|posted on 12-Dec-2001 12:31:08 PM by mockingbird39|
|Category- M/L, AU|
Disclaimer- If I owned 'em, this is what would have happened. But I don't, so you got the Hybrid Chronicles and Baby It's You. I'm just saying. Oh, wait--I do own Kenneth and Lucas. They are my sex slaves, but sometimes I share them in exchange for really good feedback.
Authors' Note- This begins right after Max sees Liz and Kyle together in EOTW and leaves the balcony.
Max never remembered how he got to the park after leaving Liz's balcony that night. In his head, over and over, he saw Liz and Kyle in bed together- laughing, smiling at each other in the most intimate and inimaginable way. He thought he must have ran all the way to the park, for when he stopped and sat stiffly on a bench his heart was pounding. He wondered how it was possible that his heart was still beatting even after he was certain it had shattered into a thousand pieces.
Liz and Kyle. . . He stared at nothing, wondering how he could have been so wrong. She doesn't love Kyle. . .She loves me, I know she loves me. He closed his eyes and put his head in his hands as the picture of Liz with Kyle rose up before him. Hot tears squeezed from beneath his eye lids and fell to the pavement below. Over and over he saw them, saw Liz clutching the blankets to her chest as she saw him standing outside the window, saw the look of guilt on her face, saw Kyle look from one to the other, unsure of what to do.
A strangled cry ripped from his throat as he remembered how relaxed they had seemed together, how contented their faces. How many times had he imagined himself with Liz in just that way, lying next to her, holding her until they went to sleep? Was Kyle holding her now? Was she asleep in his arms?
Max shuddered as a fresh wave of anguish tore at him. Liz. . .with Kyle? How could she have done this? And how could he have not known? Was that what she had been trying to tell him when she came to his room last night with her speech about Romeo and Juliet? That it was over between them because she had chosen Kyle? Something about that conversation had not rung true, he had known she wasn't telling him the whole story. But he had never imagined she was hiding something like this.
But how had she been able to hide this from him? He knew Liz Parker knew her better than she knew herself. And when he had kissed her outside Whitaker's office, the only flashes he had gotten from her were memories of himself and Liz together. If she had been seeing Kyle, had been in love with Kyle- wouldn't he have known then? A sob made his shoulders heave violently as he sat there alone in the dark, his heart hurting so badly he wanted to die. Oh, God, I don't think I can live without her, he thought in anguish.
It was then he heard Tess' voice. “Are you okay?”
Max looked up in surprise. He hadn’t heard her approach, hadn’t expected anyone to be there. “No,” he said absently, not really paying attention.
Her blue eyes were sympathetic. “Can I sit down?” she asked quietly.
He glanced at her, trying to sound normal. But what was normal when his world had just collapsed in on itself? “Sure,” he said finally.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, her voice soft and hesitant.
He shook his head. “No.”
She nodded, accepting that, then took a step closer. “Do you want me to leave?” she asked finally.
He started to say yes, then shook his head. Tess looked genuinely concerned about him, and besides, she had a right to be there if she wanted to be. “No,” he said after a minute, and she sat down.
They sat in silence for a long time, then Tess cleared her throat. “I know you don’t want to talk about it,” she said quietly, “but. . .this is about Liz, isn’t it?”
He looked at her. “How did you know?”
Tess gave a small smile. “Liz is the only one who can make you look like that.”
“Oh.” He looked at the ground again. “Yeah. . .it’s Liz.”
She nodded slowly. “That’s what I thought.” Tess paused, lifted her face to the starry night sky, and took a deep breath. “Look, Max, I realized something the other night.”
“What’s that?” he asked, wondering why in the world she had chosen now for a heart-to-heart.
“I realized that. . .no matter what we were to each other in that other life, it doesn’t just carry over into this one.” She sighed. “I spent the whole summer trying to convince you about something I'm not even sure about myself. I think that was probably wrong."
Max almost smiled at the irony of it. Just when he was realizing he might not have a future with Liz, Tess decided that she didn’t want him, either. “What are you saying?" he asked her.
She looked him straight in the eyes. “That I know we're never going to be together- not like we were before. But even if I’m not the love of your life this time, I’d like to be your friend.”
He nodded and went back to staring at the ground. “Thanks.”
“I’m not done,” Tess informed him. He looked at her in surprise, and her eyes gazed into his. "I was going to say that I want to be your friend, and that I would be a pretty rotten friend if I didn't tell you to go fight for Liz.”
He frowned. “Tess, Liz. . .Liz was with Kyle. I saw them.”
Tess looked confused, but only for a moment. “No,” she said firmly. “You’re wrong. Liz doesn’t love Kyle. She loves you.”
Max looked at her doubtfully. “Tess, I know what I saw."
“And I’m telling you that you’re wrong.” She smiled. “She loves you—she’d do anything for you. Even push you away if she thought that was what’s best for you.” Tess sighed heavily. “Liz came to me the other night, Max. She tried telling me she wanted to push you away so that she could move on, but. . .well, she was doing it because she thought it was better for you.” A tiny smile turned up the corners of her
mouth. “Liz is a rotten liar.”
“I know,” Tess insisted. Max hesitated, and she gave him a gentle shove. “I know you don’t want to live without her.”
That did it. Max couldn’t begin to imagine a life without Liz in it. “No,” he agreed. “No, I don’t.”
“Then fight for her,” Tess said. “Don’t just let her go.”
“But what if she doesn’t want—”
“Do you really think she doesn’t want you, Max?” Tess asked quietly. She shook her head. “Don’t be an idiot. Get over there and fight for her.”
Max stood up, with a determined look on his face. "Right," he said. He paused for a second, looking at her. “Thanks, Tess,” he said seriously.
She smiled. “You’re welcome, Max.” He waited a minute longer, and she raised an eyebrow. “What are you doing just standing around here? Go to her, Max."
[ edited 16time(s), last at 13-Dec-2002 10:18:55 PM ]
|posted on 12-Dec-2001 12:33:34 PM by mockingbird39|
| Part 2|
Max turned and took off for Liz’s house at a run. Before he had run a block his anger had returned. How dare Kyle go behind his back like that? And what about Liz—did she really think he would give up on her, after all they had been through together?
He ran faster as anger coursed through him, and by the time he had reached Liz’s house he was imagining himself pulling Kyle out of Liz’s room through the window and beating him to a pulp. He climbed the ladder with rapid, resolute steps, anticipating a fight. . .and stopped short when he found Liz all alone on the balcony, weeping quietly.
“Liz.” He looked around, but no one else was there. “Where’s Kyle?” he demanded.
Liz looked up at him in surprise and rose from her chair. “Max—what are you doing here?”
Her red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained face sent twin bolts of rage and sympathy through Max’s already-pounding heart. “Did he hurt you?” he demanded furiously, stepping closer to her. The sadness in Liz’s eyes was almost more than he could stand. He had never known rage quite like this before, not even in the White Room, when he knew he would have killed if given the chance.
Liz backed up a step. “Who—Kyle? No. . .no, of course not.”
“Did he leave you?” Max asked in disbelief. That was nearly as bad—how could he have left—?
“He had to go,” Liz said. She paused, and Max could tell she was trying to hold back a sob. “He just...had to go,” she managed to say, her voice cracking.
Tears slipped down her cheeks, and in that moment Max forgot everything else—forgot that she had betrayed him, forgot that not an hour ago she had been in Kyle’s arms, forgot that last night she had stood in his room and told him they were through. All that mattered at that moment was that Liz was hurting, and ever since that day in the café when he first healed her, Max Evans had felt Liz Parker’s pain as though it were his own. He slowly stepped closer to her and put his hands gently on her shoulders, refusing to let her go when she tried to step away.
“I’m okay,” Liz protested, choking back a sob. How could he still look at her with such love, after seeing her with another man?
“Then why are you crying?” he asked softly.
Liz burst into tears then, sobbing uncontrollably, and Max found that he was crying, too. “Liz, why?” he asked, putting one hand on her cheek. “Why wasn’t I enough for you?”
She shook her head, crying harder. “That isn’t it, Max— I swear it isn’t you.”
“Then why?” he demanded. “Why— with Kyle?” When Liz didn’t answer, he persisted. “Do you love him?” His eyes were boring into hers, leaving no room for lies. Silently, Liz shook her head. He was at a loss. “Liz. . .did you really sleep with Kyle?”
She could only look at him, but it was all he needed. Her answer was written in her eyes. Relief crashed over Max like a wave, leaving him drained and shaky. He pulled her to him in a crushing embrace, closing his eyes. “It’s okay,” he murmured, more to himself than to her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
She shook her head, still sobbing. “No, it’s not,” she choked. “Max, we can’t do this.” She struggled to free herself of his arms, but he held fast. “Max, I mean it— this isn’t just about us.”
He loosened his hold enough to look at her. “What are you talking about? Of course it’s about us.”
“No.” She shook her head. “What we do effects more than just us.”
He frowned. “You mean Tess? She’s the one who told me to come here. Don’t worry about her—she’s all right with it.”
Liz looked momentarily surprised. “ Tess told you to come here?” she repeated incredulously. Of all the times for her to get a clue, Liz thought, then shook her head and decided to be completely honest with Max. “Max, if we’re together, everything we love— Isabel, Michael, our lives here on this planet— it all dies. All of it.”
Max looked at her in amazement. “Liz, I don’t understand.”
Liz took a deep breath. “Max, the reason I went to Tess the other night, and then came to your room, and then...tried to make you think I slept with Kyle wasn’t because I wanted to hurt you. Believe me— I didn’t want to do it at all.”
“I believe you,” he assured her, smoothing a stray piece of her hair back from her face.
“I—I did it because I had to,” she continued. She tried to move away from him, but he wouldn’t let her. Finally, she looked up at him, her eyes dark with sorrow. “Max, fourteen years from now Earth gets taken over by— I don’t know. . .by our enemies. There’s a war.” She frowned. “I think there’s a war, anyway— battles, at least. And we lose. And everything that we love dies.”
Max’s forehead furrowed as he tried to process this information. “Liz. . .did you go to Maria’s psychic?” he asked in confusion.
Liz flushed. “No!” She hesitated, then shrugged. "Well. . .yes. But she’s not the one who told me these things. It was--” She paused, then blurted, “It was you."
|posted on 12-Dec-2001 12:36:07 PM by mockingbird39|
This had to be some kind of weird dream. Max shook his head slowly. "Liz, that can't be. I never said any of that."
"It was you, Max," she insisted. "But it was you...from fourteen years in the future."
Max had no answer to that. A long silence stretched, and Max thought he could hear her heart pounding. He took a breath. "That's...that's impossible."
"That's what I said," Liz agreed. "But it happened. I know it did."
He shook his head. "So somehow, in the future, we find a way to travel in time-"
"Using the granilith," Liz interjected.
"-using the granilith," Max continued, "and I come back in time to tell you that you should sleep with Kyle?" He shook his head doubtfully. "Because that doesn't sound like something I would do."
Liz shook her head. "No, no- it was my idea to sleep with Kyle." At his look of shock, she hastily corrected herself. "I mean, make you think I slept with Kyle."
"Because. . .because the reason we weren't able to win the war was that Tess was gone. And you- you and Isabel and Michael needed her to be able to fight. You each had separate powers that were all needed to win. And the reason she left-"
"Was because I was with you," Max finished with a resigned look. "So you thought the only way we could win was push me away so that Tess and I would. . ." He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and shook his head. "No, Liz. There has to be something else. We can make Tess understand that she's needed. She's not a bad person- she'll stay if she knows."
"But what if she doesn't?"
"She will." Max touched Liz's face. "Liz. . .we've got to find a way to keep Tess here and still be together. Or we've got to find another way to win the war. Because I know how I felt just now when I thought I had lost you- and I can't live like that, let alone fight a war like that."
The plea in his eyes brought Liz to tears again. "I'm so sorry, Max," she said, laying her head on his chest. "I hated hurting you. . .I didn't know how I was going to live without you, either."
Max took a deep breath. "You won't have to," he said, cradling her against him. "Never- I promise."
She closed her eyes. "I love you, Max," she said softly.
His arms tightened around her. "I love you, too. I'll never love anyone else."
They stood there for an endless moment, holding onto each other, determined never to let go, then Max spoke. "I wonder why he- I mean why I picked now to come. What was so important about now?" Liz didn't answer, but Max could feel her tense up. "What is it?" he asked, looking down at her.
"Um, nothing," she said, blushing furiously. She looked away, embarrassed.
"Liz, what?" he persisted. "Tell me."
Liz concentrated on the small flecks of color in his black sweater, her cheeks turning even pinker. "Um...well, he said that he came because tonight- you now, the...the night of the concert was the night we..." She took a deep breath. "...that we were... cemented."
"Cemented," Max repeated blankly. "So we..." He stopped as her meaning suddenly became clear. "Tonight?" he asked. "We were supposed to...to make love?"
Liz nodded, still unable to look at him. "Yes," she murmured.
"Oh." Max didn't sound embarrassed at all; in fact, he sounded rather pleased. Liz stole a look at him and found him smiling at her. "And then we were together?" he questioned, tracing the line of her jaw.
She nodded. "Until the end of the world," she said softly.
Max's smile widened. "Forever," he murmured, touching her hair. He couldn't conceal his joy at the thought of a future with Liz--didn't even try. "Did we get married?"
It was Liz's turn to smile. "We eloped," she said. "To Vegas." She laughed a little. "He said we got married in the Elvis Chapel."
He looked amazed. "The Elvis Chapel," he repeated, then something occurred to him. "When?" he asked. "When did we get married?"
"Um. . .I don't know exactly, but he said we were nineteen," Liz answered.
His eyes widened. "Nineteen? That's. . ."
"Crazy," Liz finished. "I know."
Max shook his head slowly. "No. No, I don't think it's crazy."
She looked up at him. "You don't?"
"No." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "After what I felt tonight when I thought I had lost you...I know I want to be with you forever. I'm sure of it, Liz." His eyes roamed over her face, and he wondered how it was possible to love someone this much. "If we have to fight a war, if that's what's in our future, then I know I want you with me every day. I think I
can face anything if you're beside me. We'll fight together, Liz. That's how we'll win--I promise." He hugged her to him again, a grin making his eyes shine in the darkness. "Married," he murmured, still sounding amazed.
She smiled, resting her cheek against his sweater. "I know." She hesitated, then took a deep breath. "But...it could be different now. We changed the future--I don't know what will happen now."
Max shook his head. "I know what will happen," he said firmly.
She looked up at him. "You do?"
"Yes." He stroked her cheek. "In two years we're going to get married--hey, maybe we can run away to Vegas," he added, as though this was a brilliant new idea. "I hear the Elvis Chapel is nice."
"Max, I'm serious."
"So am I." He smiled down at her. "We're going to be together. Until the end of the world." Suddenly serious, he continued. "I don't want to change a thing, Liz. None of it. I want to marry you. I want to spend every day with you--and every night." It was his turn to blush, but he never lost his hold on her gaze. "I don't want to change anything, Liz.
Especially not tonight."
The heat rose in Liz's cheeks again. "Max, you-"
"I want to make love to you, Liz. Tonight." He traced the line of her jaw, his other hand slipping beneath the edge of her sweater. "But you know I'll leave if that's what you want." His eyes were questioning, probing hers gently.
Liz took a deep breath. "Max, I...I want you to stay," she said softly.
He smiled. "Good." He gently caressed her face, tracing the tear stains that still marked the pure ivory of her skin, then he bent his head to kiss her. Their kiss was hesitant at first, exploring, but as the flashes between them began--with a dizzying intensity that left them both breathless--it grew more urgent. The connection between them opened wide, and Max nearly fell to his knees as Liz bared her soul for him without hesitation. He leaned back to stare wonderingly into her eyes, amazed and almost frightened at the love he found there. He had never dreamed of being loved like this--of being trusted with the innermost secrets of another person's soul. And never had he dreamed anyone--even Liz--would accept him so fully, and love him so completely, human side, alien side, and everything in between. He felt like laughing, he felt like crying, he felt like worshipping this incredible woman before him. He wondered if she knew how much he loved her in return--how his soul felt cold and empty without hers to complete it, to turn it into the thing of beauty he saw reflected in her eyes. He wanted to tell her, but when he opened his mouth, no words would come. He could only murmur her name to the velvet silence that enveloped them.
"Liz," he whispered, unable to take his eyes off her.
"I know," she said simply, and raised her face to him again. After a moment, Max pulled back once more.
"Liz, if you want me to go--"
She shook her head, smiling at him. "I want you to stay," she said, then took his hand and led him through the window and into her bedroom.
|posted on 12-Dec-2001 12:38:17 PM by mockingbird39|
| Part 4|
In all the years that followed, Liz never forgot one detail of that night. The way Max kissed her, savoring the taste of her mouth like fine wine; the way he undressed her, like a collector unwrapping a priceless piece of art; the way his hands skimmed over her body with a gentleness that bordered on reverence—all these things were burned into her memory forever. Later on, she would realize that Max Evans—young and inexperienced as they both were—had realized the secret of the world’s greatest lovers: he made love with his whole body, sharing his whole mind, and his whole soul. At first Liz was a bit frightened by his single-minded intensity; but once she got over her initial fear and her lingering doubts, she knew that she was ruined for any other man. Sex was one thing, making love another—but that night she and Max joined their souls. Again and again he sent her tumbling helplessly into ecstasy, and as her body sang with pleasure so intense it was almost painful, he held her, kissing her flushed, heated skin until her trembling ceased. And then they would begin the same slow, tantalizing dance all over again.
When at last he slept, spent and sated in her arms, Liz lay awake for a long time, watching the rise and fall of his chest, and wondering if the world would ever be the same again.
Sunlight had been creeping steadily across the floor of Liz’s bedroom for quite some time but Max barely noticed. He lay on his side, a small smile on his face as he quietly and contentedly watched Liz sleep. He wasn’t sure just how long he had been awake, but he knew it would be a long, long time before he tired of this. She lay on her side, facing him, one of her hands clutching his like a child clutches a favorite doll. In point of fact, Max had lost feeling in that arm hours ago, but he wouldn’t have disturbed her for the world. Max had never felt so at peace as he did that morning, so complete. For the first time in his life, he really believed he was where he was supposed to be.
He was still watching her when she stirred softly and opened her eyes. She looked a little surprised to find him there, but a smile curved her lips as she remembered the night before. Max’s heart leaped—he’d do anything to see that smile every morning for the rest of his life.
“Hi,” she said simply, raising one hand to touch his face.
“Hi,” he answered, bringing her other hand to his lips. His fingers tingled as circulation was restored to them, and he flexed them once before wrapping them around hers again.
“How long have you been awake?” she asked, sliding closer to him.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I was watching you.”
She laughed. “Did I drool?” she asked. “Make funny faces? Say really embarrassing things in my sleep?”
He shook his head. “No. You don’t do any of those things.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Last night, anyway. Just wait until I’m not on my best behavior anymore.”
Max looked thoughtful for a moment, then he kissed her fingers again. “Liz, I never told you that I—well, sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I come here and I watch you sleep. I don’t come in—I stay outside,” he hastened to add, wondering if he should have told her at all.
“Why?” she asked, looking at him in amazement.
“Because you always look so peaceful,” he said softly. “I’ve never had peace like that. But I thought maybe I could, if I be next to you.”
Liz slid closer to him, wrapping her arms around him. “That’s beautiful,” she said, kissing his shoulder, “but I mean, why don’t you come in?”
It was his turn for amazement. “I thought that you—I mean, all this time we haven’t been together—”
Liz steamrolled over his protests. “I wonder how many times you’ve been out there watching me dream about you?” she asked. “I do, you know. I dream about you all the time.” She smiled wistfully. “Last summer, while I was in Florida, I used to pray before I went to sleep that I’d dream of you. If I couldn’t have you while I was awake, at least I could have you in my dreams.”
He stroked her hair, his hands trailing down to the warm, smooth skin of her back. “You’ve been so hurt,” he said, “all because of me.”
She pulled back to look at him. “No,” she said firmly. “Don’t think that way. You made me feel—really feel things for the first time. You make me alive.” She sighed happily and rested her cheek against his chest. “I love you, Max.”
Max kissed her forehead, gathering her closer. “I love you, too, Liz.” He closed his eyes, hardly daring to believe this was real—that it wasn’t a dream that would end when he woke up in his own bed. He and Liz were together, and they had a future. He smiled suddenly. “I can’t wait to marry you.”
“Me neither,” she said happily. “I can hardly believe that in two years we’re going to get married.”
“Believe it,” Max told her. “I’m not waiting a minute longer.” They lay in silence for a few moments, then Max remembered something. “Liz?” he asked, and she murmured in answer. “Where are your parents?”
Liz laughed. “They’re in Reno for a restaurant convention,” she assured Max, and he relaxed again. “They won’t be back until this afternoon.”
He looked relieved. “We have a while, then,” he said contentedly. “I didn’t want to leave yet.”
“I didn’t want you to leave, either,” she said, snuggling against him. His body was warm and solid and she wondered if she’d ever wake up again without wanting him there. “No, probably not,” she murmured to herself, smiling.
“What?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing,” she said. “I just want you to stay here.”
“Yeah?” he grinned down at her.
“Yeah,” she agreed.
His smile was so lighthearted—she had never seen him so carefree. “Well, then,” he said, pushing her hair back from her face, “what do you want to do?”
She laughed. “I can think of a few things,” she said, blushing at her own boldness.
His eyes widened a little—he hadn’t expected her to be this bold, either. But he liked it. “Feel like showing me?”
Liz pushed him onto his back, leaning over him with a smile that made his heart flip. “That’s just what I feel like doing.”
Three hours later, Max and Liz set out down the street in front of the Crashdown, hand in hand. Liz couldn’t remember feeling so happy. Let the end of the world come, she thought recklessly. We’re ready for it now. Even so, she glanced at Max.
“We should talk to Tess right away,” she said.
Max didn’t need to ask why. “You’re right,” he agreed. “But after we get something to eat. I’m starving.”
“We could have eaten at the Crashdown,” she told him.
“I know.” He squeezed her hand. “But I didn’t want to see anyone just yet. The way I feel—I don’t want to share it with anyone but you.”
She stepped closer to him. “Do you think they’ll know?” she asked.
Max laughed. “Liz, we’re glowing. And we barely have to talk—I already know what you’re thinking.”
Liz blushed. “Oh, yeah?” she asked. “Well, then, tell me what I’m thinking right now.”
He stopped walking and stood very close to her. “Well,” he began, “you’re thinking that. . .you’re hungry. And that you’ve never been so happy in your entire life. Am I close?”
She shook her head. “Nope.”
A smile curved her lips. “Actually I was thinking that I love you,” she told him.
Max smiled back, his heart speeding up. “Well, that goes without saying,” he murmured, leaning down to kiss her. Her lips tasted sweeter than ever, and Max wondered if he’d ever get tired of her. He pulled her close, kissing her again, but Liz broke off with a giggle as their stomachs rumbled in unison. Max laughed, too. “Food,” he said.
“We should get some,” Liz agreed. She took his hand again and they turned to continue down the street, but at that moment a tall man in a black suit and sunglasses stepped in front of them, blocking their path.
“Max Evans?” he asked without preamble, and Liz began to tremble. She was pretty sure he wasn’t with the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol. She tugged on Max’s hand, prepared to run, but they never had time. “You will come with me,” the man continued and Liz stood horrified as Max’s body seemed drawn toward him. She could feel Max gripping her hand, trying to hold on, and she locked her fingers around his, pulling him back with all her strength as he was dragged away, but it was no use.
Max looked back at her, his eyes full of fear. “Run, Liz,” he said, but she stood rooted to the spot.
“Max!” she screamed, trying to follow him, but she had taken only one step when she seemed to run into an invisible wall.
A beam of light appeared behind Max and his captor, and the man moved toward it. Max followed, as surely as if there had been a rope tied around his waist. He was powerless to fight, but his eyes were locked on Liz’s. “Liz, go!”
Liz felt like her heart was being ripped from her chest. She pushed with all her might against the wall of air that held her back, but couldn’t move a single step. “Max, no!” She was sobbing. “No, please.”
This felt like an end. Max took one last look at her, trying to memorize her face. “I love you,” he said, trying to pour enough love in those words to last a lifetime.
His words sounded like a benediction, and Liz wept brokenly. “I love you, Max,” she said. She opened her mouth to say more, to tell him how he had made her alive, how she had never loved anyone like him and never would, to tell him she would wait for him her whole life, but the beam of light widened as Max stepped into it. A flash of light blinded Liz for an instant, and when she could see again, Max, his captor, and the beam of light were all gone. Liz fell to her knees and sobbed.
|posted on 12-Dec-2001 12:40:15 PM by mockingbird39|
White light whirled around Max’s head and he felt himself spinning. There was no up, no down—nothing at all as he seemed to fly through empty space at a speed that made him think his head would explode. He had no control over any part of his body, and the light made it impossible for him to see, searing his eyes even though his lids were scrunched tightly closed. It seemed to go on for an eternity, but just when he thought his body simply couldn’t take it anymore, the light died and his body abruptly slapped against something solid. Something hard. He lay there for a moment, thankful beyond words that something felt solid again and waiting for his eyes to work again. Slowly, cautiously, he opened them to find himself lying on the floor of a large room with high ceilings. Two men stood over him. One was the black-suited man who had dragged him toward the beam of light. The other was tall and muscular, with pale blue-gray hair and eyes. . .his eyes were a shade of piercing blue that would not have been unnatural if it were not for the fact that they were all blue, with no pupil or whites. Startled, Max pushed himself to a sitting position.
“Do you know who I am?” the taller man asked.
Max opened his mouth to say no, but suddenly realized he did know. “Khivar,” he said, cold dread washing over him.
The man nodded. “Yes.”
“Where am I?” Max asked, looking around.
“You’re in the palace. It used to be your home.” Kivar shrugged. “Now it’s mine.”
The other man’s answer had knocked the wind out of Max. “I—I’m on Antar?” he managed to gasp out.
Khivar nodded. “Yes.”
Max scrambled to his feet, looking around wildly. He had no memory of this place—none at all. “Why did you bring me here? What happened to Liz?”
Khivar glanced at the other man, and Max jumped back in surprize. The black-suited man had become a short, grayish creature—much like the images of aliens Max had seen on earth. “He was with a human female,” the creature reported. “She is unharmed.”
“I should hope so,” Khivar shot back, a hint of steel in his voice. “This doesn’t concern her. We spoke about avoiding casualties.”
“And I obeyed, my lord,” the creature said, bowing slightly from the waist. “She is unharmed.”
“Good.” Khivar paced a few steps, eyeing Max guardedly. “I brought you here to see what kind of man you are, Max Evans.”
Max had never felt so much like a boy in all his life, but he got to his feet and met Khivar’s gaze evenly. “What kind of man I am?” he repeated. “I’m to be judged by the man who killed my family and now enslaves my people?”
Khivar’s eyes faded to a steely gray. “I see,” he intoned, his voice hard as his eyes. “I had hoped this could be easier.” He motioned to a pair of guards that had been standing nearby. “Take him to his quarters,” he said, starting to walk away. “I’ll come to you tomorrow, Max Evans.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you’ve told me why you brought me here,” Max said, shaking off the first guard who tried to grab his arm. The other grabbed for him, too, but Max twisted free. “Tell me why you brought me here!” he demanded.
Khivar paused in mid-stride, and slowly turned back. A smile played along the corners of his mouth, but never reached his eyes. “I brought you here,” he said clearly, “to prevent the future.”
“You’ve got to know something about this guy who kidnapped Max!” Michael slapped a hand down on the table in frustration.
Liz pressed an already soggy tissue against her eyes. “There was nothing about him,” she protested. “He was medium height, medium build, brown hair, black suit. That’s all. It was like he was going out of his way to be nondescript.”
“There has to be—”
“He must have been a shape-shifter,” Tess interrupted before Michael could go on another tirade. “They try to be an unnoticeable as possible.” She leaned across the table, giving Liz a sympathetic look. “There was nothing you could have done. He wanted Max, so he took him. They’re too strong to resist.”
Liz shook her head. “No, I should have done something—I should have gone with him.”
“You couldn’t have fought him,” Tess insisted. “Don’t blame yourself.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” Isabel asked. “We have to find him.”
Silence fell around the table. Max was gone. He had been taken right off the street in the middle of the day, and they didn’t know why or where he had been taken, or even who had taken him. Liz put her head in her hands. Where did they even start?
“I can’t do this,” Liz muttered. She slid out of the booth and began to walk unsteadily toward the door.
“Liz, wait!” Maria started to follow, but Tess grabbed her arm.
“Let me go,” the blond girl said seriously. “Please.”
“I’m her best friend,” Maria protested. “She barely knows you.”
Tess nodded. “I know, but. . .” She looked up at the other girl. “Please.”
Something in Tess’s eyes made Maria fall back. “Okay,” she said finally.
Tess smiled slightly and went after Liz. She didn’t have to go far. Liz was at the end of the street, leaning against a wall, sobbing like her heart would break. Or was already broken. Tess paused, wondering how to approach her. She desperately wanted to help, but how could she? The man Liz loved was gone. Nothing Tess or anyone else could say would make that any better. But Tess remembered how it felt to lose the man you loved—to be powerless to save him. And she didn’t think anyone should have to suffer that alone. She took a deep breath and approached the other girl.
Liz stiffened and swallowed a sob. She wiped her eyes quickly and half-turned to face Tess. “Look, I don’t have anything else to tell Michael.”
“I know.” Tess stepped forward hesitantly. “I’m not here for Michael.”
“Then why are you here?”
Tess looked at the sidewalk beneath her feet. “I—I came to see if you were all right.” She shook her head. “No, that’s not it. I know you’re not all right.”
Liz gave a harsh chuckle. “No, I’m not,” she agreed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be all right again.” Tess stood silently, waiting. After a moment, Liz continued. “I have to find him, Tess. I have to help him.”
“You don’t know where he went,” Tess said quietly. “Or why, or who he’s with.”
Liz looked at her through narrowed eyes. “What are you saying?”
Tess leaned against the wall, picking at a rough edge on one of the bricks. “Liz, I know what you tried to do for Max,” she said finally.
Liz stared. “What?” she asked faintly.
Tess squinted in the bright morning sun. “The other night, when Max saw you watching the two of us from Whitaker’s office. . .I followed him. But I stayed longer than he did. I heard you talking to. . .to the other Max. I heard what you said. The rest. . .I figured out the rest.” She paused, sympathy welling in her blue eyes. “I never loved anyone like that, Liz. I wish I had.” She looked away. “I used to hate you. I used to be jealous of you—I used to hate how Max loved you. But when I saw what you did, I couldn’t hate you anymore.” Tess shrugged. “I admired you too much.”
“Is that why you told Max to come back last night?” Liz wanted to know.
Tess nodded. “As much as I wanted Max—I mean, I really believed he was my destiny—I couldn’t be the reason you two were apart.” She shrugged. “You may not believe me, but I love Max, too. Maybe not like you do, but I loved him once. And I remember loving him. Just like I remember losing him. I remember that helpless feeling—I remember how awful it was. So I think maybe I understand a little of what you’re feeling. Not exactly,” she hastened to add, “but a little.”
Liz looked at her for a long time, then nodded. “I guess maybe you do.” She swiped at her eyes. “So you’ll help me then?”
Tess was quiet for a moment. “I’ll do anything I can, Liz,” she said softly. “Anything to help Max. . .and you.”
“Thank you,” Liz said.
Tess tried to smile. “You’re welcome, Liz. I mean it—if you need anything.”
“That’s really nice of you, Tess.”
Tess looked a little embarrassed. “Well, I was kind of hoping we could maybe be friends.”
Liz hesitated. Tess had been trouble ever since the day she showed up in Roswell. Could any of them trust her? She had wanted Max for herself—but then she had given him up. That wasn’t the act of a selfish person. Liz raised her eyes and looked at Tess of a long moment. “I’d like that,” she said finally. “I’d really like that.”
|posted on 12-Dec-2001 9:12:07 PM by mockingbird39|
The quarters Max was taken to were nicer than he had expected. Actually, any improvement over a 6-by-9 foot cement box was nicer than he had expected. But the room. . .rooms, actually. . .to which the guards led him were large, airy, and well-furnished. Large windows left the night sky visible and the walls held a number of pictures that, upon closer inspection, Max realized were some sort of video screens showing scenes of city and rural life. A large bed stood against one wall, and a desk against another, and everywhere there were books.
“You will stay here,” one of the guards told Max in a flat voice. “If you require anything, speak to the door. Your message will be relayed to the appropriate person. Food will be brought to you shortly.” Almost before he finished speaking, another guard entered, carrying a covered tray. “Lord Khivar will visit in the morning.”
“It’s night,” Max realized, speaking more to himself than to the guard.
“Yes. Quite late.” The guard motioned to his fellows, who filed silently out the door. “Health and life, sir,” he said, and the greeting was somehow familiar to Max.
“And to you,” he answered automatically.
The other man hesitated, as though he wasn’t sure if he should bow, then thought better of it and left.
When Max was alone, he walked slowly around the room, assessing his surroundings. Again he was struck by the beauty of the room, by its luxury. If not for the locked door, he might have been an honored guest at the palace. His palace. Max’s jaw clenched. No amount of books or artwork or anything else would make him forget that Khivar was his enemy. That he had been kidnapped off the street, taken from his home and his family—and his love. Liz A spasm of pain shot through Max’s heart. She must be terrified. . .if she had managed to escape unharmed. What would she do? Max closed his eyes and prayed she wouldn’t try to mount a rescue. Then a bitter smile twisted his lips. Where would she even start? At least she’s safe, he told himself. Khivar said she had nothing to do with this. But why should he believe anything Khivar said?
Max crossed to the windows and stood looking out at the unfamiliar scenery. The palace, it appeared, sat atop a mountain that overlooked a city. Old, majestic trees dotted the near landscape, and far below him the city lights twinkled. It was beautiful, peaceful. He leaned his head against the cool glass, trying to will himself back to the wide, empty spaces of his desert town. He raised a hand to his face, and noticed at that moment that he had been clutching something in his hand. It was a scrap of fabric, sky blue, dotted with small white flowers. Max smiled faintly. Liz’s scarf. She had been wearing it tied around her wrist like a bracelet that morning—she had asked him to tie it for her just before they left her bedroom. When he lifted it to his face, tears filled his eyes. It smelled like Liz—like wildflowers and rain and fresh laundry.
I love you, Liz, he thought fervently, trying to send the message to her across light years of empty space. I’ll come back to you. I swear it. He closed his eyes, a single hot tear spilling down his cheek. Wait for me.
Roswell, Three Months Later
“Here. You wanted skim milk, right?” Tess handed Liz a steaming paper cup and fell into step beside the other girl.
“Right. Thanks.” Liz took a sip of her latte. “Perfect,” she said, smiling at Tess.
“You’re welcome.” Tess paused to admire a sweater in a shop window. “Did you decide about the red pants?”
Liz shook her head. “They made my hips look big.”
Tess stopped walking and raised an eyebrow. “Liz, you don’t have any hips.”
Liz pretended to be hurt. “What are you saying? That I’m some kind of freak of nature?”
“Yes,” Tess said matter-of-factly. “But one who can wear pants with pockets. So really it’s a bonus.”
Liz laughed. “Thanks a lot. Maybe next time I should get the latte with whole milk.”
They walked in silence for a moment, then Tess glanced sideways at Liz. “So how are you doing?” she asked quietly.
Liz knew what she meant. Over the last three months she and Tess had grown closer as they bonded over the loss of Max. Maria and Alex had been great, but Liz didn’t know if she would have made it without Tess. “I’m okay,” she said finally. “You?”
“I’m good.” Tess smiled faintly. “You’ve been holding up really well, you know. I don’t know exactly how I would have handled it if I were you.”
“You’d live,” Liz said. “And every day it would be a little better.”
“Is that how it is for you?” Tess questioned, studying Liz with her blue, blue eyes.
Liz shrugged and felt the questions slide off like water. She had learned that lately—if you didn’t let words reach her, they didn’t hurt. Didn’t bring up memories that could shatter the fragile shell of calm she had managed to build. “Yeah. It gets easier.”
Tess had been the only person to notice Liz’s new method of dealing with her loss. And the only one it didn’t work on. “So then you’re okay that Michael hasn’t been trying to dig anything up?”
Liz couldn’t stop the sliver of sheer anguish that pierced her heart. “He’s done what he could,” she said, looking away and wondering when Tess had gotten so damned perceptive.
Tess nodded. “Yeah, he did.” She cleared her throat. “So does that mean you’re going to stop, too?”
Liz bit her lower lip and closed her eyes against a rush of tears. “I can’t, Tess,” she said in a small voice.
Tess reached out and squeezed Liz’s hand. “I can’t either,” she said.
“What are we going to do?” Liz asked, fishing a pack of tissues out of her pocket. She handed one to Tess, whose eyes were looking watery by then, too, and dabbed at her own eyes with another.
“I don’t know,” Tess answered. “I’ve racked my brain thinking of a place to start, but there’s just nothing.” She took a deep breath. “But I can’t make myself give up.” The two of them stared at each other for a long moment, then Tess shook her head. “Liz, I know you know that this doesn’t look good. And I know how hard it’s going to be when I have to wake up one morning and realize that there’s nothing I can do.”
Liz shook her head vigorously. “Tess, I can’t. If I just give up, it’s like saying he’s not coming back.” Their eyes met and locked, and Liz was grateful for the understanding she found there.
“I know,” Tess said gently, “and I’m not going to force this. I can’t even do it myself. But I just want to make sure that you know that when you do decide to go on—even if it means giving up on Max—it’s not wrong.”
“It feels wrong,” Liz said. “It feels really, really wrong.”
Tess nodded. “Right now. But one day maybe it won’t. And I don’t want you to feel bad when it happens.” Tess smiled at the girl she now considered to be her best friend. “Liz, no one could love Max more than you have. But you’re an amazing person and you have so much love to give—it would be wrong for you to be alone forever. I know you still hope Max will find his way back somehow—so do I. But if he doesn’t, he wouldn’t want you to be alone.”
Liz looked away, blinking furiously. “I know. When he—when the other Max came from the future, he said that us being apart was a good thing for me. He said it might be better for me to be with a human.” Liz shook her head sadly. “He didn’t understand. I’ll never love anyone like I love Max.”
“Of course you won’t,” Tess agreed. “But. . .that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to love anyone.”
Liz considered this for a moment, then shook her head. “It’s not time yet,” she said, taking a deep breath. “But you—how’s it going with you and Kyle?”
Tess’s cheeks turned pink. “It’s. . .increasingly weird.”
“Well, I mean, sometimes he treats me like I’m his annoying little sister.” She made a face. “And sometimes he’s like my super-annoying little brother. I mean, he leaves his clothes all over the place, and he doesn’t seem to know where the dishwasher is, let alone how to put things in it.”
“So you’re saying he’s a guy, then,” Liz said, laughing.
“Such a guy,” Tess answered in an aggrieved tone. “But sometimes he really sweet, you know? Like, when I had a cold and asked him to go get me some cought medicine, he brought back like five different kinds because he didn’t know which one to get. And once he tried to do my laundry.”
“Was that what happened to your pink tank top?” Liz wanted to know.
“Yeah. I couldn’t even fix it with my powers. It was really sweet, though.” Tess took a sip of her latte and smiled. “It’s hard living in the same house. I can’t imagine what Jim would think if he ever found out.”
“There’s stuff to find out about?” Liz demanded.
“No—no!” Tess protested, her cheeks even pinker. “I mean about how we’re kind of. . .you know, attracted to each other. I know he wouldn’t want to kick me out, but I think he’d be kind of freaked about it.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Hope graduation comes fast?” Tess laughed. “I don’t know if we can last that long, but it’s the only scenario I can think of where Jim’s forehead doesn’t get all vein-y.”
“Hope it goes away. . .well, that’s how I usually handle my problems.” Liz grinned. She looked down for a moment, and when she looked up again her eyes were serious. “Look, Tess, I wanted to say thank you. For how you’ve been the past few months. I don’t know if I would have made it without you.”
Tess smiled. “You’re welcome. It’s nice to have a friend. A real one, I mean.” She looked a little uncomfortable—Tess wasn’t used to having emotional moments like this. “Um, look—that looks like a sale sign to me. Wanna check it out?”
“Sounds good.” Liz smiled back and the two girls headed down the street together.
|posted on 31-Dec-2001 1:33:25 PM by mockingbird39|
“Lord Khivar has returned to the palace. He will explain all that he wishes you to know.” The guard turned around and headed for the door.
Max slammed his fist onto the table beside his breakfast tray. “You’ve been saying that for a month.”
“Lord Khivar has been called away. There is much conflict on this planet.”
“I know that.” Max paced angrily. “I’ve read about it—I’ve read about it until my eyes blurred.” He waved a hand at the walls of books. “Now I want to know what he wants me to do about it.”
“All will be explained—”
“When Lord Khivar returns,” Max finished sarcastically. “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Mind tell me when that’s going to be?”
“Right about now.”
Max spun to see Khivar enter his room. The other man was dressed in what appeared to be a military uniform—one that was probably impressive when it wasn’t dusty and wrinkled—and looked as though he hadn’t slept in days. “You,” Max said. “I’ve been stuck in this room for a month, waiting to hear why you grabbed me off the street and brought me to another planet—”
Khivar made a small movement with his hand. “I think this would best remain a private conversation,” he said, and the guards promptly left the room. When the door had shut behind them, Khivar wearily ran a hand over his face. “I apologize for my inattentiveness,” he said. “I trust you’ve been comfortable enough in my absence?”
“Comfortable?” Max repeated in disbelief. “Is that what you call being locked in a room without any explanation?”
“Again, my apologies,” Khivar said. “I had hoped you would occupy your time with some of the reading material I left for you.”
Max’s jaw clenched. “I want to know why I’m here,” he ground out.
Khivar regarded him thoughtfully, then nodded slowly. “That, Max Evans, is quite an interesting story.”
He nodded again. “Very well.” Khivar moved to a pair of armchairs near the windows and sat down. “Where to start, where to start,” he murmured.
Max sat down across from him. “How about at the beginning?”
“No.” Khivar shook his head. “At the end, I think.” He looked out the window at the grounds below. “In four years, your old supporters will mount a campaign to take back this planet. They will bring you and the others here and mount a revolt in your name. Millions of lives will be lost in the process, and millions more in the nuclear winter that follows.”
“Yes. The clouds of ash and debris will block the rays of the suns, and it will kill eighty percent of all our plantlife. Drinking water will freeze, entire ecosystems will be destroyed. Eventually, the planet will die.” Khivar steepled his fingers and tapped them against his chin. His eyes were a deep purple color.
“I know what nuclear winter is,” Max said quietly, but the anger was gone from his voice.
“Do you know what I find curious, Max Evans?” Khivar asked suddenly. Max just looked at him. “I find it curious that out of that whole story all that caught your ear was nuclear winter.” A small smile crossed his face and his eyes lightened a shade. “You already know that time travel is possible, then?”
“Yeah.” Max looked at him. “So you brought me here to prevent losing control of the planet, then?”
“I brought you here to prevent a massacre.” Khivar met Max’s gaze evenly. “Do you realize what’s at stake here? You don’t know this planet—perhaps you don’t care about it. But the lives of millions are at stake. Does that mean anything to you?”
“You think I can prevent this?” Max wanted to know.
“Yes, I do.” Khivar nodded emphatically.
Khivar smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. In the harsh light of the windows, he looked strained and weary. “You will sit at Summit with me and my governors,” he said. “You will give your approval to our government, and take from your supporters any chance of using your name to mount their revolt.”
“I’ll never help you,” Max said flatly.
Khivar was silent for a long time, and when he spoke again his voice was regretful. “I see. Then I am afraid, Max Evans, that you must remain in my hospitality.”
“Holding me prisoner won’t get me to support your government,” Max told him angrily. “I won’t—”
“My object is to remove you as a rallying point. That can be accomplished in more than one way,” Khivar interrupted in a cold tone, rising to his feet. “My house staff will see that you are made as comfortable as possible. Please feel free to make use of the grounds and facilities. But you will remain on the grounds of the palace.”
Max jumped to his feet. “For how long?!” he demanded.
“For as long as is necessary,” he answered blandly.
“And how long is that?” Max persisted, following Khivar as he walked to the door. “You snatched me off the street—took me away from my home and my family, from—” He stopped when he realized he had taken Liz’s scarf from his pocket and was clutching it so tightly his fingers ached.
“That human girl you were with when my lieutenant found you,” Khivar said, his eyes on the bit of cloth clenched in Max’s fist, “is she your mate?”
“My—my mate?” Max looked away. “No. She. . .I love her,” he said finally, embarrassed by the sudden rush of emotion that made his eyes sting.
“I see.” Khivar discretely lowered his gaze to rest on the parquet floors beneath his feet. “That belongs to her?” he asked, nodding at the scarf. Max nodded silently. Khivar’s next words were spoken in a low, sympathetic tone. “I know you must be worried about her, but I swear to you she was not harmed.” Khivar cleared his throat. “Physically, of course. The shock—”
“You want me to take your word on that?” Max asked harshly.
Khivar looked startled, but he did not leave. “If the two of you have. . .bonded, it may be possible for you to connect with her. Make certain she is safe.” He paused. “See her.”
See Liz? Max looked up in surprise. “What are you talking about?”
“Using that,” Khivar added.
Max glanced at the scarf in his hand. “I don’t understand.”
Khivar gestured to the chairs they had been sitting in and quickly the two men sat down. “The two of you have. . .” Khivar looked a little embarrassed.
Max understood. “Yes. The night before you kidnapped me.”
“If the connection the two of you made is strong enough, you should be able to center in on her energy and connect to it.” Khivar studied Max. “You could see her, see how she’s doing. But she won’t be able to see you.”
“Using the scarf?” Max asked. “How?”
Khivar sat back in his chair. “Find her energy.” At Max’s blank look, he continued. “Did you ever sense she was there, without really seeing her?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“How did you know it was her?” Khivar persisted.
“It was just. . .a feeling,” Max said, shrugging.
“Exactly,” Khivar told him. “Now close your eyes and find that feeling. Pretend she’s in a crowd of people in the next room, and find her.”
Max shook his head. “She’s on another planet, millions of light years away. How am I supposed to find her?”
“Hold that scarf. It’s hers, it’s got her energy all over it. Concentrate on that, then find it.” Khivar almost smiled. “If you want it enough, you’ll see her.” He stood up. “I’ll leave you to practice,” he said, heading for the door. He paused just before he reached it. “I should warn you that time on earth moves much differently than it does here. What is only a few weeks here, may be much longer there.”
“How much longer?”
Khivar shook his head. “I don’t know exactly. A few months, perhaps. Maybe a little longer.” He studied Max thoughtfully. “Be careful, Max. Grief moves in its own time, and that time has nothing to do with something as abstract as the turn of a planet.” With that, he turned and left.
|posted on 1-Jan-2002 4:27:49 PM by mockingbird39|
It was no use. Max opened his eyes and resisted the urge to put his fist through the window. He had been trying for almost two weeks, and he was no closer to connecting with Liz than when Khivar had first told him it was possible. Although, truth be told, he wasn’t exactly sure what was supposed to happen when he succeeded. Sometimes he could feel people, like a sea of lights stretching out in front of him. A few times he even thought he sensed Liz—her energy, as Khivar had said—but whenever he tried to get close to it, it faded away. Max crumpled the scarf in his hand and pressed it to his face, closing his eyes. He just couldn’t do it. He was never going to see Liz again.
It wasn’t fair—it just wasn’t fair. After all the time they’d waited and come up with a million reasons to be apart, after they’d finally decided not to logic themselves out of being together anymore, they had been ripped so far apart. Max leaned his head against the cool glass of the window, remembering their one night together. He’d remember that night forever—I’ll never let that fade, he thought fiercely. But even as he thought it, his heart ached. How could one night be enough for a lifetime? He remembered the way Liz’s skin had felt beneath his fingertips, how softly her body had clung to his, how her hair had tickled his his neck as she leaned down to kiss him, how her mouth had tasted when he—
“I don’t know, Tess. London?”
Max nearly fell over when a blessedly familiar voice broke the silence in his room. Except that it wasn’t his room. He staggered, looking around wildly, and found that he was in Liz’s bedroom, standing just inside her window. Sunlight streamed through the glass. . .and through him, too, he realized, for he cast no shadow on the carpet. He looked to the bed and found Liz there, sprawled out beside. . .Tess? Papers and glossy brochures surrounded both of them.
“Yes, London,” Tess was saying, wagging a brochure in front of Liz. “Look at this campus—it’s like going to school in a movie. Don’t you want to live in London?”
Liz took the brochure and flipped through the pages, looking doubtful. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “It’s pretty far away.”
Max watched her in awe for a moment. She was so beautiful—so incredibly beautiful and familiar that he thought his heart would break. “Liz,” he said, crossing to kneel beside her. “Liz, I missed you so much.”
But Liz went on as though she hadn’t heard. “I mean, I’ve always wanted to visit London, but I never thought about going to college there.”
“Liz?” Max asked, reaching out to touch her. He pulled back in alarm when he realized he couldn't. It was as though an invisible barrier separated them, keeping Max’s hand a millimeter away from touching her. Frustrated, he tried again. “Liz—Liz, it’s me. Can you hear me?”
“Liz, with your SAT scores, you can think about going to college anywhere you want,” Tess told her, pointing to another paper which sat on the bed between them. “Look at this, math—760. Have I told you lately how much I despise you?”
“Not since the scores first came,” Liz replied absently, still engrossed in the brochure. “And yours weren’t too shabby, either, Miss 740 Verbal.”
She couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t touch her. Max put a hand over his eyes. This was too much. To only be able to see her. . .it was almost worse than being apart. But he couldn’t bring himself to leave. Not yet.
“Well, I could always talk my way out of trouble,” Tess answered. “But you—I can’t believe you’ve got your pick of schools and you’re thinking about staying so close to home.”
“Stanford isn’t close to home,” Liz protested.
Tess snorted and snatched the brochure back. “Fine. Stay here and bake,” she retorted. “I’m going to London.”
Playfully, Liz grabbed it back. “Stanford,” she informed Tess loftily, “is in Palo Alto, which is very far away from Roswell, in northern California.”
“It is not,” Tess said. “It’s, like, the upper part of the middle.” She gave a dramatic sigh. “Anyway, it’s no London.”
“I wish you’d consider staying closer to home,” Liz told her. “What am I going to do without you around?”
“I was kinda hoping you’d keep Kyle from flirting with other girls,” Tess teased.
“That would take a force greater than I,” Liz said solemnly.
Tess looked stung. “Do you really think he will?” she asked.
Liz tossed the brochure aside and whacked Tess on the knee. “Of course not,” she assured her friend. “Kyle is smitten. He’s like. . .totally smitten.”
Max watched the exchange in disbelief. Liz and Tess were friends now? How the hell long had he been gone? He stood up and looked over the papers on the bed. College brochures, applications, a copy of The 2002 Guide to American Colleges and Universities. Liz and Tess were looking at colleges. Max sighed a little. He had wanted to go to college—true, he had always thought he’d go somewhere close to home, but he had always thought he’d go.
“Kyle is yours,” Liz was saying to Tess. “He loves you. You don’t have to worry.” She smiled. “But I wish you’d stay closer to home.”
Tess put down another catalog and folded her legs under her, Indian-style. “The point of going to college in London is getting away from home,” she said. She paused for a second, then added, “And I really think it would be good for you to get away from here. Go someplace new—get a change of scenery. Go someplace where Roswell is far away—where everything that’s happened here doesn’t own you. You don’t have to leave the country, but what about some schools in the east? Or the south? Or. . .you know—anywhere but here.”
Liz looked down, slapping a brochure against her jean-clad leg. “That’s what Alex says, too,” she admitted.
Max looked at Liz’s thoughtful expression in surprise. Was Liz really going to leave? He couldn’t imagine Roswell without her. And how would he find her if—when—when he finally got free of Khivar’s opulent prison?
“You should listen to Alex,” Tess said. “He’s very smart. Of course, he only got a 730 on his verbal, but. . .”
Liz chuckled, but quickly grew serious again. “But aren’t you kind of afraid of what might happen if you go away?” she asked.
Tess shrugged. “You mean because of the whole ‘end of the world’ thing?” she asked. “Maybe a little. But I think now that we know it’s a possibility we’ll be better prepared. Anyway, it’s not like we can do anything now, right? If there’s a problem, I’m on the next plane back.” She glanced at Liz and nodded knowingly. “But that’s not the only reason you’re afraid to go away, is it? You’re afraid Max will come back and you won’t be here.”
Liz chewed on her lower lip. “It’s silly,” she said slowly. “Right?”
“Yes,” Tess agreed immediately. At Liz’s startled look, she smiled. “Not because I think he’s not coming back. It’s silly because Max would find you anywhere, Liz. It doesn’t matter where you go. When he comes back, he’ll know where to look.”
Liz smiled back at her. “Thanks, Tess.”
“You’re welcome,” she answered with a grin. She looked at her watch. “Oh, look—I’ve gotta go. I have to stop and get milk on my way home. I’ll see you tomorrow at school, okay?”
“Yeah.” Liz started stacking the college materials on the bed. “Last day of our junior year, right?”
“Right.” Tess slung her messenger bag over one shoulder. “We’re, like, a day away from being seniors.”
“A day and a summer,” Liz corrected.
“Whatever,” Tess said carelessly. “As soon as I’m no longer a junior, I’m calling myself a senior. Hey, I’ll see you later.” She paused with her hand on the door. “Don’t make a decision without me, okay?”
“Don’t worry,” Liz said, leaning back against her pillows. “I’ve got miles to go before I sleep.”
Tess waved and walked out the door. Max heard her footsteps on the stairs, and the cheerful goodbye she called out to Liz’s mother. He walked over and sat down beside Liz on the bed. “College, huh?” he asked, smiling a little. “That’s. . .that’s exciting. I bet you’ll do great in college.” Liz picked up a fat catalog from Stanford and began to read. “Stanford is a really great school,” he continued. “And it sounds like you’ve did really great on the SATs. I’m proud of you.” He paused, watching her face as she read. “So junior year’s almost over. I can’t believe it’s been that long for you. I wish I could have been here with you. I wish. . .” His voice trailed off and he shook his head. Liz suddenly put down the Stanford catalog and sat up, searching through the other materials on the bed. When she found what she was looking for, a brochure for Brown University, she lay down on her side to look through it. A small smile flitted across her face as she read, and Max smiled, too. “I wish I could touch you,” he whispered, slowly moving one hand down the line of her arm as close to her skin as he could. “I miss you so much. I need you, Liz.”
All at once Liz put down the brochure and reached beneath her pillow, pulling out a strip of photos. Max knew what they were even before she unfolded them. Max and Liz at the winter carnival. They had been so happy that night. “I miss you, Max,” Liz said aloud, her eyes damp as she looked at the photos. “I miss you so much, and I still believe you’re going to come back. But Tess is right—I need to get out of here. I need to get away. I hope you can understand that.”
Tears stung Max’s eyes. “Liz, it’s okay,” he said softly. “Please know it’s okay. Tess was right—I will find you. Anywhere you go. Just, please—wait for me. I promise I’ll come. I promise, Liz.” He lay down next to her, holding onto her as best he could as she wept quietly. And in the sunny silence of that desert afternoon, Max finally let his own tears fall.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He didn’t know how much later it was when he woke up on the floor of his room in Khivar’s palace, sweating and shaky. He managed to get to his feet, leaning heavily against the wall, and dragged himself to his bed. Without bothering to change his clothes or even turn down the bedcovers, he fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
|posted on 2-Jan-2002 12:33:29 PM by mockingbird39|
“So tell me about Georgetown—about Washington,” Alex said. He was crammed into a booth at the Crashdown along with Isabel, Michael, Maria, Tess, Kyle, and Liz. “Is it really like it looks in the movies?”
Liz grinned. “I love it there,” she said. “It’s busy all the time, traffic is murder, and there’s always a new scandal.” She laughed. “I completely love it.”
The others laughed, too. “I can’t believe you switched from biology to journalism,” Maria said. “You were going to be the scientist, and I—”
“You were going to be her wacky friend,” Michael finished. “I think you mentioned that.”
“Well, it is a shock,” Maria protested. “Every science teacher at West Roswell High is trying to figure out where they went wrong.”
“I think it’s like Zen,” Tess announced. “Just when I find photography, Liz finds journalism. We’ll make a fantastic team.”
“Yeah, if you ever decide to come back from London,” Isabel put in. She was sitting beside Alex, looking very glad that he was back from school in Texas.
Tess shrugged. “Liz could always move to London,” she suggested innocently.
“No, she couldn’t!” Maria cried. “I need my best friend, and I’m not moving to London. You know what the rain does to my hair.”
Max sat on the edge of the booth beside them, watching and listening. It was hard to believe that everyone—well, everyone except Michael—had left Roswell for college. This was the first time they’d all been back since starting school that fall, and he was enjoying listening to everyone catching up. Outside the Crashdown, the wind had picked up and it looked cold, but Max had learned that he could no more feel the cold than he could cast a shadow. Still the Crashdown seemed warm and cozy, filled with people, decorated for the coming Christmas holidays, and brightly lit. Max thought there was no place he would rather be. For the past few months. . .past few months on Antar, anyway—it seemed to be about a year and a half on Earth. . .he had spent every minute he could with Liz, watching her finish high school, leave home, and begin college. He had watched her sleep at night, watched her study, sat beside her in class and at meals. Each visit had worn him out, the enormous mental effort sapping his strength so severely that afterward it was all he could do to drag himself to his bed, but he couldn’t stop. Although he couldn’t talk to her or touch her, in some ways he felt closer to Liz than ever. He knew her daily routines—what she ate, what she read, the music she listened to, her study times, the late nights she pulled before exams. When she had changed her major to journalism it had come as a surprise to everyone but him. He had seen her lose interest in her science classes and watched as she began to haunt the campus newspaper office. He knew that Liz had fallen in love with Washington’s political scene and the enormous rumor mill is spawned. He knew, too, that world political events were starting to capture her interest. The old Liz hadn’t been concerned with such things; this new Liz thrived on them.
Liz took a sip of her coffee. “Michael, how has it been here in Roswell?” she wanted to know. Max knew that, unlike the others, Michael had stayed in Roswell, going to junior college and keeping an eye on the granilith and all things alien in Max’s absence.
Michael shrugged. “Pretty calm. Nothing. . .nothing new.” He gave Liz a sympathetic look. “If there was anything, I’d have called you. You know that, right?”
Liz nodded, a trace of a smile flitting across her face. “I know.”
“You still miss him,” Isabel said sadly. It wasn’t a question. “We all do, Liz.”
Liz looked up, meeting sympathetic gazes all around the table. “I do miss him,” she said quietly, then she smiled. “But it’s good to be home with you guys again. I miss all of you.”
Kyle put his arm around Tess’s shoulders. “You should come to London with me this summer to visit Tess.”
“Yeah, you’re always saying you’re going to visit,” Tess agreed. “You should come—you all should come. We’d have a blast.”
Max listened as they talked, following the thread of the conversation as it ran from one subject to another. He’d have given anything to be there with them—really be with them, to be able to take part in the conversation, share a meal with them. The more he saw of Liz’s life the more he realized how much he was missing out on. It made him angry, and sad. He missed Liz, missed Isabel and Michael and his parents, missed the experiences he would have shared with all of them. He smiled sadly as he looked at his old friends. They all seemed so happy—even Liz, though he knew better than anyone how her old life sometimes caught up with her. She still cried for him sometimes, and sometimes he cried with her.
“Next month when I go back to D.C., I’m going to try to get in to hear the Supreme Court in session,” Liz said, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Word on the street is that they’re going to hear an affirmative action case.”
“I think I’ll let you summarize it for me,” Maria told her.
“Well, the decision may not come out for weeks afterward,” Liz said, “but I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks,” Maria grinned.
“No problem,” Liz answered. “I know you UCLA people only want sound bites, right?”
“Hey, I resent that,” Maria said, but her voice carried no heat. “But I’m very busy, so the shorter the better, okay?”
Max was listening to Kyle talk about the wrestling program at UNLV when the air around him seemed to shudder and the Crashdown dissolved into his room at Khivar’s palace. Damn. He had lost his concentration again. He turned his head toward the weak light from the windows and as his eyes focused he noticed a long shadow across the floor in front of him. With great effort, he lifted his head. Khivar stood there, his eyes a deep midnight blue. Max had learned that Antarians’ eyes responded to their emotions. With Khivar, midnight blue meant he was troubled.
“Do you require assistance, Max Evans?” Khivar asked, his voice politely impersonal.
Max wetted his dry lips and cleared his throat. “I’m fine,” he said, cursing the weakness in his voice.
Khivar nodded absently. “I trust you have learned that your lover was not harmed?” he wanted to know.
“Not physically,” Max corrected.
“Of course.” Khivar seated himself opposite Max, arranging his long, lean frame in the wide padded chair. “My staff tells me you have been spending much of your time this way.” Max didn’t answer. “I can understand your need to see her,” Khivar continued.
“You understand nothing,” Max said flatly. Khivar’s eyes lightened a shade. Grief? What did Khivar have to grieve for?
“Loss is part of life,” Khivar said in a quiet voice. “Everyone experiences it. Even me.” He studied Max thoughtfully. “You really don’t remember anything, do you?” he asked. “I don’t know if that makes this easier, or harder.”
“What are you talking about?”
Khivar rose and began to peruse the bookshelves. “You and I were not always enemies, Max Evans.” He glanced at Max, who couldn’t mask his surprise. “You look shocked. Understandable. But you and I are not that different.” He chose a book from the shelf and opened it near the front before handing it to Max. “Here. Look at this.”
The picture he indicated showed two young men. One was Khivar, younger and less battle-scarred than Max would have guessed he could ever be. The other, according to the caption, was King Zan of Antar. Max stared. He had no memory of this picture, or of the man in it. The two men were smiling—laughing, even—and the man Max had been had an arm around his future enemy’s shoulder. Max looked up at Khivar.
“You see?” Khivar asked. “We were friends once. Allies. You brought me into your government after the throne passed to you.” A sad smile crossed Khivar’s face. “We were going to be the first of the new era.”
|posted on 4-Jan-2002 9:33:30 AM by mockingbird39|
“I don’t believe you,” Max said. He started Khivar down with all the strength he could muster. “Why would I be friends with a man who wanted to enslave my planet?”
“Enslave?” Khivar repeated. He shook his head. “You and I were going to free them, Max. When you came to the throne, you had the same goals I do now. You wanted to make this planet worthy of our people.” He sat back down and leaned forward. “You weren’t a bad person—or a bad king. But you had centuries of family honor and expectations to live up to. It was too much for you in the end—you backed off the reforms you had planned.” Khivar looked away. “You were my friend, but my first loyalty was to my people. I had to help them.”
“You expect me to believe that you were trying to save our people? That I was some kind of slave lord?”
“You didn’t want to be,” Khivar said. “You knew the old system wouldn’t last—that the people were already beginning to see the disparity between the ruling class and everyone else. Have you read these books?” he demanded, waving a hand at the bookshelves. “Any of them? Have you read about the famines when the floods came? You and I walked through the fields and the villages and saw them starving. We were going to help them. You could have done it, too. You poured money into the sciences and helped fund the new technology that would have meant more larger harvests and bigger stockpiles for the flood years, the drought years. It was working—you were the greatest king your family had produced in generations.”
Slowly, still exhausted from the effort he had expended to visit Liz, Max rose to his feet. “So I helped them. And you killed me and my family.”
“It wasn’t like that.” Khivar shook his head. “The reforms were creating a new middle class. It was growing. People were moving to the cities to work in new factories. The standard of living was on the rise, and so was education. The story’s an old one, and it’s happened on more than this planet. Educated people want a say in their government.”
“If I was such a reformer, why didn’t I give it to them?”
Khivar sighed heavily. “You were going to. But we were trying to begin a new era, and the old one wasn’t giving up that easily. Your father’s governors, the elders of the council, your own family—they appealed to your sense of loyalty, your family pride. You put off the reforms. There were revolts. Lots of them. People died—innocent people. I tried to get you to do what we’d planned, but you shut me out.” The tall man’s shoulders slumped and he seemed strangely defeated. “We had sworn the oath of brotherhood together. But your family pride meant more to you than our friendship and all that we had wanted to do for our people. I tried to talk to you, again and again, but you finally sent me to one of the outer provinces to serve there.” He paused, his expression hardening. “And then you gave Vilandra to your new lieutenant.”
“Who?” Max asked, frowning.
Khivar chuckled mirthlessly and shook his head. “You don’t even remember that,” he muttered, more to himself than to Max. His face revealed the most emotion Max had yet glimpsed in him. “Vilandra was your sister. I loved her—I had loved her since we were children. She loved me, too. We shared the same dreams, the same hopes for our people. I wanted to marry her, but you gave her to Rath. That was when I knew it was over. If you could use Vilandra like that, you weren’t the man I had sworn loyalty to.”
Max was reeling from Khivar’s tale. He could never have been that kind of man. . .could he? “But you were the one who killed her. You killed all of us.”
“I never meant to kill her,” Khivar said, shaking his head. “None of you were supposed to die.” He began to pace. “Once you cut me out of the government, I knew you weren’t going to continue the reforms on your own. I couldn’t let all we had worked for die. So when a group of soldiers came to me and asked me to lead them in a revolt, I said yes. Not at first, but. . .eventually I said yes. And so we became enemies.”
The regret in Khivar’s voice was unmistakable, but could it be trusted? Max watched the other man pace restlessly before the windows for a long moment before he spoke. “Why are you telling me this?”
Khivar turned and faced Max. “Because I want you to act. You can’t spend the rest of your life watching some poor girl on another planet. Sooner or later, Max, you’re going to see something you don’t want to see. What then? What will you live for?” He pointed to the wide bank of windows. “This planet is still on a knife edge. One false move could send it over the edge. You loved these people once—I know you did. You could live for them.”
Max shook his head. “I don’t believe you,” he said, but his voice was not as sure as it had been before.
“Then read these books.” Khivar gestured to the bookshelves. “Use that computer to check what I’m saying. Learn about your people, and then decide who you believe. And what you want to do with the rest of your life.” He shrugged. “It’s up to you, Max,” he said, and then he left.
When he was gone, Max walked slowly over to his bed and lay down. But this time sleep didn’t come easily.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Georgetown, Ten Months Later
“Liz, there you are. Are you ready?”
Max and Liz both looked up to see a young, dark-haired man standing in the doorway to the outer office of the student newspaper. He smiled in Liz’s direction. “You look great,” he said.
She stood up, smiling back. “Thanks, Kenneth. So do you.”
Max looked from one to the other, a little perplexed and not at all pleased. He had arrived a few moments ago, not surprised to find Liz in the newspaper office, reading a transcript of a recent senate hearing. He hadn’t noticed anything different, but as she stood up he noticed that she was wearing a dark blue cocktail dress. Her hair was piled on her head, and she wore small diamond earrings. When she smiled, she was breathtaking.
“Thanks,” the guy—Kenneth—said. He picked up Liz’s coat and held it out for her. “We’d better get going. We don’t want to miss the cocktail hour.”
Cocktail hour? Where were they going? Max glanced at Liz and frowned when he saw the bright smile lighting her eyes. Was Liz going out on a date with this guy?
Liz came around the desk and let Kenneth help her into her coat. “I can’t believe we’re actually going to this. I’m so excited. Do you think the Speaker of the House will really be there?”
“He was planning on it as of two days ago,” Kenneth answered. “Come on. I left the car running.”
“Oooh, we’re driving?” Liz asked teasingly. "You must be one of those 'classy' guys I keep hearing about."
“Did you want to take the subway?”
“In these heels?” She shook her head. “No way.”
“Then let’s go.”
Max enjoyed the drive even less than he had enjoyed the conversation at the newspaper office. They were barely in the car before Kenneth glanced at Liz and smiled.
“I’m really glad you wanted to come with me tonight,” he said.
“Of course I wanted to come!” Liz exclaimed, laughing. “This is, like, a political junkie’s dream come true.”
“Well. . .” He paused for a second. “Actually, I meant that I’m really glad you wanted to come with me.”
Liz looked surprised. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, I. . .well, there’s no one else I’d rather go with,” she finished lamely.
He gave her a knowing look. “So then, you weren’t thinking of this as a date,” he said.
She looked down, squeezing her hands together in her lap. “I guess I just hadn’t really thought about it. Um. . .should I have?”
He didn’t answer her question. Instead, he smiled as he made a right turn. “You know, everyone said I shouldn’t bother asking you out. I think that might actually be why I, uh, put it off for almost a year.” He shrugged. “They all said Liz Parker doesn’t date. At all. But I figure, why should the threat of public humiliation keep a guy from trying? I mean, I plan to run for office some day, so it’s not like it’s the last time I’ll be risking my dignity.” Liz couldn’t help but smile at that. Encouraged, Kenneth continued. “But you said yes, so my dignity is spared this time. . .unless you thought I asked you because I thought you were the only person who could get as excited over this as me—which would be wrong, by the way.”
Liz glanced in his direction. “Why did you ask me?”
He stopped at a red light and looked over at her seriously. “Because I like you.”
Max, sitting in the back seat, closed his eyes. He had watched Liz shoot down several guys. She had never let one get this far before.
“It’s not that I have something against dating,” Liz was saying. “It’s just that. . .well, last time it didn’t go so well.”
Kenneth nodded. “Some rat bastard broke your heart,” he said, and Max scowled.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Liz said quickly. “We just kind of got. . .um, separated. Neither of us wanted it. It just happened.”
“Want me to find him and kick his ass for you?”
Liz laughed a little and shook her head. “No.”
“Just asking,” Kenneth grinned.
They rode in silence for a while, then Liz glanced at him. “Um, Kenneth?”
“Remember how I said I hadn’t thought about this as a date?” She looked down, smiling quietly. “Well, I think I’d like to. Consider this a date, I mean. If that’s okay with you.”
Kenneth smiled, reached over and took her hand. “I’d say that’s okay with me.”
In the back seat, Max gave a heavy sigh. He leaned close to Liz, imagining what it would feel like to be holding her hand on this chilly fall night. He opened his mouth to tell her he loved her, but then shook his head and looked away. What was the use? She couldn’t hear him anyway.
This time, when Max found himself back in his room, he didn’t go to sleep. Instead, he chose a book from one of the shelves and began to read.
|posted on 6-Jan-2002 8:17:35 AM by mockingbird39|
“My guard tells me you wished to speak with me?” Khivar entered Max’s room and stood opposite the desk where Max was sitting.
Max glanced around and stood up, abandoning the stack of books on the desk. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I do.”
“You have my attention,” Khivar said, one eyebrow raised in a questioning look.
Max nodded, wondering where to start. “We have a saying on Earth,” he began finally. “We say that history is written by the victors.”
Khivar seemed to ponder this for a moment. “A true enough statement,” he replied. He studied Max carefully. “Why have you shared it with me?”
Max took a deep breath. “I did what you said,” he told Khivar. “I read these books, and I did the research. I still don’t know all of what happened, and I don’t know how much of this I believe.”
A small smile played around Khivar’s mouth. “Because it was written by the victors. I see.”
“But there’s one thing I know for sure,” Max continued. “This planet has problems. Big ones.”
Khivar nodded seriously. “Yes. Yes, it certainly does. We have an uneducated lower class, an uncertain infrastructure, and our economy is entirely too dependent on a few cash crops.”
“Crops which fail one out of every eight years,” Max agreed. “You’ve also got an inefficient bureaucracy and an unstable military—you’re always fighting off rivals and spending money on quashing revolts when it really needs to be poured into technology research and disaster relief. People are still starving here.”
Khivar winced. “I know.”
“I want to help.” Max stared hard at the man before him. “This is my planet, too. You brought me here to help prevent a war—fine. But I want to do more than that.”
Khivar’s face was grave. “What do you think you have to offer this planet? They don’t need a king.”
“I’m offering myself,” Max said immediately. “In whatever way I can be used.”
“I offered you a chance to sit at Summit with me,” Khivar said, “and you refused.”
“If the offer still stands, I’d like to accept. Once I know more about the way government works here.” Max’s expression was one of determination. “But then I want to go home.”
“Your support is conditional, then.” Khivar didn’t appear to be happy with the idea.
“I never said I’d support you,” Max corrected flatly. “I don’t want to be a puppet, or a symbol. I want to help my people.”
Khivar shook his head. “No. I cannot promise to send you back. I brought you here to prevent a disaster.”
“And that’s what I intend to do,” he said firmly. “I want to help these people—I don’t want them to die, either. Not in a war, or a famine, or nuclear winter. But when I’ve done what I can to help them, I want to go home.” He paused. “Will you accept my help?”
Khivar didn’t answer at once. Instead, he turned to the windows and looked out over the planet Max didn’t know but desperately wanted to. Finally, he turned and nodded once. “I accept your offer,” he said solemnly, formally. He held out his hand, palm turned in, and somehow Max knew to grasp the other man’s forearm firmly. “We have much work for you, Max Evans,” Khivar said. “Welcome.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That night, before going to bed, Max pulled Liz’s scarf from beneath his pillow and closed his eyes. It was getting easier for him to find her energy, but it still drained him. This time he found Liz at the park near her apartment. He frowned when he realized that she was with Kenneth. He had found them together several times, and each time they had seemed to be getting closer. Now he was not happy to see that Kenneth was holding Liz’s hand.
“Liz, I’m really glad you decided to stick around this summer,” he was saying.
Liz smiled. “Thank your dad’s friend at the Post. I can’t believe he actually got me a job there.”
“You’re a good writer, Liz,” Kenneth said. “He just helped get your resume to the right people.”
“Well, it was really great of him, whatever he did.” Liz gave an excited little bounce. “I can’t believe my summer job is at the Washington Post. It’s amazing.”
“I’m really happy for you,” Kenneth told her. “I’m happy for me, too. I was afraid I wasn’t going to get to spend any time with you this summer.”
“We’ll have a great time,” Liz grinned. “We’ll see tourists climbing all over the Hill, maybe some Congressmen in black socks and Bermuda shorts.”
“Yeah, those are some sights,” Kenneth chuckled. They walked in silence for a moment. “Liz, I know you never want to talk about what we are to each other,” he said finally.
“Kenneth, we’re friends,” Liz protested, trying to keep things light. Please not now, Liz prayed. I don’t want to do this now.
He shook his head and stopped walking. “I think we’re more than that,” he said. “At least, I’d like to think we are.”
She looked down, her heart sinking. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she murmured.
Kenneth took a deep breath. “You told me about that other guy—about how he left you.”
“He didn’t want to,” Liz interrupted earnestly. “It wasn’t his fault.”
“It wasn’t his fault,” Kenneth said, “but he broke your heart. Does he know what he did to you?”
Max looked away. He knew—he knew too well.
“It wasn’t what you think,” Liz told Kenneth quietly.
He squeezed her hand. “I know it still hurts,” he said. “I know you probably think you still love him.”
“I do still love him,” Liz said firmly. “I’ll always love him.”
Kenneth was crestfallen. “He’s not coming back, Liz,” he said finally, a note of desperation in his voice. “I’m here. And I love you. I know you love me, too.”
Max watched Liz’s face. Her eyes were closed, her jaw clenched. With a start, he realized she looked much like she had the night she had come to his room to convince him they were through. She was quiet for a long time, then at length she opened her eyes and looked at Kenneth. “Maybe I do, Kenneth,” she said, then gave a sad smile. “Yeah, I do love you. You’re a great friend, and you’ve never asked anything of me that I wasn’t willing to give. I always feel safe, and happy when I’m with you.”
Kenneth’s shoulders slumped. “I sense a ‘but’ coming on,” he said, trying to smile.
Liz shook her head solemnly. “More of an ‘although,’” she told him. She took a deep breath. “I do love you—really. But I’m still in love with Max, too.”
“Max,” Kenneth repeated. “You never told me his name before.” He gave a mirthless laugh. “Well, that’s something to go on when I go find him and kick his ass.”
Liz smiled, but went on. “It’s not fair to you, Kenneth,” she said quietly, putting one hand on his shoulder. “I could be with you—I love you that much. But part of me still believes Max will come back. I still want him to come back. And if that happens, I don’t know what would happen.” Her eyes were sad. “I can’t be with you if I’m waiting for someone else. . .and I think I always would be.”
Kenneth looked away, defeated. “I love you, Liz,” he said simply.
She nodded. “I know you do. And I hate this—I hate hurting you. But I can’t lie to you, either.”
“I would have tried to make you happy,” he told her.
Liz put her arms around him. “You always did,” she said. “You always did.” After a moment, she released him. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head, almost managing a smile. “It’s not your fault.” He took a deep breath. “Are we still. . .we can still hang out, right? I mean, who else can I talk politics with? I don’t know anyone else who gets excited over votes of no confidence.”
Liz nodded. “Sure. I’d miss you if you quit coming around,” she said with a smile.
Kenneth squeezed her hand and brought it to his lips. “I’ll be around, Liz.” He looked into her eyes. “I still think that one day you’re going to wake up and realize that you’re done waiting for this Max guy. I just want you to know I’ll be around then, too.”
Liz sighed heavily. “Kenneth, I don’t know if that’s ever—”
“Don’t,” he said, silencing her with a finger over her lips. “Let me have my fantasy, okay?”
They walked in silence through the deepening twilight, and Max trailed after them, staying close enough to Liz to watch her face. It was not until they reached the door to Liz’s apartment building that either of them spoke again. Liz paused before going inside. “Do you still want to have lunch tomorrow?” she asked.
Kenneth looked down. “Why don’t you. . .give me a few days, huh? Just to get used to—everything. I’ll call you this weekend.”
Liz looked stung, but she nodded. “Okay. Whenever you’re ready.” She stepped toward the door, still holding Kenneth’s hand. He clung to her fingers a moment longer, then released them. “Good night,” she said.
He nodded. “Good night, Liz.” He watched her until she was safely inside, then turned to go. Max stared after him, unexpectedly feeling a pang of sympathy for the other man. But he was here for Liz, so he quickly turned to follow her.
She unlocked the door of her apartment and went inside, shrugging out of her light jacket. It was late spring in Washington, still early enough for nights to get chilly. Liz went into her bedroom and sat down on the bed, her eyes sad. I’m sorry, Kenneth, she thought, closing her eyes for a moment. She had told him the truth, she knew. Kenneth deserved someone who wouldn’t always be waiting and hoping for someone else. It wasn’t fair to expect him to wait until she’d finally accepted Max wasn’t coming back. The thought of never seeing Max again brought tears to her eyes, even now. Miserably, Liz reached under her pillow for the snapshots that she had never gone to sleep without in all the time Max had been gone. Tears blurred her vision, but she knew every familiar contour of his face by heart and now she traced them with a gentle finger.
“Are you ever coming home, Max?” she asked, her voice so low Max had to strain to hear it. “I’m waiting for you, but sometimes it’s so lonely.” Tears slipped down her cheeks. “I miss you.”
Max fell to his knees in front of her. “Liz, I’m so sorry,” he said, his head bowed. “I wish I could talk to you,” he continued, reaching out to hover one of his hands over hers. It was as close as he could get to touching her. “I wish I could touch you—I want to touch you so bad.” Liz put her hand over her eyes and began to cry softly, pressing the pictures over her heart. “I promise I’ll come back to you,” Max said, his voice almost breaking with emotion. “I swear I’ll come back. Just wait a little longer, please. I have to help my people—they need me, and I really think I can help them. But as soon as I know they’ll be okay, I’m coming for you.” He shook his head and looked up at her. “Don’t give up on me, Liz. I need you. Please wait for me.”
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 2:25:29 PM by mockingbird39|
“So how long do you plan to be in Argentina?”
Liz tucked the phone under her chin and gathered an armful of socks from the top drawer of her dresser. “I don’t know. The election’s not until the sixteenth, so I’ll be there at least until then. Realistically, I’ll probably be home the week after that.”
“That’s almost a month!” Tess protested. “What about our graduation blow-out?”
“Postponed, not canceled,” Liz said calmly. “We’ll have it as soon as I get back from Buenos Aires.”
“Rio,” Tess grumbled. “I can’t believe your first assignment is taking you to Buenos Aires. Aren’t you ever coming home?”
Liz laughed. “Is this Tess? Tess Harding? The one who wanted out of Roswell so bad she went to college in London?”
“Well, now I’m back and you’re going to Argentina,” Tess retorted. Her voice softened a bit. “Roswell’s home. I guess I had to go to London for four years to figure that out. You’ll figure it out, too.” She paused for a second. “Besides I haven’t seen you for almost a year!”
“Well, you would have seen me five months ago if you hadn’t insisted on dragging Kyle and his dad to London for Christmas,” Liz reminded her. She grabbed a handful of socks from her dresser drawer and stuffed them into an already-overflowing steamer trunk.
“Well, it would have worked out fine if you had come, too,” Tess retorted. “Seriously—just a few days?”
“It’s not really that bad,” Liz told her friend. “Give me three weeks in Argentina, and I’m all yours.”
“Barring coups and revolutions,” Tess muttered darkly. “How long will you be able to stay here?”
Liz shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said, walking over to her desk. She pushed aside the curtain and looked out at the street below. Washington was as busy as ever. She still loved it, and didn’t think she was ready to give it up yet. “I’m the new guy, so I pretty much have to jump when they tell me.”
“But you’re still planning on living in Washington,” Tess said glumly.
“It’s just easier,” Liz told her. “Plus I love it here—you know that.” She smiled as she took some pictures down off the wall and tapped them into a neat pile. “I’ll be home someday,” she said softly. “You know I will.”
“I know,” Tess said. “I just hope you don’t. . .you know. . .lose your way out there.”
“Listen to you!” Liz exclaimed. “What happened to getting out of Roswell? Or aren’t you the same Tess Harding who talked me out of Stanford because it was too close to home?”
“I’ve been out of Roswell long enough to know that it’s home,” Tess said seriously. “I missed it here.”
Liz paused and looked down at her desk. “I know what you mean. But right now. . .you know how it is. The world seems so big. I want to go see everything.”
“I know.” Tess, of all people, could understand that. “But just tell me you won’t be a stranger.”
Liz smiled. “I won’t. I promise.” She leaned against the window, watching the lights of the city beneath her. She’d miss Washington, too, she thought, if she ever decided to leave for good. Briefly, Liz wondered if it would always be like this. Leaving a place she loved for another she didn’t know. . .was that the life she had chosen for herself? She shook her head. As big and inviting as the world seemed at that moment, Liz wondered if she was giving something up—something important. “Tess, promise me you’ll keep an eye on everyone,” she said. “I’m going to miss them all so much.”
“I promise,” Tess said seriously. “Liz, you know I’d never let anything happen to them.”
“I know.” Liz nodded. “I guess I just feel sort of. . .responsible for them. Because I know Max would want me to take care of them.”
“Max would want us to take care of each other,” Tess corrected firmly, “just like we always have.”
“Right,” Liz agreed absently. She shook off her melancholy. “So how’s the freelance business coming?” she asked Tess brightly.
Tess seemed excited. “Good. Kyle and Michael are helping me build a darkroom in the pantry. It makes the kitchen smell a little weird, but it’ll work out. Anyway, it should be done in plenty of time for me to finish the shots for the Chamber of Commerce calendar.”
“You’ll send me a copy, right?”
“Of course. But where are you going to hang it, Miss Kerouac?”
Liz laughed and started to answer when she noticed the clock on her night stand. “Oh, man—I’m late for dinner. I’m meeting some people at the Capital Bar.”
“Fine. Abandon me for your politicos,” Tess said airily. “I see how it is.”
“Yeah, you’re way too artsy for me,” Liz retorted, then realized she might not talk to Tess again before she left for Argentina. “Hey, Tess. . .I’m sorry I had to put off the party, okay?”
“Don’t worry about it, Liz,” Tess assured her. “I’m glad you’re getting to do this. And less than a month after graduation—it’s gotta be a huge honor, right?”
“Right.” Liz hesitated. “Um, listen. . .I don’t know how much I’ll be able to make it home now that I’m working and all, so do you think you could—I mean, if something happens, would you—”
“Liz,” Tess said seriously, “if we find out anything about Max, or if he comes back, you’ll be the first to know. I promise.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“I don’t know what it is you want from me,” Max said. He sat back in his chair, pushing aside the pile of papers he and Khivar had been reviewing. “I don’t know anything about crop production, or storing grain, or flood plains, or. . .any of this.”
“That’s why we have experts, Max,” Khivar said mildly. “They provide the data, and the Summit reviews them and provides guidance.”
“How can I provide guidance when I don’t understand the problems?” Max ground out in frustration.
“I never said this would be easy,” Khivar told him. “You were the one who decided to help.”
Max glared at him. “When faced with staying here for the rest of my life away from my home? Yeah, I think I’ll help.” He opened the report again. “What’s this about burned earth?” he wanted to know.
Anger flashed in Khivar’s eyes. “A policy of your old supporters. When they withdraw from a region or village, they scorch the earth so that nothing can grow there. It’s been a major cause of famine on this planet.”
Horrified, Max grabbed the report and read further. “Seventeen percent of arable farm land has been rendered unuseable in the past fifteen years?” he read aloud. “That’s unbelievable—they’re starving the planet!”
“I know.” Khivar rose and began to pace. “It would be one thing if they burned the buildings—buildings can be replaced. But it will take years before that land is fertile again.”
“How do we stop them?” Max demanded. He felt sick when he realized that the same people who burned the earth and starved his people flew the blue and white flag of the monarchy—his flag.
“I wish I had the answer to that,” Khivar said shortly sat back down. He had been called away from the palace again, this time for three weeks while a workers’ strike in a major industrial city kept the region paralyzed without power or water. He seemed more tired than ever, and sometimes Max wondered if it was desperation he saw in Khivar’s eyes now. Now Khivar ran a hand through his thick, long hair. “I had thought perhaps with you taking part in the Republic they would find less to fight for,” he said, “but I was wrong.”
“Then what am I doing here?” Max stood up and walked to the window. “I can’t help them.”
“I believe you can. At the very least, you can stop them from using you as a martyr.”
Max opened his mouth to ask exactly how Khivar thought he could help when the door opened and a guard entered. “Lord Khivar, the governor of Aralea has arrived,” he said quietly, standing at careful attention. Max knew Aralea was the largest province on the planet—it encompassed almost the whole of Antar’s second largest continent, and was the site of several crucial mining regions.
Khivar sighed. “I will meet with him in my study in ten minutes. Please see that he has all he needs.” He rose. “Please excuse me,” he said to Max. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He gathered the notes he had made and left the room.
When he had gone, Max packed up the bound reports and headed for the door. As he entered the hallway, yet another of the countless guards that roamed the palace fell into step a pace behind him. Max had gotten used to the constant presence of Khivar’s personal guards, but he still didn’t like it. Walking quickly, he went to his room and closed the door on his unwanted escort . It was late evening—the sky outside his window was slowing becoming the deep violet of an Antarian twilight, pierced by golden light from the cluster of setting suns. Max thought this was the most beautiful part of the day on this planet—and the most lonely. He would have loved to share this time with Liz, walking through the velvet purple, feeling the air cool around them. So many things he would have loved to share with Liz. . .
Max crossed the room and sank into one of the chairs beside the windows, closing his eyes. He was going to visit Liz. Even as he tried to remember the reasons he shouldn’t—that he had work to do tonight, that visiting Liz would leave him tired and drained tomorrow—he knew he was going to do it. Without conscious thought, Max pulled Liz’s scarf from his pocket and fingered it gently. The thin fabric was worn now, and one of the seams had frayed. In several places the material was so thin Max knew it was only a matter of time before holes began to appear. It didn’t smell like her anymore, either, but out of habit Max raised it to his face and inhaled. He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, searching for Liz’s familiar energy. Far across starfields and past other solar systems, he found it. . .
“Kenneth, I’m fine. You didn’t have to come all the way here.” Liz sat across from Kenneth at a table outside a small restaurant. They both wore light cotton clothes, and Liz had a straw hat on her head, shielding her from what looked like a blisteringly hot sun.
“You were twenty feet away when the Prime Minister was shot. How fine can you be?” Kenneth picked up his iced coffee and took a long sip.
Liz held out her hands and smiled. “Taking into account that it’s hotter than New Mexico asphalt in August around here, and that yesterday was the first day in two weeks that there haven’t been riots, I think I’m pretty damn fine,” she said, laughing.
Kenneth grinned. “Well, I have to admit you look pretty good.”
Max studied Liz thoughtfully. He agreed with Kenneth—on the surface, at least. Liz looked healthy and confident, at ease despite the extreme heat and the fact that she was so clearly a foreigner in this place. But there was something about her eyes. . .Max frowned. Liz’s eyes had always been so serene—again and again he had found peace in them. They had been the mirror in which he first saw himself. But Liz’s eyes held shadows now, and they no longer reflected her soul with the same clear, vivid intensity of the seventeen-year-old girl he had loved beyond all reason. Saddened, Max looked away. When he had been taken away from her, Liz had been a seventeen-year-old girl. Now she was a self-assured, professional woman. She had left home, gone to college, traveled all over the world. And she had done it all without him.
“I keep watching the news, afraid I’m going to see your picture with a big ‘hostage’ label underneath,” Kenneth confessed, and Max’s head came up with a jerk. Hostage? Hostage?!
“Is that why you came here?” Liz asked softly. Max looked around at the street they were on, trying to figure out where they were. And why Liz was in a place where she could be taken hostage. If anything happened to Liz, he’d kill Kenneth. He’d worry about the logistics of that later.
“Well. . .yeah,” Kenneth answered reluctantly. “I was, um, worried about you.” He tried to lighten his tone as he continued. “You’ve been giving me reason to worry ever since the first time you left the country. Remember Argentina?”
Liz looked at him from beneath the brim of her hat. “That’s sweet,” she said, leaning back in her chair, “but you don’t have to come look after me every time something interesting happens.”
“Now, see, I’d call the assassination of the Prime Minister and subsequent rioting ‘dangerous,’ but I can see how it’s also. . .in a morbid, death wish-kind-of-way. . .interesting,” Kenneth said, frowning ferociously. “And just so you know, five years of friendship gives me permission to come check on you once in a while.”
“You got anything that gives you permission to make sure she doesn’t get killed?” Max asked under his breath. He was still studying their surroundings. . .from the people around them and the signs overhead, he figured Liz was somewhere in the Middle East, but couldn’t tell where. He really just wished she’d get the hell out.
“Don’t worry. I’m out of here in two days,” Liz told Kenneth, and the fear in Max’s chest eased just the tiniest bit. “As soon as I get my interview with the head of the police, I’m heading for the airport.” She sighed, looking tired. “I’ve got to get away—I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in two weeks.”
“I’ll quit worrying when you’re back in D.C.,” Kenneth informed her.
“I’m going to Ireland for a few days first,” Liz said casually. “They’re threatening to revoke home rule, and you know what will happen if they do.”
“You’ll come straight home?” Kenneth asked hopefully.
She patted his hand. “You keep telling yourself that.”
Ireland. Okay, Ireland. Max could live with that. It had to be safer than whatever this place was, with its dead Prime Ministers and angry masses. Only. . .he seemed to remember that Ireland sometimes had both of those, too. He expelled a deep breath and promised himself he’d keep a closer eye on Liz from now on.
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 2:27:15 PM by mockingbird39|
| Part 13|
“That’s not true and you know it!” Liz set her glass of beer down with a thump and leaned across the table, jabbing a finger at her companion.
Who was grinning at her with a twinkle in his eyes. “Do I?” he returned. “The Brits have been courtin’ trouble on this for years—no one’s going to have faith in a government they keep threatenin’ to revoke.”
“They wouldn’t have to threaten if you’d trust your parliament to get the job done,” Liz retorted.
“Sure, an’ you can say that when your family’s not been fightin’ for their lives for centuries,” he declared in his thick Irish brogue. “And ever since they gave up Ulster—”
Liz gave a strangled cry of annoyance. “You really want to argue a treaty that took effect eighty years ago?”
“No,” he answered immediately. “I just think you’re breathtakin’ when you’re angry.”
Liz opened her mouth to blast him, but ended up laughing. “You’re a terrible person and one of these days I’m going to have an apoplectic fit because you make me so angry.”
“Angry?” he questioned slyly. “I like to think of it as passionate.”
The wind suddenly taken out of her sails, Liz sat back and took a sip of her beer to cover her embarrassment. The man across from her watched her with a look of amusement. He knew what his words had done to her, though the dim light in the pub kept him from seeing the slow blush that stained her cheeks. His name was Lucas, and in two months, Liz would have known him for a year. A wild, crazy year full of heated debates, long looks that made her blush, and whirlwind trips to Belfast, where Lucas lived. She’d met him on her first trip to the city, right after the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, and ever since then she’d been spending less and less time at her apartment in Washington. “Arrogant bastard,” Liz shot back, tossing her head. “You think a lot of yourself, don’t you?”
“Always,” Lucas agreed, raising his glass in a mocking toast. “How long am I to be graced with your presence this time?” he wanted to know as he set down his glass.
Liz shrugged. “A few days. I have to be at The Hague at beginning of next week.”
He nodded. “You comin’ back after?”
“I don’t know. I really should go back to D.C.,” Liz finished lamely. She would come back the minute she had her story. Both of them knew it. Unfortunately, Liz didn’t know what that meant.
Lucas dug in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out something. He tossed it on the table in Liz’s direction. “Got something for you,” he said gruffly, indicating the small, shiny object that lay near Liz’s right hand.
Liz picked it up. It was a small silver chain and pendant in the shape of a symbol Liz recognized vaguely but couldn’t identify. She held it up to the light and looked at Lucas with questioning eyes. “It’s beautiful,” she said, “but what is it?”
“Good grief, woman—don’t they have churches in America?” Lucas teased, leaning across the table. “It’s a St. Brigid’s Cross. St. Brigid?” He shook his head at Liz’s blank look. “Ignorant Americans—are the lot of you pagans?”
Liz giggled. “No, we just don’t have as many nuns as you do.”
“St. Brigid was an abbess,” Lucas informed her. “She founded the first co-ed monastery, for which the monks, I hear, were eternally greatful.”
“And she made funny-looking crosses?” Liz asked. It was true—the pendant in her hand bore little resemblance to a traditional Christian cross. It was more square, and at the center where the two crosspieces met, there was a Celtic knot worked in gold.
“Heathen,” Lucas snorted. “The story goes that one day Brigid was out tendin’ the sick and she came to the hut of a pagan chieftan—”
“Pagans in Ireland? Are you sure?” Liz mocked, managing to sound horrified.
“—and she knew his time was close,” Lucas continued as though he hadn’t heard. “So she told him about her God and the man was converted right there on his deathbed. Brigid baptized him, and he asked her for a cross, but bein’ a poor nun, she didn’t have one with her. So as she prayed for his soul, she plaited a cross from the rushes that covered the ground.” He leaned closer to Liz, suddenly serious, and closed Liz’s fingers around the necklace. “See, it probably wasn’t what the man imagined. . .he probably had visions of a crucifix, or at least one of the plain wooden crosses he’d seen in Christian houses. But it was still good, and it still comforted him as he lay there.” He held her gaze with his dark blue eyes. “Do you know what I’m saying, Liz?” he asked softly.
It was as close as they’d come to discussing what they were to each other. Months ago, Liz had told Lucas about Max and how she had loved him and lost him and thought she might wait for him forever, and ever since that day Lucas had never tried to push their relationship farther. But they had both known it wouldn’t always stay the same. Liz took a deep breath. “Lucas, I told you about what happened before. . .”
“Yes,” he agreed, “and I’m not askin’ you for anything back. I’d never ask you to forget him—never. You know that, right?”
Liz did know it, and it made what she felt for Lucas all the more bittersweet. He accepted that she was always looking for Max, that sometimes she still felt his loss so deeply it was all she could do to keep living. Lucas knew that she had trouble sleeping at night, and that she hated to be alone, because that was when her thoughts became too much to bear. And he loved her in spite of it, in spite of the fact that she still dreamed about another man. Those reasons alone would have been enough to make Liz love him in return, but Lucas had far more to offer than that. He had fire, and passion, and wit, and intelligence, and he made Liz feel more alive than she had felt in years. “I know, Lucas,” Liz said softly. “But. . .maybe you deserve something back.”
Lucas lifted her hand and brought it to his lips. “Maybe I’m willing to wait and get it from you,” he said. “I love you, Liz—scars, broken heart and all. If you let me, I’ll spend a lifetime showin’ you how much.”
It was so close to something Max might have said that Liz’s heart twisted. “Lucas, you’re amazing,” she said, a sad smile making her eyes crinkle at the corners. “Did I ever tell you that?”
“I think you might have, but go on,” he answered, grinning.
“You are.” Liz pushed away the ache in her heart and concentrated on Lucas. “And this,” she added, holding up the cross, “is just beautiful. I’ll wear it all the time.”
“To protect you,” Lucas said, “when I can’t.”
Liz smiled. “When I’m with you I don’t need it,” she said honestly. “I always feel safe.”
Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Well, now that makes me feel very manly,” he said, reverting to his bantering tone. Liz was relieved; once again, Lucas wasn’t going to push. “Hey!” he called in the direction of the bar. “Another pint over here for me and my manly self!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“It isn’t that I don’t agree with the heart of your idea, Max. It’s just that I think it’s a bit drastic.” Khivar followed Max into his rooms and stood in the doorway.
“Drastic?” Max repeated in disbelief. “You say you’ve been trying to work out universal suffrage for over twenty years. What’s so drastic about giving it to them?”
“Half the people you want to give the vote to can’t even read,” Khivar informed him. “They’re easy prey for dishonest politicians.”
“And right now they’re slaves,” Max retorted angrily. “Just because they haven’t been educated doesn’t mean they’re stupid or naïve.”
“You think you have to lecture me on the merits of my people?” Khivar demanded.
“In this case, yeah, I think I do,” Max answered flatly. “You say you want representative government. Well, you have to start sometime. You have rolls for taxing and military records. We can use those to create districts for representation and then for voter rolls.”
“As I told you before, those rolls are not extensive enough to account for all the citizens of a particular area. In some of the country areas less than half the residents are accounted for. We cannot use incomplete rolls to create voting records.”
“Then we set up registration centers in as many areas as we can reach and make sure the people understand the importance of registering,” Max said stubbornly.
“That’s a beautiful dream, Max, but in case you haven’t noticed, we’re a little short on civil servants around here. We just don’t have the manpower to do that in the next five years.” Khivar shook his head. “Even if we did, we don’t have the systems in place to handle the voting.”
“That’s why we use the military,” Max insisted. “They can read and write—they can sign people up and take surveys to form districts.”
“The military is needed to prevent further uprisings and revolts—most of which are mounted by people invoking your name” Khivar informed him. “And if they aren’t fighting, they’re needed to help with food production and disaster relief efforts. People have to be alive before they can vote—and that means not dying in some senseless battle or famine, or disease outbreak.”
“People supported you in the civil war because you promised them a say in their government,” Max ground out. “You’ve had twenty years to make good on that promise. What are you waiting for?”
Khivar’s eyes were almost white with rage. “A time when one false move won’t send my planet into a civil war that destroys it,” he said flatly, then turned and left, slamming the door behind him.
Max lifted a book from his desk and hurled at the door. It hit with a terrific crash and bounced off, hitting the floor with another loud boom. “Damn it,” he swore. “Damn him.” He turned and began to pace with short, angry steps.
It had been nearly six months since he had agreed to sit at Summit with Khivar and his governors. The planet had been rocked by the sudden appearance of their former king at council, and at first Max feared that his presence was doing more harm than good. But eventually things had returned to the confusing, conflicted norm that was Antarian politics. As of yet, Max had not had direct contact with any of the people who still followed his old regime; Khivar thought it best for him not to acknowledge that the government-in-exile existed. Max, with hopes of thwarting the coming revolt and returning to earth as quickly as possible, had agreed.
But he had invested six months in this plan, and he had nothing to show for it. He hadn’t disabled the resistance—in fact, three days before they had attempted to capture a small southern village. The revolt had been brief, but three villagers had been killed in the crossfire. Max hadn’t condoned or supported the revolt—he had issued a statement condemning it—he felt responsible. But then, Max almost always felt responsible for something. Sometimes he feared his presence was only drawing the planet closer to the edge of a war it would never recover from. Other times, he feared Khivar really was the ruthless dictator Nasedo had claimed he was and wondered if he shouldn’t be fighting on the other side. Being a king—even a king without a throne—was the harder than he had ever imagined. He had no one to trust, no one to depend on, no one to confide in.
And he had all but lost track of Liz.
That hurt the worst. He had little time to visit her now, and when he did, he often found her in some airport or hotel room, tapping away on her laptop. Her job as a correspondent for a newsmagazine took her all over the world so quickly Max had trouble keeping up with her life. He’d found her in half a dozen different countries, in exotic bazaars, smoky bars, and pristine government buildings. Once he’d even found her crouched in the cellar of a dilapidated hotel as bombs and anti-aircraft fire exploded over head. That night he’d stayed with her until he was certain she was safe; he’d been almost paralyzed with fear as he waited, terrified something would happen to her as he watched, helpless to protect her. He hadn’t been able to concentrate or sleep for days after that. It hadn’t occurred to Max that Liz, who had faced down extraterrestrial threats unscathed, was vulnerable to other things, too. But she was, and there was nothing he could do to protect her.
It hadn’t gotten any easier to be without her. He still missed her, missed her touch and the sound of her voice. The ache in his heart was familiar now, but it still hurt. Some nights, as he lay alone in his bed, he imagined what it would be like to share all this with her—to tell her about his hopes and his fears for the people of this planet. Liz had spent years watching world politics; sometimes Max wondered what her insights would be about Antar’s struggles. Other nights he just closed his eyes and pretended she was next to him, sleeping peacefully.
With an effort, Max unclenched his jaw and rolled his shoulders to loosen them. He crossed the room, opened the drawer beside his bed, and took out Liz’s scarf, wrapping it around his hand. It had not been a good day. He was tired, frustrated, and lonely, and all he wanted to do was visit Liz. But the Summit meeting was scheduled to continue the next day, and Max had a stack of reports to read before they reconvened. If he visited Liz now, he’d be in no shape to read tonight, and not at his best the next morning.
But I need to see her, Max thought, rubbing the thin fabric of the scarf between his fingers.
No. He had other responsibilities. Resolutely, he put the scarf away and went to his desk where he opened the cover of an agriculture report.
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 2:30:35 PM by mockingbird39|
“Wait, I know this one!” Liz sat up excitedly as the opening chords of yet another drinking song began to echo through the pub. She was sitting at a table with Lucas and several of his friends. . .or relatives. . .or something—she never could keep straight all the people he seemed to know. Putting down her glass, Liz began to sing along with the rest of the people in the pub.
Free the people, let them have their say
Free the people, let them see the light of day
A dismay dawn was breaking when they took her man away
Not knowing where his crime
Just what he was guilty of not one of them could say
But they think of something in time
He says “Goodbye and remember, we shall overcome.
But as she sang, looking around the room packed with people, her smile faded. The people around her, including Lucas, sang the song as a lament. More than one face was wet with tears. She had been coming to Belfast regularly now for over a year, and although she often took part in the fiery political debates that Lucas and the others thrived on, she rarely thought about the emotions that drove them. But nearly every person in this place must have a story—a father or brother lost in the Troubles, scars from the rocks and bottles that were still thrown in the streets. Liz had chronicled the clashes for many months, but had she ever thought about what the survivors did afterward? In the pub that night, surrounded by the people who had taken her in as one of their own, the answer came with such startling simplicity that she nearly laughed aloud. They survived. They went on, lived their lives of joy and sorrow and laughter and tears. They fell in love, they married, they had babies, they raised those babies to be good people, to remember what had been lost, but not to be held back by it.
Liz glanced beside her and met Lucas’s gaze. He smiled at her, and her heart began to pound. Was that where she had gone wrong? Had she spent so much time mourning for Max and for what she had lost that she had mired herself in the past? And could Max possibly wish that for her? She thought hard. If Max was on another planet somewhere, unable to come home, did she want him to be alone? I want him to be happy, she thought. Even if that meant being with someone else? Yes. I don’t want him to be alone. Wasn’t it possible that Max felt the same way? Liz thought of what the older, war-scarred Max who had come to her from the future had said to her that night on her balcony. She had known from his face and the catch in his voice that it cost him, but he had told her it was okay for her to find someone else—to not be alone. And somehow, at that moment, she had never felt more loved. Max wouldn’t want me to feel this. . .this deadness, this grief. Not after six years. It’s too much. But even as she thought it, Liz realized she didn’t feel dead anymore. Looking at Lucas beside her, Liz felt alive, amazingly aware of every breath she took and every beat of her heart. Amazed, Liz reached down and slipped her hand into his, lacing their fingers together. He glanced at her in surprise; Liz couldn’t blame him. She rarely initiated physical contact between them. But she hadn’t felt like this in a long time. For the first time in years, Liz Parker was awake, and alive, and. . .in love.
Lucas looked at her, smiling as he squeezed her hand, folding both of his around it. As the song ended, he shouted at the stage, “Hey, Michael, I didn’t know I was comin’ to a wake tonight—how about somethin’ that doesn’t make me cry in my pint?”
The singer made a rather rude gesture in Lucas’s direction and struck up an upbeat tune. The mood in the pub instantly changed, and Liz heard laughter.
Don’t get married, girls,
You’ll sign away your life
You may start off as a woman,
But you’ll end up as the wife,
You could be a vestal virgin,
Take the veil and be a nun,
But don’t get married, girls,
For marriage isn’t fun.
“Oh, much better, thanks Mikey!” Lucas shouted, but he laughed. “Want to dance?” he asked Liz.
Liz shook her head. “I’d rather get some air,” she said, pushing back her chair to stand up.
“Yes.” Liz pulled him to his feet and headed for the door, dragging him behind her.
“What’s so important out here?” Lucas asked as the door shut behind them.
“Um, I. . .I wanted to tell you something,” she said, suddenly shy.
He faced her as she leaned back against the wall. “And what’s that?” he wanted to know.
“I. . .I. . .” Liz stopped and took a deep breath. “I love you.”
Lucas was squinting at the row of cars parked across the street. “Looks like Mikey’s got himself a new car.”
Liz wasn’t sure she had heard him correctly. “Lucas. . .did you hear what I said?”
“’Course I did,” he answered. “Did you see Mikey’s new car?”
She stared at him. “Aren’t you—I don’t know—surprised or something?”
“About you bein’ in love with me?” Lucas shrugged. “That’s old news. I’ve known that for months. Now, my cousin Mikey findin’ the cash for a new car—that’s news.”
Liz tugged on his hand. “Lucas, I’m serious.”
“So am I,” he answered. “Do you think he got the money from his mam? She never could say no to him.”
Liz was indignant now. “You know, I just told you I love you. I think that deserves some sort of. . .recognition, or—a reaction, at least.”
He turned to look at her, his eyes sparkling in the light from the street lamps. “You want a reaction?” he asked, grinning. “I’ll give you a reaction.” He grabbed her hand and dragged her back into the pub, heading straight for the stage.
“Quiet, Mikey, quiet,” he called as he made his way through the crowd, still pulling Liz behind him. “I’ve got somethin’ important to say.” He jumped up on the stage as the band came to a halt. “Attention, everyone, attention,” he said, grabbing the microphone from his cousin. “I have an announcement. That’s a lovely new car you’ve got, by the way,” he added to Michael, who looked pleased. When the crowd had quieted, Lucas put a hand over his heart dramatically. “I, Lucas McCollum,” he said, scanning the faces in the crowd, “have the honor to be loved by this wonderful woman.” He pointed to Liz, who was blushing bright red, but couldn’t contain her laughter. She looked up at him to find that his eyes were now serious, and focused only on her. “And I am proud to tell you,” he continued, “that I love her, too. More than I ever imagined I could love anyone.” He reached out to her, and she took his hand, letting him pull her onto the stage with him. “How’s that for a reaction?” he asked her, then pulled her close and gave her a kiss that made her ears ring. They were still kissing when the pub exploded in cheers.
That night, when Liz went back to her hotel, she lay down on her bed, eyes closed, smiling in the darkness, remembering. After a moment, she sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. Reaching beneath her pillow, she brought out the strip of pictures—worn and dog-eared now—that she still kept there no matter where in the world she went. Liz’s eyes traced the familiar lines of Max’s face, lingered on the wide smile. His arms around her shoulders, her cheek pressed against his. . .kids. Kids so deliriously in love all they could see was each other. She smiled sadly, looking at the pictures for another moment. Then she opened the drawer of the nightstand, gently put them inside, and shut the drawer.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“I thought the money from the industrial tax was going to be put back into technology development,” Max said, frowning as he studied a budget report.
Khivar nodded. “Forty percent of it is,” he agreed.
“What about the other sixty percent? You never said anything about proportioning the tax revenue.” Max pointed to the spreadsheet in front of him. “You never would have gotten the tax hike past the governors if they hadn’t thought it would be used to develop more efficient mining equipment and train workers.”
“What do you think is more important, Max?” Khivar’s tone was impatient. “Disaster relief, or mining precious metals?”
“I think it’s important that the people trust their leader to keep his word,” Max shot back.
“Do you? More important than averting a famine in the southern continent? You know the grain harvest failed because of the drought. If they don’t have food for the winter, they die. If they don’t have seed grain in the spring, they have no livelihood.”
Max looked away. The constant lack of funding the government faced was a major source of frustration for everyone involved. But he disliked spreading the funds so thin, and he disliked breaking a promise even more. “There must be another place to get the money from. Taking it from tech development isn’t right—and it’s a bad move fiscally. If we can mine enough metals to export, it’ll increase our stores of hard currency, and next time we face a famine we’ll be able to pour more money into helping the victims.”
“There isn’t any more money,” Khivar said flatly. “We’re broke—in fact, we’re running a pretty hefty deficit. We’re going to have to import grain from off-planet, and the only way we’re going to get anyone to sell us grain is to pay for half of it up-front in hard currency.” A mirthless smile crossed his face. “We’re a pretty bad credit risk.”
“The tech sector’s never going to support us with this kind of double talking,” Max muttered.
Khivar shuffled the papers back into a stack. “The tech sector has never supported us, and they’re lucky they’re getting forty percent. Even with the money we’re funneling to the famine relief, people are going to starve.”
Max closed his eyes and kneaded his forehead. It was late in the afternoon—almost evening, and he had been going over the proposed budget for nearly six hours. It was tedious, frustrating work, and Max was ready to toss the whole thing out the window. Khivar was right—there wasn’t nearly enough money to go around. Max wondered if all governments ran this way, and once again he wished he could talk it over with Liz. She had always been good with numbers, and now it seemed she was good with politics as well. He thought she would have been a valuable asset to the government. . .if only she wasn’t a galaxy away.
“We’re not getting anything done tonight,” Khivar said finally, and Max looked up to see the other man push back his chair. “Let’s break for the night and continue tomorrow after the High Council meeting.”
“Won’t we have to tell them something about the budget?” Max wanted to know.
“We’ll tell them we’re taking it under advisement,” Khivar answered wearily. “That usually stops further questions.”
Max shrugged. “Sure.” He knew Khivar was right—they weren’t getting anywhere profitable anymore. He just wished he could believe they’d ever get anywhere on this. He sighed as he packed up his papers and tucked them under his arm. “Night,” he said, getting up.
“I’ll see you at the High Council,” Khivar said.
Max nodded and left the room. He headed quickly for his room, where he dumped his armload of papers on his desk and threw himself into the most comfortable chair in his room. It was dusk again, the loneliest time of Max’s day. A memory rose up before his eyes: his parents, sitting together at the kitchen table, discussing the events of the day. It was their special time together, and he and Isabel had learned early not to interrupt until they had finished their first cups of tea. Max had always thought he’d do the same, when he had a job and a home and a family. And ever since the first time he’d seen Liz, it had been her face he imagined on the other side of the table.
Liz. Max could still close his eyes and see her face, hear her voice. Her touch still burned in his dreams, and he even remembered the way her hair always smelled like flowers. God, he missed her. He had been on Antar for almost three years. . .three Antarian years, anyway. His best guess was that he had been gone for seven years on earth. Seven years in which Liz had gone on living without him. Max had even less time to visit her now. In fact, he wasn’t quite sure when he had last seen her. It hadn’t been more than a few weeks. . .had it? Thoughtfully, Max rose and went to his bedside table. He pushed aside a book and a pad of paper, finding Liz’s scarf. He picked it up and smiled faintly. It wouldn’t hurt to visit her for a while. . .he could just make sure she was okay, watch her for a little while, and still be okay for the Council meeting tomorrow. He’d have a full night’s sleep—that should be enough to let him recover. . .
Max undressed quickly and lay down on the bed, took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It took him a few moments, but before long he found her.
She was in a dark, smoky room, squeezed into a booth with several people Max didn’t recognize. Music was playing—loud, raucous music—and people were singing, shouting, arguing, dancing. Max stepped closer to Liz, watching her. She looked. . .she looked incredible. Her eyes were bright, her face animated. Her hair was different—wavy, with small braids scattered throughout—and she was wearing a thick turtleneck sweater made of soft-looking cream-colored wool. But what Max noticed most was how happy she looked.
Liz sat back in her seat, happily sipping her beer and listening to the chorus of voices around her. This was Lucas’s night, and she was content to bask in his happiness. He had finally done what she’d been pestering him to do ever since she met him: put the stories he told about his people and his country onto paper. After much persuading, he had submitted the stories to a publisher, and three days ago a box containing advance copies of his book, Goodbye and Remember, had arrived at his door. The book wouldn’t hit the stores for another two months, but already the world had gotten a glimpse of the power in Lucas’s words. Liz’s editor had loved the rough copies Liz had shown her, and decided to print excerpts from it in the magazine. A colleague of Liz’s at the magazine had written the accompanying story about Lucas, and another had taken the photographs, most of which included Liz. The public reaction to the article and excerpts had been instantaneous. People loved the stories Lucas had written—true stories full of love, war, family, humor—and yes, grief, because Lucas wrote about life and grief was part of life. But so was moving on, and he had written about that, too. Liz glanced at Lucas and thought for the millionth time how thankful she was that he had shared that lesson with her. She still missed Max, and always would, but sometime over the last few months, Liz had realized that love should make you strong, but not hard—and that it should never, ever destroy.
Lucas had caught her looking at him. He smiled back, taking her hand firmly. “C’mon, Liz,” he said, pulling her to her feet.
“Lucas, I don’t know how,” she protested, laughing. “Besides, I think we’ve both had too much to drink—”
“That only makes it more fun,” he interrupted, tugging her onto the dance floor. “Watch me,” he instructed, and proceeded to dance a few steps in time to the music. He did it once more, then grabbed her hand. “Got it?” Liz laughed, looking doubtful, but she did her best to repeat his steps.
“Like this?” she asked.
Delighted, he kissed her on the cheek. “Perfect!” he shouted over the increasing roar of the music. “Just keep doin’ that!” And he dragged her deeper into the crowd.
“Lucas!” she yelled, shaking her head helplessly, but before she could protest they were at the middle of the dance floor and Lucas was twirling her madly. The old Liz Parker would have worried that she didn’t know the steps, and that there was a whole crowd of people in the pub, and that this wasn’t the sort of thing she normally did. But the new Liz Parker didn’t care. For once in her life, she was content to live in a moment. And when the song ended and Lucas dipped her backwards, lowering her almost to the floor to give her a long, slow kiss, she thought it just might be the best moment of her life.
Max looked away as Lucas pulled Liz to her feet and kissed her again. There it was. Liz had moved on. After God knew how many years of being alone, she had found someone new. And she loved him—Max could see it in her eyes. He didn’t want to watch anymore, but somehow he couldn’t leave. His couldn’t take his eyes from them as their kiss ended and Liz licked her lips, smiling at Lucas in a way Max remembered all too well—like there was no one and nothing else in the world. Max closed his eyes. He had dreamed of that look for years.
He wanted to be angry. How could she do this? Didn’t she know that she was his reason for living—that every day when he got up it was because that day might be the day he could return to her? Didn’t she know that the promises she had made, the love in her eyes the morning after they made love were all he had counted on for years? Did she know how he had watched her grow up, loving her more as he came to know her life almost as well as she did? But the truth of it was that Liz didn’t know any of that. She wasn’t the one standing behind the two-way mirror, watching. All Liz knew was that he was gone, and in all likelihood, also thought that he was never coming back. Max knew that she had loved him—loved him as much as he loved her. What must it have taken for her to accept that he was gone? Even as he stood there, he couldn’t help but be impressed by Liz’s strength. He liked to think he had given her some of that.
“Want some air?” Lucas asked, and Liz nodded breathlessly. It was frigid outside, but the pub was hot and smoky, and Liz was sweating beneath her heavy sweater after their dance. Lucas took her hand and led her through the maze of people, accepting congratulations and handshakes on the way. Outside, Lucas found a hidden corner beneath the shadow of the roof and there he pressed Liz up against the wall and began to kiss her. Liz responded eagerly, grabbing on to the front of his sweater to keep him close. He kissed her once, twice, making her body tingle from head to toe. Then, as he claimed her lips for a third time, Liz felt him slip something smooth and cold onto her finger. She laughed softly.
“Don’t you believe in jewelry boxes?” she asked. “First you toss a necklace at me, and now you stick this. . .” Her voice trailed off as she held up her hand and saw what he had put there. A diamond ring, glittering in the moonlight as it rested on her finger. Her fourth finger. On her left hand. Liz could only stare. “Are you. . .is this. . .?” she stammered, unable to finish.
He kissed her jaw, paying no attention to the miracle on her finger. “Marry me,” he murmured.
Liz closed her eyes, willing away the memories that rose up before her. We had a great wedding. . .we spent the whole night singing and dancing at some dive outside Phoenix. . .I know what’s going to happen. In two years we’re going to get married—hey, maybe we can run away to Vegas. . .I can’t wait to marry you. . . She had missed that wedding day. It had come and gone and she hadn’t even known exactly when it would have been. But maybe she didn’t have to miss this one. She opened her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered.
He pulled back. “Yes?”
She nodded, smiling at the relieved look in his eyes. “Yes.”
He kissed her again, and Liz could feel the incredible joy that reverberated through his body. “I love you,” he said.
Liz touched his face. “I love you, too,” she said quietly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Far away on Antar, Max opened his eyes to a darkened room. His cheeks were already wet with tears, and he was powerless to stop those that streamed unchecked from his eyes. It was over. Utterly defeated, he opened his hand and summoned his powers with his last ounce of strength. Liz’s scarf flared into a bright flame that lasted only a few seconds before dying to dark ash.
“Be happy, Liz,” he whispered to the silence, and then turned his head and wept.
That was the night he decided to escape.
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 2:35:37 PM by mockingbird39|
“Say it again.”
Liz slipped her hands beneath Lucas’s heavy jacket and the worn blue sweater he wore beneath it. Her hands were icy from the cold outside—the cold they had left behind when they stumbled into the entryway of her boardinghouse a moment earlier—and Lucas sucked in a breath as she splayed her fingers against his warm, bare skin. But he didn’t back away. “Say what?” he asked, a knowing smile curving his lips.
Liz pressed herself against him beneath the single bare bulb illuminating the small foyer. “You know,” she persisted.
He lowered his lips to hers. “Mo mhuirnin dilís,” he murmured, drawing her lower lip between both of his.
Liz snaked her hands higher up his ribs, her fingers seeking out his warmth. “Again,” she demanded.
Lucas grinned, unbuttoning her coat. “Mo mhuirnin dilís,” he said again, unwinding her scarf to expose the sensitive skin beneath. His mouth trailed a path down her jaw, over her neck, to the hollow of her throat, and he murmured it again—this time in English. “My own true love.”
“Mmm, it sounds nice like that, too,” she breathed, laughing softly.
“Your turn,” he muttered, raising his head to stare into her eyes.
Liz smiled. “I love you,” she whispered on a sigh. She stood on tiptoe to plant kisses all across his forehead. “I love you,” she repeated, pressing her lips gently over his eyelids, his cheeks. “I love you.”
“Beautiful words,” he said huskily.
Liz closed her eyes as Lucas’s hands moved over her body. She knew how much he wanted her. He made no secret of it. But they’d never done more than this—kisses of barely contained passion, hands roaming over bare flesh, leaving hot trails of desire.
Liz had already decided that this night would be different. She was leaving Belfast the next day—she already had her plane ticket and her bags were packed. But after what she’d realized tonight, she didn’t know if she could do it. And she knew for sure she couldn’t leave without one more thing.
“Come with me,” she murmured, moving toward the stairs.
He drew his head back to stare at her. He’d only ever been in her room twice—once to fetch a box of books she wanted to ship home to Washington, and once to shut a window that was stuck open. “You. . .have something you need me to do?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
A bubble of laughter escaped Liz at the look on his face. “Yes,” she said with a grin, looking straight into his eyes. “Me.”
He laughed, but when he realized she was serious, his eyes widened. “You’re not teasin’ me,” he said slowly.
Liz shook her head. “No. No, I’m not teasing.” She stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips gently to his, drawing his lower lip lightly between her teeth. Lucas’s arms went around her, his hands plunging beneath her sweater to caress the smooth, hot skin of her back. “Lucas, I love you,” she whispered into his mouth, her words so soft he had to strain to hear them.
“ Mo mhuirnin dilís,” he said, grinning. His smile was infectious and Liz kissed him again, her heart pounding with sheer joy of the moment.
“Yes,” she answered. “I love you. And I want you—I want you so much.”
Lucas put his hand on her cheek, staring down at her with the smile that had been Liz’s first glimpse of sunlight in years. Smiling back, she waited for him to say something—to mark the moment with something beautiful and meaningful. After a moment, he brushed her hair back from her face and opened his mouth to speak.
“Don’t have to ask me twice,” he said with a shrug, then before Liz knew what was happening, he had picked her up and put her over his shoulder, heading up the stairs. “What room again?”
“Lucas!” Liz shrieked. “Put me down!”
“Gladly,” he said. “As soon as we get to your room.”
“No, Lucas,” she cried, but by the time they reached the first landing she was giggling too hard to protest.
“This it?” he asked, stopping on the third floor. Still giggling, Liz pointed down the hall. “Key, please,” he said when they’d reached the door. Obediently, Liz fished her room key out of her pocket and held it out. “Thank you,” he said gallantly. He fumbled with the lock for a second, then opened the door and went inside, not bothering with a light. Moonlight illuminated the room, bathing the room in silver and casting elongated shadows on the worn carpet.
Kicking the door shut behind them, Lucas walked over to the bed and dumped her unceremoniously onto the blue and white duvet. Liz flipped onto her back and lay there giggling helplessly as he stood over her with his hands on his hips, looking satisfied. “Not bad,” he observed, shedding his jacket. He tossed it to the ground and then flung himself down next to her, pulling her into his arms. “We’ll work on the landing.”
He sobered suddenly when she was in his arms, smoothing her hair back from her face gently. “I love you, Liz Parker. I’ve never loved anyone more.” Then he bent his head and kissed her slowly, gently, drawing out his caresses until Liz thought she would die if he stopped touching her. He slipped his hand beneath her sweater, tracing her ribs with his fingertips, then dipping just beneath the waistband of her jeans. She gasped when his hand slipped upward again, skimming over the sensitive skin on her side, and came to rest over her heart.
“Lucas,” she whispered urgently, looking deep into his eyes, “thank you.”
A grin tugged the corners of his mouth upward. “Give me a minute,” he murmured, “and you’ll have a reason to thank me.”
She laughed. “I mean it, Lucas. I felt so dead for so long, but you. . .you made me feel alive again. I love you so much.” Tears swam in her eyes, but she was smiling. “Thank you.”
Lucas stared down at her, his eyes searching her face hungrily. “Nobody ever gave me a such a gift as you,” he said softly. “Don’t think I’ll be lettin’ go easily.”
* * * * *
Liz lay on her side, curled up beneath the heavy duvet. The room she rented at this small boarding house was always drafty, but this morning she’d woken up toasty warm. Because this morning Lucas lay beside her, sound asleep with one arm tightly wrapped around her waist. He’d warned her last night he wouldn’t let go easily; he’d been right. She wasn’t going anywhere—not without waking him up, anyway. Not that she was anxious to be anywhere else at the moment. She smiled, tracing a finger over his forehead, down the line of his nose. He’d broken it when he was fourteen—a youthful indiscretion, he’d told her vaguely. His cousin Michael had been more informative, assuring Liz that it had been a fight over a girl, and that the girl had been much less attractive than Liz was. But Liz loved the resultant bump, and now she traced it gently.
She wished he would wake up and take her in his arms again. . .make love to her like he had last night. She snuggled closer as she remembered last night. Making love with Lucas was unlike anything Liz had ever imagined. There was more laughter than she’d expected, for one thing. He’d found all her ticklish places—the nape of her neck, the backs of her knees, the spot on the inside of her elbow that made her jump when he stroked it just right—and he’d gone back to them over and over until she shrieked with laughter.
And Lucas was tender. Even more tender than she’d known he’d be. Each time he touched her, she could feel him waiting for her response and it made her love him even more. He’d reveled in her pleasure, desiring her more as she’d melted helplessly in his arms. And when at last they lay together, spent and sated, he’d carefully pulled the blankets over her shoulders and cradled her gently as she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Now, as a rainy Belfast morning dawned outside, she lay against him, savoring his warmth and the solid weight of his body against hers. Last night, when she’d decided that she wanted to make love to Lucas, she’d promised herself that she would think only of him—not of Max, the only other man who had ever touched her like this. Who had ever made love to her. But as she lay there in the gray light of morning, she couldn’t help but remember that other morning when she’d woken to dazzling desert sunlight and Max’s arms. The two men were different—Max was far more serious than Lucas, but then, he’d had good reason to be. At sixteen, Max’s fierce, fiery devotion had been all she could imagine wanting. But years later, Lucas had been what Liz needed to pull her out of darkness. His gentle persistence—the way he’d simply been her friend until she admitted to herself she was ready for something more.
She still missed Max Evans. She probably always would. But the thought of him didn’t bring the suffocating pain it once had. Now when she remembered him, she could smile. Someday she’d tell Lucas that, too—that he’d given her back her memories of Max Evans. But today wasn’t about Max. It was about Lucas and what Liz had found in his arms last night.
She was still studying him when he stirred and opened his eyes. He didn’t seem surprised to find her there.
“Hi,” he said with a smile, reaching for her.
She kissed him, closing her eyes as his hands roamed leisurely over her body. “Hi,” she murmured.
“You’re leavin’ today,” he said, his smile fading.
“I was supposed to,” she agreed. “But. . .”
“How about I give you a reason to stay?” he suggested, his hands moving lower.
Liz’s breath caught in her throat. “I wasn’t going to leave,” she gasped.
He grinned. “Hush, I’m giving you a reason to stay,” he admonished.
“But I—” Liz drew a sharp breath and wrapped her arms around him. “Right. Make sure it’s a good one. I’ve got a lot of. . .um, stuff to do.”
He shook his head. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“No.” He gently rolled her onto her back and lowered his head to kiss her shoulders. “I’ll never get enough of you,” he murmured. “I love you.” He repeated it over and over, his mouth tracing her collar bone. “I love you.”
She tilted her head, giving him easy access to the smooth, hot skin of her throat. “I love you, too,” she whispered. “So much.”
The only sounds in the room were the light tap of raindrops on the windows and their heightened breathing. Liz’s eyes fluttered shut and she pulled him even closer, running her hands through his hair.
He raised his head to look at her. “Yeah?”
She grinned. “Say it again.”
He smiled and pulled the covers over both their heads. “Mo mhuirnin dilís.”
Silence reigned in the pub as Liz sat beside Lucas, staring at the television mounted above the bar. Behind them a crowd of people watched, all seeming equally enthralled. They were watching a national news show on which Lucas was being interviewed about his book.
“It was my fiancée who talked me into writing,” he was telling the interviewer on the screen. “I was always tellin’ her stories about the people, and she told me I should write them down.” He smiled, ducking his head shyly. “I never thought anyone would really want to hear me blather on, but I guess the stories speak for themselves.”
Liz squeezed Lucas’s arm. “No wonder interviewers love you,” she whispered.
“You’re talkin’ about my boyish good looks, right?” he teased.
“More about the way you can blush on cue,” she retorted.
“Did you ever take into account that I might really be a bit shy of all this attention?” he demanded.
Liz smirked. “Nope,” she said, turning her eyes back to the broadcast. Lucas started to protest, but she shushed him by clapping a hand over his mouth. . .which she removed a second later, blushing bright red and shooting Lucas a look of disbelief. He gave her a naughty grin and pulled her close against him.
“You’ve been getting a bit of political attention, haven’t you?” the interviewer asked, but Lucas shook his head.
“This book isn’t about politics. It’s about people.”
“But you’ve been approached to serve as a mouthpiece—”
“I’m not a mouthpiece for anyone,” Lucas said firmly. “Anyone who’s read the book knows that I’ve included stories from people of all backgrounds. We’ve all been touched by the problems in our country—not just one side or the other.”
Liz looked at the man beside her with pride. It was true—the only side Lucas had taken in his book was that of the victims. Both sides of the ongoing religious conflict had since approached him, each wanting to use his publicity to bring attention to their cause, but Lucas had refused. A tiny shiver of fear marred Liz’s happiness for an instant as she remembered some of the reactions to his refusal. It seemed that neutrality wasn’t enough for some; they wanted Lucas to support them or keep quiet.
“The thing I want people to take away from what I’ve written is that tragedy doesn’t make it okay to stop living. You never forget, but you have to go on.” Lucas’s face on the screen was earnest, animated, and Liz loved that he so firmly believed what he said.
“And remember,” the interviewer said with a smile.
Lucas nodded. “And remember,” he agreed.
The interviewer turned to the camera. “We’ve been talking to Lucas McCollum, author of new bestseller Goodbye and Remember. Thank you, Lucas.”
The interview finished, a round of applause broke the stillness in the bar. Lucas was immediately besieged by people—his friends, his family. . .Liz had long since learned that the distinctions made no difference. These were Lucas’s people, and that was all that mattered to him. This night marked the first time that the people Liz had grown to love in Belfast mixed with the people Liz loved from Roswell, for Maria, Michael, Alex, Isabel, and Kyle had all come from Roswell to meet Liz’s fiancee and see the city that would be her home after the wedding. Kenneth was also present, having insisted he had to check out anyone Liz liked enough to stay in one place for. Now, as they all found seats at a large table near the back of the pub with several of Lucas’s friends, Maria studied Lucas thoughtfully.
“I think you’re cuter in person,” she announced.
Liz laughed. “I don’t know—he’s pretty impressive on television,” she said, grinning.
“Yeah, but on television you can’t see those little crinkles around his eyes when he smiles,” Maria insisted.
Liz turned to look closely at Lucas’s face. “Really? I thought I saw them.”
“Hey,” Lucas protested. “Is this how it’s goin’ to be when we’re married? You talkin’ me over like I’m not even in the room?”
Liz cocked her head to one side. “Mm, probably.”
Lucas looked resigned. “That’s what I thought,” he said.
Liz looked around the table at her friends. “So what do you think of Belfast?”
Alex set down his glass. “Well, I like the beer,” he said with a grin.
“That’s my favorite part, too,” Kenneth put in. “I plan to come back often.”
“We’ve got plenty,” Lucas assured him, “so come back as often as you like.”
“Enough about the beer,” Tess interrupted, waving her hand. “What we really want to know is. . .” She paused dramatically. “When’s the wedding?”
Liz and Lucas exchanged a smile. “Spring,” Liz said. “May, actually. We want to get married outside.”
“In the rain, apparently,” Lucas murmured under his breath.
“It won’t rain,” Liz said firmly. “It can’t.” Lucas rolled his eyes heavenward, but he kissed Liz affectionately on the cheek. “You’ll all come, won’t you?” As she spoke, her eyes rested on Isabel, who couldn’t hide the flicker of grief that crossed her face. Liz knew that Isabel didn’t begrudge her the happiness she had found with Lucas, but she still thought of Liz as Max’s girlfriend. For Isabel, as for Liz, each momentous event in their lives was marked a little by Max’s absence. Six months ago, on the night before Isabel and Alex’s wedding, Liz had found Isabel outside her parents’ house, crying softly. It had been a long time since Liz’s grief had caught up with her, but that night she and Isabel had cried together for the boy they had loved and the man they both knew he would have been.
Tonight Isabel took a deep breath and lifted her eyes to Liz. She smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Liz smiled back. “I’m glad. I want everyone to come.”
“Oh, we’ll be here,” Maria promised. “Tess and I are coming early to help you get everything ready.”
“Well, then I’m coming early, too,” Isabel put in. “You have no idea how many details there are in planning a wedding. You need someone to stay on top of everything—”
“There won’t actually be that much to stay on top of,” Liz said, laughing. “It’s going to be small—but I’d love your help. Your wedding was beautiful.”
“It certainly was,” Alex agreed, putting his arm around Isabel. “And you wanna know the best part? I didn’t have to do a thing. Actually, she wouldn’t let me do a thing.”
“Now that,” Lucas said, putting down his beer, “sounds fabulous. I want a wedding like that.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “I’ll just tell you when to show up,” she sighed.
“Wait a minute,” Kyle protested. “You all get to come early and leave us behind? Uh-uh, no way. We’re comin’ too, right guys?”
“Damn straight,” Alex agreed.
“To get more beer,” Kyle continued.
“That’s right.” Alex nodded firmly. “It’ll be a big party, then a wedding.”
“Yeah, I want a wedding like that,” Lucas said again, pointing to Alex. He turned to Liz. “You didn’t tell me your friends were so smart. He is bloody brilliant.” He glanced at Michael. “You’ll be comin’ too, won’t you?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be there,” he said. He had been watching Lucas cautiously all night, trying to get a feeling for the other man. Ostensibly, he was concerned about Liz bringing an outsider so close to the old group, even if Lucas would probably never know about the secret they shared. But his other, deeper reason was that he needed to be sure Lucas was good enough for Liz—that Max would have approved. Michael had long ago assumed leadership of the group, and each member was important to him. Liz, however, occupied a special position in Michael’s affection because Max had loved her. And if Liz planned to marry this man, Michael was determined to make sure he deserved her. So far, he liked Lucas. The other man had an easy, honest manner, and he obviously loved Liz. Michael began to relax. Maybe this would be okay—maybe Liz was finally going to be happy again. Max, Michael thought, remembering his friend, would have wanted Liz to be happy.
The girls talked about the wedding for a while longer, and from time to time some of Lucas’s friends joined them. By the end of the night, their table was crowded and rowdy. Lucas was the star of the show—it was his night, after all—but no matter how many people crowded around him, offering congratulations, he kept Liz at his side. Finally, a little after eleven, Lucas stood up and offered Liz a hand.
“Well,” he said, draining the last of his beer, “I’m afraid we’ll be callin’ it a night now.” There was a general protest from the people at their table, but Lucas shook his head. “No, no—we’ve got an early appointment tomorrow.” He shot Liz a bright smile. “We’re pickin’ out our wedding rings,” he announced. Another round of congratulations made Liz grin, and in the end it was she who talked Lucas into staying for one more beer. After all, these were her people now, too—not just her friends from Roswell, but the others she had come to know in the past year and a half. They had taken her in without hesitation—knowing that Lucas loved her had been enough for them. But now Liz had her own ties to them, and to Belfast. It hadn’t been difficult for her to decide to move there after her wedding. Liz knew she would miss Washington, and she still missed Roswell, but Belfast felt like the next step on the road, so there she would stay. They stayed for another forty-five minutes or so, drinking and laughing with friends. It was almost exactly midnight when she and Lucas finally did leave the pub, bundling up against the cold. Maria, Michael, and the others had decided to stay a little longer.
Lucas pulled Liz’s hat down low over her forehead, making sure it covered her ears, then grinned at her and kissed the tip of her nose. “Ready?” he asked her.
She smiled up at him. “Yup,” she answered, pulling on her gloves. He took her hand and they left the pub, calling good-byes to their friends. Liz gasped when the cold air hit her face, and Lucas looked at her, chuckling.
“Still miss the desert?” he asked, then frowned. “Where’s your scarf?”
Liz groaned. “I left it at the table—wait a second, I’ll go get it.”
Lucas shook his head, smiling. “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached,” he said, kissing her forehead affectionately, “and that would be a shame, because I like your head just where it is. Go and get it—I’ll go warm the car up. And no stopping for more beers!”
Liz grinned. “I’ll be right back,” she said, and went back into the entrance of the pub. She put her hand on the doorknob, but at that moment, a terrible feeling of dread hit her like a punch in the stomach. She turned back to see Lucas getting into the car. He turned the key in the ignition, but the engine didn’t turn over. “Lucas, wait!” Liz cried, starting to run for the car. “Don’t—”
A blast of fire lit the street bright as daylight for an instant, searing Liz’s eyes. Liz was thrown back off her feet, landing hard on the pavement. By the time she could see again, all that was left of Lucas’s car was a burning pyre of metal. “No. . .no, please.” The words felt ripped from her heart.
The blast had brought people running from the pub. Liz lay on the pavement, stunned and weeping. Maria dropped to her knees beside her friend.
“Oh, my god, Liz—what happened?” she asked frantically. “Are you all right?”
Michael, Kyle, and several others ran past them to the car. It took only a few moments for them to come back, but by that time Isabel, Tess, and Alex had helped Liz to her feet. The stood in a tight knot, but when Michael reluctantly approached Liz, she stepped away from them. Neither of them spoke, but Liz found her answer in Michael’s eyes. For the benefit of the others, he shook his head slowly. Maria gave a choked cry and put her arms around Liz, but Liz didn’t make a sound. In one smooth motion she broke from Maria’s hug and ran past Alex’s restraining arm, heading for the burning wreck of the car. Kenneth shouted and threw an arm around her, holding her back, but Liz kicked and fought him.
“Michael,” Kenneth called, but Michael had already moved into her path and now put his arms around them both.
“Let go of me,” Liz choked, clawing at them with both hands. “Let go. . .I have to help him.”
“There’s nothing you can do, Liz,” Michael said as gently as he could.
A sob broke from Liz’s throat, and she pushed harder, her struggles knocking all three of them to the ground. “There has to be,” she sobbed. “There has to be.”
Later Liz remembered that Tess, Maria, and a crowd of other people had surrounded her, touching her, holding her, murmuring words of comfort. But for Liz, the rest of the world slipped away, and she was suddenly, terribly alone. And in that moment, she knew what it meant to be alone. Alone was the silence that enveloped her, where only moments before had been Lucas’s voice. Alone was knowing he would never again hold her in the dark, and not being able to remember when she had last told him she loved him. Alone was the lifetime that now stretched her before her without him. Liz clawed at her throat, suddenly unable to breathe. A single sob escaped her as the darkness rushed to claim her.
Her last conscious thought was that she had never known forever would be so short.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Majesty! We’ve got to hurry—the army has sounded the retreat!”
Max crossed the dirt floor of the tent and dumped another armload of papers into a small, fireproof box. The tent he used as a command center was chaos, filled with government officials and their aids trying to pack up as quickly as possible. “Help them!” Max commanded to the soldier who had given the warning, and the man instantly dropped his heavy army pack and joined in with the others. “These boxes are ready—take them to the trucks.” He pointed to two stacks of crates against one wall. “Now!” he ordered, and several men jumped to do as he said.
Another man entered the tent, and strode purposefully toward Max. Max sensed his approach, but didn’t stop working. “How bad are our losses?” he demanded as the man came close.
“They could have been much worse,” the man answered.
“Two heavy guns lost, but the rest are secure.”
Max nodded, his jaw clenched. “And men?” The other man hesitated. “Prayet?” Max persisted. “What about the men?”
Prayet cleared his throat. “About forty casualties. Another twenty captured.”
“Damn.” He looked at the other man. “Civilians?”
“No serious injuries—only property losses.”
That was a blessing. A rare one. “Is there anything we can do?” Max asked quietly.
Prayet shook his head. “Not tonight, Majesty.” He, too, looked regretful. As Max’s closest advisor, and the leader of the monarchy’s remaining supporters, he knew how badly Max always tried to avoid harm to the people of his planet. In the five months since Max had joined the loyalist forces, he had managed to keep from incurring significant civilian casualties, but this success had not completely assuaged his conscience.
Max bowed his head. “There never is,” he said finally, and turned to load the last of his personal papers into the case he carried with him at all times. Finished, he hoisted a bag of correspondence onto his shoulder and followed the last of his junior aids beneath the door-flap of the tent.
When he was gone, Prayet turned to see a battle-scarred man in worn fatigues looking at him. “What about the village?” the man wanted to know.
Prayet glanced in the direction Max had gone. “Burn it,” he said without hesitation, then followed his king into the darkness outside the tent.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Dec-2002 10:11:47 PM ]
|posted on 30-Jan-2002 10:04:14 AM by mockingbird39|
“The concierge said she was in here.” Tess pushed open the door to a small, dim restaurant. . .no, on second thought, Tess realized “restaurant” was too lofty a term for this. . .dive. She wrinkled her nose. “Ugh,” she muttered darkly, stepping through the door.
Kenneth was right behind her. “That guy was on something,” he said, his voice reflecting the same disgust Tess felt. “Liz would never—” He stopped suddenly, a strange look coming over his face.
Tess followed his gaze. Liz sat at a corner table, staring blankly at the screen of her laptop. A highball glass sat next to her left hand, and as they watched, she lifted it to her lips and drained it in one gulp. Tess shut her eyes briefly. She had never seen Liz look like this, not even in those terrible weeks after Max’s abduction when she thought Liz might crack under the strain of her grief. As she stood there, unsure what to do, Tess wondered if this time Liz really had given in to the despair. I won’t let her, the blond woman thought determinedly. I’m not losing Liz this way. She lifted her chin and walked straight to Liz’s table.
Liz looked up, squinting in the darkness. “Tess?” she asked in surprise. “Tess. . .and Kenneth? What are you guys doing here?” Her eyes widened in surprise and a second later the corners of her mouth jerked upward, as though she had to remind herself to smile. The woman in this dark bar somewhere in a remote corner of Southeast Asia was so different from the vibrant, light-hearted Liz who had greeted them at the Belfast airport three months ago that Kenneth wanted to weep right there. Instead, he managed a smile, too.
“We came to see you,” he said as she stood up to hug them both. Her embrace was brief, and Tess thought Liz felt tightly contained, as though she was afraid to really touch either of them.
“How are you doing?” Tess asked, not quite letting go as Liz released her.
A mask dropped over Liz’s face—the same one that she had worn so often in the months after Max’s disappearance. But the mask didn’t conceal so well anymore. Liz’s eyes were still grief-stricken, and Tess felt her stiffen. “I’m okay,” she said after a moment. She stepped away, and Tess thought she had never seen anyone look so alone.
“You’re not,” she said softly. “You’re not okay, and we’re worried about you.”
Kenneth looked at her sadly. “You editor says you haven’t been checking in, and I know you haven’t been returning my calls. Or my emails.”
Tess gestured to their surroundings. “And this place. . .I’ve been reading the news reports. It’s not safe here.”
Liz looked guilty. “Well, that’s kind of why I haven’t been really keeping in touch. The phones go out a lot, and. . .”
“Liz, what are you doing?” Kenneth put his hands on both her shoulders and gave her a searching look. “This is crazy—you shouldn’t be here.”
“This is what I do, Kenneth,” Liz said, disengaging herself from his hold. “You know that.” She sat back down at the table, not looking at either of them. “I’m sorry I haven’t been good about answering my mail, but that’s what happens when you’re busy.”
“It never happened like this before,” Tess protested. “You always let us know you were okay before.”
Liz was starting to get irritated. “I’ll do better, okay?” She glanced at each of them in turn. “Look, I don’t know why you guys thought you had to come all the way here, but—”
“Because we’re worried about you,” Tess interrupted. “Very, very worried.” She looked Liz up and down. “Jesus, Liz, you look like hell.”
Liz bristled. “You try spending two weeks in a war zone and see how you look,” she retorted. “Look, it was nice of you to come, but I don’t really have time to look after you two, and it’s dangerous around here.” She started to pack up her laptop, but Kenneth grabbed her arm.
“We didn’t come all the way to South East Asia to have you brush us off,” he said angrily. “Sit down.”
Liz shot him a rebellious look, but she sat. “Fine. Talk.”
Tess and Kenneth exchanged a glance. When Tess had come to Washington to interrogate Kenneth about where Liz was and what she was doing, it had seemed simple to come here and tell Liz why they were concerned—or, as Kenneth had put it, to tell Liz to straighten up and act like she gave a damn. It seemed a little harder now. Finally Tess cleared her throat.
“We. . .Liz, we know how much you loved Lucas,” she began, and Liz flinched, looking away. “And I know I can’t possibly understand hard it must be for you to have lost him, but Liz. . .” Tears filled Tess’s eyes. “Liz, Lucas wouldn’t have wanted this for you.”
Liz couldn’t look at her. “Don’t bring him into this,” she whispered, clenching her fists.
“This is because of Lucas,” Tess said, beginning to get angry. “Ever since you lost him, you’ve been out of control. You’ve been isolating yourself, you look like you haven’t slept in days, and now you’re drinking at two o’clock in the afternoon.”
“You’ve been putting yourself in danger,” Kenneth added, sitting down on one side of Liz.
She snorted. “I haven’t been—”
Kenneth’s hand shot out to grab her wrist as she reached out to close her laptop. “What’s this?” he demanded, looking pointedly at a vivid purple bruise and jagged cut that was almost hidden beneath the sleeve of her jacket.
Liz flushed. “It’s nothing.”
Tess sat down opposite Kenneth. “Liz, that looks terrible—what happened?”
“I cut myself,” Liz said with a shrug. “It’s no big deal.”
“How did it happen?” Kenneth persisted.
Liz studied the table. “A shell hit a wall near me, and I got hit by a piece of the stone that went flying.”
“What were you doing near people shooting?” Tess cried. “Liz, are you trying to get yourself killed?!” Her eyes were angry now. “That is not what Lucas wanted—I can tell you that much for sure. I know you loved him, but he’s the one that died, not you. You have to keep on living. Don’t you understand that?”
Liz closed her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. If she didn’t let the questions dig too deep, she would be okay. She could hold back the darkness at bay a little longer, fight the torrent of emotion that threatened to drag her under every moment of every day.
But not this time. Tess had seen that look before—the detachment that came just before the repeated admonition that Liz was “fine.” And this time she wasn’t going to let it take hold. Isabel, who was studying for her Ph.D. in psychology, had agreed that Liz was not handling her grief for Lucas. “She has to let herself feel it,” Isabel had said, her smooth forehead marred by lines of worry for her friend. “If she doesn’t mourn for him, she’ll never be able to go on. She’s got to find an outlet for her emotion, or she’ll start taking it out on herself—not sleeping, drinking too much, taking too many chances.” Looking at Liz that day, Tess wondered how Isabel could have hit so close to the mark. Liz was treading the edge of a very steep cliff—but Tess wasn’t about to let her jump. She grabbed Liz’s arm. “Lucas is dead, Liz. He’s dead and you can’t save him and sooner or later you’re going to have let yourself feel that.” She shook Liz once, hard. “If you don’t wake up, you’re going to die—do you hear me? And I am not letting you take the easy way. I’m not going to lose you. You have to keep living—you have to remember. You owe that to Lucas, and you owe it to Max.”
Liz shook her head. “Tess, I can’t—I don’t think I can do it this time,” she said, her voice verging on hysteria. “It’s too hard.” She pulled away from Tess. “I can’t talk about this. Not here, not now.” With that she turned and fled the bar, leaving her computer and notebook on the table.
Tess and Kenneth stood there for a moment, unsure what to do, but then Tess waved a hand at Kenneth. “Get her stuff—I’ll go after her.” With that, she took off after Liz.
Liz was on the landing in front of her hotel room, fumbling for her keys, when Tess caught up with her. “Liz, talk to me,” she demanded, grabbing the other girl’s arm.
Liz twisted away and focused on fitting the key into the lock. “There’s nothing to talk about,” she said. Her hands were shaking, and the keys slipped from her grasp, falling to the dirty floor below. As she bent to pick them up, a sob escaped her and she found she couldn’t hold back the ones that followed. Before Tess quite realized what was happening, Liz was kneeling on the floor, sobbing brokenly. “I can’t do it, Tess. I can’t just keep going without him. It’s so hard. . .my heart—my heart hurts. I feel like I can’t breathe.” Liz was clutching at her chest, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
Tess dropped to her knees beside her friend and put her arms around her. “It’s okay,” she murmured. “It’s going to be all right.”
“No, it’s not,” Liz sobbed frantically. “It’s not. They’re not coming back, Tess—neither of them are coming back.”
Helplessness washed over Tess like a wave, bringing tears to her eyes. Holding onto Liz, she rocked the other woman gently back and forth, wishing she knew some words that might bring comfort. In the end, all she could do was hold Liz as she cried.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz. Max woke with a start from his dream, disoriented and still caught up in the murky images that had marred his sleep. Liz, kneeling in darkness, sobbing uncontrollably, helpless, afraid, overcome with a grief so deep Max’s heart ached in sympathy. Even in dreams, he felt her pain as though it was his own.
But it had only been a dream. Liz was far, far away, making her life with a man she loved like she had once loved Max. She was probably married by this time. . .maybe soon she would have children. Liz’s children. The thought made him smile. As his dream images slipped through his fingers, he sent a fleeting prayer to whatever might be listening. Let her be happy, he thought as he rose from the pile of blankets that was his bed. In the darkness he reached for his shirt, slipped it on and searched about for his shoes. There would be no more sleep for him this night—he never slept after he dreamed of Liz. Figuring he might as well get some work done, he left his tent and went to the small cabin that was currently serving as headquarters.
“Majesty—did we wake you?”
Max was not surprised to find Prayet in the cabin. The older man seemed to require little sleep, and was often to be found working at hours most people thought fit only for rest. But it was unusual for him to be accompanied by three of the Senior Counselors, two armed guards, and a man in tattered clothing who stared at Max with wild eyes.
Max tried to keep his face impassive as he met Prayet’s solicitous gaze. “No, you didn’t,” he said coolly. “Am I missing something important?”
“Majesty, we merely—”
“Majesty, Villai is burned!” The wild-eyed man suddenly broke from the guards and threw himself at Max’s feet. “The houses, the barns, our food—it is gone, Majesty, and winter is coming. We have nothing—”
“Majesty, I apologize,” Prayet said as the guards dragged the man away, but Max was not done.
“Bring him back here,” he ordered, and to his amazement they looked to Prayet, who nodded almost imperceptibly, before doing so. Max recovered quickly enough to pretend he hadn’t seen. “What about Villai?” he asked of the man.
The man was trembling. “It—it is gone, Majesty,” he said. “Burned to the ground. Our crops—all we had is gone, and the earth is scorched.”
Max’s eyes swung up to Prayet’s face, but the older man was studying the signet ring on his finger. “Khivar burned Villai?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
The man’s entire body was shaking now. “N-no,” he managed. “Not Khivar. It was—” He looked fearfully at the guards on either side of him. “They wore uniforms with the crest of the monarchy.”
“Spies are all around us,” Prayet said in a flat voice.
“The Republic doesn’t burn farmland,” Max said, his eyes hard. “They’re already trying to salvage what we’ve got left.”
“Is that what Khivar would have you to understand?” Prayet said, arching an eyebrow.
Max met the other man’s gaze evenly. “It is what I know,” he answered. Without taking his eyes from Prayet, he said quietly, “Leave us.” This time they didn’t bother to look at Prayet for his approval.
When they were alone, Max stepped close to Prayet. “Did we burn Villai?” he asked flatly.
“Majesty, you and I left Villai together,” Prayet said with the placating smile Max had grown to hate.
“I think I’m entitled to hear the truth from you,” Max ground out. “Did we burn Villai?”
The smile left Prayet’s face. “There were weapons hidden—”
“They were Loyalists!” Max shouted. “Loyalists! And you destroyed their homes.” He advanced on the older man until they were face to face. “This will never happen again, do you understand me? Never. These are my people, and I will not be the one to take their food from their mouths.” Anger surged through him, making his face feel hot despite the chill of the uninsulated cabin. “The people of Villai will starve this winter—does that even matter to you?”
“Do you flatter yourself that you know more of war than I?” Prayet demanded, all pretense of respect gone. “This war has waged with and without you, Majesty. Do not think it cannot do so again.” The older man did not bother to veil the threat in his voice.
Max’s gaze never wavered. “No one is irreplaceable,” he said evenly, then turned and walked out of the cabin. He started back to his tent, anger making his pulse pound, but found he had no desire to return to his bed. He was wide-awake—and he had no wish to continue his earlier dream. In the past few weeks he had often been awakened by similar dreams, and they invariably left him feeling helpless and angry. If I could just be sure she’s okay, he thought, stopping to warm himself beside a fire some of his soldiers were tending at the center of the camp. But that was someone else’s job now. Then why can’t I stop caring? he wondered, staring into the flames. It had been years, but Max never passed a day without missing her, without wondering what they could have been together. And he never stopped regretting that, in one impulsive move, he had severed his last contact with her. He hadn’t realized how much he’d depended on those moments spent watching her until they were gone, but now he realized that he’d been comforted and strengthened by those times. Sometimes he thought he’d give anything to watch her sleep one more time.
“Majesty? Is everything all right?”
Max blinked and found a young guard looking at him. His name was Cipullo, and of all those who followed the Loyalists, Max liked him and trusted him the most. Max tried to smile, but couldn’t quite erase the troubled look from his eyes. “It’s as it always is,” he said noncomitally.
Cipullo nodded. “Yes,” he agreed. He lingered a moment more, then turned to go.
“Cipullo.” Max’s voice stopped the man mid-stride.
Max strode over to him and studied him thoughtfully. “When did you last see Villai?”
A shadow crossed the man’s face. “I left there last evening, Majesty.”
“And was it burned when you left?”
Cipullo’s eyes darkened to an angry gray. “To the ground,” he said flatly.
Max’s eyes closed for a moment, imagining what the peaceful little village that had harbored him and his tropps for months must look like now. “We did this,” he said. It was not a question.
“Prayet did,” Cipullo said hoarsely. “It was his order.”
Max opened his eyes and looked at the other man. “You follow Prayet. Why?”
Cipullo looked surprised. “I follow you, Majesty,” he said simply.
It was Max’s turn for surprise. “I. . .thank you, Cipullo,” he said finally.
Cipullo looked down at his feet. “It is my pleasure to serve,” he murmured.
Max nodded. “You do it well,” he said, then turned and walked back to his tent.
|posted on 30-Jan-2002 10:26:43 AM by mockingbird39|
|Don't worry--this is a dreamer fic. I promise. It will all turn out okay.|
|posted on 4-Feb-2002 9:50:58 AM by mockingbird39|
“I had to let go of him,” Liz said dully, leaning her had back against the cracked tiles of the hotel bathroom. She and Tess had been locked in there for over an hour, leaving Kenneth to restlessly pace Liz’s room. Liz’s sobs had passed, leaving her emotionally drained and physically exhausted. As she sat there on the floor next to Tess, she wondered if she’d ever feel anything but tired again.
Tess shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
Liz stared at the wall opposite them and shrugged. “When I lost Max, I believed he was coming back. For years I believed that. . .even when it seemed like it couldn’t possibly happen again, like he’d been gone too long, I could still hope. I could still believe he was alive somewhere and was coming back to me.” She gave a long sigh. “I told myself I would have known if he was dead."
“Don’t you think you would have?” Tess asked gently.
“I don’t know.” Liz shook her head. “I thought I would have, but. . .I just don’t know.” She glanced at Tess. “Do you think you’d know if it was Kyle?”
Tess shivered at the thought of losing Kyle in that way. “I—I guess I don’t know.”
Liz nodded, unaware of Tess’s discomfort. “We want to think we have that connection—like it’s something tangible, but maybe it’s something we imagine. Maybe we just want it so much. . .like I wanted Max to be alive. To be coming back.”
“That’s how you held it together,” Tess realized. “After Max left—you kept telling yourself he would be back.”
Liz smiled faintly. “I pictured it so many different ways. I imagined a flash of light outside my window, and him standing there, waiting for me to let him in. I pictured being in a big city somewhere and our eyes meeting across a busy street. Sometimes I’d lay really still in the morning before I opened my eyes, trying to imagine him laying there next to me, sleeping.” She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, looking very small. “I guess I thought I could wish him home, if I just tried hard enough. But it didn’t work. It never worked.”
“And you gave up,” Tess said in a small, sad voice.
Liz shook her head. “Not then—not for a long time. I couldn’t give up then. If I had given up, it would have meant that I was alone—that I’d always be alone. It would have meant that I had lost part of my soul. And how can you live with only part of your soul?” Liz felt tears sting her eyes again, felt the familiar constriction of her chest that she had been fighting for so long.
Tess put her hand on Liz’s knee. “I don’t know,” she said honestly.
“Me, neither.” Liz paused, controlling her voice before she went on. “But then I met Lucas. And I started to think maybe you could—or at least maybe souls can heal, and be whole again.”
“Lucas healed you,” Tess said, but Liz shook her head.
“No. I don’t know if you can totally heal what happened to me when Max left. But Lucas. . .it was like he knew I was broken, and it didn’t matter. He loved me anyway.” Tears filled her eyes. “God, he loved me so much.” She paused for a moment, then swallowed hard and went on. “I loved him, too. Not like with Max, but it was strong, and it was real, and it made me feel alive again. And when Lucas asked me to marry him. . .I had to let go of Max. I couldn’t promise to marry Lucas while I was still waiting for another man. I had to let myself realize he wasn’t coming back for me. Ever.” Liz voice cracked on her last words, and Tess’s heart ached in sympathy.
“But you had Lucas then, so you weren’t alone,” Tess said, finally understanding.
Liz nodded. “But then. . .when Lucas died—Lucas isn’t coming back. He’s gone. He’s just. . .gone.” She was sobbing again, her forehead resting on her knees, sobs shaking her whole body. “Lucas is gone, and so is Max, and I’m alone, Tess. And I don’t want to be alone.”
Tess put her arms Liz. “You’re not,” she said softly. “You’ve got all of us—do you think I came here to get a tan?”
They were still sitting on the floor hugging each other a moment later when the door banged open and Kenneth stood there, looking guilty and concerned all at once. “I know you told me to stay out there,” he began, tugging a hand through his hair, “but I just wanted to make sure—” He stopped cold when he realized Liz was crying and dropped to the ground beside them. “Liz?”
Tess reached for him and he joined their embrace. “I wish I could help,” he murmured against Liz’s hair. “God, Liz, if I could do anything—” He broke off and held both women more tightly as they sobbed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Two hours later, Kenneth pulled the thin hotel blanket up over Liz’s shoulder and planted a gentle kiss on her temple.
“She’s asleep,” he murmured to Tess, who sat in a chair beside the windows.
“That’s good,” she said absently.
Wearily, Kenneth lowered himself to the chair opposite her and rubbed a hand over his face. “Do you think she’ll be okay?”
Tess was quiet for a long time, her blue eyes pensive and sad. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “Liz is strong, but. . .”
“She’s still human,” Kenneth finished, and Tess almost smiled at the irony.
“I don’t know that being alien would help any,” she said, more to herself than to Kenneth.
“Nothing.” Neither spoke for a moment, but then Tess managed to smile. “You’re a great friend, Kenneth. Liz is lucky to have you.”
“I love her,” he said suddenly, and Tess looked at him with sympathy in her eyes.
“Then I guess I don’t have to ask if you’ll be here for her, do I?” Tess asked softly.
Kenneth shook his head. “No.”
Tess nodded. “Like I said, Liz is very, very lucky.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tess and Kenneth slept in shifts that week, not wanting to leave Liz alone with herself in case she woke up. But she seldom did, and even when her eyes were open, Liz was like someone asleep. She didn’t speak, she rarely appeared to notice when they spoke to her, and even more rarely answered. She seemed lost in her own world, drowning in the weight of her grief. Kenneth watched her with growing fear. Had they done the wrong thing in making her face her loss? But Tess wasn’t allowing herself such doubts. She continued to talk to Liz, put food in front of her, bathe and dress her, even when Liz’s listlessness made Kenneth wonder if she was even aware of their presence.
On the fourth day after they had found Liz in the bar, Kenneth sat at the rickety table, trying to read a book he’d picked up in the airport. Liz was sleeping on the bed, her face ashen in the bright sunlight from the windows, her eyes ringed with dark circles. Tess slept on a cot he’d dragged into the room the day before, worn out from staying up all night to watch her friend. Kenneth turned a page in his book and started to read, but found he had no idea what the last page had been about. He turned back and started to read again, but it was no use. He couldn’t keep his mind on it, not when Liz lay three feet away trying to sleep herself into the abyss. He wished Tess would wake up—it was easier to believe Liz would be all right when Tess was awake, keeping Liz there with them through the sheer force of her will. But in sleep, Tess was troubled, restless, and Kenneth wondered if she, too, was beginning to lose hope.
The simple truth of it was that Liz had given up. She had weighed her options, and decided that living was too hard. Kenneth couldn’t say he blamed her. Faced with the same decision, he might have given up, too. But even as the thought passed through his mind, he realized that he envied her. Even with the losses she had suffered, even with the grief that was at this moment breaking her heart, he envied Liz Parker. She had loved—not once, but twice. She had known love that made her heart sing, that had made her cheeks flush, her eyes sparkle, her soul shine through her mortal coil. And she had been loved in return. Sitting in that dingy hotel room, Kenneth thought he would willingly suffer grief like this, if only he might feel that kind of love first. He loved Liz—loved her very much. She was the one thing in his well-ordered world that he hadn’t been able to control, and he loved her for it. He loved the feeling in his chest when he picked up the telephone and it was her, loved the smiles she gave him that he couldn’t help but return. He loved that she kept him guessing, stayed one step ahead of him no matter how hard he tried to anticipate her next move. It had hurt when Liz fell in love with Lucas, after years of telling Kenneth she was still waiting for Max. He had been angry and confused, but the first time he saw Lucas with Liz he understood why Lucas had been the one to break down the walls Liz had built around her heart. Lucas’s love had been a thing of wildness and abandon, something Kenneth had never made room for in his life. That was how Liz loved, too—without caution and without fear. And though Kenneth had never met Max Evans, Tess and Liz herself had made it clear that Max’s love for Liz had known no boundaries. It had encompassed every aspect of his life, every cell of his body, every breath he took. Love like that was awe-inspiring, magic. But in its absence, it was devastation.
Kenneth rose from his chair and went to the bed. Liz lay motionless, her eyes still closed. He couldn’t tell if she was really sleeping or not, but it didn’t matter. Wearily, he lay down beside her and closed his eyes for a moment, silently wishing for wisdom. When he opened them again, he found Liz staring at him, lying on her side, one hand beneath her cheek.
“You’re awake,” he said. “That’s good.” He tried to smile at her. “Liz, I know you’re hurting, but. . .it’ll get better. You know that, right?”
She didn’t answer. Looking at him gravely, she asked, “Have you ever been to Berlin?”
He blinked, wondering if she was delirious. “No,” he said slowly.
She stared at something over his left shoulder. “There’s a church there,” she continued, her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s the Kaiser Wilhelm Church. The British bombed it during World War II. The windows shattered first, then the roof collapsed, and finally the walls cracked and split open.” She paused, and Kenneth wondered what images she was seeing in her mind. “When the war was over, they rebuilt Berlin. But not the Kaiser Wilhelm. It’s still there, rubble and loose stones where a building used to be. A monument to loss.”
“Why?” he asked. “Why not rebuild it? Or at least clear it away and build something else?”
“They knew,” she said simply.
He didn’t understand. “Knew what?”
“That there are things you can’t clear away,” she whispered. “We try so hard to clean the canvas and start over again. But there are some spots that don’t rub away, no matter how hard you try.” Tears formed in Liz’s eyes. “I think I have too many spots, Kenneth. I can’t start over again this time. It’s too much.”
Kenneth’s heart ached for her as he reached out to put a hand on her cheek. “Liz, I’ve never been to Berlin,” he said, “but I know a lot of people who have. And they keep going back. Do you know why? Because they think it’s beautiful.” He moved closer to her, smoothing her hair back from her face. “No one’s asking you to start over again. Just to keep going. You can do that—I know you can. Please don’t give up.”
Liz stared at him for a brief moment, her eyes dark and sad. “I’m so tired,” she said finally, and turned over to face the wall. Kenneth lay there for a long time, watching the sun creep across the carpet and dust motes dance in the air.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max paced his tent restlessly. He hadn’t slept in two days—not since he’d learned of Villai’s destruction. Prayet’s betrayal. How many other lies had the man executed without his knowledge? Max picked up a clay goblet and hurled it at the ground. It shattered on the hard-packed dirt floor, sending shards of clay everywhere. One hit Max just above his eye, opening a deep cut that made him wince. He raised his hand to heal it, but thought better of it. Let it hurt—let it scar and remind him whenever he looked in the mirror that he had been a fool to trust Prayet. That he had failed his people yet again. Let it remind him that he had thought to be a king and found himself wanting.
Max kicked aside the pallet of blankets that was his bed and crouched on the ground, passing a hand wearily over his face. He needed guidance, he needed someone he could trust with these burdens he carried. He needed. . .he needed to feel like he wasn’t alone. “God, Liz, I need you so much,” he murmured into the silence. He had been alone, always alone since that morning when his hand had slipped from her grasp. He remembered how tightly she had held on, dragging him back with a strength he had never imagined she possessed, even as he had been drawn away. He remembered her tears, the fear and love mingled in her eyes as he told her to run. He remembered that she hadn’t run, that she hadn’t left him even though she had been afraid. That was Liz. She didn’t give up. If it had been her here instead of him, she wouldn’t be hiding in a tent. She would be finding a way to make this right. But it wasn’t her. It was him, and he was tired. So tired of fighting and losing and never being sure if he was making things better or worse. Wearily, he lowered himself to the tangled pile of blankets and lay down on his side, pulling a blanket over him.
“I can’t be you, Liz,” he said aloud. “I’m sorry—I’m not strong like you.” He closed his eyes, trying to imagine that she could hear him. That he wasn’t alone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz dreamed of a search. She was somewhere familiar—Belfast. She was in Belfast, and she was waiting for someone, but he hadn’t come, and she was worried that he never would. She wandered the streets, looking for him in crowds that never quite touched her, and then she stepped through an archway and she was in the pub where she had first met Lucas. People were dancing, but they didn’t see her. She watched them, feeling small and very alone, and trying not to wish she was a part of them.
Then she saw him.
Lucas’s gaze caught hers from across the room, just like the night they first met. Liz felt warmth spread through her from her head to her toes, and a wild joy seized her heart. He smiled at her, his eyes beckoning her to follow as he walked out of the pub. Liz followed immediately, pushing her way through the crowd that still never really touched her. She trailed him through the streets of Belfast, always a few steps behind him, though she was running hard and he only walked at a steady pace. She called his name, but he didn’t seem to hear. Liz’s lungs burned as she tried to keep up, but he was moving farther and farther away. He turned a corner up ahead, and Liz followed, suddenly finding herself alone. The street stretched before her was empty, and there was only darkness behind her. Silence was all around her, and she knew that night was coming, and she was afraid to find herself alone in the dark. But then she wasn’t alone.
“Max.” She said his name and he was beside her, so close she could feel the beat of his heart in the stillness. She turned to look at him wonderingly. “Are you really here?”
He seemed as stunned as she was. “Liz. . .where are we?” He raised a hand as if to touch her, but hesitated, afraid to know for sure.
She lifted her hand and lightly laced her fingers through his, and Max watched as their hands touched, entwined, caressed. “Is this a dream?” Liz asked softly.
“I don’t know,” he said, his eyes roaming her face hungrily. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
“Neither do I,” she said.
He reached up to touch her face, his heart pounding at her nearness. He could feel the heat of her skin, smell her hair, feel her breath on his neck, and he wanted to weep. He cupped her jaw in his palm. “I missed you so much,” he murmured.
“Are you coming back to me?” she asked, laying her hand flat on his chest, the miracle of his heartbeat strong and steady beneath her fingers.
He touched her face, her hands, stroked the warm smooth skin of her neck. Her hair slipped through his fingers like silk, and he buried his face in it, breathing in her scent. “I will always come back to you,” he murmured against her ear. “Every road I’ve ever taken leads to you.”
“Where have you been?” she whispered.
“With you,” he answered. “Always with you. Didn’t you know?”
“I don’t know. . .I got so lost.” She shook her head. “You feel real,” she said, pressing her cheek against his chest. “This. . .us. It doesn’t feel like a dream.”
Max was still touching her gently, his hands caressing everywhere they went. One of his hands found hers, clasping it tightly. “Maybe it’s not,” he answered.
“Then where are we?”
He raised his head and looked around. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen this place before. Have you?”
Reluctantly, she opened her eyes to look, too. “I think so. . .I don’t know. I’ve been to so many places. They all run together.” She looked up at him, frowning when she noticed a cut above his eye. “You’re hurt,” she said, lifting a hand to trace it.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, capturing her hand. He kissed her palm, pressing it to his face. This is what he had wanted—to feel her closeness, the softness of her skin. To hold her close to him. He imagined he could have stood there forever on that empty street, with twilight closing in on them, leaving them the only people in the world. He reached for her other hand, but paused when he noticed a bandage covering her wrist. “What happened?” he asked. The bandage didn’t quite cover the edges of a vivid purple bruise.
“Doesn’t matter,” she told him. “Nothing matters. Only you.”
He shook his head. “But where did you get it?”
She didn’t understand, but she answered anywhere. “I got cut—a bullet hit the wall and I cut myself on the pieces that broke loose.”
“How do I know it’s there?” he asked. “If this is my dream, how do I know that happened?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe this is my dream.”
“Then how do you know about this?” he asked, pointing to the cut over his eye.
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “Do you think we. . .are we both dreaming this? Is it like Isabel’s dreamwalks?” It was almost too much. If they were sharing a dream, Max was alive. And if he was alive— “Oh, God, Max—I thought I’d lost you,” she said tearfully. “I couldn’t feel you anymore. . .I was so afraid.”
“You’re never afraid,” he said. “You’re always so strong. . .I wish I was strong like you.”
She shook her head. “No—I’m not. I’m not anymore. I was strong because you loved me. I believed I could do anything because you believed in me.”
Max smiled faintly. “I still love you, Liz. That will never change.”
“But I need you.” She grabbed onto him fiercely. “I need you with me. I don’t think I can do this again. I can’t be alone again. Please Max, I need you to come back to me.”
Max held her, stroking her hair. “I will, Liz. I promise you. Just give me time.” He pushed her back to look into her eyes. If this was a dream, it was the most vivid one he’d ever had. He could see his reflection in her eyes, feel her trembling in his arms. “You have to wait a little longer. Will you wait?”
Tears streamed down Liz’s face. “I don’t know if I can,” she whispered.
“Please try. Please.” He planted gentle kisses all over her face, tasting the salt of her tears on his lips. It was beginning to fade—he held her closer, trying to hold onto her, but her voice was coming from miles away.
“Hurry, Max. Max, don’t go. Please—stay with me.” She tried to hold him, but he was slipping away. “No, not yet—it isn’t enough time. It’s not enough. Please. . .”
“Just a little longer, Liz. Hold on. I’m coming back to you. . .”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max sat bolt upright, sweating, panting, his face damp with tears. He had been there with her, he knew it. That hadn’t been a dream. It had been real, real as the cold ground beneath him and the sound of the wind outside his tent.
Liz was hurt. He had never seen such grief in her eyes, or fear. Even when she’d been afraid for him, Liz had never shown fear for herself. It simply hadn’t been in her. But now she was scared, and alone. What had happened to the man who’d asked her to marry him? Had he left her, or had she left him? And why? How long had she been alone while he played his war games that left people dead or starving?
“God, Liz, can you ever forgive me?” he asked aloud. “I swear I’m coming back to you. I swear it.” He threw back the blanket and rose. There was much work to be done.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz quietly pushed open the door to the hotel room and slipped inside, setting the newspapers and food she had bought on a table just inside the door. Tess and Kenneth were just as she’d left them—fast asleep. She had woken from her dream. . .vision of Max calmer, less despairing. She didn’t know if it had been real, but it really didn’t matter. Tess had been right when she said that Liz owed it to Lucas and to Max to keep living. That was what Lucas had tried to teach her—that the living had a responsibility. It had been the theme of his book, and, she realized now, of his life. Lucas would have wanted her to live and to keep on with what he had begun.
And Max. Max would never have wanted her to stop living out of grief for him. That hadn’t been his way. All the times he had tried to push her away, it hadn’t been because he didn’t want her. He had wanted her to have something else, something better and safer and more normal than what he had to give. But nothing was better him, and she had never felt so safe as she had with Max. And as for normal. . .well, Liz had never been satisfied with normal. She wanted the dream. And she had lived it, too, no matter how briefly. That was worth something—worth enough for her to keep on going.
If Max was dead, she was the only one left to remember what they had been together. She owed it to him to keep that alive. And if by some miracle, her dream had been real, and Max was still alive, she had to be alive when he came back to her. If there was one thing Liz still had enough faith to believe, it was that Max would always find his way back to her.
She sat quietly in a chair, opening the papers she had bought. It was a start.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Feb-2002 9:52:05 AM ]
|posted on 6-Feb-2002 4:04:04 PM by mockingbird39|
“What are you looking at? You’ve been staring since we left Dallas.” Liz made sure her seat belt was fastened securely as she felt the plane begin to bank. She, Tess, and Kenneth were about to land in New Mexico, where they would rent a car and drive to Roswell. Tess was asleep in the aisle seat, worn out from more than a day of traveling. Two days before, Liz had decided that she was going home. Back to Roswell. It was where the path went—she knew that just as surely as she had known that she was to go to Washington, to Belfast. In a million ways, Roswell was home and right now Liz needed home more than anything else.
Kenneth shrugged. “You,” he said honestly. “I can’t believe how different you are. I was so worried about you.”
She looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. She’d taken the bandage off her wrist, but the bruises remained. It would probably scar, leaving a jagged reminder of those days in limbo, when she hadn’t wanted to live, but wasn’t ready to die. “I really gave you a hard time, didn’t I?” she asked.
“You gave yourself a hard time,” he said. “I don’t blame you, though. I’m just. . .I was scared for a while there. But you pulled through, and it just made me realize how much I admire you.”
“You guys saved my life,” Liz said quietly.
“No.” Kenneth shook his head. “It wasn’t us. Something changed in you—but it wasn’t us.” The unspoken question was there, just as it had been all week. What changed? What was the magic word that made you get up and keep going? But Liz wasn’t quite ready to answer yet, and in truth, she wasn’t sure how profound the change was. It was still a battle to keep going, to make herself get up and face each day without Lucas and without Max. She wasn’t sure that would ever change. So instead of answering, she looked out the window.
“It’ll be nice to be home,” she said. She gave a slight smile. “You can stop worrying about me.”
He backed off, immediately sensing the change in her tone. “I’ll stop worrying when you’re back in D.C. and I can check on you any time I want,” he retorted.
Liz looked surprised. “I’m not going back to D.C.,” she said. “I thought I told you.”
“What?” Kenneth leaned across the table. “But. . .where are you going?”
Liz looked uncomfortable. “Well, I’ll probably go back to Belfast in a while. I want to see Lucas’s family, and. . .I have a few things to do there.”
“And then you’re coming to D.C.?”
She shook her head. “No. After that I’m coming back home to Roswell. I’m going to look for a house here.” She looked down at her lap. “I thought you knew.”
Kenneth was silent for a long time. “No,” he said finally, his voice hoarse. “I didn’t know.”
Liz bowed her head, closing her eyes for a moment. Six years of friendship. . .sometimes she felt all she’d ever done was hurt Kenneth. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, reaching for his hand.
He pulled back before she could touch him. “I guess I just thought. . .I mean, after all this time, I hoped. . .” He stopped and took a deep breath. “You heard from him, then? I wondered why Tess was so adamant we had to come and get you right now.” He looked away. “That’s what you were talking about in the bathroom, isn’t it?”
“No.” As soon as she said it, Liz wished she had lied to him. The spasm of hurt that flickered in Kenneth’s eyes was almost too much for her, but he deserved the truth. “No one’s heard from him—not in almost nine years. I think. . .I don’t know if he’s coming back, Kenneth. I don’t know if he ever will.”
“And yet you’re still going back there.” Kenneth’s voice was harsh. “What’s there for you?”
It was Liz’s turn to be quiet. She turned the question over in her mind. Finally, she looked at Kenneth sadly. “Do you know what peace is?” she asked. “Do you know what if feels like? Do you know what it feels like to wake up in the morning and not have that feeling that you should be somewhere else—be something more?” Kenneth only looked at her quizzically. “I used to,” she continued. “I used to know what that felt like.” She stared at nothing, her eyes holding the far away look he had never been able to get beyond. “I don’t sleep at night, Kenneth. I lay awake in bed and I see things no one should ever see—wars, death, fear. I see fire, and I see guns, and I see ruin.” She paused for a moment, then looked at him gravely. “I need to see something else. I need to rest.”
“You can’t rest in D.C.?” he asked, trying to smile.
Liz breathed deeply, leaning her head back against the seat. “I’m sorry, Kenneth.”
“Don’t be.” He reached for her hand and clasped it lightly. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Liz. Not a thing.”
Tess woke up as the plane landed, but was still groggy as they collected their luggage.
“Kenneth, you can drive, right?” she asked. “I’ll give you directions to my house.”
Kenneth nodded and took Tess’s bag from her. “No problem,” he assured her, then glanced at Liz. “You know the way, right?” he asked quietly. He’d be surprised if Tess managed to stay awake long enough to get on the interstate.
Liz gave a small grin and nodded. She hiked her laptop bag higher on her shoulder and rounded the corner toward the rental car counter, but suddenly stopped short. A crowd of familiar faces stood to the side of the counter.
“We were going to just send one person to drive you home,” Kyle said. He stood there with his hands in his pockets, looking sheepish. Behind him were Maria, Michael, Isabel, and Alex. “We didn’t want to overwhelm you, but. . .we couldn’t agree on who got to come.”
“Is it okay?” Isabel asked anxiously. “Are you overwhelmed?”
Tears sprang to Liz’s eyes and she dropped her bags as Maria came forward to hug her. She smiled broadly, her first real smile in months. “No, I think. . .” She paused as Maria threw her arms around her. She took a deep breath. “I think I’m whelmed just about enough,” she managed to say as the rest joined their embrace.
There was so much news to share. As Liz and Kenneth rode to Tess’s house in Alex and Isabel’s car, Liz couldn’t believe she had missed so much in the past few months. Kyle was about to be made head wrestling coach at West Roswell High, Maria had finally given up her L.A. apartment to move back to Roswell full time. Michael’s custom carpentry business had expanded so much he was taking on an apprentice and looking for a larger space to work in. But most amazing was Alex and Isabel’s news. In four months, their baby would be born. Another generation would begin.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked Isabel, who sat beside her in the back seat.
Isabel shrugged and smiled. “Well, I wanted to tell you in Belfast, but. . .there wasn’t a time. And after that, it never seemed right.”
“I’m so happy for you,” Liz said, hugging Isabel tightly. “It’s the best news you could have given me. It’s amazing. It means. . .it means life goes on. In the best way.”
“Liz, we wanted to ask you something,” Isabel began. She leaned back to look at her friend. “We’d like you to be the baby’s godmother. If Max was here. . .well, we’d have wanted both of you. But he’s not,” she faltered, a flash of grief making her eyes sad.
“I’d be honored,” Liz said simply. She folded Isabel in her arms again. “Max would be so happy,” she whispered.
Isabel nodded. “I know. He’d be a great uncle, don’t you think?”
Liz smiled. “I know he would be.”
“It’s like you said,” Isabel continued, wiping her eyes. “A new life. . .life goes on. I just never realized how much of a miracle it all is.” A smile crossed her face and she took Liz’s hand, pressing it to her belly. “The baby’s moving,” she said. “He knows he’s a miracle.”
“He?” Liz questioned, her eyes widening in awe as she felt Isabel’s baby move beneath her hand.
“Or she,” Isabel said. “We didn’t want to find out.” She looked at Liz, but the other woman’s eyes were on the street outside and Isabel instantly knew why. They were nearly to the place where Max had disappeared that morning so many years ago. Isabel put her arm around Liz. “I’m so glad you’re home,” she said softly.
Liz laced her fingers through Isabel’s. “Me, too,” she said in a small voice. “Me, too.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“You sent for me, Majesty?”
Max looked toward the door of his personal office. Now that they were quartered in a relatively large town, the army had been able to comandeer houses for shelter. Max wasn’t particularly comfortable with the idea of taking people’s homes, but the townspeople had assured him that the houses were ones that had been vacated in the last migration to the industrial cities. Prayet had claimed that the homes had belonged to Khivar’s supporters, but Max believed none of Prayet’s “truths” anymore. The man still had tactical knowledge, however, and the trust and support of many of the senior counselors, so Max kept him on. There was another reason, too, but Prayet didn’t know that yet.
“Yes.” Max stood up and went to greet Cipullo. The young soldier stood just inside the door, looking uncomfortable. Young—that was almost funny. He wasn’t much younger than Max himself. Max motioned for him to shut the door and then gestured to a pair of chairs before the desk. “Please sit down.” Cipullo did so, looking more uncomfortable than ever. Max paced for a moment, then realized he was making the other man nervous and sat down abruptly.
“May I be of service, Majesty?” Cipullo asked after a moment.
“I hope so.” Max leaned back in his chair and studied Cipullo. “Cipullo, I was not raised to be a king. I didn’t know who I was until a few years ago, and when I found out, I wished I hadn’t. I didn’t want to be a king. I don’t know how to be a king. But I guess that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” he asked wryly.
Cipullo looked down. “I didn’t know how to be a soldier, either, until someone taught me.”
“Do you know how I was brought here?” Max asked Cipullo.
“Khivar,” Cipullo answered. “He brought you here, but you escaped to join us.”
Max nodded. “I escaped because I no longer believed what Khivar told me was true.” He stood up and walked to the window. It was dark outside. Another day had passed, and still he was alone. “Now I no longer believe what Prayet and the Counselors tell me is true,” he added softly. Cipullo didn’t look particularly surprised.
“My father says that politics is a game of lies,” he said. “A soldier’s life is much simpler.”
“It must be.” Max turned back from the windows. “Cipullo, I’m going to ask you to do something that will make your life. . .much less simple.”
“I serve as you tell me,” Cipullo said.
“This is different,” Max said. “I won’t order you to do this—I have no right to order you. But I’m going to ask you because there is no one else I trust.”
The young man’s ears reddened. “Ask, Majesty. I will do what you ask.”
“Maybe you’d better hear it first,” Max said. He sat down again and took a deep breath. Please let this work, he thought. This has to work.
|posted on 11-Feb-2002 10:17:08 AM by mockingbird39|
“Everyone, I’d like you to meet Lily Evans Whitman.”
At Isabel’s words, a collective sigh went through the hospital room where Liz, Michael, Maria, Tess, and Kyle were gathered with Alex, Isabel, and their new daughter.
“A girl,” Maria breathed, stepping closer to the bed. The baby in Isabel’s arms yawned and waved a tiny fist, and Maria clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle her squeal of delight. Needing an outlet for her excitement, she grabbed the closest person, who happened to be Alex, and hugged him so tightly she knocked the wind out of him. “I’m so happy for you,” she cried, blissfully ignorant of Alex’s lack of air.
Liz was next. She leaned carefully over the bed for a closer look at the bundle of pink blankets. Lily’s eyes were closed, and her tiny rosebud mouth made gentle sucking motions. A thick patch of dark hair covered her perfect head, and Liz thought she had Alex’s chin. She was quiet for a long time, her eyes searching the tiny face, and when she met Isabel’s gaze, she knew she wasn’t the only one looking for a little of Max in the new life before her. Liz smiled through the tears that had gathered in her eyes. “She’s beautiful,” she told Isabel, kissing the other woman’s cheek.
“Do you want to hold her?” Isabel asked.
“I’d love to,” Liz said honestly. She sat on the edge of the bed as Isabel carefully laid the baby in her arms. Liz’s heart melted instantly and she cuddled Lily close against her. “You’re a lucky little girl,” she murmured, pressing her lips to Lily’s downy head. “A lot of people love you very, very much.” She smiled. “And so do I,” she added. Liz closed her eyes and breathed in Lily’s scent—milk and baby powder and something else—something warm and soft that made Liz’s heart twist. For the first time since Lucas’s death, Liz started to wonder what it would be like to hold her own child in her arms this way.
Isabel brushed her fingers against her daughter’s cheek. “Maybe you can convince your aunt Liz to stay in Roswell more often so she doesn’t wake up one morning and find out you’re starting kindegarden,” she teased, smiling at Liz.
Liz chuckled. She had been gone a lot recently, so much so that her apartment still looked much like it had the week she moved in. But that was about to change. “Oh, I will be,” she said, leaving the explanations for later. “I will be.”
When Lily had been passed around, admired, and hugged by the whole group, Tess began subtly moving everyone to the door. But no one seemed to want to leave, and finally she announced that all childless adults were to come to her place for a celebration and leave the new family to get some rest. Reluctantly, they agreed, and came with her after a protracted round of goodbyes.
“We’re coming home tomorrow,” Isabel called after them. “You can bring gifts then.”
“Did you get a gift?” Maria hissed to Michael. “I told you to get a gift.”
“I got four,” Michael said smugly. “What? I can’t go shopping?”
They trailed out of the room, Liz being the last to leave. She lingered at Isabel’s side for a moment, stroking Lily’s palm. “Isabel, I just wanted to say congratulations,” she said, then shook her head. “No, that’s not it. I wanted to say. . .I don’t know. You’re so lucky. Thank you for sharing her with us. It’s like. . .a new beginning, but. . .”
Isabel reached out with her free arm and hugged Liz tightly. “I know,” she said softly. “I still miss him, too.”
Liz hugged her for another moment, unable to speak, then murmured a goodbye and left before her tears could shed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tess had bought champagne—non-alcoholic for her and Michael, Cristal for the rest, and as they sat in her living room sipping it, the talk turned to Liz’s trip to Washington. She had just arrived home that morning, having abruptly cut it short upon hearing that Isabel had gone into labor.
“Did you get everything done you needed to?” Maria asked. “You were only there for two days.”
Liz smiled as she sipped her champagne. “Enough,” she said.
Kyle caught the expression on her face. “You’ve got news,” he announced. “Spill.”
“Do you?” Tess demanded. She looked at Liz closely. “Yeah, you do. Out with it.”
Liz’s smile widened. “Well, you are no longer looking at a lowly correspondent,” she said. “I am now a columnist for International Weekly. I’m going to be writing a weekly column—my editor approved it this morning.”
“A column? Your own column? Liz, that’s incredible!” Maria jumped out of her seat to hug her friend. “What’s it about? What’s it called? Is it about politics? Are you going to get to meet the President?”
Liz shook her head. “Probably not,” she admitted. “It’s not political.”
Kyle cocked his head to one side. “Liz Parker. . .not political. What about that doesn’t sound right?” he teased.
“Pretty much the ‘not’ part,” Michael said. “What’s it going to be about?”
“Well, it’s called ‘We the Living,’” Liz told them, “and it’s going to chronicle survivor stories.” She paused for just a second. “You know, like Lucas’s book.”
There was a short silence, then Tess said carefully, “Are you ready to do that?”
Liz nodded. “I think I need to,” she said softly. She looked down at her hands for a moment, then reached into the leather carry-on beside her feet. “Lucas’s book went into its second printing this week,” she told them, pulling a copy of it from the bag. “His publisher sent me a copy because there was something in it that hadn’t made the first printing. Maybe he added it too late—I don’t know.” She opened the book to one of the first pages and handed it to Tess, who sat beside her.
“’For Liz,’” Tess read, “’in love for your pilgrim soul.’” She looked questioningly at Liz. “I don’t understand.”
“Turn the page,” Liz encouraged, and Tess did so.
“It’s a poem,” Tess said, and began to read.
“’When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
‘How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
‘And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.’”
When she finished, Tess closed the book and looked at Liz. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s Yeats,” Liz said. “Lucas loved Yeats. He used to read it to me. . .” Her voice faltered, but she went on. “His favorite was ‘Easter, 1916.’ It was about the people who lost their lives in the Easter Uprising, but it’s not just a lament. It says that we have to remember, we have to keep their names from being forgotten.”
“We the living,” Kyle said softly.
Liz smiled at him. “Yes. That’s what I’m going to do—I’m going to remember.”
“With your column.” Michael looked at her from across the room, feeling a weight drop from his shoulders. Liz would be all right. He hadn’t been sure until this moment—even after she returned to Roswell, she had seemed lost and fragile. But there was determination in her eyes now. It might take a long time, but Liz would recover. He smiled at her. “Liz, that’s great. I’m. . .I’m really proud of you.”
“We all are,” Maria said, her voice reflecting the same relief Liz saw in Michael’s eyes. Liz couldn’t help wondering if their hope was a bit premature. She was glad for this next project, believed it would help her get her life back together, but it didn’t make it all better. She still dreamt of Max and Lucas, and she still woke up without them. It was easier now, but the ache hadn’t gone away. Liz doubted it ever would.
“Well, I think we need more champagne,” Tess said, rising to refill their glasses, “and another toast. To Liz and her column. . .and to all that inspired it.”
They raised their glasses, toasting her success, her new start, happy and relieved that she had overcome the darkness. But only Liz herself knew how tenuous her victory was.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Six Months Later
“It’s my birthday, I get to hold her first.” Liz plucked Lily from Isabel’s arms over the protests of Maria and Kyle and cuddled the baby close. Lily laughed, grabbed a handful of Liz’s hair in her chubby fist and tugged, making Kyle laugh, too.
“See? That’s because she really wanted Uncle Kyle.” He reached out to take her, but Liz wasn’t giving her up yet.
“Ah—no way. She’s my girl, aren’t you Lily?” she asked the baby, bussing her cheek. Lily responded with a giggle and bounced in Liz’s arms. “That means yes,” Liz informed Kyle, and went to the corner of her living room, where she kept a box of toys for the baby. “Want to see what Auntie Liz brought you from Paris?” she asked.
“Hey, that’s not fair,” Kyle called after her. “You can’t buy her with stuff from Paris! Isabel, tell Liz to quit cheating.”
Isabel grinned. “Hey, Liz—did you bring me anything from Paris?” she wanted to know.
It was Liz’s birthday, and the gang—Kyle, Tess, Maria, Michael, Alex, Isabel, and little Lily—were all at Liz’s apartment to celebrate. Maria had protested that Liz shouldn’t host her own birthday party, but Liz had finally gotten her apartment decorated and organized before her business trip to Paris, and she was anxious to show it off. She had painted the walls a deep taupe, and left the floors bare except for a few rattan rugs. The furniture was dark wood with cream upholstery, and everywhere there were bookshelves, filled with Liz’s cherished books. But what Isabel noticed most was the photographs. Everywhere she looked there were framed pictures of friends and family, people Liz had met in her travels. Isabel’s gaze lingered on two in particular, both of which were set in silver frames on the mantle. One was a picture of Liz and Lucas, standing on an impossibly green hillside beneath a bright, golden sun. Both wore thick sweaters and jeans, and both were smiling broadly, arms wrapped around each other. The other frame held a worn, dog-eared strip of black and white photographs that was cracked and bent in several places. They were of Max and Liz, taken years ago at the winter carnival. They looked young, innocent, deliriously happy. Isabel wondered how long Liz had carried them around with her before finally having a place to keep them.
When Liz was safely out of earshot, Maria stepped closer to Isabel and Kyle. “She looks good, don’t you think? Paris agreed with her.”
“Compared to six months ago?” Kyle asked, shaking his head. “She looks amazing.”
“She looks much better,” Isabel agreed, studying Liz thoughtfully. After a moment, she crossed the room and sat down beside Liz and Lily. “Hey, Liz, happy birthday,” she said.
Liz looked up from the stacking toy she and Lily were putting together. “Thanks, Isabel,” she said, smiling. Lily held up a bright orange ring and Liz beamed at her. “Where does that go? Does that go here?” Together they placed it on top of a blue ring and Liz clapped her hands in congratulations. “Look, Mommy, we did it!” she exclaimed to Isabel.
Isabel smiled and kissed Lily’s cheek. “Mommy is so proud of you!” she cried, clapping her hands as well. She handed Lily another ring and watched as her daughter tried her best to fit it on the yellow plastic post. “Um, Liz, I. . .I have something for you.”
Liz’s eyes were still on Lily. That determined look on her face reminded Liz of Max—if she’d been chewing a pencil, Liz would have sworn she was back in AP Bio. “A birthday present?” Liz asked absently.
“Sort of,” Isabel said. “I mean. . .I’ve been wanting to give it to you anyway, and I just didn’t know if I should.” Isabel reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a watch—a men’s watch with a metal band and dark blue face. Liz recognized it immediately.
“That’s Max’s watch,” she said in a small voice. She hadn’t touched anything of Max’s in years—not since the night before her college graduation, when she’d taken Max’s old gray sweater out of her trunk and slept with it against her cheek. She could still remember what it had felt like against her skin, how if she pressed it to her face she could almost smell him on it.
“Max left it behind when he went to your house that night,” Isabel was saying. Liz heard her only dimly, lost in memories. “I found it on his dresser. . .after.” She took a deep breath. “I always meant to give it to you, but I thought it might just make it harder for you.” Isabel smiled slightly, cupping the watch in her hand. “But I think you should have it,” she said. “I think it would help you now, instead of hurting you to have it.”
Liz didn’t reach for it right away, but after a moment she put out her hand and Isabel put the watch into it. “Thanks,” Liz said softly. “This. . .this means a lot.”
“I know,” Isabel agreed. She smiled at Liz. “I’m proud of you. You. . .you’re the strongest person I know. Max would be proud of you, too.”
Liz stared at the watch in her hand for a long time. “Do you think he’s alive, Isabel?” she asked in a whisper.
It was Isabel’s turn for silence. She helped Lily with her toy, then lifted her daughter into her arms. “I ask myself that almost every day,” she said finally. “I just don’t know. I don’t want to believe he’s gone, but. . .it’s been nine years. I have to think Max would have gotten word to us somehow. He loved you so much, Liz. He’d have done anything to get back to you.” She glanced at the other woman. “Do you think he’s alive?”
Liz slipped the watch on her wrist. It hung loosely—if she wanted to wear it, she’d have to get a jeweler take a few links out of the band. And she did want to wear it. It reminded her of Max in some intangible way that felt like comfort now, instead of loss. “I don’t know, either,” she answered. “A year ago, I would have said no, but. . .I had this dream. When I was in Indonesia, and Tess and Kenneth were there. . .I had given up. And then I had this dream, and Max was there, and he told me to hold on, because he was coming back.” She shivered suddenly, although it was not cold. “That’s the first time I ever told anyone that.”
“Do you think it was real?” Isabel asked.
“I don’t know. It felt real.” Liz smiled. “It was enough for me then.” She sobered suddenly. “But if he is alive. . .it’s been nine years. We’d both be so different. And what he must have been through to stay away so long. . .” Liz’s heart twisted. “I don’t want to think about him like that.”
“I know.” Isabel cuddled Lily close. “But when I think he might be alive—” She stopped. “I don’t know what to think.”
A buzzing sound made both women look up. “Someone’s downstairs,” Liz said. “It’s probably Kenneth.”
“He’s coming all the way here for your birthday?” Isabel wanted to know.
Liz nodded. “Yeah. He insisted.”
“He loves you,” Isabel said seriously.
“I know.” Liz didn’t smile. “I wish I could love him back.” She fingered the band of Max’s watch. “Maybe I will someday. But. . .not today.” She took a deep breath and rose to greet Kenneth.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max paced the confines of his tent restlessly. Two nights ago, he’d dreamed of Liz again. This dream had been different from the last one—not nearly so real, but not nearly so frightening either. But Max wasn’t comforted. He had to get home to Liz before something else happened to her—something that she couldn’t recover from. She needed him, and she needed him now. Just like he needed her. He closed his eyes briefly. Soon, Liz. I promise.
He opened his eyes when he heard a rustling at the tent flap. “Majesty,” Cipullo said, his voice hushed in the darkness.
“Cipullo.” Max crossed to him. “Are they all there? Prayet and the others?”
“Two have not yet arrived, but they will be there shortly.”
“You saw them?”
Cipullo nodded. “With my own eyes.”
“Good.” Max took a deep breath. “That’s good. You know what to do, then?”
“Yes.” Cipullo nodded again. “I have your instructions.”
Max looked at him hard. “Are you certain you want to do this?” he asked. “It’s not an easy thing I’m asking—I know that.”
“This is my choice, Majesty, and I choose to serve you.” He paused. “And I think this is right, too. Something must be done.”
Max reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of papers and a computer chip. “Then take these. You know what to do with them.”
“Yes.” Cipullo looked at the papers in his hand, then at Max. “Where will you go?” he asked. “What if we need you?”
Max shook his head. “You won’t. But someone else does.” He met the young soldier’s gaze firmly. “I am no king, Cipullo. There are other who are much more fit to rule than I am. I am not needed here, and I think I’ve only caused more harm.”
“That’s not true,” Cipullo protested. “You’ve given us hope.”
“Of what?” Max asked. “Of more wars, of a conflict that will never end? That’s not the legacy I want to leave.” He gave a long sigh. “I’m not the person you all think I am. I don’t even remember that man. He died a long time ago, and I can’t be him any more than anyone else can.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I want to be him. I’m going home, Cipullo. Home to earth.”
“They need you there?” Cipullo asked simply.
Max nodded. “One person does. Anyone can do what I do here. But she needs me.” A shadow marred his eyes briefly. “I just hope I’m not too late.” He bent and lifted a small bag. It was not full—he hadn’t much to bring with him, and he wanted few mementos of this place. “I should go. I want to be at the palace before daylight.”
“Yes, Majesty.” Cipullo held out his arm. “I wish you success.”
Max clasped the other man’s forearm. “And you,” he said. “You are the closest thing I’ve had to a friend here. Thank you for that.”
“It has been my honor,” Cipullo said.
Max looked around the tent one last time. “Goodbye, then,” he said. “Do not stay here too long.”
“I will leave as soon as you are gone,” Cipullo agreed.
“Yeah, that’s good.” Max hesitated a moment. Once he stepped outside, there was no going back. But everything he wanted lay at the end of this path. He took a deep breath and stepped outside into the starry night. It felt like the first step on the journey home.
|posted on 20-Feb-2002 10:03:00 AM by mockingbird39|
|Thanks for all your awesome feedback! I will be updating this story in the next day or so. I had planned to do so earlier, but this next part is giving me trouble. I anticipate another 2-3 parts before this story is finished, and I promise this is a Dreamer story.|
|posted on 21-Feb-2002 10:21:03 AM by mockingbird39|
|Thanks for the bump--great timing! Here's the latest. . .finally. Enjoy!|
“Kenneth, I can’t thank you enough for telling me about that couple—their story is amazing.” Liz opened a carton of moo shoo pork and set it down on Kenneth’s coffee table among several other cartons filled with pork fried rice, beef and broccoli, crab rangoons, and sweet and sour chicken. “I wish you’d have let me pay for the take-out at least,” she added, sitting down cross-legged on the floor.
Kenneth sat down opposite her, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. “No way—how else am I supposed to get you to have dinner with me anymore if I can’t tempt you with amazing stories of love triumphant and. . .lots of free MSG?”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” Liz protested. “I know I haven’t been to D.C. lately, but I’m here now. Two days in London, both of them with you,” she added, grinning at him as she munched on a crab rangoon. It had been an unexpected pleasure to find Kenneth in London just when she had finished her interview with the couple he had told her about. They had met for lunch, and then Kenneth had driven her to Heathrow, only to find that her flight had been canceled due to bad weather in New York. Kenneth had insisted she stay with him, since he had a two-bedroom suite at a guest house in Notting Hill, and on the way there he had managed to talk her into staying two more days. Liz had always loved London, and spending two days there with Kenneth would be a nice vacation. She leaned back against the sofa, smiling broadly at him. “Mmm, no where I’d rather be.”
“Yes, since your flight got canceled,” Kenneth finished, pouring them each a glass of wine. “I’m very flattered that you find me and my suite more inviting than a single at the airport Hilton.”
“You mean the way you find spending time in Roswell more inviting than. . .say, dinner with the Ayatollah Khomeni?” Liz retorted.
“Dinner with the Ayatollah would be a great story, though, wouldn’t it?” Kenneth mused thoughtfully.
Liz tossed a packet of chopsticks at him across the table. “What is wrong with Roswell?” she demanded. “It’s a perfectly good place to be.”
Kenneth nodded, taking a sip of his wine. “Yes, perfectly good,” he agreed. “Lots of culture to soak up, what with the UFO Center, and the masses of deranged tourists and religious crazies that descend each year—”
“I warned you not to visit during the convention,” Liz interrupted.
“So there’s a time when there aren’t any deranged tourists and religious crazies?” Kenneth asked innocently.
“There will be no insulting my home town,” Liz informed him. “Let’s talk about something else, shall we?”
“If you insist,” Kenneth agreed. He picked up a carton and dug in with his chopsticks. “Do you think you’ll have the story written up in time for next week’s column?”
Liz shook her head. “No,” she said, digging her chopsticks into the carton of beef and broccoli. “I’ve already got next week’s column finished.”
“Oh? What’s it about?”
Liz hesitated. “It’s kind of different from the others,” she said finally. She chewed for a minute while Kenneth looked at her expectantly. “So what are you writing? Still gunning for that interview with the House Minority Leader?”
“Oh, no. What’s the column about?” Kenneth shook his head. “Stop squirming and spit it out.”
Liz picked up her wineglass and twirled it in her fingers. “It’s nothing, really. It’s just. . .something a little different than usual.”
Liz shook her head. “It hits the stands tomorrow morning. You’ll just have to buy it then,” she said.
“I will,” Kenneth said. “I always do.” Their eyes met across the table, and Liz smiled at him.
“I know that,” she told him. “At least I have one regular reader.”
“That is not true,” Kenneth protested. “I’ve seen your fan mail—you’ve got thousands of regular readers.”
They talked for hours that night, about work and current events, about politics and the series of articles Kenneth had recently completed about civil containment. Later, as they finished off the bottle of wine, they spoke of family and friends, and Liz pulled out the most recent pictures of Lily to show Kenneth. It was very late when they finally switched off the news and went to bed. Liz was exhausted, and fell asleep almost as soon as she was stretched out in one of the suite’s two bedrooms. But that night her sleep would not last long.
I’m coming, Liz.
Liz sat straight up in bed, gasping. She looked around the room, her heart pounding. “Who’s there?” she asked, squinting in the darkness. “Kenneth?”
I wish you were here. You’d know how to do this.
Liz threw back the covers. That time the voice had been so real she could have sworn someone was in the room with her. No—not just someone. Max. It had been Max’s voice she heard. She fumbled in the darkness, searching for the switch on the bedside lamp. A second later she found it, and the room was flooded with warm, soft light. She was alone.
Are you there, Liz? Can you hear me?”
Liz was breathing hard. She could almost feel him in the room with her, feel that indefinable warmth that had always told her he was nearby. She shivered; she hadn’t felt that warmth in almost nine years. Hands trembling, Liz reached for Max’s watch where it lay on the nightstand. It was warm to the touch. Holding it tightly, she scrambled out of bed and went to the window. The street outside was empty. She out of her room, flipping on lights as she went. “Max? Max, where are you?” she demanded. “I can hear you—”
If you can hear me, Liz, I’m coming. I’ll be there soon.
“Where, Max? Where?” Liz cried, running from the room. It was as though the bond that had connected them so long ago had suddenly burst to life. She could sense his heartbeat, racing furiously in his chest, hear him breathing. Strange images flashed in front of her eyes, disorienting her. . .trees dotted with silky white flowers. . .a cluster of three silvery moons in a violet sky. Stumbling, she burst into the living room and threw open the curtains, but she could see nothing outside. “Max?”
I’m coming home to you, Liz. . .I’m coming. . .
His voice was fainter now, coming from far away, and Liz could feel the bond between them thinning. “No, Max—don’t go,” she begged. “Where are you? Please. . .” She sank to her knees beside the sofa, suddenly alone again. The only sound in the suite was the gentle tick of the clock and her ragged breathing as she knelt there, cold and shaking. “It wasn’t a dream,” she murmured. “I heard him. I know I did. It was real.” Realization dawned, and Liz jumped to her feet, running to the door of Kenneth’s room. She paused briefly to knock and slipped inside when she heard his mumbled answer.
“Kenneth,” she said quietly, putting her hand on his arm as he lay there with his eyes closed. “It’s me, Liz.”
Kenneth peered at her briefly. “Should have known you’d decide to visit my bedroom the one night I really do have a headache,” he deadpanned.
“Kenneth, I need to go home,” she said, ignoring his joke.
“What?” he asked, suddenly awake. He sat up and switched on the lamp. “Now? It’s one in the morning. And your flight was canceled.”
“I’m going to go to the airport and find another one,” she said urgently. “I have to get home.”
“What’s so important that you have to go now?” he asked, shaking his head to clear away the sleep-induced fog.
Liz sat back on her heels, suddenly overtaken with an incredible pull—the same pull that had once enveloped her whenever Max was near. Max was calling her home again. And if she didn’t get on a plane soon, she thought she might go crazy. “I. . .it’s just—I need to be there.”
“If I tried to explain, you’d think I was crazy,” she said with a short laugh.
“Can’t it wait until morning?” he wanted to know.
She shook her head. “No. I have to go tonight.” In nine years, she had never been so sure of anything.
“Liz, this is crazy,” Kenneth said. “You must have had a dream—go back to sleep. You’ll be home by Wednesday night. That’s soon enough, isn’t it?”
Liz took a deep breath and put her hand on his arm. “Kenneth,” she said simply, “I need to go home. Will you drive me to the airport?”
Kenneth’s eyes met her serious, direct gaze and he knew he’d never say no to her. “I’ll get my coat,” he said.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“My lord, we found him on the grounds of the palace!”
Max sprawled on the hard marble floor at the guard’s feet. He had been dragged from the outer perimeter of the palace grounds to the room Khivar used as a reception room. Long ago, it had been the throne room, but Khivar had removed the thrones and the royal crests. Now it was a large, empty room like any other.
“Help him up.” Khivar’s voice rang through the room and Max heard his footsteps on the marble stairs. The guards jerked Max to his feet, and he winced as they pulled on his left shoulder. He thought he might have dislocated it in the scuffle when they first found him inside the palace grounds, and being dragged half a mile to the palace hadn’t helped. He was bleeding from a cut on his cheekbone, where one of Khivar’s guards had landed a punch, and he had sliced his lower lip on his front tooth somewhere along the way. He was dirty and exhausted after walking most of the night, but nothing could quell the relief he felt at having made it this far this quickly. Now he could only hope Khivar would listen.
Khivar made a slow circle around Max, looking him over carefully. “Well, well, if it isn’t King Zan of Antar,” he said finally. “Did you forget you don’t live here anymore?”
“I’m not a king,” Max said flatly. “I think we both know that.”
A flicker of interest lightened the angry color of Khivar’s eyes. “I had thought we were clear on that,” he agreed. He came around to face Max. “What could you possibly be doing here? It seems a strange place for you to be when you evidently found this place so objectionable you left in the night like a runaway child.” He paused, his eyes searching Max’s battered, dirty face. “So why are you here, Max Evans?”
“I only talk to you,” Max said, glancing at the contingent of guards.
Khivar considered this for a moment. “He carries no weapons?” he asked.
“He had none when we found him,” one of them answered.
“None?” Khivar asked in surprise.
“None,” the guard confirmed.
Khivar nodded thoughtfully. “Leave us, then.” He waited until the guards were gone, then he pulled two chairs over to where Max stood. “Sit, Max Evans, before you fall.”
Max shook his head. “I’ll stand,” he said stubbornly.
Khivar rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll sit,” he said, and did so. “Now, what is your business here?”
Max paused for a long moment. He’d been preparing this speech for months, but now that it was time to give it, he wasn’t sure it was right. Finally, he took a deep breath. “When I left here, it was because I didn’t believe the things you told me were true,” he began.
Khivar’s gaze was bemused, but not mocking. “I thought as much. Tell me, then. Did you find truth with Prayet and his rebels?”
“There isn’t any truth,” Max said, his voice hard. “Not about this. There are only different versions of history, told by those who want you to believe it was so.”
“You think that is only true about this war? I find there is little truth about anything.” Khivar said, regret in his voice. He shook his head. “I haven’t had the privilege of living on earth, Max Evans, but I suspect there is little truth to be found there, either.”
“You’re wrong,” Max said simply. “But that’s not why I’m here.”
“Then why are you here?” Khivar demanded. “Surely not to discuss the nature of truth with your enemy.”
“As we speak, there is a meeting going on forty miles from here. Prayet and seven of the other Senior Counselors are there. I want you to take them out.”
“Take them out?” Khivar’s eyes swung up to meet Max’s. Max stood his ground, his eyes meeting Khivar’s evenly. “Kill them,” Khivar said, understanding.
“I don’t care what you do with them,” Max said. “Just remove them from any position to harm my people.”
“There are twelve Senior Counselors,” Khivar said thoughtfully. “What about the others?”
“The others are good men. They can help keep the peace. But Prayet and these eight aren’t interested in peace. Or freedom.” Max looked away. “They have to be taken out of the way before anything can happen.”
“So I get Prayet and his circle,” Khivar mused. “What do you get?”
“Not me. My people,” Max corrected. “They get eight less madmen to burn their homes and their crops. You’re the only one with the resources to do it.”
“You came here to sacrifice yourself for your people? How very noble.”
“No. I want to live,” Max said. His heart thudded painfully in his chest. He needed to live now, needed to get home to Liz. “You don’t know where the meeting is, and I’m the only one who can tell you. You need me.”
“So you tell me and I kill you?” Khivar shook his head. “Not a well thought-out plan, is it?”
“You haven’t heard the end,” Max told him. “There’s other information—information that might be even more important. Weapons stockpiles, troop positions.”
“Why do I need them?”
“Because when word gets out that you’ve killed Prayet and the others—and me, if that’s what you decide is necessary—the supporters the monarchy still has will revolt. They’re nuclear.” Max smiled thinly. “But you already knew that.”
Khivar’s eyes lightened a shade or two. “You’re willing to start a nuclear war on this planet?” he asked with deadly calm.
“No.” Max shook his head. “But I’m not going to stand around and watch you make promises you don’t keep.” He took a deep breath and winced. One of his ribs had evidently been injured somewhere along the way as well.
Khivar nodded. “So you do get something,” he said finally. “An election. That will take time, Max Evans. I cannot risk a nuclear attack while I’m waiting for voter roles to be created.”
“You’ll get the nuclear weapons when you’ve removed Prayet and the others.” Max glanced out at the night sky, which was lightening with impending dawn. “You haven’t got a lot of time. You might want to hear me out.”
“Good. When voter rolls are taken, you’ll get some of the heavy artillery. When candidates are announced, you’ll get more. When the election happens, you’ll begin to get troop positions. And when the winning candidates take office, you’ll get the rest.” Max met Khivar’s eyes. “I think it would be best if those things happen soon, don’t you? Every step you take gets you closer to control of the planet—all of the planet.”
Khivar sat back in his chair, mulling this over. “Why would you want to give me control of the planet? You found my government so wrong you rebelled against it.”
“Like you did to Zan’s?” Max asked softly. “I’m giving you a chance you never gave him. . .me. You can end this war and bring peace. That’s why you brought me here, isn’t it? To end the war. This is the only way I’ve come up with.”
Khivar’s jaw clenched, but Max could see he had made his point. “And what about you?” he asked. “Where will you be while all this falls into place? Doling out information while I fulfill your peace proposition?”
“No.” Max shook his head. “My being here only gives more opportunity for revolt. The monarchy has to be abolished.” He paused for a second, then added, “You’ve known all along there was only one thing I wanted at the end of all this.”
Khivar stared at Max, realization in his eyes. “To go home.”
“Yes.” Max’s throat felt painfully tight. “I need to go back. I. . .I have to go back.”
Khivar got up and started to pace. “So you came to me,” he said. “Rightly so, since I’m the only one on this planet with the power to send you back.”
“And I’m the only one who can give you what you want,” Max agreed. “Looks like this was inevitable.”
Khivar was quiet for a moment. “Destiny, then,” he said finally.
“No,” Max disagreed. “Fate.”
“Is there a difference?”
“I believe there is,” Max said. “We make our destiny. Fate is what makes us.”
“Fate.” Khivar mulled the word for a moment. “I suppose then it was fate that led me to bring you here,” he said. He paused briefly, then shook his head. “You were not a bad king, Max Evans. I told you that before, and it was true. You simply bowed to pressures too strong to be resisted alone. I blame myself for that. For my friend’s downfall. I have many regrets, but that is the one that most often keeps me from sleep.”
“You blame yourself for that?”
“More than any other,” Khivar sighed. “You find that hard to believe? Tell me, Max Evans, if you had succeeded in your push with the monarchists and overthrown me and the Republic—which you once helped to administer—would you not have known some regret?” Khivar watched the flicker of doubt that crossed Max’s face. “And if you and I had been blood brothers, with plans and dreams of greatness? Of freedom? You see? No victory is without regret. But I have more than one.” He took a deep breath. “I watched your downfall.” Khivar’s eyes were dark and stormy now, his expression fierce. “And in the last few years I’ve seen it repeated in myself. Those things I came to hate about you—the wrongs I blamed you for. . .they are all my own now.” He rose and began to pace. “I haven’t brought peace. I haven’t brought freedom. I haven’t given the most basic rights I hounded you to give.” A bitter laugh broke from his lips. “You left my government for the same reasons I left yours. I’ve become every single thing I hated you for.”
Max watched Khivar, a weary expression on his face. “You’re not the first one that’s happened to,” he said finally. He shook his head. “You won’t be the last.”
“That makes it acceptable?” Khivar shot back.
“No.” Max met his gaze evenly. “But you have a chance to fix this. The way I see it, what you do now is what matters. You can’t change the past, but the future is still open.” He shrugged. “So what are you going to do?”
“You haven’t given me much choice,” Khivar said.
“You’re wrong about that, too,” Max told him. “You have a choice. You can be the leader I was, or you can be the leader you wanted me to be.” Wearily, he lowered himself into one of the chairs Khivar had placed near him. It had been a long night. . .come to think of it, it had been a long four years. He was tired—tired of all of this. For the first time, home seemed within his reach and he was almost too weary to feel the elation that thought should have brought. He leaned his head on his hand and forced himself to keep his eyes open. “It’s your choice.”
Khivar was quiet for a long time. Finally he turned to face Max. “I loved Zan like my own brother,” he said at length. “I believed in the vision he had for this planet, and I believed he could make it happen. Even after all that happened between us. . .when he died, I mourned the best friend I ever had. When I brought you here, I suppose I hoped you would be Zan.” He shook his head. “But you aren’t. You’re like Zan, but you aren’t him.” He smiled slightly. “You’re a good man in your own right, Max Evans. You only gave me that choice because you knew what I would choose.”
“I knew what I hoped you’d choose,” Max said, nodding. He studied Khivar. “Was I right?”
Khivar didn’t answer. Instead he walked over and offered Max his hand, pulling him to his feet. “Come, Max Evans,” he said. “We have much to do before morning.”
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 21-Feb-2002 11:11:48 AM ]
|posted on 25-Feb-2002 9:25:31 AM by mockingbird39|
Despite her urgency and her best efforts, Liz didn’t manage to get on a plane to New York until almost eight the next morning. She spent the six-hour flight fingering the band of Max’s watch with her eyes closed, praying and hoping to hear his voice again. When she finally landed in New York, she learned that the airport was once again closed due to a massive winter storm hitting the East Coast. She phoned Tess from the airport at twelve-thirty that afternoon, hoping if anything had happened Tess would be able to tell her. But Tess either hadn’t heard anything or wasn’t telling, because all she told Liz was that Isabel was planning a birthday party for Lily on Saturday night. Restless, Liz got off the phone quickly and went back to haunting the ticket counters. Finally, at two o’clock, Liz found a flight to Dallas and immediately booked a ticket. The ticket agent told her that from Dallas, she would just be able to make a connecting flight to Albuquerque. Another flight, leaving Albuquerque at six, would take her to Roswell. Liz figured she could be at her apartment by seven-thirty that night. By then it would be almost twenty-four hours since she’d heard Max’s voice in the darkness. As she settled in her seat for the flight to Dallas, Liz closed her eyes and prayed she would get there soon. If Max was really on his way back to Roswell and she wasn’t there. . .her heart pounded in her chest. He would wait. Or he would find her. She had to believe that. The alternative—that the voice in the darkness had been a dream, or that he wouldn’t make it home to her—was too painful to consider.
Max, can you hear me? she thought, trying to imagine her words reaching him across whatever distance separated them. His image was still so incredibly clear in her mind, his touch burned into her skin. Liz breathed deeply and shifted in her seat as she remembered their one night together. They had been so young, so inexperienced—it should have been clumsy and awkward. But it wasn’t, couldn’t have been, not when he’d felt everything she felt and showed her the world through his eyes. Even now she could remember his hands, how they had moved over her body with reverent awe, touching and carressing, leaving trails of pleasure whereever he touched. She could hear his voice, whispering her name over and over, murmuring that he loved her, that he’d never loved anyone else. Liz sighed heavily. No man, not even Lucas, had ever made her feel like Max had. I’ll be there, Max, she thought. I’ll be there soon.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Light. Light that seared Max’s eyes and sent a piercing pain to the center of his brain. He was flying through nothingness, his body dragged by an unseen force he feared would tear him apart. Then darkness, and the feel of something cold, gritty, and solid beneath his body. For a long moment, Max lay there for a long moment, breathing hard. Finally, when he could move his limbs again, he pushed himself off the ground and looked around. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that he was on a street. . .no. Not just any street. He was in Roswell, exactly at the spot he had been taken from all those years ago. Almost afraid to believe what he was seeing, Max rose to his feet and looked around. He reached out to touch a lamp post, and it felt solid beneath his hand. A cautious smile played around the edges of his mouth. It was real. He was really here. He was home. Home!
Liz. He had to get to Liz. But where would she be? She probably didn’t live with her parents anymore. . .maybe she didn’t even live in Roswell anymore. Max’s elation dimmed a little. How long would it take him to find her? Maria or Alex would know where to find her. . .but the thought of seeing anyone else before he saw Liz seemed horribly wrong. He’d at least try finding her himself first.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz grabbed her bag from the overhead compartment and waited impatiently for the line in front of her to move. She had one more flight to catch, then she would land in Roswell. And then I’ll do. . .what? What exactly do I think I’m going to do? she asked herself.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max walked down the streets of Roswell, torn between interest in all the new things that had appeared since he last saw the town and a strong desire to find Liz immediately. Once he stopped and leaned against a building, closing his eyes, and tried to find Liz’s energy as Khivar had taught him. He reasoned that with her so close, he should be able to find her, but there were too many distractions and he was too impatient to get the concentration he needed.
“A phone book,” he muttered to himself. “If she lives here, she’ll be in the phone book.” He walked until he found a phone booth, then quickly shut himself inside and grabbed for the phone book. It was larger than he remembered; Roswell must have grown in the past few years.
“Parker,” he murmured, flipping through the book until he found the right area. He ran his finger down the list. Parker, Brian. Parker, Catherine E. Parker, Eileen. Parker— There it was. Parker, Elizabeth. Right there beside his finger in black ink. Relief coursed through Max. She did live here. In fact, the address next to her name was only a few blocks away. Max closed his eyes. “I’m coming, Liz,” he said aloud as he left the booth. “I’m coming.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz’s flight to Roswell landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. That’s the first thing that’s gone right today, she told herself wearily as she hailed a taxi outside the airport. It was dark now, and stars twinkled in the clear desert sky. Liz paused before she got into the cab, looking up. Something about the air felt charged, different, expectant. Liz took a deep breath, but couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to happen. She closed her eyes for a second. Please let it be real.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max found Liz’s apartment building easily. It was on a corner, directly across from a small convenience store where Max had often bought sodas and snacks. The name of the store had changed, but it still looked very much the same as it had when he last saw it.
He scanned the windows of the apartment building, wondering which ones were Liz’s. The phone book had said she lived in apartment five, and Max figured that there were four apartments on each floor. Two of these faced the street. So Liz was probably on the second floor. . .where lights burned in only half the windows.
He crossed the street and peered at the row of names and buzzers over the mailboxes beside the door. Liz’s name was handwritten in script, and Max smiled faintly, running his fingers over her name. Her handwriting was more angular than it had been when she was a teenager, but it was familiar nonetheless.
As he reached out to ring the buzzer, Max noticed that Liz’s mailbox was full—so full, in fact, that the lid was open to accommodate a magazine that had been stuffed on top. Max’s heart sank. If Liz had been home, surely she would have picked up her mail. He rang the buzzer anyway, but was not surprised when there was no answer. Disappointed, he traced her name again, wondering when she would be home. It looked like several days worth of mail had accumulated—what if she was on vacation? Or off working on a story in some foreign country? Who knew when she might be home? He closed his eyes briefly, wondering what to do next. Should he find Isabel? Or Michael? Dejected, he shook his head. All he wanted was to find Liz—and here he was at her very door. It seemed impossible that after all he had done to get here she would be gone. He stared at her mailbox, wondering how long she had been gone, and it was then he noticed that the magazine had a note scrawled across the front. Curious, he picked it up.
Liz, I read your column this morning and it is amazing—no, you’re amazing. Have I told you that lately? Tess said you’d be home tonight. Call me! Love, Maria.
Max’s heart leaped. Liz must be on her way home right now. Thank you, he thought fervently, deciding he’d wait for her right there. Idly, he glanced at the magazine cover. One headline in particular caught his eye. “We the Living: Special Anniversary Column from Liz Parker.” Max smiled. Liz was a columnist now? He opened the magazine and paged through it until he found the column. It was near the back, and it featured a picture of Liz. At first Max couldn’t take his eyes from the photograph. She looked so different, and yet so familiar. Her hair was shorter, cut into layers that framed her face, and she was thinner than ever. The person smiling at him from the picture was not the girl he’d left, or even the one he’d last seen outside a pub in Ireland. The biggest difference was in her eyes—they were dark as ever, and just as captivating, but they were softer now, more shadowed. Max wondered what Liz had seen with those eyes, and if he would ever be able to look into them again and see her soul. That couldn’t have changed, could it? All this time he had been telling himself that he would know her—that years ago he had seen everything she was and everything she would ever be, and that he loved her for all those things. But now, now that she was so close, Max began to doubt. I’m changed, too, he reminded himself. It could all be different. . .we could be different people. He shook his head. No. Liz would still be Liz, and nothing in the universe could stop him from loving her.
He looked up at the starry night sky and smiled. I’ll always love her, he thought. Always. Then he looked down and began to read Liz’s column.
For a year now, I have shared stories of survival with you. I have traveled all over the world, collecting them like seashells and believing that I do this for you, my readers. But this is only partly true. I write these columns for you, hoping you will find hope and beauty and truth in them. But I search them out for myself. I collect these stories of truth triumphant, joy renewed and love victorious so I can hold them in my hands like so many promises that life goes on. When I am alone at night, in those dark, lonely hours before dawn, I go over them in my mind, counting them like diamonds in my hand, and I try very hard to believe them.
Some of you have written me letters, telling me of your own stories, and I read each one like holy writ, because they, too, are little bits of hope. I hang onto all these stories desperately, because for the last year they have been nearly the only thing that kept me believing that I, too, will survive. But now, after many months of wondering and doubting and trying to believe, I count myself a survivor. So today I will tell you my own story. It is much simpler—far less profound—than many of those that have been shared with me, but it is no less about the struggle to survive.
My name is Liz Parker, and when I was sixteen years old, I fell in love for the first time. His name was Max, and he was a boy I had known most of my life. But I hadn’t really known him—hadn’t known how pure his soul was, how tender his heart. I hadn’t known how special he was, and most of all I hadn’t known how deeply he loved. The day I realized that he loved me was the happiest day of my life. I could do nothing but love him back. Falling in love with Max was like a summer thunderstorm. A distant rumble of thunder, then lightning, wild and beautiful, and finally the heavens open and rain pours down, drenching you all at once. It was sudden, frightening, exhilarating. I wanted it to last forever. But it didn’t. Max and I go separated. How is not as important as the simple fact that it happened. We were taken from each other and all I could see was the empty place in my life where Max had been.
For the next few years, I was caught between two lives—the life I wanted to live with Max, and the one I had to live without him. Then one day I met a man named Lucas, and I began to think perhaps I had underestimated the potential of the life I was leading. Loving Lucas was gentler, more gradual. There was no thunder, no lightning, no sudden downpour. But there was light and there was warmth, and it was beautiful. I felt safe with Lucas, and I felt alive.
Then in an instant Lucas was gone. The man who had seen me for what I was—a broken-hearted child clinging to dreams of something long gone—and loved me anyway was gone, taken from me in a senseless act of violence. There was no goodbye, no last words, nothing, and in that instant I thought I would die, too. But I couldn’t—that was not the legacy that either Max or Lucas had left for me. Many years ago, Max taught me that love is not bound by time or space or any other such construct. We do not create it or destroy it. We simply live it. Years later, Lucas taught me that part of love is remembrance. In an imperfect world, it is unavoidable that some of us will die and some of us will be left to survive. We who are given the gift of survival are also given the task of memory. We alone know what is lost, and we alone can keep that memory alive. So I had to live, because I had been loved not once, but twice. And it was up to me to remember the men who made my life what it was. Love had taught me what life was, and now it would keep me alive.
I have spent countless hours pondering the nature of love, and here is my conclusion: love is vast. Love is vast and eternal, and because our minds are neither of these things, we can never fully understand it. But there are some things I know of love.
Love is immortal, it is not bound to the lives of those who feel it. Love comes in many forms and sometimes we barely recognize its face. Love is patient, even when we are not. Love is not obsession. Sometimes it asks more than we think we have to give, but it never leaves us empty. Grief is an expression of love, but so is recovery. Love has been the source of my greatest happiness and my most profound sorrow. I have known love like a whirlwind and love like a zephyr, and both have left me breathless. Love has not solved all the problems in my life, but it has helped me see beyond them. Just as all people are different, so are the ways we love them. It is possible to be in love with more than one person at a time. Love and loneliness are not mutually exclusive. Neither are love and fear. I have known many nights of loneliness and fear, but because of love I have believed in dawn. St. Paul wrote that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,” and what I have seen of this world tells me that love is the only power in the universe that can.
Love does not make our lives perfect, and there are hurts love cannot heal. There are times in our lives when just can’t start over—when we’ve come too far to wipe the slate clean. But in our darkest moments, when our faith has been shattered and our innocence marred, love is still our hope. Because it is then that love gives us the strength not to start over, but to keep going—to begin again.
By the time Max finished, his heart felt so full he could hardly breathe. Liz’s words—and all that must have inspired them—had left him in awe of the girl he had loved and the woman she had become. He hadn’t thought it was possible for him to love Liz more than he had all these years, but as he sat on her front steps that night, he did. And all he wanted now was to see her, to touch her face and hold her in his arms. He put the magazine down on the step beside him and stood up, looking up and down the street. “Where are you, Liz?” he asked aloud.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 25-Feb-2002 9:25:58 AM ]
|posted on 27-Feb-2002 12:14:10 PM by mockingbird39|
Liz’s taxi pulled up in front of her apartment building at exactly 7:34pm. She paid the driver and thanked him as he set her duffel bag on the curb, then stood there as he drove away. When he had gone, Liz picked up her bag and looked around the street. It was empty. Liz’s heart sank, then she forced a laugh. What did I think? That he was going to be standing here waiting? How would he know where I live? She shook her head, deciding to go across the street for milk and maybe some ice cream before going inside. She hiked her bag higher on her shoulder and hurried across the street.
Inside, she called a greeting to the clerk behind the counter. Liz often stopped into the store, and knew most of the people who worked there. Tonight Shelly was on duty, a tall, blond high school girl who reminded Liz a little of Maria. Liz liked the girl, particularly her taste in music. Tonight U2’s “Rattle and Hum” came through the speakers as Liz picked up milk, bread, four bagels, and a pint of Hagen Dazs strawberry. “Nice choice,” Liz offered, gesturing to the stereo as she placed her items on the counter.
Shelly flashed a grin. “Gotta love Bono,” she said.
“I know I do,” Liz smiled back.
“You just get back?” Shelly wanted to know as she bagged Liz’s groceries.
Liz nodded. “From London,” she agreed.
“I’m going to go to London someday,” the girl informed her.
“I bet you’ll like it there,” Liz said. “It’s really beautiful.”
“So why’d you come back so soon?”
Liz smiled. “This is home,” she said simply.
Shelly nodded vaguely. “I guess,” she agreed, then reached for the volume button as “All I Want Is You” began. “I love this song,” she said, turning it up.
“Me, too,” Liz smiled, picking up the plastic bag. She waved at Shelly as she walked out the door and crossed the street. It had turned chilly, and Liz was glad she was wearing her long cream-colored overcoat over her tailored tan trousers and brown turtleneck sweater. She wrapped her coat more tightly around her as she climbed the stairs, pausing curiously when she noticed the magazine on the top step. She bent and picked it up, glancing up and down the street, but no one was there. After a moment, she tucked it into her bag, and did the same with the rest of the mail she pulled from the mailbox, then put her hand on the doorknob. But something made her stop. Slowly, holding her breath, Liz turned to look out at the street. A man stood there—a tall man with broad shoulders and dark hair. The plastic bag of groceries fell from her hand and crashed to the ground. The only sound in the street was the music from the convenience store. . . .You say you want. . .your story to remain untold. . .
“Max?” Liz breathed.
Max stood in the middle of the street, his heart pounding in his chest. “Liz,” he said, his voice sounding strange in his own ears. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said awkwardly, taking a step toward her. He got no further.
Liz dropped her duffel bag and ran down the stairs, her long white trench coat flapping behind her like the wings of an angel. She stopped a step or two away from Max and stood staring at him, her heart pounding in her chest. “I—I was in London,” she said. “I came back as soon as I could, but I didn’t know if you’d know where to find me. . .”
. . .but all the promises we made from the cradle to the grave. . .when all I want is you. . .
Max covered the rest of the distance between them, stepping so close to her she could feel the heat from his body. “I’ll always find you, Liz,” he said simply, then he reached out to touch her face. His hand trembled, and he paused for a second, afraid she would vanish into thin air. But Liz didn’t hesitate. She laced her fingers through his and brought his hand to her cheek. Max drew in a sharp breath and pressed his forehead against hers.
You say you’ll give me. . .a highway with no one on it. . .
“Max, are you really here?” she whispered, tears streaming down her face. “Is this a dream?”
Treasure just to look upon it. . .All the riches in the night. . .
Max shook his head and framed her face in his hands. “No—no, I’m here. It’s not a dream.” He smoothed her hair back from her forehead, his eyes searching her incredibly precious face. “Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get back to you?”
Liz pulled him into her arms. “Yes,” she whispered. “Oh, god, Max, I know.” Tears streamed freely down her cheeks and Max kissed them away, tasting salt on his lips.
You say you want. . .your love to work out right. . .To last with me through the night. . .
“How did you find me?” she asked, then shook her head. “I was so afraid I’d miss you.”
He drew back in amazement. “Did you know I was coming?”
“Yes. . .I don’t know. I heard your voice last night. I was asleep and then I heard you say you were coming home.” She was touching him frantically, trying to convince herself he was really there. “I got on the first plane I could, but there was a storm and the airport was closed—”
“You heard me last night?” Max interrupted. “You really heard me?”
She nodded. “It was like you were right next to me. Or maybe I was with you—I kept seeing things. White flowers, and three moons. . .”
“You saw that?”
She met his gaze with wide eyes. “Max, was it real?”
He couldn’t stop the wondering smile that spread across his face. “Yes—yes, it was real. I was trying to talk to you. . .I needed to feel like you were with me. I just never thought you could really hear me.”
She shook her head. “I never could before. How did you do that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” He pulled her close again, holding her against his pounding heart. She was trembling in his arms. “You’re shaking,” he said. “Are you cold?”
“No. No, I’m fine.” She pressed her face against his shoulder. “Max, I missed you so much. I love you.”
Your story to remain untold. . .Your love not to grow old. . .
“I love you, too, Liz,” he told her, smoothing her hair. He leaned down, planting gentle kisses on her forehead and her eyes. “I love you,” he murmured, his lips hovering over hers. “Always.”
Liz closed his eyes as his lips found hers. Thank you, she thought fervently. God, if you’re listening, thank you. Dimly she heard the last notes from Shelly’s CD fade into the night air.
All I want. . .is you. . .
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“What was it like, Max? Your planet, I mean?”
Max shook his head. “It wasn’t what I thought it was,” he said. “Nothing was what I thought.” He sat next to Liz on the couch, and she was gently cleaning the cuts and scrapes on his face with cool water and peroxide. He could have healed them himself, but he sensed that Liz desperately wanted to do something for him.
“What happened?” Liz asked, dabbing at the cut on his cheekbone. He winced a little, and she drew back, grimacing in sympathy. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said, a faint smile flitting across his face. He reached up and captured her hand. “Everything’s fine now.” Wonder filled his eyes as he put his other hand on her cheek, caressing her lips with his thumb. “It feels so good to touch you. I dreamed about touching you.”
Liz turned her face into his palm. “It feels good to be touched,” she said. “I missed you so much.” He pulled her close again, smoothing her hair, and Liz thought she could have rested there forever, listening to his heartbeat. But there were things she needed to know. She pushed him back to look into his eyes. He seemed so much older as he sat there on her sofa, with his leaner features and shorter hair. . .was that gray she saw there? His eyes were older, too, and sadder. Liz’s heart twisted at the things she saw there. What had happened to the boy she loved? She wondered if she seemed as changed to him. “Max,” she ventured finally, “tell me what happened.”
He looked away, his eyes going dark. “It was a war,” he said after a moment. “I never knew what war was like. . .I wish I still didn’t.”
Liz’s heart ached in sympathy. She had heard those words before, countless times. She had said them herself a time or two as well. War was not something anyone could fathom until they had seen it with their own eyes. Certainly not Max, the most gentle man she’d ever met. She reached for his hand, folded it into both of her own. “Was it the civil war?” she asked softly, and he nodded. “The one that got you and the others killed before?” Again the nod. “It’s not your fault, Max. You had nothing to do with that war. It wasn’t you.”
Max looked away. “I don’t want to talk about that right now,” he said quietly.
Liz nodded. “It’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it.” She smiled reassuringly at him and carefully cleaned the cut on his lip. After a moment, she put down the cloth and stroked his face. “Finished.”
“Thank you,” he said, kissing her fingertips.
She smiled. “You’re welcome.”
“I’ll tell you everything, Liz. I promise,” he said. “Just. . .just not tonight.”
Concern darkened her eyes. “You’re tired. You look exhausted.”
He shook his head. “I’m okay.”
“Max, I don’t know what you did to get here, but it obviously wore you out,” she said, stroking his hair back from his forehead.
“I don’t think I could sleep yet,” he told her. “Everything just. . .it feels so strange.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I guess it does.” She studied him thoughtfully, unable to take her eyes from him. It was a miracle to have him here after all these years—a miracle Liz hadn’t even let herself dream of for a long time. But now he was here. “I have so much to tell you,” she said, holding his hand in both of hers. His hand was warm, solid, strong.
“I want to hear all of it,” he said, clasping her fingers firmly. “I’m so proud of you, Liz.” He paused, then blurted, “I read your column. While I was waiting for you to come home. It was beautiful.”
Liz stared at him, realizing what that meant. “Then you know about Lucas,” she said finally.
Max nodded, stroking her hair back from her face. “Yes.”
Liz searched his face, not sure what to say. Finally she looked away so he wouldn’t see the sadness in her eyes as she murmured, “He died.”
“I gathered that from the article,” Max said. His hand still traced the contours of her face, stroking and caressing and letting her know he wasn’t angry with her.
Liz was quiet for a long time. “He was the only one, Max,” she said after a moment, still not looking at him. “There was only ever him. . .and you.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” he said. “I’m not angry, Liz.”
“I loved him.” The words came out in a burst. “I loved him,” she repeated more quietly. “I was waiting for you, Max. I thought I’d always be waiting for you. I hadn’t meant to fall in love with anyone, but I loved him.” She took a deep breath. “I. . .we were engaged.”
Max nodded. “I know.”
Liz’s head came up with a jerk. “You know?” she repeated blankly. “How could you—you were—”
“Gone,” Max finished. “I know. But. . .I had your scarf—the one you were wearing that morning.”
“My scarf?” Liz repeated.
Max nodded. “Yes. You were wearing it around your wrist that morning. I guess it came off when I grabbed your hand. I found it when I was in Khivar’s palace that first night. Later he showed me how to use it to kind of. . .keep in contact with you. I could go to where you were, see you, hear you. But you couldn’t see me.”
Liz raised her eyes to him. “You watched me?” she asked in amazement.
He blushed a little. “For years,” he said, ducking his head. “For a while it was the only reason I stayed alive. But after a while I. . .I had other things that took up a lot of my time. Khivar brought me into his government.” He paused, and Liz could sense he wasn’t willing to talk about that yet. “The council meetings took up a lot of my time,” he said finally.
She nodded. “It’s. . .it’s good that you had something else to do.”
Max nodded sadly. “Yeah, I guess. I still thought of you all the time, Liz, but the—finding you took a lot out of me. I couldn’t spend all night watching you if I wanted to be okay for the meetings. After a while I was only doing it once a week, then later I couldn’t even do that. But I still missed you so much, Liz.” He took one of her hands and caressed her fingers gently. “One night I alone in my room and I—I just missed you so much I couldn’t sleep. . .or read, or think, or even breathe. So I did it—I went to you, and I found you. You were in a bar, or a pub or something, and you were with a man. You were with Lucas. And you danced. And he kissed you and I could see in your eyes that you loved him.” Max was still holding her hand, lacing his fingers in and out of hers. “Then he asked you to marry him.”
Liz closed her eyes. “Max, I’m so sorry you saw that,” she whispered. “If I had known you were alive, I—” She stopped suddenly. She what? Could she honestly say she wouldn’t have fallen in love with Lucas? That she wished they hadn’t met and loved each other and been together? No, she wasn’t going to say that. Not about Lucas.
Max caught a glimpse of the images in Liz’s mind—incredibly green hillsides, ancient streets, bold murals splashed in blue and orange paint across stone walls. Laughter in the darkness of a rainy night, warm breath on wind-chilled skin. . .a burst of wistful longing shot through her, and he felt it, too, followed quickly by a wave of her guilt at having moved on with her life. Max reached for her, holding her close, trying to reassure her that he wasn’t angry. “I know you loved him,” he said softly, “and I’m glad you weren’t alone.”
Liz opened her eyes and drew in a sharp breath as if awakened from a dream. “I was alone, Max,” she said. “Before I met Lucas. . .all those years. And after he died—I’ve been alone for so long.”
“You’re not anymore,” Max murmured against her hair. “I’m here, Liz.” He closed his eyes. “I’m so sorry you were alone. I wanted to be with you—I wanted it more than anything.”
“I know.” Liz rested her head on his shoulder. “I always knew.” She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. “Max, can we just stay like this for a while?” she asked finally.
Max leaned into the deep cushions of the sofa, bringing Liz with him. She kicked off her shoes and curled up beside him, wrapping her arms around him. “I’d like that,” he said softly, drawing his fingers through the heavy length of her dark, silky hair. “I’d like that a lot.”
|posted on 28-Feb-2002 3:48:55 PM by mockingbird39|
“Alex and Isabel are married. Did you know that?”
Hours later, Max and Liz lay on the sofa, wrapped in each other’s arms. It was late, and both were tired—almost asleep—but neither wanted the night to end. Liz found herself half-afraid she would wake up to find it had all been a dream.
Max smiled. “Married? No, I didn’t know. That’s great.”
“Yeah. They have a daughter. Her name is Lily.” Liz smiled at him. “You’re an uncle.”
His smile widened. “An uncle? Really?”
Liz nodded. “Yeah.”
“That’s amazing. That’s. . .I never pictured any of us with kids.” He eyes were thoughtful. “I guess I was never sure if we could have children. But. . .”
“She’s perfect, Max,” Liz assured him. “She’s beautiful and smart and she’s completely normal. She’ll be a year old on Saturday.” A frown creased her forehead. “How did you not know about her? Didn’t you ever see her when you were watching me?”
Max wrapped a strand of her hair around his finger. “I never watched you after you got engaged to Lucas,” he said softly.
“What?” she asked. “Why?”
He looked sad. “I thought it was better that way. I thought you’d be okay once you had someone to take care of you. I thought you’d be better off with him.”
“You weren’t going to come home then?” she demanded, her eyes wide.
“I didn’t think you needed me to,” he confessed.
Her heart twisted. “Oh, Max, I always needed you,” she said softly. She held him for a moment, planting gentle kisses on his temple, then thought of something. “What changed your mind?”
Max frowned, remembering the dream he’d had the night he learned of Prayet’s deception. He still didn’t know if it had been real. Instead of answering her question, Max reached for her right hand and pushed up her sleeve. Sure enough, an angry red scar cut a jagged line across the outside of her wrist. Max tried to keep his voice neutral as he asked, “Where did you get that?”
“Rocks,” Liz said uncomfortably, looking away.
“Bullets,” Max disagreed, much to Liz’s amazement.
She gave a guilty shrug. “Rocks dislodged by bullets,” she hedged, then raised her eyes to him. “How did you know. . .” she began, but stopped suddenly. “You have a scar above your eye,” she said, tracing it with her forefinger. “That dream. . .did you have that dream, too?”
“Yes.” His forehead creased in a frown. “I never knew if it was a dream or something else. . .I guess it was real. Liz, what happened to you that night?”
Liz’s eyes were sad. “It was right after Lucas. . .after he died.”
“You looked so lost that night,” Max said. “I was afraid for you. . .that was the night I decided I was coming back.”
“I was lost,” Liz admitted. “I was in Indonesia, trying to drink myself into oblivion. . .or maybe worse. I don’t know what would have happened if Tess and Kenneth hadn’t come to find me.”
Liz nodded. “A friend from college.”
“Tall, blond hair?” Max wanted to know.
“Yeah. Did you see him?”
“A couple of times.” Max looked rebellious. “I didn’t like him.”
Liz laughed softly. “He’s not overly fond of you, either. But he’s a good friend.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Max wrapped his arms around her as she fell into a thoughtful silence. He was still getting flashes from her, glimpses of her life without him. She was thinking about Kenneth, about how he’d gotten up at one in the morning to drive her to the airport and never once asked for an explanation. Other flashes followed—Kenneth beaming as a baby. . .Isabel’s baby?. . .reached for him. Kenneth bursting through a door with wildly concerned eyes and kneeling on the floor beside Liz and Tess. Max couldn’t help but be a little jealous of the other man’s place in Liz’s life. Still, he was thankful Liz had had someone to depend on. He rested his cheek against her hair. “Liz?” he asked.
“What happened to Lucas?”
It took Liz a long time to answer, and when she did her voice was very low. “It was a car bomb,” she said. “No one expected it—he wasn’t political at all. But I guess that’s why they hated him. They couldn’t use him for their cause.” She took a deep breath. “We were at a pub. . .Alex and Isabel and Maria and Michael and Tess and Kyle were all there. Lucas and I were going to go home a little early because we. . .” Her voice wavered, but she went on. “We were going to pick out our wedding rings the next morning. We left the pub, but I had forgotten my scarf so I started to go back and get it. Lucas got in the car, and then. . .” Her voice trailed off and Max saw a whole new flood of images. A burst of fire on a cold, clear night. The smell of gasoline and noxious smoke. Then dark rooms interspersed with violent, fragmented dreams of gunfire and screams. “It was almost too much—losing you and then losing him, too,” Liz said in a small voice. Remembered grief echoed in Liz’s soul, and Max felt it too, like a tiny shard of glass though his heart.
He hadn’t known he was crying until he felt her hands on his cheeks, wiping the tears from his eyes. “It’s okay, Max,” she murmured. “It’ll be okay now.”
Max held her tightly. “We’ll be okay,” he said fiercely.
He felt her nod against his shoulder. “We’ve both been hurt,” she whispered. “I guess we’ve both got some scars. But we can heal each other now.” Her fingers roamed across his chest until she found his heartbeat, pounding strong and sure beneath her touch. “You don’t know how amazing it is to have you here,” she said. “Everyone’s going to be so thrilled. . .” She stopped and lifted her head. “Do you want to call them? Michael and Isabel and everyone?”
Max was quiet for a moment. “I want to see them,” he said finally, smiling ruefully, “but I don’t think I can move right now.” He sobered. “It’s been so long. . .god, what am I going to tell my parents?”
Liz looked up at him seriously. “They know, Max.”
“What?” he asked.
She nodded. “Isabel told them. She saw what it did to them when you left and they didn’t know why. . .she couldn’t stand the thought of them always wondering why you’d left.”
“She told them?” Max repeated, stunned. “What. . .what did they say? Did they believe her?”
“They already knew, Max.” She shook her head. “I mean, they didn’t know exactly, but they knew you were different. They believed her. . .and they accepted her for who she is.” She hugged him against her. “They’ll do the same for you. They’ll be so glad you’re back.”
Max couldn’t form an answer. His parents knew about him. They knew the secret he’d been so afraid to tell and it hadn’t mattered to them. “We should have told them before,” he said finally.
“You couldn’t have known that,” she said. “They understood why you didn’t tell them, but they’re glad someone finally did.” She glanced up at him. “Are you sure you don’t want to call them?”
He shook his head slowly. “I want to see them all so bad, but tonight I. . .I’m a little overwhelmed. Besides, it’s late. They’ll all be in bed.” He smiled, taking in her undeniably sleepy eyes. “Like you should be.”
She smiled. “That would mean getting up,” she told him, “and I like it right here.”
He suddenly looked concerned. “Liz, if you don’t want. . .I mean, I can sleep on the couch. I don’t expect—”
“Is that where you want to sleep?” she interrupted calmly.
Max shook his head. “No,” he admitted hoarsely.
“Then don’t,” she said simply. “I want you next to me, Max.” She raised her face and gave him a slow, sweet kiss that took his breath away. Her hands slipped beneath his shirt to rest against the corded muscles of his back. After a moment she pulled back and looked at him. “Okay?”
Max nodded, finding her mouth again. “Okay,” he murmured as his lips closed on hers. For years he had fought to remember what this felt like—touching her, kissing her, their bodies pressed together. He wanted her so much. . .but not like this, not when they were both exhausted. “Liz, it’s not that I don’t want—” he began, but she laughed quietly.
“Max, I’m so tired I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to the bedroom,” she told him. “I want you—believe me, I want you.” She punctuated her words with a searing kiss, leaving no doubt in his mind that she told the truth. “But we have plenty of time.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Please let this be real. Max lay very still, eyes closed, hardly daring to breathe. He could feel Liz lying beside him, her head pillowed on his shoulder, her hand resting over his heart, but part of him was still afraid he was about to wake up alone on Antar. Tentatively, he reached up and put his hand over hers where it lay on his chest. It felt real enough, so he slowly opened his eyes. Sunlight streamed through gauzy curtains, lighting every corner of the room. A wide path of light lay across the bed, highlighting rumpled covers and the outlines of two people tangled together beneath them. Max smiled and drew a deep, satisfied breath. He hadn’t felt this good, this content in years. Not since the last time he’d woken up next to Liz. She was still sleeping, lying snuggled against him, her head on his shoulder. Her dark, shining hair was scattered over both of them, and Max couldn’t resist smoothing it gently. She stirred a little, but didn’t open her eyes. Max smiled.
“Are you awake?” he whispered.
“Are you still going to be here when I open my eyes?” she whispered back.
Liz grinned and opened her eyes to look up at him. “Morning,” she said.
“Morning.” He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. “Did you sleep well?”
Liz stretched luxuriously. “I slept. . .long,” she realized, glancing at the clock on her night stand. It was just after ten o’clock. “Have you been awake long?”
He shook his head. “No. Just woke up.”
She couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “Oh. How do you feel?”
“You look better,” she told him, satisfied. “You look. . .rested.” She raised herself up on one elbow and looked down at his incredibly dear face. “You’re really here,” she murmured.
He nodded. “Yes.”
“I’m glad,” she smiled.
She put her hand on his cheek and leaned down to press gentle kisses all over his face—on his eyelids, all over his forehead, trailing down his jaw, across his chin, and finally she paused, her lips hovering just above his. “What do you want to do now?” she asked, grinning.
Max wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, caressing her lips one at a time. This was what he had dreamed of—holding her, touching her, bodies tangled together so that he couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began. But dreams paled in comparison, and Max was felt suddenly wide-awake as fire coursed through his body. All he could think of was more. She tasted sweet, like strawberries, and he thought he’d never get enough of her. He rolled her onto her back, leaning over her as she wrapped her arms around him. He broke off their kiss and raised his head, looking down at her with awed eyes. Liz’s cheeks were flushed, her eyes sparkling, her lips slightly swollen from the intensity of his kiss. One of the thin straps that held up her pale pink tank top had slipped from her shoulder, and her dark hair fanned out over the pillows, shining in the sunlight. Max had never seen anything so perfect.
“What?” she asked, smiling shyly.
“You,” he murmured. “You’re so beautiful. All this time I’ve tried to remember how beautiful you are, but. . .god, I missed you.”
Liz’s eyes were the brightest stars in any sky. “Show me,” she invited, her hands trailing up and down his back. “Show me, Max.”
And he did, losing himself in her until they both slept again, sated, in each other’s arms.
|posted on 7-Mar-2002 9:57:37 AM by mockingbird39|
Max was dozing lightly when a sudden ringing noise disturbed his dreams. He gathered Liz closer and pulled the blankets around them, unwilling to wake up completely. But Liz was waking up, too.
“Max?” she muttered sleepily. “Kill the alarm clock, okay?”
“I’m trying,” he muttered back, reaching for the night stand.
“No, wait.” Liz pushed her hair out of her eyes. “That’s the phone. . .I think.”
“You want me to kill the phone?” he asked groggily.
“No, I like that phone,” Liz told him. She sat up to grab it, but he protested.
“Ignore it,” he said, reaching for her.
“They’ll call again,” she said, shaking her head.
“Ignore it again,” he suggested, settling his cheek against her hair
She sighed heavily. “I haven’t checked in with anyone since yesterday afternoon. They probably think I went to Indonesia again. Just give me five minutes, and I’m all yours again.”
Max groaned and loosened his hold on her. “I’m timing you,” he said, closing his eyes.
Liz reached over him and grabbed the phone. “Hello?” she asked, pressing the “talk” button.
“Liz, it’s me. Didn’t you get my note?”
“Hi, Maria,” Liz said, settling herself back beside Max. He put his arm around her, idly tracing the outline of her collarbone. She sighed happily. “Um, yeah, I got your note, but I. . .well, it was late when I got in and I was tired.”
“Yeah, Tess said you flew all day yesterday,” Maria said, sounding curious. “Was something wrong? The last time I talked to you, you were going to stay in London with Kenneth. What happened?”
Liz smiled. “I decided I really wanted to get home,” she said. “I just needed to be here.”
“Did you have a fight with Kenneth?” Maria demanded. “And why do you sound so happy about it?”
“I didn’t have a fight with Kenneth,” Liz told her, and felt Max’s arm tighten around her. She grinned; that was going to prove interesting sometime soon. “Maria, listen to me. Can you arrange for everyone to be at your apartment tonight? Isabel and Alex, Michael, Tess, Kyle—everyone?”
“Sure,” Maria agreed. She sounded puzzled. “Why? Did something happen?” She paused for a second. “Are you bringing Kenneth?”
“No, Kenneth’s still in London,” Liz said. “Just have everyone there tonight, okay? Around seven. I’ll bring dessert or something—just make coffee.”
“Liz, is everything okay?” Maria asked. “What’s going on?”
Max was getting impatient, reaching for her beneath the rumpled covers. “Everything’s fine, Maria,” Liz said quickly. “It’s. . .it’s great, actually. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Hey, wait, I called to talk to you,” Maria protested.
“I know, Maria, but I really can’t talk right now, okay?” Liz said, holding the phone out of Max’s reach. “I’ll see you tonight. Seven o’clock—make sure everyone’s there.”
“But I wanted to talk about your column—I read it yesterday and I was crying so hard Michael thought I had hurt myself or—”
“I’m glad you liked it, Maria,” Liz interrupted, trying hard not to giggle as Max pried her fingers from around the phone. “I’ve got a great story for next week, so. . .I better go work on that, huh?”
“I—I guess so. . .Liz, what’s going on?” Maria asked again.
“I’ll tell you everything tonight,” Liz promised. “Seven o’clock. See you then.” She said a quick goodbye and hung up the phone just as Max grabbed it from her hand and tossed it away.
“Finally,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around her more tightly. His voice was gravely with sleep, and his body was deliciously warm and solid against hers.
“You’re a very bad man,” Liz scolded with a complete and utter lack of conviction. “Maria’s probably going crazy right now.”
“Maria? I’m the one going crazy,” he murmured with a sleepy smile. “I’ve been waiting years for this.”
She smiled. “I never forgot, Max,” she said softly, resting her cheek against his chest. “Every touch, every breath. I remembered everything about that night. It started out as the worst night of my life, but. . .when you came back. . .I thought you’d never be able to look at me again. I didn’t know anyone could love me that much.”
He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. “I’ve always loved you. Ever since the first time I saw you.”
“You didn’t even know me,” Liz said, remembering all the years they had lived so close, but never even spoken. It seemed like such an incredible waste of time now.
“Yes, I did,” he told her. “Every time I looked at you I could see your soul shining in your eyes. And it was beautiful.”
Liz raised herself up on one elbow looked into his eyes, searching their deep amber depths, and believed every word. “No one’s ever known me like you,” she whispered. “There have always been things I held back—things I was afraid for people to know. But you saw them all.”
“I know you’ve been hurt,” Max said softly. “I wish I could have been here for you. I’ll never forgive myself for not being here.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said firmly. “You were alone, too. . .but we’re not now.” She gave a contented sigh and lay back down next to him. “Tell me you’re not going away ever again.”
“I promise,” he said recklessly. “Never.”
She smiled. “Good.” They fell silent for a moment, then Liz thought of something. “Max, was it okay what I told Maria? About tonight?”
He was quiet for a second or two, then she felt him nod. “Yeah, it’s fine. It’ll be good to see everyone again.”
“I just thought it might be easier if they were all there at once,” Liz said. “But if you think it’s too much, I can call Maria—”
“No, it’s fine,” he assured her. “It’s good. I’m glad we have this right now, though,” he said. “This time. . .I need this. I need you.”
She turned her head and pressed her lips to his chest. “You’ve got me, Max. I’m all yours.”
He smoothed one hand over her hair and down the warm, smooth skin of her back, and Liz could sense his desire for her awakening. He gently rolled her onto her back and lowered his mouth to hers. “Don’t ever forget it.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Later that afternoon, Liz fixed lunch while Max showered. They had stayed in bed until hunger had forced them out, and now Liz munched on apple slices as she cooked pasta and a tomato cream sauce. It smelled wonderful, reminding her that she had eaten almost nothing since her dinner of Chinese food with Kenneth. . .had that really been a day and a half ago? Max must be as hungry as she was, she reflected, sprinkling fresh basil into the sauce. For the hundredth time she wondered how Max had managed to return to earth. It must not have been easy, judging from the cuts and bruises he had incurred. His life there hadn’t been easy either, if the flashes they had shared last night were any indication. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it, and she was determined not to press him. She would be there when he wanted to talk—and sooner or later, she knew he would need her to listen.
“Mmm, smells good.”
Liz smiled as Max came up behind her and put his arms around her waist. “Hungry?” she asked.
“Very,” he answered. “Can I help?”
She nodded in the direction of the table. “You can set the table,” she suggested. “Plates are in the cabinet beside the sink, and silverware is in the top drawer.”
He kissed her ear. “Okay.” He went to the cabinet and took down two plates, then rummaged in the drawer for silverware. “I didn’t know you could cook,” he told her, watching as she stirred the sauce.
She grinned at him over her shoulder. “I can’t. This is only thing I don’t burn to ash on a regular basis. Hope you like take-out.”
“I’d eat anything right now,” he said. “I’m starving.”
“You should have told me earlier,” she scolded.
“I was busy earlier,” he told her with a sly grin.
Liz turned to face him, arching one eyebrow. “Oh, right. I vaguely remember something about that.”
“Ouch. . .was it that forgettable?” he teased, stepping close to her. “You’re bruising my ego, here.”
“Maybe you could do something to make it stick out in my memory,” she suggested, putting her arms around his neck.
Max grinned, his eyes on a spot of sauce on the corner of her lip. “I could do that,” he said, lowering his head for a taste. “Mmm,” he murmured, one hand slipping beneath the hem of her shirt. “Is that basil?”
Liz burst out laughing. “Let’s eat, okay? I think we’re starting to get delirious.” She turned off the stove and pointed to a dish of pasta on the counter. “Could you bring that while I get us something to drink?” She crossed to the fridge and took out two bottles of Cherry Coke. “This okay?” she asked, holding them up with a smile.
He smiled. “Perfect.”
“Good.” She grabbed the pan of sauce from the stove as she passed and set it on the table, then sat down across from Max. “Hope you like it,” she said.
Max put a pile of pasta on her plate first, topping it generously with sauce. “You have to eat all of that,” he warned as he piled his own plate. “You’re going to need your strength.”
“Is that a threat?”
“A promise,” he said, twirling a forkful of pasta. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until he took a bite. “Mm, Liz, this is great,” he told her, loading his fork again.
“Good,” she said around a mouthful.
Max couldn’t stop watching her as they ate. She looked so familiar, even now. Her hair was still damp from her shower, loosely pinned up by two carved wooden sticks, and she was dressed in khaki cargo pants, a button down shirt, and a worn green sweater he thought looked vaguely military. He was right; three years earlier an Army captain in Georgia had given the sweater to her when a sudden cold front moved through the Caucus Mountains during her visit. When she left, he’d insisted she keep it, and it had been Liz’s favorite sweater ever since. As she sat there, brimming with life and energy and passion, it occurred to Max how many times he’d almost lost her. She had lived a dangerous life, and it was nothing short of a miracle that she was sitting across from him. God, I could have lost her, he thought, his chest tightening painfully. If I had lost her, I don’t know what I would have done. He reached across the table and touched her hand.
“Liz,” he said seriously, “I need you. I need you so much.”
She tilted her head to one side. “I know, Max,” she answered. “I need you, too.”
“No, I mean I need you,” he said again. “I need you to be with me—to be safe. I can’t lose you.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Max,” she assured him.
He shook his head. “I know you’re not going to leave,” he said. “That’s not what I’m worried about.” He paused for a moment, not sure what to say. Finally, he blurted, “I was there the night you got bombed.”
“Huh?” she stared at him blankly.
“I visited you one night, and I found you in a basement somewhere,” he told her. “Someone was bombing, and you were right in the middle of it. You stayed there all night.”
“Oh.” Liz nodded, understanding. “That was Grozny. The fighting was supposed to be over, but there was a surprise attack the second night I was there.” She smiled a little. “You were there that night? I wish I had known that.”
“I stayed with you all night,” Max said fervently. “I was so afraid something would happen to you and I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
“It didn’t, Max,” Liz said. “I’m fine.”
“That wasn’t the only time,” he continued. “Once you and Kenneth were talking in a café somewhere and he said there had been riots—and you said Lucas was killed in a carbomb. You could have been in the car with him. And what about Indonesia? What were you doing getting shot at?”
“They weren’t actually shooting at me,” she said distinctly.
“I’m serious, Liz,” he insisted. “You could have been killed.” He leaned across the table intently.
Liz sobered. “Max, I don’t know what to say. You’re right—I did do some things that were pretty dangerous.” He snorted at her understatement, but she went on as if she hadn’t heard. “I was reckless, and I made a lot of bad decisions. After Lucas died. . .I don’t know. Maybe I was trying to get myself killed. I know I didn’t think I had much to live for.” She squeezed his hand. “But I moved back to Roswell because I couldn’t live like that anymore. And now I have you. I’ve got so much to live for now, Max.”
He caressed her hand. “I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened to you,” he admitted.
“It didn’t,” she said, bringing his hand to her cheek. “It won’t. We’re going to be together for a long, long time, Max Evans.” A mischievous grin made her eyes sparkle. “You’re stuck with me.”
“I’m counting on that,” he said seriously.
|posted on 7-Mar-2002 12:12:11 PM by mockingbird39|
|Angela--how funny! I wish I'd dream about Zan once in a while. FYI--I've added two new parts to Through a Glass Darkly, and a third is moving right along. It's almost resolved now.|
|posted on 10-Apr-2002 1:54:09 PM by mockingbird39|
|Author's Note: Ahem. Sorry this took so long. We're almost at the end now--maybe I was just putting off saying goodbye to this story. (Or I was procrastinating. Probably that one.) Anyway, here you go--hope you enjoy.|
“Are you ready for this?” Liz turned off the engine of her small black Saab and looked over at Max.
Max was looking at Maria’s house with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. “I think so,” he said, nodding. Without thinking, he reached for Liz’s hand and felt her fingers close around his reassuringly. “Do you think everyone is there?”
Liz glanced around the street, looking for familiar cars. “I think so. Tess probably came with Kyle.”
“Are they married?” Max asked curiously.
Liz shook her head. “No, but they might as well be,” she said with a smile. “One of these days they’re going to go through with it—I’m positive.”
Max stroked Liz’s hand. “I guess we missed our wedding day,” he said after a moment.
“I guess,” Liz agreed. “But we have a whole lifetime ahead of us.”
“Yeah, we do.” Max glanced up at the house again. “They’re going to have a lot of questions,” he said, sounding tired.
“Yeah, they probably will,” Liz said honestly. “But they’ll wait until you want to tell them.” She squeezed his hand. “Just like I will.”
He leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss. “Thank you,” he said softly.
She smiled at him. “You’re welcome,” she told him, unbuckling her seat belt. “Come on; they’re waiting for us.”
They got out of the car and walked up to Maria’s front door hand in hand. Max’s heart was beating fast; Liz could sense it and felt her own speeding up in answer. She knocked three times and smiled at him, her eyes calm. “It’ll be okay,” she said, and he wondered how she could read his thoughts so well.
He nodded as they heard footsteps inside the house and the door opened. Maria stood in the doorway, at first seeing only Liz.
“There you are,” she said. “You’re late—we were starting to get worried.” Then she noticed Max, who stood slightly behind Liz, and her eyes went round. “You. . .what—? Max?” she stammered.
From inside the house, Liz could hear Kyle’s voice. “Tell Liz she can’t have the baby—I got here first!” he called, coming over to the door with Lily in his arms. But he, too, stopped short when he saw Max, absently patting Lily’s back as she played with his watch. “Wow,” was all he could say.
“What’s the matter?” Isabel demanded from her seat on the sofa. When no one answered, she got up and walked to the door to see for herself. She took one look at Max and all the color drained from her face. “Max?” she breathed.
Still holding his hand, Liz pulled Max into the living room with her. Max stood silently for a moment, looking at everyone, and then he smiled.
“Hi, Izzie,” he said.
Isabel put her hand over her heart and came at him full force, hugging him tightly. “Max, I can’t believe it,” she murmured, pushing him back to look at his face. “Where have you been? Are you okay? What are you doing here?”
Max didn’t answer. Instead he kissed her cheek. “I missed you, too, Isabel.”
She started to sob, burying her face on his shoulder, and holding him tightly. As they stood there, the rest of the group slowly unfroze. Alex and Michael came to the door, too, looking at each other in bewilderment. Tess was last to arrive, having been in the kitchen when she heard the door. In an instant she realized what had happened and looked at Liz, who was watching Max and Isabel. Liz felt her gaze and looked up, meeting her friend’s eyes with a bright smile.
“It’s okay, Iz,” Max was saying. “Everything’s all right.”
“I missed you so much,” she said softly, then pushed him back to look at him. “Let me look at you.” Tearfully, she searched his face. “I can’t believe it.”
He smiled. “I know.”
“Maxwell.” Michael couldn’t contain himself any longer and stepped closer, pounding his friend on the back. “Where the hell were you?”
“Far away,” Max said with a laugh as he released Isabel to hug Michael. The two men looked at each other hard for a moment, then Max nodded. “It’s good to see you, Michael,” he said.
“We missed you around here,” Michael said gruffly.
“I missed all of you, too,” Max said. He looked at Maria, who was hugging Liz. “Maria, you look great.”
Maria crossed to him and threw her arms around him. “I should have known only one person could bring Liz back here that fast,” she said. “Welcome home, Max.”
“Thanks, Maria,” he said. She was crying when he released her, and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Now look what you made me do,” she laughed.
Tess was next. She came forward shyly. “I’m glad you’re back, Max.”
He gave her a brief hug. “Thanks, Tess,” he said, then realized how much he really had to thank Tess for. She had pushed him to Liz that night so many years ago, and she had been there for Liz through everything that came after. How did you thank someone for saving your soul mate? In the end he shook his head. “Thanks for—everything.”
Tess smiled, and it seemed to him that she knew what he meant. “You’re welcome, Max.”
Max turned to Alex next. “I hear we’re family now,” he said as Alex extended his hand. “I’m glad.”
“Thanks,” Alex said. He glanced at his wife, who was wiping away tears with the back of her hand. “Me, too. Welcome home.”
Kyle had been hanging back, cradling Lily as she watched the scene before her intently. Kyle and Max had never been close, but in the years since Max’s abduction Kyle had grown to love Max’s family and friends very much. He knew Max knew the truth about what had happened with Liz nine years ago, but he couldn’t help wondering how Max would react to him now. But Max only smiled at him.
“Kyle—good to see you,” he said simply, and meant it. He knew from what he’d seen while watching Liz that Kyle had grown into a good man—a man Max trusted to look out for the people they both loved.
“You, too, Max,” Kyle answered. “It’s been. . .a long time.”
“Yeah.” Max nodded. He smiled at Kyle, then his eyes went to the baby in Kyle’s arms and he stopped, unable to look away.
Lily glanced at her mother. “Mama?” she questioned uncertainly, and Isabel quickly moved to take her daughter.
“Come here, baby,” she said, smiling through her tears. “There’s someone I want you to meet. This is your uncle Max.”
There were tears in Max’s eyes, too. “She’s beautiful, Iz,” he said in a hoarse voice.
Isabel looked down at Lily, smiling. “Tell Uncle Max everyone says you look like him,” she told the baby, but Lily just stared at him, her dark eyes wide. Finally, she cocked her head to one side and gave him a cautious smile.
Max felt a smile stretch across his face in answer. “I think you’re luckier than that,” he said, wanting to touch her but afraid to scare her. Slowly, he extended a finger and used his powers to make the tip glow with a soft, silvery light. The baby watched in fascination, then reached out to grab his finger.
Isabel laughed. “Oh, Uncle Max knows some fun tricks, doesn’t he?”
Max’s eyes were still on Lily, who continued to grasp his finger. “I think I might just have to spoil you rotten,” he said with a grin. “You think that’ll be okay with you?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Has he said much?” Isabel glanced at Liz as rinsed out coffee cups in Maria’s kitchen later that night.
Liz shook her head slowly. “Not a lot. I think. . .I think he feels guilty about something. I don’t know what.” She handed Isabel the cup she had just washed. “I can wait,” she said. “I’ve waited nine years for him to come back. I can wait as long as he needs me to.”
“My brother is lucky to have you,” Isabel told Liz seriously.
“We’re lucky to have each other,” Liz said. A bright smile lit her face, and Isabel thought how young Liz looked at that moment. “It’s so amazing to have him here,” Liz was saying. “All these years, I’ve gone over every moment of our relationship, thinking about what we did wrong, about what I’d do again, things I’d say and do if I ever got the chance.” She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and leaned against the counter, still smiling. “Now I have that chance,” she said, then laughed. “I feel like I’ve just gotten this huge do-over from fate.”
“I’m so happy for both of you, Liz,” Isabel told her. “You deserve to be happy.”
Liz folded her arms over her chest, looking thoughtful. “The more I think about it, Iz—the more I see, the more convinced I am that none of us gets what we deserve. I used to believe destiny dictated our lives. Then later I believed in karma. Now I think we’re dealt a hand and we have to decide how to play it.” She smiled faintly. “Or if we play at all.”
Isabel tilted her head to one side. “You think it’s all up to us?”
Liz nodded. “Yeah, I think I do.”
Isabel thought about it for a moment. “I think you might be right,” she said finally, just as Max walked into the kitchen.
“About what?” he questioned, putting his arms around Liz’s waist.
Liz smiled and leaned into him. “Just something you told me a long time ago,” she said.
“Then I’m right?” he asked, lacing his fingers through hers. “Good to know.” He bent his head and kissed her cheek. Isabel watched with a smile—it was hard not to smile at the sheer joy on both their faces. Max and Liz weren’t going to get over the miracle of being together any time soon. Watching them that night, Isabel hoped they never would.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was late when everyone was able to tear themselves away to say goodbye. Lily had long since fallen asleep in Liz’s arms, nestled comfortably against her shoulder. Several times Max had lost the thread of the conversation, utterly absorbed in watching them. The last time, Liz had smiled when she caught his gaze and leaned into him. Max put his arm around her shoulders, cradling them both, and thought that he had never imagined anything so beautiful. When at last Isabel announced that she and Alex needed to take Lily home, Max leaned over to stroke Lily’s dark, silky curls and plant a kiss on her forehead.
“Goodnight,” he said softly.
Liz caught the wistful look on his face and her heart skipped a little. Then his eyes met hers. Someday, he seemed to be telling her, the promise so real that she almost nodded. She carefully passed Lily to Alex, then put her arms around Max. He pulled her close and rested his chin on her hair. His heart beat strong and steady beneath her ear, and Liz thought she would never tire of that small miracle.
“Let’s go home,” he murmured against her ear, and she nodded. It had been a wonderful night, and she was glad they had come, but she was ready to go home. She needed to be alone with Max, to touch him, to hear his voice and be held in his arms. And she knew that he needed it, too.
They followed Isabel and Alex to their car after saying repeated goodbyes to everyone else. As Alex bent to put Lily in her car seat, Isabel hugged Liz tightly. “Thanks for sharing him,” she said quietly.
“You’re welcome,” Liz answered with a smile.
Isabel released her as Max came to stand next to them. He hugged his sister briefly. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said. He and Isabel had made plans to visit their parents the next day, to break the news about his return to them. He was nervous, but anxious to see them.
“I’ll pick you up at three,” Isabel told him, opening the car door. Max helped her inside, then shut the door after her.
Alex hugged Liz before he got into the car. “I’m happy for you,” he said softly. “I’ve been worried about you. . .even since you moved back home.”
Liz smiled. “You don’t have to worry anymore, Alex,” she said, kissing his cheek. “We’ll both be okay now—I know it.”
He studied her thoughtfully. “I really believe that,” he told her, then shook his head. “Ever since that day in the Crashdown. . .everything was changed that day. For all of us.”
She nodded. “I wouldn’t change it back. Not for anything.”
He smiled. “Me, neither.”
Alex squeezed her hand, then they both went to their cars. Liz drove the short distance home with one hand on the wheel and the other clasped in Max’s fingers. Max was quiet, and Liz knew he was thinking about something. She didn’t want to interrupt him, so she kept quiet until they were parked in the driveway. Then she turned to him with a smile.
“What are you thinking?” she asked softly.
Instantly, his attention was on her. He reached out to touch her face, tracing the line of her jaw with tender fingers. “I was thinking about how lucky Alex and Isabel are,” he admitted.
“They really are,” she agreed.
His eyes searched hers for a long moment, then he leaned over and kissed her, his lingering carresses so soft they made her shiver. Finally, he leaned back. “I want that,” he whispered. “I want to have that with you.”
“You mean. . .babies?” she asked, smiling shyly.
He nodded. “All of it. A home, children. . .each other. I want to share our lives. I want to wake up every morning knowing this is going to be the best day of my life because I’m going to spend it with you.”
Tears filled Liz’s eyes. “Max,” she murmured, reaching for him. “Max, I want that, too.”
He held her close for a moment, a grateful smile on his face, then he kissed her again. He felt her smile as his kiss grew more insistent. She pulled back a little, grinning.
“You know,” she said in a teasing voice, “if we really want to make a baby, I know a way to get started.”
He grinned back, his eyes roaming over her flushed face and sparkling eyes. “Really? Well, I didn’t actually get to finish sex ed, but I have these theories I’d like to try out. . .” He kissed her again, savoring the sweetness of her mouth.
“What kind of theories?” she asked breathlessly, as he trailed kisses over her jaw.
“Fertility rituals,” he murmured between kisses, his voice low and husky. “Mating rites. . .bizarre sexual practices. . .”
“Bizarre?” Liz repeated with a grin.
“Well, by earth standards,” he told her, his breath warm against her ear.
“So these would be alien practices,” she observed.
“Mm, practices involving aliens,” he clarified, his fingers finding the edge of her shirt. “Interested?”
She tilted her head to allow him access to the sensitive skin at the base of her throat. “Very,” she informed him. “There’s just one problem.”
He raised his head. “Problem?”
She nodded, capturing his lips for a kiss that left his head spinning with desire. “You have to catch me first,” she whispered with a sexy grin, then all at once she slid from the car and took off across the grass.
Max jumped from the car and reached for her as she sped past the passenger door, but she slipped past him, laughing over her shoulder. He followed her up the stairs, catching her when as she started to open the door. “Gotcha!” he cried, spinning her to face him.
She was breathing lightly from her sprint. “What are you going to do with me now?” she wanted to know.
He pressed her up against the door with a sly grin. “Give me a minute,” he said. “I’ll think of something.” He used his powers to open the door and they tumbled into the entryway, pulling at each other’s clothes as they went. Climbing the stairs without losing his hold on her mouth was a losing battle, so Max stopped abruptly on the landing and scooped her into his arms. “Let’s go, Ms. Parker,” he teased, easily carrying her up the rest of the stairs. “This might take a while.”
|posted on 20-May-2002 4:26:02 PM by mockingbird39|
|I worked on this story this weekend, and I PROMISE it will be updated in the next few days. The next part is almost ready, but it. . .well, it wandered close to NC-17 and made me blush too much, so it is undergoing edits. Look for it very soon. Thanks for your patience and your feedback.|
|posted on 19-Jun-2002 9:50:19 PM by mockingbird39|
Liz sat straight up in bed, sweating, her breath coming in ragged gasps. A dream. It was a dream. She reached for Max, but his side of the bed was empty, and she cried out.
“Max? Max! Max, where are you?”
She heard running footsteps and then Max burst into the bedroom, heading straight for her. “I’m here. It’s okay, Liz. I’m right here.” He knelt on the bed and pulled her into his arms, stroking her hair.
She clung to him desperately, still breathing raggedly. “Don’t let go,” she choked.
“I won’t. I won’t.”
“Where did you go? I thought you were gone. . .”
“I woke up a little while ago.” He wasn’t ready to tell her about his dreams just yet. “I was in the living room. . .I didn’t want to wake you up.” He held her until she stopped shaking and her heartbeat calmed to a more normal pace. “What happened, Liz?” he asked softly.
She wiped a hand over her eyes. “A dream,” she said wearily, laying her head on his shoulder. “I had a dream. I dreamed I couldn’t find you and then I woke up and you weren’t here and I thought. . .I thought I had dreamed everything else.”
He tightened his hold on her. “I’m sorry. I woke up a little while ago and I was afraid I’d wake you up. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
She gave a shaky laugh. “It’s okay. You don’t have to be right next to me all the time.”
“I don’t mind,” he said softly, smiling a little.
They lay down together, and Max cradled her against him as she calmed down. He stroked his fingers down her bare arm, caressing her soft, smooth skin and then lacing his fingers through hers. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, and she rubbed her shoulders against his bare chest, stretching against him like a cat.
“Go back to sleep,” he whispered against her ear. “I’m right here.”
She shook her head. “I never sleep after those dreams.”
“You have them a lot?” he asked softly.
Liz was quiet for a long moment. “All the time,” she murmured finally. “Ever since. . .ever since Lucas died.”
“You dream about fire,” Max said in a quiet voice.
She frowned a little. “Yeah,” she agreed. “How did you know that?”
“It’s still in your mind,” he told her, cradling her close. He stroked her hair back from her face, wishing he could smooth the troubled thoughts that still whirled in her mind. “Tell me about it,” he said after a minute.
She gave a long sigh. “It’s always the same. I’m trying to find you and Lucas, and I know you’re close, but. . .I can’t find you. And then there’s an explosion and. . .fire.” She paused, and Max could feel her fighting for control. “So much fire,” she whispered. She shook her head. “And I never find you.”
“It’s just a dream,” he soothed. “There’s no fire.”
He could almost hear the words in her mind—But there was, once. She nodded. “I know. Even when it’s happening, I know it’s a dream. But I always think. . .what if this time it’s real and I don’t try? What if it’s real and I lose you both?”
Max’s heart ached at the vulnerability in her voice. She sounded so lost, even now. “Liz, I’m so sorry,” he told her. “Everything that you’ve been through—I wish I could make it better—”
“No.” She turned in his arms and faced him, putting her finger over his lips. “Max, everything I’ve been through—everything we’ve been through—it’s all brought us right here, to this place at this time. And this is where I’ve always wanted to be.” She paused for a second, gathering her thoughts, then looked at him with clear, determined eyes. “We’re going to be together, Max. And we’re going to know what that’s worth. If our lives had been different, we might have taken it for granted. Now we never will.”
He sighed, drawing his fingers through her hair. “Seems like a hard way to learn that lesson.”
She nodded. “But I think it’s the only way. It’s like. . .it’s like how you never hear the quiet until you’ve been to places where you can’t hear yourself scream.”
Where you can’t hear yourself scream. Max cupped her face in his hands and pressed his forehead to hers, closing his eyes at the pictures in her mind. Crowds of people in chaos. Piles of rubble where houses had been. Hollow-eyed children with hands outstretched for food. And always more fire. “God, Liz,” he murmured, his voice husky with emotion. “I never knew. . .I never thought—how did you—?”
“Shh,” she murmured. “It’s over now. It’s over.” She drew closer to him, resolutely pushing away her dreams and her memories, and pressed her lips to his shoulder. She nestled against him for a long moment, and Max cradled her as her thoughts quieted. Gradually, her touch changed and she drew exploring fingers along his ribcage, then pressed her palm flat against his belly. “Max,” she whispered, twining one of her legs over his, “touch me.”
His body needed no urging—just being close to her was enough to make him want her. But a few minutes ago she had been shaking with fear. “Are you sure?” he murmured, sliding one hand through her hair. “We don’t have to—we could just—”
“Max,” she interrupted, bending her head to kiss his chest, “I want to feel you—just you.” She looked up at him, licking her lips slowly. Her skin glowed in the dim light, and her hands roamed all over his body. But what Max saw most were the tear tracks on her face, the dampness of her lashes. He pulled her close against him, trailing kisses down her jaw and over her neck, wanting to soothe away the fear and sadness that had woken her. She wrapped her arms around him, turning onto her back with a soft cry that made Max’s blood rush. It amazed him how strongly she affected him—how her touch made him crave more of her until he had to have her, had to make love to her over and over again.
“I love you,” he whispered, his breath hot against her neck. “I love you so much.”
“I’ve always loved you,” she answered, scratching her nails lightly down his back. “I always will.”
He pressed his face against her, closing his eyes as the feel of her overwhelmed his senses. “I could drown in you,” he breathed.
“Don’t stop touching me,” she murmured, clutching him to her. “I get so lost when you’re not touching me.”
“I’ll always find you,” he promised. “Always, Liz.”
She closed her eyes as they came together, letting darkness blot out everything but him—everything but his hot skin pressed against hers, his heart pounding in rhythm with her own. She murmured his name, over and over, until his mouth found hers in the dim light from the windows and there was only the two of them—bodies tangled together in an embrace that left room for nothing else.
* * * * *
They slept late the next morning, and at two o’clock that afternoon Isabel came by for Max. He left reluctantly, only after Liz assured him she had a column to work on, laundry to do, calls to make, and—
“martinis to drink,” she finished, pushing him to the door, where Isabel waited. “With Maria. I promised I’d meet her for drinks. She’ll have my head if I cancel.” She put her hand on his cheek. “Go with Isabel—you need to see your parents. They’ll be so happy to see you, Max.”
“Come with me,” he murmured, pressing his lips to her forehead.
“No,” she said firmly. “You should do this with your sister.”
He still hesitated. “Will you be here when I get back?” he asked softly.
“I promise,” she answered. She stepped very close to him, drawing his head down to whisper in his ear. “We’ll talk. . .we’ll hold each other. . .we’ll make love. We’ll be together tonight.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” he warned, pulling her close.
“Good,” she said with a smile. She lifted her face to be kissed, giggling when Max hung on longer than she’d intended. At length, she pulled back. “Not right now,” she scolded playfully, pushing him again toward the door. “Go on,” she encouraged, “so you can come back to me.”
“Okay,” he agreed, heading for the door with his arm around her shoulders. He started to tell her he would be back by evening, but stopped short in surprise when she slapped his ass. He turned red and glanced down at her, only to meet an utterly innocent look on her face.
“See you tonight, Isabel,” she said nonchalantly.
“Don’t forget tomorrow morning,” Isabel said, unaware of Max’s blush. “You promised to help me with Lily’s birthday party.”
“I didn’t forget,” Liz assured her. “I’ll be over. . .” She glanced at Max. “. . .we’ll be over around ten, okay?”
“That’s good,” she said. “The man from the petting zoo is coming at ten-thirty to set up. Max, you and Alex can help him. Oh, and Liz, could you bring your mother’s punch bow? I’m making strawberry lemonade and I want to put it in something pretty.”
Liz nodded. “I’ll stop over and get it this afternoon.” She stood on tip-toe and kissed Max’s cheek. “I’ll see you tonight.”
They left in Isabel’s SUV—the one she referred to as the Soccer Mom Express—and Liz sat down to work on her column. Maria was coming over at four.
* * * * *
It was a little after eight when Max opened the door to the apartment. There was a light on in the living room, and once he had taken off his jacket he headed in there. Just inside, he stopped and smiled.
Liz lay on the sofa, still dressed in her black trousers and tan sweater. She lay on a pile of pillows, one hand under her cheek, curled up on her side. Light from one small lamp highlighted her dark hair and her pale, creamy skin, casting the rest of the room in shadow. Max crossed the room and knelt beside her, pressing his lips to her temple, then burying his face in her hair. He had missed her more than he thought possible. It had been good to see his parents. . .better than good. For the first time, he hadn’t had to doubt that they loved him. Now that they knew who he was—who he really was—they still loved him. And for that, Max loved them all the more. But even with all of that, he had still wished Liz was with him. Being apart from her was like not being able to take a deep breath. He needed her—needed the peace he found in her presence.
Liz shivered a little as she lay there, and Max pulled the afghan from the back of the couch to drape over her, tucking it gently around her shoulders. He lingered there beside her for another moment, half hoping she would wake up and reach for him, but she slept on and he didn’t want to wake her. He realized she hadn’t slept much in the past few days.
Rising, Max walked over to the windows and looked out. The night was incredibly still and clear—there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He pushed back the curtains and secured them, letting in the night, then went over to Liz’s bookshelves. They took up one whole wall, and every inch of them was covered with books. . .fiction, history, biography, politics. . .books on all subjects. Most of them were worn and dog-eared. Many had cracked bindings, and some no longer had covers. More books were stacked on the floor beneath the windows, and Max remembered seeing more in the bedroom. He wondered briefly when she found time to read all of these, but then he realized he already knew.
I never sleep after those dreams.
He looked over at her, sleeping peacefully, and his heart ached. He’d seen a little of the turmoil that still raged in her over the past two days, but he knew she had shielded him from much of it. He really had no idea how she had survived, but the fact that she had filled him with admiration for her. And guilt, too. His eyes traced the contours of her face, and his heart filled with such love he wondered how his body could contain it. He stood there for a moment, watching her, then he noticed a book on the floor next to her. Moving quietly, he went over to pick it up.
Goodbye and Remember, he read, by Lucas McCollum. Lucas. Curiously, Max opened the first page and read the dedication, then turned the page and found the poem. He read it though silently, then looked over at the mantle, where a framed photograph of Liz and Lucas sat. He must have loved you so much, he thought, looking back at Liz as she lay sleeping.
He was still watching her thoughtfully when she stirred, turned onto her back, and opened her eyes. She gave a sleepy smile when she saw him standing there. “You’re home,” she said, reaching for him. “I missed you.”
He crossed to her and knelt down beside her. “I missed you, too,” he told her, bending his head to kiss her.
“Hmm,” she murmured against his lips. “Tabasco sauce.”
He leaned back and grinned. “Too hot?” he asked.
She shook her head and grinned back. “I like it,” she said, kissing him again. She moved over so he could lay beside her and pulled him onto the couch. “How did it go?” she asked.
“Good. Really good,” he told her, settling next to her and stretching out his legs. “I don’t think I ever realized how amazing they are.”
“They really are,” she agreed. “I’m so happy for them.” She smiled. “Almost as happy as I am for me.”
Max chuckled. “Me, too. They. . .they said I could stay with them if I wanted to.”
She waited a second, then asked, “Well, what did you tell them?”
“That I was staying here.”
“Good.” She snuggled against him. “It would have been awkward if you had said yes. That room’s not really big enough for two.” At his surprised look, she raised an eyebrow. “What? You didn’t think I was going to stay here by myself, did you?”
He laughed again, pressing a kiss to her temple. “They want us to come over for dinner this weekend. Mom said to tell you she’ll make pot roast.”
“Mmm,” Liz smiled. “She makes great pot roast.”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s my favorite,” she informed him.
“So you go over there a lot?” he wanted to know.
She nodded. “Since I moved back,” she agreed. She hugged him close, pressing her cheek against his chest. “They were the only ones who could understand how much I missed you.”
They were both quiet for a minute, then Max drew her closer and took a deep breath. “Liz, last night. . .last night when I said I wanted to have a family with you. . .I meant that. I’ve never wanted anything more than that.”
“Neither have I,” she said.
“But. . .” He took a deep, painful breath. “There are things you don’t know. Things I have to tell you before we can do that. You should know the truth before you decide what you really want.”
“Max.” She stopped him, putting her finger at his lips. “I already know what I want. You. Nothing will ever change that—nothing you could possibly say will change my mind.”
He wrapped his hand around hers, kissing her knuckles. “I know what you think,” he said. “But I want you to know everything. I want you to know the truth about what I did on Antar.”
Liz’s heart ached at the grief in his voice. “I’ll listen,” she said softly, meeting his eyes steadily, “but I won’t love you any less, Max. Do you believe me?”
He nodded gratefully, pulling her close again. “I believe you,” he said. After a moment, he began his story, speaking in halting sentences.
“Khivar took me because he wanted to stop a nuclear war. Several years—several Antarian years after I was taken, there was supposed to be a nuclear war that would have virtually wiped out the planet. He told me he was going to keep me there until the threat was gone. Khivar thought if he removed me as a rallying point, the monarchists would stop fighting. But he was wrong.
“There was always fighting. Always. After a while I realized I was never going to get home if I didn’t help him—and I wanted to get home, Liz. I was watching you all the time then, and I was afraid if I didn’t get home soon I’d lose you. I couldn’t lose you. So I started helping, but even after I endorsed his government—even when I joined it—Khivar’s opposition didn’t stop fighting. I did everything I knew how to do. I really thought I could make a difference, and I wanted his republic to work, too. He had all these plans. . .he was going to give universal suffrage, elect a real representative government. I wanted that to happen—and I wanted the war to stop. But I think. . .I think politics isn’t as simple as I thought it was.
“Wait.” Liz raised her head to look at him in surprise. “Khivar wanted a republic?”
“That was always what he wanted,” Max confirmed wearily, then told Liz all he had learned of Antarian history. Of the downfall of the monarchy. Of his own treachery.
“That wasn’t you,” Liz soothed when he stopped. “You had nothing to do with that, Max. You’re not that person.”
“Aren’t I?” he asked bitterly. “I’m not any better, Liz. I always thought I was, but I’m not.”
“But you worked for the republic—you wanted to make them free,” she protested.
He bowed his head. “Only for a while,” he murmured. “Only while it suited me.” He paused for a second, then went on, “After a while I got frustrated because it seemed like he was no better than the monarchists—and because I was losing you anyway. That was about two years after I was taken.” He sighed heavily. “So eventually, I escaped.”
“Why?” Liz asked. “Why did you choose then?”
Max’s arms tightened around her. “It was when. . .it was when Lucas asked you to marry him. I thought it didn’t matter anymore if Khivar’s plan worked, because—” He stopped, swallowing hard. “I didn’t want to come home anymore. I didn’t think I could watch you marry someone else. . .have someone else’s children. So I thought if I could do some good on Antar, I might as well tried. I went and joined the monarchists.
“That was when I started to see what the war really did to the people. They were starving. They were dying. Their houses were burned and their crops were ruined. I wanted to stop it, and everywhere I went, there were people who believed I could do it. They trusted me to help them, and I tried, Liz. I swear to God, I tried.”
“What happened?” she prodded gently.
“It wasn’t what I thought it was,” he answered. “Nothing was. I hadn’t been with them a year when I found out they were burning crops and then lying about it. They blamed it on Khivar, but I knew it was us. We were the ones destroying our planet. I tried to change it—I tried to stop them, but they were too powerful. They didn’t need me to be their king, and they knew it. They would never have stopped. I couldn’t help my people—I couldn’t change a damn thing.” He sighed again, remembering, and pressed his cheek against Liz’s hair. “That was when I had that dream of you—that vision. And I knew I had to get back because. . you needed me.”
He told her everything—how he had collected information about the monarchists’ weapons and troop positions, how he had observed the top leaders carefully to see who could be trusted and who couldn’t. He told her how he had taken only one person into his confidence—a young soldier he might have condemned to death as a traitor. He told her how he had called a meeting of the top counselors and then, when he was sure that meeting was underway, he had turned the secret location over to Khivar.
“Soon he’ll have everything—all he needs to destroy the monarchists and institute his republic,” Max finished wearily. “I just. . .I just hope that’s really what he does. I think it will be.”
“You did what you could, Max,” she said quietly. “One man can’t fix problems like that.”
“I keep thinking I don’t deserve to be here,” he murmured. “All those people who trusted me—they trusted me and now thousands of them are dead. So why do I get to be here?”
Liz reached up and stroked his face. Survivor guilt, she realized. Of all people, Liz knew what it looked like. How many times had she seen it in the people she interviewed for her columns? How many times had she struggled with herself in the days after Max’s abduction and Lucas’s death? The surreal feeling that you no longer belonged in the world of the living, the terrible guilt that you didn’t deserve to be here. The unspoken rebuke in the eyes of friends and strangers alike—You should be grateful to be alive.
“Max,” she said quietly, “listen to me. I know what you’re feeling. I know what it’s like to feel helpless—to feel responsible. To feel like. . .you have no right to be happy.” She paused for a second, then shook her head. “I was with you the morning you were taken. For years I told myself I should have been able to stop it.” When he tried to protest, she put her fingers over his lips, silencing him. “I was supposed to be in that car with Lucas. For months, whenever I closed my eyes I heard that click when he tried to start the car, and I wished I had been with him. But I was wrong.” She shook her head again. “I was wrong, Max. I was so wrong.
“I don’t know why some people live and some people don’t. I don’t believe in karma anymore—I’ve seen too much that doesn’t fit with that idea. I just. . .I think we decide what we do with what we’re given.”
“We make our own destiny,” he said softly, and she smiled.
“Yes,” she agreed. “But, Max, I know that if we are the survivors—if we’re the ones left behind—we have a responsibility. We have to remember. Otherwise it’s all for nothing. We have to remember.” She thought for a minute, then looked up at him. “The people I write about in my columns. . .they’ve all been through so much. They’ve fought amazing odds just to survive, and the thing is. . .they don’t just survive. They go on to lead lives that are. . .more. . .than ordinary.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that survival isn’t enough for them,” she said. “All the fighting, all the hurt, all the strength it took to keep going. . .if all they were going to do was survive, it wouldn’t be worth it. They have to do more—they have to find something extraordinary.” Her eyes searched his face hungrily. “I always knew what I was fighting for, Max. It was you. It was always you.”
“Every dream I’ve ever had begins with you,” he murmured, smoothing her hair back from her face. “I love you.”
Liz smiled. “I love you, too,” she said, pressing her forehead against his shoulder. “I love you so much.” They were quiet for a moment, then she spoke again. “I know you’re hurting—we both have a lot to get over. But I know we can heal each other.”
He buried his face against her hair. “I don’t know how long it will take, Liz.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said softly. “We have a lifetime.”
* * * * *
Lily’s birthday party was a hit. Except for a brief period of chaos when Irvie the Goat broke free from his trainer to gnaw on one of Isabel’s rose bushes, it went off without a hitch. With Isabel busily running things, Lily spent much of the day in Liz’s arms. Neither Liz nor Lily seemed to mind, and Max certainly didn’t. By the end of the day, Lily seemed content with him, too. She allowed him to tale her to the animal pen to pet Irvie and the other animals—a bored-looking sheep, a large bunny, and a miniature horse—and when Irvie tried to nibble on the hem of her dress she panicked and grabbed hold of Max’s leg. Max picked her up, instinctively cradling her against his shoulder as she whimpered a little, and took her back to where Liz and Maria stood near the house.
“Irvie got a little too friendly,” he told them by way of explanation.
Liz and Maria made sympathetic noises, and Liz stepped close to stroke Lily’s dark curls. “Sweetie, are you okay?” she murmured.
Max fully expected Lily to reach for Liz, but she didn’t, remaining curled against his shoulder. Liz noticed this and smiled at Max. “Maybe she guessed which one of us could really blast that goat,” she chuckled.
Max smiled. “Is that it?” he asked Lily. “Do you want me to take care of that goat for you?” Lily gave a tiny smile back as Isabel approached them.
“There you are,” she said, putting her arms out to take her daughter. “Did you like your party, Sweetheart?”
Max handed the baby over. “I think she’s a little tired,” he told his sister.
Isabel kissed Lily’s temple. “I bet she is—she’s had a long day.”
“It was a great party,” Maria said to Isabel. “But next year? No goat.”
Isabel shook her head. “He wasn’t quite as well-behaved as I thought he’d be,” she admitted. “Maybe next year we’ll have a magician instead.”
Max had to smile—the party wasn’t even over yet, and Isabel was already planning for next year. “Everything was great,” he told her.
Isabel smoothed his hair in a motherly gesture. “I’m so glad you’re here to see it,” she said.
He nodded. “Me, too.”
“Max, Isabel.” They all turned to see Philip and Diane Evans coming toward them. “You did a lovely job, honey,” Diane told her daughter, giving her a small hug. Lily lifted her head and gave her grandparents a brilliant smile.
“My birthday girl,” Philip said, beaming.
“Are you going?” Isabel asked, noticing that Diane had retrieved her purse from the house.
“Yes, we’d better go,” she answered. “Unless you need us to help clean up?”
Isabel shook her head. “The caterer is going to take care of the food, and I’ll do the rest tomorrow.”
“So you don’t need us, either?” Maria wanted to know.
“Nope, we’ve got it all covered.”
Max looked around at the few people left. “I guess maybe we should get going, too,” he said thoughtfully. “There’s something I want to do tonight.”
Liz looked surprised. “There is? What?”
“I’ll tell you later,” he smiled, putting his arms around her waist.
“Tell me now,” she protested.
“Later,” he said again, and she sighed dramatically.
“Fine, fine. Later.” She looked around. “I guess we’re going,” she told the others.
“You’re both coming for dinner tomorrow, right?”
“We’ll be there,” Liz assured her. “Is six-thirty okay?”
They left a few minutes later after saying goodbye to everyone and accepting a plate of birthday cake from Isabel. As they went to the car, Max looked over at Liz.
“Want me to drive?” he asked.
She shrugged and handed over the keys. “If you want,” she agreed.
When they got in the car and started driving, Max glanced at her. “Are you tired?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. Why?”
Max paused for a second and reached for her hand. “I want you to go somewhere with me,” he said finally.
“Where’s that?” Liz asked curiously.
As they stopped at a red light, he turned to her, lifting her hand to his lips with a smile. “Vegas.”
Two Years Later
“Shh, Mommy’s still sleeping. . .let’s not wake her up.”
Liz rolled over and opened her eyes to see Max tiptoeing through the bedroom door, five-month-old Matthew cradled in his arms. The baby grinned toothlessly when he saw Liz and held out his arms to her.
“I’m awake,” she said, sliding over to make room for Max and their son. . .her boys.
Max settled Matthew between them and leaned over to give her a brief kiss. “I thought you were asleep,” he said.
She shook her head, holding out a finger for Matthew to grasp. “I could have gotten him,” she said.
“I don’t mind.” Max propped his head on his hand, looking down at Matthew. “I mean, I’m sure it’s easier for me to get up—being younger than you and all.” There was a teasing light in his eyes as he referred to the shortened span of his years on Antar, and Liz was grateful. Only in the past few months. . .maybe even since Matthew’s birth. . .had Max been able to joke about his time there.
“And you never let me forget it,” she retorted lightly, putting her hand on Matthew’s tummy. He gurgled and reached for her hair, tugging on it firmly until Liz disentangled his fist from the sleep-tousled strands. “Ouch,” she said, making a face. “That’s Mommy’s hair.” She lifted him into her arms, bussing his cheek. “Did Daddy give you your bottle?” she asked.
“All fed, changed, and ready to go back to sleep,” Max assured her, then he yawned. “And so is Daddy,” he added ruefully.
Liz slid closer to him, settling herself and Matthew against him. “Sleepy?” she asked, snuggling against him. After two years, she still couldn’t seem to get close enough. She smiled; waking up next to Max was something it would take a lifetime to get used to.
“Yeah,” he answered, yawning again.
Liz closed her eyes, leaning against him. “Did you tire Daddy out?” she asked Matthew.
Max grinned slyly. “Actually, that was Mommy,” he said.
She smiled with her eyes closed. “Oh. Right.”
Max closed his eyes, too, listening to Matthew’s even breathing as he went back to sleep, nestled between the two of them. After a few moments, Max opened his eyes and looked down at his son. His cheeks were flushed with sudden sleep, one fist curled beside his cheek, his tiny lips making a gentle sucking motion as he slept.
“Max?” Liz’s voice was drowsy, as though she was almost asleep.
“Yes?” he asked, burying his face in her soft, thick hair.
“It was worth it, wasn’t it?” she asked.
He didn’t have to ask what she meant. “Yeah,” he answered simply, putting his arms around both of them. “Yeah, it was worth it.”
|posted on 13-Dec-2002 10:16:38 PM by mockingbird39|
|Hi, guys! I know this fic has been finished for a while, but I wanted to let you know that I've added something to it--a part I originally cut for reasons I now think are silly. If you're interested in reading, it's at the beginning of Part 15 on page 4--the starred section at the very beginning.|