posted on 6-Feb-2003 12:32:34 AM by McGees
Title: Wherever You Will Go
Author: McGees, aka Kate
Category: M/L almost exclusively, but the rest of the gang will be along for the ride
Rating: PG-NC17
Disclaimer: This is the sequel to Never Let You Down, taking place two and a half years after it left off. I recommend reading NLYD first, of course, because this story answers any and all of the questions. And it might even raise a few more!
No infringement on the title of Cookieman's "Wherever You May Go" is intended. It's based on a song with the same title. If it's a problem, please let me know.

And with that said, we're off!


1

“Goodnight comb and goodnight brush, goodnight nobody, goodnight mush.”

“How come him say goodnight to mush?”

Max Evans shifted his two and a half-year-old daughter on his lap, smiling down at her. “Good question, Peanut. Maybe it’s his favorite food.”

Hope considered this. “Like starberries is mine?”

“Exactly,” Max chuckled, turning the page in the worn book when Hope again interrupted him.

“I would say goodnight to da starberries, but Mommy ate em all dis mornin,” she continued, her face screwing up in exasperation.

Max had to stifle his laughter. Hope didn’t need to know that Liz had a little help eating those strawberries late last night.

“And…” Hope was prodding him, her chubby finger pointing to the words on the page.

“…goodnight to the old lady whispering hush,” Max quickly picked up. “Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.” He trailed off as Hope squirmed out of his lap. “Hope? What’re you doing?”

“Sayin goodnight to da stars,” Hope answered matter-of-factly.

Max nodded silently, easing out of the old rocking chair. He crossed the small bedroom, lifting Hope into his arms as they gazed out into the spring night.

“Goodnight stars,” Hope piped up, her nose pressed against the window. “Daddy, are dem gonna say goodnight back?”

Brushing her wispy brown hair off her face, Max kissed the crown of her head. “Look real hard,” he murmured. “Are you looking real hard?”

Hope nodded, her eyes squinted in concentration.

“Do you see the stars blinking, real far away?” He felt Hope nod against him. “That’s the stars waving. They’re saying goodnight to you.”

She turned to him, her caramel eyes sparkling. “Really?”

“Really.” Max kissed the tip of her nose. “And they’re also saying it’s way past your bedtime.”

“Dem didn’t say dat!” Hope giggled.

Max tickled her sides, sweeping her to the bed. “No, but I did,” he chuckled, settling her beneath the covers. No sooner had he sat down on the edge of the bed than Hope rolled over, searching beneath her pillow.

“Where Gucky?”

Making a face, Max reached beneath him and retrieved the worn stuffed duck. “Found him.”

“No sittin on Gucky,” Hope scolded, snuggling beneath the blankets again. Her face quickly broke into a sweet smile. “’Nother story? For Gucky?”

Max had to smile at her failed attempt to stay up. “Nice try, Peanut. I’m pretty sure Gucky heard the story from over here, right Gucky?” He made the yellow duck nod his head.

“Silly Daddy,” Hope giggled, reaching for the duck and settling him beside her. She stifled a yawn, but her heavy eyelids betrayed her sleepiness.

Max leaned forward, dropping a kiss on the little girl’s forehead. “Sweet dreams, Peanut. I love you.”

Hope yawned again, her eyes fluttering closed. “Love you, Daddy.”

Watching as she drifted off to sleep, Max couldn’t bring himself to leave just yet. He could sit for hours, just watching her. Just as he did with her mother. Liz. Max’s mouth curved up into a smile at the thought of his wife’s unwavering beauty. Their daughter had been graced with the same delicate features, the same chestnut hair and heart-melting smile.

When Max finally got to his feet, he turned back to the bed for a moment. With a raise of his hand, the little girl’s bed was, as she put it, ‘wrapped in a hug.’ Having just recently graduated to a ‘big girl’ bed, Max and Liz were still wary of Hope falling out. The shimmer surrounding the bed served as a power shield of sorts, keeping her safe.

Leaving the door open a crack, Max headed from Hope’s bedroom and down the hall to the living room. “How’s that lab coming along?” he asked, approaching the computer.

Liz pushed her chair away from the desk a little, sighing as Max’s fingers began kneading her shoulders. “Just about finished,” she said, her head tilting to the side as his hand crept up the column of her neck. “Is Hope asleep?”

“Definitely.” Max’s smile widened at the goosebumps raising beneath his hands as he caressed Liz’s neck. He really didn’t mean to distract her; he knew how important this lab assistant position was to Liz. She'd been a key player in strengthening the biology department at Southern New Mexico University in her years as a student there, and now she was a graduate student hoping to continue this as a professor one day.

But she was just…so…irresistible.

“Just a few more sentences to type up,” she mumbled, her fingers flying over the keyboard as Max’s hands continued to caress her shoulders and back.

“And then…?” Max’s voice was a mere whisper as he leaned close to her ear.

“And then I’m all yours,” Liz answered with a wicked grin.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Max mumbled, nipping playfully at her earlobe. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”

Liz sighed softly as her husband’s hands slid from her shoulders and she tried to focus on the task at hand. The current task at hand. She pushed her reading glasses up the bridge of her nose and resumed typing away on the keyboard.

Max heard her fingers flying over the keys, and he grinned to himself as he bustled around the kitchen collecting the papers he’d been looking over after dinner. His job as a middle school social worker kept him plenty busy, especially this time of year. With summer just around the corner, he was up to his ears in end-of-the-year case files. Even so, he loved his job.

The line of work he’d chosen was ironic – after all, this was the very role Kathleen Topolsky had played while working undercover for the Special Unit. He and the rest of the gang didn’t have much faith in the counseling department after that. Yet at the same time, his job made perfect sense. He was helping people – kids – every day. He knew, more than the students could ever realize, exactly what it was like to feel different, to feel like he didn’t belong. To be afraid of what others would think…to feel alone. And while he couldn’t solve their problems for them, he could be there. He knew that’s all the kids at that age really needed, alien or not – to have someone in their corner.

Once he had packed his bag and dropped it by the door, Max headed down the hallway and, after poking his head in to find Hope fast asleep he continued to his and Liz’s room. He’d just slipped into sweatpants and was in the process of pulling his shirt up over his head when he heard, “Hey sexy.”

Max glanced over his shoulder to see Liz in the doorway, a feral grin on her face. She nudged the door shut with her foot and moved to stand flush behind him.

“All finished,” she said, running her hands over his firm chest.

His response was a low groan as Liz scraped her fingernails over his nipples. “Good,” he managed, turning and swooping down to capture her lips. He backed them up to the edge of their bed, never releasing her mouth until they landed against the mattress. “I was afraid you’d be too tired,” he grinned.

“I was afraid you'd be too tired,” Liz returned with a giggle.

“Me? Too tired? Never,” Max declared, inching his hands up over the soft skin of her torso.

“Oh really?” Liz arched a playful eyebrow, propping herself up over him on her elbows. “What about when you were interning at the high school in Dexter? I seem to recall you passing out before I could even get undressed most nights.”

“That sonuvabitch advisor was working me ragged,” Max protested, tweaking her sides. “Besides, I distinctly remember one night when I was…you know…and I looked up to see if you were into it and you’d fallen asleep.”

“I was relaxed!” Liz defended. “And Hope was teething, so she was up half the night for almost a month.”

“Okay, okay,” Max chuckled. “Let’s just be glad things have calmed down enough for us to…enjoy our evenings together.”

Liz nodded emphatically, reaching up to squeeze Max’s groin through his sweats.

His eyes widened and he flipped her onto her back, snapping his teeth at her playfully. “And I was worried you’d be too tired,” he mumbled, grinding purposefully against her.

Liz bit down on her lower lip as she felt his hardening body press into her. “Are you sure…is Hope…”

It was Max’s turn to nod, his head buried in the crook of her neck as he sucked at her sensitive flesh. That was another advantage of the sheild – the moment Hope penetrated it Max immediately sensed it. This gave them a few hasty moments in which to control themselves before Hope knocked on the door – a simple blessing in itself that Max was glad they’d taught her at an early age.

And then Liz’s hands were pushing at the elastic waistband of his sweats, in turn pushing all other thoughts out of his mind. He raised his head to work at the buttons on the front of the shirt Liz was wearing. It was one of his work shirts, rolled to her elbows and bunching around her waist as he uncovered her naked breasts and silky underwear.

Liz shivered as Max’s hands skimmed along the curves of her chest, down her sides to the edge of her panties. She worked his sweats over his butt and to his knees, and then rolled him off of her. Straddling his midsection, she helped him kick the sweats aside and then proceeded to shrug out of the white shirt.

Max could only stare at his wife, the desire rolling through him as he took in the sight of her, cheeks flushed, hair cascading over one shoulder, bare breasts quivering in anticipation. It was a sight he was blissfully familiar with, but it never lost its awe-inspiring effect. “God, Liz,” he breathed, rubbing his hands over her naked thighs.

She merely smiled down at him, slowly removing the final barrier between them. Max groaned and Liz closed her eyes as she sank down over him, biting her lip as the delicious pleasure invaded her every cell.

As Max gazed up at her, Liz slowly lowered herself flush against his chest, leaving a trail of soft kisses over the warm skin of his chest, his neck, and his mouth. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips.

His mouth crashed against hers then, tasting, invading, making love to her everywhere. When she finally collapsed, sated, against his chest, Max rolled his equally spent body onto its side to hold her close.

“My Liz,” he murmured, tucking her head under his chin. “Sweet dreams.”


[ edited 5 time(s), last at 16-Feb-2003 5:14:26 PM ]
posted on 9-Feb-2003 12:31:47 AM by McGees
Thanks for your feedback. *happy* It was really nice people were looking forward to a sequel, because I am REALLY looking forward to writing it. I'm also really curious as to where you think the direction of this story is going...


2

“Hi Daddy.”

Max turned from the bathroom mirror to see Hope standing in the doorway. “Hi there, Peanut.”

“Mommy says come eat brefast,” she continued, studying him and the can of shaving cream in his hand. “What you doin?”

Max chuckled. “Shaving, silly. C’mere.” He hoisted her up onto the bathroom counter and picked up the can. “Hold out your hand.”

Hope grinned as a pillow of white foam squirted into her palm. She loved when Daddy let her help shave. She awkwardly patted the cream onto his face, making sure to leave a dab on the tip of his nose. Just in case. “All done, Daddy,” she beamed proudly.

“Thank you, Peanut,” he said, ruffling her hair and helping her off the counter. “Tell Mommy I’ll be right out, okay?” He watched as his daughter scurried out of the bathroom and then raised his hand to his face, dissolving both the shaving cream and his morning shadow. Sometimes it was so much easier to do things the alien way, especially with a wife and daughter waiting in the kitchen.

Satisfied with his shave, Max pulled on a green collared shirt, buttoning the front as he strode down the hall to the kitchen. Hope was already devouring a waffle smothered with syrup, and Liz was adding a spoonful of blueberries to hers.

Liz…who looked delectable in a tan blouse and a silky white slip, her hair twisted neatly away from her face. She was ready for work from the waist up, all she needed was a skirt to complete the ensemble. “Mmm, looks delicious, Liz,” Max commented, capturing her around the waist.

“Eggo.” Liz held up the box with a wink, understanding his double meaning. She managed a quick squeeze of his behind as she padded to the kitchen table in her stocking feet. “I’ll let you make your own, I didn’t know how long you’d be.”

Nodding, Max retrieved a plate and three waffles from the box. He waved his hand over them and followed Liz to the table.

She eyed the steaming plate and stuck out her tongue. “Cheater.”

“Whatever I have to do to enjoy breakfast with my girls before work,” he responded innocently, winking at Hope.

Hope grinned at him, syrup smeared across her face. “And I goin to see Gramma Nan and Grampa Jeff.”

“Just until lunch, baby,” Liz reminded. “Mommy’s got class early, and then I’ll come and get you and we get to spend the whole afternoon together.”

“Can we go to da carvinal?” she asked excitedly, her caramel eyes sparkling.

Max swallowed a forkful of waffle. “Not til this weekend, Peanut. We’re going with your cousins, remember? And Aunt Isabel and Uncle Jesse.”

“And Mikey and Ria?”

Liz and Max exchanged a look. “I don’t know, it depends on how Maria is feeling,” Max told her. “I’ll ask her today, okay?”

“Okay!” Hope answered cheerfully.

Pushing back her chair, Liz got to her feet and deposited her plate into the sink. “Finish your breakfast, Hopie. I’m going to iron my skirt and we’ll be ready to go.”

“I a’most done.” Hope reached for her cup, carefully gripping it with both hands for a drink of milk.

“Nice mustache,” Max teased, reaching over and tapping the little girl’s nose.

Hope giggled, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Silly Daddy.”

*****

Max tapped on the horn in front of the Guerin house, gazing at the closed front door. It finally opened and Michael appeared momentarily, indicating that it would be just a minute.

Sighing, Max shut the car off and headed up the front walk. He should have known. Stepping into the house, Max caught a glimpse of Maria as she whizzed down the hall. Michael stood near the front door, Maria’s bag in one hand and lunch in the other.

“Morning, Maxwell.”

“Morning,” Max greeted his boxers-and-t-shirt clad friend. Michael’s job as head chef of Roswell’s only sports bar and grill didn’t require him to be in for several hours, and he took full advantage of this. Except for lately, when he’d been trading an extra hour of sleep to make sure Maria was ready in time.

“I tell ya, she forgets more every day,” he said. “And how the hell am I supposed to know where her sight-reading quizzes are?”

“Found em,” Maria announced, appearing again from down the hall waving a sheet of paper. “I’ll have just enough time to copy these before first period.”

“Not if we don’t leave right now,” Max informed her, glancing at his watch.

“I just have to grab my – oh Spaceboy, you are the best!” Maria announced, spotting her lunch bag in his hand.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Michael muttered, but his pleased face gave him away as Maria stretched up for a kiss. “Have a good day,” he said softly. His hand strayed to her round middle. “And be good to your mom, you two.”

Maria’s gaze lingered a bit before finally stepping away. “Love you,” she murmured, finally noticing Max as he tried to avert his eyes from his friends. “Alright, let’s go. Only eight more days.”

“Ten, if you include the weekend.”

Maria swatted his arm and then turned to blow Michael a kiss as they headed out the front door to the car.

“Tough morning?” Max teased as he assisted Maria into the passenger seat, before quickly dodging around the car and missing her dirty look.

“You’d think I would have run out of places to lose things in that house, I’ve only lived there for nineteen years,” she lamented. “Then again, I didn’t have two extremely active fetuses taking over any semblance of my organization, so…”

Max chuckled. “You’ve only got, what, five weeks left?”

“Five weeks which, according to Isabel, were the two most hellish experiences of her life,” Maria moaned. “And she only had half of what I’m lugging around.”

“But you’re getting it over at one time,” Max offered helpfully.

Maria groaned and leaned back in her seat. “Don’t talk to me, you’ll never be pregnant.”

Max managed to stifle his laughter this time. She had a point there. As far as he knew, even alien hybrids of the XY persuasion missed out on that privilege.

*****

“Mr. Evans? Somebody’s here to see you.”

Max glanced up from his computer screen to see the 7th period student aid in his office doorway. “Send them on in, Clarissa,” he said brightly. He didn’t recall having any appointments after two, but then again sometimes teachers saved their traumas for the end of the day. It wasn’t uncommon for a student or two to appear in his office during the last period with a day’s worth of dramatics pent up.

As he was flipping through his appointment book, the sudden sound of little feet drew his attention to the door.

“Daddy!” Hope bounded across the small office and clamored into her father’s arms.

“Where did you come from, Peanut?” Max chuckled, tickling her sides and blowing a raspberry into her little neck.

Liz appeared in the doorway just behind Hope, a bright smile on her face. “Surprise,” she said as Max got to his feet and leaned down for a kiss.

“What are you two doing here?” he asked, bouncing Hope on his hip.

“Maria has an appointment this afternoon and I forgot that I offered to drive her,” Liz explained.

“So I gitta go home wif you, Daddy,” Hope piped up. She loved visiting her daddy at his school. Not only did she get to see him in the middle of the day and sit in his fun twirly chair, but she got to see the big kids. She just loved seeing the big kids. They were so…big. And important. She couldn’t wait to be a big kid like them. Her cousin Evan was bigger than her, but not that big.

Liz nodded toward the car seat just inside the doorway. “I brought it to put in your car. And there’s chicken thawing in the fridge for dinner, but I should be home way before that.”

“Got it,” Max said firmly. “Hope can help me finish up here and then we’ll head on home. You girls have fun, okay?”

Liz grinned. “Got it,” she repeated, leaning up on her tiptoes to give first Max and then Hope a kiss. “Hopie, be sure to tell Daddy right away if you have to go potty,” she reminded.

“Got it,” Hope replied seriously.

“Promise?” Max added. This whole potty-training thing was uncharted territory for both him and Liz. Hope was doing quite well for a not-quite three-year-old, but there had been, of course, plenty of accidents in the past few weeks. And while Max had at first attempted to use his alien powers to make cleanup a snap – quite literally – Liz had soon caught on and put an end to his ‘cheating.’

“If I have to do it, so do you,” she’d dryly informed him one morning over an armload of Hope’s damp sheets.

Once the bell had rung and Liz had left to meet Maria, Hope sat happily in Max’s chair while he refiled the cases he’d been working on. Hope chattered away about anything and everything from her day at the Crashdown, from helping Grandpa Jeff refill napkins and straws to the Cosmic Chicken Nuggets she’d had for lunch.

“It sounds like you’ve had a very busy day,” Max observed. When Hope nodded seriously, he continued, “You’re probably just too tired to go to one other place.”

“The carvinal?” Hope suggested, her eyes wide. “I never too tired for da carvinal.”

“That’s this weekend, Peanut,” he reminded with a smile. “I was thinking the park. The one by Grandma and Grandpa’s house.”

“Can we see Gramma Dan and Grampa Phil?” she asked, hopping off the chair.

“I don’t know, Peanut, they might still be at work,” Max admitted, zipping his bag closed.

Hope sighed dramatically. “Okay. We can just swing den.”

“Deal.” Max swung his bag over his shoulder and reached for Hope’s hand. He grabbed her car seat with his free hand and they were off.

As they walked through the clearing halls, Max noticed Hope staring at the remaining groups of kids. He knew how curious she was about other children; he and Liz had discussed putting her into some kind of day care or preschool program. There was no doubt she was advanced enough for it. But the fact was, she had two sets of doting grandparents who never hesitated to watch her, not to mention three sets of aunt and uncle figures. Hope loved to play with Jaycee, or Evan and his baby sister Olivia. Isabel’s job as a buyer for a popular LA –based design company allowed her to stay home with her children, and she usually didn’t mind Hope in the mix.

Still, it was obvious their daughter craved interaction. She was a bright, observant child, reaching many of her milestones early – first words at nine months, full sentences by fifteen, and Max was amazed at her naturally outgoing nature. She was so different from him as a child. He had to figure it was in part to her very limited knowledge of her alien status. She knew her daddy and Aunt Izzie and Uncle Mikey could do special things, but they were careful not to overdo it in the children’s presence. As far as Max and Liz could tell, Hope had never considered the fact that she might have some of the same abilities. And, honestly, that was quite alright with them. She was still so young; it just didn’t seem necessary to concern her with it yet.

Max’s thoughts were soon turned to his promise to catch Hope at the end of the slide and to answer her delighted requests to ‘go more higher’ on the swings. It was nearly four thirty by the time he and Hope made it back to the car and were greeted by Max’s ringing cell phone.

“Max, where are you?” Liz demanded without preamble, her voice clearly revealing her agitation.

“We’ve been at the park. I left my phone here in the car,” Max explained, opening the door for his bouncing daughter and helping her into her car seat. “Did you just get home?”

“No, I’m at Roswell Memorial,” she answered fretfully.

“Why? Are you okay? Did you get into an accident?” Max’s fingers froze on Hope’s seat belt in alarm.

“It’s Maria,” she sighed. “One of the babies is in trouble. They’re running tests right now, and they won’t let me back there with her. I – I don’t know what’s going on.”

“Oh god,” Max groaned. “It’s not…is the baby still…?”

“Yes,” Liz answered quickly. “I called Michael, and he’ll be here any second. But they’re not letting me go back and I know he’ll go nuts if he can’t, so-“

“I’m on my way, baby, I’ll drop Hope off at your parents’ and be there as soon as I possibly can.” Max offered his daughter a smile then, hoping he wouldn’t worry her, before hopping into the front seat. He knew Liz was frightened enough as it was, dealing with Michael’s understandable nerves on her own wouldn’t be easy.

“Thank you, Max,” Liz whispered thickly. “I really need you.”

The way she whispered those pained words tore at Max’s heart. “I’ll be right there.”





[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-Feb-2003 1:33:04 AM ]
posted on 16-Feb-2003 5:12:40 PM by McGees
Thank you so much for the feedback and support you've been sending. I really appreciate it!

Oh and Heidi (and anyone else who was wondering) the story Max was reading in the first part is "Goodnight Moon." It was one of my favorites when I was little!


3

“Max, thank god you’re here.”

Liz rushed from the waiting room chair she’d been occupying into Max’s arms. He held her tight for a moment, lips brushing the top of her head before holding her out at arm’s length.

“Have you heard anything yet?” he asked.

Shaking her head miserably, Liz glanced across the maternity ward’s waiting room. Michael was near the window pacing back and forth, his jaw clenched with tension. He looked like a caged tiger ready to strike anyone that came close.

“Amy and Jim just got here,” she murmured. “They’ve been trying to talk to him, but…”

Max followed her gaze, watching as Jim and Amy spoke quietly only a few feet away. He knew Amy must be just as frightened as Michael, but she was holding it together surprisingly well. Then again, Maria often said her mother had grown tremendously in her two year marriage to Jim – and Kyle laughed that his dad was finally letting loose. Either way, they were clearly one another’s anchor, both in good times and bad.

Presently, feeling that same duty toward Liz, Max led her back to the padded blue chair and sat beside her. As he raised her hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles, Liz spoke up, “Jim called Kyle too, they should be here any-“

“Sorry it took us so long,” Kyle’s voice came from the door. “We dropped Jaycee off with Isabel.”

Serena was right beside him, already dressed in her blue nurses’ scrubs. “I called to tell them I’d come in early for my shift,” she explained.

“Can you find out what the fuck is going on with my wife?” Michael suddenly exploded from his station by the window.

“I will Michael, and I’ll let you know as soon as I know anything,” Serena promised before ducking out the door and into the ward.

Max watched his friend run a shaky hand through his short hair and couldn’t blame him for his outburst. He would have expected Michael to charge the door by that point. Hell, he himself would have needed physical restraint to stay away from Liz.

He glanced down at his wife then, squeezing her tiny hand in his. God, he could remember it like it was yesterday, the day he was forced to wait in the emergency room. The day he lost his son…and very nearly lost Liz. He clenched her hand tighter, remembering how it felt to seem so completely disconnected. To be forced to sit and wait…to pray for something, anything to keep his Liz safe.

It was all so vivid it nearly made him sick to his stomach; Maria beside him, holding his hand for dear life as he hunched forward. He rocked back and forth in that hard plastic chair, struggling to maintain his precious connection to Liz, fighting to feel her, barely maintaining control. The intoxicating smell of sterility in the ER waiting room offset by the blood…Liz’s blood, their child’s, invading his senses, his brain, his every cell.

“Max…you’re hurting my hand,” Liz muttered then, struggling to flex her fingers in his tight grip.

“Sorry,” he quickly apologized, caressing her sore hand.

She gazed up into his face then, struck by the haunted glaze of his amber eyes. And she knew, in that instant, that his mind was exactly where hers had drifted to. She couldn’t help it – even though her concern was for Maria, it was all too painfully familiar. “Max,” Liz whispered, reaching up to stroke his cheek. “It’s okay if you-“

She was cut off when Serena suddenly reappeared. “Michael,” she called. “Come on back.”

The others watched as Michael raised anguished eyes to her reassuring face and rushed past her down the hall, then turned to Serena expectantly.

“What’s going on?” Amy managed, clutching her husband’s hand.

“They’re fine,” Serena announced. “All three of them.”

“Oh thank god,” she gasped, wilting against Jim. “Thank god.”

Liz got to her feet with Max right beside her. “What happened? They hardly told me anything, just that one of the babies was in trouble and they were bringing her here. I couldn’t…I couldn’t find out anything,” she added, her voice trembling.

“For a little while it looked like they might have to do an emergency cesarean,” Serena said before quickly adding, “But the antibiotics kicked in quickly enough that it’s pretty unlikely at this point.”

“Antibiotics?” Amy repeated. “Does she have an infection?”

“A slight one, and it was starting to effect the babies’ amniotic fluid,” Serena explained. “There was a possibility they’d have to be delivered prematurely, but Baby A is still quite a bit smaller than Baby B, and the doctor only wanted to do that if it was absolutely necessary.” She paused, glancing around at the pensive faces. “They’re not completely out of the woods yet, but she’ll stay here at least overnight so they can all be monitored.”

“And did they find anything else…abnormal?” Max asked carefully, his jaw set in a tight line.

“No, thank god,” Serena sighed. “They didn’t have to draw any fluid, so…I’ll keep a close eye on her tonight, make sure I take care of any other procedures that might come up.”

Kyle stepped forward, looping his arm around her. “Thank you for keeping us updated,” he said, kissing the top of Serena’s head. “I’ll call Isabel and tell her what’s going on, she was freaking out.”

“I should call my parents too,” Liz mused.

“Tell you what, I’ll go pick Hope up and take her home, okay?” Max suggested.

Liz nodded a little distractedly. “I – I just want to see Maria before I go.”

“It might be a while,” Serena warned. “She’s getting some sleep right now, and we have to go over things with Michael, but-“

“I’ll wait,” Liz insisted, meeting Max’s gaze. She needed to see Maria for herself, see that she was okay and that the babies she was carrying were safe.

*****

It was nearly two hours later when Liz poked her head into Maria’s room just behind Amy. In the dim light, she could see Michael keeping silent watch of his wife in the hospital bed.

“Is she asleep?” Amy asked quietly as they stepped more fully into the room.

Michael shook his head as Maria shifted toward the door. “Hey hey,” she said groggily.

“Oh, Maria honey,” Amy sighed, approaching the bed. She took her daughter’s face in her hands and kissed her forehead. “How are you feeling?”

“Like a water balloon,” Maria replied, holding up her arm to display the attached IV line. “They’ve got me so full of fluid I could serve as a floating device.”

Liz had to smile at the warning look Michael sent his wife. He was every bit the overprotective husband and father she’d suspected he would be. Yet to her surprise, the next words out of his mouth were, “I’ll give you ladies a few minutes, I’m gonna run down to the cafeteria.”

“Could you pick up a Kit Kat in the vending machine for me on the way back, Spaceboy?” Maria asked sweetly.

“You heard the doctor. Only fluids for the next 12 hours,” Michael reminded sternly.

“I was gonna eat it tomorrow,” Maria grumbled, shooing him out of the room before shifting her attention to her mother and best friend. “You guys don’t have to stay,” she said. “Michael’s not going anywhere except for that lovely brown chair, so-“

“I just wanted to see you for myself,” Liz admitted, perching on the edge of the bed. “You gave us a little scare this afternoon, you know.”

“No kidding,” Maria groaned, rubbing her round belly. “Not even born yet and already keeping their mommy on her toes.”

Liz managed a smile as she rested her hand over Maria’s. “I’m just glad you’re all okay,” she said quietly.

Maria squeezed her hand. “Thank you for being with me Liz,” she said sincerely. “It couldn’t have been easy for you.”

“I’m fine,” Liz assured quickly. “Listen, why don’t I bring dinner over for you and Michael tomorrow night? You’re not going to feel like cooking-“

“Lizzie, you don’t have to do that,” Maria protested.

“That’s right, because I’ll be there making sure Maria isn’t up on her feet,” Amy added. “No overexertion whatsoever, young lady, I heard what Serena said about your bed rest. I’ll take care of the cooking, cleaning, shopping-“

“Thanks, Mom,” Maria answered dryly, shooting Liz a ‘god help me’ look. “But y’know, Michael’s pretty capable of cooking-“

“Burgers,” Amy scoffed. “You’re not eating nearly enough vegetables, I just know it. I’ll whip up that grilled tofu and ochre dish. Even Jim likes it,” she added.

“I’m sure he does, Mom. And I appreciate the concern-“

“I think I’ll be heading home now,” Liz spoke up amusedly.

Maria made a face, but quickly leaned into her friend’s embrace. “Thank you, Liz,” she murmured.

“Of course,” Liz sighed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Try to stay out of trouble until then.”

“You heard your Aunt Lizzie,” Maria instructed her bulging belly. “She means business.”

Liz gave her a quick peck on the cheek before bidding both Maria and Amy goodnight. She needed to get out of that hospital and home to her family.

*****

The apartment was quiet when Liz arrived home. She kicked her shoes off by the door and glanced into the kitchen, where her place setting at the table waited. Her stomach rumbled, but she had other priorities at the moment.

Liz headed down the hallway in search of her husband and daughter. Just as she suspected, she found them both snuggled atop Hope’s bed. Hope was engrossed in the storybook Max was reading from, his voice animated yet soothing to the little girl.

Max glanced up to see Liz in the doorway and paused. Hope, curious as to why her father stopped reading, raised her eyes as well.

“Momma, are home!” she crowed, holding her hands out to Liz.

“Hi baby,” she smiled, reaching for her daughter and lifting her into her arms. “Did you have fun with Daddy tonight?”

Hope bobbed her head, wrapping a strand of her mother’s silky hair around her little fingers. “We ate iceam.”

“You ate ice cream?” Liz repeated, arching an eyebrow in Max’s direction.

“Just a little bit after dinner,” Max defended. “First we had chicken and vegetables.” He reached up to tickle Hope’s bare foot. “Trying to get me in trouble.”

Hope squirmed with giggles. “Silly Daddy.”

Liz laughed right along with them, burying her nose in her daughter’s hair. It was still damp from her bath, smelling of sweet baby shampoo. After a moment she sank down onto the bed, helping Hope back under the blankets before settling beside her.

Max nearly laughed out loud again when he saw the matching expectant looks on both his wife and daughter’s faces. “Well I guess I’ll continue then.”

As Max’s voice picked up where he left off and Hope nestled between her parents’ warmth, Liz found her thoughts wandering. She was drawn to the shelf of framed photographs on Hope’s wall, a visual timeline of her young life.

The double frame held a photo Max had taken just hours after Hope was born, wrapped into a tiny pink bundle in Liz’s arms. Mother and daughter gazed at each other, so engrossed that Liz hadn’t even noticed Max taking it. It was one of his favorites. The other was Liz’s. The black and white shot featured Max, t-shirt clad with sleep-tousled hair, cradling his dozing six week old daughter against his chest. His head was bowed forward, pressing a kiss to her downy dark hair.

The next photo was of Liz and Hope just before her first birthday, when they’d gone to San Diego with Michael and Maria. Liz stood behind Hope, holding her tiny hands as she toddled across the sand toward Max. The bright California sun shone down as the blue ocean waves crashed behind them.

Liz stroked her daughter’s arm, remembering how much she’d loved the ocean. Max would stand with Hope in the surf, the sand tickling between their toes, and every time a wave came in Max would lift her in the air, causing her to shriek with giggles.

There was a photo of Hope dressed in her lacy flower girl dress with a crown of daisies on her head, sandwiched between a beaming Michael and Maria at their wedding reception. Hope reprised the role that fall as a co-flower girl with Jaycee at Serena and Kyle’s wedding.

The last picture was the most recent, taken on the Ramirez sofa the day Isabel and Jesse’s daughter came home from the hospital. Hope and new big brother Evan were pressed together against the armrest, with baby Olivia placed carefully across their laps. The pair had started out grinning, but quickly grew impatient at all the camera flashes – the majority of which came from Grandma Diane and Grandpa Phil’s camera.

“Liz. Liz?”

Max’s voice broke through her thoughts and drew her attention from the photographs. “Hm?” She realized then that he’d finished reading the story and was shifting from the small bed. “Let’s get you tucked in, Hopie,” she said, turning to her daughter.

“I already in, Mommy,” Hope reminded, patting her blankets.

Liz smiled, reaching up to touch her soft cheek. “Then you’re all ready for sweet dreams.”

Hope nodded sleepily. “Ni-night. Love you.”

“We love you too, Peanut.” Max bent to kiss his daughter’s forehead as Liz smoothed the blankets around her.

“We love you,” she echoed, getting to her feet and following Max to the door as he raised his hand to create the shield. They watched as Hope snuggled into her pillow, yawned, and then stilled.

As Liz’s eyes swept over her daughter’s small form one last time, she caught a glimpse of the delicate porcelain cherub above Hope’s bed. Her throat tightened, recalling Max’s words when he put it up. “Now she’ll always have someone watching over her.”

It usually gave Liz a sense of peace when she thought about it, but tonight…tonight it was painful. She couldn’t help but be reminded.

Liz wandered toward her bedroom, not even noticing Max behind her. She jumped when he touched her shoulder.

“Sorry, he said, drawing her close to him. “How are…things?”

“The twins are doing well and Maria’s comfortable. Well, as comfortable as she can be in a hospital bed with an IV in her arm.”

Max smiled, threading his fingers through her hair, but then quickly sobered. “And you, Liz. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine.” She paused, swallowing hard over the lump in her throat. “I mean…I – I was thinking about him today.”

“Me too.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Liz continued. “Of course I’m relieved nothing was seriously wrong and that the twins are okay, but I – I couldn’t help…wondering-“

“Why did we have to lose Gabriel?” Max finished.

Liz nodded, the tears welling in her brown eyes. “Does that make me a horrible person?”

“Liz.” Max cupped her face in his palms. “It makes you human, love.”

She managed a faint smile through her tears before resting her head against Max’s broad chest. His heart thumped steadily against her ear, and the beat combined with his fingers along her back soothed her troubled thoughts back to the far edge of her conscience.