posted on 26-Aug-2002 8:53:01 PM by Carol000
I know, I know! Where’s Chameleon, right? Well, it’s on hold again. Blame Breathless. She’s the one who insisted on a Labor Day fic!

Okay, a few words from your author:

* This is Dreamer Holidays: Labor Day, so you will no doubt ask yourselves why this whole part (and the next) take place at Thanksgiving. I did a Thanksgiving fic already, right? Well, yes, but those of you gifted in literary prediction or simple math will figure it out in short order.

* This was meant to be a short, simple, romantic fluff piece. That’s what this whole series is about, after all. Well, as any fic author on this board will tell you, we rarely have complete control over our characters. They get away from us sometimes, and this fic is a case in point. It got WAY longer, WAY angstier, and WAY more complex than it was supposed to. Take your complaints to Max Evans and Liz Parker. I don’t want to hear it.

* As a result of this longer-than-anticipated story and Labor Day weekend plans, Chameleon should reappear sometime next week. I am not one of those prolific and talented writers who can produce parts of two or more fics at once. I tend to obsess over one at a time!

Thanks for bearing with me. Here’s Part 1 of 4.


DREAMER HOLIDAYS: Labor Day – Part 1


Liz wanted to cry. That was the third flight she’d been scheduled to take that was cancelled. Now she’d never make it home for Thanksgiving. She’d never get used to the sudden appearance of winter that was so typical of Chicago. One day you were shielding your eyes from the sun at a football game; the next day you were shoveling out from under six inches of snow. That never happened back in Roswell, she grumbled to herself. She couldn’t wait to graduate in May. She would never set foot in the Midwest in winter again.

She looked out the bank of windows. Not a plane in sight. Just thick white clouds and swirls of snow—a gentle beginning to what threatened to be a violent storm. Her eyes swept the massive terminal. If misery loves company, these people must have been thrilled. Thousands of disgruntled would-be passengers crowded the halls, restaurants, and ticket lines—some sleeping, some hauling luggage in one hand and crying children in the other, some just holding their heads in frustration.

She walked toward a water fountain and downed two ibuprofen. Now what? She couldn’t get back in the dorm. Even the RAs’ keys didn’t work during holidays; there were extra security systems in place during those times. Her family was 1000 miles away, and most of her friends had already left for home. She couldn’t afford a hotel room. Damn snow!

The feeling of having nowhere to go shook her, and she wondered if that was the feeling a homeless person lived with. It made her sad.

“Liz!”

Liz looked up to see her friend Jason waving above the crowd. She waved happily at the familiar face. He was a sight for sore eyes.

“Jason! I’m so glad to see you. What are you doing here?”

“Picking up my cousin. He made it in on the last plane to land before they closed the airport. I’m meeting him at baggage claim. What’re you doing here? You stranded?”

Her shoulders sagged. “Yeah, I’ve had 3 flights cancelled out from under me. Now I don’t know where to go. The dorm’s closed.”

Jason frowned at her tone of desperation, then brightened. “Not to worry. The Evans Inn is open for business. Special holiday rates, too!”

“Huh?”

“Liz! Come home with us! We’ve got loads of room and tons of food and I won’t take no for an answer. Just don’t make it obvious how much you want my body or my mother will be making wedding plans by Christmas. She’s not happy I’ve gotten to senior year without a fiancé.”

Liz couldn’t help but laugh. Jason was a wonderful friend, but they’d been aware almost immediately that they were too different to be a couple. He wanted to be an actor, and he really was extraordinarily talented. But Liz couldn’t live that life. She was too serious and quiet to really enjoy the life he wanted. Besides, he needed to be unfettered and completely self-centered while he worked to build a career. But for fun and a good heart, you couldn’t beat Jason.

“Are you serious, Jason? Because I just might say yes.”

“Excellent!” he beamed, pulling at her suitcase with one hand and propelling her forward with the other. “Now hurry up. Max is probably waiting.”

They battled the crowd toward the escalator and headed down to baggage claim. It was actually pretty deserted down there; very few planes had landed in the last half hour. A group of people huddled around one conveyor belt watching the parade of black bags rumble by, bedecked with red ribbons or yellow pompoms to differentiate them from each other. One by one, the owners dragged them off the belt and headed outside.

“Max, my man!” Jason shouted, grabbing his cousin and pulling him into a big bear hug. “You made it! I was worried.”

Liz sucked in her breath. Jason’s cousin had her complete attention—and that almost never happened. She had carefully cultivated her independence and her disdain for girls who went to college to earn an MRS. But independence was the last thing on her mind as she watched Jason embrace his cousin. She’d never seen a man as beautiful as this one. He had a strong jaw, thick dark hair that fell over his forehead in a fringe of careless bangs, perfect lips, and eyes . . . oh, his eyes. They were a rich amber with the most magnificent lashes. He wore dark jeans and a cranberry-colored longsleeve t-shirt over a muscled chest. . . and a wedding band.

Liz bit back her disappointment, scolding herself for reacting so strongly to a man she hadn’t even met. She wondered why his wife hadn’t come with him for such an important family holiday. She knew she would never leave him for a holiday . . . or any other day, for that matter.

Stop that! she told herself again. What is wrong with you?

She watched as Max smiled at his exuberant cousin, obviously pleased to see him but a bit self-conscious at the public display. She understood completely.

“There’s mine,” Max said, and Liz noted the soft voice. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. He lifted a dark green duffle bag off the belt and turned back to Jason. “All set.”

“Then let’s go! Oh, but let me introduce you to Liz.”

Max turned toward Jason’s outstretched hand and put on a smile . . . until he saw her. The smile faded, and his stomach clenched, adding a little rumble for good measure. He grimaced with embarrassment, wondering if she’d heard. This girl had caught him totally off-guard, and he wondered immediately if she were Jason’s girlfriend. She was an unexpected vision: long, shining hair; luminous skin; intelligent eyes, so big and dark. Magnetic. They were looking back, wide with surprise.

“Oh, sorry. I . . . I’m Max. Glad to meet you.” I’m such a dork!

He extended his hand—his strong, gentle hand—and she shook it, her eyes locked with his. Liz! Get over it!

“You, too,” she nodded.

Jason looked from one to the other, wondering if this was extreme attraction or instant dislike he was witnessing. The tight smile Liz flashed as she released Max’s hand made him think the latter. Maybe he’d jumped the gun inviting Liz to stay with them.

********

Max, too, wondered at the cold reception he’d received. The idea that he’d get to spend Thanksgiving in the company of this amazing creature had given him a badly needed lift . . . for a few minutes. Now, he thought he must’ve blown it before he’d even had a chance.

Liz had insisted the two men occupy the front seat of the car so they could visit. She was the intruder, after all, and the back seat would suit her just fine. She’d never been to Jason’s home, so she sat back and enjoyed the drive through parts of Chicago and its suburbs that she’d rarely seen. She noticed the homes getting more grand as they left the city, and she wondered what kind of home Jason lived in. Liz had had a rather modest upbringing, living above her parents’ alien-themed restaurant in Roswell, New Mexico. It took four years of hard work and a partial scholarship to swing Northwestern, but soon she’d be choosing a graduate school and carving out a niche in the challenging world of microbiology.

“. . . so she stayed behind, and there was nothing I could do to change her mind.” Max’s words caught Liz’s attention. She concentrated on the conversation filtering back from the front seat.

“Women,” Jason chuckled, shaking his head.

“I told her the family would miss her, but her mind was made up.”

Liz fought the inexplicable sadness that gripped her as she listened to Max talk about his wife. Her feelings were completely irrational. She knew it. Yet, something about this man had reached into her heart and taken hold. She had no control over it. It was just there. And the idea of spending the next four days with him knowing he was off limits was starting to make sleeping in an airport chair look pretty good.

The car turned into the driveway of a large, well-landscaped home. Liz was amazed. She had no idea that Jason lived in such a beautiful place. Max had clearly been here before, though, and continued to chat comfortably with his cousin as they stepped out of the car. To Liz’s surprise, Max stepped immediately to the back door and opened it, offering his hand to help her out. Liz smiled at him automatically and accepted his hand. Her fingers closed around the cool metal ring, and she hastily pulled her hand back.

“Oh, my purse,” she stammered, reaching to the floor to snatch it up. She pushed herself awkwardly from the car, and Max studied her, bewildered by her sudden change in demeanor.

He didn’t usually have trouble with women not liking him. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was constantly being pursued by women in whom he had no interest whatsoever. He knew to keep his distance anyway. Michael, Isabel, and he had agreed long ago not to allow romances. It made for a pretty lonely life, and he had serious doubts that they could pull it off for a lifetime. Just looking at the petite brunette struggling with her carry-on bag was strengthening those doubts, although she seemed to want nothing to do with him.

“Please, Liz, let me help you with that.” Max lifted the bag over his shoulder and then grabbed his own. “I don’t bite, you know,” he teased. Once again, Liz found herself smiling into those incredible eyes. It was like a reflex.

“Mom! Look who’s here!” Jason called as they entered the house. The vaulted ceiling carried the echo of his voice far into the house, and they heard an answering greeting.

“Max! You’ve made it!” An attractive woman with elegant features and welcoming eyes bustled into the foyer. She swept her large nephew into a big hug and began to fuss over him.

“You must be exhausted, you poor dear. Flying on such a day as this. We’re so glad to see you. I’m putting you in the blue room at the top of the stairs, you know the one. Jason, take his bag up. How are you, Max?”

The two men had easily hidden Liz from view, and she timidly waited in the doorway, feeling awkward and more of an intruder than ever.

“Mom! I’ve brought someone else, too. You’ve heard me mention Liz Parker?”

“Why, of course I have! I didn’t realize you were joining us, Liz, but you’re very welcome.”

“I had no idea either, Mrs. Evans. I had several flights cancelled trying to make it home today, and I just happened to run into Jason at the airport. I think he felt sorry for me.”

“As well he should,” she agreed. “You can’t spend Thanksgiving in an airport, now can you? Tell you what. Max, you bunk in with Jason, and Liz will have the blue room. I’d give you Ben’s room, but he’s got hamsters in there, and I’m afraid you wouldn’t find the room very conducive to a good night’s sleep.”

“But mom, what about the spare room? There’s a bed in there.”

“So there is,” Mrs. Evans sighed, “but your father stripped the wallpaper and then couldn’t decide on what to do next. It’s all torn up. This will have to do.”

“That’s fine, Aunt Pat,” Max insisted. “It’ll be like old times, right, Jason?”

“Yeah, if you brought earplugs,” Jason laughed.

“Oh, yeah,” Max winced. “I forgot about the snoring.”

Max hoisted his bag and Liz’s in one easy motion and started up the stairs. Liz watched admiringly for a few seconds, then scolded herself and began the climb.

********

Dinner was a casual affair, at least by this household’s standards. The preparations for tomorrow’s feast had taken all the time and refrigerator space they had. Liz sat down gratefully at the table, inhaling the tantalizing aroma of chile and cornbread. A large appetizing salad was perched on the corner of the table.

“What can I get you two to drink?” Mrs. Evans asked.

“Just water, please.”

“Iced tea for me, please,” Max added as he slipped into the chair next to Liz.

That fast, Liz was intensely aware of him. She could swear his warmth was radiating toward her, or maybe it was just the fact that she heated up when she saw him. Get a grip! she told herself for the hundredth time. She dared a glance over at him, admiring his profile, when he looked directly at her and smiled. Her breath caught.

“Liz?” He seemed to be waiting for something.

“What?”

“I asked which salad dressing you prefer.”

“Oh, sorry. Umm, anything. Light Italian?”

He passed her the dressing, and her fingers brushed his as she took it from him. Something flared between them—a feeling, an energy, a connection. Liz could feel her body tingle, and she let the contact linger for several seconds, filled with wonder at the effect it had on her. Then she looked down at their hands and felt the ache of disappointment all over again

Max stilled, too, aware of something between them that he’d never experienced before. He looked into her eyes and was sure he saw awareness of it there, too. Then, as quickly as it began, she closed off. Reluctantly, he thought, but still, she pulled away from it.

He looked away, embarrassed at how much he had let show in that brief exchange. He caught Jason’s eye and could tell that his cousin had noticed something, but he only winked.

Jason knew Max had girls falling all over him and, for some absurd reason, considered that a problem. It looked like he might have to fend off another one. He would never have guessed Lizzie Parker would do that, though. She’d always been cautious, almost timid, when it came to guys. But why not? They were a lot alike, in many ways.

“Max, I’m sorry Diane didn’t make it.”

“Yeah, me, too, Aunt Pat. But you know how she is. She makes up her mind and it’s all over. She just wasn’t willing to leave Fabio.”

Liz couldn’t help the strange look she threw at Max. His wife was with another guy? What kind of guy was named Fabio? Wasn’t that the long-haired model that had his picture plastered all over romance novels? Max didn’t look too upset about it.

“I guess I can understand that,” Max’s Uncle Brad interjected. “She’s always been a sucker for soulful eyes.”

What was with this family? Max’s wife is having an affair, misses a family holiday, and everyone thinks that’s okay?

“You’re a very understanding husband,” Liz commented, barely containing her contempt for the situation. Somebody had to say something rational.

Max almost sprayed his iced tea across the table. He coughed loudly before turning to her, eyes wide. “Husband? What makes you think I’m a husband?”

Liz frowned in confusion. Nobody was making any sense. “Your wedding ring, for starters,” she replied, vaguely annoyed but a little worried that she’d missed something.

“Oh my gosh!” Max cried, looking at his hand as if it were someone else’s. “Oh, man! Jase, why didn’t you remind me?” Some things about Liz’s behavior were beginning to make more sense.

Max started to laugh, but Liz’s confused and irritated expression sobered him. “Liz, I’m not married. I wear this ring to . . . well . . .” He looked to Jason for help, but his cousin only leaned back to enjoy Max’s discomfort.

“Your idea, your explanation, my man.”

“I wear the ring at school to discourage . . . to keep . . . I just don’t want . . .” He sighed in exasperation. It sounded so conceited and ridiculous when he said it out loud. “I know this sounds dumb, but I was getting a lot of . . . attention that I didn’t want . . . from women . . . at school.” He ran a hand through his hair. This was not at all funny now. No matter what he said, he’d look like an idiot or a jerk, and he really really didn’t want to look like either of those things in front of Liz.

“I started wearing this ring senior year so the girls in my classes would think I was married. Not because I don’t like girls, of course . . .” This was getting worse by the minute. He obviously couldn’t explain that since he expected to live his life alone, it was simpler this way. So he fell back on the story he’d told his family. They had thought it was ridiculous, of course. They were as clueless about his alien status as anyone. But they’d given up arguing and accepted it. His mother told him that some girl would get that ring off his finger someday and put a different one on it. He let her have her hope.

“It’s just that once I knew I was going to law school, I got the feeling some of the girls were competing for a prize or something. I didn’t think they were sincere, and I couldn’t afford the distraction from my studies. It just made my life a lot simpler.”

He stopped abruptly and looked to see how much damage he’d done. She was still looking at him strangely. That was one question answered, however oddly.

“Then who’s Diane?”

Now he could smile. That was easy. “Diane is my mother. My dad, Philip, is Uncle Brad’s brother.”

Okay, that’s two. “Then how does he feel about Fabio?”

Realization dawned on Max, and his face broke into a wide grin. “Fabio is their new puppy!” He started to laugh. “Mom named him that because of his long golden hair.” He made a little snorting sound—an unfortunate side effect when he was trying to hold laughter in. “He’s a retriever . . .” He lost it then as the totally weird picture Liz had been getting began to play out in his head. “You thought . . . **snort** that I was married to Diane **snort snort** and she’d stayed behind . . .” He couldn’t get out any more. The whole family had stopped eating, trying hard to at least swallow what was already in their mouths before they choked on their laughter. Liz was embarrassed beyond words, but her relief at Max’s single status made her downright euphoric, and she started laughing, too.

It was several minutes before anyone got out a complete sentence without starting the whole hysteria all over again. In spite of the embarrassment, Liz didn’t mind because every time the laughter bubbled up, Max leaned over to give her a brief hug, supposedly to reassure her that this was not her fault and he was sorry. She didn’t care why. Feeling his arms around her for any reason was just fine with her.

********

Dinner progressed with everyone enjoying the jovial mood. The warmth of family sharing chaotic conversation and snickering at old family jokes made her feel a part of something she had rarely experienced. Being an only child and some distance from her family’s relatives, their holidays had often been quiet affairs, usually fractured by stints down in the restaurant. This was like something out of a made-for-tv special, and it felt wonderful to be in on it, even if she was only an observer.

In the course of conversation, Liz learned that Max had once lived in Roswell, too, but his family had moved to Phoenix when he was in third grade. His twin sister, Isabel, was also a student at ASU. His dad was a lawyer and had been forced to travel over the holiday, much against his will, so Isabel had stayed behind with his mother so she wouldn’t be alone while she cared for the new puppy. Max had come ahead, having already scheduled a visit to Northwestern.

One thing she observed with some amusement was Max’s liberal use of Tabasco sauce—on everything. She watched him sprinkle it over the chile, the cornbread, in his iced tea, and—she gulped at this one—on his ice cream. This last example had her flat-out staring and Max noticed her expression. He quirked his mouth in an adorably guilty way and arched his eyebrows.

“I just think everything tastes better with Tabasco on it. Don’t ask me why.”

Mrs. Evans laughed. “We learned a long time ago that we’d better have plenty of Tabasco on hand when Max or Isabel visit,” she told Liz. “I can’t imagine where that quirk came from, but they’re both nuts about it.”

“I guess there are worse things,” Liz shrugged. “But ice cream? Although it might improve that dorm food,” she teased.

“Speaking of dorms,” Max began, leaning back in his chair and turning to Liz, “I hear you’re just the person to give me a tour of Northwestern. I’m looking at it for Law School. Care to show me around?”

Liz tried to control her jubilation at the thought of having Max all to herself on a campus tour. It sounded like the perfect way to get to know him better, and even though he’d made it clear he didn’t want a girlfriend right now, that was no reason not to enjoy the few days they did have, right?

“I’m your girl,” she grinned. “I know the place like the back of my hand. Of course, the buildings will all be locked up, but I can give you the lay of the land.”

Jason choked on his drink, apologizing awkwardly as Max threw him a warning glare. Liz stared at them in confusion until Mrs. Evans put on her hostess face and said, “Well, I guess that concludes dinner. Could everybody bring their dishes to the kitchen?”

Max’s amused eyes looked down at her as the double entendre finally sunk in. Liz’s eyes flew wide and her jaw dropped. She was about to sputter out an explanation when Max leaned down toward her ear and whispered, “Better let that one alone. It’ll only get worse if you explain it.” His warm breath tickled her ear and she shivered in response. Then he sat up and waggled his eyebrows at her. Liz reacted with a smack on his arm, failing completely to hide her own chuckle.

In bed that night, Liz thought about the man on the other side of the wall who had touched something deep inside her no one had ever reached before. She was at a total loss to explain it. She’d been out with good looking guys before—although they didn’t have that solid chest she’d seen in the hot tub last night, that perfect mouth that she couldn’t help wanting to kiss, that touchable fringe of hair that wisped across his eyebrows and curled behind his ears, or those soul-searing eyes that made you feel like you wanted to fall right in and never come out. She rolled her eyes in the darkness. Whoa, Liz, sounds like a teenybopper crush!

She’d been out with really nice guys, too—although they didn’t have that velvet voice that seemed to caress you without a touch or that innate gentleness that let you know in an instant he would be the most caring lover, the most devoted husband.

Husband???? Okay, completely out of control now. She had officially lost it. She wrestled with the covers, pounding her pillow as if to beat it into submission. This fantasizing was worthy of the ditziest and most helpless teenager, and she wasn’t going to indulge it anymore.

Beyond the layers of drywall and insulation, Max’s pillow was taking a beating of its own.


[ edited 4 time(s), last at 4-Sep-2002 10:36:17 PM ]
posted on 28-Aug-2002 8:57:56 PM by Carol000
YOU GUYS ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!! The feedback here has been incredible! It is THE single most fun and inspiring thing about fanfic!

Okay, many of you think you have figured out why our Labor fic seems to be all about Thanksgiving. Bravo! Those who are still wondering? PAY ATTENTION! If you don't have it after THIS part, well . . . I won't comment. *big*

Here's Part 2 of 4 (or 5--ya never know)--
Posted in 2 posts for length

Max had strained to overcome his innermost thoughts through a sleepless night. That wedding ring he’d taken off hours ago had never represented a real sacrifice. He’d been a little sad that this was to be his fate, but until now, he’d never met anyone who made him truly regret it in a personal way. Well, things had just gotten personal. Very personal. Liz Parker had crept under his skin with just a look the second he’d met her, and every word, glance, and laugh since had deepened her invasion. He saw her every time he closed his eyes, and his body responded to her as if they were already one. When she’d climbed into that hot tub last night, wearing the modest red one-piece that skimmed her curves and left him grateful for the bubbling water that obscured any view below the water line, he found himself praying that his face wasn’t betraying his feelings like the rest of him was. The attraction was unprecedented, and the hopelessness of it intensely painful.

As the first rays of sun lit the still-heavy clouds from within, Max could hear the shower shut off. Liz was an early riser, evidently, because that sure wasn’t Ben up yet, and Jason was still snoring across the room. Or maybe she had trouble sleeping in strange places. Or maybe . . . she had trouble sleeping when someone was on her mind.

Max berated himself, disgusted with his sudden inability to accept reality. Sure, Evans, she took one look at you and now she’s smitten to the point of sleeplessness. But that’s what had happened to him, isn’t it? Why not her, too?

Because you’re a damned alien, Max! He might as well stop thinking about her right now. It wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t.

Throwing the covers off his bed angrily, Max pulled together his shower supplies and strode out of the room. His aggressive movements halted abruptly when he realized the bathroom door was still shut. Not wanting to be caught in the hall when Liz came out, Max turned away, planning to wait inside Jason’s room until she’d vacated the bathroom. He’d barely taken two steps when the door opened behind him. He turned instinctively and was immediately sorry that he had.

Liz stood silhouetted in the doorway with a short silk robe clinging to her damp body. Max stared. He knew he shouldn’t. He knew it was rude and offensive and a little perverted. He kept staring. He could see her nipples pushing against the thin fabric; he could see droplets from her wet hair fall to her chest and disappear beneath the material; he could see the small waist give way to the curve of her hips; he could see the smooth, tapered legs peeking out from within the slit at the front.

Finally, he looked at her eyes, afraid and excited, but she wasn’t looking back. Her gaze was traveling as well—across his shoulders, down his chest, lower. Her eyes blinked suddenly and flew to his. He blushed deeply. Of course she’d seen it. He was only wearing boxers for crissakes.

“I forgot Mrs. Evans said she’d set out towels in our rooms,” Liz said to the floor. “I forgot mine.”

Max nodded, afraid to speak. His throat was tight. He slowly raised his hand and pushed his towel toward her. In his mind, he was toweling her down, inch by sexy inch.

Liz accepted the towel and backed slowly into the bathroom. “Thanks. I’ll . . . be out . . . in a minute.”

She shut the door, and Max stood there gaping at it.

“Better put that boner away before somebody sees it,” Jason said sleepily as he traipsed down the stairs.

Max watched, horrified, as his cousin disappeared from view. Then he bolted for the bedroom.

********

Breakfast was an awkward affair, at least for Max and Liz who were having a hard time looking at each other. The very amused looks from Jason were the only clue that the family was aware of any discomfort, though. Mrs. Evans was letting everyone fend for themselves while she prepared the turkey. Then she put everyone to work, guests included: put both leaves in the table, iron the tablecloth, set the table, get the Jello salad made, peel potatoes, fix a relish tray, and light a fire. Soon relatives from Aunt Pat’s side of the family arrived and mulled cider was served along with the cheese tray “just to tide everybody over.”

Max and Liz had little time to dwell on the awkward start to their morning, and soon Thanksgiving was settling happily into everyone’s heart. Jason’s little cousin Rebecca distributed little packets of 5 kernels of corn and read about how on the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, that’s all each person had to eat. Then the family said a prayer for loved ones who were no longer with them and Max made a toast to his parents and sister who had not made the trip. The food was delicious, the conversation light, and the feeling of togetherness more poignant than Liz had ever known.

As dinner came to an end, everyone rose and gathered by the fire, saying one final prayer of Thanksgiving for family and other blessings that had graced their lives. Liz jumped slightly when Max’s hand brushed hers, and she took it before she even realized what she’d done. It felt perfect, surrounded by Max’s larger one. Just perfect.

When the prayer was done, Liz looked up at him. His eyes were reaching out to her, a longing so intense, it took her breath away. And then it was gone, replaced by a quick smile and a squeeze of her hand as he let go. Elated and confused, Liz busied herself in the kitchen. She didn’t know what to think.

Another piece of pie and two football games later, company left and a tired but contented group began to disappear into their respective bedrooms. Max had dozed off on the couch during the game and Liz hovered over him now, smiling openly at the beautiful man who was already such an intriguing mystery to her.

“You two are perfect for each other,” Jason said quietly, stopping to put his arm around Liz.

Liz huffed with a frown. “What are you talking about, Jase? We barely know each other!”

“Well I know both of you, and I’ve never seen either of you react to anyone like this before. I think I’ve witnessed my first ‘love at first sight.’”

Liz looked up at him skeptically. “I thought he didn’t want a girlfriend.”

“And you don’t want a boyfriend. What’s that got to do with it? When it happens, it happens. And it couldn’t happen to two nicer people.”

He pulled her into a hug and kissed her on the head. “You just need to take it slow. That’s how you are—both of you. Just let it happen.”

He gave her a wink and headed upstairs. Liz looked back down at Max and reached to push his bangs away from his eyebrows. It was a meaningless but loving gesture, and Liz smiled to herself that she could indulge in such a guilty pleasure undetected.

Throwing caution to the wind, she bent to kiss him on the forehead. Then she turned and climbed the stairs, wondering how many sleepless nights this man was going to cause her.

She could never have imagined how many. Nor could he, as his smiling eyes watched her climb the steps.

*****

The threat of snow persisted into Friday, but Max and Liz stood firm against his Aunt Pat’s protest about their trip to campus.

“Then at least take the Jeep,” Uncle Brad offered. “Just in case. And Jason can go with you. An extra pair of hands never hurts when you’re digging out of a snow drift.”

Jason almost laughed at the expressions on their faces when his father tried to foist him on their outing.

“Sure I can come, if you want, Max. Do you want me to?”

He enjoyed watching his cousin squirm as he floundered for a response. Of course he didn’t want Jason there! He wanted Liz! Alone! All to himself!

“Actually, Jason, didn’t you say you promised Ben a ride on the snowmobile?” Liz asked. “Besides, if we put shovels and salt in the back seat, there won’t be room.”

Max threw Liz an impressed and grateful glance, then looked pointedly at his cousin. Jason played along, not wanting to give the young romance too much grief in its first days. Eventually, Mrs. Evans had equipped them with a cell phone and a cold lunch, and sent Mr. Evans out to assemble an emergency snow kit. Soon, they were on their way toward Evanston and a day alone.

Everything about the day was perfect. Of course, they had gotten stuck a couple of times, and Max had spilled their lunch into the snow when he helped Liz out of the car, and they had gotten snow in their boots so that their toes were freezing, and they realized neither of them knew the Evans’s phone number by heart, so the cell phone was more or less useless. But it was perfect.

Liz showed Max the entire campus, taking extra time around the law buildings. Then she showed him the buildings where she spent her time, the dorm where she worked as an RA, the student services building, and the football stadium. They held hands and laughed and threw snowballs at each other until the day had escaped, defying their efforts to hold it back. As they trudged reluctantly toward the Jeep, Max stopped.

“Liz?”

“Yeah?” She turned to face him, eyes sparkling and alive. It gave him a jolt of . . . what? A jolt of what? What was it he felt every time they looked at each other?

“I’ve had a wonderful day.”

“Me, too.”

“I had a crazy idea about what would make it even better.”

“What?” She was smiling now, so open and relaxed. What would she do?

“Kissing. Kissing you would make it better.”

Liz stared at him, almost afraid to believe that he had voiced her constant fantasy over the last 24 hours. Max looked away, disconcerted.

“I’m sorry . . .”

Liz raised herself up on her tiptoes and brought her lips to his. He melted into her with a muffled groan and pressed her to him as tightly as he could manage against the coats and sweaters and scarves. He wasn’t sure where they went then, but it was a place so warm and safe and exhilarating that he never wanted to come back. Not knowing how it happened, he realized that their tongues were sliding and tasting and loving each other, and Liz’s arms were clamped around his neck in an almost urgent grip.

They loved each other with open hearts for several minutes before parting to look at one another with new eyes. Honest eyes that said all they wanted to say. Then the streetlamp flicked on, and they realized that the late afternoon was giving way to evening. It was time to go.

Jason’s eyes lit up when they finally came through the door, chilled and wet and radiant with happiness. While his mom fussed over them, hanging up ice-encrusted coats, tossing wet boots into the garage, and ordering hot baths and some leftover soup, he caught the small smiles and knowing glances that bounced between them. There was definitely something special there.

Max had hoped for some time alone with Liz after everyone had gone to bed, but while Max and Liz had been exploring Northwestern, the rest of the family had napped and watched tv. They were energized and in high spirits, but Max could see Liz was tired. A full day, warm food, and little sleep were catching up with her.

As the family gathered around yet another football game, Liz put up no resistance when Max offered the seat next to him on the couch. At first, they kept their hands and arms to themselves, but as the announcer droned on, Max could feel Liz’s weight leaning into him. He slipped an arm around her and she nestled sleepily in his arms. Minutes later, her deep even breathing told him she was asleep. He thought maybe he’d just spend the rest of his visit right here, holding Liz.

Someone must have pointed them toward beds later that night, because both Max and Liz awoke refreshed the next morning. Most of the family was planning to go Christmas shopping and Max and Liz were invited. Max was torn. He didn’t like shopping very much, but if Liz were going, he’d go, too. On the other hand, if they both stayed home, maybe they’d get that time alone he’d hoped for.

He was trying to catch Liz’s eye when he heard his aunt telling Liz how glad she was to have another woman to shop with because the men never offered a sincere opinion; they just told her whatever they thought would get her to make a decision and move on. Her little monologue on men shoppers had Liz laughing, and Max knew he was about to go Christmas shopping.

It was actually a fun day. The shops were decorated to the extreme, the Salvation Army was ringing its bell outside the doors, Christmas favorites floated on the air, and everything gleamed with that special holiday light. Once Liz had done her duty with Mrs. Evans, they began to roam the mall together. Near the food court, Santa’s opulent “workshop” had been assembled, and a very convincing man chatted easily with child after child. As they watched, a small dark-haired girl climbed into Santa’s lap and pulled at his beard. She wanted to whisper her list in his ear, and he accommodated her with a chuckle. As she looked over her shoulder at her mother, her large dark eyes sparkled with excitement.

“She looks like you,” Max whispered, automatically twining his fingers through Liz’s.

“I was just thinking she looks like you,” Liz smiled up at him. She has your nose and jaw and . . . mouth.”

As her eyes settled on his lips, he bent to kiss her, and instantly a flash of the two of them with a slightly different dark-haired girl burst into his mind. It was a beautiful image and he pulled back, smiling. Liz was smiling back, but she looked a bit startled.

“What? Too public?” he teased.

“No, I just thought I saw . . .” She looked up at him shyly. “Never mind. I just . . . never mind.”

Max followed Liz into Victoria’s Secret and watched her fingers lightly touch the panties and bras and gowns. She was so beautiful with her face all flushed and her hair shining under the colorful lights. As she made her way around the store, though, his imagination began to run away with him and his breathing became erratic. In his mind’s eye, he saw her wearing everything she touched, and it was the most erotic experience of his life. She ran a finger down a teddy hanging from a satin hangar, and she was instantly transformed in front of him. Firelight reflected off the pink satin. Her dark hair hung loose and wild around her shoulders and her eyes beckoned him to love her.

Max realized he was shaking, and when he looked down at his hands, he saw a glow emanating from his fingers. That had never happened before! What was that? He jammed his hands in his pockets and looked around quickly, panicked at the thought he might have been seen. Instead, shoppers were concentrating on the glamorous choices spread throughout the store, and he calmed a bit.

“Liz, I’ll meet you in the hallway,” Max half-shouted across the aisle. Then he took off, eyes forward, body tense. Liz frowned. That hadn’t even sounded like Max, and he looked angry. Had she done something?

After several minutes in line to buy a full-length slip for her evening gown—one she’d bought on a whim on clearance in the fall and now hoped would find use on New Year’s Eve if she could convince Max to join her—she emerged into the crowded hallway. Max was leaning against a large planter, staring resolutely ahead, his mouth in a grim line. Liz approached him slowly, trying to figure out if she’d done something to upset him. Maybe he was just uncomfortable being in Victoria’s Secret. Most guys actually liked being hauled in there, Jason had told her. It gave them an excuse to ogle all that sexy lingerie.

Max saw Liz coming toward him and stiffened. He had to be strong. She’d almost made him forget who . . . what he was. If he could start glowing just imagining her making love to him, what would happen if they really got that close? Would he hurt her? Would she panic? Would she run screaming to a doctor or a friend or her family? He would take no chances with her, and he would take no chances with Isabel and Michael, either. He had to end this. Now.

“Aunt Pat is over in the Kitchen Emporium. Why don’t you go help her and I’ll find the others. It must be almost time to go.” With that, he marched off, completely unapproachable.

Two hours later, they piled into the Evans home, laden with packages and chatter—except for Max, who had volunteered to drive after Liz was already settled in the back seat of the mini-van. Liz was starting to get scared. She glanced over at Jason, who was looking back, a question in his eyes. She shrugged. What had she done?

Shortly after a late supper, Max excused himself and went up to bed. Liz was on the verge of tears. Jason pulled her into the den and shut the door.

“Liz, what happened?”

The tears began to flow. “I don’t know,” she sobbed. “One minute we were watching Santa and kissing and then we went into Victoria’s Secret and a few minutes later, he just left. He’s been avoiding me ever since.”

She threw her arms around her friend, and her shoulders shook as he soothed her.

“You know what I bet it is, Liz?”

A head shook under his chin. “I bet he’s scared. He hasn’t felt much of anything for all the girls who’ve tried to catch his attention. Now here he is, 22 years old, and in 2 days time, he’s fallen head over heals for a girl who lives like 6 states away. You’ve just thrown a wrench in his master plan, and believe me, Max loves a master plan. I think he’s just freaked.”

Sniffles punctuated the silence. Then a tiny voice squeaked out, “So what am I supposed to do?”

“Just let it rest tonight, Liz. I bet in the morning, he’ll have calmed down. I happen to know, he can’t get away from you just by going to sleep.”

She pulled her head back and looked at him quizzically. “What do you mean?”

Jason grinned at her. “Let’s just say, it’s been obvious that you’re on his mind during the night.”

Liz allowed herself a weak smile and looked away. “Oh.”

“Things’ll be better in the morning, okay?”

Liz nodded. What else could she do? But more family time was definitely out. She asked Jason to make her apologies and headed up to bed, too.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 28-Aug-2002 9:02:32 PM ]
posted on 28-Aug-2002 9:01:29 PM by Carol000
********

The house had been quiet for hours, but sleep eluded her. She kept wondering if some magical transformation was taking place in the next room that would fix all this by tomorrow. Somehow, it seemed unlikely.

Resigned to wakefulness, Liz slipped on her silk robe and padded downstairs. Warm milk. Isn’t that what they always said? She poured a cup, programmed the microwave, and a minute later, she turned out the lights and settled into the deep leather couch in the family room. She didn’t mind the dark; it’s where she did her best thinking. And right now, her mind was spinning. She had actually reached the point where she was fantasizing about a future with Max. How ridiculous. She’d met him on Wednesday. This was Saturday. Hardly the basis for a long-term relationship.

But still, she’d felt things from him. He’d made her feel that he was feeling those things, too. Hadn’t he been the one to take her hand? Suggest a kiss? Ask for a tour?

Okay, Liz. Those are all things that just scream lifelong commitment, right? She ran her fingers restlessly through her hair. Brother, had she ever lost it. She had read true love into the most casual of incidents. He’d probably picked up on that and run for the hills. Who could blame him? Back to plan A—grad school, stellar career, no burden of family.

A stirring in the kitchen caught her attention. She settled more deeply into the sofa and hoped the night owl would head back to bed. The microwave beeped and then the lights flicked off. She sighed with relief until she saw the silhouette move silently across the room and lean against the sliding glass door. Max.

He sipped the hot drink—she could see the steam rising—and looked out across the snow. The weather had cleared, and the moon illuminated the white landscape, all brilliance and shadow. Liz was caught between announcing her presence and hoping he would just return to his room. She didn’t feel ready to talk to him now.

“Liz.” It was a whisper, a sigh, bursting with sadness. “What am I gonna do?”

Her heart was pounding. She didn’t know what to think. All she did know was that she’d never felt this way about anyone and she’d be a fool not to give it every chance. If she lost this, it wasn’t going to be because she didn’t try.

“What do you want to do?”

Her voice sliced through the darkness, and his drink sloshed as he whipped around to face the unseen.

“Liz?”

“On the sofa.”

He peered into the darkness, a stark contrast to the brightness of the yard, and whispered, “What are you doing here?”

“Wondering what I did to make you so angry.” She wasn’t good at games. The direct approach was much more her style.

“Angry? Oh god, Liz, I’m not angry. Not with you.”

He started to walk toward the sofa, setting his mug on the bar as he passed. He sat on the opposite end of the couch.

“I’m sorry, Liz. I can see why you’d think I’m angry. But if I am, it’s at me. I let myself fall for you, and I shouldn’t have.”

Somehow honesty was easier in the dark. You didn’t have to watch a person’s face as you hurt them.

“Why not, Max? I’m sure you can tell I’ve fallen for you, too. Is this about your master plan?”

“Huh?”

“Jason says you love a master plan and that I might be messing it up.”

Max let out a soft chuckle. “Well, Jason is right about my needing to have a plan, but he’s wrong about you. Well, in that sense he’s wrong.” Max sighed and threw his head back against the sofa.

“There is so much about me you don’t know, Liz. I . . . I can’t be with anyone. I mean, I shouldn’t be. I should never have let myself . . .”

His head fell forward to his hands and he sighed again.

“Medical problem?”

“No.”

Liz inched down the sofa.

“Emotional problem?”

“No.”

Closer.

“Are you secretly married? Was that a real wedding ring after all?”

Another chuckle. “No.”

Liz was right next to him. He could smell her, feel her warmth. The air between them crackled with expectation.

“Have you fallen in love with me, Max?”

He turned anguished eyes to her.

“Yes.”

“Then I’m having a hard time pinpointing the problem, Max, because I’m in love with you, too.”

Max took a deep breath and let her words sink in. She couldn’t have said anything he wanted to hear more. Or less. Since when were heaven and hell synonymous? He felt her hand on his arm, and his hand closed over it. A reflex.

“You don’t know me, Liz. Not really. There might be things about me you couldn’t live with.”

“Are you a bad person, Max? Have you hurt people? Stolen from them? Cheated on your taxes? What?”

“Nothing so mundane, I’m afraid,” he smiled.

“Then what, Max? I can’t give this up because you don’t think I know you well enough. That can be fixed. You don’t know me, either.”

At that, Max turned to her and cupped her face in his hands. His words rushed forth unbidden. “Oh, but I do, Liz. You are the soul that reached out to me the second I saw you in that airport. You are the warmth that I feel just from being in the same room. You are what makes my heart race and my mind refuse to sleep. I knew you immediately, Liz. You’re my soulmate.”

Liz sat stunned, hearing words that could have come just as easily from her mouth as his. He had felt as intensely as she had. He did see that future she felt so foolish admitting to. She leaned into him and pressed her lips to his. He released a small whimper and pulled her against him. His hand slid joyously over her silk robe and back up into her hair while his other hand kept her pressed firmly against his mouth. This felt like home—loving, familiar, a sense of belonging that had eluded him his whole life. Liz’s hand brushed lightly over his chest, grazing a nipple as she explored his heated skin.

Oh, god! He pulled away from her, panting and confused. “We can’t do this, Liz.”

“Max, I’ve never made love to anyone. I wanted to wait until I thought I’d found the man I was meant to be with. Do you understand what I’m telling you, Max? I’m a virgin. I don’t believe in having sex. I only believe in making love. I think you’re that man, Max.”

Max was on fire. Everything he’d ever hoped for, dreamed of, fantasized about was in his arms at this moment, offering herself to him. It was the greatest gift he’d ever been given, and every fiber of his being was begging him to accept it.

But what if it could hurt her? What if Michael and Isabel found out? Of course, they’d find out, because if he made love to his soulmate, he would never let her go. Not for them, not for anyone. And that’s why he couldn’t do it.

Max’s hesitation cut Liz like a knife. She pulled away, feeling exposed and vulnerable.

“Good night, Max.” She pulled her thin robe around her protectively, glad he couldn’t see the pain in her face. As she mounted the stairs, she could have sworn she heard crying.

********

The sobs had subsided, out of sheer exhaustion, if nothing else. But sleep would not come. Liz had taken a chance and been burned. It happened all the time, right? It sold magazines and soap operas and romance novels. It kept psychiatrists in business and sex columnists busy. She was now a statistic. Congratulations.

What kept niggling at her was that she felt sure Max loved her. He’d said so. She felt it to her very core. So what was keeping them apart? What had made him turn away?

The lightest rap on her door set her nerves on edge. She was almost afraid it had been her imagination. But there it was again. She cracked the door open and peered into the dim light of the hallway. Max stood, pale and tense, outside her door.

“I have to tell you.”

She swung the door open and stood to one side. He stepped through and waited awkwardly. There were no chairs in the small room, only the bed. He watched Liz turn the nightstand lamp onto its lowest setting and climb back up, patting the mattress, a clear invitation to sit. He walked to the bed and sat stiffly on the edge.

“Before I say another word, I want you to know that I meant what I said. I love you. More than I ever thought I could love anyone. I’ve never loved another woman, Liz—not with my heart . . .” He turned so she could see his face. “And not with my body. And that was okay, until Wednesday, when I saw you, felt you enter my very soul. Since then, all I’ve wanted is to touch you and kiss you and make love to you. I don’t know how I could feel this strongly in just a few days, but I do.”

Liz felt her heart swell. He had waited for her, just as she had for him. His love for her was real. She wanted to take him in her arms and kiss him til morning, but instead, she sat quietly. She believed what he’d said, but there was obviously more to come.

“I’m adopted.”

Liz blinked, struggling to imagine what this had to do with anything.

“Okay.”

“I don’t know anything about my origins, my family, my history. Nothing. Just that Isabel and I were found together and the Evanses adopted us.”

Liz began to smile. This was his burdensome secret? How could he think that would make any difference to her?

“I’m different, Liz. I’m . . .”

His words were cut short as Liz’s hands crept around his waist from behind. Her warm breath tickled his ear and his mind became fuzzy, focusing only on the sensation of her nearness.

“I don’t care, Max. I know who you are, deep down in my soul I know. I feel a profound, intimate knowledge of you in a way I can’t even understand. But I recognize its truth. I have no doubts about it.”

He was falling, so fast and so deep. It was a comforting sensation, though, because he felt he was falling toward something strong and safe and good. He felt her mouth at his neck and he laid his head back against her shoulder, tracing the soft skin of her arms. Everything now was image and sensation, swimming toward that place of warmth and safety.

He turned and she was in his arms and there were only words of love and touches of velvet and heat. He was vividly aware of her exploration, every touch electrifying and soothing him at once. Shy and confident, timid and bold—her eagerness to learn his body swept him away on a tide of desire. He knew now that it would be impossible for him to live his life alone. His life was hers and their future was as one.

Her body melted into his, so a part of him he wondered if he was still a separate entity. She overwhelmed his senses and he struggled to take it all in. He tasted her, stroked her, invested himself in every detail of her body while their love for each other became a tangible, living thing. Spread against the quilt, she was an angel in flight. He devoured her, kissing every diaphanous inch of her delicate skin. One moment her breasts were reaching for him and he suckled greedily, almost crying out with the joy of it. The next minute he was feasting on her most intimate folds, awed by his power to arouse her and bring her to violent climax. Ultimately, he buried himself deep inside her as he murmured the longings of his heart against her mouth.

Liz no longer knew where she was. She was floating, flying, falling through and around an ethereal cloud where sensation and love and completion wove together in a perfect tapestry. There was no hesitation, no holding back. She was free to touch, stroke, kiss any part of him that she wanted, and she wanted all of him. Everything that their bodies shared, so did their souls. She could feel him enter her, physically and spiritually, bonding them in a beautiful and terrifying way. This man and his love for her were permanently imprinted on her being, marking her as his. She blindly accepted that she was no longer separate, but rather a part of a larger whole.

Liz reveled in his explosion within her, taking all he could give, offering sanctuary to his seed and his soul. This was truly her soulmate, her love, and they had bonded more surely than any ceremony or document or legality could ever define. Their joining sent them both to a place of utter contentment and peace, and it was only as Max slowly spiraled back to the reality of the bed, spent and flush with happiness, that he realized exactly what they’d done.

The knowledge filled him with a euphoria he could barely contain and a fear so great that he was sure she could hear it pounding within him.

“Are you all right?” he asked her, studying her face for any hint of pain or other-worldly effects. All that he could find, though, was a light in her eyes and a loving acceptance of the miracle they had shared.

“I’m perfect,” she sighed, lifting the few inches it took to make contact with his lips again.

“Yes, you are,” he teased with relief.

She was glowing, but it wasn’t really other-worldly. It was the radiant glow of pure joy, and he knew he must look the same. He hadn’t told her everything, but he hadn’t hurt her, either. At least he didn’t think so. Now was a time to embrace what they’d shared. The rest would come. Later.

********
Dawn was breaking as Max tiptoed into Jason’s room. Jason eyed his cousin through slitted eyes. He looked happy. Really happy. And sated, if Jason was any judge. And that made Jason happy, too. Obviously they’d gotten things worked out. And then some. So much for taking things slowly.

Max settled under the covers and sighed contentedly.

“I see you found someplace to put that boner, Max. Congrats.”

Startled, Max turned his head toward his cousin, but all he could see was a sleepy smile. He relaxed and smiled back.

“Be good to her, Max. She’s the best.”

“I will,” he promised.

He had every intention of keeping that promise. Really. But life throws you curves sometimes. Especially alien life.

Awwwww. Feeling warm and fuzzy about now? Enjoy it while it lasts!


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 28-Aug-2002 9:04:11 PM ]
posted on 30-Aug-2002 8:31:05 PM by Carol000
Happpy Labor Day, everyone! Well, I hemmed and hawed and finally decided that Dreamer Holidays is NOT about cliffhangers and angst. SO, I have posted 14 pages here to get you TO, THROUGH, and OVER the rough spots and bring you out on the other side in a semi-acceptable place. Had this been Chameleon or Epiphanies, I would have stopped mid-way and watched you squirm, but DH should be about LOVE and the inevitability of Max and Liz.

So, it won't hurt TOO much. Consider this my Labor Day gift to all of you WONDERFUL readers!

[Posted in 2 parts again]



Dreamer Holiday: Labor Day (Part 3)


Sunday was bittersweet. Max and Liz met the new day with a whole new perspective. Their futures looked much different than they had yesterday, and that fact sent them spilling downstairs with eagerness and anticipation. It was also the day they had to say goodbye, though. Liz had RA responsibilities with her floor residents as they returned from home, and Max was scheduled for dinner with the Dean of the Law School. Most candidates didn’t get that brand of personal treatment, but Max’s academic record, his two undergraduate awards, and his impressive application essay had caught the Dean’s eye, and he wanted this potential success story to have a Northwestern alma mater. Monday morning was to be a tour and a trip to the airport.

As they pulled up in front of the dorm, Max couldn’t bring himself to let go of Liz’s hand. He felt like a new person. Strong, confident, hopeful, and completely in love. From the look on Liz’s face, she was feeling it, too. They bent toward each other, wanting one more kiss and one more and one more. Soon, the gear shift was impeding their struggle to get closer, and Liz pulled back.

“The gear shift is sticking me in the boob,” she complained in frustration.

“Ah, to be that gear shift,” Max teased her, enjoying her unconvincing glare. He hopped out of the driver’s side and came around to Liz’s door. Pulling her from the car, she walked automatically into his arms and they resumed their goodbyes.

Something happened to Max’s brain when Liz was loving him. He couldn’t describe it exactly, but it was like coming back to the place he knew he belonged. It gave him peace and strength, like he was somehow settling more firmly into the person he was meant to be. He’d never known such a feeling, and he almost felt fear at the thought of leaving it behind. She completed him in a totally incomprehensible way, and he knew it was just wrong to be apart from her anymore.

“I wish I didn’t have to go back,” he whispered desperately into her hair. “I can’t bear the thought of leaving you.”

“I know,” she sighed, “I don’t want to leave you either. You’ve changed my life. I feel like you’ve changed me, but it’s only a month til Christmas and 4 months til spring break. Mine’s the third week in March. When’s yours?”

“The same,” he brightened. “We’ll spend it together. Promise?”

“I promise,” she breathed as she sank into another heady kiss.

“Whoohoo! Look what Liz found over the break!” a girl shouted as she pulled her suitcase behind her. “You go, girl!”

Liz grinned and blushed, an endearing combination that sent Max back to her lips.

“I can’t go.”

“Stay with me.”

The words were sincere, but they both knew they were helpless to change what had to be.

Max pulled himself away from her, feeling the tears starting to sting at his eyes. Liz’s tears were already spilling down her cheeks.

“I love you,” they whispered together.

Max slowly got back in the Jeep, but he couldn’t leave. He just sat there, watching her. So, with her resolve frayed and weakened, she turned and entered the dorm. Four weeks until Christmas. It felt like four lifetimes.

********

The temperatures in Phoenix were balmy, but Max couldn’t rejoice with the other passengers about how relieved they were to have escaped Chicago’s early winter. He would have given anything to be back there. Making his way to baggage claim, he spotted Isabel watching for him. Her face lit up when she saw him on the escalator, and she waved.

Max loved his sister, but he was suddenly struck by how different she was from the girl who had stolen his heart over Thanksgiving. Not just in looks, where the differences were obvious and extreme, but in personality and attitude. Isabel loved to look the part of the fashion plate, and she drank in the adulation of the men who aspired to date her. Maybe it was because she knew she couldn’t pursue the relationships that she had to take her satisfaction from the quantity, not quality, of admirers. Or maybe she enjoyed the power she felt as she dismissed them one by one. Max didn’t know what made Isabel tick, really, but he did know one thing: somehow, he had to make her and Michael see that it was possible to share their lives with a human and still stay safe. That was the only option.

He waved at his sister, and she hurried toward him.

“You certainly look happy, Max. The interview at Northwestern must have gone really well!”

“Yeah, it was fine. I think I might actually go there. It depends . . .”

“Depends? I thought that was your first choice. Are you having second thoughts?”

“Well, it was an interesting few days. I’ll fill in you later. Here comes the luggage.”

Given the hour, they headed back to Tempe instead of stopping at their parents’ home. Isabel had only missed one class to pick him up, but she had some work to do before classes tomorrow. So did Max, although his level of concentration was going to be severely compromised. They wove through traffic, chatting easily about the case that had pulled their dad away over Thanksgiving, Isabel’s early Christmas shopping, and the new puppy. Just hearing Fabio’s name started Max laughing again, and Isabel laughed, too, although didn’t know why.

“So what was so interesting about your weekend? Did Jason take you out on the town?”

Max sat quietly for a moment, then glanced at Isabel, who was alternating her attention between the traffic and her brother’s mysterious look.

“I met someone.”

Isabel’s face froze. The smile barely changed, but he knew her too well. Relaxed had become tense. Easy humor had become forced.

“What?”

“I met someone, Isabel. Someone special. Someone who I’m not going to give up.”

There. That was it in a nutshell. Let the chips fall where they may.

“Max, you’re not serious.” All pretense of lightheartedness was gone. “You know the rules. We can’t . . .”

“The rules are about to change, Isabel. She’s the one.”

“Max, you were only there for 4 days! Did you tell her about us? Tell me you didn’t tell her about us!”

“No, I didn’t.” He heard her let out a relieved sigh. “I tried, actually, but we . . . things got . . . I lost track of . . . what I was saying. But I am going to tell her, Iz. She has to know.”

“Promise me, Max, you’ll think about this. You probably just got caught up in the moment. A little time away will put things back in perspective. At least you didn’t have time to let it get too far.”

Max sat stiffly next to her, stone-faced and tense. She looked over at him once . . . twice . . . three times. “Max! What did you do?!”

He faced her shocked disbelief. “I fell in love.”

“How? How did you do that in 4 days? I mean, you were staying with Uncle Brad and Aunt Pat, right? How did you even meet this girl?”

“She’s a friend of Jason’s. She was stranded at the airport when Jase came to get me. She was headed for Roswell, actually. That’s where she’s from.”

“Roswell? What’s her name?”

“Liz Parker.”

“Parker . . . Parker . . . does her family own the Crashdown? That Liz Parker?”

“Yeah, I think that’s the name of the place. You know it?”

“Sometimes Michael drags me there when I visit. Strictly greasy spoon,” she said with disdain. “Haven’t you ever gone there with him?”

“I don’t think so. When I visit, he thinks it’s guy time—he usually wants to go to Hooters.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “That’s beside the point, Max. The point is, we agreed we wouldn’t let anyone in. Michael will have a fit.”

“Let him. I’m going to be with Liz, Isabel. Get used to it.”

********

The email to Liz was all but finished when his roommate entered the apartment. He looked upset.

“Tony, what’s wrong?”

“I need your help. You have to come with me now.”

“Why? What’s happened?”

“I need your help. You have to come with me now.”

“You said that. What’s going on?”

“Now.”

Max frowned. He’d never known Tony to act so strangely.

“Okay, let me send this email and I’ll be right with you.”

Tony leaned over and unplugged the computer.

“What the hell are you doing? What is wrong with you?” Max stood up so fast the chair fell over behind him. “Have you lost your mind?”

Tony stared at him dispassionately. “Now.”

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere with you. Are you drunk?”

With no warning, Max felt himself being hurled across the room. Then everything went black.

********
Max had no idea how long he’d been lying there. In his few lucid moments, he’d been aware of a sterile room, the hard cot, and the rustling that preceded another prick and then darkness again. He was totally disoriented, and his one weak attempt at using his powers to release the restraints that encircled him had failed miserably. Whoever was holding him knew something about him. The thought struck terror through his heart.

The best he could come up with to change the status quo was to gather more information, and to do that, he had to be able to hear people talking. They never talked when his eyes were open, but they did when he was still groggy, drifting in and out of sleep. He decided to feign sleep even after he was awake in hopes of gathering some clues about where he was and why.

The next time he began to wake up, he had to stop himself from trying to sit up and look around. He strained to hear . . . anything. Total silence. He risked a glimpse of the room from beneath almost closed eyelids. It was dark, but there were lights in the hall. There were sensors of some kind strapped to his chest and head. How did they find him? Who were “they”? Did they have Isabel and Michael, too?

The door began to open and Max closed his eyes.

“. . . two days. I don’t know why they’re keeping him knocked out. I’m just following orders.”

“Do you think it’s really Zan? He doesn’t look like he could be the Antarian king, does he? He’s barely out of his teens! Besides, everyone else quit looking for him 30 years ago. I think that woman is nuts.”

“Well, as long as she has the ability to hurt my Zach, I’m doing as I’m told. He’s just a baby, and I’m all he’s got.”

The young woman entered the room with a tray and reached over to turn on a dim light. As she prepared the injection, Max watched her undetected. She had a kind face, and he now knew she was working for some crazed leader who was threatening her son. Maybe she would help him. He didn’t know who this Zan was, or where Antar might be, but they obviously had the wrong person.

“Please don’t.”

The woman jumped violently and stared down at him, clearly frightened. She hurried to fill the syringe.

“Please, I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m just a college student, and I don’t know why I’m here. I need to get back to my family.”

“Yeah, you’re a college student. An alien college student and a lot more. Don’t pull anything on me. I have a few powers of my own, you know.”

Max gaped at her, incredulous at all that her words implied. They knew. And there were others. Suddenly things were a lot more complicated. And dangerous.

********
Max couldn’t keep track of days and nights anymore. He suspected he’d been kept in a stupor for weeks, maybe months. He didn’t know why. No one seemed to want anything from him. He never saw anyone except a day nurse, a male with an impassive face and cold eyes, and the young woman who, night after night, ignored his slurred pleas for help, although he thought he detected real sympathy in her eyes. No visitors had come to question him and no demands had been made of him. The waiting was driving him crazy, and it was only his thoughts of Liz—imagining her loving smile, reliving their one night of passion together, hearing her soft “I love you’s” replaying in his ears—that kept him from screaming the scream of lost souls.

Finally, one night, she came in as usual, but didn’t give him his shot. Instead, she bathed him gently and tried to help him sit up. His limbs were weak from lack of use, and his skin was sallow. He looked at her gratefully, relishing the wonderful feel of warm water and a washcloth against his skin.

“Why’re you doin’ this?” he managed to ask.

She didn’t respond right away. “Because everyone needs to be treated like a person at least once in a while.”

A few unexpected tears trickled down his face as the futility of his situation came into focus. The sight of them stopped the woman as she wiped his chest, and he thought he saw her blink back tears of her own.

When she’d finished, the dreaded syringe appeared again.

“Please, don’t!” Max whimpered. “Not any more. Please.” She hesitated.

“I can put it off a little, I guess. But these monitors track everything. They’ll know if you don’t have your medication.”

And so they talked just a little bit. Nothing important. Just the date, who was president, television shows—anything to prove that there was a world out there and he wasn’t crazy. Each night after that, he engaged her in more conversation, gradually winning her sympathy, and hopefully, someday, her trust. So far, he’d learned that her name was Danielle, and that the person holding him believed him to be the reincarnated king of a distant planet. They had deduced he’d survived the ’47 crash near Roswell and that some of his family had survived with him. The leader of what appeared to be an unwilling band was an ambitious and ruthless woman from a neighboring planet; she hated Antar, its leaders, and especially its former king, who had led the defense of his planet’s way of life, losing his life in the process. This king’s essence had been combined with human DNA and sent to Earth—obviously aboard the ill-fated craft. Apparently, her goal was to return him to her planet as a trophy, thus assuring a position of high authority. The trouble was, according to Danielle, no one seemed to care anymore. The search for Zan had been given up years ago, and only the insane mind of a power-monger denied it.

Max tried to put together other clues that might be of some value—the schedule, for instance. He’d noticed that it was every two days that they removed the monitors and bathed him. He was without those monitors for only about 20 minutes, though, and it wasn’t enough time to contact Isabel with any certainty. He needed more time.

One night, Danielle came to remove the sticky patches that tracked his every breath. Once unhooked and free to make slight movements, he took her hand gently. She stopped, alarmed at his touch. She’d become more relaxed around this man lately, but she was prepared to scream if he made another move.

“Remove your hand.”

Max obliged.

“You have a son, don’t you? Zach.”

Danielle froze, her eyes darting to his. “How did you know that?”

“I overheard you mention it one day in the hall. I know you’re just trying to protect him. But Danielle, I have a life, too. Or I did. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want to be free to live my life, to be with my family. Please, can’t you help me to get out of here? I promise you, if I make it out, I will do everything in my power to keep you and your family safe.”

She stared at him, torn between his words and her fear. “Are you married?” she asked him.

Max answered immediately. “Yes.” He was, as far as he was concerned. The legality wasn’t important.

Danielle shook herself. “I can’t help you. There are too many lives at stake. Vilandra has the power to ruin more lives than you can imagine.”

“I can imagine plenty, Danielle. Yours, mine, my parents, my wife, everyone who’s being blackmailed to work in this facility. Help me get in a position to take her on. I’ll stake my life on the outcome. If I die, the two who survived with me will help you. I’ll tell you how to reach them. If I win, all of your lives will be better; you’ll be free of . . . Vilandra.”

He could see the wheels turning in her head, but the fear was still prevailing. “How do I know you can do it? How do I know what you’ll do to the rest of us if you win? Vilandra has told us about you—your cruelty, your ambition, your thirst for power.”

“Danielle, who have you just described? Me? Or her? Let me connect with you, please. Let me show you.”

Her eyes grew wide now. “No! You’re trying to trick me! You could do anything to my brain, if you wanted.”

Max thought quickly. “What power do you have, Danielle, that could hurt me?”

She watched him warily. “I could burn you with a touch.”

“Take my arms as I touch you. If you feel at any moment that you are losing control or that I am altering you in any way, burn me, as painfully as you can.”

She looked into his eyes, seeing only a desperate pleading and a glimmer of hope. She nodded ever so slightly. Max raised his hands to her face, cupping it gently. He waited calmly as she placed her own hands around his wrists.

“Are you ready?”

She nodded again. He opened himself to her—images of Isabel, his parents, Michael, his roommate flitted through her mind. Then stronger, faster, images came of a beautiful dark-haired woman with love in her eyes and a smile on her lips. This woman consumed his thoughts and the power of his feelings for her slammed into Danielle. Then, knowing she was taking a chance, she looked into his future, a gift she had not entrusted to him. Her eyes grew wide, and Max released her.

“You didn’t tell me your wife was with child.”

Max stared at her, slowly absorbing her words. “No, she’s not. Perhaps you are thinking of a little girl we saw with Santa at Thanksgiving. She looked like she could have been ours.”

Danielle assessed his response carefully. There was no deception, no hidden agenda. He was completely serious.

“You don’t know, do you? She’s pregnant. It’s a little girl.”

Max thought he might be sick. He slumped back against the pillows, looking stricken one second and exuberant the next. “Liz! I have to get to her! God, Danielle, please. Please help me!”

And she knew at that exact moment that she would.




[ edited 2 time(s), last at 30-Aug-2002 8:44:03 PM ]
posted on 30-Aug-2002 8:38:31 PM by Carol000

********
The first few days, she’d been confused and a little hurt when she didn’t hear from Max. Her own voice- and email messages hadn’t been returned either. After two weeks, she hadn’t known whether to be concerned or angry. She had expected to make plans to see him over the holidays, exchanging their first Christmas gifts and bringing in their first new year as a couple. Was he inundated at school? Had their day in the snow given him a cold or the flu? Had he been in an accident?

By Christmas, she was in despair. She wasn’t eating or sleeping and her studies had suffered. When she ran into Jason in the student union just before campus closed for the holiday, he’d noticed her pallor and her weight loss. When he found out Max hadn’t made contact with her since Thanksgiving, he was angry. He told her Max had promised to be good to her, and he had believed him. This was entirely out of character.

A week later, he called her at home in Roswell. He had done some investigating and discovered that the Evanses hadn’t seen him either. Isabel told them he’d accepted an invitation to go skiing over Christmas and would try to send them a postcard. Jason had been at a loss. This was not the Max he had known all his life.

By the end of January, Liz’s general ennui had become real illness. She usually woke up feeling sick, and although it often improved during the day, she had no appetite and what she did eat usually didn’t agree with her. It was about that time she began to wonder. She’d missed her period in December, but chalked it up to stress. But now she’d missed January, too, and between that and the . . . morning sickness. It clicked. She was pregnant.

Fearing the worst, she bought a pregnancy test and watched the plus appear on the stick with no emotion at all. The idea of having a baby with Max would have filled her with joy back in November. Now it was all too clichéd. An old story. Another statistic.

She kept the news to herself. She knew exactly when she conceived because there was only one possible date. That put her due date around the end of August. She would graduate, leave town, and have the baby alone, starting a new life where no man would hurt her again. She would take refuge in a lab, building a career that would provide for her and her baby.

She already loved this baby. Max’s inexplicable behavior couldn’t change that. She thought back to that wonderful day at the mall, right before Max had changed toward her the first time. She had kissed him and seen a beautiful dark-haired girl, laughing happily as Max pushed her on a swing. Their daughter? She really hoped it was a girl, conceived in what Liz still believed in her heart was love of the deepest kind. It was beyond her imagination what had changed. One thing was sure. She would teach her daughter to take care of herself and to make people earn her trust. She wished she’d learned that lesson sooner.

This was not how her life was supposed to go, and she’d never felt more hurt, scared, and alone. But she refused to regret that weekend because if nothing else, she finally understood what it felt like to be in love, to be loved. If Max had chosen to run from it, it was his loss, but in her heart, she prayed for him to find them again. She was afraid the magic couldn’t exist with anyone else.


********
Danielle began with two people she knew she could trust. She herself injected Max’s evening drugs into a cotton ball and replaced the drugs the daytime nurse used with a harmless saline. Another friend, who tracked the electronic tapes that showed Max’s physical condition, substituted copies of older tapes for the current ones so that it looked as if Max was still being drugged.

Max did his part by concentrating on building his strength. Despite the onslaught of drugs, Max was regaining his strength and working on muscle tone. Ever since bonding with Liz, Max had felt extraordinarily strong and centered. He hadn’t taken time yet to see what, if any, effect that had on his powers, but he knew now was the time to find out. Those and the element of surprise were all he had.

Danielle had told Max that they were only one floor underground. Directly above them was an abandoned warehouse. No physical damage he could do would harm anyone, as long as she could clear the six or so people who would be in the facility at any given time. During her evening shifts, she would bring Max small objects to work with: small rocks to blast—anything larger would make too much noise—and medical carts to push across the room with his mind. Max did all of these things with practiced ease, but these simple tasks were only marginally impressive. He had no idea what to expect from Vilandra.

“What powers does Vilandra have?” Max asked one night when Danielle came to bathe him. “Have you ever seen her do anything?”

Danielle paled. “Only once. Derek failed to detain you before you went to Chicago. She was . . . displeased. She . . . she melted him. And it must have been painful, because you could hear the screams upstairs.” Her wide, frightened eyes pleaded with Max. “You have to win against her, Zan. If you don’t, we will all suffer that fate.”

Max swallowed, but his mouth was too dry and the effort burned. He knew she was right. “If she’s so powerful, why did she wait until now to capture me? I’ve been walking around unguarded for 22 years.”

Danielle shrugged. “She’s been looking for years. We assumed it was hopeless and didn’t give the possibility that she would find you much thought. You’re a hybrid, and you wouldn’t be sending out the unique signature that a full-blooded Antarian would. But then, after Thanksgiving, she was beside herself with excitement, saying your life force had been boosted somehow—strengthened. She was finally able to sense you after all this time. We didn’t know whether to believe her or not, but she zoomed right in on you. She knew where you were every moment from then on.”

Max didn’t need to think twice to know what changed at Thanksgiving. Liz. He had felt from the first moment that she completed him, made him stronger. Evidently, that wasn’t just a state of mind.

“So this is one of her powers, too? Detecting life forces?”

Danielle nodded. “It’s very rare.”

A terrifying thought shot through Max. “Danielle, she won’t be able to find my wife and daughter, will she?”

“Is your wife human?”

“Yes.”

“Then she won’t find her. Human life forces are too numerous to sift through, although Liz’s is probably much stronger now. But your daughter . . .”

Max couldn’t breathe. He had endangered a daughter he hadn’t known he’d conceived and who he may never see. His second act as a father could be to target her for death . . . or worse. He could feel the anger in him banking in powerful waves. No matter what, he wouldn’t let that happen.

“You realize, I don’t even know if I am Zan, Danielle. I’ve never even heard of Antar, and I had no idea there were others like me. But I promise you, I will win, or die trying, and if it goes badly, run. Leave Phoenix, all of you, and make new lives somewhere else. My sister will help you any way she can. If nothing else, Vilandra and this place will be badly damaged when I’m done.”

As the drugs left Max’s system, he was finally open to Isabel’s desperate search to find him through dreamwalking. When she first made contact, she was almost hysterical with relief. She had feared the worst, and it was all she could do to keep from letting the panic show in the outside world. Their parents were getting angry at his lack of contact, but Isabel was lying like crazy, she said. Michael was with her, too, she told him, and they just needed to know where to come to help. Oh, and Liz had called several times after Thanksgiving, but not in the last few months.

Max didn’t hear anything after that. All he could think of was Liz. What must she be suffering? What must she think of him? She thought he had abandoned her, and with a child! He hadn’t even known if he could conceive with a human, but whether he’d thought of that or not, the sudden passion that had consumed them had left no room for reason or caution. They had been in another plane, another dimension where the physical had been subjugated to the emotional, the spiritual, and neither of them had been aware of reality at all. He fought off the guilt and frustration, knowing it would only distract him from what he had to do.

Isabel finally succeeded in getting Max’s attention once again, asking for whatever he could tell her about his location and the details of the facility. She promised that she and Michael would come as soon as possible, and wanted to know how they should proceed. Max wrestled with his answer. It seemed as if Vilandra was unaware of their existence, and he didn’t want them stepping into this if she was truly powerful enough to melt with a look or a wave of her hand. On the other hand, if she could detect his daughter, she probably already had his sister and friend in her sites, the back-ups in case he died on her or proved otherwise useless. Besides, she might not be able to defeat their combined force.

He made a quick decision. He told them that only Michael was to come, and that Isabel, should they lose this showdown, was to help the others in this facility to get away. Then, she was to go to Liz, personally, and tell her about them, about what happened to him, and make her believe that he never left her, that she was the love of his life, and if it were possible to do so, he would watch over her forever. Isabel protested the second assignment, but Max refused to tell them where he was until she promised. And he knew she would never break a promise.

When Max felt he was as ready as he could get, he took a moment to pray. He’d never been sure about a God before, especially a benevolent one, but he was willing to meet one halfway, if it was out there to be negotiated with. He knew that no prayer had ever gone up with more urgency than this one, and if that didn’t do it, well, . . . he just didn’t know what would. But the prayer was simple: keep Liz and their baby safe. And if he was allowed any more than that, let him make it back to them. In exchange, he would be the most devoted husband and father the Earth had ever seen, and his daughter would know that God listens to prayers. No small promise for an affirmed agnostic. Once he felt fully focused, he nodded to Danielle.

“Let’s do it,” he told her, and she gave him a thumbs up. A nod out the door sent the second person that Danielle had recruited to Vilandra’s dark and intimidating “meditation room” to announce that Max had finally succumbed to “ICU psychosis,” a mind-altered state resulting from chemical imbalance due to constantly interrupted sleep. This was the final piece of the puzzle; all else was ready. She needed only a beaten and disoriented Zan to accomplish what she had started so long ago. It was time to pay him a visit.

The aging and bitter old woman entered the room with authority and waved Danielle off. Max went into his act, pulling against the restraints, which Danielle had loosened, and crying helplessly.

“The great Zan, reduced to diapers and tears. How the mighty have fallen.”

Max tried not to react to her taunts. He was supposed to be helpless, addled. Vilandra stepped closer.

“I finally have you where I want you. You’ll be like a lamb to the slaughter, dear Zan. Docile and obedient. And on the trip home, I will wean you from your drugs so that when we reach Theron, you will once again be strong but in chains. I will present you to the council as my offering, and my place among the rulers of the system will be secured.”

“The swords are silver,” Max babbled, “and must make holes in the sky!” He began to laugh maniacally.

Vilandra shook her head with disgust. There really was very little satisfaction in taunting a man who was nothing but a pile of incoherent mutterings. She closed the space to his bed. “Too bad. You would have been a worthy enemy, but I couldn’t risk getting you to the ship at full strength,” she mused. “Especially if you knew your sister was coming along for the ride.”

Max’s eyes sparked at her words and she cackled. “There’s something of you left in there after all, isn’t there?” She reached out to touch him. He was still beautiful.

Suddenly, Max’s hand escaped from the loosened bands and sent her flying across the room. She hit the wall but landed firmly on her feet, eyes fully alert, a half-smile on her face.

“So, the lamb is a lion.” A fireball hurtled toward Max and he instantly shielded himself, pushing it back toward her with his mind. With lightening speed, she sidestepped it, and it blew a singed hole in the wall.

“I see you have a few tricks up your sleeve, Zan. I’m much less disappointed now, even though it does call for a slight change of plans.” The room began to heat up and Max could feel the sweat break out on his face; breathing became an effort.

“I’m of no use to you, Vilandra. What would the council want with a long-dead king who wants to live a mortal life on Earth? I have nothing they want.”

Her eyes sparked with anger. “Not true, Zan! The bounty on your head is high indeed. Your return is worth a lifetime of power.”

“Not any more, Vilandra. You are on your own. They’ll laugh at you. You will find only ridicule and contempt.”

Her eyes blazed with anger, and the pain began to lick at his skin, as if flames were encasing him. His breathing grew more labored and he knew he was in trouble. Vilandra, however, seemed completely unaffected.

“You have become weak and mired in the insignificant people of this world. You know nothing. We’ll see what they have to say when I return their enemy’s precious king with his mortal wife and halfbreed child. They will no doubt be enslaved or perhaps become consorts to the council’s baser whims.”

“How do you know about them?” Max shouted, feeling a powerful energy building. “Ahhhhhhhhh!!!” A primal yell erupted from Max and he saw Vilandra’s eyes grow wild. A brilliant light was emanating from Max’s body, intensifying until it focused in a narrow beam and shot across the room, slicing through her with laser precision. Her mouth sagged on one side as she folded into a heap on the floor. Michael burst through the door, hand extended and ready to fight. When he saw Max sagging back against the bed, he rushed to his side and reached to steady him.

“Ow! Damn, Maxwell, your skin is on fire! Is she dead?”

“I think so. I’m not sure.” His knees gave out then, and he fell against Michael. “Check her, Michael. I don’t trust anything about her.”

Michael approached her cautiously, arm still extended. He kicked the smoking remains and they turned to dust beneath his foot.

“Shit, Maxwell, what the hell did you do to her?”

“I honestly don’t know, Michael. I think we may have a few powers we’ve never needed before. All I know is, she mentioned capturing Liz and the baby and I just sort of exploded.”

“Baby?” Michael’s attention was now totally on his friend. “What baby?”

Max smiled for the first time in months. “Liz and I are having a baby. A daughter.” Then the smile faded. “If she’ll still have me.”

posted on 30-Aug-2002 8:40:15 PM by Carol000
ACK. Double post. Sorry.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 30-Aug-2002 8:41:49 PM ]
posted on 2-Sep-2002 12:35:39 PM by Carol000
Happy Labor Day, folks!

Well, as promised, here's the next part of Dreamer Holidays: Labor Day. We won't make it quite as far as the actual labor today (although in the story, that will take place on Labor Day), but we will reunite Max and Liz. *happy*

Many of you have asked some good questions. First, EVERYONE has been surprised by this turn of events. I can't tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but the part about it that makes me laugh is that all of you are relieved that it's "only" evil, life-threatening aliens that have come between Max and Liz and not a misunderstanding LOL! What's REALLY funny is that I wrote it that way because I couldn't stand it the other way either! *big*

As for Vilandra/Isabel. As you may have noticed, much about the mythology in this story is different from the show. For instance--no childhood M/L pining and NO T***! And I'm not binding Isabel up with Vilandra either. I just chose an evil female alien that we could all recognize. We're done with bad guys and on to romantic fluff again. That's what DH is for, right?

Again, this is in TWO posts:

Part 4

It was June. He’d lost 6 months of his life to an alien has-been with delusions of grandeur. Most of the dozen aliens who had been forced into serving her maniacal scheme were surprisingly like Max. Dreams of distant planets no longer pulled at them. Their lives here. They weren’t even very interested in Max. Alien kings were irrelevant to life on Earth, and that was the life they were ready to embrace. Danielle, however, had become intrigued with the gentle king who had offered himself up. True, he had his own reasons, but he had also offered them help no matter what happened to him, and his devotion to his wife and unborn daughter had touched her.

When he had asked her what her plans were, she had to admit she didn’t know. For now, she just wanted to have some down time to enjoy her son and make good decisions. She gave Max a phone number, and offered whatever help she could. He had given her a hug then, a very unkingly thing to do, and thanked her with such sincerity that she’d fought yet another flood of tears. She wished for him the life she knew he desperately wanted.

Max was beyond desperate to find Liz. He couldn’t bear the thought of what she’d been thinking all these months, and the icy fear that she would never let him back into her life kept him anxious and jumpy. He had to fix this, and he didn’t even know where she was. He also knew he had fences to mend with his parents and his ASU advisor, both of whom must be furious about his abandoning them without a word. As frantic as he was to find Liz and explain all the secrets of his life, he knew those loose ends, especially his parents, would hamper his efforts to find her. And he couldn’t afford any more roadblocks.

The more Max weighed the alternatives, the more convinced he became that there was only one right course of action. They had to tell his parents. He’d always fought against the idea, afraid of their rejection, afraid of the danger it could bring. But now, he had a better handle on things. To begin with, he felt any danger that existed from the alien side was over. Apparently, Vilandra was the one last vestige of the hunt. Max, king of Antar—if that’s who he truly was—no longer existed. The danger from humans—the government, over-zealous scientists, reactionery citizens—was real, but he couldn’t fathom his parents betraying them, knowing how he and Isabel would suffer at their hands. And if they couldn’t accept him as family anymore, well, Max had a new family—at least he hoped he did—and he intended to encourage Isabel and Michael to open themselves to the same possibility.

Isabel cried with relief, having wanted this for so long, and Michael was finally convinced to accept their wishes. They promised to leave him out of it, if he wanted, and he accepted their offer. He wasn’t ready to share that with anyone just yet. So it was Isabel and Max who fixed dinner for their parents the next night and talked til dawn about their origins, their questions about themselves, their special gifts, their gratitude for a family, and Max’s recent disappearance. Every emotion played out in the Evans household that night—disbelief, anger, hurt, awe, protectiveness, horror at what Max had been through. There was no doubt they were shaken to their very core. They had been handed a new universe, and it didn’t bear much resemblance to the safe and familiar one they had called reality all of their lives. It took some sleep and more hours of talking before Max felt he really saw acceptance in their eyes. The one thing that had never been absent, though, was their love. He realized now that no matter what he had told them, their love was unshakable.

Could Liz possibly feel that way, too?

It was only when everything they knew about themselves was out in the open and aired thoroughly that Max broached the subject of Liz. This was almost harder because this wasn’t really an alien thing—a bizarre set of circumstances over which he had no control. This was about meeting a girl one day and having unprotected sex with her 3 days later—sex that resulted in a baby that no one would have said they were ready for.

The fact that Max had fallen in love warmed their hearts. He’d been determinedly alone for so long. But his lack of control was beyond their comprehension, and they wrestled with their doubts about a girl who would let that happen and their worry for her health and the baby’s. What could be different about this pregnancy? Was she taking care of herself? Where was she?

Max was impressive with his defense of Liz and his oath to find them and formalize the family he felt they already were. He tried to explain the overwhelming attraction they had felt, and unashamedly described how their bond had far surpassed the physical. It was almost a spiritual experience. In spite of the shadow of skepticism he could see in his father’s eyes, they accepted his sincerity. In the end, they offered him the most valuable gift of all: their love and their help. When Max left, Isabel was beaming with relief and excitement, and he was glad that part of her burden had finally been lifted.

********

“Jason, it’s Max.” There was a stunned and heavy silence on the other end of the phone. “Jase, I know you think I’m scum right now, and I don’t blame you. I promise you, I will tell you what happened someday, but right now, all I want is to find Liz. Do you know where she is?”

“What makes you think she wants to be found, Max? She hasn’t heard from you since Thanksgiving, for god’s sake. I never had you pegged for a bastard, Max, but you did one slick imitation.”

“It’s not how it seems, Jase. Honest. I didn’t run out on her, and I need to find her now

“You don’t even know the whole story, Max. You might be walking into more than you bargained for.”

“If you mean the baby, I know already. I want them both, Jason. I love them. I’ve been through hell, and I won’t rest until I find them. Do you know where they are?

Jason listened to the desperation in Max’s voice. He’d either gone completely crazy or he meant what he said. Jason didn’t want to see Liz hurt any more than she already had been, but it wasn’t his decision to make.

“I’ll call her. If she wants to see you, I’ll call you back.”

Max sagged against the doorway. “Jason, what if she says no? I have to explain what happened. She has to hear what I have to say before she decides.” His breath hitched in his throat. Jason recognized the small sound from their youth, from times when Max was trying not to cry. He thawed a little.

“You sound bad off, man. What did happen to you?”

Max had anticipated this question, and he had an answer ready, but now that his parents knew the truth, the secret seemed heavier than ever before. Maybe the whole family should know. If Liz and his baby—his part-alien baby—were going to be part of this family, maybe they should all just know. But that was another group decision, and one he couldn’t make alone just now.

“Jason, I swear, I want to tell you the whole ugly story, and I will, but it’s too long and too crazy to explain now. I have to find Liz.”

“You said you’d be good to her, Max. You weren’t.”

Max blinked back more tears. “Nobody knows that better than I do, Jason, but you’ve got to believe me. It wasn’t within my control. I would never have left her if I’d had a choice. If you tell me where she is, and if she’ll have me, I’ll marry her, Jase, and we’ll have that baby together, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to her.”

This sounded like Max, the Max Jason had known his whole life. He believed him. He just hoped he wasn’t making a terrible mistake.

“She went home, Max. Home to Roswell. She’s with her folks.”

A sob of relief echoed in the phone, and Jason knew he’d done the right thing.

“Thank you, Jason. Thank you.”

The phone went dead, and Jason replaced the receiver. He wondered what Liz would do.

********
If “beam me up” had been in Max’s repertoire, he would have transported to Roswell on the spot. As it was, he raced to the airport and bought a ticket on the first flight to Albuquerque. The wait was interminable, and he didn’t even know if he could find a puddle-jumper to take him to Roswell, but if not, he’d rent a car. Damn! He couldn’t rent a car at 22! Oh, 23. He’d had a birthday while Vilandra had held him captive. No matter. You had to be 25. He pulled his license out of his wallet and brushed a hand over it. 26. Yeah, that should do it.

He fidgeted during the entire flight, enough so that the attendants were starting to keep an eye on him. Then he was uncharacteristically aggressive getting off the plane instead of waiting for all those in front of him to take their turn. Bounding into the terminal, Max took off, relieved that he’d thought to pack only a carry-on bag instead of checking any luggage.

As he flew down the escalator and headed toward the exit door, a familiar voice penetrated his goal-oriented haze.

“Max!”

Max turned, almost annoyed at the interruption. Jogging toward him was Michael.

“I thought you might need some wheels.”

“How did . . .?”

“Isabel called,” he said simply.

Max nodded at his friend gratefully. “Then let’s burn rubber, my friend,” he urged, already headed out into the sunshine.

Conversation was impossible as they sat astride Michael’s Harley and barreled down Interstate 25. Max was just fine with that arrangement. No small talk. He could concentrate . . . some more . . . on what to say to Liz. He’d written a h undred opening lines and played out a dozen different scenarios, but the fact was, he had no idea how to start this conversation or how Liz would react. He just prayed it would come to him when he got there.

********
He approached the large window at the entrance to the café. It’s cattywampus flying saucer sign with the blinking lights would have made him smile on another day, but he only noticed them long enough to establish that he was in the right place. It was dark, and the lights inside the café gave him a perfect view.

His heart leapt into his throat when he caught sight of her. She was wiping down tables, working to reach the far end without bumping the swell of her belly against the edge of the table. There in front of him was his soulmate and the daughter they had made together on the best night of his life. She looked even more beautiful than he remembered because now she was real again. Now he didn’t have to rely on memory and imagination and wishes.

But he did have to deal with more guilt. She looked tired. His wife—he couldn’t stop thinking of her that way ever since Danielle had asked him if he were married—with her degree in microbiology, was bussing tables. That’s not where she would have been today if she hadn’t been stranded at O’Hare Airport at Thanksgiving. She would be doing an internship somewhere and planning her move to graduate school in the fall. Now there was no internship. No graduate school. And a very different fall.

He stepped from the shadows into the light of the canopy and stopped. A man with longish hair and kind smile walked toward her and took the rag from her hand. He pushed her gently into a chair and kissed her forehead. Dad. That was one person Max was sure would not be happy to see him. He stepped back into the shadows and waited until the man had disappeared behind the swinging doors in the back. Then, steeling his resolve, Max stepped into the Crashdown Café.

She didn’t notice him at first as she cleared dishes from a booth. Then she straightened and stilled, as if she were listening for a distant sound. Slowly, she turned to face him. It wasn’t shock so much; she seemed to sense him standing there. It was more like overwhelmed. He saw a light in her eyes and her mouth formed a silent “oh,” but the pain . . . oh the pain! He could almost hear the questions ricocheting in her mind: What’s he doing here? Should I trust him? Should I even talk to him? Is he here because of the baby? Did he even know about the baby? Will he run, now that he’s seen me? Where the hell has he been?

They stared, unblinking, for long seconds. Then he took his first steps toward her. “Liz. Oh, Liz! Please let me explain.”

“Max,” she whispered, and fell to the floor in a dead faint.

A customer yelped in alarm, and another called loudly. “Jeff! It’s Liz! Get in here!”

The man Max had seen earlier raced through the doors and fell to his knees next to Liz.

“Liz, honey! LIZ! Somebody get me some water!”

A patron rushed over with a glass of ice water, and Jeff dabbed his dish towel into it and began dabbing it all over her face. Max watched in horror. He had caused this! And at the very least, he should be checking her. But how could he get in there?

“Call 9-1-1,” he ordered, rushing to her side. Startled, Jeff let him take the cloth and begin to administer to Liz. Then he obediently ran to the phone to call the paramedics. Less than a minute later, he was back, demanding to know who Max was.

Max looked him straight in the eye. “I’m the baby’s father.”

First the color drained from Jeff’s face; then the blood came roaring back, turning it a violent crimson.

“Get out! Get out now! I never want to see your face again! And if you so much as look at Liz again, I’ll have you arrested!”

Max should have expected that reaction, but it still shook him. Aside from the fact that Jeff Parker had no grounds on which to have him arrested, knowing that the other man in Liz’s life hated him on sight was more than a little intimidating.

He backed off for the moment. Getting Liz taken care of was priority 1, and a scene between her dad and him wouldn’t accomplish that. Trembling with fear for Liz and the baby, not to mention the adrenalin from a confrontation with her father, he retreated to the shadows outside again, and watched as the ambulance arrived and took her away, Jeff and a woman—her mother, he presumed—at her side. He could tell she had regained consciousness and was protesting the trip to the hospital, but her parents insisted, as he would have, and the sirens wailed.



posted on 2-Sep-2002 12:37:07 PM by Carol000
********

She awoke to a rare feeling of well-being—warm, safe, and comfortable. The remnants of her dream drifted through her thoughts. Max had come back to her! The very thought filled her with excitement and anger and hurt and joy. But in the dream, she never got to ask him why he’d abandoned her. If only one could control dreams. She sure would’ve liked to hear the answer to that one. In spite of everyone telling her what to do and how to feel, she couldn’t hate him. What they had shared had been magical, and every beat of her heart knew it wasn’t one-sided. He had been as swept away as she was. Something had taken him from her, and one day, she would know what it was.

Her hand drifted down over her belly, a frequent habit now. She felt so much love for this little one already. She gasped in shock as her fingers made contact with human flesh, and her eyes flew open. Jarred by her sudden movement, Max woke with a start, and looked around wildly. Then he focused on the huge, disbelieving eyes of his love.

“Max! You’re here! It’s really you! What are you doing here? Where have you been?”

Max watched helplessly as her eyes glowed with happiness only to be dulled with pain and doubt. He glanced toward the doorway, hoping her reaction hadn’t alerted a nurse. He’d snuck in after seeing the Parkers leave without her, and crawled onto the bed, holding her close and checking her for injury. He’d fallen asleep to the warm, rhythmic hum of his connection with his daughter. It was a life-changing experience.

“Liz! I’m here. I’m not leaving. I’ll never leave you again unless you ask me to. I swear, Liz, I didn’t choose to leave you. I could never do that. God, I have so much to tell you.”

He searched her face for any sign of her willingness to hear him out. He was distracted when he saw her rub her belly anxiously. A smile wiped away his fear for a moment and he covered her hand with his.

“Our daughter seems to be doing well,” he said gently, a hushed awe blanketing his words.

“Daughter? What makes you think it’s a girl? I haven’t even let them tell me.”

“It’s a girl, trust me,” he assured her. Then he met her eyes again, realizing that trusting him wouldn’t come easily anymore.

“Men’s intuition?”

“No, absolute fact. And how I know that is part of what I need to tell you. It’s a long, bizarre story, Liz, but I beg you to hear it before you throw me out. When I’m done, I’ll leave if you say so.”

Liz studied Max’s face. He looked desperate for her to give him a chance. The look on his face when he had closed his hand over hers, touching the place where their baby—their daughter?—was growing within her, had been incredibly tender. This was an integral part of who he was to her—gentle, caring. Standing before her was the man she’d fallen in love with, not the one who had disappeared from her life for six long months without a word. She couldn’t send him away without hearing what he had to say. And if she were honest with herself, she could barely imagine sending him away at all.

“Do you love me, Max?”

He was momentarily struck by the simplicity of her question. She had a way of always finding the simple truth in the most complex situations. He saw no point in making his answer any more complicated than her question. Simple truth.

“Yes.”

“Then tell me what took you so far from me, from us, that I haven’t heard a word in six months. You found out about the baby, and still you didn’t come. You somehow discovered we were having a daughter, but still you kept your silence. Explain that to me, Max, because I can’t imagine anything that would have kept me from you.”

Okay, they were apparently done with simple questions. In spite of her calm demeanor and her gentle eyes, he knew she was filled with pain and hurt that he’d put there. It was time.

“Liz, I’m going to tell you everything. Until this week, I’ve never told anyone what I’m about to tell you. This may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but if you can accept what I’m about to say, I promise you I will never leave you again.”

The fear in his eyes flowed into hers, and she felt her stomach clench in protest. She managed a slight nod. He pulled up a chair to her bedside and took her hand in both of his.

“Here goes,” he sighed.

“Back in November, when we had that late-night talk in Jason’s family room, I told you there might be things about me you couldn’t accept. When I came to your room, I started to tell you my secret, but I never got further than ‘I’m different.’ You touched me then, kissed my neck, and I was lost in you, Liz. I can barely think straight when I’m with you. I’m not talking about just lust. What I feel for you—what I felt that night we made love—was a total bonding. I can’t even find the words to explain it, but I wanted to be a part of you and I wanted you to be a part of me. I was transported somewhere . . . somewhere . . . it felt like home, Liz. Being with you is like coming home for me.”

She could understand exactly what he was talking about because she felt those same inexplicable feelings when she was with him. All of this felt familiar and natural. But it didn’t explain a damn thing. She brushed away a tear, and waited.

“I am different, Liz, more different than anyone you’ve ever met.” He held his breath and felt an urge to run, right then, before he took his first step down that path of no return. But she was watching him with such emotion, afraid to hear but afraid not to. He let the breath out.

“The straightforward answer to your question about what happened to me is, I was kidnapped.”

Her eyebrow arched and he could see her fighting the skepticism. She wanted desperately to believe, but kidnapped? Why didn’t the family know?

“I can tell you’re having a hard time believing that, but Liz, that’s the most believable thing you’ll hear tonight.”

“Max, I don’t understand. Why weren’t people out looking for you then?”

“No one knew I was gone. They couldn’t know. I wasn’t be held for ransom; it was something else entirely.”

He fell silent again, realizing the magic words were not appearing as scheduled. “I guess there’s no other way to say this than . . . to just say it. Liz, I am a survivor of the 1947 crash outside Roswell.”

Now both eyebrows arched, but she kept silent.

“My sister, Isabel, and I . . .” He quickly decided against mentioning Michael, since Michael had declined to be included in his explanation to his parents. “. . . we grew in pods hidden deep in the desert for 40 years. When we emerged, looking like six-year-old children, the Evanses found us walking naked along the road—no speech, no idea what had happened to us—but we could communicate with each other telepathically. As we grew and became socialized, we lost that ability.”

He stopped for a moment to see how she was doing so far. He thought he felt her trembling a little.

“Are you okay, Liz? There’s lots more, I’m afraid.”

Tears started to form in her eyes. “Max, why are you saying this? Why not just tell me the truth? I want to believe you, but . . . you’ve either gone a little crazy or you’re telling me this wild story in hopes that it will distract me from the fact that you disappeared from my life without a word. Believe me, Max, this story is not helping your cause.”

Max sighed in frustration. Why would she believe this? He wouldn’t!

“We can’t get anywhere unless you accept what I’m saying. Let me prove it to you.”

“How?”

The bandage on Liz’s forehead from where her head hit the floor caught his eye. He grabbed the mirror from the tray table. “Hold this so you can see your forehead,” he instructed her. While she looked, he carefully removed the bandage to reveal an angry looking abrasion. He winced when he saw how raw it looked. That was his fault, too.

Lightly touching her wound, Max whispered, “Look at me.” Her gaze moved up to his face, and she watched a brief moment of concentration cross his face. “Now look.”

Liz looked back in the mirror and gasped. Her fingers flew to her forehead and she pressed the clear skin that had replaced the scrape. “How did you do that?” Her wide eyes swung back in his direction, a look of surprise and wariness hovering there.

“That’s one of my gifts, Liz. I can heal certain things. It’s not like a fountain of youth or anything, but I can heal injuries and sometimes diseases if the rest of the body is strong enough.”

Liz checked back in the mirror. “What else can you do?”

“I can connect with people.” At her questioning look, he hurried on. “Right now, if you’ll let me, I’ll connect with you. I think at some level, that’s what happened the night we made love—we not only joined physically, Liz, we connected at a much deeper level. I know you’ll always be a part of me, now, as I will you.”

She nodded, as if instinctively understanding the truth of his words. “This connection won’t be so . . . extreme . . . but I can help you to see parts of my past that will make you understand that I’m telling the truth. My sister, Isabel can talk to you, too, if you want.”

Liz gave a slow nod of permission, locking her eyes onto Max’s as if ready to bolt if he so much as blinked wrong.

“I have to touch you.”

Another nod.

Max cradled her face in his large hands. “Just let your mind blank out.”

The next thing Liz saw was a slideshow of childhood memories, school, family—she thought she may have even spotted Jason at an early age—and then her. She saw herself through Max’s eyes. How he loved her! Right from the start! Their lovemaking soared inside her mind and she longed to close her eyes to savor the memory, but she couldn’t break her lock with Max. Faster and faster they came. Images of a little girl flashed by just as other images began to intrude—horrible images of Max strapped to a table, hypodermic needles, an old woman with a vicious, evil face . . .

“MAX!” Her head pivoted away and she squeezed her eyes shut, shaking now.

“Liz! I’m sorry, I tried to stop the images before you saw that. Liz!” He pulled her close and soothed her, rocking slowly and murmuring his love. Eventually, she pulled back, searching for some explanation besides the possibility that this could be true.

“What was that?”

“This is so complicated, Liz. I don’t know that I should try to tell you all of it at once . . .”

What was that?

So he began, slowly, calmly telling her all the pieces of his mysterious life—what he knew of it—and all that had happened after he’d left her in Evanston. He told her how he had avoided relationships with any woman, afraid that was somehow forbidden to him, and how that had been easy until he met her. Then all his resolve had flown out the window with one mind-blowing look. He told her how there were others like him he’d never even known about, and how they had Danielle to thank for his life. He tried to explain what he understood of Vilandra and her delusional scheme, and how somehow their joining . . . bonding . . . act of love—he struggled to define all that it had meant to him—had somehow completed him, made him stronger, and therefore easier for Vilandra to find. Her threat against Liz and the baby had caused power he never knew he had to boil up and converge in one powerful blast. And finally, he told her how he and Isabel had, at long last, let his parents in on the truth.

By now, he was back on the bed, Liz’s head on his shoulder, her small hand fisted in his shirt.

“Liz, you know what kept me going through all those months? You. The thought of you, Liz. Those few days with you saw me through months of despair and confusion. Your love led me back here, to you.”

Once he’d finished, he waited for her to say something. She was quiet for so long, he began to wonder if she’d fallen asleep again. He hoped not. He didn’t think he could do this again.

“You’ve been through hell, Max.”

“Yes, but I’m in heaven now—if you’ll let me stay.”

Liz stroked her stomach. “What about the baby? Is she . . . alien?”

Max rubbed her stomach, too. “Some, I guess. Which means we should have someone who knows about these things keeping track of this pregnancy. In a way, maybe there was a purpose behind all this, because now I know someone who really can help take care of you. You really shouldn’t go back to your regular doctor, Liz. I’m mostly human, but with some pretty radical differences. If any of those show up in the baby, it could mean we’d lose each other for good.”

Liz shivered at the thought of what the wrong people could do to her baby. To her Max.

“What should we do, Max? I have no idea what to do.”

Max slid down so he could look at Liz’s face. He dared a kiss on her cheek and wanted to jump for joy when she didn’t flinch away from him.

“Here’s what I really want, Liz, but it’s all up to you. I want to marry you, right away. I want to take you back to Phoenix where my parents and Danielle can help take care of you. Danielle is a nurse; she’s been caring for hybrids and humans for several years. Once the baby is born, we can go wherever you say. You can go to grad school, or I can, or we both can. It doesn’t matter as long as I’m with you. I love you, Liz. I love our little girl.”

“Can you see the future? Like Danielle?”

“No. I wish I could, but she saw us together and happy with our daughter, Liz. I hope she saw a real future, and not just a possibility.”

They lay there for several minutes. The level of activity in the hall was increasing. Soon nurses would be coming in for vitals and breakfast would be served.

“What are you thinking, Liz?”

Liz picked up Max’s hand and examined it, as if she’d never seen a hand before. Then she raised it to her lips and kissed the palm with such tenderness, Max could feel the tears sting his eyes.

“I found the love of my life last November, Max. In my heart, I’ve been keeping a small flame of hope alive that I would find you again. That you would want me . . . and our baby. I can’t pretend that I don’t have about a thousand questions, and I still can’t believe this is all true. But I know I love you. So much so that I’m going to take a chance that you’re not certifiable. That you’re a perfectly rational, honest, loving . . . alien.”

She looked startled, as if she couldn’t quite believe what she’d just said. Then she fell back against his chest. “So many questions.”

“Ask, Liz. There’s nothing I won’t tell you.”

“Why did you suddenly bolt that day in Victoria’s Secret. I mean, I know you were spooked about falling in love, but why at just that moment?”

He smiled, remembering that day so vividly.

“You were walking around the store touching all those silky things—sexy things. I kept envisioning you wearing them, especially the silk teddy, and I wanted you so much, I was shaking. I looked down, and my fingers were glowing! That had never happened before, and it scared the crap out of me. I was afraid someone would see me, but I was more afraid of what my wanting you so much might do to you. If my fingers glowed just wanting to touch you, what would happen if I made love to you. I couldn’t chance it.”

She raised up on one elbow and looked at him, the first amused look he’d seen since last November. “You did chance it, Max. Quite enthusiastically.”

Max nodded, feeling more than a little guilty about that. “I still think about what might have happened. I truly lost control, Liz. One world disappeared and another materialized in my mind. I was somewhere completely different with you, somewhere so safe and loving—I don’t think I realized what was happening until it was over. I never intended to make love to you without telling you about me. And I never intended to give you our child—not yet, anyway.”

A cart banged into something in the hall.

“Let’s blow this popstand,” Liz whispered conspiratorially.

“Liz! No! What if they need to run tests or something?”

“I’m fine, Max. Didn’t you check me out?”

“Yes,” he admitted, feeling very iffy about stealing Liz away from the hospital. He felt sure she and the baby were fine, but he also knew Liz’s parents would have him shot if anything happened to her.

“Liz, your father . . .”

“You let me worry about daddy,” she assured him. “I’ll think of something. Meanwhile, you better figure out how we’re getting to Phoenix!”

********
“It’s really not up to you, Daddy,” Liz said calmly. “Max has explained everything to me, and I’m satisfied that he didn’t just take off of his own free will. I just can’t tell you his reason; it might endanger too many people.”

“What, like the Witness Protection Program or some government conspiracy? Even if that’s true, Liz, that’s all the more reason to avoid him. He’s trouble, and he’s going to put you and the baby in danger.”

Liz watched her father pacing. She understood his concerns; they were real and grounded in his love for her. Her mother was faring a little better, anxious to see her pregnant daughter properly married to the father of her baby.

“Dad, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m convinced it’s safe now.” She put a hand on his arm as he passed, and he stopped.

“I love him so much, Dad. I wouldn’t be in this situation if I didn’t. It is love. And he loves me. He risked a lot to find me again and to confide in me. We’re going to be okay. His parents have a big house where we’ll stay until the baby is born, and then we’ll go about deciding what to do about school and jobs. But I promise you, we’ll be back to see you with the baby as often as we can.”

Her heart went out to him as he bit back rare tears. She knew this looked like impulsive folly to him. There was just no way to make him understand, so she would have to wait him out.

“I love you, Dad, Mom. You’ve been the best parents in the world. I wouldn’t hurt you for anything. Please, trust me. I’ve never gone off the deep end over a guy before. I know what I want. I want Max. Please be happy for me.”

Her mother pushed past her father and enveloped Liz in an emotional hug. “We only want you to be happy, Liz. You’ve always made us so proud.”

“I know, Mom, and I hope I still can. You’ll love Max once you get to know him.”

Liz heard her father snort loudly behind her. It was going to take some time.

posted on 3-Sep-2002 9:21:23 PM by Carol000
Just a quick note:

The "conclusion" will post tomorrow, but the more I read the ending, the more I think it screams for an epilog. Some friends have been suggesting a nookie epilog, and that could happen, but I also think we need to see a little bit into the future with some other folks (more on that tomorrow night *wink*).

Anyway, I will post tomorrow, but there may be a short epilog after that.
posted on 4-Sep-2002 10:29:06 PM by Carol000
And finally . . .

Well, I promised you the conclusion tonight, and get it you will, BUT it's REALLY long. It's honestly two parts stuck together, just so I wouldn't be a liar! This will either take 2 or 3 posts.

Some of you have asked about Maria and Kyle and Alex in this story. Obviously, none are featured. ONE of those will appear in this part, though. Take a guess now and see who's right!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELEVNDREAMSTOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This one's for you . . .

Part 5


“I do.”

“You may kiss the bride.”

Max leaned in to kiss his wife, his beautiful, strong, brave, incredible wife. As he closed his lips over hers, his hips grazed her slowly expanding belly and he almost laughed out loud with happiness. He had gone from the depths of despair to the rarified air of bliss in a few months. His good fortune at finding Liz and—more implausible—receiving her understanding and forgiveness was beyond his wildest dreams, and now they were finally free to live their lives together, as a family.

Family. He had a family. That’s another thing he had never dared wish for. And although Liz’s father was a far cry from welcoming his new son-in-law, he had accepted Liz’s decision rather than lose her and his access to their first grandchild.

This day was only the latest in a parade of perfect days. The two lovers had wasted little time getting reacquainted. They spent hours talking about anything and everything, each wanting to know every thought, dream, and experience the other had ever had. They made love every day, as if making up for tragically lost time. Max had worried at first that sex could hurt Liz or the baby, but Danielle had assured them that as long as Liz was comfortable, and Max didn’t put direct pressure on the baby, they were fine. That had opened the floodgates to the urgent need for each other that lived in them always. Now, sharing the bodies and hearts and minds, unrestricted and carefree, they approached each day as the precious gift it was.

The last few days, though, they had succumbed to the predictable flurry of last-minute arrangements and time-honored, if nonsensical, tradition. Liz had acquiesced when her mother urged her to spend her last two nights at home. She felt she owed her parents that small token of respect at least, and she rather liked that slightly desperate look on Max’s face, too! She loved how he loved her, needed her. It made up for so many long, lonely nights and bleak, hopeless days. She had a new life now, more exciting and fulfilled than anyone would ever know, and she was completely in love with her new husband.

The late June day was brilliant with sunshine, and the small chapel, tucked into the hills outside Flagstaff, had been the perfect setting. They had wanted a very small and understated wedding. At first, Max worried that Liz was “settling” for the modest affair, but she had convinced him—very thoroughly, in fact—that all she cared about was being with him, and that the last thing they needed was a lot of attention. He happily agreed.

Her eyes shone, and his face was barely wide enough to contain his smile as they turned to greet their families. The Parkers, including Jeff’s mother, Claudia—Liz’s favorite and most cherished relative—were surrounded by Max’s somewhat larger family, including his parents, sister, and the whole Evans Chicago branch. Michael and Danielle hung back, feeling somewhat apart from the close family scene. Eventually, though, Max made his way toward them, pulling them both into the warm atmosphere of caring. Michael embraced his best friend, fighting off his reservations about the path Max had chosen, and eyeing Jason nervously as he grabbed the bride and kissed her soundly. Max looked on with that broad grin still in place, though, and pulled his cousin into an excited bear hug. It had been Jason, after all, who had introduced them.
“Jase, I wish we had time to talk,” Max said sincerely. “I know I owe you an explanation.”

Jason looked at his cousin and his close friend, bursting with happiness . . . not to mention a new baby. “I can’t wait to hear it, Max, but Liz looks convinced, and that’ll have to be good enough for now,” he smiled. “I have to fly to LA in the morning, anyway. I didn’t make a big announcement because I didn’t want to steal your thunder today, but I might have a TV series!”

“Jason!” Liz screamed, leaping forward to hug her friend again. It was getting darn hard to do that, too, she thought. “That’s incredible! What happened?”

Jason couldn’t help the smile that lit his whole body. “Evidently, one of the creators of this new series went to Northwestern as an undergrad. He was a guest speaker at some event last spring and saw me in a show. I went out for an audition, and now they want me back to talk about a deal!”

“I’m so happy for you, Jase,” Max beamed. “Looks like we’ve all got what we want.” He pulled Liz close and gave her a soft kiss. It was meant to be brief, but it was just too easy to let the world fall away when they loved each other.

“Max!” Uncle Brad interrupted, not embarrassed in the least. “Save some for the honeymoon, Max,” he teased. “So did Jason tell you his news?”

Max reluctantly broke off the kiss, but he kept his bride close by his side. “He was just telling us about it. So what’s the premise?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “Okay, don’t judge too quickly,” he explained. “I’ve read the pilot and I think this show might really have something, but the premise sounds a bit dorky.”

Everyone chuckled, having gathered around as the excitement in their small circle became obvious. “Okay, it’s called ‘Area 51’ and it’s about the government cover-up after the Roswell crash.” He looked self-consciously at Liz’s family, feeling pretty sure they’d heard more than enough about that crash over the years. “I get to play an alien, but not a weird species or anything; I’ll just look like me—ya know, your typical blond, blue-eyed alien. In fact, I fall in love with a human girl.”

Half the group was laughing; the other half stood with smiles frozen in place. The tension hung like a canopy as the more informed members of the group stole a look at Max and Isabel. Then it broke, as quickly as a twig snapping, when Max began to laugh . . . and laugh . . . and laugh. Pretty soon, Liz was giggling and then Diane and Philip joined in. Even Isabel’s smile turned real again, and Danielle snickered. Michael watched in horror that turned to contempt that turned into a reluctant grin. Danielle caught the look and started to belly laugh, which got Michael laughing, too.

Jason watched with confusion and a little dismay as the hilarity escalated. Finally, Max took pity on him and covered their tracks.

“I’m sorry, Jason,” Max snickered. “It’s just funny because Liz and I spent a lot of time in Roswell talking about just such a scenario, didn’t we, sweetheart?”

Liz nodded, still chuckling over the irony of it all.

“And then we all got into a debate about it over dinner the other night, right?” He prodded the others to respond with his look, and they all agreed.

Jason looked relieved. “Well, maybe people will be willing to watch a story about it then, huh?”

“Absolutely,” Liz assured her friend. “I can’t wait.”

After a chaotic frenzy of hugs and good wishes, they escaped into the hills and an isolated bed and breakfast. Later that night, after a sumptuous dinner, Max emerged from the shower to find Liz propped up on the multitude of pillows decorating the king-size bed. She looked like an angel. He remembered having that same thought amidst the fog of their first encounter. An angel. She not only looked like one, he mused, she was one. She had saved him from a life of loneliness and isolation. He knew he’d never even be sure if he could have summoned the awesome power that exploded from him against Vilandra that day if it hadn’t been for his violent determination to protect her.

“I’m lonely,” she sulked from under sultry eyes.

Max took in a sharp breath, feeling his natural response to her. “God, you’re beautiful, Liz. I’ll never get over having you as my wife. I want to take you everywhere, show you everything, buy you everything. . . . I’m so happy, Liz . . .” His voice broke with emotion as he reached for her, pulling her up to him, kissing her with such reverence, she felt like a rare porcelain doll.

“Make love to me, Max. . . . I want you inside me. . . . I want to feel you . . . lose yourself in me.” Her words were delivered in staccato phrases, and he could feel the pulse in her neck racing against his shoulder. Liz slid her hand over his hard length and his world began to unravel.

He cupped her small butt in his large hands and gently pressed her toward him. The baby was not letting him get close enough.

“I don’t want . . . to hurt you . . . or the baby. . . . When did . . . Danielle say . . . oh god! . . . we’d have to stop?”

“Not until the last month.” She began to suck on his earlobe. “We have all of July.”

“Are you sure?” he asked in a husky I-couldn’t-stop-now-if-I-wanted-to voice.

Liz pulled back, and sent him a penetrating look that broached no argument. Then, as Max supported her, she stood on the bed and lifted her nightgown over her head. Her breasts were already swelling in readiness for their child, and they tempted him at eye level. His mouth was on her in an instant and he took his time, marveling at the constant changes in her body. Her reaction to his meandering tongue and tender nips told him how ultra-sensitive she was to his touch now, and he used his power to full advantage.

He stretched her out on the bed like a fragile princess and began to work his magic on her. The sight of her, naked and flushed with lust, the evidence of their love rising and falling with every breath beneath her full breasts, drove him wild. He barely knew where to start. He wanted to worship every inch of her.

His assault took him up the inside of one arm, tending to the sensitive skin with his lips and tongue. He slowly made his way toward one nipple, sucking slow and hard, then drawing lazy circles around the darkening areolas. His other hand teased and tweaked the other nipple, and he gloried in her writhing, demanding more of her until she moaned beneath him. As he straddled her, his eager erection pushed against her stomach and his first precum gushed from his body. He was already so close!

Then Max Evans had the single most amazing experience of his very amazing life: his daughter pushed back. He froze, not completely sure he’d felt what he thought he felt. His eyes locked with Liz’s, and they shared one of those intimate moments only expectant parents can share: they played with their unborn baby for the first time.

He watched Liz’s stomach bulge and scoot and ripple with activity. He laughed, more delighted than he thought it possible to be. Then he bent low and murmured against Liz’s belly, telling his little girl how much she was loved and how wonderful her life would be. She fell still, listening to her father’s voice, until he stopped, and then she eagerly sought him out again. Max placed his hand against Liz’s skin and watched in amazement as it began to glow. He gasped in astonishment and pulled his hand away. Then, with a brilliant smile on his face, he returned his hand to the same position. This time, he let the glow continue. His eyes met Liz’s.

“She knows us,” he whispered, more in awe of this little life than of anything he’d every seen or done.

Liz watched the exchange between her daughter and her husband, her heart swelling with love for both of them. She was part of a miracle, and she was sure there was no greater love anywhere than what she was feeling for these two people at this moment. Max’s face was alight with joy and love; it was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. Their daughter was radiating a warm peace inside her, and Liz had never felt so wonderful.

The baby settled down, having greeted her parents for the first time, and Max turned tear-filled eyes to his wife.

“I love you,” he sobbed.

Liz could only sniff back, her shining eyes answering him with no reservations.

Suddenly, she wanted him. Desperately. It was as if the emotion of the moment was so powerful, so overwhelming, there had to be a physical release for it. She pushed Max to his back and sat astride his hips, watching with a smile as his softened member leapt up to meet her, already pressing at her entrance.

“Looks like I have your attention again,” she teased him, noting the sexual glint returning to his eyes.

“You never lost it.”

Liz shifted forward so that her hands bracketed his shoulders and her warm, moist center enfolded him. Rubbing herself up and down his length, her juices coated him in seconds, and she slid furiously against him, already feeling the pressure begin to build.

He leaned up to capture a tantalizing breast into his mouth and felt another warm spurt trickle over his aching flesh. He was about to cum.

“Liz!” he cried, hoping she would instinctively know what his brain couldn’t articulate.

She lifted and came down on him, never breaking her rhythm of rapid strokes. He opened his eyes and saw her full and loving body pumping with abandon and radiating pleasure. He was gone. He shot into her, rejoicing as he felt her throb against his pulsating climax. Her long, low moan kept him cumming, an unprecedented release, and the two collapsed in a pile of sweat and happiness.

Mr. and Mrs. Evans had officially consummated their new lives together.

********

Something about first-time fathers is just adorable. At least that’s what Liz kept thinking as she watched Max worry and read and fuss over her in the weeks that followed their honeymoon. The bedroom they shared in his parents’ home had a bookshelf. Gone were the novels, how-to book, and biographies. Now the shelves brimmed with books on childbirth, caring for newborns, raising smart toddlers, dealing with teens, and one—very large—medical dictionary.

In addition, Max insisted on monitoring her diet, helping her with pre-birth exercises and Lamaze breathing, and accompanying her on every visit to see Danielle. When she tried to tell him to settle down, he refused to be hushed.

“Vitamins are very important, Liz. The baby needs huge amounts of certain nutrients.”

“I know, Max.”

“And the exercises will help you during labor and delivery. Your body will be using muscles it almost never uses unless you get them ready.”

“I know, Max.”

“And I need to come with you to Danielle’s because you’re in a very emotional state right now—hormones, you know—and you might miss something important. I have to be there to make sure we get it just right.”

Who is emotional, Max?”

At his perplexed look, she always burst out laughing. Then he’d look hurt, like she didn’t appreciate him, and she would spend the next hour convincing him that she did. Oh, how she did!

She found a friend and mentor in Diane Evans. They had much in common, being new to the whole alien reality. And then, of course, there was motherhood. Liz noticed a certain sadness when Diane spoke about not being able to have children, but then her face would light up as she recalled finding Max and Isabel and taking them into their home and their hearts. They had been the light of her life, without doubt, in spite of the shock she’d received when she and Philip had discovered that the universe is a very different place than they’d imagined.

Max was taking one class, slowly working to finish his degree, and when he had to be gone from the house, Diane would entertain Liz with photo albums, stories, family memories. Liz was getting a whole new look at her husband as he grew up, and in a way, so was Diane. Everything had a different lens on it, now that she knew some of the circumstances and pressures that influenced everything Max and Isabel did. She wished fervently that she’d known back then. She could have done so much more to reassure them and help them through the difficult childhood they had endured alone.

But that was the past, and the future was a very different matter—full of new family memories based on a deeper understanding and a more honest love.



posted on 4-Sep-2002 10:30:58 PM by Carol000
********

August had come and gone and still no baby. Labor Day weekend was upon them, and on Sunday, Diane prepared a delicious picnic buffet in the backyard. Danielle and Zach were invited, too, and Zach had run off to play fetch with Fabio along the back border of the property while the hamburgers and brats finished on the grill. As they all relaxed in the comfortable lounge chairs, conversation turned to Danielle’s past.

“I wasn’t so alone as you two were,” she told them, looking at Max and Isabel. “There were eight in my grandparents’ ship, I think, and they were meant to serve as advisors for the royals who had been sent in another ship with their guardians. Technology, politics, general education, that sort of thing. My grandmother was a doctor and my granddad an aeronautical engineer. They were completely loyal to the royal family, and when the news came that your ship had crashed, they were devastated. Their whole purpose for being here had been destroyed, and their hope of developing a strong and educated community that could return to Antar was gone. Antar was struggling against the greedy and violent factions festering on the other planets in the system, and the adults in our group were torn about what to do next. Max, you died during one last attempt to settle the disputes peacefully, leading a summit meeting that turned into an ambush. Isabel and Michael lost their lives then, too.

“That’s when the Antarians pulled out all the stops and tried the experimental technology that resulted in you three being sent to Earth as Antarian/human hybrids.”

“Michael?” Liz asked, looking to Max for confirmation. “Michael is one of you?”

Max’s mouth twitched uncomfortably. He nodded. “When Isabel and I finally decided to tell Mom and Dad the whole truth, Michael asked to be left out of it. He wasn’t ready to deal with the kind of backlash he expected us to face. So when I told you, I honored his request. But yeah, he’s the third. And until this year, I thought we were the only three.”

“You are, in a way. At least of your generation. The rest of us are full-blooded Antarians, and only a couple of us have had children with humans, like Zach. You are still unique, even in our world.”

Max didn’t know how he felt about that. He really didn’t belong anywhere, did he? Just a freak on two planets. What did that make his daughter? Maybe he was really just meant to have died!

Liz watched the clouds mask Max’s usual open and loving face. She rose from her chair and settled her tiny bulk on his lap. His arms slipped around her automatically, but he was still lost in his own brooding when he felt Liz’s lips graze his forehead.

“Hey,” she murmured. “No self-doubts, okay? I, for one, thank God you’re here, just as you are.”

He looked hopefully into her eyes, ready to be convinced that what she said was true. He wasn’t disappointed. Her love for him radiated from her every minute they were together, and he felt foolish for even letting a shadow of doubt cross his mind. Appeased and embarrassed, he glanced at Isabel. She was watching the two of them with a faint sense of longing. He hoped she was ready to break her own rule and open herself up to love.

Returning his attention to Danielle, he asked, “What happened to everyone, and where is Zach’s father?”

Danielle hesitated, the pain of more recent memories still difficult to discuss.

“My grandparents raised their children in an isolated community just off one of the reservations where things were still pretty undeveloped. Several died of natural causes, since living here was something of a strain on their systems, but many of the kids married between families, having had little exposure to wider human society. Finally, though, they ventured out and began having families of their own, easily passing themselves off as typical couples. But a few years ago . . .”

Danielle squeezed her eyes shut and sighed heavily. “A few years ago, Vilandra came. A few of my generation had already married—in some cases, humans—and a couple of us even had children. Vilandra approached our parents first about helping her find the royal survivors. When they refused, she wiped them out. Just . . . killed them . . .”

She began to cry, and Max gently lifted Liz off his lap and went to her.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” he comforted, fervently hoping she could find it in herself to tell the rest. This was all so new, but it’s what he needed to know, as did Isabel and Michael.

“No, Max. I want to finish,” she sniffled. “It’s important that you understand.”

Max returned to Liz, and they settled in again.

“The rest of us knew the same fate would befall us if we refused to help. We figured there was no one to find anyway, and if it kept our families safe, it was worth it. But she insisted on putting together that facility where you were taken, Max, and she made us go through drills and follow her orders to the letter, always with that unspoken threat against our loved ones.”

Anger had replaced grief in Danielle’s eyes, and her hatred of Vilandra was more palpable than Max had ever seen it.

“Sometimes she’d run those drills at night, saying we had to be prepared at all times. My husband, Andy, became suspicious—I never told him about Vilandra. He called the hospital one night when I was supposed to be on night shift and I wasn’t there. The next night, he followed me. He burst into the place demanding to know what I was doing there.”

Liz watched Danielle’s fists begin to clench and unclench.

“She killed him on the spot! She just blasted him into a wall and killed him! And then she told me that if I valued my son’s life, I’d better not let anything like that happen again.”

Danielle almost catapulted out of her chair. “Thank God she’s dead,” she cried out, beginning to pace. “I hate what happened to you, Max, but if you hadn’t been captured, we’d have lived like that forever. And Zach would have been the next generation under her thumb. She was crazy!”

Her outburst having run its course, she turned apologetically to Diane and Philip, who were spellbound and dazed. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t mean to ruin your holiday.”

“You didn’t,” Diane answered automatically, always the gracious hostess.

“What’s burnin’?” Zach came running back to the group with Fabio at his heels.

All eyes swung to the grill where billows of smoke rose toward the sky.

“The food!” Philip shouted, racing for the water spritzer.

“That’s not gonna do it, Dad,” Max assessed. “Hang on.”

He raised the lid to the grill, swept his hand above the surface, and the flames died out. They all stood in a circle, staring with resignation at the blackened cinders that represented their dinner. Diane groaned.

“Now what are we going to eat. Everything else is ready.”

“Well,” Max proposed, “I can’t unburn the meat, but Iz and I can heat up hotdogs in a hurry.” He grinned at his mother and she couldn’t help but grin back.

“I may find some real uses for your “gifts” after all, little ones,” she teased, and they followed her into the kitchen. Soon they were wolfing down ordinary hotdogs with plenty of fixins and enjoying every bite. Liz was especially hungry, and Max’s eyes grew wide as he watched her take seconds of everything.

It was just as well. It would be quite a while before she got another meal.

********

That night, Max was a basket case. It was as if he was getting vibes about the baby coming. Or, it could just have been that the baby was a couple of days overdue and the tension was killing him. In either case, he packed and unpacked the bag Liz would take to Danielle’s, who had set up a birthing room for them. When she’d first shown Max the room, he’d examined it thoroughly, finally pronouncing it sterile and comfortable. Since then, he’d called Danielle every day asking if they should come over, if there might be something wrong. During each visit, he’d reexamined the room again, “just to be sure.” And when he’d asked Danielle if she’d ever delivered an alien hybrid baby, she rolled her eyes at Liz and smirked. “Well, at least one. His name is Zach.”

Max had looked embarrassed for a moment, and then pushed on through their chuckles with the next round of questions. He was a man on a mission, and he would do it right or die trying.

“Were you late with Zach?” he wanted to know.

“A few days, yes, Max. Many first-time moms are. It’s very common.”

“You’d know if there was something wrong, right?” he asked for the hundredth time.

“She’s fine, Max. As long as you don’t count Antarian Pre-partum Syndrome.”

His eyes grew wide and he whirled around to face her. “Antarian Pre-partum Syndrome? What’s that? Will it hurt her? Does she have it? How can you tell?” He began to check Liz for signs of the disease—even though he had no idea what those signs might be—when he heard fits of giggles from the two women. Danielle slumped against the edge of the table, and Liz rolled to her side holding her stomach and gasping, “Don’t make me laugh!”

Max fixed them both with threatening glares, which only set them off again. Pretty soon, he was grinning, too. How could he resist the sound of such happy laughter?

After that, Max had made a concerted effort to control his anxiety. But tonight was different. Tonight, he was just jumping out of his skin with nervousness. He saw Liz eyeing him. “I just love you so much, Liz, and this is not a typical pregnancy. I can’t stop worrying.”

Liz brought her hand up to his face and stroked his cheek lovingly. “I wouldn’t have you any other way, Max. You’re my life . . . you and the baby.”

Max sighed happily. “Let’s go to bed,” he suggested, seeing the weariness in her eyes. But he did take a minute to peruse the overnight bag one more time and set it by the door.

Two hours later, Max sat straight up in bed. Liz was sleeping peacefully at his side, but he had an undeniable urge to wake her.

“Liz, LIZ! It’s time. Wake up, it’s time!”

“What?”

“The baby’s coming,” he whispered loudly. “We have to go to Danielle’s!”

“Max,” Liz sighed sleepily, “that’s my line. Don’t you think I’d know . . .?”

Liz’s eyes grew wide and she stared at Max, confused. “My water just broke. How did you do that?”

“I just felt it. I think she told me,” he smiled, excitement replacing the fuzziness of sleep. “Let’s go!”

Liz dressed quickly while Max pulled on his pants and went to tell his parents they were leaving. Minutes later, bag tucked securely behind the seat, Max settled Liz into the front passenger seat and trotted around to the driver’s side. Hand on the gearshift, he threw out the clutch and started to move the car forward. Then, abruptly, he stopped.

“Max?”

Max turned to his bride and pulled her face to his for a sweet, gentle kiss. “I love you, Liz Evans. I will be the best husband and father I possibly can. And no matter what our future holds, you will always be first in my life.”

After weeks of nervousness and over-preparation, Max was finally at peace. On the brink of a new phase of his life, he felt in total control—calm, confident, committed. With Liz beside him, there was nothing they couldn’t handle.

He noticed the hint of nervousness behind Liz’s loving expression, and he kissed her lightly again. “She’s fine, you know. Healthy and strong. We’ll meet her in a few hours.”

Liz’s lower lip began to tremble. Was there such a thing as too much happiness? She slid her arms around her husband’s neck. “I love you, Max.”

They cherished their last few minutes as just a couple. Then, with full hearts, they pulled out of the driveway, ready to meet the child who would make them a real family.

********
Max pulled into Danielle’s driveway and frowned. “That looks like Michael’s motorcycle. What’s that doing here?”

He helped Liz out of the car and grabbed her bag. Danielle was standing in the doorway. She’d been preparing things since they’d called a few minutes before.

“Whose motorcycle?” Max asked, as they slid past their midwife.

“Mine, you moron. You’ve only seen it about a hundred times,” Michael answered, his voice gruff with sleep.

“Michael? What are you doing here?”

A meaningful look passed between Michael and Danielle, and Max’s mouth fell open. “Are you two seeing each other? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You seemed a little . . . excitable lately,” Danielle answered. “We thought maybe you had enough to deal with already.”

“But . . . when? How did this happen?”

“Hello?” Liz interrupted. “Woman in labor here.”

Max almost tripped over the bag in his rush to get to her. “Liz, I’m sorry! I was just . . . did you know about this?”

She winced slightly and held her side, then chuckled. “Max, you’ve been hovering over me for weeks. Let’s keep that going for another few hours, okay?”

Max blushed guiltily and then, with a “we’ll talk later” glance at Michael, he helped Liz toward the back bedroom.

********
It was hard to tell if the next few hours were harder on Liz or Max. At first, while the contractions were mild, Max methodically coached Liz through the breathing and even had the naiveté to think this might not be so bad. Then they got stronger.

By 4 centimeters, Liz was working hard, and Max paled every time he watched her begin to tense up, fighting to relax against the pain. A couple of times, he just plain forgot to coach her breathing, and he would find himself holding his breath as she looked at him anyway.

By 6 centimeters, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Danielle, can’t I do something more? Can’t I somehow dull the pain or speed this up or anything?”

Danielle’s heart went out to him. She knew more than anyone else how he felt about Liz. She’d been blown away by it when they connected, and it was powerful.

“Well, sometimes I’ve seen the fathers share the pain a little, just to keep the mother from getting so tired, but I’ve never had a hybrid-human combination before. I don’t know if you can.”

Hope shone in Max’s eyes. “Yes! How do I do that?”

“Just take her hand when the contraction starts and internalize your connection.”

He nodded and took Liz’s hand. Another contraction was on her immediately. Max concentrated, easily opening his connection with Liz, when an excruciating spasm hit him. His body reeled backwards as the pain twisted his insides unmercifully, forcing a gutteral cry from his throat. He determinedly hung on to Liz’s hand, gasping in pain, until it finally subsided. He was panting and disoriented for a minute, then looked at Liz, whose face was more relaxed than it had been in hours, but shadowed with concern.

“Max! Don’t do that. It looked like it almost killed you!”

Max looked at Danielle in confusion. “Is that what she’s been feeling? She goes through that every couple minutes?”

He was angry at what this was doing to her, awed by her ability to keep going, and scared to death of the next one. The thought was hardly formed when the next one came. He concentrated again. This one was just as bad . . . worse . . . longer . . . oh god! Sweating now, he looked at Liz again. Her eyes were filled with love and concern . . . and firmness.

“Max, stop. I need you strong and ready with our daughter arrives. I can’t take care of both of you.”

“She’s right, Max,” Danielle admonished gently. “You can share some of the pain to help her along, but you can’t do this for her. Don’t you know women are tougher than men?”

He blinked. “I do now,” he panted.

After that, Max slowly learned to take on only a portion of the pain each time, and they both looked more in control. Liz squeezed his hand. “Thanks, Max. I love you.”

“I love you,” he whispered, swabbing her forehead with a cool cloth.

Around 8 centimeters, he remembered that one book had said massage was sometimes appreciated. He and Liz had enjoyed long, tender massages on occasion, and always with a very satisfying ending, he reflected with a smile. So he began to rub her back gently, imagining the relief it would bring her.

“Max?”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Touch me again and it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.”

Max froze, stunned by her words. It was so cold. So threatening. So unLiz! He looked helplessly at Danielle, who was trying not to smile.

“Don’t take it personally, Max,” she chuckled. “She’s in the last stages now, and not responsible for her temperament. Just do what she likes and don’t do what she doesn’t like and you’ll be fine.”

Take some of the pain but not too much. Don’t massage. Remember the breathing. Damn, this was confusing. And tiring!

CONTINUED in next post on p. 8


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 5-Sep-2002 2:27:07 PM ]
posted on 4-Sep-2002 10:33:02 PM by Carol000
NOTE! This is the third post of 3 for the Conclusion--don't start reading here. Go to p. 7.

Then he looked at Liz, perspiring, her dark hair curled in little wisps around her face, her eyes closed for a blissful moment of rest between contractions. If he was feeling like this, how must she be feeling? He loved her so. It was hard to imagine that the love they had felt so strongly, so inexplicably, so intensely that one night had led them here. He was minutes away from meeting his daughter, and he was sure his heart would burst from his chest.

Liz’s eyes flew wide. “Max!”

Max grabbed her hand and concentrated. This was different. Something had changed.

“This is it, Liz!” Danielle called through the pain. “Push, honey. Max, help her sit up further.”

Max went into automatic. He bent to support Liz’s shoulders and helped lift her torso while she pushed. This was so different from practice!

“I see the head!” Danielle announced. Max thought he might throw up with excitement, worry, overwhelming emotion, but he couldn’t let that happen! Who would help Liz? He had to hang in there.

Contraction over, Liz fell heavily back onto the bed, panting. Max pressed his lips to her forehead. “You’re doing great, Liz. Just great! I’m so proud of you. This is so amazing! I love you so much. I love our daughter, too.”

That’s all he got out before Liz was struggling to push herself up again. Minutes later, a perfect, dark-haired angel emerged from inside Liz Parker Evans, and the happy tears flowed unashamedly. Max looked with wonder at the tiny creature he and Liz had created, and trembled as they put her on her mother’s abdomen. Liz looked up at her husband.

“She’s here. She’s really here,” she choked out through a dry throat aching with pent-up emotion. They counted fingers and toes, stroked the dark, sticky hair, marveled over the tiny hands and ears and feet and legs and arms. Every inch of her was beautiful, a miracle, a feat of nature never before accomplished. At least that’s how they felt as they fell deeper in love with her . . . and each other.

“Michael! I need you!” Danielle called.

Michael’s head appeared in the doorway, looking flustered and wary.

“What?”

“I’ve just cut the cord. I need you to take the baby into the bathroom. I’ve set up a small cleaning station in there. Do it just like I showed you last weekend.”

“HUH? You said you probably wouldn’t need me to do that. You said ‘just in case’!”

“I didn’t want to freak you out ahead of time,” she smiled. “But I still have to deliver the placenta and stitch her up. Unless, of course, you’d rather do that.”

At Max’s alarmed look, she laughed. “Just kidding, Max.”

“I could clean her up,” he offered, not too keen on a reluctant Michael walking off with his daughter.

“And leave Liz?” she countered, one eyebrow arched.

Max looked back at Liz who was still mesmerized by the squirmy little miracle in her arms, tears streaming down her face.

“You take the baby, Michael. Just be careful!”

Danielle laid the baby on a clean blanket and handed her over to Michael. “Support her head, now, Michael.”

“Whoa, gross,” Michael frowned as he saw firsthand the squirming, sticky-blue baby.

“Michael,” Danielle warned. “I showed you what to do. Now do it.”

Michael stepped obediently toward the doorway and rounded the corner just as the baby began to cry lustily.

While Danielle continued to work on Liz, Max stroked her hair, helping through a few more pushes to force out the placenta. Gazes locked, they communicated more loudly than if they had been speaking—love, relief, joy, thankfulness, triumph.

By the time Danielle finished with Liz, Michael had reappeared with a cleaner and quieter bundle. Max couldn’t help but notice how even Michael’s features had softened as he gazed upon his fragile charge.

He handed the baby to Max. She weighed nothing. She was just this perfect little package, light as a feather, sweet and peaceful. He held her as if she were made of glass.

“What if I break her?” he whispered, wondering if his hands were even capable of being gentle enough for such a treasure.

“She’s tough, Max. Be careful, yes, but babies can take a lot. Don’t be afraid of her.”

Danielle tucked Liz in and took a mental picture of these two already devoted parents. This would be a lucky little girl.

“What’s her name?”

Liz and Max looked at each other, smiling a private smile.

“We were thinking about Danielle,” Max ventured. “We could call her Dani.”

Danielle was completely taken aback. She had no control over the tears that spontaneously erupted.

“Are you serious?” she sniffled.

“Completely,” Liz agreed. “She wouldn’t have a father if it weren’t for you. You can be her honorary Aunt Danielle.”

Danielle nodded happily.

“What about a middle name?”

Max swung his gaze over to his best friend. “How about Michaela?”

Michael blushed, a rare event indeed, but shook his head. “Ah, no thanks, man. Save me for the boy, okay?”

Max and Liz laughed. “You win that bet,” Liz grinned. “That’s exactly what he said you’d say! In that case, we’re going with Claudia, for my grandmother.”

“Danielle Claudia Evans. Nice,” Danielle beamed.

There was a knock at the doorway. “Can we come in yet?”

Philip, Diane, and Isabel stepped quietly into the room, straining for a peek at the new member of the family. As Liz shifted her, she began to root, seeking out her mother’s nipple.

“Looks like we’d better make this short,” Diane laughed. “She’s beautiful, Max. Liz, we’re so happy for both of you.”

Philip patted his son firmly on the shoulder, trying hard not to let the tears in his eyes spill into plain sight.

“I have a niece,” Isabel breathed, smiling radiantly at the child. Any trace of concern about this baby’s birth was gone from her face as she gazed down on the happy new family.

“Hellloooooo!” called a voice from the front of the house. “Hey, Danielle, where are you? Look what I found littering your yard! Can I throw it out?”

This strange comment was followed by nonstop giggles.

“Back here, Alex!” Danielle called back.

Seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man stood in the doorway with a delighted Zach perched on his shoulders.

“What have we here? A new soul making a stop among us?”

Max’s eyes darted over to Danielle. He couldn’t tell if Alex was one of her Antarian friends or a human who knew about them or just a human friend. Danielle shook her head imperceptibly, which Max took to mean a human friend who didn’t know her history.

“Everyone, meet Alex. He’s a friend from work who is an absolute whiz with computers. He’s been upgrading my system and teaching Zach and me about all the software he’s installed. And yes, Alex, we have a new life to greet. Her name is Danielle Claudia Evans, weighing in at . . .”

She looked quizzically at Michael, who filled in the blank. “6 lbs., 7 oz.”

“And . . .”

“Uh, 19 ½ inches long.”

Max was impressed and grinned at his friend. Michael just shrugged.

“Time of birth was 3:17 p.m.”

“It’s tomorrow afternoon?” Max exclaimed. “We’ve been here 12 hours?”

“Not bad, considering,” Danielle laughed.

Dani’s cries became more insistent, and Danielle began to shoo people out of the room. “Snack time! Everybody out!”

Isabel was standing off to the side, watching Alex lift Zach from his shoulders. The two friends exchanged one of those five-step handshake rituals, and Zach’s eyes sparkled with adoration. Isabel found herself grinning at them.

“We’ll go home and make sure everything is ready in the nursery,” Diane called out. “You coming with us, Isabel?”

“Uh, I’ll stay and help around here for a bit,” she answered, still watching Alex. “I can probably catch a lift.”

Alex looked up, really seeing the tall blond beauty for the first time. His answering smile was all she needed to see.

Max waved, already turning his attention back to his wife and daughter. He watched in wonder as Liz pushed open the slit in her maternity gown and Dani began to suckle. There wouldn’t be much there for her yet, but for now, she was content. Would he always be a spectator of this unbreakable mother/daughter bond? Could a father ever be as much a part of a child’s life as the mother was?

Liz watched Max nudge at Dani’s tiny hand and saw her almost translucent fingers grip his firmly. As she did, a faint glow appeared where their hands met, and Liz’s eyes grew wide. She wondered if there would ever be a day when she wasn’t awed by something new and amazing that her husband or daughter did. Could she keep up with them? Would they share a world that could never include her?

As the glow receded, Max felt inexplicably calm and peaceful. He had such a strong sense of Dani, as if she had shared a small piece of her miniature self with him. A connection? Was that possible?

Liz felt a warm sensation penetrate and spread through her body as she nursed. When she looked down, she could have sworn Dani was looking right at her. Eye contact. Meaningful eye contact. Who was she kidding? Dani couldn’t possibly make an overt or conscious effort like that. And yet, she felt as if she had absorbed some of her daughter into her very soul. It gave her an incredible sense of well-being.

Liz looked up at Max. He was already watching her, a look of pure unadulterated happiness lighting his face, almost as if he were glowing from within. They leaned toward each other, anxious to make this first intimate contact after sharing a life-changing experience. Their lips touched lightly, and their future exploded before them-vague, ethereal images that left them with a sense of optimism and confidence. They would be wonderful parents, yes, but more than that, they would be friends and lovers as well. Their extraordinary love had created an extraordinary new life, but long after this child had taken her own steps out into the world, that love would bind their hearts.

Minutes later, Danielle tiptoed into the room. The three were sound asleep, bound together in a dream perhaps. Michael crept in behind her, encircling her with his arms and gazing on the beautiful family, too. Maybe someday. The world was a much different place than it had been a year ago. Hell, even a few weeks ago. Now there were reasons to laugh and things to do and places to be. He looked at Danielle. Maybe even people to love, he thought.

The two backed out of the room holding hands. And somewhere in a dream, Max smiled.



That's it, folks. Hope you enjoyed it. There may be a short epilog yet to come. Keep an eye out! And THANK YOU for the awesome feedback! It warms my heart.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Sep-2002 10:35:01 PM ]