posted on 14-Aug-2002 10:49:14 AM by mockingbird39
If01
Thanks to BordersInsanity for the banner!

Title: If I Fall

Author: mockingbird39

Disclaimer: I don’t own Roswell or its characters, and the concept of this story was inspired by the movie “City of Angels,” something else I don’t own. Thanks to Pixie for the challenge.

Rating: PG-13

Author’s Note: This is a challenge response based on the movie “City of Angels.” Hey, where are you going? I didn’t say it was exactly like “City of Angels.” It’s going to be angsty, but the ending is still up for grabs. Anything could happen. And since Max and Liz aren't Max and Liz without their intense connection, I've changed the base mythology of the movie regarding angels.



Part One

He was sleeping. His eyes were closed, his face relaxed, his body tangled in the dark blue sheets of his bed. He lay so still that she could see the gentle rise and fall of his chest, sense the flow of air in and out of his lungs.

He was beautiful. All the creatures God had created were beautiful in their own way, but this boy was the most beautiful of them all. His hair had the inky blackness of the sea at night, and when his eyes were open, they held specks of gold that glinted in sunlight. She thought that the human body was the most marvelous of God’s creations, and this boy was the pinnacle of them all. He was like the sculptures she had seen in museums—the idealized forms that humans made and sometimes worshipped. It was as though he had been made for the sheer love of creating perfection. His skin. . .she didn’t know quite what the word “warm” meant, couldn’t conceive what it might feel like, but if she’d had to guess, she thought this boy’s skin would be warm.

Perched on the edge of his bed, she held out one hand, hovering it over his forehead. He stirred faintly and she wondered if he could feel her presence. Some of them could, even if they didn’t know quite what it was they sensed. Once she’d been watching an elderly woman in Spokane when the woman suddenly began to speak, certain it was the ghost of her long-dead husband she sensed in her home. At those times, she knew it was best to remain, letting the person talk or cry and believe what they wanted. This boy had never spoken to her, but sometimes when she watched him she was sure he knew she was there.

It was a mystery to her—this sleep that humans needed to live. She didn’t need it, couldn’t remember a time when she had been tired or weary or longed for rest. It was part of the Gift. Their rest was in Him and it was all they needed. But sometimes she wondered what it would be like to have no thoughts. To lie down and lose consciousness and see what came. To dream. What was it like to dream?

“You ever wonder why we keep coming back here?”

She looked to the door and found Alex standing there, leaning against the doorframe. Reluctantly, she stood up, leaving the boy to his rest.

“I mean, we can go anywhere—anywhere at all—with just a thought. But we always end up back here in this dinky little town. In this house. With these two.” He nodded at the boy and jerked his head in the direction of the room where she lay. “Don’t you ever wonder why?”

“To watch them,” she said simply. “It’s what we do.”

“Yeah, but why?” Alex persisted.

She frowned. “Do you want to stop?”

He kicked at the carpet, his shoes leaving no marks. “Well. . .no,” he admitted finally.

“Then stop complaining.” She turned back to the boy, her eyes roaming over his bare shoulders and chest. “I think he knows I’m here.”

Alex entered the room and stood beside her, scrutinizing the boy. “He’s unconscious,” he pointed out logically.

“I think he does,” she insisted. “Watch.” She held her hand over his forehead again, skimming lightly through the air a millimeter over his skin. Once again, he stirred, breathing deeply and reaching out to grab the pillow beside him. He clutched it to his chest, sighing. “See?” she asked triumphantly.

“He’s just dreaming,” Alex protested. But when she ran a hand down the length of his arm, he stirred again and she could have sworn he reached out to her. “That’s just. . .” Alex began, then shook his head. “Let me try,” he said. He waved a hand over the boy’s face and she laughed as the boy grimaced and scratched his nose.

“See?” she asked.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Alex huffed. “He’s just dreaming.” But a moment later he left the room and headed back down the hall and she knew he would be in the girl’s room, trailing his fingers through the air just above her skin.

Alone with the boy once more, she leaned over him and closed her eyes, concentrating on his presence. He stirred again, and this time she knew—he did reach for her. She moved back, not wanting to wake him, but when he failed to touch her his forehead wrinkled in a frown and he gave a small moan. He’d wanted to touch her—wanted it even as he slept. And as she sat beside him, she realized she wanted it, too.

Hesitantly, she leaned over him once more and hovered one hand over his heart. He pushed aside the pillow and reached for her again, this time managing to touch her hand. He pressed it over his heart, and she drew a quick, sharp breath. Was this warm?

The boy seemed to relax now, sighing deeply and clasping her hand. She sat frozen beside him, her eyes on their clasped hands, and swallowed hard. Why did this one effect her so much? She watched hundreds—thousands—of humans. She remembered each of them, sometimes went back. It was the families that occupied her thoughts most often—the families of the ones she led to Him. They mourned for those they loved so much. She wished she could tell them how happy their loved ones were—how every ache and every empty place in their soul was now filled with Him. How there was no more pain and no more fear where they were. But she wasn’t allowed. She could only watch, and hope her presence brought some sort of comfort. Too often, she feared it didn’t.

But this boy. . .she had never led any of those he loved away. She didn’t even remember why she’d first come to him. She only knew that she came back, over and over, as often as she could. Certainly, he was beautiful, but there was much beauty in the world and none of it called to her like he did. He was sad, too, and alone, but she knew that humans were often sad and lonely and though she pitied them, she didn’t feel their loneliness like she did his. Something in this boy drew her as surely as she was drawn to the ocean every day at sunset to hear His voice. Even when she wasn’t with him, he was in her thoughts. She returned to him at least once every day to sit beside him, watching him, following his every move.

She had never touched him before.

Time meant little to her, but it seemed like mere seconds before she felt the pull. It came from deep inside, and though she wanted nothing more than to stay here with this boy, it could not be ignored. She tried to linger, but it was not long before Alex was beside her.

“Time to go,” he said, and she nodded.

Reluctantly, she pulled her hand from the boy’s grasp. He fought to hold on, his peaceful slumber becoming restless. For an instant she wondered what it would be like to lay down beside him, but the pull strengthened and she knew she must go. Behind her, Alex had already turned to go.

She leaned over the boy one last time. “Good night,” she breathed, then she turned to join Alex. Before they even reached the door, they had vanished into the darkness of the quiet desert night.


[ edited 18time(s), last at 19-Feb-2003 2:03:23 PM ]
posted on 15-Aug-2002 7:40:32 AM by mockingbird39
Hey, guys! Here's your update, but don't get too excited--this won't be an every day thing. The background is already sketched out very clearly in my mind, so it's easy to write. The rest is a little more vague. I know some of you had questions (and some of you have gifts, Jennifer!) and I'll answer them as soon as I get a break at work. This day needs to end!


Part 2

Liz.

Max Evans opened his eyes to the darkness of his bedroom and lay there, trying to will away the pain in his chest. He had dreamed of Liz again, this time of her sitting beside his bed, hovering just out of reach as he slept. He’d reached for her, but she eluded his grasp and for a while he’d fought to wake up. But sleep held him fast, and even in his dream he knew she would be gone if he opened his eyes. He’d tried one last time to touch her, and in the netherworld of dreams he’d succeeded, finding her hand. It felt familiar to him, even after all this time, and he’d pressed it to his heart, just like she had that last moment when she’d lain in his arms. In that moment he’d fought wakefulness with everything in him, not caring if it was a dream because it felt real and if it would keep on feeling real he’d gladly relinquish his waking life forever.

But then he felt her pull away and though he tried to hold on, she slipped through his fingers. Again. And he woke up alone. Again.

He sighed heavily and turned on his side, closing his eyes. At least it hadn’t been the other dream—he supposed he should be grateful for that, at least. But then, he didn’t need sleep to remember those images. Those haunted him every moment of his life.


May 21, 2001

“I always thought when we graduated, I would give you my ring.” Max pulled out the pendant he’d slipped into his pocket earlier, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger one last time. It still looked alien to him. He wondered if this time tomorrow everything he saw would look alien. But he pushed that thought away. This was probably the last time he’d see Liz Paker—the love of his life. The other half of his soul. He wouldn’t waste a thought on anything but her.

“It looks like I won’t graduate now. This is. . .something from where I’ll be.” He handed her the pendant, wishing he had something else to give her—wishing he could stay and give himself to her.

Liz took the pendant, staring at it in disbelief. “I can’t believe that this is what I have of you. I can’t believe that after everything. . .” She broke off, shaking her head, and he realized that even though he’d promised he’d never ask again, he had to know. Had to be sure—even though now any answer would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Liz, you never slept with Kyle, did you?” he asked.

She raised her head and stared at him, and he knew the answer before she ever had a chance to shake her head. A month ago he would have shouted for joy at this admission, but now it sent a burst of anguish to his heart. Time was short—he would probably never know why she had tried to fool him. But at least he knew the truth now.

If only he could stop mourning for what might have happened if he’d trusted his heart instead of his eyes all those months ago.

“I wish. . .I wish this all could have been different,” he said finally. It seemed such a stupid thing to say—didn’t they all wish it could have been different? That Tess and Nasedo had never come to disrupt the innocent joy of their childhood? That they had never found the pod chamber or the message from their mother? That Alex hadn’t died—that at this moment they could all be sitting in the Crashdown studying together or at a movie or on Liz’s balcony staring at the stars? But there wasn’t anything else to say—no words he could think to leave with her. What did you say when Fate destroyed every dream you ever had and took everyone you loved with it?

Max looked over at her, trying to memorize her face. In years to come—if he managed to live that long, anyway—he wanted to remember every moment he’d spent with her. Even this one, when his heart felt shredded in his chest. She caught him looking at her and her eyes glistened with tears he knew she was trying not to shed, and no power in the world could have stopped him from leaning over to close the distance between them, taking her face between his hands, and kissing her. It was the first time he’d touched her—like this, anyway, without her resisting—in months, but he wasn’t surprised that the electricity that spiraled between them was the same as it had always been. For one last time, Liz Parker took his breath away.

When he leaned back, she had lost her fight with her tears and they sparkled on her cheeks now. It struck him that, though he had put them there, he no longer had the right to wipe them away. She didn’t belong to him any longer—never would again. He closed his eyes for a second and tried to picture how her life would be without him. If there was one thing he still wished for, it was for her to be happy. Someone like Liz wouldn’t be alone for long—would Kyle take his place for real this time, or Sean DeLuca, or would it be someone else entirely? Some nameless, faceless man that Max would hate for the rest of his days, even thought they would never meet.

“I guess this is our goodbye,” Liz said suddenly, her voice cracking a little. She sounded amazed—like she couldn’t believe it had come to this after all. Max didn’t trust himself to speak—at least not until she asked her last question. “Just tell me one thing. Do you love her?”

Then he had to force the words out, had to make sure she understood tonight and for the rest of her life. He made himself meet those brown eyes that he loved more than the air he breathed and shook his head. “Not like I love you.”

* * * * *

In all the time that followed, he never understood why he hadn’t given her a straight denial. Maybe that would have changed things—maybe if she hadn’t had to prove to herself that their bond was stronger than anything he would ever have with Tess, she wouldn’t have turned back as she stood in front of the Crashdown. Maybe she wouldn’t have seen his tears, and maybe she wouldn’t have come to comfort him.

Maybe she would still be alive.

* * * * *

It was a child this time—a little boy with a halo of blond curls and porcelain skin marred only by the unhealthy flush on his thin cheeks. This one had been ill for some time, she guessed. His little body was thin, his breathing raspy and weak. Sometimes that made it easier—the loved ones had a little time to prepare. But usually it made no difference. Death wasn’t something humans ever viewed as welcome. She wondered about that sometimes—why they would choose to hang onto a life where pain and sadness and loneliness were so common. She figured there must be something that made it all worthwhile, and she often wished she knew what it could be.

“He’s little, isn’t he?” Alex asked quietly, and she nodded.

“Yeah.” Sometimes she also wondered why He bothered to create them if He was going to take them back so young. “He’s sick, too,” she added. That made her sad—at least as sad as she could be with the Gift. If it was going to be so short, at least life should be good.

“He won’t be much longer,” Alex said, but she knew this troubled him, too.

“No,” she agreed. She placed her hand on the child’s forehead and he opened his eyes. This close to the end, they could see her quite clearly, even with no effort on her part. She smiled at him, and felt Light begin to pour through her. Alex touched the boy, too, and together their Light brightened until it formed a circle around the boy’s hospital bed. The child wasn’t scared—he was too young for that—but he still fought to hold on to his life. Alex had told her once it was instinct, but she wasn’t sure he was quite right about that. She liked to think it was because there was something good to hold on to.

All at once the light was gone and the child stood between her and Alex, clasping their hands. He looked around the room as chaos descended—doctors and nurses rushing to his bedside as monitors screamed for attention and his parents jolted awake in their chairs, looking terrified—and then he looked up at her.

“Will they be okay?” he asked, nodding at his parents.

Alex knelt down before him. “Yes,” he assured the child. “They’ll be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

Alex nodded. “Yes.”

She looked away in case the child caught any trace of doubt on her face. For some people, it was never okay again. But this child didn’t need to know that. In a moment, he wouldn’t remember, anyway.

“Will you show me where to go?” he asked uncertainly.

This time she answered, squeezing his hand. “Yes. I’ll make sure you don’t get lost. Just hold onto my hand, okay?”

He nodded, his little fingers tightening around hers. “Okay,” he agreed. He took one last look at his parents, who were locked in a tearful embrace as doctors fought a battle that had already been decided. “I loved them,” he said wistfully.

She smiled sympathetically. “I know. Where they your favorite part?”

He nodded. “Yeah.” His gaze lingered on them a moment longer, then he yielded to their leading and together the three of them walked away.


posted on 15-Aug-2002 10:19:38 AM by mockingbird39
Hi, again! Just wanted to answer a few questions--without giving anything away, of course.

Snowdove: This story is going to follow cannon until Departure, as you've probably guessed if you've read Part 2. So just figure Max is about 18-19. It really doesn't matter a whole lot anyway.

sarzy: If you're looking to send bribes, address them to Shirley the Muse. She's the one that holds things up around here.

Scottie: Since I'm sticking to cannon through S2, Max et al. are in fact aliens.

AmorporML: I don't have a website, mostly because my attention span is too short to devote the necessary amounts of time to such a thing. But I'm working on getting most of my stuff posted on RosDeidre's board. FYI, my stories are: Family Ties (S2, CC, Complete); Begin Again (Future, CC, Complete); Through a Glass Darkly (Future, Zan/Liz, Complete); The Darkest Hour (FMax POV, Complete); Innocent (Future, CC, Work in Progress); and now If I Fall. I have a post-Grad idea in the works that I hope to begin posting in the next two weeks or so. It will be called Stained and will be pretty dark. It is heavily influenced by all the spy movies I've been watching this summer.

BordersInsanity: Woo-hoo! Another banner! I am so excited. Everyone loves the one you made for Innocent (particularly me--I have it set as the wallpaper on my laptop!) and I can't wait to see what you come up with on this one.

Jane: City of Angels was the one with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan. But the more I write, the more this fic is spinning out on its own. Really only a few ideas are coming from the movie.

Pixie, KitCat, and everyone else: I'm really glad you're enjoying this. I'm really enjoying writing it, too.

Love,
Mel

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 15-Aug-2002 10:47:06 AM ]
posted on 19-Aug-2002 1:15:51 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Don't forget to check out the awesome banner on Page One! Thanks, BordersInsanity!

Part 3

Sunset. Another day complete.

She stood on the seashore, surrounded by a thousand others like her. Waves crashed into the sand, but no spray dampened their clothing. Wind whipped the sea grasses, but touched not a hair on their heads. Some stood with their eyes closed, the better to concentrate on the sound they all came to hear. She preferred to leave her eyes open to the incredible colors that streaked across the sky, to the miles and miles of ocean dotted with whitecaps. She thought she would have loved the sea even without His voice.

Then a single note trilled through the air, and she could almost hear every one of her kind sigh in unison as the note cut across sky and land, settling deep inside them, making every fiber of their beings cry out in answer. She took a deep breath as that note was joined by another, and another, and another, and the symphony began.

It was the center of her existence, this short time every day when the heavens opened briefly and the voice of her Creator rang in her heart. Of all created beings, they were the only ones granted this privilege. Other beings might be more highly exalted, but they never heard His voice. They lived their lives often believing they were alone. But her kind never had to wonder about their state in the universe, for every evening at sunset the He opened His mouth and they were complete.

Joy filled her as the song continued, and love. He had such love for all of them—for her and her kind, for men. She could never doubt that, not even when she saw the things He sometimes let them do to one another. For even when His song was not ringing in her heart, the memory of it remained and it was far too strong for doubt. These moments made her job easy—it was not difficult to escort souls into the presence of such love.

She did not know how long the song lasted. Truly, with memory like hers, it never really ended. But at some point, Alex turned to her with a long, satisfied sigh. “Where do you want to go?” he asked.

* * * * *

The boy was not in his house. She left Alex there, watching the girl from a corner of the room, and went back outside. The night was still and clear, and she wondered what the night air might feel like on her skin. She was not cold. Just as she could not distinguish warmth, she was impervious to cold. She knew that cold could be dangerous to humans—sometimes it even meant their deaths. But sometimes she wished to feel it just the same.

She turned her face to the stars and smiled as His song echoed through her being as it sometimes did when she contemplated His creation. She liked to think it was a sign of His approval—that He was pleased with her appreciation of what He had wrought. The stars were an endless source of beauty to her. She could stare at them for hours, sometimes even see them spin in the sky. And there were always more of them to study, more to savor as they sparkled overhead. She had watched them from the tops of mountains, from city street corners, from seashores. . .and from the desert. She thought she liked the desert best, where nothing blocked her view and where no earthly lights competed for dominance. She liked the solitude of the desert, where the emptiness stretched for miles and all that remained was His creation.

She had nearly decided to return to the desert that night when she saw the boy. He was sitting in his car with the engine turned off, simply staring into the night. Drawn to him, she went closer and stood beside the car to watch him.

His face was streaked with tears.

She leaned close to him, watching as his shoulders shook with silent sobs. It was not the first time she had seen tears; many of those she watched wept for what they had lost. But it was the first time tears had made her feel this. . .this emptiness. She wished she could comfort him—actually reached out to touch him before she remembered that it wasn’t her place. But she didn’t leave, either. And so it was that as she stood there, he began to speak.

“I’m so sorry. God, I’m so sorry,” he choked. “I didn’t know she would do it—I didn’t know what she was. If I had known. . .I would have died before I let anything happen to you.”

Something burned her eyes and she leaned closer to him, willing him to feel her presence—to know that someone knew his grief. But he only put his head in his hands and wept again. She couldn’t resist reaching out to him this time, skimming her hand through the air over his head. He wept brokenly, resting his head on the steering wheel, and something stirred in her memory. Had she watched him like this before? She was still pondering this when he spoke again.

“God, Liz, why did you have to go?”

Her hand froze in mid-air and she stared at him with wide eyes.

My name is Liz.

* * * * *

May 21, 2001

Max managed to hold back his tears until Liz turned to go into the Crashdown. He had always tried to be so strong for her—he had never wanted her to see him break down. She turned to look at him one last time and from some deep well of strength. . .something she’d given him long ago. . .he managed to smile at her.

I’ll be okay, he thought silently. I’ll be fine.

He didn’t know if she believed him or not, but she turned and put her hand on the door and suddenly it was clear to him. He was leaving. He would never see Liz Parker again. She would go on, grow up, change, become the amazing woman he’d always known she would be.

But he would never see it. She would change, and he wouldn’t know those changes. For years he’d watched her—watched her every day—and he’d seen her become everything she was. But now it would be different. Even if he made it back to her one day, it would be to a different Liz Parker. She would go to college—and he wouldn’t know where. She would get a job—and he wouldn’t know what it was. She would marry—and it wouldn’t be to him. She would have children—and they would be strangers to him.

It was that last thought that brought the tears. In his most cherished dreams—the ones he had been afraid to share even with her—he had dreamed of having children with Liz. If he closed his eyes, he could still see them. A boy and a girl, both with dark hair and brown eyes. At night when he couldn’t sleep, he’d lain awake and imagined how their lives would be. But he would never have that now, and he felt that loss like a knife to his heart. When he finally gave in to the tears that night, he wept for those children, too.

“Max.”

He caught his breath when she spoke his name, jerking his head up to find her standing next to her with fresh tears streaming down her face.

“Please don’t leave me,” she begged.

His heart twisted until he thought it would be torn apart in his chest. “I have to go, Liz,” he said, his voice choked. “My son—”

“Why do you have a son with her?” Liz cried. “He should be mine, Max—my child. Max, please. . .” Her voice broke and she reached for him, flinging herself into his arms. “He should be mine.”

Max held her tightly, burying his face against her hair. He got out of the Jeep and stood with her, holding her body flush against hers, but it still wasn’t enough. He wanted to crawl inside her and never come out. “I’m sorry, Liz. I’m so sorry.”

“I need you,” she sobbed against his chest. “I need you so much.”

He couldn’t speak anymore. He didn’t know how he would go on without her, either. Liz was in every breath of air he took—how could he possibly go on without her?

“I can’t lose you yet,” she whispered. “Please. . .please don’t leave me tonight.”

There were a million things he should have been doing. He had promised Izzy they would make a goodbye tape to their parents, he needed to check on Tess. . .but he couldn’t leave her. If this was truly his last night on earth, he wanted to spend it with the person who had made him feel like this world was his home.

They drove to the desert, near the pod chamber, since that was the only place he could think to go. They didn’t speak much—there really wasn’t anything to say, and Max didn’t trust his voice, anyway. When he finally stopped the Jeep near some rocks about a mile from the place where the granilith waited to take him far, far away from her, they got out and took a blanket to a sheltered area behind the rock formation.

“I don’t want the sun to ever rise,” she said when they were settled together on the blanket, leaning against the rock face. “I just want this night to go on forever.”

He drew her closer, promising himself he would never forget this. “So do I,” he murmured. “So do I.”

They didn’t make love that night, though he knew she wanted it—even expected it. But he’d known from the start that he could never leave her after she’d given herself to him. And he had to go—he had to go for his son. But he held her all night, and toward morning, when she finally slept, he lay awake watching her sleep and he knew once and for all that he would love her with every breath he took. Nothing could change that—nothing.

She woke when the sun rose to find him still watching her and she smiled tenderly at him before the events of the night before came crashing down on her once more. He knew the moment when she remembered, could tell from the tears that swam in her eyes. His heart was shattered by then, but he could still feel her anguish and he drew her close against him one more time.

“I will always love you,” he whispered against her ear. “If you forget everything else, remember that.”

Her breath was warm on his neck as she answered. “I’ll never forget, Max. Never.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 19-Aug-2002 1:17:12 PM ]
posted on 19-Aug-2002 1:40:08 PM by mockingbird39
Tigereyes, I know this fic is technichally based on City of Angels, but if you want a good movie with much the same premise, check out Wings of Desire instead. It was the inspiration for City of Angels and has a lot more going on--and it is utterly beautiful.
posted on 22-Aug-2002 2:15:19 PM by mockingbird39
Part Four

She was still watching him when he started the car again, and she was so startled that she nearly forgot to follow him. But she recovered in time and sat beside him in the car as he drove. He didn’t speak again, but drove with his eyes on the road, staring straight ahead, occasionally using the sleeve of his jacket to wipe away the tears that still streamed from his eyes. She spent the time watching him closely, hoping he would speak again.

Does he know my name? she wondered. But no, that was impossible. She had never told a human her name—she had only shown herself to a handful of them, and this boy was not among that group.

Why? The question made her stop and think. She was so drawn to this boy—his pain touched her like nothing else. But she had never let him see her. She could have done it a hundred times, in a hundred different ways. She could have appeared in a crowd, just one face among dozens. She could have lingered by his bedside when he woke up and his dreams and reality were still mixed. She could have simply sat down beside him one day. But she had never done any of those things and now she couldn’t remember why.

While she pondered this, he had driven into the desert and now the empty highway stretched before them for miles. She had no idea where they were going, and she didn’t care. She only hoped she could stay with him this time—at least until his tears abated.

When he pulled off the highway onto the open desert, she couldn’t see what had made him change direction. This section of desert didn’t look any different than any of the ones they had passed already. But soon they came to a rock formation standing alone about half a mile off the road and he stopped the car, turning off the engine. He sat there quietly for a while, leaning back in his seat with his eyes closed. Something about the place seemed to calm him, for after a while the tears stopped and he opened his eyes, wiping his face on his sleeve again. He reached behind him into the backseat and pulled out a blanket, then opened the car door.

She was confused. Did he intend to sleep here? Why did he not go home to his family? She was even more perplexed when he leaned back into the car, opened the glove compartment, and took out a light blue sweater. It wasn’t his—it was far too small to ever fit him. But the careful way in which he handled it told her it meant something important to him. So did the way he raised it to his face and closed his eyes, breathing deeply.

After a moment, he got out of the car and she followed. He walked around the base of the rock, evidently searching out a particular spot, and when he found it, he spread out his blanket and sat down on it, resting his back against a flat spot on the rock. He tilted his head back, staring at the stars, and raised the sweater to his face again.

And then she understood. He had lost someone. Someone he loved. Someone who had worn that sweater—strangely enough, someone with her name. Her heart went out to him and she sat down beside him to wait with him. To watch him. To offer what comfort she could. He buried his face in the sweater and his shoulders began to shake again as he sobbed. She sat beside him, sharing his pain, and waited. Finally, as the night deepened and the stillness around them stretched on and on, he lay down on the blanket and slept. The blue sweater was still pressed against his cheek.

* * * * *

She was beside him when the sun came up the next morning, drawing him from sleep. The pull had come twice that night, once for an elderly woman alone in her house and once for a young man surrounded by paramedics at the scene of a motorcycle accident. But she returned to the boy both times, drawn to him more deeply with each passing moment. Hours ago, she’d curled up on the blanket beside him, propping her head on her arm to watch him. He’d had a restless night, but when she touched him, it seemed to calm him. Now, he lay with his hand clasped around hers and she was afraid to move—and reluctant to give up this contact with him.

As the sun rose in the sky, casting them in shadow at the bast of the rock, he began to stir a little and she sighed, starting to disentangle her hand from his. But like the other night, he held on tightly and she lingered for a second or two, watching him with sympathetic eyes. And in those seconds, he came fully awake, opened his eyes, and stared right at her.

“Liz.”

The word was ripped from his throat, and he sat up suddenly, squinting in the sunlight. She panicked and pulled her hand from his, scrambling backward. Before his eyes could adjust to the light, she had hidden herself from him again, but she didn’t leave him.

He said my name, she thought, her heart beating fast. How does he know my name?

He jumped to his feet, looking around him frantically. “Liz?” he cried. “Liz!” He ran to the opposite side of the rock face, but he saw only desert. “Liz,” he cried again, more softly this time. He stopped and his face crumpled, tears welling in his eyes again.

She could only watch as he sank to his knees, covered his face with his hands, and wept.

* * * * *

May 21, 2001

The granilith was nearly ready. Max looked up at the timing device and took a deep breath. Michael was gone, gone back to Maria and the life he had never imagined he wanted. Max envied him—would envy him for the rest of his life.

Tess was watching him closely, probably wondering if he, too, would turn back. She’d been angry when she realized where he’d spent his last night on this planet—she seemed to think he should have been with her. But how could she understand what Max felt for Liz when Tess had never really understood love or any other human emotion? Maybe that made it easier for her; she didn’t seem to regret leaving anything behind on earth.

The minutes were ticking away, and Max closed his eyes and thought of all the people he loved here—Liz, his parents—and a hundred others he regretted leaving behind. When he’d picked Tess up that morning, she’d assured him he wouldn’t remember Liz. That couldn’t be true, could it? He wouldn’t forgeHe wondered how long the journey to Antar would take, and where they would land when they got there. Would someone take them in? Would his family even know they had returned?

“Max, stop!”

He opened his eyes and spun around, shocked to find Liz, Maria, and Kyle standing in the entrance with Michael.

Liz pointed an accusing finger at Tess, her eyes hard. “It was Tess. Tess killed Alex. She mindwarped Alex and sent him to Las Cruces to decode the book, but he broke out of the mindwarp and she killed him.” She stared hard at the blond girl, daring her to deny it.

“It’s true, I was there,” Kyle put in. “I witnessed it.”

Max’s mind reeled. He stared at Tess, who remained strangely silent, then at Kyle. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?” he demanded.

“Because she mindwarped me!” Kyle cried. He stepped closer to Tess, his face contorted with fury and betrayal. “You lived in my home—you were like my sister!”

Max turned to Tess as well. “How long?” he asked Michael, staring at the woman who had betrayed him—all of them. He knew it was true. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before.

Michael glanced at the timing device. “About three minutes.”

Max never took his eyes from Tess. “Everyone out,” he ordered calmly.

“Max,” Michael began, but Max cut him off.

“Now!”

“No.”

Everyone’s eyes swung to Liz, who stepped up and calmly took her place beside Max. “I’m not leaving you, Max,” she said, taking a firm hold on his arm. “You’re not going with her. I won’t let you.”

“Liz, please,” he said softly, but she shook her head.

“No,” she said. “Alex was my friend and she killed him. I’m not letting her take you away, too.”

He looked at the clock and then at Liz and realized that no matter how many minutes he had, it wouldn’t be enough to talk her out of staying. As the others filed out, he pushed her behind him. “Stay behind me,” he murmured, and she seemed to understand. She kept a tight grip on his hand, though, and he realized he didn’t want her to let go.

“Did you kill Alex?” he demanded of Tess, advancing on her.

“I didn’t want to,” Tess said, and Max felt anger surge through him. She knew how desperately they had tried to protect Alex, Liz, and Maria—and she had taken no heed of that. She had killed one of the few people who had accepted them. “I wish I hadn’t,” she continued, “but I did.”

She wished she hadn’t? For the love of God, it sounded like she was talking about failing a class, or denting someone’s car. Did she really not understand what she had done—or did it simply not matter to her? “Why?” he ground out.

She gestured to the clock. “Look, Max, the clock is ticking. We have to go—for the baby—”

He advanced on her further. “Tell me why,” he ordered furiously. He felt his power surge, ready to blast her if she didn’t start talking.

“He would have told you what I did and I couldn’t let that happen,” Tess admitted in a rush.

Max heard Liz’s strangled cry, echoed it in his heart. She had killed Alex to cover up her mistake? “So you just—you just killed him?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t mean to. His brain was just so weakened by the mindwarp, and. . .look, none of this matters now.”

He stared at her, open-mouthed. “Life matters, Tess,” he managed to say. My life, your life, his. . .”

Tess’s blue eyes glittered icily. “What matters is getting home,” she enunciated clearly. “But you could never understand that, could you?” She laughed bitterly, pointing at Liz. “I might have been able to teach you, but that stupid bitch had you wrapped around her—”

His anger broke the surface, his powers thrumming under his skin, ready to explode. “Don’t you ever call her that!” he shouted.

“See?” Tess sneered, but there was pain in her voice, too. “Look how fast you run to her defense! Why couldn’t you ever feel that about me? I’m your wife, Max. I’m carrying your child.”

His lip curled in disgust. “This was all some kind of plan to get pregnant and go home, wasn’t it? Home to what, Tess? To Khivar? To our enemies?”

She shook her head, a satisfied smile appearing on her face. Max had to force himself not to slap it off her insolent face. “They’re not my enemies, Max.”

He heard Liz’s quick intake of breath. “You made a deal with them,” she breathed, staring at Tess with unparalleled hatred. “You made a deal with Khivar. You were going to hand over Max and the others.” She stepped forward, clasping Max’s arm again. “Did you think he wouldn’t turn on you, too?”

Tess’s face twisted angrily. “Nasedo made the deal forty years ago—to go home with Max’s heir and turn over the other three.”

Liz’s grip on his arm tightened until it was almost painful. “No,” she murmured. “No, I won’t let you.”

She laughed. “Do you think you can stop me?”

Max smiled grimly. “I can.” He raised a hand to Tess’s throat, but she didn’t look scared.

“You kill me, you kill our son,” she reminded mockingly.

He fell back, torn. He wanted her dead—wanted to kill her with his own hands for what she had done to Alex and all the people he loved. But could he kill his own child? Finally, he stepped away. “This isn’t over,” he promised her.

“No,” she agreed, giving him a smile that baffled him. She raised a hand and he tensed, ready to strike at her, but before he could move, green light shot from her fingers and hit Liz square in the chest. Max screamed in protest, but it was too late. Liz crumpled into his arms, a surprised look on her face.

“Max. . .?” she breathed with some difficulty.

He lowered her to the ground, cradling her in his arms, staring in horror at the scorch mark on that covered most of her shirt. He lifted the smoking material and a sob ripped from his throat. Her skin was blackened and raw, and glowing faintly silver.

“Now it’s over,” Tess said. Max never saw her raise her hand to the granilith, never saw her appear inside the cone-shaped crystal, but he felt the cave around them shake and knew he had to get Liz out of there. He scooped her into his arms, and by that time she had gone limp. Her eyes were half-closed, and she seemed to have trouble breathing, but he turned and ran with her out of the cave. The others were waiting just outside and when they saw Liz in Max’s arms they stared at her in horror.

“Go!” Max shouted at them. Michael and Kyle moved to help him carry Liz, but he could go faster by himself. The whole group ran down the side of the rocks as the pod chamber shook violently. At the bottom, Max knelt and cradled Liz in his arms carefully.

“Hold still,” he told her, ripping her shirt open like he had a lifetime ago at the Crashdown. “Liz, look in my eyes.” He put one hand beneath her head and the other on her chest, ignoring the others as they gathered around the two of them. “Liz, look at me,” he cried as her eyes started to close. “I need you to look at me.”

“Max?” she whispered. She reached out to put her hand over his heart. “Max, it hurts.”

“I know. I know—I’m going to heal you,” he said. He stared into her eyes, felt his powers surge. His hand glowed where it touched her chest, but something was wrong. There was no shifting of her cells, nothing. Nothing happened. He tried again, concentrating harder this time, until beads of sweat appeared on his forehead, but once again nothing happened.

And then he understood.

He hadn’t been able to heal Nasedo after the Skins were through with him, and he hadn’t been able to heal Alex after Tess killed him. Just like he couldn’t heal Liz. Horror filled his soul and he tried again, but his powers were waning. “Liz,” he murmured. “Liz, please. We have to—we have to get you to a hospital. They can—”

“Max,” she choked. A violent spasm shook her and she clutched his shirt in her fist. She coughed and her lips became stained with blood. “Max, please. Help me.”

He had never felt so helpless in his life. “Liz, hold on,” he begged. “If we can just get you to a hospital—”

“Max. . .Max, I can’t see you,” she cried fearfully. She stirred restlessly in his arms and pressed her hand over his heart.

“I’m right here,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “I’m here.” He pressed his hand over hers, pulling her closer.

“Max, where are you?” She gripped his wrist with one hand. “Max. . .”

He could do nothing but watch as a shuddering breath left her body and she went limp, her hand falling to her side as her body relaxed and lay still. Forever still. He felt her go, felt the loss of her soul as though it were ripped from its home inside his own, and in the end all he could do was hold her unresisting body in his arms and pray that death would take him, too.

posted on 13-Oct-2002 1:15:36 AM by mockingbird39
Part 5

“But what if he did say my name?”

Alex shook his head. “He didn’t. He was talking about the one he lost—the one who wore the sweater. She just has a name like yours.”

“But he looked right at me and said my name,” she protested.

“He was dreaming about her, and when he woke up and saw you, he was confused.” Alex squinted out over the desert below them. They stood on the top of a rock formation in the desert, and her eyes were continually drawn to a distant shape that she knew was the place the boy had gone the night before. The place where she had lain beside him for hours. The place where he had seen her face and spoken her name.

She sighed. “The way that he cried for her. . .it was like he’d lost part of his own soul.”

“They take it hard sometimes,” Alex said, shrugging. “They don’t understand how it is.”

She couldn’t forget the way the boy had sobbed, the way he’d clutched the sweater to his face. “No,” she admitted. “No, they don’t understand.” She lowered herself to the rocky ground and dangled one leg over the edge of the rocks, drawing the other up to her chest. Alex sat down beside her and together they looked out over the endless expanse of desert. “Do you ever wish we could do more for them?” she asked after a moment or two.

Alex was quiet. “Sometimes,” he admitted finally. “Sometimes when they’re afraid, or when they think dying is the end. I wish I could tell them it isn’t what they think.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. Me, too.” The bright sunlight shimmered across the desert, and her eyes could pick out the rays of the sun glinting off individual grains of sand. She didn’t think humans could see the way she could, and sometimes she pitied them for it. But they could feel the warmth of the sun, the cool of the rocks beneath their hands, and she thought that ability might be just as valuable.

“I thought she talked to me once.”

She turned to look at Alex, found him staring out over the desert with pensive eyes. “What? When?”

He shook his head. “Not long. . .or maybe it was. You weren’t there.” He looked momentarily puzzled. “I don’t know where you were.”

“What did she say?” she wanted to know.

“She was crying,” Alex said softly. “I think. . .I think she lost someone, too. She went to the cemetery and she sat beside one of the stones and I thought she said my name.”

“Then what?” she persisted.

He shrugged. “Then. . .then she cried, and I sat with her until she went home.”

She thought about it for a moment or two, hugging her knees to her chest. “Did she ever see you?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I wanted to, but after that happened, I didn’t think I should.” He paused briefly. “Maybe I was scared.”

“Of what?”

“I don’t know.”

They fell silent again, and after a while, Alex looked over at her.

“Why did you let him see you?”

“I didn’t,” she protested. “I was just sitting beside him. I don’t know why he saw me—I didn’t mean for him to.”

Alex frowned. “Then how did he see you?”

She shook her head. “I. . .I don’t know.”

He turned to her, his eyes serious. “You wanted him to, didn’t you?” he asked.

She stared out over the desert, dipping her head. Her long, dark hair fell forward, obscuring her face. “I wanted to comfort him,” she said finally.

“Is that the only reason?”

She thought of the boy, of the way he’d reached for her hand—of the way he’d held on so tightly—and she shook her head slowly. “No. I guess not.”

“Will you do it again?” Alex persisted.

She was quiet again, this time for quite some time. “I think. . .I think he needs comfort. I know that he does. And he doesn’t have anyone to give it.”

“He has a family.”

“He hides it from them. He only cries at night, when he’s alone.”

“A lot of them do that,” Alex pointed out.

“He’s different,” she murmured. Then, more softly, “I’m afraid for him.”

Alex touched her arm. “Do you think. . .do you think he might do something to himself?”

She could only shrug. “I don’t know. He hurts so much. I want to help him.”

* * * * *

After sunset, when she left the beach, she went to his home. He was lying on his bed with his eyes closed, and for a moment she thought he slept. But as she neared the bed, his eyes opened and he stared blankly at the ceiling. He wasn’t crying—she saw no tears—but he seemed utterly drained. His face was set in lines of weariness, his eyes dull and expressionless.

“Max?”

A voice from the door startled her and she turned to the door to see the girl standing there. The boy didn’t move, just blinked his eyes.

“Yeah?” he asked in a low voice.

The girl walked into the room and sat beside him on the bed. “Are you okay?” she asked softly, putting her hand on his arm.

“Yeah,” he said in the same toneless murmur.

The girl shook her head. “No, you aren’t,” she said. She hesitated a moment, then she sighed heavily. “This week. . .this week is awful for everyone. But especially you. I don’t know what to say to you. I wish I could do something to help.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “Just like there was nothing I could do for her. Or for Alex, either.”

Alex? How could they know Alex’s name, too? Could it really be coincidence? She stared from one to the other, her eyes wide.

The girl bowed her head briefly. “What happened to Alex wasn’t your fault.”

He held up his hands, studying them in the dim light. “All the other people I’ve healed. . .is it wrong that I would give all their lives to have been able to save just two?”

“I don’t know,” the girl said in a choked voice. “Max, I don’t know.”

They sat in silence for a moment, then the girl spoke again. “Max, you’re still alive,” she said softly. “How many times did she risk her life to keep you alive? You owe it to her to keep on living. Don’t let her down, Max. I know you loved her more than that.” When he didn’t answer, she went on. “This isn’t how she would want you to live. You know that.”

“I don’t know what she would want. I can’t ask her. She’s gone. She’s dead, Iz—she’s dead because of me. Because of what I let happen. She’s dead because of me.”

“Without you she would have died that day in the Crashdown,” the girl said.

“Would she? How do I know that?” He turned on his side, away from the girl. “Maybe she would have lived, and maybe the police would never have looked for us. Maybe Tess and Nasedo would never have found us. Maybe Liz would be in her room right now talking to Alex on the phone. Maybe she’d be at Harvard.” He closed his eyes. “She wanted to go to Harvard.”

“Or maybe she would have died on that floor and never known how much you loved her—is that what you want?”

He closed his eyes. “I want her back.”

* * * * *

He lay on his back, staring into the darkness, and she sat beside him, watching him far into the night.

“Can you hear me?” she asked softly. “Do you know I’m here?” He turned his head in her direction and she leaned closer. “How do you know my name?”

He didn’t answer, but after a moment, he sat up and rubbed his hands over his eyes. “I can’t do this anymore,” he mumbled into his palms. “I just can’t. . .”

The grief in his voice was too much for her to take. Even without her strange draw to this boy, she could not have left him alone with such despair. She closed her eyes, concentrating hard. Making herself visible to mortals never came easily, and she was never quite sure when she’d accomplished it.

This time, she didn’t have to wonder.

She heard his sharp intake of breath and opened her eyes to find him staring at her with wild eyes.

“Liz?” he asked, standing slowly. He squinted into the darkness, taking a cautious step toward her. “Liz. . .Liz, is it really you?”

She tilted her head to one side and smiled, holding out her hand to him. “I’ve come to tell you that it’s okay,” she began, but before she could get out another word, he crossed to her and fell to his knees.

“Oh, god, it’s you,” he cried, putting his arms around her waist. He pressed his face against her stomach, his breath coming in sharp gasps. “It’s you,” he managed to whisper over and over, his body shaking with sobs. “It’s really you.”


posted on 25-Oct-2002 4:50:40 PM by mockingbird39
Part 6

It’s you. . .it’s really you.

She held the boy as he sobbed, stroking his hair and wondering what he meant. Had he known he had a guardian—a watcher, of sorts? Some of them did. Some of them could sense her presence, even if she never touched them or showed herself to them.

“Shhh,” she murmured. “It’s okay. . .you don’t have to be afraid.”

He raised his head to look at her, the tearstains on his face glimmering in the dim light from the windows. “Afraid?” he repeated. “Liz, no. . .I—how did it happen? I saw you die—I held you in my arms!” He got to his feet, still touching her with reverent hands. “How can you be alive—how can this be happening?” He paled, his grip tightening on her. “Is this a dream? Am I going to wake up?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t a dream,” she said simply, then she frowned. “Do you know me?” she asked. “Have you seen me before?”

His face went gray. “Know you?” he breathed. “Liz, it’s me—it’s Max. Don’t you know who I am?”

She took a step back. “I don’t. . .I’m not who you think I am,” she said slowly, wondering if this had been the right decision. If he had to suffer more grief because of her. . .

“What are you talking about?” he asked, moving to close the distance between them again. “It’s you—I don’t know how, but it’s you.” He touched her face, his hands lingering on her jaw, stroking her forehead. He was trembling, his heart racing in his chest.

She shook her head again, and this time she didn’t back away from his touch. “I’m only a messenger. I’ve watched you, and I know that you’re in pain. But I came to tell you that it’s okay. The one you loved is fine—she is happy, and there is no more pain where she is. There's only light, and she is loved. It’s okay for you to move on. You don’t have to suffer like this.”

His hand shook as he cupped her jaw. “Liz, what are you talking about? What happened to you?”

Gently, she stepped away. “I’m not the one you love. I’m only a messenger—”

“No!” He strode forward, grabbing her by her upper arms. “No, you’re Liz—you have to be. I know it.”

“I’m not—”

“You have to be,” he interrupted. His eyes were wild now, frantic. “It can’t be. . .” He closed his eyes, swallowing hard. “Please—please don’t. . .I know that it’s you—I can feel you.”

“No—no, I’m not. I only came because you need—”

But she never got to finish. The boy put both his hands on her face, pulled her close, and pressed his lips to hers.

At first she was too startled to move. He was so close to her that she could sense his heartbeat, feel the trembling of his limbs. And his mouth. . .his mouth was pressed to hers, lightly touching and caressing her lips. No one had ever touched her that way—with the same wordless, infinite longing she sometimes felt when she stood on the seashore at sunset, waiting for His song. And never had she ached like this, ached to feel his touch in the way humans must. Frustrated, she moved closer to him, seeking to satisfy the intense craving that was making her dizzy. His kiss deepened, and when her lips parted in a gasp, his tongue slipped between them. She thought she could hear water rushing in her ears, drowning out everything else, and then—

. . .when I was in that room, and they did what they did to me, you're what kept me alive. The thought of you. The way your eyes look into mine. Your smile. The touch—

She jumped back, her eyes snapping open. “What was—”

“You saw it, too,” he said. “I know you saw that.”

She shook her head, backing away. “No, I. . .”

His eyes were filled with tears. “I know you did—please, Liz. Why are you doing this? What happened to you?” He reached out to touch her face. “I don’t understand. Liz, please—”

“I’m not her!” she cried. “I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have done this—”

“You are her!” he interrupted desperately. “Look at you—you can’t be anyone else.” He grabbed her hand and pressed it over his heart. “Don’t you feel that?” She couldn’t speak. Her eyes were trained on their clasped hands, resting over his heart. She could sense the faint thud beneath the smooth planes of his chest, even if she couldn’t quite feel it. “Liz, I don’t know how you came back to me, but. . .I know that it’s you. I feel you. I feel you right here.” He closed his eyes, breathing deeply. “I know—”

“I have to go,” she blurted desperately. She pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry.”

His eyes snapped open. “No, please—”

But she was already gone. He blinked, looking around in confusion. “Liz? Liz!” He ran to the window, but she was no where to be seen. She wasn’t in the hallway, either, and he ran down the stairs, calling her name. “Liz?” he cried, running through the downstairs, looking for her in every room. Finally, he threw open the front door and ran into the street, searching for her in the darkness of the night. “Liz?” he asked, quieter now. He stood in the middle of the street, desperation closing in on him again, and at length he sank to his knees on the pavement. “God, Liz,” he murmured, covering his face with his hands. “Where did you go?”

* * * * *

“I’m telling you—it wasn’t a dream. I was awake, and she was there.” Max looked around at them—at Michael and Maria, Kyle and Isabel, as they stood at the quarry.

“Liz was there,” Michael repeated. “Liz was there, and she said it wasn’t her, and then you closed your eyes and when you opened them, she was gone.” He stared at Max with sympathetic eyes. “Max, do you hear yourself?”

Max shut his eyes tightly for a second. “Look, I know how it sounds. I thought I was dreaming, too. But I never woke up. I wasn’t asleep—I haven’t slept since I saw her. It wasn’t a dream. Liz was there—she was in my room.”

Maria stifled a sob. “Liz is dead, Max,” she said tightly. “You can’t go doing this—bringing this up again. We’re all mourning for her, too. I lost both of my best friends. Do you think I don’t wish every day of my life that I could have them back? But I can’t, and neither can you.” She swallowed hard, her jaw clenched. “God, I can’t do this. Just. . .I’m going.” She spun around and stalked off.

With an apologetic look at Max, Michael followed her, putting a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off angrily. “No, Michael—don’t,” she said. “I just need you to stay away right now.” He fell back, looking stung, and Maria marched off alone. Michael stood there for a moment, defeated, watching her go. Finally, he turned back to the group and stood there with his hands in his pockets.

“She’s right, Maxwell,” he said in a low voice. “You can’t keep holding on like this. It’s killing you, and it’s not going to bring her back.”

Max stared at him. “You think I’m making this up? You think I want to feel like this? I’m telling you—I know what I saw!” He looked around at the rest of the group, saw the mix of skepticism and pity on all their faces. “None of you believe me, do you?” he asked. A bitter laugh broke from his throat and he shook his head. “Fine. Don’t believe me. But I’m not going to stand here while she’s out there somewhere, confused and alone, not even knowing who she is. I’m going to find her.” Without even looking at them again, Max turned and walked back toward his car, leaving the others there watching him.

It was only when he was in the car heading for town once more that he realized he had no idea where to look.

* * * * *

She had followed him to the quarry, and watched as he told his friends what had happened. She had left him only once since showing herself to him in his bedroom—just that one brief time to guide another soul to His light. Alex hadn’t known why she’d left so quickly, but she thought he might have guessed.

The boy had been telling the truth earlier. He hadn’t slept—not a wink since he’d first laid eyes on her. After running to the street to look for her, he’d gone back to his bedroom and paced the floor for an eternity. Then he’d gotten dressed and climbed onto the roof outside his window, where he’d stayed until sunrise, staring up at the sky and occasionally rubbing his eyes. She hadn’t dared get close enough to tell if he was wiping away tears or simply trying to keep them open.

Fear. That’s what she’d felt earlier, when he’d touched her. It was a curious feeling—she’d never felt afraid before. Not for herself, at least. She’d known fear for the humans she watched, fear that they would hurt themselves or others. She hated to see them suffer any pain. But when she’d seen. . .what had she seen? What was that? And why was I afraid? she wondered, watching him as he drove along the empty desert road. She reached out to hover one hand close to his cheek, and she wasn’t surprised when he rubbed his face at exactly that spot.

. . .when I was in that room, and they did what they did to me, you're what kept me alive. . .

She closed her eyes, replaying the words she’d heard. It wasn’t just words that spun in her memory, either. She could see the boy saying the words—see him reaching out to her. And something in her own heart responded, cried out at the need and longing in his eyes. But it couldn’t have been me, she told herself. . . .could it?

He’d been so sure that he knew her—so sure she was the one he’d lost. Other humans thought that way, too, sometimes, but not once she’d shown herself to them. Isn’t it enough that I have her name? she wondered. But now it seemed that she looked like his lost love, too.

And that made her wonder—What do I look like? The thought was startling. She’d never thought to wonder before. Humans gazed at their reflections often enough, but she’d never thought about it. Perhaps because she, like the rest of her kind, was a reflection of God. But now she touched her hair, pulling one long strand of it over her shoulder to look at it. It was dark and shiny and when she ran her fingers through the rest of it, she could tell it was thick and heavy. Next she held out her hands, spreading her fingers wide in the air before her. They were pale and slender, long and smooth. Curiously, she compared one of her hands to the boy’s and found that his were far larger. But then, she should have remembered that. When he’d held onto her hands, hers had nearly disappeared in his.

She touched her face, too, remembering how he’d cupped her jaw in his hands. Her skin felt smooth, but she couldn’t imagine what her face must look like. Glancing at the boy, she wondered what she had looked like to him.

She watched him closely as they drove back toward his home. He stared straight ahead, his eyes resolutely on the road, his jaw clenched. She hadn’t wanted this—hadn’t wanted to hurt him more. She’d only wanted to comfort him, but now it seemed that his pain was worse than ever. Now she was truly afraid for him.

“I didn’t want you to suffer,” she said aloud, tracing the lines of his face with her eyes.

She started to say more, wanting to say the words even if he couldn’t hear them, but at that moment she felt the pull deep inside her. She sighed. “I’ll be back,” she said, sweeping one hand over his cheek. He shook his head and rubbed at the spot, never taking his eyes from the road. “I promise,” she murmured. “I’ll be back.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 25-Oct-2002 5:04:04 PM ]
posted on 13-Nov-2002 11:59:54 AM by mockingbird39
Part 7

She arrived to find that it was an elderly woman this time, lying in her bed at a nursing home. Her passing was easy—she was ready. When it was over, and the woman’s soul had been led to the light, they returned to the place where her body lay. No one had noticed the absence of her soul yet; her passing had been quiet.

While Alex lingered to see who would come, she wandered to a room down the hallway. An elderly man was there, lying in his bed beneath a heavy pile of blankets. Stepping close to the bed, she saw that he was asleep, his chest rising and falling with uneven breath. His room was small and spare, and from the heavy blankets, she guessed it would be cold. As she stood there watching him, he drew a deeper breath and his eyes opened. He looked around, and at length his eyes landed on her.

“You’re here already,” he said simply. “I didn’t expect it to be so soon.”

She wasn’t surprised that he could see her. When humans neared the end of their earthly life, the line between planes of existence blurred and they could often see things that were hidden from other mortals. This one’s time was not yet done, but she thought that it would not be long.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “It isn’t your time yet.”

“Someone else, then?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Was it hard?”

“No.” She waited, stepping closer to the bed.

“Will my time be soon?” he wanted to know.

She cocked her head to one side, considering. “Yes,” she said finally. He did not seem surprised, but he sighed regretfully. “Don’t be scared,” she told him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

He nodded a little. “I know that.”

She smiled. It was easier for them when they were not afraid. “Good.”

“What will I have to do?” he asked her.

“Nothing. You don’t have to do anything.”

“Will it be you?” he asked. “Will you come for me?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. But someone will show you the way.”

He sighed. “I’ll be sorry to go,” he mused, looking around the room.

She stepped closer to him. “There is such light where you’re going,” she told him. “There’s light, and love like you never dreamed.”

He smiled, shaking his head. “There is love here, too,” he said. “It can be hard to find, and it’s often flawed, but there is love.”

Cocking her head to one side, she came closer and sat beside him on the bed. “Did you like it here?”

His answer came immediately. “Yes. Yes, I have loved my life.”

“Why?” It was what she’d always wondered. She had witnessed so much grief—what could possibly make up for all the pain humans experienced?

This answer took a little longer. “Everything here is fleeting. Beauty, passion, even pain—it all comes and goes before we quite learn what to do with it. That. . .that makes it all more precious.”

“And that makes it worth all the pain—all the loss?” she added, thinking of the boy and the terrible grief his loss had caused him.

“You can’t experience loss without having known love,” he said. “And love is the greatest gift we can receive. We all know that somewhere deep down.”

Love. She thought of the intense love she experienced whenever she stood on the beach at sunset, or guided a soul into His presence. It was the center of her existence. She could understand the desire to experience that love. She nodded. “Love,” she repeated.

“Yes. Love.” He sighed again. “And sometimes. . .sometimes the memory of love can keep us going.”

“Even after it’s gone?”

“It is never gone,” he told her seriously. “My wife died twenty years ago, but I still have her love. I still remember how it felt to touch her—to hold her in my arms.”

“You miss her,” she said, watching the wistful smile on his face.

“Every minute,” he nodded. “Twenty years. . .I love her as much today as I did the day she died. More—more because now I know what it is to live without her.” He stared at nothing, and she could only guess that he was lost in his memories. “I still have her love,” he repeated finally. He sighed a little, closing his eyes. “That’s not gone. When I remember her. . .it’s right there.”

She watched him for a moment, watched the rise and fall of his breath. Then she put her hand on his forehead. “Yes,” she agreed. “When you remember her.”

* * * * *


She found the boy in his room, sitting at his desk. A notebook lay before him, and he was holding a pen, but he wasn’t writing. Instead he was staring at a photograph in his hand. It showed two people, and as she leaned over his shoulder for a look, she saw that one of them was the boy himself. The other was a girl with dark hair and dark eyes. In the picture the two of them stood very close together, arms around each other’s waists, but instead of looking into the camera, like most of the photographs she had glimpsed, they were looking at each other. She smiled, because they looked so happy together. . .they glowed with the same light she felt each day at sunset, when her whole being reverberated with the Creator’s love.

“I’m going to find you,” the boy murmured. “I swear it.”

She sighed heavily. Had her brief appearance in his room set him on a quest he couldn’t possibly finish? It wasn’t fair. She had mean to give comfort, but now. . .now his grief was worse than ever. She shook her head. “I didn’t mean for you to hurt,” she said softly. “I wish I knew how to fix this.”

At length he put down the photograph and looked at his notebook again. Peering over his shoulder, she read what he had written. Pod chamber—mindwarp? And beneath that, Funeral, body—husk like Whitaker’s? Now he scrawled something more: Memory loss—Nicholas + skins?

None of it made any sense to her, but it seemed very important to him. He was completely engrossed in his notes and as she sat there watching, he occasionally added to them. She didn’t know how long she waited beside him, and she didn’t care. She was content to watch him, occasionally leaning closer to study his face. It didn’t escape her notice, either, that no matter now determined he was on his task, he paused and looked over his shoulder each time she reached out to him.

“Who do you think I am?” she asked aloud, watching as he picked up the photograph again. She rose from where she’d been sitting on the bed and knelt beside him, looking up into his face. “Do I look like her?” she wondered, watching as he stared at the girl’s picture. “Is that why you won’t believe I’m not?”

He closed his eyes. “Liz, where are you?” he asked, his voice so soft she had to lean close to hear the words.

She started when the boy abruptly left his chair and walked over to the window. He braced his hands on the frame and leaned into the late afternoon sunshine. “If you would just come back. . .please. . .”

“I’m here,” she said, rising to her feet and stepping closer. “Don’t you know I’m here?”

He raised his head. “They think I’m crazy—they all think I want you back so much that I made myself think it’s true.” He stopped and put his hand over his eyes. “Oh, god, please be real. I can’t lose you again. . .I just can’t.”

The grief in his voice resonated at the core of her being and she crossed to him, standing close beside him. She ached to help him somehow—to take away this hurt that weighed so heavily on him. But how? Everything she had done so far had only caused him more pain. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to be here—maybe her presence kept him from returning to his life. But could she simply leave him? She remembered the way he had looked at her, the way he had clung to her like he never wanted to let go.

“What did you see when you looked at me?” she wondered. It had never mattered to her before, but now she desperately wanted to know. Had he seen the face of the girl he had loved and lost. . .or had he seen her? I want you to see me, she thought, and was immediately confused. Why did it matter so much to her what this boy thought? Humans knew so little of their own world, and less of anything beyond it. They didn’t understand. . .and sometimes they didn’t want to know.

“You must have loved her so much,” she said softly, and she wondered what it would feel like to have this boy’s love. He was special—no other mortal had ever made her think of these things. She thought his love must be special, too. She gave a heavy sigh and reached out a hand to him. “I don’t want to leave you,” she said, skimming her hand over his forehead and across the inky dark mass of his hair. “But I don’t know what to do.”

She stayed with him until the sun dipped low in the sky and it was time for her to return to the ocean once more. “I’ll be back,” she told him. By then he was lying on his bed with his eyes closed, but she knew that he was not sleeping. Lingering by his side for another moment, she remembered how it had felt when he touched her—when he had pressed his mouth against hers. The memory of it was enough to make her lips tingle.

As she closed her eyes to leave him, she could only imagine what it would feel like for him to do it again.

posted on 1-Dec-2002 9:21:59 AM by mockingbird39
Part 8

She lingered at the ocean long after His song had ended. It was peaceful there, and as the last of her kind faded away, she began to walk down the empty beach, staring up at the stars overhead. She wanted to go back to the boy. Even with so much distance between them, he still called to her. His grief, his single-minded love for the girl he had lost. . .the way he’d clung to her. . .she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Why couldn’t I comfort him? she wondered, stopping in her solitary walk. She stared at the sand beneath her feet. No footprints marred the smooth expanse. The entire beach held no sign of her presence—even the waves that broke around her were impervious to her existence. She could not help thinking that they boy had never been so oblivious.

Whenever she had shown herself to humans in the past, they had willingly received the comfort she offered. Some wept with relief and release when she assured them their loved ones were safe and well. Others merely trusted, finally able to let go of their fear and doubt. Even the ones who thought they didn’t believe in Him wanted to think that those they had lost were somewhere good and peaceful. She liked helping humans move past their grief; she liked giving them comfort and taking away some of their grief. She knew it grieved the Father when they didn’t understand, and when their faith was strengthened it pleased Him. He loved them so much, and yet so often they didn’t realize it—or couldn’t seem to believe it. She wished she could make them all realize the depths of His love.

What should I do? She lifted her face to the heavens and waited for the Father’s response. She didn’t have to speak aloud—He knew her thoughts. And immediately, peace flooded through her. She knew what she to do. The Father would never leave one of His children alone. She closed her eyes and in a breath, she was in the boy’s room.

* * * * *

He was still alone, still awake, this time pacing across the room with short, jerky steps. He was talking on the telephone.

“Michael, no,” he said. “I don’t want to get away. I want to find Liz and she’s got to be somewhere close.”

She started—he’d said her name again. Only he wasn’t talking about her, but about the girl he loved. The girl in the picture. She shook her head. He was so determined to find the girl, but he wouldn’t. She was in a place he couldn’t go yet, no matter how hard he might search.

“I believe it was her. I know it was her,” he was saying, his jaw clenched in frustration. “I don’t give a damn whether or not you believe it—you weren’t here.”

She sighed, settling on the floor near the window to watch him. He continued to argue with whoever was on the other end of the phone for a few moments, but eventually he hung up, still insisting that he would find his Liz. Then he went back to his desk and sat down, spreading out some papers in front of him. But the desk was too small for what he wanted and after a moment he gathered everything and walked across the room. She was surprised when he sat down next to her. . .close enough to touch. . .and spread out his papers. He paused for a second, turning his face in her direction, and for a moment she thought he was looking right at her. But then he shook his head and expelled a deep breath, leaning over to examine his papers.

She curled her knees up to her chest, watching him as he worked. He looked tired; she didn’t think he’d slept since he’d seen her the night before. Not that he slept very much normally—she’d watched him enough to know that his sleep was rarely peaceful. After a few moments, she reached out her hand, skimming it over his shoulder and down his arm. He glanced in her direction briefly, but he was too intent on his task to take much notice.

After a while, the girl came in, pausing in the doorway to rap lightly on the frame with her knuckles.

“Come in,” he called distractedly.

She entered, watching him with sad eyes. “I talked to Michael,” she said after a moment.

“And he told you I’m still crazy,” the boy said grimly, not looking up.

“He said you won’t let this go,” she said softly.

He looked up at her. “How can I?” he asked. The desperate strain in his voice was impossible to miss. “She’s out there somewhere, and she doesn’t know who she is. They could be using her—Nicholas and the others could be doing anything to her. I have to save her.”

“Or Nicholas could be messing with your head to get you to make a move,” she pointed out. “Max, think about it. We all saw her die. What’s more likely?”

He shook his head. “If there’s a chance, I have to try. I can’t just pretend nothing happened last night. I have to save her.”

Understanding flashed through the girl’s eyes. “Max, you tried,” she said, coming to kneel beside him. “You tried so hard to save her.”

“No,” he said, his jaw tight. “I didn’t try hard enough last time. If I had, she would still be alive. I won’t make that mistake this time.”

“Max, stop it!” the girl cried. “You couldn’t have tried harder—you did everything you could do.”

“It wasn’t enough!” he answered angrily, sweeping aside the maps and papers before him. “Don’t you get it? It wasn’t enough! I have to do it right this time—I have to save her. I don’t care if you help me or not. I’m not going to lose her this time. I. . .I’ll die first.”

“Liz would not want that,” the girl said tightly. “She wouldn’t want you to live like this, and she certainly wouldn’t want you to die for some dream that she could still be saved.”

The anger suddenly left his face and he slumped back against the wall. “I’m already dead, Isabel. Without her. . .without her I’m not even alive. I have to get her back. Nothing else matters. Nothing.”

* * * * *

“Were you here all day?”

Alex stood in the doorway of the boy’s room. She looked up, suddenly guilty, not quite able to meet Alex’s gaze.

“He’s been upset,” she defended. “I didn’t want to leave him.”

“Did you let him see you?” She looked at the boy, remembering the moment when he’d fallen to his knees before her, and nodded silently. “And what happened?”

She shut her eyes. “He thought I was her,” she murmured, her shoulders slumping in defeat.

To her surprise, Alex merely shook his head. “He wants you to be her,” he said softly.

She started to nod, then realized that his statement was not correct. “No,” she said, “he thinks I am her. I tried to tell him I wasn’t, but he didn’t believe me.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed. “But he was wrong,” he reminded her. “You can’t be the girl—she was mortal. She was human. You’re—you’re not.”

“I know,” she said quickly. “I know that. But. . .but he seemed so sure.” She paused, watching him as he sat on the floor near his bed, pouring over a map of some sort. “I think I look like her,” she said finally. She shook her head sadly. “I just made him think—” She stopped. “He has a picture of her,” she remembered. “He had it on the desk.” And it was still there. Quickly, she crossed to the desk, beckoning Alex to come with her. “See?” she said, pointing. “That’s her.”

Alex came to her side, frowning. “I don’t know what you think—” he began, but stopped suddenly, staring at the picture on the desk. “That’s her?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes. That’s her. Look at them. Look how happy they were together.” She sighed, looking at the boy again. “No wonder he misses her so much.”

“This is the girl?” Alex asked again, looking down at the picture and then up at her.

She frowned. “Yes. Why?”

Alex stared at her. “This looks exactly like you.”

She should have been surprised. Alex certainly was. He kept looking at the picture, then at her, clearly trying to work this out. But it was not strange to her. She had almost expected it—it may even have been why she showed Alex the picture. She had just wanted to be sure.

“How can this be?” Alex demanded.

She shook her head. “I’m not sure.”

“Did you know?”

“No.” She paused. “I think I expected it, though.”

His eyes swung to her. “You did?”

She nodded. “I think I did.” She shut her eyes for a moment. “When I was with him, and he touched me, I saw something.”

“Saw what?”

“I don’t know.” She took a deep breath. “It was like a memory.”

“His memory?” Alex persisted. “You saw one of his memories?”

“Yes. . .no. I don’t know.” . . .when I was in that room, and they did what they did to me, you're what kept me alive. The thought of you. The way your eyes look into mine. Your smile. The touch— She shook her head. “I thought it was his memory. . .but it was in my mind, too. I didn’t just see it—I felt it. Could I have felt it if it was just his memory?”

“I. . .I don’t know.” His eyes reflected utter confusion. “But how could it be your memory?”

“It couldn’t. . .could it?”

“No.” He shook his head resolutely. “No, of course it couldn’t.” He glanced at the picture again, then at the boy. “We should go.”

She waved a hand at him. “You go ahead.”

“Are you sure you should stay?”

Her eyes strayed to the boy again as he carefully spread his papers and maps over the floor again. He rubbed a hand over his face, tipped his head back, and breathed deeply for a moment before returning to his task. He was so tired. . .

“I’ll come soon. I just want to make sure he sleeps.”

Alex looked at her doubtfully. “Is that all?”

She nodded absently. “Yes. He sleeps better when I’m here.” She felt Alex’s eyes on her for a long time, but she could not meet his gaze. “Go without me,” she said finally. “I’ll find you later.”

posted on 5-Dec-2002 4:40:46 PM by mockingbird39
Part 9

Max

That was his name—that was what the girl and his friends had called him. Max. She murmured it softly as he lay on his bed, eyes open, staring into the darkness. Somehow she was not surprised when he turned his head toward the dark corner where she waited.

“Liz?” he asked in a whisper. “Liz, are you here?”

It was too dark for him to see her, so she did not bother to make herself visible. Instead she moved closer, placing her hand on his chest. He drew in a sharp breath and put his hand over hers. “Am I dreaming?” he asked softly, caressing her fingers in his.

“Yes,” she murmured. “Yes, it’s a dream. Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” he said. “Not of you. Never of you.” He was quiet for a moment. “Please don’t go.”

“I won’t,” she assured him. “I’ll stay with you.”

“Come closer,” he pleaded. “Please.”

She hesitated only a moment before sitting down on the bed beside him, and then curling up beside him like she had in the desert. “I’m here,” she whispered. “I’m right here.”

He relaxed then, though his hold on her hand did not waver. Eventually, his eyes closed and he slept, but his hand was still clasped tightly around hers. She slid a little closer to him, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest, and wondering if he was dreaming of the nights he had spent with his Liz curled beside him like this. No, she thought, he would have held her—and she would have slept in his arms. She sighed and moved closer, wishing she could imagine what that felt like.

* * * * *

Max woke only once that night. He’d been dreaming of Liz again—dreaming that she lay next to him on his bed, her hand positioned over his heart. His sleep had been heavy and peaceful ince the knowledge that Liz was beside him, and only when he felt her hand pulled from his did he manage to wade through the thick darkness of rest and reach for her. But then it was too late and she was gone, lost once more in the netherworld of his dreams.

Unless it hadn’t been a dream.

He threw back the covers and got out of bed, walking to the door. It was shut tightly, and the mess of papers that he’d thrown on the floor before going to bed was not disturbed. If she’d been in his room, she hadn’t left that way. Quickly, he went to the window and looked out. It was open, but unless she’d managed to drop from the roof to the ground below without making a noise, she hadn’t gone that way, either. Which meant it had been a dream, and she hadn’t been in his room at all. He leaned against the window frame, defeated. It had felt so real, even in his sleep. For the first time, he’d opened his eyes actually expecting to see her there.

But he was alone again, alone in this room. Alone on this planet. He shut his eyes, reaching out across empty space, hoping she could hear him calling her back to him. Where are you, Liz? Can you hear me? He shook his head, backing away from the window. Maybe I really am crazy.

He went back to his bed and threw himself down, wishing for sleep again. Maybe in his dreams, Liz would come back. But he only lay there awake and Liz did not return to his side. Finally, he rose and found his shoes in the dark, slipped them on, and went outside.

He ran for a few blocks, determined to tire himself out so that he would have no choice but to sleep. He tired quickly, but his mind was still racing, so he decided to run to the park. It wasn’t far, and when he reached it, he wandered aimlessly down the paths for a while before stopping at the fountain. He paused, hands on his waist, to catch his breath.

Then he heard a noise behind him and he knew what he would find, even before he turned around.

“Are you really here this time?” he asked, closing his eyes for a split second before he turned around.

She stood on the steps near the water, her pale skin glowing in the moonlight. “Yes,” she said softly.

He took a cautious step toward her, holding his breath. “I don’t understand what’s happening,” he said.

She shrugged. “I told you. I’m. . .I’m a messenger.”

“Whose messenger?”

When she smiled, he felt it at the center of his heart. “You know,” she said.

He stepped closer. “No. No, I don’t. I don’t understand why you’re doing this,” he said. He stopped a foot from her, shaking his head helplessly. “Are you sick? Did they hurt you?”

She shook her head. “No one hurt me. I know you think I’m someone else, but I’m not. I’m not your Liz.”

He flinched. “Then who are you?” he demanded. “What’s your name?”

It was her turn to flinch. “My name. . .my name is Liz,” she said, looking down.

His heart leaped. “You are her,” he murmured.

She shook her head. “No. No, I’m not.” She stepped close to him and held out her hand.

He took it gratefully, folding it in both his own. “You are,” he breathed, his eyes roaming over her face. “You just don’t remember somehow. You don’t remember who you were. . .who you are.”

“I know this must be confusing to you,” she said.

“No—no, I’m fine,” he told her, stepping closer. He touched her face and she tensed, closing her eyes for a second. “You’re confused,” he continued, still stroking her cheek gently. “Something happened to you, but it’s okay now. You’ll be okay. Let me help you, Liz. Please.”

Her eyes glittered in the dim light. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” she whispered.

He nodded. “I know. But you’ll remember—”

“It’s not possible,” she interrupted. “It isn’t. I’m not. . .I’m not who you think I am.”

“You are,” he insisted softly. “Liz, when I kissed you, I know you saw—”

“Saw what?” she asked. “What was that?”

“It was a memory,” he answered.

“Whose memory?” she breathed. “Yours?”

His hand tightened on hers. “Ours,” he said. “It was the first time we. . .it was the first time I told you that I love you.”

She stared at him. “No. It wasn’t my memory. It can’t be.”

But he nodded, his eyes searching hers. “Yes, Liz, it was. That was you.” He paused for a second. “Let me help you remember,” he murmured, his lips hovering over hers.

She drew a sharp breath. “I can’t—”

“Shh,” he whispered. “Let me show you.” His fingers slid reverently into the thick curtain of her hair as he drew her close with his other hand. Then, like he had before, he leaned down and pressed his lips against hers.

It was immediate—the explosion of feeling. She felt like she was falling, pitching forward into the boy whose arms were holding her so tightly. And then came the confusing images. . .memories?. . .flashing so quickly before her eyes that she barely had time to think. Max Evans is staring at you again. . .No way. Maria, that is so in your imagination. . .Everbody wants to find her soulmate. . .You listen to your heart and my heart told me to call you. Because you were the one person in the world that I really wanted to talk to. . .Are you afraid? I mean, to let someone in? To let someone see who you really are? Well, multiply that by about a million. . .We’ll go someplace where no one knows us. As long as we’re together, nothing else matters. . .

She gasped when the images ended, coming to her senses and trying to move away from the boy. But he held her fast, stroking her cheek and looking at her with such love in his eyes that it made her heart pound.

“What was that?” she asked breathlessly.

“It was your life, Liz. It was our life together. All those things. . .that’s what we are to each other.” He smiled hopefully. “You remember now, don’t you?”

She felt dizzy, unable to let go of the images that had flooded through her mind. “Yes,” she said, then she shook her head. “No. No, that’s not. . .” She stopped when she felt the unmistakable pull at the pit of her stomach. Not now, she pleaded, but it did not go away. “I have to go,” she said reluctantly. “I’m sorry.”

He grabbed her hands as she tried to pull away. “Liz, no. Where are you going? Please stay—you need help. I need—I need you to stay.”

She shook her head. “I can’t,” she said tightly. “Other people need me.”

“Who?” he demanded. “Where do you have to go?”

She pulled her hands from his, and her heart contracted at the hurt on his face. “I just have to go,” she said. The pull was getting stronger now, and she stepped back.

“Tell me where you’re going,” he pleaded.

“I’ll come back,” she promised. “I always come back.”

“When?” he asked as she backed away. He started to follow her, but she only moved more quickly. He reached out to her, but somehow he couldn’t quite touch her.

“Soon,” she said. She turned her head as though she had heard something in the trees, and he quickly followed her gaze.

When he turned back, she was gone. “Liz?” he cried. “Liz?” But there was no answer.

He walked home alone as the sun came up over Roswell, and when he reached his house he threw himself down onto his bed and slept for a long, long time.

posted on 5-Dec-2002 5:35:21 PM by mockingbird39
Hi, guys! Just wanted to answer a couple of questions that came up in feedback.

Nikkisue: In this story, the dead do not remember their lives once they have crossed over. In the second chapter, Liz noted that the boy was sad to leave his parents, but in a moment he would not remember his sadness anyway. If you're curious about why I chose to write it that way, b-mail me. I don't want to give away the story here.

Christine: I wrote about Liz's death back in chapter 4. If you're looking for an exact cause. . .eh. I really didn't go into the science of it. Just call it alien mojo. And to answer your other questions, this follows canon until mid-way through Departure. The events happening at the present are set in an as-yet unspecified time after Departure.

Thanks for all your great feedback!

Love,
Mel
posted on 15-Dec-2002 8:58:54 PM by mockingbird39
Part 10

Sunlight streamed through the window’s of Max’s bedroom when he woke up next. He opened his eyes slowly, remembering what had happened the night before and then he sat straight up, looking around.

She sat near him on the bed, her legs bent at the knees, her arms wrapped loosely around them. She was watching him gravely, her eyes deep and dark. He could only stare at her.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

She shrugged. “A while.”

“How did you get in here?” The door was shut, the windows closed. “Did anyone see you?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Then how did you—” He stopped short when he saw the smile in her eyes. “I don’t understand this,” he muttered.

“You do,” she answered softly, reaching out to put her hand on his arm. “You do,” she repeated, when he opened his mouth to protest.

He let it go, not wanting to force her into a panic that would end in her leaving again. “Where did you go?” he asked.

“Someone needed my help,” she said. “But I came back—I promised you I would.”

“Can you stay now?” he asked softly. Cautiously, he reached out to touch her face, biting his lip to hold back the desire that threatened to overtake him—the desire to pull her into his arms and hold her until she remembered. Until the world made sense again.

She tilted her head to one side, turning her cheek into his palm. “I don’t know if I should,” she said quietly, but she made no move to go.

“Please,” he murmured. “Please don’t leave yet.”

She hesitated for a moment. “Okay,” she said finally.

He took a deep breath. “Who are you?” he asked in a low voice, still stroking her cheek.

“I told you,” she answered softly. “I’m a messenger.”

“Whose?”

“God’s,” she said simply, looking deep into his eyes.

His hand dropped away. “I don’t believe in God,” he said flatly.

She did not look away. “Why not?”

“If God is real, He isn’t what people say He is,” he said, bitterness making his voice sharp. “He takes everything and sits back in His heaven to watch us suffer.”

“You’re wrong,” she told him softly. “He knows your pain—He feels it like His own. It’s why He sends us.”

“Us?”

“Like me,” she said. “It’s why I came here.”

“He took everything I cared about,” he said angrily. He met her gaze, his eyes defiant. “I don’t want to believe in God.”

“Wanting to believe does not change the truth of His existence,” she said softly. She paused for a second. “It doesn’t change the fact of your belief, either.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “I don’t believe—”

“You don’t want to believe,” she interrupted. “There’s a difference.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to,” she said with a smile. “There are things you can’t understand. They’re still true.”

He frowned for a long moment, then he shook his head. “Liz, this is crazy,” he said. “They did something to you to make you confused. That’s why you’re saying these things—that’s why you believe this. Don’t you see? It doesn’t make any sense. Someone’s trying to trick you. They don’t want you to know the truth.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, feeling frustration surge through him again. “The Skins, maybe. Our enemies.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have any enemies.”

He stared at her. How could they have erased her memory so completely? What kind of brainwashing. . .god, had they tortured her? He moved closer to her. “Did they hurt you?” he asked her. His eyes roamed over her familiar features, her long, slender limbs. “But they must have healed you somehow. . .” he murmured. “I saw what Tess did to you—Liz, I’m so sorry.” His voice cracked, and his eyes grew dark with grief. “I should have known what she was going to do—”

“Shh,” she murmured, putting a finger over his lips. “No one hurt me,” she whispered.

“I saw it,” he protested, but she shook her head, silencing him again.

“Look at me,” she said softly. “You know the truth. You already know.”

“I know that you’re Liz,” he murmured desperately.

She sighed. “Close your eyes,” she said.

“Why?”

“Please,” she persisted.

He stared at her for a moment, then he nodded slowly and closed his eyes. “Okay,” he agreed.

“Good,” she said. She put her hand on his cheek, caressing him lightly, and suddenly his eyes flew open again.

“You aren’t going to leave, are you?” he asked urgently, reaching out to grab her wrist.

She shook her head. “No. I promise. Just relax.”

“Okay.” He closed his eyes, turning his face into her touch, concentrating on the feel of her hand. Her skin was so smooth, her touch so light. . .He frowned. Something about her touch was wrong—it wasn’t like the memories he’d held onto so tightly. “Liz, what—”

“Shh,” she said. “Open your eyes.”

“Why are you—” His words were lost as he opened his eyes to an empty room. “Liz!” he cried, confused because it seemed he could still feel her hand on his cheek. “Liz, where did you go?”

“I’m right here.” Her voice was beside him and when he turned his head to look, she was there again, just as she had been a moment before. “You see me now, don’t you?”

He nodded fearfully. “What did you do?” he demanded. “How did you do that?”

“When you sleep,” she said softly, “you feel me next to you, don’t you?”

Her eyes were hypnotizing, and he couldn’t look away. “Yes,” he breathed, staring into their warm depths.

“But you can’t see me,” she continued, and he shook his head.

“No.” Something in her gaze was making his head feel light. He gripped her hand tightly, but that didn’t feel right, either. Her hand wasn’t. . .it was as though he couldn’t hold it, not really. And it was cold—no, that wasn’t it. But it wasn’t warm, either, not like it should have been. Frightened now, he turned her hand over and pressed two fingers to her wrist, over the spot where blue veins criss-crossed beneath the pale porcelain of her skin. His breath sounded harsh in his ears as he pressed harder, straining to feel the beat of her pulse. Nothing. “Liz?” he questioned, his voice low and strained.

“Look at me,” she said once more, her voice calm and soothing. He obeyed, his eyes swinging up to meet hers. “You know what I am,” she said, “and you know who sent me.”

“This is. . .this is a dream,” he whispered. “It’s a trick.”

She shook her head, moving close to him, cupping his face in her palms. “You know it isn’t,” she said calmly.

His breath was coming in gasps now. “It can’t be true,” he said frantically, wrapping his hands around her wrists. He was trying to grab onto her, but something was wrong. He could feel the shape of her small, fragile wrists beneath his hands, but he couldn’t touch her—couldn’t feel her skin or the warmth beneath it.

“Don’t be frightened,” she told him softly. “I didn’t come to make you afraid. I’ll go if you want me to.”

Go? He swallowed hard. “No, I. . .please don’t go.” He shut his eyes for a second. She had to be Liz—she had to be. The flashes, the sense of her at the center of his soul. . .it had to be her. But she seemed so sure, and nothing else was making sense. He opened his eyes. “Liz, can I please. . .can I kiss you?”

Now there was doubt in her eyes. The flashes had frightened her earlier, he knew, but she did not move away. At length, she nodded. “Okay.”

Moving slowly, Max put his hand on her cheek and leaned close to her. As their lips met, Max tried desperately to feel her—to taste her mouth, to feel the warm whisper of her breath. But though the flashes started immediately— “Have you ever wanted to go to Sweden?”—it was like trying to touch a dream.

But the flashes. . .they felt so real, and Max kept on, seeing himself in the memories he and Liz had shared. “I’ll have an Alien Blast.” “Me, too.”. . . “I’m with you, Liz.” By the time the two of them broke apart, Max’s face was streaked with tears. She reached out and touched his face, her fingers tracing the tracks of his tears.

“You loved her so much,” she said softly, a tender smile playing along the corners of her mouth.

He nodded. “Yes,” he agreed simply, and fresh tears dampened his face. “I love you,” he said. “I always will.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t me,” she whispered. “I wish. . .I wish it had been me. But it wasn’t.”

“It was, Liz,” he murmured, raising her hands to his lips. He shut his eyes tightly for a moment, trying to imagine the warmth that should have been in her fingers. “I know that it was. You’re right—I don’t understand what’s happening here, and I don’t care. All I know is that you’ve come back to me somehow.” He kissed her palms reverently. “Will you let me show you?” he asked. “Will you let me show you what we were? Please?”

She hesitated, waiting for His voice. At length, she nodded slowly. “I will listen,” she said. “If that’s what you need.”

“I need you,” he said. A sad smile made his eyes glimmer in the sunlight that streamed through the windows. “I always have—that won’t ever change.”


posted on 30-Dec-2002 7:47:32 AM by mockingbird39
Part 11

"Why can't I touch you?"

It was night, and once more they were together at the park. Beside them the fountain bubbled, sending a short stream of water into the air before it fell to the pool below. She trailed her fingers through it, watching the movement of her hand beneath the crystal surface of the water.

"You touch me," she said, looking up at him from beneath the dark veil of her lashes.

He reached out and took her other hand, wrapping his around it. "But not for real," he said, meeting her dark gaze. "I can't feel you–not really."

"Oh." She cocked her head to one side. "That." She stared at the sky for a moment, seeming to search for an answer in the bright stars overhead. "It's because I don't exist here. On this plane."

He frowned. "I don't understand."

She paused. "You see me here, but only because the veil between this plane and the one where I exist is very thin."

"What does that mean?"

She gestured to the air between them. "If there were a cloth here–a very thin cloth–and I was on one side and you on the other, could you still see me?"

He shrugged a little. "I guess so–if it was thin enough."

"But if you tried to touch me, the cloth would still be between us, wouldn't it?"

"Yes."

"And what you saw of me would be. . .distorted. Not clear. Right?"

He nodded. "I guess so." He paused for a second, thinking. "Does that mean you don't really look. . .like this?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I know that I look like the girl in your picture. But I've never seen myself."

His eyes widened. "You've never seen your reflection?"

"No."

"Well, look." He gestured to the smooth surface of the water, guiding her to the edge of the fountain. "See?"

She only looked at him. "There's nothing there," she said. "There can't be."

He looked down and his heart dropped. His reflection was there, but it was alone. "How is that possible?"

She shrugged again. "The veil."

Discouraged, he rubbed a hand over his face. All day while he'd waited for her, he'd tried to piece together an explanation for what she'd told him last night–and what he'd seen himself. Finally, he'd decided that somehow she'd been given alien powers. When she'd disappeared, it had been some sort of mindwarp. That must have been how she'd entered his house without anyone seeing her, too. It explained everything. . .except that he couldn't touch her. He didn't know of any power that could do that. But her explanation couldn't be true. Could it?

"What parts this veil, then?" he asked.

She raised her face to the heavens. "God," she said simply.

"God," he repeated.

"Yes." She raised one hand and moved it through the air a centimeter from his face. He could sense her closeness, but no air stirred. "You don't see me with your eyes," she went on quietly. "You see me with your soul. Right now your soul is bound to your body. But if that wasn't so–if our souls were touching–you would feel me like you feel everything else. Understand?"

"No," he said in frustration.

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I've never tried to explain it to anyone before." The trace of a smile touched her lips. "Most people just accept it. You're very stubborn."

"So other people can see you?"

"If I want them to," she agreed. "And sometimes, when someone is near the end of their life, the veil is thinner. They can see many things then."

"Like what?"

"Oh, like light. The light that God brings." She smiled for real now. "It's beautiful–more pure and beautiful than anything ever created."

"I don't understand how this can be real," he murmured, looking down. He caressed the hand he still held, trying to imagine the warmth he so desperately wanted to feel. "I know that you're Liz. How else can you have her memories?"

She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Doesn't that bother you?" he demanded. "Don't you want to know what's going on? Don't you want to remember what happened to you?"

She thought for a moment, then she sighed. "When you kissed me, and I saw those things. . .I felt what that girl did. It was like I was her."

"You were her," he murmured. "You are her."

She shook her head. "I don't know how that could be. But those things I felt. . .I never felt anything like that before." She paused. "Yes," she said finally. "I'd like to know why I feel like that. I want to know more."

"I can show you," he said, a tiny stirring of hope in his chest. "Just let me show you."

She nodded. "Okay."

"Do you believe me?" he asked. "Do you believe that I know who you are?"

She hesitated. "I know that you think I'm her," she said finally.

He closed his eyes for a second. "Why won't you believe me?"

"Because I don't know how it can be true," she said gently. She squeezed his hand. "You know what? I wish I was her. I wish I could be that to you."

They fell silent for a moment, but somehow it was not awkward. He still held her hand, and she let him, her own grip never loosening. Finally, he spoke.

"Where do you go when you leave?"

"Many places," she answered, trailing her other hand through the water again. Max started when he noticed that her hand did not disturb the water's surface. Another piece of the puzzle–another piece that didn't fit anywhere. Unless her story was true.

"Close to here?" he asked.

Her forehead furrowed. "Maybe. I don't know. I don't walk there."

"How do you get there?"

Another shrug. "I'm drawn there, and I go. It's not like the way you go somewhere. There is no distance here."

No distance. She could travel with a thought? Max shook his head, wondering if this truly was a dream, and suddenly she laughed. "You're awake," she assured him.

"Can you read my thoughts?" he asked in amazement.

She nodded gravely. "Yes."

He thought for a second. "Okay," he said finally. "What am I thinking now?"

She considered for a moment, then she smiled. "About a little girl in a dress. . .a dress with cupcakes on it."

"Yes," he agreed. A wistful smile made his lips curl upward. "That was the first memory of yours I ever saw–the first time we connected. Do you remember that?" She shook her head and his smile died. "You were so embarrassed when you knew I'd seen that."

She reached out with her free hand and touched his face. Her fingers were not wet, despite the fact that she'd been playing in the fountain. "You loved that little girl," she said softly. "Most people don't love so deeply as you. Do you know that?"

He was mesmerized by the soft light in her eyes. "I only ever loved you like that," he said quietly.

She smiled and reached for his other hand, lacing their fingers together. "And yet you don't believe in God?"

"I don't understand."

"God is the author of love. All love begins with Him."

His eyes darkened. "God took you from me."

"If that's true," she said softly, "then He also gave me back."

"But why did He take you at all?"

She shook her head. "I don't know His purposes. Sometimes they are such that even I can't understand them."

His hands tightened on hers. "You died in horrible pain, and I couldn't save you," he said, his voice low and choked. "Was there a purpose to that?"

"There must have been," she said with quiet certainty.

"What?"

"I don't know." She was quiet, thinking, then she raised her eyes to him. "When mortals die, they are taken immediately into God's light. There is no pain once they have crossed, and there never will be again. They are safe, and they are loved. No one can ever hurt them again."

"Are they happy?" he asked softly.

She nodded. "Yes."

"Are you happy?"

She smiled. "Yes."

He watched her face, watched the starlight dance in her eyes. "I always wanted you to be happy," he murmured, reaching out to touch her face. "Safe and happy."

“You really are special,” she murmured, her smile radiating light. Max stared, his heart twisting. Could she really be what she said she was? And if so, what had happened to Liz? She turned her face to the sky. “It’s late, I think,” she said quietly.

Max looked at his watch. “Yes,” he said, not caring if the sun came up or not, so long as she was there.

“You need to sleep,” she said.

“I don’t want to leave you.”

She rose to her feet, holding out her hand. “I’ll come with you,” she said simply.

He stood up, too, and clasped her hand in his. “Okay,” he agreed, and together they walked into the night.


posted on 7-Jan-2003 6:05:15 PM by mockingbird39
Part 12

“Max, are you okay?”

Max turned quickly, looking back through the window into his bedroom. He’d been sitting on the roof outside his window for a while, waiting for dark. Liz came after dark. . .she'd promised she would come after dark.

“Isabel,” he said. “I didn’t know you were home.”

She shrugged, walking into the room to stand beside the window. “I was supposed to go out with Kyle,” she said, “but. . .neither of us really felt like it.”

“Oh.” He offered her his hand and she smiled, accepting his help to climb out onto the roof beside him. As she settled herself near him, pulling her sweater around her, Max studied her profile in the late afternoon sunlight. He wasn’t surprised that she had been planning to see Kyle; the two of them had spent a lot of time together over the past year. He hadn’t noticed it at first—he’d spent the first few months after Liz’s death in a haze of grief, sleeping almost constantly, haunted by nightmares that didn’t go away when he woke up. When he’d finally been able to function, he’d assumed that Isabel and Kyle were dating, but that wasn’t exactly right, either. Now, almost a year after that awful night at the podchamber, Isabel and Kyle were still friends—close friends. Max regretted that he hadn’t been much good to Isabel in the past year, but he was thankful that she’d had Kyle.

She glanced at him with a hesitant smile. “What are you doing out here?” she asked.

Waiting for Liz. “Thinking,” he said.

“About Liz,” she put in softly.

He didn’t bother to deny it. “Yeah.”

“I was just thinking about Alex, too,” she ventured, moving a little closer to him. Again, Max felt a pang of guilt. In the beginning, as they all reeled from the shock of losing their friends and discovering another enemy in their midst, Isabel had reached out to Max, seeking to share their loss. But he hadn’t been able to respond back then—he had barely been able to walk, much less reach out to comfort his sister. By the time he’d managed to put what remained of himself back together—those few pieces Liz hadn’t taken with her—it had been too late. Isabel confided in Kyle now, not him. Except that maybe she was reaching out one more time.

“Do you think about him a lot?” Max asked softly, watching her.

First she shrugged, then she stared out at the quiet suburban neighborhood beneath them and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I do. Some days I think I’m okay again. . .like I can almost take a deep breath, and then I try, and it all comes rushing back. And then it’s so bad that I wish I’d never tried to move on at all.”
He nodded. “I know.”

“Sometimes I dream about him,” she went on, her voice sounding terribly small in the open air. “Sometimes in my dreams I forget that he’s dead, and when I wake up I’m not sure which is real.” She bowed her head. “I just. . .I want him to be alive so much.”

Max reached out and took her hand. “I wish I could have saved him for you, Isabel,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”

She sniffed and shook her head. “No, Max—it wasn’t your fault.”

“I still wish I could have saved him.”

Isabel hugged her knees to her chest. “I know,” she said quietly. “I wish I had stayed with you and Liz in the podchamber. I never should have left you alone with Tess.”

“She could have killed you, too,” he answered.

“No. She only ever cared about you and Liz. . .and maybe Kyle, a little. The rest of us were beside the point.” Isabel shook her head. “Unless we got in her way, she wouldn’t have cared.”

That was true enough. Liz might have escaped Tess’s notice, too, if only Max hadn’t been so completely unable to hide his feelings for her. . .

“It wasn’t your fault, Max,” Isabel said. “I know it feels like it was, but it wasn’t.” Max looked away, unable to answer that. “I still miss them so much,” she went on. “Both of them.” She paused, and a single tear traced a path down her cheek. “Do you think they’re okay now?” she asked softly.

He thought of Liz, of the light in her eyes and the peace that radiated from her entire being. “Yes,” he murmured, nodding slowly. “I think they’re okay.”

Her eyes brightened a little. “Really, Max?”

He looked over at her. “Really, Iz. I think that they’re okay, and. . .I think that they’re happy.”

She nodded, a wistful smile turning up the corners of her mouth. “I hope so,” she said. She paused for a second. “Maybe they’re together,” she said finally. “I think Alex would like that—and they could take care of each other. Do you think they’re together?”

Max frowned. He hadn’t thought of that. “Maybe,” he said finally. “I hope so, too.”

* * * * *

“Alex, what if it’s true?”

Alex stared at her. “How could it be? You’re not mortal; the girl he loved was. That’s why she died.”

“But those things I saw,” she reminded. “No, I didn’t just see them—I felt them. I remembered what it was like to feel them. I felt him—I felt him touch me.” She stared out at the waves crashing beneath them on this rocky cliff. “It feels so different,” she mused. “When they touch you. . .for real.”

When she looked at Alex again, his eyes were closed, his hands clasped over his knees. “What is it like?” he asked in a quiet whisper. Mortals would not have been able to distinguish his voice from the roar of the waves and wind, but to her it was clear.

She smiled. “It’s like sunset,” she said.

They were silent after that, and at length she could see the forms of the others—all her kind, gathering at the sea for sunset. She tilted her face to the fading orange light. When the sun had gone, she would go back to the boy. She would talk to him again, ask him to tell her about the girl he loved. What if she’s me? she wondered. How will I know—and what will I do?

The answer came immediately. Comfort him. Guide him. Give him rest. It was what she was meant to do, not just with this boy, but with all the mortals to whom she was sent. She smiled again. It really wasn’t so difficult after all.

Alex stood up, offering her his hand. “Do you want to go with the others?” he asked. “It’s almost time.”

She started to nod, but then shook her head. “I think. . .I think I’ll stay here,” she said finally. For the first time, she had no desire to join the others of her kind. She preferred to stay here, to hear His song in solitude. That puzzled her; she had always enjoyed the company of the others.

As she waited for the first notes of His song, she stood up and turned her face to the sky. The moon was already visible to her; soon mortals would see it, too. She wondered where the boy was—if he had been waiting for the dark all day, as she had been. Was he looking for the moon, too? The moon was brighter in the desert, and in the silence sometimes she thought she could hear it rush through space. Not like here, where the roar of the waves drowned out such things.

The waves. Her gaze turned downward to the sea, to the jagged rocks below where the rythmic crash of the water sent up a steady spray. She stepped closer to the edge of the cliff, so close that her toes jutted into the empty air beyond, and spread her arms, swaying with the sound of the waves.

What if I fall? she wondered, the thought spinning through her mind aimlessly. What would happen then?

And then her thoughts were silenced as the sun began to sink beneath the water and His song began. She shut her eyes, letting it pierce to the very center of her being and fill her with His joy.

And she wished with all her heart she could share it with the boy called Max.

* * * * *

Max was still sitting on the rooftop outside his window when something made him turn his head. He was startled, but not surprised, to find that she sat there near him, staring out at the neighborhood.

“You’re here,” he breathed, staring at her pale profile in the dim glare of the street lights. It was dark now—he’d been waiting for a long time.

She nodded, the dark curtain of her hair swishing across her shoulders. “Yes. I told you I would come.”

“Why do you always come at night?” he asked.

She turned to look at him, her eyes large and glittering in the darkness. “You’re alone at night.”

“Can you only come when I’m alone?”

She smiled, that secret smile that seemed to hold laughter and wisdom and all the answers he wanted to know. “No. Do you want me to come when there are others here?”

He had to think about that. The others clearly thought he was crazy, and if they saw Liz, too, they might begin to understand. Maybe they could even help him. But that thought made him pause. Two days ago, he’d been so sure that Liz was hurt—or being used by the Skins, or someone else. Two days ago he hadn’t been thinking that she might be telling the truth. Now he didn’t know if anyone could help her. And if they couldn’t, he wasn’t sure he wanted to share these precious moments when she came to him. But shouldn’t her friends be able to share them, too? Finally he sighed. “I don’t know,” he said honestly.

“I think it’s better like this,” she told him softly. “I like it like this.”

He nodded. “Me, too. I think.” He paused. “Were you at the ocean just now?” She’d mentioned last night that she went there often.

“Yes.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and felt joy ring through her being at the memory.

“Do you go there every day?”

“Yes.”

He studied her, unable to look away. “Why?”

She turned her eyes on him. “Every day at sunset we gather there and He speaks to us.”

“Who?” he asked. “Who speaks to you?”

She smiled. “God.”

God. Two days ago he would have thought that it was crazy. Now he didn’t know what to think. “You hear His voice?” he asked softly.

She nodded. “Yes.”

He watched her, watched the light shining in her eyes. “What does it sound like?”.

“Like no music you’ve ever heard,” she answered. “It’s more than a song—it’s joy and love and peace. It’s what the Father can give to the world.”

Joy and love and peace. He thought he remembered what those would feel like. But those things had left his life a year ago, and he didn’t expect they would ever return. “He doesn’t give them very often,” he muttered to himself.

“If you accept it, He will,” she said softly.

He had no answer for that. Instead, he reached out to lay a hand on her cheek. She turned her face into his palm, and he thought he saw frustration flash in her eyes. Was she as disappointed as he that they could not truly touch? “Why do you come here?” he asked finally.

Her eyes caught his in their hypnotic gaze. “I don’t want you to be alone,” she said. One of her hands stole over to rest on his shoulder, and he carefully slid closer to her across the rough shingles of the roof.

“Is that the only reason?”

Slowly, she shook her head. “No. Not anymore.”

He slipped closer, until their bodies nearly touched. “Then why?” he whispered, caressing her cheek.

She swallowed hard. “Those things I saw. . .those memories,” she began.

“Yes?” He held his breath, sliding his hand through her hair.

She lifted her face until her lips were inches from his. “I want to know more. Please show me more.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Jan-2003 7:59:50 PM ]
posted on 10-Jan-2003 3:29:03 PM by mockingbird39
Part 13

Max tilted his head, his lips nearly brushing hers. He was barely breathing now, his chest so tight with longing that he wondered how his heart could still beat. “What do you want to know?” he asked. Their noses brushed, bumped, and he tensed even more as her shoulder came to rest against him.

“Everything,” she whispered. “I want to know everything.”

He nodded. “Okay,” he murmured, brushing her lips with his lightly. His body tingled where ever she touched him, but when their lips met the tingle sharpened into a piercing ache that left him longing for more—longing to touch her, really touch her, really feel her melt into his arms. He wanted her hot breath on his skin, her arms warm around his neck. He wanted to feel her heart beat in time with his. He thought he would give his whole life in return, if only he could feel her heart beat one more time. Then the flashes began and all he could do was hold her as best he could, willing her to remember.

“Umm...I know that we agreed, you know, not...not to feel a certain way about each other.” “Yeah.” “Do you still think that’s a good idea?”

“It's all true, Liz. It's how I really feel. It's all just magic when I think about you. . .and when I’m not with you, I go crazy.”

“Max likes cherry cola. What does Michael like?” “Cherry cola with arsenic?”

“Part of me feels like you've gone insane, and the other part of me feels like I want some of the massive doses of hallucinogens you've obviously been taking—”


All at once she pulled back. “Alex,” she breathed, her eyes wide.

Max’s heart jumped. “Alex? You remember Alex?”

Her eyes searched his face. “Alex is like me,” she said. “Do you know him, too?”

“Alex is like you,” he repeated. “Do you mean he. . .he’s with you?”

She nodded. “Of course. He comes with me sometimes. He watches her—the girl that lives in your house. Your sister.”

Max shut his eyes. Isabel. What would his sister do if she knew that Alex watched over her at night? “Does he know who he is?” Max asked softly.

She paused, and he could sense her hesitation. She still wasn’t ready to admit that she knew who she—or, at least, who she had been. “He doesn’t believe it’s possible,” she admitted finally.

He opened his eyes, looking down at her. “Do you?” he asked softly.

She was quiet for a moment, her eyes reflecting the stars overhead. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “I think. . .I think maybe we don’t understand everything yet. Any of us.”

He could live with that. For now. “Where do we find out?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know that either.”

“Will you tell Alex?”

She thought for a moment, then she nodded. “Yes. He already watches her. I think he should know.” She looked up at him. “Will you tell her?”

“Isabel?” Max hesitated. Until this evening, he’d thought that Isabel had managed to go on with her life. Knowing Alex was still with her would be cold comfort—especially once she realized he had no memory of her or what they had been to each other. But now. . .Max touched Liz’s cheek and realized that no matter how hard this was, it was still better than the bleakness of the past year. “I should tell her,” he murmured quietly. “Do you think. . .do you think he would come to her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She looked up at him. “Did she love him?” she asked softly.

Max nodded. “Yes. She never told him, though.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “It’s hard to say sometimes. She was afraid. She’s still afraid.”

“Why is she afraid?”

“Because she loved Alex and he was killed. Because I love you and I lost you.” He stroked her cheek, then suddenly he stopped. She didn’t know—she didn’t remember any of it. She didn’t remember being shot, or being healed, or any of what came after. She didn’t know what he was.

“What are you afraid of?” she asked softly, her eyes boring into his.

He shook his head, his mind spinning. “N-nothing.”

“You’re afraid to tell me what you are,” she said firmly. “You aren’t like other people, are you?” He’d forgotten how easily she seemed to hear his thoughts. She studied him carefully, then she cocked her head to one side as if listening. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I already know what you are. Even if you don’t.”

He frowned, wondering what she meant. “I don’t understand.”

She shook her head, smiling. “I told you before—that doesn’t matter, either.”

He was beginning to believe her. Nothing about this made sense—but he didn’t care anymore. He cupped her jaw in his palm. “God, I missed you,” he whispered. “I needed you so much.”

“I know,” she answered, stroking one hand across his collar bone. “But I’m here.”

“When I lost you, I wanted to die,” he said, his voice cracking, his eyes filled with tears. “I wished she had killed me, too. Why did it take so long for you to come to me?”

“Shh,” she soothed. “It’s okay now. You’re okay.”

Unable to resist any longer, Max pulled her into his arms and clung to her. “Why did you leave me? God, Liz—why?”

She stroked his hair. “I’m here now,” she murmured. “I’m right here.”

“But you don’t remember,” he said, burying his face in her hair. Fresh tears burned his eyes as he realized that it didn’t smell like her, either—the scent of flowers and fresh rain that he loved was gone. “You don’t remember me.”

Her arms stole around his neck, bringing him closer still. “Then help me,” she said. “Help me remember.”

* * * * *

“How did we. . .how did you meet her?”

Max smiled wistfully. Each of her questions was bittersweet—on the one hand, he loved telling her about their lives together. He liked showing her the flashes, too. Sharing those memories made him live them again, too.

But on the other hand, each question was a knife to his heart, reminding him that she didn’t remember at all. He was the only one who held those memories now, and it hurt him to know it.

“We knew each other most of our lives,” he answered finally, folding her hand in his as they walked along a path beside the fountain in the park. She seemed to like it here; they had passed this fountain several times now, but always her steps turned back this way. “The first time I saw you was when we were eight years old. It was on a playground at school, and you were wearing a blue dress. I didn’t know your name, but I knew I’d never forget that minute.”

“Were we friends?” she asked, stopping to look at him.

“Not exactly,” he answered. “I used to watch you, but I never thought. . .I never thought you’d really notice me.”

“Why not?” she asked, puzzled.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. You always had other friends. You had a boyfriend.”

“But. . .I loved you, didn’t I?”

The knife twisted painfully, but he tried to smile. “Yeah, you did.” He raised her hand to his mouth, pressed a kiss to her knuckles, and then held the back of her hand to his cheek for a long time. “I loved you,” he went on. “I still love you. That will never change.”

“I know you do,” she said, stroking his cheek. Frustration flashed in her eyes once more. “I wish I could touch you,” she murmured. “It feels so different in those memories.”

“I want that, too,” he answered softly. “I would give anything to touch you again.” She sighed, stepping closer to him, and he reached out to trace the pale skin along her throat. “You were always so warm,” he murmured, his eyes on the place where his fingers stroked the whiteness of her neck, dipping into the inky darkness of her hair. “Are you cold now?” he asked softly. He couldn’t bear to think that she might be cold, that she might shiver in the night and he couldn’t keep her warm.

But she shook her head. “No.” A pause stretched between them, and Max held his breath as he waited for her to go on. “But I’m not. . .I’m not warm, either,” she said finally, her words a soft sigh. She moved her hand along his chest, her palm lingering, fingers exploring through the thin fabric of his shirt. He wondered if she could sense how his heart pounded, or if the veil she had spoken of kept that hidden, too. He forced himself to breathe again as she smiled wistfully. “You are, though,” she was saying. “I know you must be warm.”

They stood there frozen in silence for a long time—Max didn’t know how long. His sense of time seemed to be lost right along with Liz’s. Days and nights blurred together, and all that mattered was the darkness, when she would come to him again. His skin tingled from her touch again, and just after that came the ache that was already familiar to him.

Then something in her gaze shifted and she looked away. “I. . .I have to go,” she said reluctantly. “I’m needed.”

He nodded—he’d known even before she said it that she would go. Something subtle in her touch had already shifted, as though she was being pulled from him even as they stood so close. “Will you come back?”

“You know I will,” she said.

“I’ll stay here,” he told her.

She smiled, stroking his cheek. “Don’t worry. I’ll find you. Go home and go to sleep. When you wake up, I’ll be there. I promise.”

As she said it, he realized he was bone tired. His eyes felt heavy, and he wondered how he had stayed awake this long. He nodded. “Okay.”

She stepped back from him, and he blinked rapidly as a soft white glow seemed to emanate from her. “Soon,” she said, her voice seeming to come from far away. The light brightened as she smiled. “Soon.”

posted on 2-Feb-2003 6:13:50 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: I haven't actually put together a soundtrack for this fic, since I tend to write it mostly in silence. But for this last part and the next couple, I've been listening to "Wild Horses"--the Sundays' version, not the Stones. (Sorry to any purists out there--I can't write to Mick. It's impossible.) Also on the playlist are "I Envy the Wind" by Lucinda Williams and "Safe and Sound" by Sheryl Crow.


Part 14

Max went to his bedroom and threw himself down on the bed. Somewhere along the walk home, he had come to a realization.

She was telling the truth.

Nothing else made sense. As unbelievable as her story was, it had to be true. Liz Parker had indeed died in his arms that night a year ago. She had died and been taken to. . .heaven? God? He didn’t know, but it didn’t really matter after all. After she died, she had become an angel—or a messenger, as she called herself. She watched humans, and for some reason she had watched him. Even death hadn’t been able to break the bond between them. They’d been drawn together as surely as they been when Liz was alive.

Love doesn’t die. Death is not the end.

All the platitudes that had angered and sickened him over the past year were true. Liz was not gone. She might not remember who she had been before, but that did not change who she was now. All the things he loved about her were still there—her heart and her soul had not changed. And when they were together, he could show her. Max smiled in the darkness, thinking of all the memories he wanted to show her. Their dance in Las Vegas. Driving together in the desert. Even the memories he had agonized over during their year apart—that last night they’d spent together, the moment in his Jeep when he’d learned that she had not slept with Kyle—those were precious, too, because they made up part of their shared past. He rolled onto his side, wishing she would return so that he could begin to show her. They could lay down together and he would hold her in his arms and share their memories with her.

And then what?

He frowned a little, trying to imagine what could come next. Even after he’d shown her their life together, he still would not be able to touch her. The veil between them was not changed—not even thinned by all that they shared. No matter how many times they remembered the warmth that had once spiraled between them, they still couldn’t feel it. And eventually, Liz would be called away again, and he would not be able to follow.

“It’s not fair.” He whispered the words to the night, then sat up. “It’s not fair,” he repeated aloud. “The only thing I ever wanted was her—the only thing I ever asked for.” Liz thought that God had given them back to each other, but she was wrong. He remembered what it was like to have her—to really have her. To touch her skin and feel her heart beat. To bury his face in her hair and smell her scent, breathe her air. This was not like having Liz back. This was like his dreams, those tantalizing dreams where she was just out of his reach, smiling at him and beckoning to him to follow. But he couldn’t, not anymore than she could stay.

This is forever.

The thought took all the air from his lungs. In the past few days, he’d been torn between confusion and despair, and it had obscured more than one truth. Those moments with Liz had become the center of his life, and until this moment, he hadn’t known exactly what they meant. But now. . .the veil separated them. He was mortal. She was not. The short moments they shared in the darkness, those moments that were more like dreams than reality, were all they would ever have. They would always be separated, always existing in different places.

Unless one of them could be changed.

* * * * *

“Alex, it was you.” She reached out and touched his arm as he stood there staring out over the desert.

His jaw clenched. “No.”

She looked away, taking a step back. “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true. Somehow, you and I were mortal once. And we were friends—and Max and his sister. . .we loved them. We’re the ones they can’t let go of. It’s us, Alex. It has to be.”

He turned to face her. “How?” he demanded. “We’re angels, not humans.”

“Yes, now we are,” she agreed. “But what were we before?”

“Before what?”

She walked to the edge of the rocks, standing on the very edge. “They forget, Alex,” she said softly. “The ones we take to Him. They forget what they were on earth. How do we know we didn’t forget, too?”

He turned to look at her, his eyes wide with sudden understanding. “You think we—”

“We died,” she finished. “We died and someone came for us, and we forgot who we were. But somehow we knew each other anyway—we ended up together here.”

“It’s not possible,” he murmured, shaking his head.

She gave a tiny smile. “Now you sound like them.”

“But why? Why would we live a whole life and not remember it? What purpose is in that?”

“I don’t know.”

He turned away from her, rubbing a hand over his face. “If we. . .if we were mortal once,” he began in a small voice, “does that mean—are there people who—?” He couldn’t finish the thought.

“There are people who loved us,” she said quietly. “And they mourn for us.”

“And the girl?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“I don’t believe it.” He turned to her. “It can’t be. It can’t.”

“Why?” she asked.

He paused, bowing his head. “I don’t know.”

She turned her face to the lightening desert sky—to the place where purple and orange had begun to herald the sunrise—and felt the pull. “We have to go,” she said.

He nodded. “Yeah.”

* * * * *

“Isabel.”

Isabel jerked awake at the sound of her name in the dim room. Bewildered, she opened her eyes to find Max sitting on the edge of her bed.

“Max? What’s wrong?” She sat up quickly, shaking her head to clear the fog of sleep.

“I have to tell you something,” he said, his voice hushed.

She stared at him, trying to gauge his state of mind. He’d been calmer recently, and after their conversation on the rooftop, her worry about him had begun to abate. But now he was waking her in the middle of the night—and he was still dressed. Had he gone to bed at all? “What is it?” she asked, her mind racing.

“It’s about Liz and Alex,” he said quietly.

Her heart sped up a little. “What about them?”

He took a deep breath, looking at the floor. Finally, he glanced sideways at her and spoke. “Liz and Alex are okay,” he said. “They’re safe, and they’re happy. And they’re not alone.”

The quiet assurance in his voice made her pause. “How do you know?” she asked.

He raised his head to look at her. “I just know,” he said. “Isabel—”

“Yeah?”

He hesitated, seeming to struggle for words. “Do you ever feel him close to you?”

Isabel drew a sharp breath. “You mean. . .you mean like when I dream?”

“Or when you’re awake,” he said. “Do you feel him nearby?”

She shut her eyes. That night at the cemetery. . . “Some. . .sometimes,” she admitted, her voice a whisper. “But that’s just—”

Max touched her hand. “He didn’t leave you alone, Isabel. Just know that, okay? Even if he doesn’t understand. . .even if you don’t. . .you’re not alone.”

She stared at him, tears pooling in her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t blame you if you think I’m crazy,” he said, shaking his head. “I know how this sounds. But it’s true. You have to believe me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I know.” He squeezed her hand. “But it’s still true, Izzy.” He released her hand abruptly and stood up. “I have to go.”

“Go where?”

He shook his head again. “She’ll be back soon,” he said, moving to the door.

Isabel frowned, not sure what he meant. “Who?” He paused for a second in the doorway, his gaze heavy with meaning, and she understood. “Max, you don’t really think Liz—”

“Just listen,” he interrupted. “When you’re alone tonight, close your eyes and trust what you feel.”

“You mean. . .are you saying—?” She swallowed hard. “Will Alex be here?” she asked, her eyes wide and glimmering with tears.

“Yes.”

He started to leave, but she reached out and grabbed his arm. “Max, are they coming back to us?” she whispered.

He was quiet for a long moment. “Isabel, they’re safe. They’re safe and. . .they hear God’s voice. He speaks to them in the sunset. They can go anywhere with a thought. And no one can hurt them.” He paused and squeezed Isabel’s hand. “Even if they could come back. . .could we ask them to?”

* * * * *

She was not surprised to find that it was the elderly man she’d spoken to two days earlier. He looked even weaker and sicker than he had then, and when he opened his eyes to find them beside his bed, he looked relieved.

“You came back,” he murmured, his breath labored.

She nodded. “Yes. Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not.” He glanced at Alex. “There are two of you—I didn’t expect that.” He smiled faintly. “I guess I should have, though. ‘Four angels ‘round my bed—one to watch and one to pray; two to bear my soul away.’”

She didn’t recognize the words, but they seemed to comfort him. She stepped close to the bed and reached out to touch him. He drew in a quick breath. “Now, then?”

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Okay.” His eyes slipped shut for a moment, then he opened them again and looked at her. “Will you show me where to go?”

“Yes.” She stroked his forehead, remembering what he had said about his wife the first time she’d seen him. “Are you ready?”

Alex looked at her strangely. That was not a decision mortals were permitted to make.

“I thought I would be,” the man said. “But I find it hard to leave.”

She put her hand on his forehead. “It won’t be hard, I promise,” she assured him. “In a moment, you’ll feel His presence. He’s waiting for you.”

The man’s eyes were hungry. “Does He know me?”

Her smile radiated light. “Of course He does. He knows all His children, and He loves you so much.”

“What do I have to do?”

Alex stepped to her side. “Close your eyes,” he instructed. “You don’t have to do anything. Just close your eyes.”

He did as Alex had instructed, a deep sigh going through his whole body. She closed her eyes as Alex put his hand on the man’s arm and felt light suffuse her being. When she opened her eyes again, the man stood between them, looking down at his earthly body.

“Is it done?” he asked, as a monitor began to send an alarm.

She nodded. “Yes.”

He smiled slightly. “It wasn’t so hard.”

“No.” She tilted her head to one side. “What was your favorite part?”

He thought for a moment. “There was a morning,” he said finally, staring off into the distance, “when I woke up in my bed with my wife, and sometime during the night my son had come in with us. He was just a little thing. . .” He paused, remembering. “It was snowing outside, and the wind was howling and it was so cold, but the three of us were warm together in our bed. That was my favorite part.”

“Your life was good,” she said, her smile wistful.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Yes, it was very good.”

* * * * *

“Why did you ask him that?” Alex wanted to know. They stood on the cliff again, looking out over the desert.

She shrugged. “He was thinking about his wife,” she said. “It gave him peace.” She was quiet for a moment, thinking. “Do you think they’re together?” she asked finally.

Alex’s gaze never wavered from the shadowy shapes in the distance. “I don’t know. I hope so.”

She nodded. It wasn’t so hard to believe—if she and Alex had found each other without memories of their lives on earth, maybe others could find each other, too. But all those memories. . .a whole life lived together. . . “Me, too,” she said. “I hope so, too.”

“Liz. . .” His voice was a ragged whisper.

“Yes?”

“Why would we live a whole life only to forget it?”

She stared out over the desert, searching for answers. “Maybe if we remembered, it would be too hard to let go.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 2-Feb-2003 11:36:35 PM ]
posted on 2-Feb-2003 11:32:31 PM by mockingbird39
Rick! I promised you HEA Insurance, didn't I? This has gotten so angsty that I've got to come up for air some time, so don't worry.

Oh, and just FYI: I haven't actually put together a soundtrack for this fic, since I tend to write it mostly in silence. But for this last part and the next couple, I've been listening to "Wild Horses"--the Sundays' version, not the Stones. (Sorry to any purists out there--I can't write to Mick. It's impossible.) Also on the playlist are "I Envy the Wind" by Lucinda Williams and "Safe and Sound" by Sheryl Crow.

Love to all,
Mel
posted on 9-Feb-2003 6:04:56 PM by mockingbird39
Part 15

She stood on the edge of the cliff again, watching the sea below. It was blue now, and calm, but soon that would change. She raised her head, staring into the distance where gray storm clouds gathered, far beyond the sight of mortal eyes. Soon the sea would be gray, too, and white caps would dot its surface. Wind would blow, and rain would fall, dampening the sand all around her. It would be cold, too, though she would never feel it.

Fall. The word echoed through her mind. She took a step closer, closing her eyes. What if I fall? She spread her arms and swayed to a breeze no mortal could feel. If I fell. . .who would catch me? Would I feel the ocean? Would the air hold me up? Can I fall at all?

She opened her eyes. “Yes,” she said aloud. “I could fall. I could choose—”

“No. No, you couldn’t.”

She spun to find Alex there, watching her. “Alex—”

But he strode forward, shaking his head. “You know what that would mean,” he said. “If you chose him—if you chose the boy over the Father. . .you know what would happen to you. You can’t. I won’t let you.”

She stared. . . .if you chose the boy. . . “If I chose—” she began, then stopped just as suddenly. “If I chose,” she repeated. “If I chose to fall.”

He watched as realization dawned. “If you chose,” he agreed. “You can’t.”

“I would be like them,” she said, turning her face to the ocean again. She felt frozen, her entire being poised on the brink of something she could barely imagine. “I would be mortal.” I could touch him.

“No,” he repeated. “Liz, you are God’s messenger. You have a job to do—you can’t do it if you’re mortal.”

Feel the wind. . .feel rain on my lips. . .

“Liz, get away from there!” Alex quickly grabbed her arm, dragging her back from the side of the cliff. “Don’t do this—think about it!”

“I wasn’t going to,” she protested, stumbling backward with him.

“Think about what you would lose,” he told her, staring into her eyes. “The Gift—you wouldn’t have the Gift anymore. You would be alone.”

Would I?

“You wouldn’t hear Him speak to you—mortals don’t hear His voice.” Alex’s voice dropped to a near-whisper. “Sunset, Liz. Don’t you ever want to hear the sunset again?”

His words quelled the tremors in the center of her being. Could she do that—could she give up sunset? Could she walk—or fall—away from His presence?

“You would feel pain,” Alex went on. “You would be cold. You’d get old and sick, someday you would die. Is that what you want?”

She shook her head. “I—no.”

“No,” Alex agreed. “If what you say is true—if we died and were brought here, there was a reason. You can’t just decide that it’s not important.”

She met his gaze. “I know that. I know.” She paused for a long moment, thinking. “Alex, could this be it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Could this be the purpose? Maybe that’s why I found him. Maybe this is how I’m supposed to comfort him.” She shook her head. “Don’t you see? I knew I was supposed to bring him comfort—this must be the way.”

“No. You want that to be true, but it doesn’t make sense.” Alex shook his head.

“It could be.”

“No, it couldn’t. He’s grieving for you. He wouldn’t need comfort if you hadn’t. . .if you hadn’t died.” Alex’s grip on her arm tightened. “Think about this. There has to be another reason. His plans always make sense—you know that.”

She pulled her arm away and turned back to the sea. “I know. I just wish I could understand this time.”

* * * * *

Darkness had begun to lighten outside Max’s windows as he lay on his bed fully clothed, waiting for Liz. The sunrise would come in another hour or so, and with it the day he’d been dreading. Funny—it didn’t seem so bad anymore. It was right that this day should come. He was ready for it now. He watched dust motes dance in the air above his eyes and wondered where Liz was right now. Close by? Or in some far away spot he could not imagine?

He must have dozed off, because the next thing he knew he was opening his eyes and she was beside him. She lay next to him on the bed, curled up with one arm beneath her head, watching him as the first light of dawn crept through the windows.

“You’re here,” he said, blinking to clear away the haze of sleep.

She nodded gravely. “Yes. I told you I would come.”

He nodded, too. “Yeah, you did.” He reached out to touch her cheek and she shut her eyes, sighing deeply. “Do you sleep?” he asked suddenly, and her eyes opened.

“No,” she said.

“Then you don’t dream, either?”

“No.”

“You used to have beautiful dreams,” he said wistfully. He’d seen them in the flashes—visions of her innermost wishes. Sometimes he even saw himself in them.

She smiled. “What do you dream of?”

“You,” he said simply. “But I guess. . .I guess some of them weren’t dreams. You really were here, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You found me,” he mused, “even if you didn’t remember. Just like you found Alex.”

“Yes,” she said. “I found you. I didn’t know why, but I found you.”

He slid closer to her, fingering a lock of her thick, dark hair. “Do you remember today?” he asked.

“Today?”

“What this day is,” he said softly. “Do you remember that?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“This is. . .this is the last day we were together,” he said. “A year ago today, I thought I was leaving. You and I—we went to Las Cruces together. Then we came back and we said goodbye. We said goodbye and you got out of the Jeep. I thought I was never going to see you again. There was so much on earth I was going to miss. But I wasn’t thinking of anything else right then. I watched you walk toward the Crashdown, and I hated everyone who would be in your life after I was gone.” His eyes filled with tears and he reached for her hand, gripping it tightly. “But you didn’t go inside. You turned around and you saw me crying, and you came back. Liz, don’t you remember?”

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember, but there was nothing. She could remember the creation of the cosmos, but she could not the life she had lived on earth with this boy. At length, she shook her head. “No. I don’t remember.”

He touched her cheek, caressing and stroking the smooth expanse of her skin. One year ago, there had been warmth there, such warmth and softness that as they’d sat in front of the Crashdown together he’d wondered how he could ever let go. “Let me show you,” he murmured, and she nodded.

“Yes,” she whispered, just before their lips met.

I always thought when we graduated I’d give you my ring. . .

Do you love her?. . .Not like I love you.

Don’t leave me yet, Max.

I don’t want this night to ever end. . .


When he pulled back, his face was streaked with tears. “I didn’t want to leave you,” he said.

“I know,” she murmured, stroking his hair back from his forehead. “I know.”

“And then the next morning. . .the next morning you came to tell me what Tess had done. You saved my life, but I couldn’t save yours.” His voice cracked, and like the night before he could hold back no longer. He pulled her into his arms and held her close, his eyes shut tight against the memories.

She held perfectly still in his arms, closing her eyes to concentrate on his touch. She could almost feel him—almost remember what it was to have his body warm against hers. Safe. Loved. Complete. That’s what it had felt like. She remembered that much from the flashes. So close. . .

And suddenly she felt the same anticipation she’d felt on the cliff top, when she’d opened her arms and swayed in the air. I could choose to stay here. I could do that. I could choose to feel his heart beat. To hold him in the night. Couldn’t I? She opened her mouth to tell him so—to tell him that she could choose him, but she stopped when Alex’s words echoed in her mind. “Sunset, Liz. Don’t you ever want to hear the sunset again?”

He stirred as she lay there with her eyes closed. “You said you hear God in the sunset,” he said, and with a pang at the center of her heart she nodded.

“Yes.”

“Will you take me with you today?”

“To the sunset?” she questioned.

He nodded. “Yes. I want to go with you—to the ocean.”

“But. . .mortals can’t hear His voice,” she said.

He nodded again. “I know. But I want to go with you. Please. Please take me with you. We can drive to the coast—we can be there by sunset if we start now.”

She watched him for a long moment, watched the hopeful light in his eyes. Finally, she nodded. “Okay.”

* * * * *

Isabel lay motionless on her bed as dawn broke the quiet darkness of night. Even with her eyes closed, she could sense the change in the light as the street lamps outside switched off and the first rays of the sun began to stream across the desert. She’d been lying there awake for hours, waiting.

And then he was there.

She couldn’t explain it, couldn’t pinpoint just how she knew. But Alex was there—she was sure of it. Her breathing grew shallow and she wondered whether or not she should open her eyes. At length, she left them closed, but drew a breath.

“Alex?” she whispered.

There was nothing. No footsteps, no intake of breath, no stirring of the air, but somehow she knew he had moved closer. “Alex, are you really here?” she asked.

“It’s me.”

That voice—his voice. It was his, just like the last time she’d spoken to him on the telephone. Just like when he’d asked her to prom, just like that night in the woods when she’d come closer than ever to telling Alex Whitman what she thought he might mean to her. Her heart pounded painfully and her breath caught in her throat, but she didn’t open her eyes.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” she said, and then there was a feather-light touch on her hair, no more than a breath in the silent room.

“I didn’t think I should,” he murmured.

She reached out blindly, finding his hand. “I’m so glad you did.”

posted on 19-Feb-2003 2:02:54 PM by mockingbird39
Part 16

“I’m so sorry, Alex.”

Alex stroked a lock of the girl’s soft blond hair. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“Yes, I do.” Her eyes remained closed, but tears leaked from the corners. Alex touched them wonderingly. “It was my fault. I never should have let you get mixed up in this. It’s my fault she used you.”

“There is a plan to everything,” he murmured. “Even this.”

“What is it?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Sometimes we can’t understand,” he said.

“I miss you so much. I never even told you how I feel,” she whispered. “I thought I had more time.”

Time. Mortals were so bound by it, but for him time was unending. “What would you have said?” he asked softly, leaning closer.

“That no one ever made me feel like you,” she said. “That no one ever saw me for who I really was but you.” She paused for a moment, and his hand strayed to her forehead, lightly trailing over her hairline and down the bridge of her nose. “You said you wanted to protect me. I don’t think anybody else ever knew how much I wanted someone to say that.”

“They all know that you’re strong,” he murmured. He’d seen others look at her—seen how she held herself in, afraid to be vulnerable.

“I’m tired,” she said, her voice a soft sigh. “I’m tired of being strong. I didn’t have to be strong with you.” More tears clung to her lashes and slipped down her cheeks. “God, I needed you.”

“Shh,” he whispered. “I know you’re tired. But you can rest. Go to sleep.”

“Will you stay with me?” she asked. She sighed again as she felt his fingers on her hair, lightly stroking and caressing.

“I’m right here,” he said. “I’ll be here.”

* * * * *

“Were we happy?”

Max looked over at Liz, who sat in the passenger’s seat watching him. They’d been driving for a couple of hours now, and a few miles back they had fallen into silence. He kept glancing over at her, half afraid she wouldn’t be there. He needed her for this—he wasn’t sure he could make it through this day without her. Now he paused, trying to ignore the ache in his heart as he thought about her question. Happy? The happiest moments in his life had been when they were together. But had he made Liz happy? He wanted to think so. She’d chosen to be with him, again and again. She could have walked away if she wasn’t happy.

Except that it wasn’t in Liz to do that. She would never have abandoned him if she thought he needed her. She’d proven that. She had always put his welfare before her own. No, she wouldn’t have left—even if she hadn’t been happy.

At length, he sighed. “You made me happy,” he said honestly. “I was never happier than I was with you.”

She smiled. “You have such a beautiful soul,” she said, tilting her head to look at him. He glanced at her, and he knew she was looking past anything mortals could see. Wordlessly, he reached for her hand and held it tightly as he drove.

* * * * *

She left him twice that day as they drove. Both times she warned him, but it didn’t stop the shock of looking over to find her gone. Those moments seemed to last forever, and only when she returned to him could he breathe again.

The second time she returned, he looked over at her as she stared out the window. “Is it hard?” he asked.

She turned her head to look at him. “Sometimes it’s hard for them to let go. And sometimes there’s pain. But once we come for them, it’s not so bad. Mostly it’s very peaceful.”

“Does it matter. . .does it matter what they did here?”

“Not the way you think it does,” she said. “Everything is far simpler than you imagine.” She smiled. “You don’t have to be afraid,” she added, her voice tender.

He shook his head. “I’m not a good person. I never have been. If there’s a—a balance sheet in the universe. . .karma, whatever—”

“Mortals don’t understand love,” she said. “Not really. They don’t understand how someone can forgive everything they do before they even do it. They feel like they have to do something to deserve love. But love like His. . .in your whole life you could never do enough to deserve all He’s given for you.”

“I’ve done things,” he murmured. “I’ve broken promises, and betrayed trust. I wasn’t faithful to you. I didn’t believe in the things that mattered. I don’t deserve forgiveness.”

She smiled suddenly, one of the blinding bright smiles that seemed to emanate from the very center of her being. “That’s what’s so amazing—He gives it anyway. Before you ask, before you even think to want it. He just gives it.” She reached out to put her hand on his arm, and a warm tingle spread from outward from her touch. “Mortals try so hard to understand the universe. They try to put God in terms they can understand—they imagine He’s like them. But He’s not.” She gently squeezed his wrist. “I promise you—when your time comes, you don’t have to be afraid.”

He nodded, trying to believe her. “And then, when you come for them,” he went on, “they forget?”

“Not right away,” she said. “Not until we take them to the Father.”

“Why do they have to forget?” he asked softly.

She looked away, turning her face to the bright afternoon sunlight, and was silent for a long time. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet, intimate. He had the surreal thought that she was whispering into his ear, though she had not moved from her spot in the passenger’s seat. “If we remembered, how could we let go?”

He looked over at her. “Is that how it is for you?”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she looked out the window. “Sunset will be soon,” she said. “Are we almost there?”

He nodded. “Almost. We’ll be there soon.”

* * * * *

“He’s telling the truth, Michael.” Isabel met Michael’s gaze firmly. “I know how it sounds, but it’s the truth. Alex was there with me. I heard his voice. I felt him touch me.”

“But you never opened your eyes.” Michael’s face was grim.

“No, I didn’t.” She wasn’t going to back down. “Alex was there. I swear it. I’m not crazy, Michael. I didn’t believe Max, either—not until I heard Alex next to me.”

“So you’re saying they’re. . .what? Ghosts? That they’re haunting you?” Michael pushed a hand through his hair and began to pace.

“They’re not ghosts, Michael,” Isabel said softly.

“Then what? They’re still alive?”

She shook her head. “No.”

He stopped and looked at her, his face twisting. “Do you know what you’re saying?” he asked hoarsely.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“It’s impossible,” he said.

“Why?”

“It just is.” He turned away, and Isabel gently reached out to put a hand on his shoulder.

“Michael,” she said softly, and he grunted in response. “At least we know they’re okay now. It’s better this way. It really is.”

“Does Max feel that way?” Michael asked harshly.

“I think he does,” Isabel said slowly. “I think—”

“Didn’t you ask him?” Michael interrupted.

She shook her head. “I didn’t get a chance to. He left so quickly, and then I was waiting for Alex. Then when I woke up, Max was already gone.”

“Gone where?”

“I. . .I don’t know.”

Michael spun to face her. “Isabel, don’t you know what today is?” he demanded, and her face went white.

“Oh, my god,” she whispered. “I forgot. I mean, I knew it was coming, but. . .I forgot.”

“Max didn’t forget,” Michael said.

“Where do you think he went?”

“I don’t know,” Michael answered, his eyes dark with worry. “Where would you go on the last day of your life?”

* * * * *

“Can you hear it here?”

Liz stood near the car, watching the waves crash against the sand. She’d been here before—probably more than once. “Yes,” she said, nodding her head.

He looked at the empty cove before them. “Are they here?” he asked softly.

She nodded again. “Some of them. It’s not quite time yet.”

He walked around the car to stand beside her. “Let’s go up there,” he suggested, pointing to one side of the rocky cliffs that enclosed the sheltered cove. “We’ll be able to see the whole beach from there.”

She watched him for a long moment. “All right,” she said finally.

He reached for her hand and held it firmly as they walked toward the cliffs. “Come on,” he said.

As they climbed the rocky cliffside, neither of them noticed the small white car that pulled up beside Max’s car, or the lone figure that got out and stood there watching them.

* * * * *