nodded in answer, and after a brief stop to collect the trash from the back room, the two girls headed for the back door.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re goin’?” Michael called, just as they were pulling the door open.

They stopped and turned back to face the kitchen where he loomed in the doorway.

“We’re going to deliver presents to all the good little girls and boys,” Maria replied with dry wit, lifting her bags slightly in the air. “Where does it look like we’re going?”

Narrowing his eyes a little, he leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms, then returned smoothly, “Well, it looks like you’re going outside alone, but I know you can’t be that stupid, which is why I asked.”

“Michael, the dumpster is like three yards outside the door,” Maria said exasperatedly. “If anything happens in the two minutes we’re out there, I’m sure we’ll be close enough to make a run for it.”

“Think you can outrun an energy blast?” he challenged. “‘Cause I don’t. Just let me do it,” he said, straightening to head in their direction.

“What, you think you’re faster than a speeding bullet or something?” Maria asked with derisive sarcasm. “Just relax, would you? We can do this. We’re only gonna be going to the alley, not setting off for the Mexican border on foot. I appreciate your protectiveness, Michael, really, I do, but let’s not go overboard, alright? If we can’t even step foot outside the door without a bodyguard, we might as well just lock ourselves in our homes until you can rid the world of evil aliens.”

Michael’s only response was a tightening of his lips.

Taking it as a sign of concession, Maria said, “Now be a good little spaceboy and let us go, ‘kay? We’ve gotta get back to our customers.”

Sighing, Michael shook his head. “You are so pig-headed. Anybody ever tell you that?”

Maria smirked. “Yeah. My mom. All the time.”

“Well she knows what she’s talkin’ about,” Michael agreed. “Alright, fine. If taking the trash out is so important to you, go do it. But I’m staying back here to watch. If that offends your sense of independence, that’s tough.”

“Hey, do what you gotta do,” Maria said with shrugging airiness.

Liz hadn’t involved herself in the argument for a little more freedom from Michael’s watchfulness. His sense of cautiousness over this small act had awakened apprehension in her over it as well. But Maria was right. They couldn’t just cower down and let fear rule their lives until Nicholas or whoever was caught. What if that never happened?

Lifting her chin determinedly, Liz reassured herself with the thought that they were just taking several steps outside the door, then they would be right back. Like Maria had said, it would take two minutes, tops. What could happen in that short amount of time?

With those bolstering thoughts, she and Maria turned to go.

Just as Michael was leaving the kitchen doorway to follow them, the loud popping sound of grease pulled his attention towards the grill. He still had several burgers cooking, and they were just about due to be taken off. Glancing back at the alley door in a moment of torn indecision, he kept an eye peeled on the open door as he hurried over to the grill to get the meat off before it burned.

In spite of her earlier bravado, Michael’s reminder of the need for cautiousness had made Maria the slightest bit uneasy, and she darted a rather nervous glance toward the end of the alley as they entered it.

“Let’s hurry, okay?” she suggested.

Liz nodded in wholehearted agreement, and they moved as quickly as their burdensome loads would allow, trash bags bouncing against their legs with each hurried step.

They reached the large metal container in only a matter of moments.

Half-way there, Liz thought, throwing a quick look toward the alley’s opening while waiting for Maria to swing her bags up and over the dumpster’s side. She told herself she was being ridiculous to be so tense about this brief venture outside, but she decided right then and there that Michael could just have garbage duty from now on. Defying possible danger and refusing to cower were all well and good, but there was something to be said for having a big, strong guy, who happened to have alien powers, at your side while you were doing it.

Just as she’d copied Maria’s action and tossed the trash she was carrying into the dumpster, Maria suddenly seized hold of her with a crushing grip.

Liz jerked her eyes Maria's way to see her friend’s face frozen in an expression of voiceless fear, and she twisted around in panic to see what had put that look there.

There, at the end of the alley, several feet from the street, stood Nicholas.

Liz’s heart seized, as time seemed to come to a stop for a brief instant, then it suddenly began pounding furiously in terror as he slowly began to raise his hand towards them, palm out.

Quickly turning to crowd against Maria, Liz herded her in front of her as she began moving in the direction of the alley door, saying shrilly, “GO! Go, Maria!”

Her words seemed to unlock Maria’s frozen posture, and she turned swiftly, keeping hold of Liz as the two of them scrambled towards the door together, both fearful of feeling the blazing impact of an energy blast against their backs at any moment.

Maria had the fleeting thought that Michael had been right and she should’ve listened. There was no way they would be able to escape the wave of energy once Nicholas made it airborne. He could fry them in only seconds, and they wouldn’t even have a chance to know what hit them.

Upon thinking of Michael, his name slipped from Maria’s lips in a panicked cry when they were still several feet from the door.

When they had reached the open door, she could see him racing across the break room with a look of fear on his face, but suddenly the door was pulled closed in front of her as if by an unseen hand. Maria let out an involuntary shriek as it slammed in their faces with a crash.

Liz frantically twisted at the knob, terrified that this was it, this was the way they were going to die. The handle refused to turn under her hand, and she knew instinctively that Michael was doing the same thing she was on the other side of the door as his fist pounded against it with furious frustration. It crossed her mind to wonder if energy could transfer through metal, and if so, could she bring herself to actually use their massive power blast against someone.

The sobbing sound of Maria’s breath as she anxiously bounced beside her in a spurring motion, as well as her own desire to live to see Max once again, helped Liz decide that yes, she could, and she threw a glance over her shoulder to check on the enemy alien’s whereabouts.

It had probably been only a mere matter of seconds since they’d spotted him, but it seemed as if an inordinate amount of time had passed, and Liz wondered why he hadn’t released an energy blast on them yet.

In the same instant that she realized he was no longer there, the knob turned underneath her hand, and she and Maria practically fell inside the door as it flew open without warning.

Michael was nowhere to be found, and as they turned back to look toward the empty spot where Nicholas had been standing, they saw Michael appear at the entrance of the alley.

He paused for a brief moment to look their way and make sure they were alright, then ordered, “Go inside and lock yourselves in the bathroom. Do not come out until I come get you.”

“But... there’s no one else to watch the restaurant,” Liz said inanely.

“I don’t care!” he shouted. “Just do it!”

Maria tugged on Liz’s arm to get her moving, and when Michael was sure they were obeying his orders, he took off running across the street in the direction he’d seen someone fleeing. He’d barreled out the front doors of the Crashdown in time to catch a glimpse of someone running around the corner of a building a few doors down the street, but he was afraid his brief stop to check on the girls had given them time to get away.

Just as he’d reached the corner where their mysterious assailant had disappeared, a car came careening down the narrow street alongside the building with a screech of burning rubber, missing him by mere inches.

Michael jumped back out of the way, crashing back against the store’s wall, and looked after the car, straining his eyes for good look at the driver. But it was moving away at a terrific speed, and it was impossible to make anything out in the early evening twilight other than a dark baseball cap pulled low over the driver’s face.

Michael’s heart was racing from the near-collision, but he had enough presence of mind to take note of the fact that the car had been a dark sedan with no tags. As it flew around a corner several blocks away and disappeared from sight, Michael bent at the waist with his hands propped on his knees, and tried to catch his breath.

It occurred to him that if he’d only had his bike, he might have been able to chase them down. But he wouldn’t have wanted to leave Maria and Liz unprotected anyway, he realized. If there were more than one of them, whoever they were, this could’ve just been a plot to lure him away.

At that thought, Michael abruptly straightened and made his way hurriedly back to the Crashdown. He returned to an almost silent restaurant, and nearly everyone inside swivelled their heads around to look at him curiously as he entered.

He guessed they had kind of made a spectacle of themselves as the diner’s only cook had gone tearing out in panic, and the only two waitresses had presumably rushed in to lock themselves in the bathroom.

Clearing his throat, he rubbed at his eyebrow disconcertedly. “Uh... sorry about that, folks. We just- had a little incident in the alley.” Trying to think fast, he said the only thing he could come up with. “Seems a couple of guys from Goddard High got started early on the pre-game pranks and shook up one of the waitresses pretty bad,” he told them, referring to the rival school Roswell High was slated to play football against on the upcoming Friday. The two schools were notorious for pulling ridiculous, but usually harmless pranks on one another every year before their teams went head-to-head.

Michael thought it sounded like a plausible excuse for their behavior, and apparently he was right, as everyone seemed to accept it and went back to their meals with a shaking of their heads.

Once he was no longer the focus of attention, he crossed the restaurant and discreetly knocked on the Ladies Room door.

“It’s me. Open up,” he said softly.

The door was opened instantly by a white-faced Maria.

Enormously relived to see him safe and whole, she threw her arms around him, and they shared a quick hug

“Okay,” she said shakily against his shoulder, as if resuming a conversation they hadn’t been having. “You can play bodyguard all you want. I swear you won’t hear another word about it from me.”

Pulling back from her embrace, he looked her over and asked quietly, “Are you okay?” He glanced at Liz to include her in the concerned query, and she nodded jerkily in answer.

“Yeah, we’re okay. Are you? Did you find him?” Maria asked.

Michael shook his head regretfully. “He got away.”

He rubbed her upper arms lightly to reassure himself she was okay, then bent to place a kiss of thankfulness on her forehead. Feeling eyes on him, he looked over his shoulder self-consciously.

Several of the patrons were watching them with interest, and he gently extricated himself Maria’s embrace, saying quietly, “Come on. Let’s go in the back.”

He guided Maria out with an arm at her waist, but when Liz was slow to respond, he stopped.

“Liz?” At her continued lack of response, he stepped inside and took her gently by the arm to begin leading her out. “Come on, Parker. Don’t fall apart on me here. Let’s just go in the back, okay?”

He was assailed with the tumult of her emotions the moment he touched her. He could feel the trembling aftermath of her fear, the terrifying realization that someone was really after them and could have even killed them, and... a jarring note of guilt.

Michael was puzzled by that last one, but he didn’t take the time to analyze it. Liz kept looking at him almost incomprehendingly, and he was worried that she was in some kind of shock or something. He swept his hand down her back in a single, soothing motion, then gently pushed her forward.

As they exited the rest room, Maria reached for her and said, “Come on, Lizzie.” She wrapped an arm around Liz’s waist, and the two girls clung to each other as Michael ushered them through the swinging door to the back.

He got them both settled on the couch in the break room, then crouched on the floor in front of them.

Rubbing a hand along the outside of Maria’s thigh, he asked again, “You’re sure you’re alright? He didn’t do anything? Did he say anything this time?”

Maria shook her head and said unsteadily, “He- put up his hand, like he was gonna blast us or something...but nothing ever happened. You were right, Michael. We shouldn’t have gone out there.”

Dismissing the matter of who was right and wrong as unimportant, he said, “As long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters.”

“This is really real, isn’t it?” Liz asked in a slightly dazed tone. Looking at Maria, she said, “It wasn’t just a hallucination this time. You saw it too. And...” she switched her attention to Michael, “You said before, ‘they got away’. You actually saw someone running away?”

“Yeah,” he confirmed gently. “I saw them go around the corner over beside Movies and More, and then they got in a car and drove away. Fast,” he tacked on, failing to mention the fact that they’d almost run him down. “I don’t think it was really Nicholas, though. I could see him over the steering wheel,” he said with grim humor.

“So... it was a mindwarp?” Maria asked distressfully. The idea that someone had been playing around with her mind totally freaked her out.

Michael’s hand had come to rest just above her knee, and now his thumb brushed her leg in a comforting gesture. “It kinda looks that way,” he affirmed.

Just then, the phone out in the front began to ring insistently.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back,” Michael said, getting up to go answer it.

“Somebody should really get back out there to the customers,” Liz said faintly.

“Don’t worry about that. I got it,” Michael assured her on his way out.

A couple was standing patiently at the register waiting to pay when he got out there, and he held up a finger to indicate he’d be with them in a minute, then picked up the phone underneath the counter.

“Crashdown,” he answered shortly.

“Is everything okay over there?” Max asked without preamble. “I’ve been having the weirdest feeling that something was wrong,” he said worriedly.

“Yeah, it is,” Michael told him. “Knock off early and get over here, would ya? Liz needs you right now.”

“Is she alright? What happened?” Max asked with a panicked tone.

“She’s fine. Just shook up,” Michael hurried to assure him. Turning his back slightly towards the customers, he said quietly, “She saw Nicholas again. Maria saw him too this time,” he added significantly.

“I’ll be right there,” Max said abruptly and hung up.

Michael took care of the customers at the register, then made a quick check around to all the tables to see if anyone needed anything. Fortunately, the cafĂ© wasn’t too awfully busy, and the customers seemed to be understanding of the supposed situation, a few going so far as to express concern over Liz and Maria. By the time Michael had reassured them that the girls were fine, and had fulfilled a couple of their requests, Max came quietly bursting through the door.

Their eyes met across the room, and Michael indicated with a small movement of his head that they were in the back, sending Max hurrying in that direction.

He couldn’t believe this was the second time in as many days that Nicholas had managed to slip in and show himself to Liz when he and Michael were so nearby. It terrified him to know how easily the enemy alien could get to her. He felt a brief flash of anger at Michael for not keeping a better eye on her when he couldn’t be here himself, but Max tamped the feeling down. He needed to be calm for Liz’s sake. She was probably feeling even more scared than he was right now, he thought with concerned regret.

Liz thought she’d been holding it together pretty well until Max strode through the door. Though a myriad of churning emotions were bubbling inside her, they seemed to be somewhere in a place so deep she felt numb to them, allowing her to function in an emotionless void that didn’t require thinking too much about what had just happened. But the minute Max entered the room, feeling seemed to come rushing to the surface with prickling awareness, and tears sprang to her eyes as she catapulted off the couch to throw herself into his arms.

Max caught her up against him and held her crushingly, one hand going up to cup the back of her head protectively.

“Are you okay?” he asked with gruff emotion.

She nodded tightly against his chest, and his hand closed around her hair as he threw a searching glance behind her at Maria to make sure the other girl was okay too.

Maria forced a weak smile and said, “We’re okay. Just majorly freaked is all.”

He accepted that with a small nod, then leaned back a little, lifting Liz’s face in his hands. Her big brown eyes were swimming with tears, and Max’s heart clenched painfully at seeing them.

Brushing at her cheeks with his thumbs, he asked with concern, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Liz nodded in reply, and she wanted to reassure him that nothing had really happened beyond another huge fright. She didn’t want to worry him. But her throat felt too tight to speak, and the next thing she knew, tears were leaking from her eyes and cascading hotly down her cheeks.

“Liz?” Max questioned in alarm.

“I’m sorry,” she said on a breathless sob. “I don’t know why–“ the rest of her words became choked in her throat, and she could only shake her head helplessly. She tried to stop the tears from falling, but it was as if her feelings of helplessness, and the knowledge that Max was here to catch her if she failed to be strong at the moment, had broken something loose inside her, and she couldn’t seem to stem the flow.

His face twisting into an expression of caring sympathy, Max tenderly enfolded her in his arms and rubbed her back soothingly. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “You’ve just been under a lot of pressure lately. It was bound to catch up with you sooner or later.” Rocking her slightly within his embrace as she cried, he stroked her hair and whispered, “Just let it go, sweetheart.”

His tender words of understanding seemed to break down some final barrier, and Liz clung to him tightly as sobs began to wrack her body. As though they’d been given permission now to fall, her tears flowed in a torrential outpouring. What had begun as an emotional reaction to the fear of being killed and all the resulting implications of that incident, quickly evolved into something more, as she found herself crying for everyone and everything. For the whole Future Max ordeal and the pain she and Max had been put through. For Tess and her misguided notions of destiny that might still cause the end of the world even after all they’d endured. For the stress of lying to her friends and hiding her relationship with Max when all she wanted to do was be with him and be happy. For Maria and Max and all the pain and confusion her connection with Michael was causing them. For Michael and his desperately unhappy childhood. And for all these alien changes that had been set into motion inside her without her consent, changing her life irrevocably. Changing her irrevocably.

Liz was hardly able to recognize herself anymore. She was deeply shaken by the knowledge that if circumstances had led to it, she would have done her best to kill Nicholas. It scared her to know that about herself. And she cried with a strange sort of grief, as though the Liz Parker she’d once been had died or something, and this new stranger had taken her place.

It seemed she might possibly drown in sorrow as everything came pressing in on her at once, and she felt powerless to do anything but stand there and watch as it all threatened to bury her beneath its heaviness. She just didn’t seem to have control over anything anymore, and it left her feeling aimless and adrift in a vast sea she had no idea how to navigate.

Max continued to stroke her and murmur soothing platitudes while she cried out all her fear and helplessness, the sound of her heart-wrenching sobs making his chest constrict. As he lay his cheek against the softness of her hair, his lips curved sadly. His sweet, tough little Liz, he thought with loving affection. Such a tender soul and yet so brave-hearted. She’d been strong and unflinching for so long now- since May really- and this emotional storm had probably been a long time in coming. He’d felt the urge to break down like this himself over the past several months. But even though he was sure this was something she needed, her pain tore at his heart, and made him ache with regret for all she’d been through recently and the part he’d played in all of it.

He decided on the spot that she was not going to hear anything more from him about the problem he was having with the connection between her and Michael. Even if he had to block part of himself from her when they connected to do it. She had enough to worry about without adding that to the pile, he told himself reproachfully.

Michael entered the break room quietly after one of the waitresses that was working the night shift had come in to take over out front. The cook who was to relieve him was due in any minute. His steps faltered in hesitation next to Max and Liz as he crossed the room, and he and Max exchanged a brief look over the sobbing girl’s head tucked under Max’s chin, before he moved on to sit on the couch next to Maria. She immediately moved in against his side, and Michael put an arm around her shoulders to pull her in close as they somberly bore silent witness to Liz’s tears.

Michael was disconcerted to feel unshed tears thick in his own throat, and troubled confusion swelled inside him oppressively. He was almost positive that he was feeling what Liz was feeling, despite the fact that they weren’t connected. Maybe because her emotions were so strong right now, he concluded. As he tried to hold back the flood of painful emotions, Michael sat with down-bent head, unable to help but share in her sadness.

Maria, too, was subdued during Liz’s emotional outpouring, her terror from before all but forgotten in the face of her friend’s pain. She guessed this had been the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back. Liz had just been carrying too much for too long. It made Maria feel deeply ashamed of her childish behavior the past couple of days, and for treating Liz the way she had. She should’ve been more understanding of Liz’s point of view in the whole connection thing instead of striking out in resentment and giving her the silent treatment the way she had, she thought with self-remorse.

When her sobs had died down to an almost silent hitching of breath, Liz buried her face tightly against Max’s firm chest, embarrassed over losing it like that. It wasn’t like anything had really even happened that had been terrible enough to provoke it.

Max was feeling incredibly attuned to her emotions in that moment, and when he became aware of her embarrassment, he hugged her to him comfortingly and dropped a soft kiss atop her head.

Bending his head over hers, he said gently into her ear, “Nobody blames you for doing this after everything you’ve been through, Liz. It’s completely understandable, okay?”

A barely perceptible nod was all the reply he received, and Max leaned backwards at the waist to see her face, lightly palming the soft curve of her jaw.

The sight of her flushed, damp cheeks made his heart melt, and it brought every protective instinct he owned rushing to the fore. He would give anything to save her from all of this.

Smoothing her hair away from her face before brushing away the remnants of her tears with his thumb, he asked, “Feeling better now?”

Fingering a button low on his jacket, Liz peeked up at him, before lowering her eyes and nodding shyly. Her throat felt scratchy and raw, and a slight headache throbbed behind her eyes, but she did feel better. A little lighter somehow. She’d just suddenly been feeling so overwhelmed by all the upheaval and uncontrollable circumstances. Thank goodness Max had been here, she thought, glancing up at him in loving gratitude. He was her port in the storm. Gentle and understanding, and offering a steadying strength to hold her upright.

Max pushed the fall of her hair over her shoulder and asked softly, “Wanna talk about it now? I’m not really even sure what happened here. Michael said you saw Nicholas but you weren’t hurt, and that’s about all I know.”

Her voice husky from her bout of crying, Liz said, “Yeah, um... w-we can talk about it. I only know what I saw, though. Michael actually went after someone.”

Max threw a slightly startled glance Michael’s way, then looked back down at her with a nod, and placed a kiss on her forehead, before they turned to face Michael and Maria on the couch.

Not looking at them directly, Liz said self-consciously, “Sorry.. about the- um, the meltdown.”

“Don’t apologize, chica,” Maria said gently in understanding. “You were definitely entitled.”

Liz darted a glance at them, then looked away and nodded.

“You okay?” Michael asked quietly. He could still faintly feel the tumultuous swirl of her emotions, but they didn’t seem to be quite as dark and tangled as they’d been only a few minutes ago.

With a softening of her features at his concern, Liz met his eyes shyly and nodded again. “Yeah, I- I guess everything just... kinda caught up with me at once.”

Sensing that she just wanted to move on without anymore discussion of it, Max slipped an arm around her before asking Michael, “So- you went after him? And he got away?”

Maria felt Michael stiffen beside her at the way Max had phrased that. As if Michael had failed. He’d let them get away. She knew Max hadn’t meant it like that, but the way things stood between the two boys right now, she knew Michael would probably take it that way.

Hoping to forestall a defensive outburst, she said quickly, “He got away in a car, Max. There wasn’t any way Michael could’ve kept up with him.”

At her quick defense of Michael, Max realized how his words must have sounded, and he hurried to assure him, “I wasn’t saying you let him get away, Michael. I was just asking what happened.”

Michael accepted that with a tight nod, then proceeded to tell them about his pursuit and how the runner had made his escape. “I didn’t get a real good look at the guy,” he admitted, “But I really don’t think it was Nicholas. This guy seemed a little bigger than the pipsqueak.”

Max frowned. “So- what, you think this was a mindwarp?”

“Yeah,” Michael answered simply, giving Max a direct look.

“Tess?” Max voiced the possibility grimly.

Shrugging a little, Michael replied, “It’s possible I guess, but they were driving a dark gray Taurus. Unless she somehow managed to get her hands on an unmarked car, I’d say it was someone else.”

“A dark, unmarked vehicle?” Maria said uneasily. “Does that not just scream FBI?”

Michael made a considering motion with his head. “Yeah, maybe. But an alien with mindwarping capabilities in the FBI?”

“Why not? Whittaker held a public office, and she was an alien,” she pointed out.

Max had gone quiet and still at the suggestion that this was someone from the FBI. The idea had made him go cold all over, and now acid was churning violently in his gut. And the thought of someone with alien powers in the FBI was even more terrifying. What would someone like that be able to do if he ever captured one of them? And if Liz was the one he was after... the idea didn’t even bear thinking about. He would go out of his mind if he even considered it.

Beside him, Liz could sense Max’s state of unrest in the stiffness of his posture. She’d curved her body to fit his when he’d put his arm around her, turning her front to his side and resting her head on his shoulder while she’d listened to their exchange with quiet disturbance. She shared Max’s fears completely. This whole situation was just unnerving to her. And she knew the suggestion that this was FBI had to be resurrecting old terrors in Max. But it really didn’t seem to make sense.

Tightening her arm around his waist as comfort for them both, Liz quietly said, “But if this is someone with the FBI, or even just an enemy alien, what could their plan possibly be? I mean, they really haven’t done anything... except scare us. It’s like- they’re just out to- to terrorize us or something,” she ended with a slight shiver.

Forgetting his own fears as he sought to soothe hers, Max pulled her in closer to his side and asked gently, “What did he do this time? When you saw him?”

Liz related the entire incident that had taken place in the alley, catching him up on all that had happened.

When she was through, Max looked at her sternly and asked, “What were you two doing going out there by yourselves in the first place? We aren’t supposed to go anywhere alone, remember? Especially after what happened yesterday.” He sent an accusatory look at Michael and asked, “Why weren’t you with them?”

Michael felt his defensive hackles rise, but he knew Max was right in accusing him. He shouldn’t have let them out of his sight. No matter what Maria had said. If anything had happened it would’ve been entirely his fault.

“It wasn’t his fault, Max,” Maria defended, as if she’d heard what he was thinking. “It was mine. I talked him into letting us go. We were just going out to the dumpster. I didn’t think anything could happen,” she excused guiltily.

Filled with self-reproach, Liz confessed timidly, “Michael probably wouldn’t have let us go if- if I had told him I had a feeling someone was watching us when he asked earlier.” Max looked at her sharply, and she said quickly, “I thought maybe it was just my imagination. And I wanted to tell you about it first.”

She dropped her eyes from his, and Max looked from one to the other of them, each blaming themselves for the episode.

Sighing, he said, “Alright, look- it happened. Everybody feeling guilty about it isn’t gonna change anything. Thankfully, nothing really bad happened this time, but from now on, no one goes anywhere unless one of us is with you, okay?” He looked from Maria to Liz to make sure he had their agreement, and they both nodded. “And I think we can trust your instincts, Liz. They haven’t been wrong yet. If you think someone is watching us, they probably are,” he said grimly. “It doesn’t matter who you tell first, just so long as you tell someone when you think it’s happening, okay?” he ended gently, feeling a little guilty, himself for that part. He knew he was at fault for making her think that way, and he would’ve never forgiven himself if something had happened to her because he’d made her feel as if she were doing something wrong by telling Michael something he’d needed to know just because she hadn’t told him about it, first.

They all fell silent as Michael’s replacement came through the swinging door on his way to the kitchen. He cast a curious glance their way, but the look on Michael’s face urged him to just keep walking, and he did so hastily.

When he’d disappeared into the kitchen, Michael said, “Let’s get outta here. The others’ll be at my place soon. We should tell them about this so they’ll be on the lookout.”

Max would feel better if everyone were all together in one place where they could keep an eye on them, but after everything that had happened, he wasn’t sure Liz was still up to tonight’s activities. Which would be fine. He just knew that wherever she wanted to be, he was going to be there too.

Without releasing his hold on her, he looked down into her face and asked, “Do you still want to do this tonight, Liz? I’ll stay with you whatever you want to do. If you want to just stay here, we can.”

Liz took only a moment to consider. There was no question that she wanted to be with Max right now- needed to be, really- but she thought it might be better if they were with the group. She had complete faith in Max’s ability to protect her, but she thought she might feel better if he had some back-up readily available. If this lunatic came after them when it was just the two of them, she would fear for Max’s safety if he had to fight this enemy alone.

Smiling her thanks for the offer, Liz said, “I’d really rather not be here right now, Max. We should go ahead with our plans. I- think I could probably use the distraction.”

“Okay,” he said easily, smiling softly in understanding.

He pressed a kiss to her temple before reluctantly letting her leave his arms, and the four of them left for Michael’s, watchful caution directing their every move.

Chapter 50

Liz and the four aliens were all lying in various positions as they tried to share another one of Liz’s dreams. They had piled pillows and blankets on Michael’s living room floor, and now Liz lay at Max’s side with an arm stretched across him to make contact with Isabel, who was lying on his other side, and Tess was behind Liz with a hand on her upper arm to connect them. Michael was stretched out on the couch above them.

With a feeling of amusement, Liz recalled the way Isabel had complained that it was hardly fair that he got to enjoy the comfort of the couch while the rest of them had to lie on the hard floor. To which, his surprising reply had been, ‘Well, I guess maybe there’s a few merits to this connection after all.’ He’d darted a glance at Maria and Max after saying it, and Liz had chanced a peek at them as well to find them showing no visible reaction to his statement. She wasn’t sure if that was because what he’d said hadn’t bothered them, or because they just didn’t want to upset her. The three of them seemed as if they were trying to be really careful of her feelings. She might say they were almost treating her with kid gloves, ever since her outburst at the Crashdown.

Liz was still embarrassed about breaking down in front of them like that. It was ridiculous that after everything she’d managed to get through in recent months with a certain amount of stoicism, a small run-in with Nicholas that had really done no harm had made her lose it that way. Of course, physically it had done no harm, but emotionally, she’d been scared out of her mind. She’d honestly thought she and Maria were going to die in that alley. And though Nicholas had turned out not to be real, the whole incident had been enough to leave her and Maria pretty subdued tonight. They hadn’t really had a chance to talk to each other about it, but Liz knew that for her part, it was extremely disturbing to know that there was someone out there who could be secretly watching them at any time, and he had absolutely no compunction about terrifying them the way he had. Even scarier was the thought that he was only playing with them before he really did kill them. And he could strike at any moment.

Liz shifted restlessly with the disturbing thought, and after a moment, she heaved a sigh. This wasn’t working. They’d been lying here like this for a good 20 minutes, and she wasn’t the least bit drowsy. She opened her eyes to find Max looking over at her.

“Can’t sleep?” he asked with husky softness.

“No. You either?”

Max shook his head in answer, leaving unsaid that her fitful movements beside him had alerted him to the fact that she was having trouble sleeping, so he’d stayed awake too.

“Do you want to go talk or something?” he suggested.

Glancing at the sleeping Isabel while she considered, Liz said quietly, “Let’s just give it five more minutes.”

Max nodded in acceptance, and they both fell silent as she snuggled in against his side and closed her eyes once more. Necessity had dictated that she lie close beside him so she could reach Isabel at his other side, but it was an action Tess hadn’t seemed too thrilled over. She really hadn’t been able to argue with it though, seeing as how Isabel had quickly lay claim to the position next to him, and they thought they all needed to be in contact with Liz in some way. Liz didn’t know whether to be upset that Tess had seemed bothered by it at all, or encouraged over the fact that she’d fallen in with the sleeping arrangements quickly enough.

After her prescribed five minutes were up and she was still no closer to sleep, Liz sighed in defeat.

Almost before she’d fully gotten her eyes open, Max was quietly climbing to his feet. Reaching down for her hand to pull her up with him, he said softly, “Come on.”

When she was up, they wandered over to the kitchen where Maria, Alex, and Kyle were sitting around the bar engaged in quiet conversation.

They looked at Max and Liz in some surprise when they ambled up, and Kyle threw a quick glance at the still-sleeping aliens, before saying facetiously, “What’s the matter? Need a bedtime story?”

“Funny,” Liz said with a fake little smile. “I just can’t get to sleep. I have too much on my mind, I guess.”

“Well turn on the t.v. and watch half an hour of info-mercials,” Alex suggested. “That’s always worked for me. Especially that one for like that...” he gestured with his hand, “Miracle car wax or whatever? Fifteen minutes of watching that dude wax on, wax off, and put his poor car through torture, and I’m out like a light.”

“What’re you talkin’ about, man?” Kyle mildly protested, commandeering one of the bags of chips Michael had set out for them. “That’s like a top of the line car-care product. It really does everything they say it will, you know,” he informed them, munching on one of the chips he’d retrieved.

“What, you’ve tried it on the mustang?” Alex asked disbelievingly. At Kyle’s nod, he said skeptically, “You’ve actually tried setting your car on fire.”

“Well- not on fire,” Kyle admitted. “But I did hold the lighter very close. I’m sure it would’ve melted some cheap Car-Mart brand. But this stuff? It’s like...” he cast about for a descriptive equivalent, and when his eye fell on Max, he gestured toward him as if he’d hit upon the perfect description, “An alien force-field for your paint job.”

The corner of Max’s lip tipped up a little as he gave Kyle a dry look, then he shared a small smile with Liz, beside him. It was the first he’d seen from her since the incident with Nicholas earlier, and for some inexplicable reason, it made Max want to wrap her in his arms protectively.

Michael chose that moment to join their small group.

“You’re still awake, too?” Maria said, as he came to a stop next to the stool she was sitting on and slung an arm around her shoulders.

He shrugged as he reached for a handful of chips for himself. “No point in sleepin’ if Liz isn’t goin’ to. She’s kinda the star of the show,” he pointed out logically.

Alex glanced over at the two sleeping figures left on the floor. “Well should we wake up Isabel and Tess?” he asked.

“I still want to try this,” Liz assured them, in favor of letting the girls sleep. They might have trouble getting to sleep again themselves, if they woke them now. “I just need.. a distraction or something. You know? Something that’ll just tire out my brain so it’ll stop racing and let me get to sleep.”

“Which would be what, exactly?” Alex asked with lifted brows.

With a small shrugging motion, Liz paused for a moment to consider. The idea she came up with had her casting a slightly uncertain look between Max, Maria, and Michael. Almost as if she were asking for an endorsement from all three of them, she asked, “Do you- think maybe we could work on the connection a little? That really seemed to tire me out last night.”

Max and Maria seemed to develop a sudden interest in the counter top, neither of them putting up a word of objection. Of course, Max couldn’t really object even if he’d wanted to, Liz acknowledged with regret. Not with Kyle and Alex sitting right there. She would’ve liked nothing better in that moment than to offer him some small gesture that might reassure him, but their unwitting witnesses put the same kind of restraints on her. Liz felt a brief flash of resentment that they couldn’t just be open about the status of their relationship.

Michael sent the same kind of questioning look towards Maria and Michael as Liz had before saying in agreement, “Yeah, uh- we could work on figuring out how to block each other again if you want. I promise I won’t push you out the way I did last time,” he tacked on, looking at Max in assurance as he said it.

Max steadily returned his look, acceptance of Michael’s promise in he dark gaze, as well as a silent warning that he would hold him to his word.

Liz dared to brush Max’s hand with her own as she was leaving his side, and Max made an infinitesimal move of his arm to prolong the contact for as long as possible. They exchanged a gaze that spoke to one another when she moved around him to follow Michael into the living room, their eyes holding on to their lovers’ gaze until the last possible minute.

Once she and Michael had reached the main living area, he scooted the room’s only chair within reaching distance of the couch, nudging the corner of a blanket out of the way with his foot as he did so.

Alex and Kyle watched with interest as Liz sat down cross-legged on the end of the couch, and Michael took a seat in the chair in front of her. Reaching out, they linked hands, and stared at one another intently, then became utterly still and silent.

Kyle eyed them raptly, the bag of chips lying forgotten in his hand. “So what is it they’re doin’ exactly?” he asked, in a tone that said he was sure he knew the answer but somebody tell him again.

Glancing over at the frozen couple, Maria answered darkly, “They’re in each other’s heads.” When Kyle just looked at her in incomprehension, she reluctantly elaborated. “They can both hear everything the other one is thinking, and they’re trying to find out if there’s a way they can block their thoughts from each other.”

Kyle lifted a brow. “So they’re like, talking to each other inside their heads? Like telepathy or something?”

Maria nodded tightly.

“Freaky,” he commented leerily. “And they can hear each other like that all the time?” He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to always have an alien presence in your mind. Or a human presence, depending on whose point of view you looked at it, he supposed. But whichever way you looked at it, it didn’t sound very cool, and Kyle wondered worriedly if that was something he could expect to develop in the near future.

“Not all the time. Only when they’re connected,” Max finally answered when Maria failed to.

“So why not just stop connecting?” Alex asked in consternation. He’d heard most of this from Isabel, but he didn’t get that part. It looked like if this connection was causing so many problems for everybody, they would just stop using it.

“They think they can find out why the connection’s there if they explore it,” Max explained expressionlessly, as he sent a brooding glance at the two in question.

Alex made a face of comprehension, and the four of them watched the mysteriously connected twosome until their utter lack of action failed to hold their attention. Their conversation moved on to other topics, and every now and then, each of them glanced at Michael and Liz with differing expressions.

Kyle’s gaze especially, was drawn to them again and again with an almost morbid fascination. Here was Liz Parker, his one-time girlfriend, a girl he’d grown up with, and who was 100% human, sitting there engaging in an alien activity as if it were no big thing that she had audible brain waves. Audible to one other person, at least.

If it weren’t for an occasional change in their expressions, or even freakier, a slight move of their heads in a yes or no motion every so often, Kyle would’ve thought they were just having an incredibly intense staring contest. Knowing what they were really doing totally wigged him out.

He’d grown somewhat used to the fact that this kind of alien weirdness existed in the world, thanks to living with Tess these past few months. Although, he tended to forget about Tess’ other-worldly status a lot of the time he was with her, until she reminded him of it forcefully by doing something totally outrageous, like changing the clothes she was wearing right in front of him, with nothing more than a wave of her hand. Presto chango, Barbie’s wearin’ a new outfit.

Or creepier yet, she would do something like change his own clothes. While he was still in them. No matter how many times he flayed her for working her voo-doo on him, she continued to get a kick out of freaking him out by pulling her cute little alien stunts every once in awhile.

But that was Tess, who’d been born with a little green blood in her veins. This was Liz, who was only capable of doing this kind of stuff because of something Max Evans had done to her. And he’d done that same something to him.

Kyle had done his best not to really think about that too much. If he was somewhere that he was able to, he immediately threw himself into a session of meditation to rid himself of them whenever thoughts of alien changes crept in to haunt him.

But looking at Liz now, he couldn’t help but wonder if he might be capable of doing the same kinds of things she was.

He just didn’t see how she was taking this whole change thing in stride as well as she was. Kyle would never admit it to another living soul, but it terrified him to think he’d been changed into some alien-hybrid freakazoid. Because it that were true, it seemed like everything he’d ever known about himself would become null and void. He wouldn’t even know what he was anymore. Or what he might become. It was true that he hadn’t shown any signs at all of being different, but all this creepiness hadn’t shown up in Liz either, until now, over a year after the fact. The idea that he might have another year of appearing normal wasn’t really all that comforting. Waiting that long for the other shoe to drop did not sound like fun. The questions about it could drive him crazy before then, if he let them. He didn’t even know what being changed meant. Had Max actually changed something inside him physically? Kyle didn’t know how he would ever find out the answer to that unless he went to a doctor or something, and now he would be forever afraid to do that. If he were to ever have an accident like the one he’d had several months ago when he’d sprained his ankle playing basketball, it could easily turn into a nightmare. What would a doctor do if he found out Kyle was a little martianally inclined? Would he try to split him open right there on the examination table so he could discover just exactly what a human-turned- space-freak looked like on the inside?

Kyle didn’t know how Tess and the others had lived with the fear of someone finding out what they really were for almost 17 years. He would be a complete basket case if he’d lived with this all his life.

But Liz had been right about one thing the other day when they’d had that conversation in his car. Probably the biggest fear was just not knowing. If he just knew for sure what was going on inside him, and what to expect in the future, maybe he could find some way to move on from there and somehow learn to live with it.

Without quite knowing how he’d gotten there, Kyle found himself over in the living room, standing next to Liz and Michael. They didn’t seem to even realize he was there at first, but after a few minutes, they broke eye contact as if they were severing a physical link, and blinked a little disorientedly, before lifting their eyes to him in question.

Sliding his hands into his pockets, Kyle shifted self-consciously.

Glancing at the sleeping girls a few feet away, he said quietly, “So, uh... havin’ any luck?”

Michael and Liz exchanged a glance, before Liz nodded slowly and replied, “Yeah, maybe. But it was taking every ounce of concentration we had. If we connected to do something else, I don’t know if we could do both at the same time.”

“Maybe with practice we could,” Michael said optimistically.

Liz nodded and watched Kyle do the same, and when he continued to just stand there awkwardly, she asked quizzically, “Did you want something, Kyle?”

"No," he denied in an attempt at casualness. Realizing he probably should offer some reson for coming over and interrupting, he said, "I just wanted to see how things were goin'." He paused briefly, then asked offhandedly, "So, you guys can actually talk inside your heads, and you can hear each other just like you were talkin' out loud?"

"Um- yeah. Pretty much," Liz replied.

"And you can't do that with any of the others?" he asked Michael. "I mean, it's only Liz you can talk to like that, right? It's just something about her that lets you do that?"

A little tight-lipped at the resurrection of all the old questions, Michael nodded in answer.

Liz studied Kyle curiously, wondering what was on his mind, and with his next question she thought she understood.

"So it could be something Max did to her inside that makes you able to do that? Something he changed or whatever?"

Excitement lit Liz’s eyes at what he seemed to be hinting at. Was he finally ready to explore his own ‘change’? And could it be true that whatever linked her and Michael also lived in Kyle right now, simply because Max had changed him too? She looked at Michael and saw the same expression on his face that must be gracing her own features. A 'Do you think this is it? Can we find out here and now?' kind of look.

Trying to moderate her tone, Liz asked, "Kyle, are you thinking maybe you could do something like this?"

"Me? No," he back-pedaled quickly, no longer sure if he really wanted those answers when actually confronted with the prospect. "I mean, we don't know if I've really even been changed. I was just wondering what was goin' on with you two, that's all." His eyes roamed around restlessly, and after only a moment, he asked reluctantly, "Uh- how would I know if I could do it? This... telepathy, or whatever."

"Do you want to try it?" Liz asked, trying not to be too eager and be sensitive to Kyle's feelings in this.

Michael was having to curb his impatience too. He wanted to just sit the guy down and demand that he let them try this. This could settle a lot of the questions they had about the reason this connection existed.

Kyle hadn't answered for a long moment, but he finally asked cautiously, "What would I have to do?"

"Nothing. I'll do all the work," Michael quickly assured him.

"Here," Liz said, scooting over to vacate her spot in front of Michael's chair. "You can sit here." As he took her place on the couch, she asked, "Have you, uh... has Tess ever connected with you or anything?"

“Gotten inside my head, you mean? No, not that I know of,” he answered.

“Well... not that exactly,” Liz corrected. “If you two had connected, you’d definitely know about it. A connection isn’t just someone getting inside your head really, it’s more like...” she came to a halt as she searched for an apt description.

“Sharing who you are with each other,” Michael finished for her quietly.

Liz lifted slightly startled eyes to his, surprised at hearing something like that from him. “Yeah,” she agreed softly. “That’s exactly what it is.”

Kyle looked between them with lifted brows. Guerin ‘shared himself’ with her? Now that was interesting. He hadn’t been completely ignorant of all the bad vibes lately between these two, and Maria, and Evans. It all suddenly became a little clearer to him. Knowing Maria, she must be absolutely freaked over this, Kyle figured.

“So how do you go about doing that exactly?” Kyle asked leerily. “‘Sharing who you are’?” It didn’t particularly sound like something he’d care to do with Guerin, no matter how you went about it.

“You just... form this link between you,” Liz attempted to explain. “You may see, like flashes of memories from each other through it, and you can feel what they’re actually feeling, and sometimes you can get a sense of what they’re thinking about.”

Kyle was liking the sound of this less and less. It sounded like sharing who you were, alright. If he was being honest, it sounded like handing over way too much information. He couldn’t imagine why Michael would be any more eager to do this than he was.

“So we’ll both see that kind of stuff if we do this?” Kyle asked, wanting to be clear on it. “And you’re completely okay with that?”

“I just wanna see if we can do this, Kyle,” Michael answered, tired of all this talk, and wanting some action. It felt like possible answers were just within his reach. “If you’re right about this telepathy thing being something Max somehow created in you too... well it would just be good to finally have some definite answers, okay? We won’t connect for long. Just long enough to see if you can do it.”

Liz could feel his hesitation in his silence, and after a moment, he said, “I don’t know, guys...”

Kyle just felt uneasy about the whole deal. It seemed too... intimate. And too weird to be doing with another guy. Especially one he really didn’t even know all that well.

“Would you feel more comfortable doing it with me this first time, Kyle?” Liz asked gently. “We probably wouldn’t see a whole lot we didn’t already know about each other anyway.” She glanced at Michael to see if that was okay with him. “Do you think this is something I can do on my own?”

Michael shrugged and said, “You won’t know until you try, I guess. But if the telepathy thing doesn’t work, that could be the reason why.”

“Well, if that happens, maybe you’ll feel better trying it with Michael once you see what it’s like,” she suggested, looking at Kyle questioningly.

Kyle didn’t know about that, but it did seem a much friendlier prospect to do this with Liz. It still sounded pretty intense, though.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” he finally answered.

Liz nodded in understanding. “It’s okay. We’ll just take it one step at a time. If you feel weird at all, just break the connection, okay?”

At his nod, she turned around on the couch cushion so she was facing him, and tucked one leg up underneath her

Taking his cue from her, Kyle twisted around until he was mostly facing her, feeling unaccountably nervous about this step he was about to take. In a couple of minutes, he guessed he’d have the answer to whether he’d been changed or not. Or he’d have a better idea of whether it was true, anyway.

Liz held out her hand, palm up in invitation, allowing Kyle to make the next move whenever he was ready.

Slowly, he reached out to take it in his, and she gave it a small squeeze in reassurance. She knew how scared she’d been that night when she’d made that monumental leap in taking Isabel’s hand, and she’d had the strongest incentive she could imagine urging her on. But this was a deliberate decision made with plenty of time to think about it on Kyle’s part. She figured he must be feeling pretty tense about it.

Taking a deep breath, she warmly remembered the fateful words she’d heard so long ago, and repeated them softly. “Okay, just take deep breaths, and try and let your mind blank out.”

Max approached the trio on soundless feet and stopped next to Michael’s chair to ask quietly, “What’s going on?”

Michael glanced up at him and answered, “We’re gonna see if you changed Kyle the same way you did Liz. He kinda got the idea that if the whole connection thing with Liz is because of what you did, maybe he can do the same things.”

Liking the idea immediately, Max said with keen interest, “Oh yeah?”

Reading him like a book, and knowing they were on the same page, Michael grinned a little dryly, and replied, “Yeah.”

Kyle threw a quick glance over his shoulder that didn’t quite land on Max, uneasy with his presence here. He already felt uncertain and a little vulnerable in doing this, and having Max here really didn’t help. This was the guy who had possibly remade him into something not human. The guy who’d stolen his girlfriend and had the affection of someone he really cared for now. The guy who’d saved his life.

His feelings regarding Max had always been a dark confusing mix of emotion, never more so than they had been since the spring. Kyle could probably really like Max Evans if he just didn’t hate the guy so much. Owing him his life... well, frankly, it sucked. Irony was not a pretty thing.

Liz lifted sparkling eyes to Max’s, and his lips curved upward in response. “We don’t even know if I’ll be able to form a connection,” she told him, “But we’re just gonna try it this way first.”

He nodded encouragingly, and she turned her attention back to what she’d been doing before. “Ready?” she asked Kyle.

“Not really. But don’t let that stop you,” he said wryly.

“It won’t hurt a bit,” she teased. “Just relax.”

They locked eyes, and Liz concentrated on reaching out with her mind and touching upon his subconscious.

After a long discouraging moment of trying and being unable to, she redoubled her efforts. It was like she could feel its presence there, hovering nearby, but she just wasn’t sure how to get to it.

“Come on, Kyle, relax,” she murmured, thinking maybe his tension was keeping her from getting in.

“Use your energy to give it a push, Liz,” Michael told her. Judging by the quietness of his own energy, he knew she wasn’t really using her powers.

Instinctively, Liz knew that was what was missing, and she drew together her energy to send it out in a gentle wave towards Kyle’s subconscious, in effect, creating a pathway into his mind.

She suddenly found herself falling into his inner being, a stream of emotion rushing past her. Images of Tess- lots of them- flashed in front of her. Some laughing and playful, some serious and sober, and others sad and lost-looking. Liz could feel how he felt about Tess, and he really liked her a lot. He felt extremely protective of her, and Liz thought he might even love her. But he was afraid of being overlooked in favor of Max again, so he refused to even acknowledge the extent of his feelings for her.

Liz felt a pang of sympathy and regret. She’d had no idea she’d left him with such a wariness. She’d really hurt him last year, she realized remorsefully.

She saw flashes of him with his dad, a few hazy ones of his mom with him when he was very small, and there were even a few brief images of her, one of them in bed together where she felt his desire to help her weighing against a tangled mix of guilt and an almost triumphant vengefulness, then a later remorse. And she saw another flash of their first kiss in the Eraser Room at school, with all its attendant emotions. She’d always known, from that very day that she would only ever have casual feelings for Kyle, but she saw now that he’d believed differently. He’d honestly thought things might become serious between them. Yet another thing she’d been blind to, she realized guiltily.

But the flashes that took her most by surprise were the ones she saw of Max. And they were accompanied by a swarm of feeling so tangled and confused, she almost couldn’t decipher individual emotions. There was an image of Max laughing like she’d never seen him do before, and of him yelling something that sounded like, ‘I’m faster!’ as he raced ahead of Kyle towards a mailbox. There were brief pictures of the time Kyle had come after them when they’d been on their way to Atherton’s house in Marathon, Texas, the time he’d followed her and Max to Michael’s trailer park and had gotten a very wrong idea about what was going on while she’d been leaning over Max trying to fish her grandmother’s ring out of the floor board of the jeep, she saw a flash Max at her window when he’d seen them in bed together, the time the Skins had made everyone in town disappear and Max had told Kyle he wasn’t someone he trusted, and an image that produced a complex snarl of emotion in Kyle, even more so than the others, of the day Max had saved Kyle’s life.

Poor Kyle, Liz thought. It looked like he just couldn’t reconcile his feelings about Max. It must be hard to feel so grateful to someone you had always considered a rival. She wished Kyle didn’t look at Max in terms of an enemy like that. For Max’s sake as well as his own. She didn’t think Kyle would ever be able to feel like a legitimate part of their group as long as his feelings toward Max were so conflicted.

She wished he could see Max the way she did, as a gentle, caring, responsible person, who would never knowingly hurt anyone. She didn’t know if it would help or hinder things to let Kyle be inundated with the millions of images of Max she was sure she had filling her own mind. She knew she could probably block them from him if she chose to. She was already holding back thoughts that might tell him the true state of her and Max’s relationship. But she realized in that moment that there really wasn’t any need.

Kyle wasn’t in her head. In fact, she couldn’t feel him anywhere in her subconscious. For some reason, this connection was only going one way.

Had she done something wrong, Liz wondered, cocking her head in bewilderment. Michael had said Kyle wouldn’t have to do anything and he’d do all the work. Did the same not hold true for her?

Breaking the connection with a small shake of her head, she looked up into Max and Michael’s expectant faces apologetically.

“So what happened?” Kyle asked. “You couldn’t do it, or I couldn’t?”

“Um- I’m not sure,” Liz replied. Shifting her gaze to the two aliens again, she told them, “I connected with him, but he wasn’t connected with me. Did I do something wrong?”

Max and Michael looked at each other in question. They didn’t exactly have tons of experience with connections. There just really weren’t that many different people they’d connected with . But Michael knew in his experience with Maria he’d gotten flashes from her whey they kissed without her getting anything form him. And Max, too, thought that the first time he’d made a connection with Liz when he’d healed her, she hadn’t seen anything inside him even though he’d gotten flashes. Of course, that could have been due to the fact that she’d been completely out of it.

“It ever happen like that for you?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, maybe,” Max answered. “You?”

“Yeah, it’s like that with Maria all the time.”

“Maybe it’s a human thing,” Max concluded.

“Human?” Kyle asked, jumping on the words eagerly. “As in ‘not changed’?”

Liz gave his hand a quick squeeze before letting it go. “We probably shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, Kyle. Maybe it was just something I couldn’t do. One of you guys should try.” Knowing Kyle would probably balk at connecting with Max, she quickly suggested, “Michael, why don’t you do it? If it works, you can check out the telepathy thing.”

The idea that this might prove that he hadn’t been changed, rather than the other way around made Kyle less reluctant to try it with Michael this time, and he turned around to face the other boy in preparation.

“I’m not holdin’ your hand, though,” Kyle said emphatically. “You’re an okay guy and all, Guerin, but I just don’t think we’re ready to go that far yet,” he joked a little nervously.

Giving him a deadly look, Michael said, “Can it, Valenti.” Lips quirking wryly, he added, “We’ll take it easy on this first date, okay?”

Laying his hand on Kyle’s forearm in what was, to his mind, a casual, cool-guy kind of way, he instructed, “Try not to be completely passive this time. If you can feel me when I connect with you, try to reach out with your mind and grab on.”

Kyle looked at him as though he were speaking his native alien language, and said dubiously, “Grab on with my mind. Right.”

Seeing that he didn’t really understand, Max said, “Just give it a try, Kyle. If you’ve been changed like Liz has, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to do this. She hasn’t ever had any problems with it.”

His eyes drifted to hers, and they locked gazes, smiles playing across both their faces as they recalled different examples of the times she’d displayed the ease with which she could connect with him.

Sometimes the link between them came to life like a gentle unfurling, or sometimes blazing to life with electric intensity, but it had always happened with an effortlessness that almost seemed like an unconscious act on Liz’s part.

Of course, the activities they were engaged in when it took place could’ve had a lot to do with it.

“Different circumstances,” she murmured, her eyes glittering with heated memories.

“Yeah. I guess so,” Max agreed huskily.

With a look of disgusted exasperation, Michael nudged Liz’s foot with his own to break up the flirty little show the two ‘friends’ were putting on for Kyle. When Liz realized what he was warning her against, she threw a quick assessing look at Kyle, before dropping her eyes contritely.

Fortunately, Kyle was pretty focused on what they were about to do and what they might find out to catch the slip-up, and Michael further distracted him by saying quickly, “Alright, let’s do this.”

Kyle wasn’t nearly as comfortable staring into Michael Guerin’s eyes as he had been to look into the familiar brown gaze of his former girlfriend, but Kyle told himself to just grit his teeth and be a man here. It was possible they were only seconds away from finding out whether or not he could expect his future children to require pods to hatch from.

On the other end, this wasn’t exactly Michael’s idea of a good time either. He’d had lots of practice with Maria at keeping his inner self closed off, and he was determinedly doing the same thing now. No way was he gonna allow the Buddhist jock even the merest peek into his inner soul. And he didn’t particularly care to have any deep insights into the sheriff’s offspring either. Sure, they’d both turned out to be pretty stand-up guys and all, but how much did he really need to know about the inner workings of a person who lived in a completely different sphere of a completely different planet from his own?

As if she knew exactly what he was doing and why, Liz said quietly, “You have to be willing to let him in at least a little bit, Michael, or he’ll never be able to form a connection of his own.”

The connection between the two boys faltered slightly as Michael broke eye contact to shoot Liz an annoyed look. How did she keep reading his mind like that when they weren’t connected? Maria had done something like that at the Crashdown earlier, too. What, was he becoming completely transparent?

Begrudgingly, he allowed that Liz had a point, and he attempted to open himself up the slightest bit. But he was careful to keep a firm barrier in place to conceal his emotions, and guard against giving Kyle any flashes. If Kyle had the same abilities Liz did, it might become more difficult to hide these things from him, but Michael’s instinct was telling him Kyle wasn’t like Liz. Their connection didn’t feel anything like the one with Liz. Somehow, this seemed more similar to the way it felt when he connected with Maria. Without all the soft emotions, of course. And not anywhere near as fun.

And Kyle wasn’t getting inside him at all. Michael thought he could feel him trying, but it wasn’t working out. After several more minutes of letting him try, Michael cut the guy some slack, and opened to him completely, not really expecting it to make any difference.

And he was right.

A few moments later, Michael broke the connection and said, “Alright, enough, Valenti. It’s obviously not gonna happen.”

Kyle gave up his attempts with a sigh of exhaustion, but then his face was transformed into a picture of joyous relief.

“So that’s it. That means I’m normal, right? No unidentified alien objects floating around inside me, no cravings for barf-inducing tobasco concoctions, no Siamese brain linkage of any kind?”

Liz looked at Max and Michael, her brows drawn into a V of consternation. She was happy for Kyle if he didn’t have to go through any of this stuff, truly she was, but she also felt a bit disturbed by the possibility.

“But that can’t be possible, can it?” she asked. “I mean, look how much it’s changed me. It’s not possible that- it just left Kyle completely unaffected. Is it?”

Max’s expression was a mix between regret, guilt, and sympathy when he shrugged helplessly in response. “I don’t know, Liz. I told you the other night that healing Kyle didn’t exactly feel the same as when I healed you. I don’t really know why, but something was just different about it. I didn’t get any flashes, and the connection just wasn’t the same. I didn’t know if that would make a difference in whether he was changed or not, but maybe it did.”

Max was glad if it was true that he hadn’t totally wrecked another person’s life with an unwitting alien change, but he bitterly regretted the fact that Liz was the one who had to suffer the consequences of the one time he had done that.

From his quarter, Michael was disappointed that this hadn’t provided the answers they were looking for. He’d thought a definite explanation for the connection had been right at their fingertips, but apparently it was staying out of reach. And it made all the questions that much more confusing. He still wasn’t ready to give up on this idea completely, though.

“We can’t take this as proof-positive, though, right?” Michael asked. “I mean, Liz didn’t do the telepathy thing right off the bat either.”

“Yeah, but she could at least make a connection,” Max pointed out.

“Michael’s right, though, don’t you think?” Liz asked of Max and Kyle both. “We shouldn’t dismiss the possibility just because this one thing didn’t work. Would you be willing to try something else, Kyle?”

“Like what?” he asked warily.

Liz blinked. Yeah, like what, she wondered when she realized she didn’t have a ready answer. She hadn’t really had anything in mind when she’d asked, it just seemed like they needed more proof before they scratched this theory entirely. They needed to be sure for Kyle’s sake.

And besides that, what would it say about her own change if Kyle hadn’t been changed with Max’s healing too?

“Well...” she said slowly, looking to Max and Michael for any suggestions they might have.

“Well,” Max repeated, helping her out. “One power that’s common among all of us, even Liz, is the ability to manipulate molecular structure. Maybe we could see if you can do that,” he told Kyle.

Kyle gave a skeptical look. “Manipulate molecular structure,” he repeated tonelessly. “Sounds like nuclear fusion or something. You’re gonna have to give me a little more to gon on than that.”

“Hasn’t Tess ever explained her powers to you?” Liz asked, unable to believe the subject hadn’t come up in almost three months.

“We don’t talk about this stuff,” Kyle answered in short dismissal. Hesitating a beat, he amended, “I don’t talk about this stuff.”

Understanding compassion coloring his features, Max explained, “Molecular manipulation is just when you change the color or shape of an object into something else.”

When his meaning became clear to Kyle, he said ironically, “Like zapping yourself a new outfit.”

“Right,” Max agreed with a nod.

Inwardly, Kyle shook his head, and thought sarcastically, wouldn’t it just be nifty if he could do this trick too. Then he and Tess could have like a clothes-zapping war. The idea stopped his thoughts short, as the intriguing possibility of being able to make her clothes vaporize into nothingness came to mind.

Shaking himself from his inappropriate thoughts, he agreed to try it out.

Maria and Alex watched from across the room as the others explained the process to Kyle, and began to conduct experiments to see if he had the capabilities to do it.

“Has it occurred to you that we’re becoming vastly outnumbered?” Maria asked idly.

Alex lifted a brow questioningly.

“Well, like, you have the four aliens on one side, then you have you and me, in all our human glory, on the other, and now Liz and Kyle are somewhere in the middle, like a couple of pinch hitters for either side.”

Alex smiled. “I’d say Kyle’s position is still pretty much up in the air,” he commented. So far, they seen no evidence that the sheriff’s son possessed any alien abilities. “I think maybe we can still claim him as a member of the Human team.”

That did seem like a likely assumption, as Max, Michael, and Liz worked with Kyle for about fifteen minutes, and found him unable to do even the simplest manipulation, not even at the moderate success level Liz had in doing it.

Kyle was elated. The possibility of his being changed had been weighing heavily on his mind for weeks, looming like a dark threat ready to pounce at any moment. But with each additional failure he encountered with this, his sense of relief grew. I’m a totally human human being, he wanted to crow in triumph.

Liz was completely bewildered. How could this be true? This just wasn’t anything Kyle possessed the capabilities to do. He’d even allowed the three of them to try connecting with him and give him a boost with their energy, but nothing was working. Max had said that he could feel Kyle’s energy moving within him, but there was just no spark to it. It wasn’t charged into a heightened state that they could even help him use.

It had become pretty obvious that he was no different now than he was the day before Max had healed him.

Liz looked at Max, her heart pounding with uneasy distress. She tried to convince herself that maybe he’d been right. Maybe somehow, in some way, his healing of Kyle had just been different than when he’d saved her. But she was having trouble believing it. It was looking more and more like there had to be a completely different explanation for this connection between her and Michael, one that had nothing to do with Max’s healing. And it scared her so much to even contemplate what other reason there could possibly be.

“He can’t do it,” Liz said hoarsely, just wanting to end this farce, and give Kyle the peace he needed over this. She took the ink pen from his hand that he’d been attempting to turn a different color with Michael’s help, and repeated, “He can’t do this. He obviously hasn’t been changed at all. Just... just stop, and leave him alone.”

“Liz...” Max said, his tone sad and remorseful. He wanted so very much to go and enfold her in his arms to give her comfort. It was obvious she was upset over what this meant in terms of her own change.

Liz swallowed hard and looked away from him, his sympathetic face threatening to bring tears gushing once again. What was wrong with her tonight, she wondered in consternation. What was with all the waterworks all of a sudden?

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she shook her head a little, and sighed wearily. “Can we just go to sleep now? I- I feel really exhausted. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble falling asleep.” In point of fact, she welcomed sleep. She felt like crawling somewhere and pulling the covers over her head, actually.

Max looked at her in concern, and asked, “Are you sure you still want to do this, Liz? We don’t have to.”

Liz nodded faintly. “I just want some answers,” she said, sounding tired and defeated. “I’m tired of having all these questions. And all the answers just keep eluding us.”

Looking at her compassionately, Michael said with gentle irony, “Welcome to our world.”

The corner of her lip tilted up, but her expression remained as that of one with flagging spirits.

“Come on, let’s go get some sleep,” Max invited, moving around Michael’s chair to help her out of her seat.

Before she stood, she gave Kyle’s arm a squeeze, and said, “I’m glad everything turned out okay with you, Kyle.”

Kyle was feeling a little guilty to seemingly be getting off scot-free when he knew Liz’s life had been changed so drastically by this supposed change.

“Thanks,” he replied softly. “Uh- I feel like I should say sorry, or something.”

Smiling slightly, Liz asked, “Sorry for what? Being human?” She shook her head. “Don’t be sorry, Kyle. I’m not. I’m happy for you.”

Admiration glowing in his eyes, Kyle accepted that with a silent nod. She really was one of the most amazingly generous people he’d ever known. He was lucky to be able to count her as a friend.

Max stroked her back soothingly as they moved back to their places on the floor, uncaring if the gesture looked overly friendly or not. She needed the comfort right now, and there was no way he could just stand aside and not give it to her.

Liz huddled close against him as they lay down side-by-side, and once they’d gotten settled, Max tilted his head on his pillow just a little to rest it against her forehead. Liz gave him a brief squeeze as she stretched her arm across him to reach Isabel, and though the gestures weren’t nearly as much as they would have liked to offer one another in that moment, the small actions were effective in silently communicating love and support, and they brought a small measure of comfort to them both.

As Michael settled himself on the couch above them, they closed their eyes, and waited for sleep to come sweep them away on the journey toward more answers.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 15-Oct-2001 7:58:21 PM ]
posted on 17-Oct-2001 12:30:24 AM by Destinee
Thanks for all the feedback, guys! *happy* I'm so glad you enjoyed the new chapters. I had always intended to have one more run-in with the watcher before actually revealing who it was, but I hadn't expected it to take up an entire chapter. It just kinda worked out that way. Liz's break-down took me by surprise, but I thought she was definitely due for one. And I also hadn't planned on doing a part based on Kyle, but they were all there, and we hadn't dealt with that. It just seemed like too perfect a set-up to ignore. I know several people have been asking for more Alex, but Kyle's good too, isn't he? *tongue*

I'm sorry I stopped before we got to the dream, but the chapter had already run on so long, and doing it this way gives me more time to devote to it. The next part begins with the dream, and so far, it looks like this is going to be the longest of them by far. I have such a blast writing these parts, and I'm not really even sure myself what it may reveal. *big* But one thing has occurred to me to show in it, and it may run into an additional part I hadn't been planning on to explore it a little further.

Emaleth- I just had to tell you how good it was to hear from you again. I've missed you, girl! And can I just say how cool I think it is that you're still reading this fic even though you've officially turned in your Dreamer badge? *tongue*
And I promise I'll e-mail you soon. *big*

Thanks again for all your comments. You guys really are the best! We're getting pretty close to the answers now, but I think pretty much everyone can see now where we're going. Maybe I can provide a few surprises along the way, though. *wink*