posted on 5-Jan-2002 11:04:22 AM by Ashton
Rating: PG...the most it'll probably get is PG-13...I think.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything Roswell, etc.
Summary: It's been 5 years since graduation...7 years since Tess Harding entered their lives and changed everything. With a little match-making scheme, Maria and Michael try to see if they can get Max and Liz back 'where they were before'. *happy*
Category: Max/Liz, although all Roswell couples will be/are involved

Hey all! I know it has been beyond forever for this fic. I'm reposting all chapts because I'm positive this one has been forgotten. Hope you all enjoy and I'd love to hear what you think!! Thanks bunches for all your support!!

BehrHugs,
Ashton
~~~~~~~~~~~
(Blessid Union of Souls excerpt)
"Where We Were Before"

And you're just what I've been waiting for
To come and take me in
To grab ahold and take control and make me whole again
And if you need my everything you can take it all and more
Just help me to get back where we were before


~~~~~~~~~~
"Michael?" Maria's soft voice split the stilness of the night.

"Hmmm?" An equally soft answer prompted Maria DeLuca to voice her silent thoughts.

Maria turned her eyes from the brilliant night sky to the man lying by her side. Her high school sweetheart lost for what seemed like eternity now suddenly back in her life. Her tough, but gentle, untamable but suddenly captured Michael. Maria's eyes softened with unspoken love as she reached out and began to caress his hand. "Don't you think it's a shame?"

Michael's eyebrow raised in silent answer to Maria's question as he glanced over at her then back up at the stars, his eyes beginning to dance with amusement. "Maria, baby, I know you and I never did do well at saying exactly what we meant in high school, but can you at least try? Just this once? Call it…I don't know…part of this new deal we have going…"

Maria chuckled and slapped Michael playfully on the chest before raising herself up on her elbow to look at him. "Hey! I hope you realize the majority of our communication problems in high school were yours."

"Mine?"

"Yes, yours, Mr.-I-have-to-be-a-stone-wall-Guerin. You didn't give me many breaks back then, you know."

Michael shook his head with a chuckle as he reached over and ran his hand down Maria's arm. "No, I guess I didn't. But we've gotten past all that now. So…" Taking her hand in his, he raised it to his lips and kissed it gently before looking back up into her eyes. "…tell me what's on your mind."

Maria smiled as she gazed out into the distance relishing this new relationship of theirs. This openness to each other she'd always seen in Max and Liz's relationship and desperately hoped for in hers and Michael's. Amazing how things had changed in the last 5 years…for all of them. "Well, I was just thinking. Here we are…finally together and happier than ever…" Maria paused and looked over at Michael her eyebrows furrowing in sudden uncertainty. "You are, aren't you? I mean, happier then ever…right?"

Seeing the irrational worry in Maria's eyes, Michael leaned up and captured her lips with his before running his fingers through her thick blonde hair. When he pulled back to look into her eyes he grinned with satisfaction at the sudden desire he saw burning there. "Answer your question?" He asked huskily with a glimmer of cockiness in his voice.

"Mmmm-hummm." Maria sighed contentedly before leaning in once more for a quick kiss. "Completely."

"Good." Michael responded while continuing to smooth back Maria's hair. "So, if we're both happier than ever...what's the problem?"

Maria contemplated his question for a second before answering. "Well, I just wish our friends could find the same happiness, you know?"

"Our friends." Michael repeated as his lips began to twitch with a smile. "Maria, we don't have any friends. Unless...wait. You don't mean..."

Maria nodded her silent agreement to Michael's dangled sentence and bit her lip in nervousness. She'd been forming a plan for a while now. She just didn't know how much of it Michael was going to go along with. "You're right. I'm talking about Max and Liz."

"Maria…" Michael began in a warning voice when he saw the scheming light in her eyes and guessed where this line of thinking was going.

Maria sat up and turned toward him her excitement getting the better of her. "No, no, Michael. Just listen, ok? I know it's been so long since they've actually seen each other…"

Michael linked his fingers together and propped them behind his head. "Yeah. Like light years ago."

"And there was some tension when they split…"

"You call what happened 'tension'? Good God, Maria, it was like WWI, II and Independence Day all put together."

"And I know that they have their own separate lives now…" Maria continued as if Michael hadn't spoken a word.

"Oh, I'd say separate is the word. Especially since Liz is planning a wedding to that human…what's his name? Ben, right?" Michael nodded knowing he'd remembered the right name then rolled his eyes. "I'd say that's definitely in the separate lives stage…"

"But…"

"It's not going to work…" Michael predicted without hesitation.

"It could." Maria countered tilting her head to the side in that way she knew drove Michael wild.

Michael noted the tilt of Maria's head and the way her soft eyes were gazing at him with so much feeling and hope. When he spoke, the uncertainty in his voice contradicted the firmness of his words. "It won't."

"Let's try anyway. Come on, Michael. I know Liz just like you know Max. Neither of them are really living, you know? They're only existing right now without each other. I think we both know how much they still absolutely adore each other yet they aren't…you know, together. That's got to be the saddest thing in the world, Michael. To love someone so much and not be able to be together."

"Maria, baby, it was their choice…"

"That's a load of bull! They were together Michael. Loving and happy and ready to take on the world until that meddler, Tess Harding, dropped into our lives and started causing problems for everyone. Until she started messing with Max's head. It was never the same after that." Maria shook her head in disgust and pulled her hand away from Michael's. "And now, of all things, you tell me that it was all staged all of that time. That Max and Tess never…"

Sensing the explosion that was about to erupt, Michael sat up and attempted to put his arm around Maria. "You know what? Maybe I shouldn't have told you. You know…about Max and Tess."

Maria shot Michael a hurt look as she crossed her arms in front of her and shrugged out of his loose embrace. "Why not? Don't you trust me?"

"Of course I trust you, Maria." Michael stated emphatically before he shrugged and looked down at the ground, pulling a blade of grass from its home. "It's just...well, maybe I shouldn't have told you because it only makes you mad. And I never wanted to…well, I never wanted to make you feel anything bad…ever again."

Maria's anger melted away at Michael's gently spoken words. Reaching up she took his face in her hands and kissed him light on the lips. "You, Michael Guerin, don't. It's everyone else in this twisted human/alien connection we've all made. Max for hiding behind a fake relationship with that...person. Liz for believing everything he said too easily and not fighting harder for him. Isabel for backing Max up and covering for him. And Alex…"

Maria paused and looked away for a moment as she searched for a reason to be angry with Alex. Not finding one, she shrugged sheepishly. "Ok. So, maybe Alex hasn't done anything, but I'm sure if I think long enough I can come up with something."

Michael started to chuckle at Maria's comment before he ran his fingers through her hair. "I love you." Sobering suddenly, Michael ran his finger along Maria's face. "And you're right. Max still loves Liz. But in all honesty...Maria, with everything going on...with emotions running as high as they were, everyone going crazy like we did...someone would've gotten killed. Max had no choice but to walk away."

Maria swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat when she realized how right Michael was. Suddenly her eyes lit up with inextinguishable hope. "But things are different now, Michael. None of us are the same. There's no more danger. No more fear. I really think it could work this time. At least..." Maria wrapped her arms around Michael's neck and gazed lovingly into his eyes. "...come on, baby. Say we can at least try..."

"I have such a hard time saying no to you when you look at me like that, you know it?" Michael sighed as he tried to pull back before Maria attempted to capture his lips in a kiss that would seal his decision.

A wide grin spread over Maria's face. "So…does this mean you'll help me?"

"Do I really have a choice?"

"Not if you want to sleep in the bedroom tonight."

Letting out another sigh, Michael Guerin did what he never thought he'd do in his life. He agreed to become a matchmaker...




[ edited 5 time(s), last at 10-Sep-2002 7:24:17 PM ]
posted on 5-Jan-2002 9:37:09 PM by Ashton
Hey all!!!

Sorry the rest wasn't posted earlier. The board wasn't cooperating with me at all. Anyway, IF all goes well...here is the rest starting with Chpt 2.

BehrHugs,
Ashton
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~Chap 2~

Twenty-three year old Max Evans silently cursed his sister, Isabel, for dragging him here. Then he cursed himself for allowing her to. As he watched several fashion-clad women running and bumping into each other while they scurried down the hall to make it to their next showing, Max shook his head slightly. What had Iz been thinking anyway?

Max's thoughts paused long enough for him to notice the curious, interested gazes of more than just a few of Isabel's fabulous friends and fellow models as they flitted here and there preparing for their big moment in the spotlight. Max sighed and forced himself not to roll his eyes at their obvious ogling and cast his eyes upward when he leaned his head back against the couch he'd been sitting on for the last forty five minutes. Who was he kidding? He knew exactly what Isabel had been thinking. Drag my lonely, sad, unfortunate brother to a fashion show with me and maybe he'll hook up with one of my gorgeous model friends and forget all about the love of his life…

Max smiled wryly as a white-gowned model accidentally tripped while she struggled with the heavily beaded, filmy veil that kept flying into her face obstructing her view. An instant image of his beautiful dreamgirl, Liz Parker, covered from head to toe in while tulle and beads flashed into Max's mind. "Wrong fashion show, Izzy." Max said aloud as he once more glanced around the room full of wedding dresses and bouquets. "Definitely the wrong show…"

"Did you say something?" Isabel asked as she sauntered up to Max and nudged him slightly so that he'd move and give her room to sit.

Max obliged her silent request before cocking an eyebrow at her. "Yeah, I did. I said I know what you're up to."

Isabel's beautiful face pinched slightly in mock confusion. "What ever could you be talking about?"

Max shook his head in annoyance as he hand waved over the room. "This. All of this. It's not going to change anything…"

Isabel let out a loud sigh, knowing her not-so-hidden plan had been discovered. "Max, come on. Just give it a try. You need some close encounters--of the human kind--no, make that the female human kind…in your life, Max."

Max rolled his eyes at Isabel's joke. "That was almost as lame as what you're trying to pull here."

"What?" Isabel asked with an offended air as she glanced around her. "I thought you'd enjoy getting away from New York for a while. Take in the sights of Boston. Get away from that daily grind you subject yourself to. You know…expand your horizons a little."

Max shook his head. "You mean expand my dating prospects, don't you?"

"Would that be so bad?" Isabel sighed again as she straightened the skirt of her evening dress and began to preen herself by checking her lipstick in a hand-held compact. "I mean, is it really such a crime to help my dodo-brained brother finally move on with his life? What's so awful about that? It's been over 6 years since you've dated anyone seriously, Max. Or even anyone at all. Mom and Dad are starting to worry about you. And frankly, so am I…"

"Isabel…" Max began in a warning voice.

Isabel slapped her compact closed and turned toward Max. "No, Max, listen to me. I know that this…" she waved her hand over the crowd of beautiful women in front of them. "…may not be the best place to find…"

"What?" Max's voice took on an edge as his eyes suddenly flashed with anger. "To find what, Iz? The love of my life?"

Isabel swallowed and looked down taken back by the sudden irritation and pain in his voice. "Of course not, Max. I know you'll never…I know you'll never love anyone the way you love Liz."

Looking back into his eyes, Isabel steeled herself for a possible confrontation. Since this subject had been canvassed before, she had plenty of practice at handling confrontations with Max. So she continued. "But you made the decision a long time ago to let her go. Isn't it time you start acting like it? Live a little, Max. Have some fun. Find whatever happiness you can without her. That's really all I want for you." Shrugging her shoulders she glanced up and caught the eye of a friend of hers. She smiled and nodded in her friend's direction causing Max's eyes to follow the path of her nod. "Who knows? Maybe this weekend can be the start…"

Max swallowed hard when he saw the beautiful brunette make eye contact with him and smile. For the first time in a long time, Max allowed Isabel's words to sink in…and smiled tentatively in return.

"Bella? Where is she? Has anyone seen Bella?" A frantic dresser scurried through the chaos stretching out Isabel's professional name. "BEEELLLLAAAA!"

"Hey." Michael greeted Max and Isabel before nodding in the direction of the dresser. "Looks like your public is waiting, Iz."

"Great. And just when I was getting a chance to talk some sense into my lunatic brother." Having seen the exchange between Max and her friend, Isabel sighed as she stood up and waved to her dresser letting her know her location. Casting a glance in Michael's direction, her gaze turned critical. "You know the idea of you being a model at this show wasn't for you to model your own personal style, Michael."

"BELLA!" Isabel's dresser yelled to the top of her lungs as she rushed up to her and grabbed her arm. "You're on in 3 minutes and we still have so much to do!"

Michael stuffed his hands into his jean pockets and shrugged with a smirk. "Yeah? Well, too bad you don't have the time to coach me on the ills of actually having a style."

Isabel had the chance to sigh and roll her eyes before being drug away by her ever-anxious, overly-careful assistant. "Catch you guys back here after the show. Oh, and Michael…please go change before you walk out on stage…" Waving her hand quickly to Max and Michael, Isabel called back over her shoulder before disappearing into the wall of white that had begun to form in the hallway.

"Into the Miami Vice look, are we?" Max asked with a slight grin as he gazed up at Michael to take in his full appearance after a moment of silence.

Michael looked down at his attire and shrugged. "Hey. It worked for Crockett and Tubbs."

"Yeah, but they didn't wear green camouflaged t-shirts with gray tuxedo jackets and faded blue jeans." Max answered back with a chuckle.

Michael opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by the shrill ring of a phone. Max's eyebrows raised in surprise when Michael dug into his jean pocket to retrieve a small black cell phone. "Yeah?"

"Hi there, sexy." Maria's breathy voice came to him and was rewarded with a flicker of a smile she couldn't see.

"Hey." Aware that Max was watching him intently, Michael quickly masked the expression on his face and responded shortly trying to rein in his enthusiasm at just hearing her voice. Since they'd found each other again three months before, Michael had learned no matter what the problems or how bad of a day he was having, just hearing that voice always seemed to make things better for him.

Maria fiened hurt when she heard the curtness of Michael's tone. "'Hey?' After what I wore for you last night all you have to say to me is 'hey'?"

Michael's face began to turn slightly red as he glanced down at Max then turned and took a few steps away so he could speak a little more freely without Max overhearing every word. "You know that's not it. Things are a bit…"

"…crowded?" Maria finished for him knowing Max must be within earshot. Without waiting for his affirmation, Maria clued him in on her situation. "Here too. Look, I'm just calling to let you know we're set. You can start things on your end."

Michael took a deep breath before asking in a somewhat shaky voice. "Are you sure about this? I mean, we do have time to back out."

He could almost see the emphatic shake of her blonde head as she reaffirmed her decision to continue with the plan. "Uh-huh. For better or worse, Max Evans and Liz Parker are going to finally face what they've been running from for so long. Each other. And they're going to do it today…"

tbc

posted on 5-Jan-2002 9:38:31 PM by Ashton
~ chapter 3~

"Michael?" Max inquired as soon as Michael flipped the phone off and turned back around. "What's going on with you?"

Michael shrugged his shoulders and shoved the phone back in his pocket. "What do you mean, Maxwell?"

Max leaned back and eyed Michael carefully. "I mean…for the past three months you've been…" Max looked away trying to find the right word. "…distracted. You're constantly flying back and forth between here and New York. You disappear at the oddest times…" Suddenly he looked back up at Michael and jumped up from his seat to stand face to face with Michael.

Eyes flashing with sudden worry, Max's voice took on an edge of warning. "Michael. This had better not have anything to do with…" Max glanced around to make sure no one was close enough to hear, then lowered his voice as an extra precaution. "…Nassedo."

Michael shook his head and rolled his eyes "I know I’m the reckless one of the group, Max, but I don't have a death wish." Seeing Max visibly relax in front of him, Michael added a thought he hoped would make Maria's plan a little easier to pull off by gearing Max's thoughts to what he'd been missing for so long. "Besides…you gave up way too much. You gave up Liz, the love of your life…your own happiness…your future with her. And you did it just to keep all of us safe. I'm not going to jeopardize that for anything."

Seeing Max's eyes cloud with pain at the mention of Liz, Michael patted him on the shoulder and smiled slightly to lighten the mood. "Believe me, Maxillian, Nassedo's the last person on my mind right now."

As Michael walked past him and slid onto the sofa, Max turned to scrutinize his friend. His eyes narrowed as he crossed his arms in front of him. Michael was acting way too casual for something to *not* be going on. "So, then who is?"

Knowing how surprised Max would be if he knew the answer to that question, a small smile danced on Michael's lips as he stared straight ahead of him.

Max's eyebrow raised. "Michael?"

Michael's brown eyes turned to Max as he quickly dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. He'd know everything in a few minutes anyway. "Look, I've just had a lot going on with the art galleries here in town that's all. It's nothing, man." Standing up he held his arms out and glanced down at his clothes. "You know, Iz was right. I really do need to get a clearer vision of the more common, boring tuxedo-wearing practices. Think you might be able to help me out?"

Still not completely convinced Michael wasn't up to something, but knowing he wasn't getting any more information out of him than he already had, Max shook his head with a chuckle. "Yeah. I might be able to help."

"Good." Michael stated with a nod. "Tell you what. Why don't you head to the dressing room and start picking things out. I'll be there in a minute. I need to make a few phone calls."

"Ok." Max's shrug told Michael that Max's suspicions had once more been quelled. "Where is it?"

With a straight face, Michael lied. "Take the elevator to the second floor, turn left and then right. There's a door at the end of the hall. I'll be there in a few."

"Alright." Max agreed simply, completely unaware of what waited for him behind that door.

Michael waited till Max was out of earshot then quickly dialed a number on his phone. When he heard her voice, he grinned. "Get ready, babe. He's on his way…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz Parker stood staring at herself in the mirror. A shaky breath escaped her lungs as her hands slowly ran down the lightly beaded bodice of the latest beautiful white gown she'd decided to try on. This particular one had a rounded neckline with scalloped lace and simple cap sleeves. The skirt swished in just the right way when she moved. It reminded her very much of a bell.

Max would have liked this dress. The unexpected thought sprung to Liz's mind before she had a chance to squelch it. Once it was there, the thought decided to take up residence for a while in the form of memories past. Memories Liz thought she'd buried long ago…

"Mrs. Evans. Mrs. Maxwell Evans. Mrs. Elizabeth Anne Evans."

"Max? What are you doing?" Liz asked with a chuckle as she came up behind him and wrapped one arm around his neck. Running her other hand down his back then back up to play with the hair at the base of his neck, she leaned over his shoulder and gazed down at the paper he was reading from.

Max glanced up at her then back at the paper in his hands raising it so she could see. Scribbled all over the paper were different combinations of his and her name. "I'm testing out your name. You know, trying to figure out which one will sound better."

Liz's eyebrows furrowed in mock confusion as she began to tease him. "But…those aren't my names."

A small smile touched Max's lips and he looked down at the table in front of him, a shy embarrassment suddenly taking over his emotions. With a whisper, Max asked the question he'd always dreamed of asking but never really thought he could. "Would you…would you ever want them to be?"

Glancing up at her quickly he saw the smile slide from her lips when her eyes met his and he felt as if his heart had just broken in two. Swallowing hard, Max took a breath and waited for the inevitable 'no'. What had he been thinking? Of course she wouldn't want to marry him. He was an alien for goodness sake! There was so much they still didn't know. So many dangers they still hadn't discovered yet. They didn't even know if they were physically compatible yet.

And they were still so young. Way too young to be making plans for forever. Anyway, she'd be crazy to want to spend the rest of her life in such an abnormal relationship with the most abnormal person in the world. Liz was such a beautiful, loving girl. She deserved much more than the chaos he could bring her.

Instead of answering with words, Liz moved silently in front of him and slipped into his lap wrapping her arms around his neck. Had he been looking in her eyes he would have known he had nothing to fear from her answer. An adoring smile touched Liz's lips before she reached up and touched the side of his face with a gentle caress. "Max. Look at me."

When Max finally raised his eyes to meet hers, the sight that greeted him took his breath away. Her eyes sparkled with tears and the smile that made her face glow told him all he needed to know. Still, he wanted to hear her say it. And apparently she wanted to.

Liz took a deep breath and let it out slowly as one hand unconsciously moved to trace the contours of his handsome face, her eyes roaming every inch as if she were trying to memorize every feature. When she finally spoke, her answer was so full of love Max thought he'd died and gone to heaven…or this was a cruel joke and he was only dreaming. Her next words confirmed that Heaven really did exist.

"I love you, Max Evans. So much that I ache for you when you're not with me. I want to be with you always because when I'm not, I'm only half of who I was meant to be. Loving you and laughing with you…even crying with you. Whatever journey you take…wherever it leads you…whether to the stars or the house next door, I want to go there too. So, if you're asking me which name I prefer to be called once we're married…" Liz closed her eyes briefly and smiled before looking back into his eyes again. "…it doesn't matter. I'll take any one of them that means you're mine and I'm yours...forever..."


Liz looked back at herself in the mirror and tilted her head to the side as a tear slipped out of the corner of her eye and made a path down her cheek. Mrs. Liz Evans. It had been the name they decided would best describe her in their newly formed dreams. Would the name even fit her any more? Probably not. Especially since the most important half of the name had been missing from her life for so long.

Her eyes widened suddenly as the amber stone hanging from the long chain around her delicate neck began to dance from the light up above then glow with an intensity she hadn't seen in years. Or rather…hadn't allowed herself to see in years. Her breath caught instantly when her eyes focused on the gold ring the stone was set in. It wasn't that she'd forgotten she was wearing it. Or the many times it had glowed in the past. Or what it meant when it did glow. No. She could never forget that.

It was just that she had worn it for so long, it had become a part of her. Like the boy who had given it to her. The boy who was now a man living and breathing somewhere without her. Still. It hadn't glowed with such heat since…a lifetime ago. She reached up and fingered the ring gingerly, her mind taking a trip into the past when things were more complicated...when things were exactly the way she wanted them to be…

"Max, come on. Give me a hint as to what the surprise is." Liz giggled and tried to pull his hands from behind his back but to no avail.

Max shook his head and backed away from Liz, his face growing suddenly serious. "You know I *could* tell you…but then I'd have to kill you."

Tilting her head to the side, Liz smiled cockily before shrugging. "Go ahead. Kill me. I'm not afraid."

"You aren't." Max stated though his eyebrows rose to take the place of the question mark his voice should have held.

Liz shook her head as she took a slight step forward. "Nope. Not in the least."

"Why not? I mean, there are a lot of people that would tell you to never trust an alien. After all, we are known for using humans for sexual experimentation." Max fought the urge to grin at her as he watched her inch her way towards him. He knew his Liz so well. She was up to something. And it was going to be fun to watch her try to get it.

Standing face to face with Max, Liz raised her dark eyes to meet his velvety brown ones. She paused a moment to make that emotional connection the two of them had always shared, before slowly running her hands up his chest and smiling at the reaction her touch had elicited from him. Cocking an eyebrow at the sudden desire she saw dancing in his eyes, she ran her hands back down his chest and wrapped her arms languidly around his waist. "Who says I'd mind?"

"Besides…there's another reason I'm not afraid." Liz smiled up at him as her eyes danced with love. "I'm not afraid because I know you'll heal me. You'll always heal me. Just like you healed my body that day at the Crashdown. Just like you've healed my heart ever since."

Liz smiled when Max's arms came from behind his back to wrap around her waist and pull her closer. She could feel the object he'd been hiding from her against her back as she continued. "I know you. I know what happens to you when I'm not with you."

Max eyes drank in the sight of the beautiful girl in his arms. He'd loved her from a distance for so long that there were moments like now that he still couldn't believe she was his. His mouth had gone dry with the way she was looking at him and his voice crackled with emotion when he finally spoke. "You do, huh? And what…what happens when I'm not with you?"

Liz leaned up and breathed her answer lightly against his lips. "You go crazy."

Max's eyes closed and the explosion caused when their lips met rocked the ground they were standing on. At least it felt that way. Maybe it was just the sudden tremor in his knees and the dizziness that swept over him as her body flushed against his till it felt like they were one body. No. Till they felt like they were one soul.

Forgetting the game they had begun, Max lost himself in her as he brought his hands up to cup Liz's face when her arms wrapped around his neck pulling him closer to her. Just as he was about to be lost forever, Liz pulled back suddenly and giggled breathlessly with glee. "I got it!" She announced with pride before she held something up to his eyes.

It was then he realized somewhere in that kiss, she'd managed to gain possession of the black velvet box he'd been hiding from her earlier. Max began to chuckle at her enthusiasm and gazed at her with complete adoration. God how he loved her. Letting out a sigh of defeat, Max reached over and ran his fingers through her long silky hair. "Yeah, you did, you little sneak. But…since I enjoyed the technique you used so much…why don't you go ahead and open it."

Looking up at him with an expectant grin, Liz asked almost shyly. "Can I really?"

"Of course you can." Max responded with a smile, his voice lowering tenderly. "It was made especially for you."

Liz plopped down on her lounge chair and pulled Max down next to her then took a deep breath before turning her full attention to the box she held in her hands. She could feel Max's anticipation as he sat next to her and knew instantly whatever was hidden in this box was going to be big. She swallowed then slowly opened the box.

Her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite ring inside. The main stone was amber with two tiny diamonds on either side set in gold. "Is this…" Liz's voice trailed off as she suddenly became choked with tears. Looking up into Max's deep brown eyes with awe and disbelief, Liz began to slowly smile.

Max's grin widened and he began to nod his confirmation that the thoughts running through her head were indeed true. She didn’t need to voice them. He could read her like a book. "It's what you think it is, Liz. It's a piece of my past…of my planet. I had it made out of one of the stones. The ones River Dog gave us in the cave."

He took the ring from her hand and slowly slipped it onto the third finger of her left hand. "See, the amber stone is from my world…the gold and diamond setting is from yours. I…I wanted to give you something…you know, something that would always connect us. That would remind us how perfectly we fit together."

Liz gasped as the ring on her finger suddenly began to glow. "Max…it's…"

Max nodded and his quiet smile deepened. "Glowing. I know." His chest expanded and contracted with the deep breath that he took and released before he cupped Liz's face in his hands. "And it always will…every time we think of each other and feel the love we have for each other in our hearts."

Liz started to giggle with happiness as she looked back down at the ring. "In that case, I may never be able to wear this in public…"

Max laughed too and rolled his eyes. "That's why this isn't your real engagement ring. We can't have you walking around for the rest of your life with a glowing hand can we?"

Max's smile faded from his lips only to increase in his dark brown eyes. "I just wanted…I wanted to give you something as special as you are. Something that shows you how you make me feel. I glow deep inside…every second that you love me. This is something that's…a part of me. I always want you to have a part of me, Liz."

"Oh, Max…" Liz's eyes stung with tears and it wasn't until Max reached up and lightly brushed her cheek with his thumb that she realized those tears had really fallen. "Max, I'll always have a part of you…" She took his hand in hers and laid it over her heart then continued in a whisper. "…in here. Forever, in here…"


There it was. The reason her heart stopped beating in her chest the moment she paused long enough to realize she was getting married…to someone other than Max Evans. It was the magnitude of the act she was committing against the giver of the ring she held in her hands that suddenly made it difficult for her to take her next breath. As if it were a betrayal to their promises. A betrayal of their love. But what should it matter? He was the first one to break them…the first to betray their sacred trust in each other…

"No. You…you can't possibly mean it." Liz's voice wavered with tears she fought valiantly to hold in check. "You don't…you don't love her. I know you don't. Max, tell me don’t right now and we'll just…we'll just pretend this conversation never happened."

"I can't, Liz." Max swallowed hard and looked away unable to meet the sight of her tears without breaking his own resolve. "I can't tell you what you want because it wouldn't be true."

Liz took a step toward him and made a simple demand. "Touch me."

"What?" Shocked eyes raised to meet hers.

"Do it, Max." She grabbed his hands in hers and began to plead with him. "Please, Max. Connect with me…the way you've done before. Let me see into your soul. You can't hide from me in there…"

Max shook his head emphatically and turned away, his chest aching with every beat of his breaking heart. "No."

"Then I won't believe you." A disbelieving laugh escaped her lips as tears began to run down her cheeks. She shook her head resolutely trying so hard to fight for the love she knew they had. "I'll never believe you. Look at you. You can't even look me in the eyes. You can't even say it…"

Max whipped around and threw his arms out in anger, frustration and pain knowing now was the moment to carry through with his plan or abandon it forever. "Fine! You want me to hurt you like that? Ok. Ok. I'll say it! I'm in love with Tess, Liz. Not you. She and I will go places together you and I could never possibly go. She's my soulmate. My destiny."

"NO! She isn't, Max! Don't say…" Liz's sentence hung in the air and her eyes closed suddenly as if she were in pain. Max took an unconscious step toward her, his own confusion and sudden fear going unnoticed as Liz doubled over in front of him. He reached for her and when he touched her skin she was cold and clammy. Feeling his touch, Liz jerked back from him her eyes popping open to reveal a vacant darkness. "Don't touch me! Don't you ever touch me again!"

Max backed off not sure what had come over her and terrified out of his mind. "Liz…Liz, what's going on? What happened?"

"How could you?" Her voice was low and tense with pain. But there was something else there he'd never expected to hear…complete calm in the midst of utter hatred. "Leave. I never want to see your face again."


"Liz, babe! You ever gonna come out and show me that dress?" Maria's impatient voice called Liz out of the past and into her future.

Liz quickly wiped the tears from her eyes and pushed back the feeling of nausea that had washed over her as the image that had haunted her dreams over the past seven years came and went. It was that image that finally convinced her what she and Max once had was gone forever. It was the image of her boyfriend, Max Evans, and Tess making love.

"Yeah, I'm coming…" Liz called back to Maria in a shaky voice. Looking once more in the mirror, she checked her make up to make sure it hadn't run then took a deep breath and forced all thoughts of Max Evans out of her mind and a smile on her face. It was the only way she'd be even remotely convincing as the happy bride-to-be. The only way she'd make it through this day of making wedding plans. The only way she'd make it through the rest of her life without Max.

Stepping out from behind the door, Liz consciously widened her smile then held out her arms and looked at Maria expectantly. What she heard threw her for a loop. Maria sucked her breath in as her eyes swept over her lifelong best friend. "My God, Liz. You look beautiful. Max would absolutely die if he saw you…"

Liz's eyes flashed with pain and her arms dropped heavily to her side. "M…Max? Maria…" She took a deep breath and blinked back the sudden tears that formed in her eyes. "…what does any of this have to do with Max?"

Maria's eyes widened when she realized her slip of the tongue. Seeing the intense pain in Liz's eyes, she suddenly wondered if her plan was such a great idea after all. "Oh, God, Liz. I didn't mean…it just…"

With shaking voice, Liz swallowed hard then made a declaration in a no uncertain terms. "I am marrying Ben, Maria. Ben. Not Max. Ben is the man I was meant to be with. Max was a mistake. A mistake I've tried for seven years to forget."

"But Liz, I…" Maria began to explain but Liz cut her off.

"No. We've been over this before, Maria." Liz began a list Maria had heard before. And each time it was the same…the words were real but the conviction of her voice was flat. "Ben is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm lucky he's in my life. This day…these plans that we're making…they're for him. My future…is with him. The last person I want to think about is…"

Just then the door to the room flew open and in walked the object of their conversation. Both of them.

"Ben!" Maria exclaimed completely surprised by his presence before she noted the figure behind Ben.

He was standing like a statue. His dark velvet brown eyes sparked to life and a slight smile touched his lips as he stared straight ahead of him to the vision of his dreams.

"Max…"

tbc…
posted on 5-Jan-2002 9:45:02 PM by Ashton
~ chapter 4 ~

"Max..." Liz unconsciously, reverently whispered his name.

It was as if a magic spell floated through the open door and settled on the four occupants in the room evidenced by an electrically charged silence that suddenly filled the air.

Maria's thoughts tumbled through her head as quickly as the words would have fallen from her mouth had she found the ability to speak. She couldn't believe their luck. The very day Michael and she plan for Max and Liz to meet, Ben shows up. And why was he here anyway? Men don't really get into making wedding plans. Especially when it comes to picking the wedding dress. Do they? Michael certainly hadn’t.

Oh, God. Michael. He needed to get up here…and quick. With Liz's reaction to Maria just *saying* Max's name, Maria had no idea how her best friend would handle actually *seeing* Max now. Liz by herself would have been one thing, but with Ben by her side who knew what her reaction would be. Especially since she didn't know the truth yet. She might actually try to deny what her heart felt when she faced the only real love of her life.

Maria's gaze moved from the two men in Liz Parker's life to Liz herself. An involuntary smile curved Maria's lips when she saw the besotted look on her friend's face as Liz gazed past her intended to the one who she had always been intended for.

Maria felt her heart jumping up and down inside with silent victory. She knew it! She knew her best friend was still head over heels in love with Max Evans. All she needed was a chance to face him to realize it. Too bad for Ben. Maria really did like the guy...

Ben didn't even know anyone else was in the room except the woman in front of him. Even if he had known, he couldn't have cared less. In his year and a half of knowing Liz Parker, he'd never seen her more stunning than she was right this moment. He'd always heard that every bride was beautiful, but Liz went beyond that. She was...radiant, shimmering, luminous.

Maybe it was the flush of her cheeks or the light in her eyes. A light Ben could swear was the result of every star in the sky taking up residence in her eyes. Or maybe it was the smile on her lips. That slight, dazed, out-of-this-world smile he'd never had the priviledge to see till now. The smile he promised himself he'd spend the rest of his life trying to recreate.

When he finally found the breath to speak, his voice was soft with emotion. "God, Liz. You look..."

Liz barely heard him speak. She felt like she was in a time warp and Max had captured her once again with those deep soulful eyes of his. The eyes that made her feel as if no one and nothing else existed in the world but the two of them. She could feel the gentle, warm caress his eyes made as they roamed every inch of her face even from half a room away.

It was as if nothing had changed. Time stood still and all those years faded away to nothing. All that stood between them was that intensely energetic feeling of once again being alive.

And he felt it too. She could see that as plainly as the adoration she saw dancing in his eyes. The only words that made it through her consciousness were his when he spoke and the softness of his voice reminded her of so many whispered promises shared between the two of them another lifetime ago.

"...words fail." Max breathed in whispered awe finishing Ben's thought when Ben's words wouldn't come.

And it was true. Nothing Max was feeling at seeing Liz again, dressed as she was, smiling at him as if she'd been waiting that way for him all of her life, could be described in tangible words from Webster's dictionary. There was wonder and awe in his velvet brown eyes. Overflowing love in his heart. And breathless anticipation swelling in his chest.

She was his dream come true. If, in fact, this was real. He'd dreamed of this scenerio so many times in the past seven years that he didn't know for sure if this moment *was* reality or a dream. Please, God. If it's a dream, don't ever wake me up.

The thing about spells, though...they usually get broken. And dreams? Somehow there always comes a time to wake up.

That time came for all of them when loud voices were heard from the hallway. "No! You can't! I mean it...this is no place for you right now!"

"Oh, please, Michael. Stop being so dramatic. If I remember, that's usually your little wife's department isn't it?" Her bored voice floated from the hall into the room and Max looked away from Liz uncomfortably when he saw the flicker of pain in her eyes and the smile fade from her lips.

In the next moment, the room was crowded with two extra people and what seemed like a suffocating lack of air. She stopped short and took in the scene before her with an upraised eyebrow before turning her attention back to Michael, who had practically slammed into the back of her in his haste to stop her from entering the room. "Well, well, well. I see the urgency now."

Turning back to the room, a smug grin spread over her face as she sashayed her way to Max and wrapped her arm through his. "There you are, darling." She leaned up and pecked him on the cheek then swept her gaze to the onlookers of the little scene she'd begun to play out. "Well, what do you know? Here I was all set to congratulate my new sister-in-law and find my Max conducting a high school reunion instead."

"Tess..." The warning in Max's voice caused Liz's eyes to flicker back to his reddening face. For the life of her she couldn't be sure if the faint blush creeping up his cheeks was from embarrassment...or anger. Maybe both.

Max's warning look seemed to only fuel Tess. Locking eyes with Liz, her eyes twinkled with arrogance and her voice resonated with long-held triumph. "Oh, hello, Liz. I didn't see you there. What a sweet little dress. I wonder if it comes in my size..."

tbc...

posted on 5-Jan-2002 11:22:16 PM by Ashton
~ chapter 5 ~

Max's warning look seemed to only fuel Tess more. Locking eyes with Liz, her eyes twinkled with arrogance and her voice resonated with long-held triumph. "Oh, hello, Liz. I didn't see you there. What a sweet little dress. I wonder if it comes in my size..."

Liz's face turned a slight shade of red as her eyes flashed with fire from Tess' face to Max's. She caught a glimmer of anger sparking in his dark eyes and felt a sudden rush of satisfaction. Then came the familiar thud of disappointment as Max's eyes lowered uncomfortably and he bit his bottom lip before tightening it into a thin line.

He was retreating again. Retreating into his shell and letting Tess have complete control. Damn him for being so passive! Damn him for letting Tess walk all over her...again!

Time certainly hadn't changed him. Or their situation. What a fool to think for a split second that it might have. That by some miracle or twist of fate he'd come looking for her to steal her away to that happily ever after they had dreamed about together. The chance that their love could have survived all of this time disappeared when she heard that syrupy sweet voice floating in from the hallway. Now, standing in the same room with the two of them, it was apparent by Tess' possessive demeanor that Max was living their dreams with someone else.

Turning her thoughts once more to Tess, Liz summoned her will to form a retort that would show Tess Harding once and for all that Max Evans may be the same, but she, Liz Parker, was not. Before she had a chance to respond though, Maria took up the fight for her. "Being the witch you are why don't you do your Samantha-twitch-your-nose thingy, duplicate a dress and find out? On second thought, why choose white…isn't black the color of choice for those from the Dark Side?"

"Honey…" Michael took a step forward and began to address Maria.

Tess tossed an irritated look in Maria's direction. "Yes, Michael. Do reign your little wifey in. This really isn't the way to make a good impression on the family. Not that she'll ever be one of us anyway..."

Maria took a step forward, her hands clutched by her side. "Why you little…"

"Oh, God. Please tell me I didn't just hear what I think I just heard. Michael actually called someone 'honey'…and meant it." Isabel's voice startled the group as she stood in the doorway. Her eyes moved from Tess to Michael to Maria back to Michael. "It's a joke, right? She didn't really just say the two of you are…" Isabel swallowed hard. "…married."

Wrapped in his own world of misery, Max was lost to the conversation around him. She still believed it. She still believed he loved Tess. He saw that as plainly in her eyes as he'd seen love shining only a split second before. Or maybe it was just shock he'd seen. Maybe he'd dreamed of the moment their eyes would meet so many times that he saw what he wanted to.

That's what it was. He'd only dreamed it. That look she had always reserved for him and him alone. That look that spoke so much without uttering a word. The one that said he owned the world and everything beyond it...because her heart was his.

Max silently chided himself. How foolish to believe she'd still love him after all this time. After all the pain he'd caused. The tears he knew she had cried. No. Unlike him, it was obvious she had moved on. That's why she was here. Why she was trying on wedding dresses. Why she was wearing a diamond on her left hand. Liz Parker was in love...with someone other than him. She was getting married...to him...

Words finally made their way to Max's brain. His head snapped up at Isabel's question and all eyes turned to Michael and Maria as they unconsciously closed the gap between them and wrapped their arms around each other. "Nope. You didn't hear wrong." Michael paused to look down at Maria with a smile then turned back to the people their marriage would effect the most. "Maria and I were married two and a half months ago."

"WHAT???" For the first time since their eyes met, Max and Liz spoke…at the same time.

Their previous attention having been concentrated on making sense of the feelings racing through them at seeing each other again, they'd barely heard anything in the past several minutes but the beating of their own hearts. With Tess' entrance their focus had shifted to the others' reactions to her presence. Non-verbal reactions that only caused confusion about what they were feeling. In short, neither Max nor Liz had really heard anything any one had been saying.

But now they *were* paying attention and the immediate implications of this latest news was enormous. Their eyes met briefly in acknowledgment of that fact, then turned to their respective friends. "Maria…is this true?" Liz whispered.

Maria's face broke into a wide grin as she nodded her head quickly as she threw her left hand out to show the gold band she'd pulled from her pocket to put on her third finger. "Sure is, babe!"

"But…but how could you…"

"…not tell us?" Max finished for Liz without thinking.

Michael shrugged. "Why would we want to? We knew you'd freak out like this."

"No one's freaking out, Michael." Max began but was silenced by a disbelieving look from Michael and a confession from Isabel.

"I am." Isabel stated before she crossed her arms in front of her.

"I felt the same way when I first found out." Tess tossed in her opinion before smoothing her hair away from her face. "It'll pass."

"How? I mean..." Liz took a deep breath and tried to make sense of what she was hearing. "When did all of this happen?"

Maria's face became animated with pure happiness as she briefly filled the group in on the events leading up to the present situation. "A little over three months ago. My band was doing background music for this fancy-shmancy art gig and Michael happened to be one of the featured artists. We saw each other at the showing and..." Maria looked up into Michael's eyes as she wrapped her arms around his waist.

"...and we started talking." Michael continued for her as he looked down at her with a smile and pulled her closer to him. "Really talking. We realized how much had changed in the last five years and..."

Maria turned back to the listening crowd. "...and just how much hadn't. Like how much we still love each other." Maria looked pointedly at Max then at Liz. "How we never stopped loving each other."

Max and Liz exchanged looks that held each other captive for a moment. So much was spoken in that look, but neither dared to claim the truth of it. The heartbreak should they be wrong would be too much to bear.

The moment was broken by Isabel's sudden outburst. "This is unbelievable! Have you two gone completely insane?" Isabel practically shouted. Then she turned to Max. "Well? Say something!"

"What do you want me to say, Iz?" Max asked feeling a sudden wave of jealousy sweep over him. Once again, he wish he could be like Michael. Daring to take the risks. Grabbing ahold of what he really wanted and never letting go. Maybe then his heart wouldn't be breaking right now.

"I don't know!" Isabel threw her hands up in the air. "Just...something! He'll listen to you..."

"They're married, Iz. There's nothing we can say that's going to change that. Besides, what I have to say to Michael, I'll say in private." Max replied evenly as his eyes shot to Ben then back to Isabel.

For the first time since her entrance Isabel noticed Ben's presence in the room. Stiffening suddenly her chin raised in arrogant defiance. "Who are you?"

Ben had been silently watching the scene unfold in front of him. His natural skills of observation that he'd developed in his law practice told him many things. There were so many dynamics to the group in front of him it would probably take years to decipher them all.

Then there were the dynamics that were all too easy to figure out. The ones he wasn't sure he wanted to admit to himself. And things he'd rather forget he saw. Like the shared looks between Liz and the dark-haired man referred to as 'Max'. Yes, he definitely wanted to forget those. And he knew just how to do it...

"Funny you should ask. I was just thinking the same thing…" Ben moved a pointed finger around the semi-circle in front of him. "…about all of you. And since I believe Maria and Liz are the only people who really have any kind of right to this room and I *am* Liz's fiance', then I should have the honor of hearing your names first."

Until Isabel addressed Ben, Liz had completely forgotten he was still standing there. His reference to their current status of engagement made her flush with guilt at having forgotten him so quickly in the midst of so many overwhelming emotions. Feeling a little more steady on her feet than she had since first seeing Max, she quickly made a move to stand by Ben and begin introductions when his next words stopped her from taking another step.

Ben smiled as he glanced around the group. "After that, I suggest we all go out to dinner together." Ben turned and stepped toward Liz wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her close to him. Noting the dazed look on her face at his suggestion, Ben added his voice warm and deep. "What do you say, dear? How about a night on the town with all of your friends celebrating the one thing we all seem to have in common?"

Tess chuckled with disbelief at Ben's assumption that they all had something in common. Where had he been the last few minutes? Liz must have completely gone off the deep end to want to claim this idiot for life. "You're joking, right? What on this earth could we all possibly have in common?"

Ben leveled Tess with his gaze and spoke his one word answer with conviction. "Love..."

tbc...
posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:18:46 AM by Ashton
~ chapter 6 ~

"So? How was it? Was he hard on you?" Maria asked as glanced at Michael in the mirror before she ran a brush through her hair and applied hair spray.

Michael sat on the bed and shrugged as he watched his wife primp for this disastrous dinner celebration they had all agreed to. "The usual Max stuff. You know…there could be danger. What about kids? Illnesses. Nasedo…"

Maria set her brush down and checked her make-up one last time. "And what did you say?"

"That we talked it all through before we decided anything and it all came down to one very important thing…" Michael paused and raised his eyes to Maria.

Hearing the tone in his voice, Maria turned around and leaned back against the dresser crossing her arms in front of her. "And that was?"

"That we love each other. That life is too short to not spend it living each day with the person you were hatched to be with." Michael grinned when he saw the smile beginning on Maria's lips. "And that he's an idiot for not taking Liz Parker in his arms the next time he sees her and just abducting her for the rest of her life."

Maria smiled at the thought of serious, responsible Max doing something so rash and unexpected. "Now there would be a real photo opportunity." Maria quipped as she walked to Michael and slid onto his lap wrapping her arms around his neck. "But, you know, that just might work. After all, that's how we began and look at how perfect we are together."

Michael nodded and pulled her closer to him as he slipped his arms around her tiny waist. "I agree. Perfect." He leaned forward and captured Maria's lips with his. Smiling contentedly when he pulled away, he ran his fingers lightly over her shoulder. "So. What about Liz?"

Maria sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not sure. She barely spoke a word to me after everyone left and when she did, it was about our marriage. Not a word about Max no matter how many openings I gave her." Maria began playing with the hair at the base of Michael's neck. "I think she's scared. You know, to say anything. I think she knows if she does the gig is up and I'll know she's never gotten over him and…"

"Even she won't be able to deny it then." Michael finished for her. "I know that routine well."

"You do?"

"Yeah. I used to use it all the time when I was trying to deny how I felt about you." Michael looked down and took Maria's hand in his. "I talked to Tess. She's still on our side."

Maria nodded as she smirked. "Who would have thought Tess and I would actually be on the same side for once? You know, it was actually kinda fun getting in her face knowing we were working together. Do you think Max knows? You know, that we planned all of this?"

Michael shook his head. "Nah. Tess told him she came when she found out Izzie had drug him to the fashion show. She said she figured he'd need help getting out of some tight places with the girls Iz had lined up for him. She did a great job pretending to not know Liz was here."

"What did Max say about the way she treated Liz?"

"He was pissed, of course. In fact, I've not seen him that angry in years." Michael answered as he nuzzled Maria's neck for a moment. "If you ask me, I think he was more upset with himself for not doing more to stop her though. Then again, what could he have done without blowing his whole 'Tess is my destiny' cover?"

Maria nodded with a sigh. "Yeah, that would have been interesting. To see Max defend Liz to Tess after all these years. Especially with Ben there."

"Hey. How did that happen anyway?" Michael asked as he pulled back and looked into Maria's eyes.

Maria shrugged. "Beats me. I was going on the assumption that guys don't get into making wedding plans. You certainly didn't."

"Maria. We barely made any plans. We just…"

"…did it." Maria finished for him as she leaned forward for a kiss. "And it was the best nearly spontaneous thing I've ever done in my life."

"Mine too." Michael looked out the window, thinking. "You know, maybe when this all blows over we should do it for real. You know, so everyone can be there. Liz. Max. Izzie. Alex. Tess. What do you think?"

A slow smile captured Maria's lips. "Really? You'd do that for me? Tuxes and flowers and bridesmaids. The whole nine yards?"

"Sure would. If that's what you wanted."

"Well…it might be nice." Maria grinned as she thought about it. Then a new thought struck her and she rolled her eyes. "But about Tess. I know we're trying this new level of relationship with her, but do I really have to be like really, really nice to her? Or like ask her to actually *be* in the wedding, would I?"

"Babe. She's my sister. Besides, she's really trying to help. In fact, she's probably working on Max right now." Michael reminded Maria gently then amended his statement when he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. "But you know, I won't make you if you really don't want to. Until you decide, maybe you should go see Liz before dinner. You know…get her used to the idea Max isn't over her yet especially after seeing Tess with him today."

Maria's face brightened into a wide smile. "How did you know that's exactly what I was thinking of doing?"

"Oh, baby. Don't you know by now…we're connected." Michael shrugged at Maria's raised eyebrow. "Ok. So maybe we don't get the flashes Max and Liz do, but who needs 'em when we've got this?" Michael pulled Maria's lips to his and flipped her over on the bed unexpectedly tickling her and causing the room to suddenly fill with giggles and squeals of pure happiness.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz groaned and removed her clothes for the tenth time since she'd begun getting ready for this sure to be nightmare of a dinner. Walking to the closet she ran her hand along the clothes hung neatly on the hangers then pulled out the floral tank dress that Ben loved to see her in so much.

Nodding with satisfaction, Liz began to dress. This is perfect. She'll wear Ben's favorite outfit, the perfume that drives Ben wild--or as wild as she wants Ben to be--and she'll even wear her hair down, curled, the way Ben likes. In fact, the way she can get through this night is to make it all about Ben. That should show everyone just how important he is to her. Just how right they are for one another. How happy she is that he is in her life.

Pulling the zipper up on the side of the dress and tossing a flimsy shawl around her shoulders, Liz moved to stand in front of the mirror with a feeling of triumph. Her eyes swept from head to toe then back again as tears suddenly began to puddle in the corner of her eyes. Max. He probably wouldn't even recognize her. "No, no, no! Dammit! This is all wrong!" Liz exclaimed to herself as she stomped her foot. She began to angrily unzip the dress and threw the shawl on the floor.

Passing her hand over her eyes she let out a strangled, frustrated yell. "Aaaarrrggghhh! Damn you, Max Evans, for what you do to me!" She added under her breath.

Why? Why had she agreed to this? Why couldn't she have just told Ben she had plans or that she didn't think it was a good idea. Anything but 'yes, I think it'd be a great idea' should have popped out of her mouth. But it didn't. And now, she was stuck. Having dinner. Making polite conversation. Pretending to not hate the woman who was in her place by Max's side.

No. She had to stop this. That was no longer her place. It hadn't been for years. Tess had made sure of that. And Max had let her. Fighting tears back, she was startled to hear a voice at her door. "Whoa! What happened here? An earthquake? Hurricane? Tornado? Combination of the three?" Maria stepped into the room and gestured toward the clothes laying all over the bed, floor and dresser.

"I…can't find anything to wear." Liz admitted lamely trying to mask the real reason she was having such a hard time getting ready.

"Can't find anything?" Maria queried. "Liz, you look like you've got a whole boutique laying on your bedroom floor here!"

Liz kicked a pair of wayward shoes in the direction of the closet. "Yeah, well, for some reason nothing's working for me tonight!"

"You know what? Why don't we just call the whole thing off? I could call everyone…" Maria moved toward the desk with the phone deciding to try a new tactic.

"NO!" Liz grabbed Maria's arm and practically shouted when the thought of not seeing Max again flashed through her mind.

Maria's eyebrow raised and she fought to hold back a knowing smile as she watched her friend stumble over her own words trying to explain her sudden aversion to missing this evening's festivities. "I…I mean, no. It's…" Liz glanced at the clock. "…you know, it's like too late now to cancel anyway. Besides, it would look strange for Ma…" Liz caught herself from finishing Max's name and tried to cover quickly. "…for everyone to show up and me not be there. After all…it is your marriage we're celebrating."

A dismissing wave of Maria's hand was accompanied by a half-smile. "Please, Liz. The only member of the pod squad I'm interested in is my Michael. And we celebrate our love all the time. I don't want you to do anything that's gonna hurt you this much."

Liz straightened her back and raised her chin in defiance. "Hurt me? Come on, Maria. I'm not hurting. I just can't find anything to wear." Blinking her eyes a few times she turned toward the dresser. "Why…why do you think this dinner would…you know, hurt me?"

Maria crossed her arms in front of her. "Oh, I don't know, Liz. Watching Tess climb all over Max could be a bit disgusting to say the least."

Liz picked up a brush then dropped it with a loud thud before turning around and heading for the closet determination flashing in her eyes. "I couldn't care less what Max does with that hag. And if you think I’m having second thoughts about this dinner because of Max you are dead wrong."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes. Really." Liz stated as she began to once again look through her closet.

Maria studied Liz's back for a moment trying to decide which tactic to use next. She'd already tried to call the dinner off but Liz proved her desire to see Max again was larger than her fear. She mentioned Tess and received the proper jealous-I-couldn't-care-less attitude. Now for the sympathy route. "Well, that's good. Cuz I wouldn't want you to start feeling bad for him."

"Feeling bad? For Max Evans?" Liz almost laughed as she turned to face Maria. "You're kidding right? After what he did to me? How he…cheated on me with that…that…" Liz's lips formed a tight line as if trying to keep a torrent of descriptive words from flying her mind out her mouth.

Forcing a mature outlook on the situation, Liz folded her hands in front of her and lied...to herself. "Look, Maria. I've grown up a lot since high school. Now that I've found someone that makes me deliriously happy, I wish the same for Max. And if that witch makes him happy…which he seems to be…then what possible reason would there be to feel bad for him?"

"No reason. I'm just thinking that not everything *is* as it seems." Maria stated as she began picking up clothes and laying them neatly on the bed inspecting each outfit in an effort to help Liz find something to wear.

"W…what do you mean by that, Maria? Do you think he's not happy?"

Maria shrugged her shoulders and held up a flowing white blouse with a printed skirt. "How about this?"

Liz stepped forward and grabbed the blouse and skirt from Maria's hand. Tossing it on the bed, she put her hands on her hips and glared at Maria. "Maria. Talk to me. Do you know something about Max and Tess that isn't…"

"I don't know anything, Liz." Maria lied as she held her hands up, palms outward as if to defend herself. Strange how interested Liz was in Max and Tess' relationship after declaring she couldn't care less. Maria bit back a smile. Oh, this was definitely going to work.

"It just seemed…" She took a deep breath. "Max just seemed…he was really, really happy to see you today, Liz. Like the way it used to be, you know. When the two of you were dating and he'd walk into the Crashdown. The moment your eyes met, everything else was forgotten. No one else existed but the two of you. It was the same today. There was that same feeling in the room…that magic, you know. You could tell he felt it too by the way his eyes just lit up. And he seemed just as uncomfortable to see Tess as he was happy to see you. So, maybe he's not as happy as he pretends to be. That's all, I'm saying."

"Oh." Liz's eyes dropped as she considered Maria's words. Was it possible Liz hadn't been imagining things? That the same look she was so used to seeing in his eyes was still there? And it was still reserved for her? No. She couldn't start thinking this way. She couldn't bear to have her heart broken again. Besides, she was with a wonderful man that treated her like a queen. They had a normal relationship. One without flashes of stars and FBI agents and shape-shifting killers. With Ben she had a solid foundation of friendship. A steady, secure love. What more could she possibly want?

Flipping her hair behind her shoulders she once more headed to the closet. "You're just imaging things, Maria. I'm sure he was just shocked to see me…us...after all this time. It's no big deal."

"Ok. Right. No big deal." Maria agreed. "So, this dinner. You sure Ben's going to be ok with it? I mean, I know he suggested it and all, but really…having dinner with your alien ex and your fiance'…it's gotta get a bit awkward for him."

Liz swallowed hard and kept her attention focused on the closet even though her eyes saw nothing but Max's face the way he'd looked at her earlier. "Maria. Ben…doesn't know."

Maria scooped up some clothes and pushed them to the edge of the bed. "What do you mean Ben doesn't know?"

"About Max."

Maria chuckled. "I didn't think you'd told him about the alien part, Liz. That would weird out anybody..."

Liz turned around her eyes cast downward and her hands rubbing together nervously. "No, Maria. He doesn't know about Max...period. I've never told him."

Maria's mouth dropped open. "He doesn't even know the two of you dated? Liz…how could you not…"

"It was too painful, ok?" Liz took a deep breath and tucked her hair behind her ears. "When I left Roswell after high school I just wanted to forget. Everything. Max. Tess. The FBI…Nasedo. You're the only one I've ever spoken to it about…and you know how little that's been."

"Yeah. Like maybe twice a year." Maria stated before letting out a low whistle. "Wow. No wonder you're nervous."

"What do you mean by that?" Liz asked defensively.

"Just that I know I'd be nervous too if I was having dinner with my overly-perceptive lawyer finace' and the alien I've never been able to hide my feelings for. God, Liz. You and Max have one of your famous staring contests just once and the gig is up. Ben'll know everything." Shaking her head slightly she got up from the bed and headed toward the closet. "If fact, he probably already does…"

Reaching into the back of the closet she pulled out a cranberry colored slip dress with spaghetti straps. She eyed it carefully remembering when Liz wore it years ago. She was surprised Liz still had it. Then again, maybe not. After all, it had definitely gotten Max's motor running. That was a night Liz had never wanted to forget...

A devious smile played on her lips before she turned and handed the dress to Liz. "Here. Wear this."

Liz looked at the dress in Maria's hands and paled visibly. "Oh, Maria. I can't. That's the dress..."

Maria stepped up to Liz and pushed the dress into her hands. "Wear it. Oh and ah…put your hair up. You know, in a french twist like you wore that one time. I have a feeling this is going to be one helluva night."
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Love. What on earth had possessed him to use that word? It had been obvious by the tension in the air that love was definitely not a common bond between the six other people standing in the room. Or if it had been once, it certainly wasn't any more. At least not the kind that was obvious to the casual observer. Friendship. Secrets. Surprise. Marriage. Anything else would have been a better choice of words.

So…why 'love'? Maybe it was to shut that irritating Tess up. Put her in her place for the way she'd treated Liz earlier. Maybe it was to let Maria and her new husband know they had his support in the midst of so much shock and rudeness. Maybe it had been the look Ben had seen on that Max guy's face as he gazed longingly at Liz. Or maybe…and this is probably the real reason…he wanted to let everyone in that room know exactly where he and Liz stood. How they felt about each other. How in love they were. Especially Max. Maybe even to remind Liz…

Ben sighed as he picked up his watch from his dresser and began to put it around his wrist trying to push away any unsettling thoughts that were plaguing his mind, but they wouldn't go. Thoughts of the past year and a half with Liz kept ruling his mind. How difficult it had been for him to reach through to her in the first place. Times along the way that she'd shut down emotionally as if there were places in her heart she wasn't willing to visit let alone give to him. The way her eyes would cloud over with indescribably pain at times when she was looking at the stars or a young couple so completely in love. They way they sparked to life earlier today in a way they never had before…when she saw Max Evans.

Up until this moment, in Ben's mind, this dinner had been a brilliant idea. He just knew one night together and it would be plain to everyone around just who Liz Parker's heart really belonged to. He just hoped the loser would have the strength to walk away gracefully in the end. Ben swallowed hard. On second thought, maybe he hadn't been so brilliant after all…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"So, Max, how are we going to play this?" Tess asked as she checked her lipstick in her compact mirror. Hearing no response, she glanced at Max out of the corner of her eye. He was sitting in the driver's seat staring ahead of him his hands holding onto the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.

"Max? Hey." Tess reached over and touched his arm gently until his eyes turned to focus on her.

"What?" He shook his head slightly and stared at Tess absently. "I'm sorry were you saying something?"

Sending him a sympathetic smile, Tess turned to face him. "Look, are you sure you want to do this?"

Max swallowed hard and turned his attention back to the door of the restaurant they would be entering in a matter of minutes. "Do I really have a choice?"

"We all have a choice, Max."

Max tossed her an annoyed look. "My choices were taken away from me years ago."

Tess looked away shot by the arrow Max had sent her with his words. "Yeah, well, you're not the only one who lost out on that deal, you know."

Max turned to face Tess, his eyes softening in response to her statement. "I'm sorry, Tess. I know this has been hard on you too."

Tess shrugged away her sadness and rolled her blue eyes. "Yeah, it's sooo hard pretending to be in love with such a hottie like you. Telling every Sally, Harriet and Diane to keep their hands off is a real chore. Oh, and the kissing part…" A smile began to tug at the corner of her lips as her eyebrows shot up in mock disgust. "…don't even get me started on that!"

Max started to chuckle as Tess made light of the 'deal' they'd shared for the last five years. That deal being she would pretend to be his girlfriend whenever Isabel got into one of her 'matchmaker' modes and tried to throw girls at him from every direction. It was easier that way. Less messy. She'd swoop in and claim him when one got too aggressive or forward and they'd leave hand in hand till they were out of sight. Then they'd go their separate ways.

It was the reason she'd showed up unexpectedly in Boston. Well, one of the reasons. When she got the message from Isabel telling her where she'd be this weekend and that she was taking Max with her, Tess could easily see the handwriting on the wall. Isabel was in 'matchmaker' mode and Max would need all the help he could get. Then there was Michael. She called him to let him know where she'd be. Just so he wouldn't worry, which since learning of their relationship he'd been prone to do. It was then that Michael informed her of his and Maria's plan to get Max and Liz face to face once more. Tess immediately jumped at the chance to join forces and see if there was any way of salvaging the last parts of Max's heart.

In turn, Max took care of Tess over the years. Looked out for her and helped her with her goal to become a research chemist. A goal that was becoming increasingly important since her time on earth was running out. Through the years they had learned to lean on each other…to become friends. Just friends. Reaching out his hand, Max covered hers with his and gave it a light squeeze. "Just so you know, there's no one else I'd rather be *not* doing anything with."

They shared a warm smile and a companionable silence for a moment before Tess spoke again. "Max, I need to say something to you and I need to you not interrupt. Even more than that, I really need you to listen and think about what I'm saying."

Max turned his attention once more to the outside world and let out a sigh knowing what she wanted to say and not being sure he was ready to hear it. "Alright. Go ahead."

"I know we've done this before. Lots of times. And I've never minded being a witch to all those girls because…well, because I never really thought any of them deserved you." Tess turned to look at Max once more. "But this is different. This is Liz. Not only does she deserve you, she's the reason you've needed my help all of these years. The reason you won't let anyone close to your heart."

Max opened his mouth to speak but Tess hurried on keeping him from voicing any protests. "You know it's true, Max. You've never stopped loving her. She's the reason…" Tess paused and took a shaky breath. "…that you and I never fulfilled the destiny we were put here for. The reason…I'm…" Tess paused when she felt Max's eyes on her. Tucking her wavy blonde hair behind her ear she continued allowing the unspoken word to hang in the air between them. It didn't need to be said. He knew what his love for Liz had cost them both. "Look, I know there was a reason for what we did in high school. For the lies we told and the parts we played, but this…"

Tess glanced out at the parking lot and made a gesture with her hand toward the restaurant. "This is a second chance, Max. A chance to make it all right again. To make things the way they were really meant to be. For you and Liz…"

"Nothing has changed, Tess. The same reasons still exist…"

"No, Max. You're wrong. Everything has changed." Tess responded back as her voice began to plead with him gently. "Don't you see that? Nasedo hasn't shown his face in years. I've made it much longer than we ever expected. Michael and Maria…Max, did you see how happy they were? How in love? Don't you see? Everything you've ever wanted will be waiting for you inside that door. All you have to do is let her know."

Trying to keep his voice level, Max kept his eyes straight ahead refusing to look at Tess. "You're wrong, Tess. Too much has happened. Too much time has passed." His eyes full of sadness and pain turned to Tess. "She's in love with him...getting married. She's moved on..."

"If you really believe that you're a fool." Tess interrupted hotly. "She's as much in love with you now as she was before. Hurt. Afraid. Even angry. But still in love. Eyes don't lie, Max. The way she looked at you…that kind of raw emotion can't be manufactured. And you're crazy to try to deny that it still exists between the two of you."

Max looked down at his hands and bit his lower lip. He knew exactly what Tess was talking about. He'd seen it too. The way her eyes danced when she looked at him. The ecstatic look on her face. But there was something deep within him that was afraid to reach out and grasp the possibilities of it all. A part of him that, after all he'd seen in his life, still couldn't believe in miracles. "Look, Tess. As much as I want to believe I could have it all back again, I know it's not possible. Not now. Even if it were, I'm not sure I could do it to her. That I could rip her from the happiness she's managed to find and throw her back into our world of fear and looking over our shoulders every second. Love doesn't do that. I…will not do that to her."

Seeing that Max's mind at least was made up, Tess gave in…for the moment. "Ok. I'll play it your way. But know that I won't like it." Tess stated letting out a sigh. "So, what are the ground rules?"

"Just…don't hurt her." Max stated simply. "I don't want a repeat of what happened in high school when I broke up with her. That was…too much. I couldn't stand to see her…" Max paused and closed his eyes at the memory. "Just don't hurt her."

"Alright. No visions." Tess nodded in understanding when she remembered that night on Liz's roof. "Anything else?"

"Yeah. No kissing. No close dancing. No excessive body contact." Max chewed on his bottom lip for a moment as he was lost in thought. "In fact, I think we should keep it to hand holding or the occasional arm around the shoulder."

Tess chuckled. "God, Max. How do you expect me to make them believe we've been doing it all this time if I can barely touch you?"

Max let out a sigh. "We can 'be' a couple without getting graphic, Tess. I don't want her to be uncomfortable."

"Well, that's going to be pretty hard to stop since she'll be at dinner with her alien ex-boyfriend, the girl she thinks stole him from her and her fiance'."

"You know what I...mean..." Max swallowed hard as his eyes locked on a car that had pulled up and parked not too far from the door of the restaurant. His eyes followed the tall blonde man as he walked around the front of the car to open the door on the passenger side.

Max's heart stopped beating and he felt his lungs tighten while the blood in his veins ran cold then hot when he saw her place her hand in his and get out of the car. "Oh, God."

"What?" Tess asked with concern as her eyes moved from Max to the object he was focused on.

Not really hearing her, he answered her question absently speaking more to himself than anyone else. "She's wearing the cranberry dress…"

A knowing smile curved Tess' lips upward as her eyes flicked back to Max's face. He was positively entranced by the picture Liz made as she walked toward the door of the restaurant arm in arm with her fiance'. His eyes followed every move she made brightening in a way Tess hadn't seen in years. There were so many unspoken emotions and intense passion dancing in his eyes, Tess suddenly wondered how he'd been able to hold them back for so long.

There was no way he was going to make it through the night. She silently applauded Liz for her choice of clothes. "Uh…Max. You know, if you change your mind…let me know and I'm outta here."

"I won't change my mind." Max stated with determination as his jaw clenched resolutely and he pulled his eyes from Liz's figure as she disappeared behind the door.

"Max, are you sure I should even…?"

"Yes. I need you there."

"Why?"

"Because I don't know if I can make it through a night of watching her love someone else without either punching his lights out or declaring my undying love." Max's mouth twitched in a wry smile. "Someone's gotta stop me from making a fool of myself and ruining all of our lives."

Tess smiled as a hint of mischief lit her eyes. "Oh, don't worry about that. That's precisely what I'm here for..."


Tbc…
posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:19:55 AM by Ashton
~ chapter 7 ~

She could feel his warm breath on the back of her bare neck as he grazed his lips across her soft skin in a brief kiss. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he whispered in her ear. "Do you have any idea how stunning you are tonight?"

Liz closed her eyes and swallowed the disappointment in not feeling another set of arms around her and hearing another voice speaking low in her ear. She shook her head mutely and forced herself to smile as she turned in his arms and looked up into his blue-green eyes. A wave of guilt swept over her as she saw his eyes so full of love. He'd given her so much. Loved her so patiently. She had no right to be wishing for someone else right now. Like she had a million times before. So…she wouldn't.

Liz wrapped her arms around Ben's waist and gave him a warm smile. "No. But I'm always up for hearing it."

Ben chuckled as his sparkling eyes moved down the length of her as they began to shine with admiration. "The dress…wow! Is it new?"

"Uh…n-new?" Liz shook her head as she felt her cheeks start to flush. "No. No, it's not…it's not new. It's been quite a while…since I wore it last though."

Ben leaned forward and closed his eyes as he took a deep breath through his nose. "And the perfume…you smell…"

"Like rain after a desert storm?" Liz supplied for him in a dreamy voice.

"Huh?" Ben asked as he pulled back and looked into Liz's eyes. "Actually, I was going to say like roses."

Liz looked down to hide her disappointment. "Oh. Well, that's good too."

Cocking his eyebrow at her, Ben ran his thumb along her jawline. "Hey. We can go with rain if you really want."

Liz chuckled and shook her head as she looked back up at him. "No. Roses are fine." Leaning up and giving Ben a quick kiss on the lips she nodded toward the desk. "Why don't you go see about the reservations?"

"Ok." Ben smiled back at her before kissing her lightly on the cheek. He moved past her then stopped and turned around with a wink "Oh. And if anyone tries to steal you away while I'm gone, tell him the guy who loves you most will be back in a bit."

"You got it." Liz stated with a nod before she watched him walk away allowing her smile to dissolve the moment his back was turned. A sinking feeling appeared in the pit of her stomach. A sense that things would ever be the same after this night. A fear that she'd lose the sense of normalcy she'd gained in the past year. And a disturbing, inextinguishable hope that somehow she would.

Liz shivered as a cool rush of wind whipped through the entryway. As quickly as the shiver arose so did her temperature. She didn't have to turn around to know he was there. She could feel his heated stare on her back as her mind drifted suddenly to another night. A night when glances and looks only fueled their desire for one another. Deepened their love.

It had been years before, but standing there dressed as she was, her heart pounding in her chest and goosebumps rising on her arms, it felt as if that night was happening all over again. She wondered if he felt it too.

Turning slowly, Liz raised her eyes to his and immediately knew that he did.

Max stopped short in the doorway and stared, his eyes drinking in the sight of his Liz standing in front of him. The short simple dress fit all of her soft curves in just the same way that he remembered. He could almost feel the sensations of his hands sliding over the silky material once more. And her hair...the way it was swept up to the top and back leaving wispy little curls around her glowing cheeks caused his heart to stop dead then race furiously in his chest.

Max jammed his hands into his pockets to resist the temptation to reach out and curl a strand of hair around his finger or tuck it behind her ear. Or better yet, to dislodge the clip that was holding it in place and let her thick hair cascade freely down her shoulders. And that smell. God, how that perfume used to drive him crazy. Mixed with Liz's own personal scent it had been intoxicating. It still was. So cleansing and fresh, soothing yet energizing. Like the rain after a desert storm.

"Hey, Liz." Max's velvet voice greeted Liz softly.

"Hey...Max." She returned just as softly.

The moment their eyes met, words were spoken that couldn't be heard out loud and memories they could never forget flowed in the space between them…

"Do you have any idea just how seriously breathtaking you are?" Max's soft voice came to her on the night wind. Liz turned from her mirror to see Max crouched next to her window gazing in at her. His dark eyes sparkled with awe as they took in every inch of her from head to toe.

Usually used to his intense scrutiny, Liz suddenly found herself growing shy under the devoted adoration she saw so clearly in his eyes. She blushed and looked down embarrassed. Running her hands nervously over her new cranberry colored slip dress, she took a shaky breath and tried to smile away the sudden butterflies floating around in her stomach. The way he was looking at her…like he wanted to worship her and devour her all at the same time...made her feel slightly lightheaded and definitely flushed.


Nervously pushing a few spirals of loose hair from her face, Liz glanced up at him through her long dark eyelashes. She hadn't needed to look to know he was staring at her, but a force beyond her pulled her gaze to meet his. She looked away and smiled shyly. "Come on, Max. Stop looking at me that way."

Max took a deep breath, his chest rising and falling slowly as he shook his head slightly. "I can't help it, Liz. I've never seen perfection like this before. Your skin. Your hair. The way you smile. You're…beyond words."

"So are you." Liz smiled, looked down at her hands then back up at Max as radiant love started shining in her eyes and spread out over every inch of her body. She crossed over to the window and reached up to caress his cheek. "And about that perfection thing…for the record, Mr. Evans, I think you've got me beat by a mile." As her smile deepened, Liz leaned closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. "In fact, I never knew what perfection was until that day at the Crashdown…when you let me see your soul. It's the most beautiful thing in the world."

Max closed his eyes and turned his face into her hand with a smile. "Impossible...because that's what you are."

Liz tilted her head to the side and smiled dreamily at the man before her. He was only 16 but in many ways he had the wisdom of a sage. How he put others needs and wants above his own and took responsibility for all of them. How he lead the others. Not flawlessly, but with a discernment the others lacked. God, how she loved his soul.

Liz smiled as her eyes took in his broad shoulders and well-toned chest before they roamed his handsome face. Thank God he didn't have the body of a sage. Or the wrinkled face of one. Those long dark eyelashes that curled so appropriately upward were a sin against nature. And the way his hair fell lightly over his forehead made it a constant battle to fight the temptation to reach up and brush them to the side.

That jaw that was usually set in studious seriousness gave her a sense of safety and strength. The same way his arms did when they wrapped around her to hug her to his hard chest for comfort or protection. As did the steady beating of his heart. She was enveloped in love when she was in Max Evans' arms.

Liz's eyes followed her fingertips as they traveled from his cheek to Max's perfectly shaped lips. They rarely turned into a full-blown smile, but it didn't matter. Liz thought him most adorable when a bit of amusement from his eyes would travel downward to curl his lips ever so slightly putting a charming crease around his mouth and in his left cheek. What that boy did to her when he smiled that smile meant only for her should be considered criminal. And the barely discernable dent that ran the length of his chin was irresistible to touch.

"I want to kiss you." The announcement was made in a voice softened to an almost whisper as Max's eyes opened and caught Liz taking silent inventory of his features.

Liz chuckled at his quiet confession. The overwhelming urge to tease him came over her and Liz leaned into him as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Then why do you look so scared? You've certainly never asked before."

"I've always been sure I could stop before." Max whispered huskily as his eyes caressed the face he wouldn't allow his hands to touch.

"And now?"

Max swallowed hard, his eyes flickering with emotions he couldn't voice. "Now...I'm not even sure I can touch you and ever hope to make it to your surprise tonight."

Liz's eyes darkened as a warm smile curved her lips in the most tempting way. Max felt his mouth go dry and he swallowed hard trying to dislodge the lump in his throat. His eyes moved from her full lips to her eyes and he saw a glimmer of amusement dancing in their dark depths just before she leaned forward and brushed her lips lightly against his.

Pressing herself closer to him, Liz deepened the kiss till she could feel his willingness to surrender to her starting to take control. His hands raised to cup her face and he was pulling her into him with a tender passion that always seemed to surround them when they were together when she pulled away slowly. Her eyes remained closed and a look of pure bliss spread over her face. "Max?"

"Yeah?" He breathed back taking in every nuance of her expression.

"I wouldn't mind." Her eyes opened to meet his and her fingers began to feather their way through his hair. "You know. Missing the surprise…"

"How do you know when you don't even know what it is?" Max asked as he eyebrow raised in amusement.

"Because I have everything I want…everything I need right here…right now…with you."

Max's smile lit his eyes. "You only believe that because you don't know what the surprise is…"

"I'll believe it even after I know."

Max leaned his forehead against hers a moment before bringing his lips to hers for a tender kiss meant to give a preview of things to come. "Maybe we should test that theory."

Liz grinned and rolled her eyes. "Fine. If you don't believe me, I guess I'll just have to follow wherever you lead and prove it to you."

"Wherever, huh?"

Liz nodded. "Uh-huh."

Brightening, Max held out his hand to Liz. "Great! Let's go…"

"Uh…Max?"

"Yeah?"

Liz nodded her head in the direction of the door. "My parents…they know we're going out tonight. Sooo…don't you think it might be best to pick me up at the door. You know...like a normal date."

Max grinned sheepishly as his eyes drifted to the door. "I guess you're right." He leaned forward and kissed her lingeringly once more then winked when he pulled back. "But after that, Liz Parker, expect anything but normal..."


As the memory began to fade, Liz let out a shaky breath and noticed the rise and fall of Max's solid chest as he let out one as well. Somehow, in those few moments spent in the past, they had gravitated toward each other and Liz was surprised now to see just how close they were standing to each other.

She stole a look up into Max's eyes. Uh-oh. This wasn't good. It wasn't the way to start out the night that would show everyone where her heart belonged. With...Ben. Liz forced her eyes away from Max's face to focus on anything but those eyes that always drew her in. She looked to see Tess standing behind and slightly to the side of him. His Tess. The one that had ruined everything.

Tess cocked a slender blonde eyebrow at Liz and tilted her head to the side. The smile that played on her lips was anything but devious and arrogant, but that's exactly the way Liz took it. Tess had Max's heart and she knew it. And she was going to do everything in her power to remind Liz of that ever second of this dreaded night. Liz just knew she was.

Had Liz known Tess' real thoughts she would have been shocked.

Tess had observed the silent but palpable staring contest between Max and Liz and the way they just moved toward each other as if a force was pulling them together. She couldn't help but think that this evening was starting off rather well already. The heat had risen at least 50 degrees in the room since the two of them had locked gazes but their obviously equal reluctance to give in to what they were feeling...what they had felt all of these years...would prove to be highly entertaining to watch.

Beyond that, she was considering the best tactic to use in this little scheme of theirs. Should she try to gain Liz's confidence by being her real self and then hit her with the truth at just the right moment when she was confused and maybe a bit vulnerable? Or, despite Max's desires, should she play the role they'd all placed her in years ago? The shameless hussy willing to do and say anything to get...and keep...her man. No matter who she hurt. Push Liz to the brink of jealousy then pull her back in time to tell her there was nothing to be jealous of.

Seeing the barely veiled hatred go up in Liz's eyes and the way her chin raised in defiance, her jaws tightening with resolve, as her eyes flicked back to Max's face Tess sighed inwardly. Oh, she was going to be a tough one tonight. Alright. So, shameless hussy it was.

Tess opened her mouth to make some biting comment to Liz when two children about six years old ran squealing and screaming into the lobby drowning out her greeting. One child was chasing the other and tripped over a rug causing him to fall forward and grab for something to hold onto. Like a game of dominos, his fall set off a chain reaction. A quick chain reaction. He grabbed for his brother only to have his brother trip over his own feet and fall forward as well.

"OH!!" Liz yelled as she felt something, or better yet someone--two someones--knock into her and forcibly sent her stumbling forward...right into Max's arms.

Max's reactions were as quick as lightening. His arms shot out and grabbed Liz as she slumped against him. His chest tightened instantly and his breath caught when he felt her body come into contact with his, her arms wrapping around his shoulders for instant support. Sensations he hadn't felt in years shot through his body.

Liz felt them too. She sucked in her breath and closed her eyes willing the electric currents flowing through her to never stop. Just as long as her heart didn't. In fact, she would love it if it would start beating at a somewhat regular rate right about now. Deep down inside she knew that was nearly impossible with Max Evans so close to her. She could feel his breath blow her hair against her cheek and it sent shivers down her spine. "You ok?"

Liz nodded mutely wondering how one touch could send her soaring and set her on fire and make her feel a million other things all at once. She swallowed hard and blinked a few times before slowly drifting her gaze upward to meet his stopping along the way to take in the soft lips that used to kiss her every day. A half-smile formed on his lips when he saw the focus of her gaze and she couldn't stop a light blush from creeping over her cheeks.

Suddenly a deep voice sounded behind her. "What are you trying to do? Steal my girl? "

Liz's head snapped to the side when she heard Ben's voice. "Ben! We just..." Liz and Max jumped apart abruptly then she turned to face Ben. "These...kids…" She looked around frantically but the children had disappeared. Casting a plea for help in Max's direction she smiled back at Ben when Max jumped in to pick up where she left off.

"Yeah. Um, that's right. There were kids here that, um…just kinda…um…"

"They just..." With a wild gesture of her hand, Liz told the story without coherent words. "Then I...I just...and Max, well he just..."

"Hey, guys! What's going on?" Maria's voice pulled all eyes to her beaming face.

Ben crossed his arms in front of him. Having seen the children's fall and the aftermath, his statement was meant as a joke. But seeing the guilty look on both Max and Liz's faces and the way they jumped apart at the sound of his voice, the lawyer in Ben couldn't resist throwing a test their way. So far, they were failing miserably. "Looks like Max here's trying to kidnap my fiancee'."

"Damn! That didn't take long." Michael rumbled low in Maria's ear. "Can we go home now?"

Maria elbowed him in the stomach and looked around the group noting the differing expressions on each face. Liz was flustered, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and guilt. Max looked very much like a cross between a bewildered little boy and a very frustrated man. Tess was trying to hide a grin behind her hand. Ben was fighting valiantly to don his cool lawyer's reserve and push back any doubts or pangs of jealousy that might have sprung to his mind the moment he saw his finacee's response to being in another man's arms. Especially *that* man's arms.

Shooting a glance in Michael's direction, she gave his hand a quick squeeze. So far so good. Maria's smile widened. "Kidnapping, huh? Aww, and here I always thought *we* were the life of the party. Looks like Max's learned a few things from you, babe." Maria leaned back against Michael as he wrapped his arms around her.

Michael's eyes twinkled when they met Max's, who looked like he was ready for the earth to open up and swallow him whole. "Who? Old stick-in-the-mud-Max? Nah. He's still got a ways to go." Michael's eyes shifted to Liz as she nervously glanced up at Max then over at Ben. "But it looks like he's made a great start..."

Taking a deep breath and grabbing Maria's hand in his Michael started heading toward the inside of the restaurant. "So, anyone else as starved as I am?"

Maria winked at Liz as they passed her. "Oh, come on, Lizzie! Liven up! The night has just begun!"

Refusing to look in Max direction, Liz turned to Ben and shrugged before taking his arm with a smile. Left alone in the lobby with Tess, Max ran his hand wearily over his eyes then looked over at her with a sigh. "Is there any chance this is just a really, really bad dream?"

Tess chuckled as she grabbed his hand in hers. "Didn't seem to mind a few minutes ago. Look, just think about it this way. You get to spend the rest of the evening the way you started…staring at Liz. Sounds like a nightmare to me, but for you..."

Max smiled and finished her thought. "…for me, it's a dream come true. I haven't felt this good since…" He let the thought dangle knowing he didn't need to say it for Tess to know what he was thinking. Wrapping his arm around her shoulder and pulling her to him for a light squeeze, Max added sincerely. "I'm glad you're here. I have a feeling this is going to be a very long night and I'm going to need all the help I can get to remind me why I've stayed away from her for so long."

"That's why I'm here. To help." Tess smiled as she wrapped her arm around Max's waist. "So, fake boyfriend. You ready to convince them I'm your only one?"

Max groaned even though his eyes retained a hint of laughter. "Like I said…a very long night…"

"And to think. We've only just begun…" Her chuckle joined his as they followed the other couples into the restaurant unaware of the silent observer with the evil smile sitting only a few feet away.

Tbc…
posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:20:54 AM by Ashton
~ chapter 8 ~

Max's good mood didn't last long. In fact, it only lasted as long as it took for he and Tess to step into the dining area of the restaurant. Max closed his eyes and groaned. Tess looked around her as her eyes widened. "Wow. This is exactly like that Chinese restaurant back in Roswell. Right down to the pool table in the back…"

"I see that." Max voiced tersely as his eyes darted around him unable to believe this would be their choice of restaurants tonight. Someone must be playing a very cruel joke on him. His eyes shifted to Michael and Maria following the hostess further into the restaurant. A new thought suddenly occurred to him. Could they have…? What was he thinking? Of course they could have. More than that, they would have. Oh, he was going to be having a serious discussion with Michael when this night was all over.

And what about Liz? The Chinese restaurant back in Roswell had been special to them, yet she didn't seem disturbed by the fact they were here in a restaurant that was an almost replica of the one where they'd spent so many evenings talking and laughing and generally being in love. Perhaps it hadn't meant as much to her as it had to him. Who knows? Maybe this place was special to her and Ben now. Maybe Max was the only one that would be suffering through dinner tonight.

Unaware of the thoughts rolling around in Max's mind but seeing the obvious connection this place had with their past, Tess voiced a seemingly innocent question. "Hey. Isn't that where you and Liz…"

"Had our first date." Max finished for her his eyes settling on Liz as she headed toward a table. His voice held a note of sadness. "Yeah. It was our favorite place to eat."

Tess smiled to herself. She had to hand it to Maria. If she wanted to remind Max and Liz what they had once, this was a great way to start. "Well, this should prove interesting since I really hate Chinese food." Tess mumbled as she took Max's hand and headed toward where she saw the other couples gathering.

They joined the others just in time to overhear Ben claiming knowledge of Liz's eating habits. "But why here? Liz doesn’t like Chinese."

"You're kidding, right?" Maria piped up as her eyebrow raised. "I only know about this place *because* of Liz."

Ben turned to Liz with a curious look in his eyes. "Liz? You've always said you didn't like Chinese…"

Liz nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as her eyes darted back and forth between her finance' and her best friend. "I occasionally get a taste for Chinese food, Ben. It's no big deal. I think I've only come here once, maybe twice, since I've been in Boston."

Just then an elderly Chinese gentleman came up to the group with a big smile and bowed before Liz. "Ahh, Ms. Liz. So good to see you again. Would you like your usual table?"

Liz's face flushed with guilt and embarrassment. Glancing at Ben and seeing the disbelief and hurt in his eyes she decided there was no longer any point in trying to lie her way out of this one. "Hey, Chen. Um…no. My usual won't be big enough, I don't believe." She stepped aside and swept her hand around the group being careful not to meet Ben or Max's eyes. "We have six tonight instead of just one."

Chen nodded his head with a smile. "Ah, then we will put you at our next best table." He turned and began to lead them forward to a table in the center of the room. When he stopped and turned, his eyes focused on Liz as he nodded toward another room in the back of the restaurant. "When you get moment, you need to see new addition. We put pool table in just as you suggested. Has increased business much."

"*You* suggested the pool table?" Maria asked turning to Liz with a knowing grin.

Liz swallowed hard and began to nod when Chen's face began to beam. "Ms. Liz help lot. She suggest all decorations. We have good business because of her."

"I wouldn't give her too much credit there, Chenie." Tess remarked as she glanced condescendingly around the room. "Lizzie here never was good at keeping her hands off other people's ideas…things…destinies." Tess let the last word drift quietly under her breath but loud enough to be heard. Shrugging her shoulders she waved her hand around the room. "Anyway, there's nothing here that hasn't been used before back home in Roswell. What you see is nothing more than memories…"

Liz squared her shoulders at Tess' acid remark and turned to make a comment when Max stepped between them taking Liz by the elbow. When her large dark eyes turned upward to meet his, Max gave her a half-smile. "The pool table was a great idea, Liz. I'm sure people will make a lot of incredible memories here. Just like back home."

The anger drained from Liz's eyes as she nodded and for a moment, when she was looking in Max's soft brown eyes, everything seemed right again. They were suddenly back there. In the past. In their restaurant. In simple, old-fashioned love.

"Max…" Liz looked around her at the empty restaurant. "…are you sure they're open? I mean, it looks like we're the only ones here."

Max stared silently into her eyes as if he didn't hear her question. Liz chuckled and put her hands on either side of his face to get his attention. Not that she didn't have it already. "Max. Honey. I just asked you a question."

Blinking his eyes when Liz touched him, Max's eyebrow raised and he came out of his dazed trance. "What? You…you did? I'm…I'm sorry. What was the question?"

Forgetting her question, Liz's smile widened when she thought of how adorable he looked when he was slightly flustered. "What were you thinking about?"

Max curled his fingers around Liz's jaw and leaned down touching his forehead to hers. "Just how beautiful you are. And how I'm the luckiest Czechoslovakian in the solar system to have you love me the way you do. You've made all my dreams come true, Liz."

Liz touched her lips to Max's for a gentle kiss before pulling back to whisper. "So have you."

Max shook his head. "No. I don't think so." He ran his hand down her arms and captured her hands in his. "But that's what tonight is all about. Making your dreams come true."

Liz opened her mouth to say something but stopped when they were joined by Kim, their hostess. "Ah, Max. Liz. You're just on time. If you'll follow me, your dinner is already waiting for you…"


Before Liz knew it Max was leading her to the table and holding out her chair for her. She slipped into the seat with a silent smile, her eyes brightening as they swept over him taking in every inch. He looked good tonight. No. More than good. He looked…hot, for lack of a better word. He wore a tight fitting smoky gray sweater that emphasized every muscle in his upper chest and arms. Max had always had an incredible build, but he was even more toned then Liz remembered and it showed. The color of the sweater somehow made his eyes less dark, like a chocolate brown and softer. And his hair fell in the same way over his forehead that Liz had always loved. The years had been kind to Max Evans. Of that one thing, Liz was very sure.

The next moment found Max smiling down at her and sliding into the seat next to her placing his arm on the back of her chair without thought or hesitation. Their eyes locked on each other, they didn't notice the reaction their exchange had created. Michael and Maria traded triumphant smiles when Maria grabbed Michael's hand. Tess' eyebrow raised in interest. Ben tilted his head to the side unable to believe what he was seeing. It was as if the Liz Parker he knew had been abducted by aliens and in her place was a woman he simply didn't recognize.

Stepping up to the table and clearing his throat, Ben leaned down till Max's eyes shifted to his. "Uh…Max. You know, I really appreciate you seating my fiancee', but it wasn't your place. Really…" Ben noted Max's station next to Liz with his eyes. "…that isn't your place at all."

Max blinked a few times before Ben's meaning made it through the Liz-induced haze that flowed around him. Suddenly catching on to what Ben meant, Max felt like kicking himself for being so careless. His eyes flicked to Liz's face, but her emotions were masked from him since she was looking down at the table. From what he could tell, she was just as mortified as he was.

Embarrassed at his thoughtless actions, Max quickly scooted out from his seat, looked down properly chastised and mumbled an apology before going to the other side of the table to help Tess into her seat across from Ben. Max sat in the seat across from Liz. Tess tried to look appropriately annoyed but couldn't help the glint of amusement in her eyes when she glanced at Michael and Maria. Michael and Maria noticed the exchange with interest and seated themselves near the end of the table so they'd have a good vantage point of this little drama they'd set up for the rest of the evening.

As if the evening hadn't been disastrous enough already, it came time to order. The waitress walked to the table with a smile and a notepad. Not only did Max and Liz order the same thing. They ordered the same thing…at the same time. "Sweet and sour chicken with a side order of Tabasco sauce."

The waitress smiled her comment. "You two have done this before, haven't you?"

Max and Liz's heads snapped up and they looked at each other when they realized what they'd done, neither saying a word. "Tabasco sauce?" Ben asked as he turned to Liz breaking the silence between them. "Since when do you like Tabasco sauce?"

Liz opened her mouth to say something when Maria jumped in. "It's for me." She reached over and took Michael's hand in hers. "Actually, it's for Michael. He loves Tabasco sauce on anything and everything. Liz and I always order extra when we go out with Michael."

"But Liz hasn't seen Michael in years, right? So, how would she…"

"Habit." Max jumped in to ward off Ben's question the look in his eyes warning Ben to cease and desist with the questions. "You know, some habits are just too hard to break. You get used to things a certain way. It just comes naturally. Like ordering ketchup with fries. Tabasco sauce with Chinese…"

"Or sitting in a certain seat." Ben shot back.

Max's eyes flickered with emotion before he locked eyes with Ben and nodded slowly. "Exactly. Some things just feel right. It's hard to ignore when they do."

"Try harder next time." Ben replied in a low voice as he folded his arms on the table and leaned forward.

Seeing the tenseness that washed over Ben as he shot Max a steely look before possessively wrapping his arm around Liz's shoulder, Tess leaned in toward Max and grabbed his hand with a smile. "Darling, why don't you order for me. You know what I like." She cast a glance in Liz's direction. "Max and I always eat Chinese. It's our favorite, isn't it, dear? So many special times together…"

Max's gaze faltered from Liz's face when he saw the hurt that flashed in her eyes. Recognizing Tess' tactic, Max glanced at her and nodded once but said nothing. He couldn't say anything as anger and pain bubbled up within him. He knew if he opened his mouth the truth would come rushing out in a torrent and there would be absolutely nothing that could hold it back.

He'd tell her how this was the first time in all their years of knowing each other that he and Tess had ever eaten Chinese together. That Chinese food was sacred to him. That he never ordered it without thinking about her. He'd tell her how every jab and every insult was only a part Tess was playing. That she had tried to convince him only a little while before that he should give them another shot. And just how much he wanted to take a chance that they could be where they were before. But most of all he'd tell her he'd never stopped loving her. That he still dreamed of her. Still wanted her in his life. And that it was killing him inside to see her in the arms of another man when his heart screamed out that she belonged with him. Had always belonged with him. Would always belong with him.

Liz saw the possessive way Tess draped herself over Max and brought her eyes back to the menu. Blinking furiously to hold back the tears, Liz tried her best to focus on the words despite the fact she'd already ordered. There was no way she could go through with this. No way she could sit and watch him love someone else in such close proximity. It had been one thing back in high school when she would see them across the quad or on the other side of classroom together. It was a completely different thing to have their love flaunted before her so up close and personal. Especially not here.

For years this place had been a haven to her. When missing Max was too much to bear, she'd slip away for a meal or even just a cup of tea and a fortune cookie. She'd relive the moments they had spent in their own special restaurant back home in Roswell. Their first date. That special night when he rented out the place for just the two of them. The fortunes they read that night. Everything that happened after. It had been magical. Then again, every moment with Max had been magical. Even when they were hiding from the FBI.

She couldn't believe Maria had picked this place. Had she known this was where they were going, Liz would have had put her foot down. But she didn't know until Ben pulled into the parking lot. By then it was too late. She would have raised suspicions had she made a fuss. And raising suspicions was one thing she couldn't do tonight. Although truth be known, Liz had the distinct impression that she had Max had already failed miserably on that count.

Liz felt Ben's arm tighten around her and she glanced up at him. He gave her a sympathetic, encouraging smile. She smiled back faintly as gratitude and guilt washed over her. Ben. He'd always been there for her. In her most desperate hour. And every day since. Loving her and asking for nothing in return. She owed him so much more than she'd given him. She at least owed him the truth. All of it.

"Oh, and could you bring…" Maria glanced around the table taking in the number of Czechoslovakians in attendance. "…maybe 6 bottles of Tabasco sauce. I have a feeling things are going to get a little hot tonight."

The waitress nodded and moved away from the table and Maria leaned back in her seat, wrapping her arm around Michael's neck and taking in the scene before her. "Well. Isn't this fun?"

"Yeah. Like an FBI alien hunt." Tess quipped quietly in Max's ear.

Max's smile was faint as he looked down at the table. It disappeared the moment he heard Liz's faint voice wavering across the table when she saw the whispered exchange from Tess and Max's responding smile. "No."

Max's head shot up and he looked at Liz. His heart lurched in his chest and pain shot through his eyes the moment he saw the tears brightening hers. He swallowed hard as he watched her struggle to bring her emotions under control unable to do anything to stop the pain he saw so clearly in her eyes. Liz sat staring at the table in front of her, her hands were shaking and Ben turned to her lowering his voice. "Liz? Sweetie, are you ok?"

Liz shook her head slowly in answer to his question even though she hadn't heard a word he said. "No. I can't do this. I…I can't…" Her eyes raised slowly to meet Max's. "I'm sorry…I just...I'm sorry…"

Pushing her chair back suddenly, Liz jumped from her seat and rushed from the table as a quiet sob echoed through the room. Max and Ben both rose from their chairs simultaneously. Ben withered Max with his gaze till Max slowly sat down, swallowing the lump that rose in his throat. "I'll check on Liz." Ben stated before he turned and followed Liz.

Maria jumped from her seat, but Michael put a restraining arm around her waist. "Where are you going?"

"To talk to her. Ben's not going to be able to help her with this…" Maria stated before side-stepping Michael's arm and following Ben.

Max's jaw worked furiously as he tried to control the anger and frustration that was shooting through him. He couldn't believe it. They'd only been together 15 minutes and he'd already managed to cause her pain…again. Then again, maybe he could believe it. He'd been in pain every second of every day since leaving her. What made him think seeing him again after all this time wouldn't have the same effect on Liz? His eyes shot over to Michael and the anger he felt at himself suddenly transferred to another.

Max tossed his napkin on the table, pushed his chair back and shot out of his seat heading directly for Michael. Michael's eyes widened when Max bent and yanked him from his seat pulling him up till they were eye to eye. "How could you, Michael? Huh? Tell me! How the hell could you hurt her like this…"

Silent blue eyes began to twinkle from half a room away as they took in the scene playing out before him. An evil smile formed on his lips. He'd planned on wreaking a little havoc in their lives tonight, but from the looks of it, they were doing just fine on their own. Maybe he wouldn't have to do much more than wait for the right moment. That one perfect moment when they were ready to face the truth…

Tbc…


posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:21:56 AM by Ashton
~ chapter 9 ~

"How could you, Michael? Huh? Tell me! How the hell could you hurt her like this…"

Michael's eyes flared with anger. "Me? You've got some helluva nerve, buddy!" Michael pushed Max away and pointed a finger at him. "If she's in there crying her eyes out over a broken heart it's because of you, Maxwell. You did this to her…"

Max started to lunge at Michael but Tess pulled him back just before he made any kind of physical contact. "Max! Max, come on! Stop it! Max…listen. He's right, ok? Michael's right…"

Tess' words broke through Max's anger and he heaved a broken sigh that sounded very much like a strangled sob. Max looked down and closed his eyes pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger trying his best to get the image of Liz running away crying out of his mind. Shaking his head he let out another sigh. "I know. I know I did this…"

"No, Max. *We* did this." Tess put her arms around Max's waist and led him to the table. She helped him slide into his seat then sat next to him rubbing his arm in comfort. Smiling faintly at Michael, Tess jerked her head in a 'well-don't-just-stand-there-get-over-here' gesture. Michael rolled his eyes and came to sit across from Max.

Swallowing his anger and pride, Michael's words were softened with understanding when he saw the self-loathing that washed over his friend. "Look, Max. I've been there. I know how much you're hurting. How empty it is to be without her. That's why…that's why we wanted to try this. To see if there was still a chance for the two of you."

"There's not, Michael." Max looked up from the table, his eyes full of pain. "Didn't you see her? She can barely stand to be in the room with me."

"No, Maxwell. She can't stand to be in the room with Tess."

"Gee, thanks, bro." Tess quipped with a toss of her blonde curls as she crossed her arms in front of her. "Make me feel better about my role in this little charade why don't ya."

"You know what I mean." Michael shot Tess a look before turning his attention back to Max. "Max. Listen. When it was the two of you…when you were looking in each others' eyes…it's still there, Maxillian. You felt it. Liz felt it. Hell, all of the East Coast felt it. And you're a fool if you don’t at least take a chance to get it back."

"I'm not sure Liz would see it that way, Michael." Max looked down with a mumble. "And I'm certain Ben won't."

"Forget Ben."

"Michael. He's her fiance'." Max's head shot up and shook in disbelief at Michael's ease in dismissing an obviously important person in Liz's life.

"Yeah, a fiance who doesn't seem to know the first thing about her." Michael swept his hand out in a wide gesture. "Look around you, Max. She has *you* all around her. Maria says this is her favorite place to be. That's gotta mean something..."

"Yeah. That she likes Chinese food." Max shot back as he ran his hand wearily over his eyes. Admitting the thought that made his stomach turn, Max's eyes stayed glued to his hands as he struggled to say the words. "Or how about this meaning something? She's getting married, Michael. She's trying on wedding dresses and wearing another guy's ring. She...really loves...him."

"She doesn't." Michael stated confidently.

A flicker of hope flashed in Max's eyes then died just as quickly when he remembered seeing her earlier trying on wedding gowns. Max looked back up at Michael. "Michael. Come on. You know Liz. She believes in love like she believes in..."

"You." Michael finished for Max, leaning forward for emphasis. "Like she believes in you."

Max shook his head sadly. "Maybe once." His eyes shifted to the back room where the pool table stood, memories of the times he and Liz had began rushing through his mind. "A long time ago. But not now. Not ever again."

"You don't know that until you try." Michael replied softly.

"Look, Michael. It's over, ok?" Max's voice raised in frustration as his eyes flicked back to Michael's face. "Liz wouldn't make such a serious commitment if she didn't mean it. I should know. She made one to me once. We'd still be together now if it hadn't been for what I had to do. I'm the one who broke our vows…"

Tired and deflated, Max let out another sigh and looked down again and began to play with the salt shaker on the table. "But now...now she's moved on. She's found someone else to love. To commit to. And why shouldn't she? At least with him she'll have a normal life. She'll be able to raise a family and be happy."

"She can't be really happy without you, Max. She's tried. All of this time. Just like you have. Yeah, maybe she's found someone, but it's not the same. It never will be. Not until she's back in your life..."

Max slammed his hand down on the table, his frustration beginning to get the better of him. "Dammit, Michael! Don't you get it? Can't you see?! I can't start believing this...I can't start feeling this...hope...again. If I even try once...I won't be able to walk away again. It'll destroy me this time when I lose her."

"Then don't lose her." Tess chimed in. "What you just said, Max. About not being able to walk away. That's the smartest thing I've heard you say in a while." Tess leaned her arms against the table. "Follow through on that and maybe one of us might have a chance at a bit of happiness from this hell we've created for ourselves."

"Tess..."

"No, Max. Listen to me." Tess touched his arm to get his attention. When his eyes drifted to hers, she spoke with conviction, her words bearing a double meaning that Max read all too well. "There is *nothing* to stop you. Nothing."

Max swallowed hard and covered her hand with his. "I can't do that to you, Tess..."

"Max." Tess' voice softened and her eyes brightened with unshed tears. "For once in your life, would you let yourself off the hook of responsibility? Of guilt? There's nothing you can do to stop what is happening to me. No matter how much you want to. To...stop my fate, you'd have to lie to your heart. And that's something you've never been able to do. I've known that since the beginning. I've resolved myself to it. Now it's time for you to the same...and start living like it."

"But…"

"But nothing." Tess cut Max off curtly. "Please Max. Don't let our sacrifices amount to nothing. Take the chance to turn it all around and fight for her."

Max sat silently for a moment his eyes glued to Tess' face. Could she be right? Could everything they'd done…all the loss that was to come...be for nothing if he didn't take the chance to love Liz again now? They had both led unfulfilled lives with dreams that would never be realized. Maybe now was the chance to change all of that. To make those dreams come true. He just had to move past his fear.

And that was the problem. Max had lived his life in fear for so long. He wasn't even sure when it happened. Take that back. He knew exactly the moment that it happened. The night Nasedo came to him and told him about his destiny…his fate. How one girl he barely knew was meant to be his forever...or she'd die. And how the girl he loved more than life itself would loose her own life if Max continued to defy his fate and love her.

In short, Nasedo told him the blood of two lives would be on his hands if he continued his relationship with Liz. Losing Liz had been hell in and of itself. Losing her to death because of his own selfishness would have driven him insane. So he let her go and pretended to love another.

Now, years later, both women were alive. Breathing. Walking. Talking. Even smiling. But were either of them really living? Was he? He already knew the answer to that one. Max Evans' heart died the day he walked away from Liz. It had been ripped out of his chest and laid at her feet at the same moment he broke hers. He expected nothing in return and he didn't care what she did with it. If she trampled on it, he deserved it. If she held it captive for the rest of his life, so be it. He just knew he didn't want it back. Max could walk away and live his life without her, but he had no other choice but to leave his heart with her...where it had always belonged.

Tess went day to day wondering when her last may come. Oh, she put up a good front and led as normal of a life as she could, but Max was reminded every time her pain would be too much to bear. She'd call on him for his healing touch knowing that it wouldn't completely heal her. It would only serve to prolong the inevitable.

And Liz. What about Liz? He couldn't deny Michael's statements. He had seen the old spark waiting for him there in her eyes. Felt the heat in her touch. Recognized the desire he'd seen burning for him before. It was replaced with care and concern when she looked at Ben. But love? The kind that he and Liz had shared? No. Max couldn't honestly say he saw that kind of love burning in her eyes for Ben. Then again, maybe that's the way she wanted it...

"Fight for her." Max repeated as his eyes began to twinkle suddenly, half in amusement…half in hope.

"Yeah." The beginning of a smile touched Tess' lips when she saw the renewed hope in Max's eyes. "Fight for her. It might do you some good to remember what it's like to really follow your heart."

"And if I decided to do this...who exactly do you think I need to fight?"

Tess shrugged. "Ben...maybe. Maybe not." Tess leaned back in her chair and considered her words for a moment. "Honestly? I think you're biggest battle is going to be Liz. She may love you, Max, but that doesn't erase the last seven years. Or how you broke things off with her..."

"But it was you that..."

Tess raised her hand to silence Max. "I know that. But Liz doesn't. She still thinks you cheated on her. She needs to know the truth, Max. And she needs to know it before you can ever hope to win her back."

Max looked from Tess to Michael. "What about you? Is that what you think I should do?"

Michael shrugged in his casual, no-care attitude. "The following your heart thing…it, uh…well, it's usually a good thing. A really good thing."

Max cracked a smile. "Never thought I'd see the day Michael Guerin would spout off about following his heart. Since when did you become such a romantic?"

The beginning of a smile turned the side of Michael's lips upward. "When I lost the Czechoslovakian-Pixieland war." A full blown smile made it to Michael's face and his eyes began to dance with love. "Believe me, Maxwell, surrender is so sweet…" He leaned forward and raised an eyebrow. "In fact, I can give you a few tips on the treaty terms. You know…which side of the bed..."

Max leaned forward with sudden interest and Tess rolled her eyes. "Oh, God. If you guys think I'm going to sit here and listen to my two 'brothers' have the birds and the bees conversation…I’m…you're…well that's just gross! I'm going to shoot a round of pool…"

Max and Michael held back their laughter until Tess had slipped from the table. Turning back to one another, Max looked away sheepishly. "So, the uh…birds and bees..."

Michael smiled, wiggled his eyes and whispered. "Forget the birds and the bees. Let's talk horses instead..."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Maria found Ben pacing outside the ladies' restroom door. His eyes met Maria's in the most heartbreaking way. "She won't come out."

Maria patted his arm lightly. "Let me talk to her." She put her hand on the door to push it open when Ben's hand stopped her.

"How much…did they love each other?"

A half-smile touched Maria's lips. "Something tells me you already know the answer to that one."

Ben looked down at the floor, his handsome expression etched with pain. "Then tell me this...who let go first?"

Maria shrugged. "Honest? I think the jury's still out on that one, Counselor." She touched his arm gently. "Whatever happens, she'll be ok, Ben. She will. I'll make sure of it."

Pushing the door open, Maria stepped into the restroom and paused a moment to take a deep breath. Hearing a quiet sob from somewhere near the back, Maria headed toward the sound and stopped short when she saw Liz on a lounge her feet pulled beneath her and tears rolling down her face. Maria rushed to her side and wrapped an arm around her pulling Liz to her for comfort. "Shhh, hon. It's ok. It's going to be ok."

"No...it's...not..." Liz managed to say through her tears as she shook her head. "God, Maria. I thought...I promised myself..."

"I know." Maria replied softly as she smoothed back a piece of Liz's hair. "I know it's been hard to admit it to yourself, but Liz…it's time, you know? Time to think about the future you really want."

"I know…" Liz straightened and wiped her eyes.

Maria reached over and patted Liz's hand. "If you need me to help you figure out what to say to Ben…"

"Ben?" Liz looked at Maria incredulously. "What would I need to say to Ben?"

"Well…about Max." Maria sat back a moment studying Liz's expression and for the first time in years had the hardest time reading it. "You are going to tell him how you feel, right?"

"My feelings about what? Max and that…" Liz let out a hollow chuckle as she stood and walked over to the mirror, realizing for the first time just how hard it was for her to say Tess' name. She was not going to do this. She wasn't going to wallow in jealousy and self-pity.

Max made a choice a long time ago and their lives had changed because of it. There was no use wishing things were different. Because they weren't. There simply was no way she'd ever get that image of Max and Tess making love out of her mind. It was the reason she'd run for cover only moments before.

Snatching up a tissue before turning to face Maria, Liz force a smile on her face. "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's been such a long time since I've seen Max and that it's been easy for me to ignore how I really feel about him. That now that I've seen him again, I won't be able to deny that I still love him. That I've always loved him. That I always will. And that there's no chance of me ever having a life or finding any kind of real happiness with any one else."

Liz took a deep breath and raised her eyes to meet Maria's as she forced out the words her heart didn't feel. "Well, you're wrong. I love Ben and I belong with him. Max Evans is a blip on the screen of my life. When tonight is over he'll walk out the door and out of my life just like he did before. Everything will be back to normal and this night…will have never happened."

Maria sat in stunned silence for a moment. Blinking suddenly she rose from her seat. "Since when do you think I’m an idiot, Liz Parker? I mean, do you honestly believe that marriage to a Czechoslovakian has like sucked my brain cells into outer space? How can you stand there and lie to me like that?"

"I'm not lying to you, Maria…"

"You're right, Liz. You're not. You're lying to yourself." Maria stated with emphasis as she put her hands on Liz's shoulders. "Tell me something. If you don't love Max Evans, why the tears? Why run from the table like your heart was breaking?"

"It had nothing to do with Max." Liz stated weakly. Seeing the disbelief in Maria's eyes, her resolve strengthened. "It didn't! It was...Tess! She should have..." Liz paused frantically searching for a plausible reason why she'd catapulted herself out of her seat. "...she should have placed her own order!"

Maria's eyes widened in disblief. "So...let me get this straight." Maria crossed her arms in front of her and began to tap her foot impatiently. "You jumped up from the table and ran in here crying because Tess had Max order her dinner for her?"

Liz nodded lamely as she bit on her lower lip. Despite the seriousness of the moment, Maria's chuckle echoed through the room. "God, Liz. You are such a bad liar."

Liz rolled her eyes and groaned as she sank down on the sofa. When she spoke, her voice was small and vulnerable matching the haunted look in her eyes. "I didn't know...it would be...this hard, Maria. Just seeing her draping herself all over Max. I mean, I know they're together. It's just...she always knew how to push my buttons, you know?"

Leaning into Maria as Maria sat down next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, Liz let out a sigh. "I can't let her win, Maria. I can't let her see how much Max being with her...hurts. God, it still hurts so much."

"Have you thought about why, Liz?" Maria asked softly.

Liz shook her head emphatically and straightened herself. "No. And you know what? I'm not going to, Maria." She turned to Maria and blinked back a few remaining tears as calmness and determination washed over her. "You know what I am going to do?"

"No, what?"

Liz's eyes shifted to the door. "I'm going to go out there and prove to everyone just how little power Max Evans still has on me. I'm going to show Tess Harding that nothing she says or does can hurt me any more. And I'm going to erase any doubts or questions that I'm sure Ben must be having right now. Max Evans almost ruined my life once. I will not let him do it again..."

With that, Liz squared her shoulders, pasted on a smile and headed for the door. Maria rolled her eyes and let out a breath. "Oh, boy. Here we go again..."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Tess took a shot then straightened and smiled to herself. She moved to the other side of the table and took another shot. Blowing on her fingers as if they were on fire, Tess let out a satisfied sigh. "Damn, I'm good."

"Yes, you are." A deep voice behind her spoke causing Tess to turn around quickly. Ben walked up to the table and picked a ball of the green surface. "And I'm not just talking about taking shots at a pool table..."

He placed the ball down again and moved to the other side of the table grabbing a stick as he went, Tess' eyes following his every move. He looked like he wanted to talk. Needed to talk, actually. Unsure of why he'd want to talk to her of all people, Tess tilted her hair to the side and regarded him through narrowing eyes. "I don't supposed you'd like to tell me what else you think I'm good at."

Ben shrugged then flashed a smile after he took a shot and made it. "I don't see why not. It's quite obvious to everyone involved in this little reunion we have going that you are very good at taking cheap shots at my fiance'. Why is that? Hummm? Is it simply out of habit? Because you really don't like her? Or...is it something more. Some other agenda that you might have."

A half smile tilted Tess' lips upward as she shrugged nonchalantly and watched him bend for his next shot. "There's never been any love loss between Liz and I. Ask anyone that knows us. Women vying for the attention of one man rarely become best friends."

"True." Ben agreed with a nod. His cue hit the ball and he watched it roll to its destination before his eyes flicked back to her face.
"Which is precisely why I'm confused."

Tess chuckled. "Confused? By what? Max's taste in women...or Liz's former taste in men?"

"Neither. I think anyone could tell I admire Max's taste given my soon-to-be marital status. As for Liz...well, I see for the first time... Let's just say that a lot of things are starting to make sense to me." Ben stood and moved to another position, took aim then sent the ball flying across the table. He walked toward her, his eyes leveled on her face gauging her reaction to his next words. "I guess I'm confused as to why you'd try so hard to make Liz jealous over a non-existant relationship."

Tess blinked. Recovering quickly, a slow smile spread over her lips. "Non-existant? And just what makes you think Max and I aren't together?"

"I've seen the way he looks at Liz."

Tess shrugged her shoulders trying to act as if Ben's words weren't ringing true. "So? They had a thing way back when. That doesn't mean..."

"And I've seen the way he looks at you." Ben interrupted as he leaned back against the table. "There's no contest."

Tess laughed nervously and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she focused on the table in front of her. "I guess there isn't between a high school crush and a lifetime love."

"You're right." Ben continued in a detatched voice as if he didn't hear her, his logical lawyer's mind taking full reign as he began to build his case. "There's also no contest in the way he touches you. Or doesn't touch you, as the case may be. With Liz...it's instinctive, lingering, almost necessary for him to breathe. With you...he allows it. He doesn't initiate. Big difference there." Ben paused and reached out to tilt Tess' chin upward. "So, tell me, Tess Harding...why are you pretending to be his lifetime love?"

Tess turned her blue eyes up at him and smiled a disarming smile before admitting guilt by skirting the direct issue. "Very good, Counselor. So. How do you want to play this? Do you want me to go announce your discovery to Liz? I really don't see how that will help you win your case. You know, don't you, that Liz will choose him if she knows the truth."

As Ben looked away, Tess saw a flash of pain enter his blue-green eyes. She regreted her comment instantly. She'd never seen eyes that showed so much emotion with just a look before. For the second time tonight, Tess silently applauded Liz Parker on her choice. Ben was a good man. One that could make a girl happy...if not for Max.

Ben's lips turned upward into a half-smile as his eyes met hers. "Maybe you're right. And to tell you the truth...as long as Liz is happy, I believe I can let her go. But not if I can't be sure she'll be happy or that he really deserves her. So, I guess my real question is...does Max feel the same? If being happy means being with me, will *he* be willing to let Liz go...to walk away."

Tess' chuckle filled the room. She shook her head and smiled as she walked around the table, stick in hand. "You have no idea how far that man will go for Liz. The sacrifices he'll make. The pain he'll endure..."

"Then tell me."

Tess considered Ben's words a moment before she laid the stick down and crossed back over to him. "No. You tell me something, Ben. Why do you want a woman who loves another man?"

"It hasn't been established she still does." Ben answered evenly knowing deep in his heart he was wrong.

Tess' lips curled into a mischievous smile as her eyes began to twinkle. "Let's do something to change that."

"What are you suggesting?" A slender eyebrow raised.

"An exchange of sorts." Tess responded as she tossed her blonde hair behind her shoulders. "I show you Liz following her heart..."

"And?"

"And you follow your heart after that." Tess stated simply.

Ben smirked. "That's all?"

"That's it."

Considering her suggestion a moment, Ben's eyebrows furrowed in concentration. It sounded like some kind of trap. Like Tess knew something he didn't...which was most definitely the case since he hadn't even known Max's name till earlier that day. Fear of losing Liz rose then ebbed. Tess was right. Did he really want Liz if her heart belonged to someone else? The instant he asked the question he knew the answer. Ben returned his gaze to Tess and held out his hand. "What have I got to lose?"

Tess took his hand in hers and marvelled at the warmth that flowed through her. A slow smile lit her eyes as she looked back up at Ben and shook hands. "I guess we'll see, won't we...?"

"I guess we will." Ben agreed. "So. What's your plan?"

Tess grinned up at him, her blue eyes beginning to dance with schemes.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Walking back to the table to rejoin the group, Tess' eyes fell on a booth situated across from their table. Her eyes locked with the hollow blue eyes of the man sitting there.

A thought instantly sprang into her mind. "Please, God. Don't let it be tonight. I have too much unfinished business..."

A shiver ran down her spine and she looked away quickly hoping that pain that suddenly shot through her stomach wasn't the beginning of her end...

tbc...

posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:23:01 AM by Ashton
~ chapter 10 ~

The six people who returned to the table were not the same as the ones who left. Correction. Four of the people weren't the same. Michael and Maria were still as in love as before only slightly out of tune in their predictions for the final outcome of the evening.

Michael wiggled his eyebrows at Maria and gave her a hidden thumbs-up to suggest that he'd managed to get through Max's thick skull. Maria shook her head slightly as she slipped into the seat next to him to let him know she'd hadn't faired as well with Liz.

Tess still felt that cold stare prickle against her back and an intense fear ripping through her. She slid down into her seat a bit distracted and detached from the rest of the group. She wondered who he was. The man in the booth. Something about him seemed familiar. It was the eyes. Not the color, but the coldness. They were blue, but there was such a contrast to Ben's crystal aquamarine eyes that sparkled with warmth. No. The stranger's eyes were lifeless and void of emotion. And it gave her the oddest sense of déjà vu. A scary sense.

Ben noticed the immediate change in Tess and eyed her carefully amazed that Max didn't pick up on the distress she was trying to veil in her pretty blue eyes. Then again, Max was too busy watching every little move Liz made as she headed toward the table. For someone so confident and in control of herself, Tess suddenly seemed at a loss…vulnerable. It was an emotion Ben couldn't imagine her feeling too often. Not the way she'd handled herself so far. A sudden urge to protect her came over him. Unsure of where the emotion was coming from and remembering his place as another's finace', Ben turned instead to Liz who had just rejoined the party with a large smile on her face.

"Hi, guys!" Liz announced her presence perkily. Her smile widened as her gaze swept over the group. "I'm so sorry about that little…scene. I guess it's just all the wedding preparations that are getting to me, you know? There's still so much to do and so little time to do it. Cakes to order. I'm still not sure about the dress and of course, we have invitations to send out. It's just so overwhelming." She slipped into the seat next to Ben and reached up to caress his face. "Sweetie, I'm so sorry if I upset you. Everything is fine now." Liz leaned up and gave Ben a kiss. A long, intense one.

Max blinked his eyes and looked down uncomfortably while Tess was abruptly brought back to the present when she saw Liz's lips attack Ben's. Something didn't seem right. That wasn't like Liz to just... Tess glanced over at Max and saw the pain in his eyes. Then she glanced back at Liz still kissing Ben. Her eyes brightened instantly. Well, she had to hand it to Liz Parker. The girl knew how to make a point. Maybe it was time Tess took her cue.

"What the hell is she doing?" Michael whispered to Maria as he watched Liz attack Ben with a fervor he hadn't believed was capable from someone as 'perfect' as Liz Parker.

Maria shrugged her shoulders and whispered back. "She's trying to prove she doesn't love Max." Tilting her head to the side. "Now can you explain what she's doing?"

Michael's eyes drifted across the table to a mirror image of the scene he'd just witnessed. Tess was equaling Liz's eagerness for Ben with a kiss of her own as she pulled a surprised Max to her suddenly and wrapped her arms around his neck. A smirk spread over Michael's face as he leaned over and whispered again. "Trying to prove she does."

This evening was definitely taking an interesting turn. Michael and Maria looked at each other and grinned when Tess let out a deep moan as she continued to assault Max causing Liz to momentarily loose focus when she heard the sound. She pulled back from Ben and shot a glance in Max and Tess' direction before a flare of anger flashed in her dark eyes. Returning to her previous position with added vigor...attached to Ben's lips and running her hands through his hair...Liz attempted to outdo Tess with a moan of her own when she move to slip onto Ben's lap.

Just when Michael and Maria wondered how much more of this they could take, all lip contact was suspended when the food finally arrived. Both Tess and Liz eyed each other as Tess pushed back the hair from her face and Liz smoothed her dress when she slipped back into her chair, both trying to right themselves after such strenuous activity. Neither Max nor Ben would make eye contact with anyone.

Instead, Ben cleared his throat and his face was flushed with embarrassment while his mind was whirling with possible explanations for Liz's sudden burst of affection. His eyes drifted to Max and suddenly he understood when he took note of his reaction. Max's eyes were glued to the table and his hands were clenched around the sides of his chair while his jaw worked feverishly to hold back any emotions he couldn't afford to show. Max wasn't really sure who he wanted to strangle most...Tess, Ben or Liz. Tess for breaking the ground rules they'd established earlier. Liz for kissing Ben right in front of him and Ben for...well, Ben for just being alive at this point.

Silence hung over the table as each were lost in their own private thoughts until Maria couldn't take any more. "Ok. Now that the kissing duel is over, I think it's safe to say it was a tie." She deferred to Michael for his opinion. "What do you think, babe?"

Michael shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, definitely a tie." He looked over at Maria who was expectantly eyeing him. "What? Did you want a detailed analysis?"

"NO!!!" The unanimous shout startled Michael and Maria as they turned to see four heads shoot up and four pairs of eyes with looks that could kill trained on their faces. Max and Liz exchanged glances the same time Ben and Tess did before looking away uncomfortably.

Michael put his hands up in an attitude of surrender as he leaned back. "Ok. Ok. Return the daggers to their sheaths please. Sheesh! Being married is a helluva lot easier on the nerves, I can tell ya that right now." Pointing to the plates in front of them Michael shrugged. "Since the War of Face Sucking is over and we've declared a tie, why don't we do what we came to do? Come on, folks…dig in."

Suddenly, food became the most important thing on the planet. Or at least it did for the six people at the table since none of them said a word. Almost simultaneously, they just picked up their forks and dug in to their food with the all the gusto their turmoiled emotions provided. The meal progressed in much the same way. An occasional request for more salt or Tabasco sauce broke the silence, but that seemed to be the extent of their conversations. Stolen glances and bare brushes of the fingers when a condiment was passed spoke volumes and became the rule of the evening instead.

Although seeming a bit forced, Liz finally did her best to start up a conversation as the meal began winding down to a close. "So, Maria. Why couldn't Alex make it again?"

"Oh, he was pulling a double shift at the clinic." Maria answered as she stuffed a forkful of rice in her mouth.

"The clinic?" Tess asked her curiosity piqued. Not that Tess was interested in Alex or ever had been really, but she did have an interest in all things medical.

"Yeah, Alex has decided to become a psychiatrist. Right now his working on his medical degree. Part of that is working at the local clinic. That's where he is tonight."

"Oh. And I thought it was because he was trying to avoid Isabel." Tess remarked before turning back to her meal.

"Isabel?" Ben asked his expression confused then brightening suddenly. "Oh, wait. She's the other one that was in the room today right? The model. Where is she anyway?"

"She had some big promotion to attend." Michael explained. "She said she might try to catch up with us if she gets out early."

Silence fell over the table once again as each person sat lost in their thoughts. Liz couldn't help but wonder if her kissing Ben earlier had the effect on Max she had been shooting for. It was hard to tell since he had barely spoken a word since her return. And his expression was once more veiled behind a calm mask of reserve. The way it used to be all those years ago. Before he let her see into his soul. Before he connected with her and opened every part of his life to her. Even his deepest, darkest secret.

Liz's heart silently longed for those days. The days when she could look into his eyes and know everything he was thinking and feeling. In all of her life, it had been the truest thing she'd ever known. Their love. That oneness she found when holding his hand. Or leaning her head against his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her. Sharing a smile. Her gaze drifted to his handsome face and she sighed. It was a longing she both cherished and cursed herself for.

"So, Max. What do you do?" Ben asked deciding now would be a good time to see if Max truly deserved the yearning he saw in Liz's eyes every time they drifted to his face. Which had been quite often during the dinner. Ben was trying to keep a note of agitation out of his voice, but try as he might, it was getting more and more difficult. Not because of the events earlier. Although Liz's brash show of affection had definitely put him on his guard.

It was more because of the subtle looks and unexpected connection these two obviously had. It was unnerving to say the least. Not that he hadn't expected it. He had actually. Pretty much since the moment he'd heard Liz whisper Max's name but especially since his talk with Tess. It was just hard to admit what he'd begun to come to grips with earlier. There were still a lot of powerful emotions floating back and forth between these two and Ben was completely at a loss as to how to stop them. Maybe he shouldn't even try.

Liz refused to look at Max when Ben directed his question to him. There had already been too many slip-ups tonight already. If she was going to pull this off, she couldn't risk looking into his eyes for too long. Instead, she reached for her soda and waited to hear that velvety voice as he recounted what he'd been doing all these years without her.

Max set his drink down before answering Ben. "I'm a paramedic."

"Well, that must be an interesting field. Why don't you tell us about how you got into it?" Ben prompted as he stabbed his fork into his plate and took another bite of his meal.

Max shrugged his shoulders and glanced around the table before beginning. "Well, there's not much to it. The schedule suits mine. I like the adrenaline rush that comes with some of our rescues. And it seems I have a natural...uh...talent…in the healing arts." Max's lips curled upward in a secret smile and he paused when he saw a faint smile flit across Liz's face. He knew in that moment she was remembering that day at the Crashdown. The day he saved her life and they both began to really live.

"Have you ever saved a life?"

Liz sucked in her breath and waited for Max's answer as she stared down at her plate. Why did that question unnerve her so? It wasn't that others at the table didn't know of Max's healing power. That they hadn't been witnesses to how he saved her life. Maybe it was because Max had done more than just save her physical life that day. He'd saved her soul. Her heart. Her dreams. All of which died the day he walked away from her. Could he do the same for someone else? Had he? Was there someone else out there walking around wondering why a part of them would never live again because his destiny was with Tess?

Having seen the various emotions flitting across Liz's face, Max nodded once. "Yes, I have." He read the sadness in her eyes as easily as he felt the sadness in his heart. She was questioning his ability to touch someone the way he had touched her. Wondering if by chance someone else knew what it was like to see into his soul…to share it…to hold it dear. If she only knew…

Ben's words pulled both Liz and Max back to the present. "It must be a very rewarding feeling knowing you've saved someone's life."

"It's amazing." Max's voice softened to a whisper as his eyes were glued to Liz's face. "The third most amazing feeling in the world."

"The third?" Ben smirked as he reached for his glass. "So what's the second?"

Max's chest expanded as he took a deep breath daring to take the chance of a lifetime. He released the breath slowly his eyes softening with sudden emotion as they remained fixed on the other half of his soul. "Loving Liz."

Ben's eyebrow raised and he blinked at Max's boldness. He certainly hadn't expected that one. His eyes flicked to Liz's face and he saw the beginning of an unexpected smile on her lips as her eyes raised to meet Max's. Ben's next leading question came out in a strangled voice. "And the first?"

Max's eyes flickered with hope as a smile began to light his face. "Knowing she loves me back."

A pin could have dropped in Timbuktu…or the Timbuktu version on another planet…in another solar system…and every person at the table would have heard it. Michael squeezed Maria's hand when he sensed she was about ready to squeal with joy at Max's daring move. Tess' eyes flicked to Ben's face to catch his reaction. Ben just stared at Max and swallowed hard realizing for the first time that Max Evans might be the only person in the world that truly knew what being completely loved by Liz Parker was really like. When his gaze shifted back to Liz, he knew instantly that he was right.

Liz couldn't have concealed her overwhelming love for Max in that moment if she'd tried. Not that she did try. She was too dazed at his words to do anything but sit and stare at him, their eyes locked in a private rendezvous from years gone by.

Their fingers naturally entwined together as their hands touched in search of the last fortune cookie. Liz started to giggle when Max pulled her hand to his lips for a quick kiss. "Trying to steal my fortune, are you?"

Liz shook her head as her eyes began to shine. Leaning forward she let her lips hover over his a moment as a slow smile spread over her lips. "That would be impossible."

"Why?" Max breathed quietly as his eyes moved to focus on her lips.

"Because your fortune is my fortune. Just like your destiny..."

"Is the same as yours." Max finished for Liz. "I do believe that you know." Max reached up and put his hand gently against the side of her face, his thumb beginning its usual caress lightly across her cheek. "Liz?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you have any idea what your love means to me?"

Liz shook her head slightly. "Why don't you tell me?"

"Do you remember that history project we did? Where we had to ask questions…"

"The one where Kyle and you were partners?" Liz tilted her head to the side wondering what this had to do with her question. "Yeah. I remember."

"There was a question…what was the most important thing that ever happened to you. Do you remember that one?"

Again, Liz nodded silently. Max smiled and his eyes softened. "My answer was you."

Liz's dark eyes widened and she gasped. "You told Kyle…"

Max rolled his eyes then chuckled. "No. I didn't tell Kyle that. I lied to Kyle. I told him it was when I was adopted. Just like I lied when I told him I'd never been in love before." Max took Liz's hands in his. "But my heart knew a different answer. To both questions."

"Liz, before you…" Max looked down his eyes darkening with seriousness. "…I lived my life moment by moment. In loneliness. In fear. I watched the world go by thankful when I lay down at night that I'd made it through another day undetected. My dreams were only that, Liz. Dreams. I'd loved you for so long from a distance that I thought that was enough for me. I thought it was the most amazing and yet tortuous feeling in the world because I was too afraid to believe…to hope for anything more…anything real to happen between us."

A slow, charming smile lit Max's eyes as he looked back up at Liz. "But now…Liz, now I really know what the most amazing thing in the world is. Being loved by you. And torture…" Max ran his thumb along Liz's cheek and caught a stray hair tucking it behind her ear. "…torture would be to never see your eyes soften with love when you look at me. Or never feel your lips against mine again. Touching your face. Knowing that somehow I'd lost your heart forever would be the worst torture in the world for me."

"Because now I look forward to each new day because I know I'm no longer alone. I plan for the future. Our future. And dreams aren't just dreams anymore, Liz. They're just reality waiting for the right time to happen. There's no other feeling in the world like knowing you love me. You know, you think I saved you that day at the Crashdown. But the truth is…you're the one who saved me. Your love gives me hope and life. It gives me everything."

"Oh, Max." Liz breathed softly before she took his face in her hands and pulled his lips to hers. The kiss was tender and sweet and full of all the love Liz felt in her heart. When she pulled away tears sparkled in her eyes and one managed to roll down the side of her cheek. "I can only give you everything because you gave it to me first. Don't you know that yet?"

The brightness of Max's eyes took Liz's breath away. She'd never known eyes so full of emotion. So open to sharing everything with her. She'd never known anyone like Max Evans. She knew she never would. Till the day she died, no one would ever come close to owning her heart the way he did. That was a promise and a prediction all rolled into one. She smiled brightly through her tears at the thought.

"I guess not." Max responded when he reached up and wiped away her tear. A playful light came into his eyes and he gave Liz a wink. "Then again…you think I've given you everything because you still haven't seen your surprise."

Liz looked around her at the empty restaurant in confusion. "This wasn't your surprise? You mean there's more?"

Max's mouth dropped open in mock offense. "You're kidding, right?" He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Liz Parker. I have healed you. You've seen yourself fly through outer space when we kiss and my soul when we touch…and you think the best 'not normal' night I can give you is renting out our favorite restaurant? Either you've lost your faith in me or you've still got so much to learn."

Liz began to chuckle as she reached up and touched his face. "Oh, honey. I'll always have faith in you…so, I guess that means I've got a lot to learn. Do you promise you'll teach me?"

Max tried valiantly to hide his grin and continue his offended air by rolling his eyes. His valiant effort failed. "Oh, alright. I guess I'll have to. But I have to warn you…I'm a very complex individual..." He glanced around the empty restaurant then winked at her. "And that's just the human side of me."

Giggling, Liz absently ran her hand back and forth over his. "So…you're saying it may take many, many years of education…"

"That's the plan." Max remarked as he glanced down at their hands entwined together. "In fact, I don't see why should wait. Just remember I told you to expect anything but normal tonight…" Max got up from his seat and extended his hand. "Come on. It's time for the second phase of making your dreams come true."

"Where are we going?"

"To make a little magic." Max replied cryptically then wiggled his eyebrows.

"Ok." With a radiant smile spreading over her face, Liz slipped out of her seat but pulled back on Max's hand suddenly when he started to lead her away from the table. "Max? Wait. What about the fortune cookie?"

Max glanced at the cookie on the table then back at Liz. His face brightened with a grin. "We don't need it. We already know what our future holds."

"You're right." Liz smiled in understanding. "Us."

"Us. Most definitely…us." Max agreed leaning forward and touching his lips to hers in a kiss of promise before wrapping his arm around her and leading out the door to her next surprise.


Ben's eyes shifted from Max and Liz's intense stare to Tess and he let out a sigh. He expected to see triumph in her blue eyes but instead found compassion. At least she was a gracious winner. And they hadn't even reached the part of the evening she wanted his help on. He honestly wasn't sure he wanted answers to his questions anymore. None of the details seemed to matter in the overwhelming evidence playing out in front of his eyes.

He saw alarm rip through Tess' expression before he heard the voice. "Uh…excuse me."

All sets of eyes turned toward the end of the table to see the man from the booth standing there waiting for someone to speak. Narrowing his eyes, Max took the initiative. "Yes? May we help you?"

Flashing a smile, the man turned his blue eyes on Max. "I hope you don't mind but I noticed there were only six of you and that you had an extra fortune cookie. Would any of you mind my taking the last one? I just love them so much…"

Max glanced at Liz then around the table. Seeing no immediate objection except the hint of fear in Tess' eyes Max reached for the cookie and handed it to the man. "Here. We don't mind at all."

His eyes narrowed again when the man remained at the end of the table instead of returning to his seat. He broke the cookie with a grin then glanced up at Tess. "Ah. The best part. The fortune."

Tess swallowed hard and when she spoke her voice wavered ever so slightly. "W-what does it say?"

Max glanced at Tess concern suddenly lining the edge of his eyes when he saw her hands balled up into fists resting rigidly in her lap. He reached over and put his hand over hers then blinked in surprise. Her hands were ice cold.

The man's voice brought his attention back to the answer to her question. He held the tiny slip of paper up before his eyes and read, "A well-chosen destiny sustains life. Death comes to those who count not the cost and follow blindly to the call of the heart. Choose thou, then, your destiny with wisdom. "

Max's face paled noticeably as he shot Liz a look and heard Tess' sharp intake of breath. "Oh my God. Nasedo…"

Tbc…

posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:24:05 AM by Ashton
~ chapter 11 ~

It was as if a spell had been cast over the table. Everyone at the table froze. Everyone except Ben, that is. He glanced around in confusion at the ripple of silent fear the man's words had caused and the look of recognition and anxiousness that jumped through Tess' eyes. His gaze moved to Max's pale face then to Liz. Whatever pain or conflict Max was enduring at that particular moment, it was all mirrored in Liz's eyes. It was as if she was living it with him…without knowing the source or the depth.

In was in that moment Ben realized just how truly connected these two people were. In a year and a half of knowing Liz Parker, there had only been one moment when Ben felt he could look into her soul and know what she was feeling. The night they met. The night he found her weeping on a park bench desperately trying to get over another man…over Max. Her emotions were too raw to be hidden. Her heart, broken and bleeding for all of the world to see.

He realized that it had been the last time he had truly seen the real Liz Parker. After that night, there had always been a wall that surrounded her heart. One that he could never completely reach through. And an emptiness in her eyes he'd never quite been able to fill no matter how many smiles she bestowed upon him or laughs they shared.

Not so with Max Evans. He hadn't just reached through her walls, he had demolished them with a look. And the emptiness in her eyes vanished like mist on a sunny day. In it's place were so many emotions Ben couldn't name. Feelings he'd never dreamed she could feel were shining in her eyes as she looked at Max. Maybe because after all this time, she'd finally found what she was looking for…her heart. Bruised, but not broken. Wounded, but still beating. Alive and full of a love that simply refused to die. That she'd found the one thing Ben had never been able to give her made complete sense because after all this time…she'd finally found Max Evans again.

Without thinking, Liz reached out and touched Max's hand across the table, breathing the quiet question "Max? What is it?" when she saw him pale visibly. Michael and Maria remained motionless after Michael wrapped his arm around Maria's shoulder when he felt her shiver against him.

Max swallowed hard. "Destiny."

Liz stiffened and tried to withdraw her hand as her gaze slipped over to Tess' face. She and Tess exchanged a glance and Liz's eyebrows furrowed with confusion when she saw the utter lack of hatred and possessive triumph in Tess' eyes. She looked frightened…and determined. It was as if Tess were trying to communicate something to her. Something she couldn't quite understand…

Tess had seen the exchange between Max and Liz and knew it wouldn't be long now. Their hearts were re-aligning with each other at such a rapid pace it wouldn't even have taken the rest of her plan and they would have been walking out of that restaurant hand-in-hand. If it hadn't been for that damn fortune cookie. And that man.

Another shiver ran through her. Was it really Nasedo? Had he really found them after all this time? And the fortune. Was it just coincidence? Or a warning? Either way, she wasn't going to let it get to her. And she sure as hell wasn't going to let it get to Max. She'd do everything in her power to keep his fear from ruling him this time…

As if coming to life when he felt the absence of Liz's touch when her hand slipped from his, Max instinctively reached out and grabbed her hand for strength before it had barely left his own. Looking around quickly his expression suddenly becoming anxious when he saw no sign of the man who had been there only moments before. "Where did he...? Did anyone see where he went?"

Previously entranced by the man's words and the hidden meaning he felt was waiting just for him, Max's voice wavered when he turned to Tess suddenly realizing the words she'd spoken. "Wait. Did you feel something? I mean, you must have. Just now. I heard you. Tess? You felt him, didn't you? That's why you said what you did…"

Swallowing back her fear, a nervous laugh was his answer before Tess forced a smile. "Feel something? Come on, Max. You almost sound as crazy as that guy did talking about destiny and death." Her eyes slid over to Ben's face then back to Max in a silent message. Once more donning her role as girlfriend, Tess leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I think we'll need to watch what you order from now on, dear. Certain foods seem to affect your sanity…"

Max looked at her in disbelief and started to shake his head in frustration and cast a glance in Michael and Maria's direction seeking silent help. Michael shrugged and Maria sat speechless, her eyes wide with confusion and twinged with fear. Max opened his mouth to say something when Tess turned to Ben suddenly. "So. Speaking of 'destiny'…the two of you." She indicated with a slight nod of her head toward Liz. "Was it love at first sight?"

Tess' question pulled Liz's eyes to Max who was suddenly diverted by Tess' direct question. Seeing a flash of pain waiting for her there in his eyes, she blinked quickly and pulled her hand away from Max uncomfortably. Maybe that had been a bit too strong. Noticing the sudden move, Tess amended her statement and turned to Ben. "I...I mean, how did you two meet?"

Ben shook his head. "I'm not really sure that's all that important right now…"

"Of course it is." Tess snapped. Realizing the harshness of her tone, she tilted her head to the side and smiled sweetly. "Please. We really want to hear it."

Ben leaned back and wrapped his arm around Liz's shoulder, more as a protective move than possessive. He began the story reluctantly. "Well, it was about a year and a half ago. I was taking a walk in the park and stumbled across this beautiful woman sitting on a park bench looking up at the stars in the sky."

He glanced over at Liz and saw her brow furrowed in worry. And was that fear he saw in her eyes? Or could it be that famous pain he'd seen all too often since that night? Feeling a sudden need to shield her from further injury, sensing the rest of the details would only bring additional pain especially here and now, Ben smiled and pulled her toward him then lied. "I asked if I could join her and we've been star gazing together ever since."

Liz breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God he didn't mention what other things she'd been doing when he found her that night in the park. Or the emotional state she was in. They had never spoken of it since that night, but it had been a profound turning point in Liz's life. It was the night she finally gave up all hope that Max Evans and she would ever be together again. In many ways, it was the night she died. She shot Ben a grateful smile that wasn't missed by Max or Tess.

Sensing a prime moment for another jab, Tess put her hand on Max's shoulder and leaned into him. "Must have been a real journal moment, huh, Liz?" Tess felt the muscles in Max's shoulder tense at the mention of Liz's journal. She knew it would hit a nerve…and by the look on Liz's face she'd completed her task. "At least that's the kind of stuff you used to write about wasn't it? Star gazing and rainbow dances..."

Max's mouth dropped open and his gaze shot to Liz's face just as her head snapped up at Tess' comment. Her hand flew to her mouth as she took a shaky breath her eyes moving from Tess to Max. Their eyes connected and for a moment they held each other captive speaking words neither of them had to strength to say. That journal had held so much information. Not just about who Max was but who Liz was when she was with Max. The bond they shared. The love that had blossomed between them. Every detail of their lives together…of that one special night…

Max saw the indescribable pain rip through Liz's eyes then turn to an instant film of tears. Her voice was shaking with accusation. "You...you told her? How could you have..."

Max shook his head emphatically and reached across the table for her hand. She shrunk back from him. Looking away for a moment he pulled his hand back to his lap then looked back into her eyes again willing her to see his sincerity. "No, Liz. I didn't. I swear. Liz, you've got to believe me..."

"Believe you? How else could she know?" Liz's voice was laced with pain. A sudden thought dawned on her and her eyes widened in understanding. "She saw didn't she? In a flash…"

"A flash?" Ben's voice broke through the tenseness of the moment.

Tears washed over each word. "You've…had…flashes with...her, Max?"

"NO!" Max emphatic denial exploded as he earnestly tried to explain. "It's not what you think. Liz, please…please let me explain…"

For the second time that evening, Liz's emotions were too much for her to handle. She shook her head and jumped up from the table. "There's nothing…to explain. What you do with your…" She cast an envious, hurt look in Tess' direction. She spit the next word out as if it were a curse. "…destiny is your choice."

"But…" Max began but Liz brushed past him a quiet sob echoing in his ears.

Max threw his napkin on the table and jumped up from his seat, turning to follow her. He got two steps and was stopped by the weight of a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Max. Let her go…"

Something in Max snapped. His fist balled up and when he swung around to face Ben, so did his fist. Connecting hard with Ben's face, Max let out a growl of frustration. Ben fell back a few steps and steadied himself. He touched his lower lip and looked down at his fingers to see the red liquid he could already taste in his mouth. Glancing back up at Max, he smiled wryly. "Feel better now? You've been aching to do that since the moment you laid eyes on me, haven't you?"

Max remained silent and motionless. His jaw was working fiercely to contain the anger, jealousy and self-loathing that was boiling inside and his fists clenched and unclenched by his side.

Ben shrugged. "I don't blame you. I've had the same urge since the second I heard her say your name." He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his lip. "So, what do we do now? Stand here in a face off? Or are you going to let me go to her so I can give her what she needs?"

Max swallowed hard and blinked suddenly at the calmness of Ben's words. With Liz's tears playing over and over again in his mind, it only took a moment for him to hang his head and step to the side knowing that of the two of them Ben was what Liz needed right now. Who knows? Maybe he was what she needed for always…

As Ben brushed past him, Tess shook her head in disbelief. "What do you think you're doing, Max? Go after her. Explain everything. You're the one she wants right now…"

Max turned on Tess suddenly as anger flashed in his eyes. Grabbing her arm he gruffly pulled her up from her chair as he rose. "Enough. Come with me."

"But…Max…"

"NOW!" Max growled not letting her finish her protest. Instead he drug her out into the pool area and spun her around to face him. "What the hell did you do that for? After what happened earlier…I told you not to hurt her and that's all you've done tonight. How could you even do that? And what the hell is going on with that guy? I heard you, Tess. I heard you say Nasedo. Was that him? Was it??"

Tess blinked at Max's unexpected outburst. "Max…I…"

"No! You know what? Don't even try to lie to me right now. If Liz...if we're in danger, I need to know." He put his hands on her shoulders and bent to look in her eyes. "Tell me the truth, Tess. Was that Nasedo?"

"What the hell is going on?" Michael's voice sounded behind Max and Max whirled to face he and Maria.

"Nasedo..." Max answered tersely.

Everyone froze. For the second time that night, you could have heard a pin drop…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Ironic, don't you think?"

Liz's head shot up at the familiar voice behind her. She quickly wiped her eyes as she felt him move to the side of the bench and face her, catching her in the act. "A year and a half ago, I found you sitting here on this very bench doing exactly what you're doing now. Looking up at the stars. Holding that same ring to your chest. And crying your heart out over another guy."

Liz sniffled and moved over to make room for him as Ben handed her a handkerchief. "Thanks…and I don't just mean for this." She held up the kerchief she'd just used to dab her eyes then turned to face him as she stuffed the ring Max had given her years ago back into its hiding place in her purse. "I mean for not saying anything. You know, back there at the restaurant about how we met…"

Her eyes widened when she saw the cut on his lip and the darkening skin that would be a bruise by tomorrow. Reaching out to touch the spot gingerly, she asked a question she already knew the answer to. "What…what happened?"

Ben chuckled. "Max happened."

"Max?" Liz's voice held a note of surprised awe. "But he's like the least violent person in the world."

"Apparently not when it comes to you." Ben answered quietly. "And about not giving all the details on how we met…well, there's no use adding to the pile of evidence in front of our eyes. It'd only help him win his case that much sooner." Ben shrugged then leaned against the back staring straight ahead of him. "Although, truth be known, it was won before I ever even met you."

Liz slowly turned her gaze from the brilliant sky to the face of the man she had planned to call 'husband'. Meeting his eyes briefly, she swallowed, crossed her arms in front of her and lowered her head reading in his expression the knowledge of what was in her heart. Still, she needed to hear it. Maybe a verbal acknowledgment would give her the courage to do what she should have done so long ago. "What...do you mean? What case?"

"The one that determines who gets the girl in the end." Ben stated evenly before turning to gaze to her. "So. He's the one. The one that's always stood between us...in that space between our hearts. The one you won't talk about but can't get out of your head...or your heart."

Liz nodded once and blinked back the tears that began forming in her eyes again. "He was my first love."

"Who are you kidding, Liz? He's your only love." Ben corrected with the unspoken words in he saw in her eyes then amended his statement when he saw her mouth open to protest. "I know you love me, Liz. I'm not questioning that. It's…just not the same."

A slight shake of his head and a sad smile accompanied his next words. "I'm your reliable comfy blanket. The one you can always count on. We have a good time together and share common interests but…he's your…" Ben looked back into her eyes. "…soul. The part that makes you whole. That fills you up. The part you can't live without and be truly happy. That night that I found you here, you were mourning him. The loss of him in your life. From what it looks like you still are. So is he."

Ben reached for her hand as a wistful look flitted across his face. "It was beautiful to see, you know? That love I've always looked for in your eyes...the instant connection that no one can deny. That radiance of being in love that washed all over you. I saw it today. For the first time ever. And it was when you were looking at Max."

Liz nodded her agreement and took a deep breath before meeting his eyes once more. "Ben, I'm sorry I didn't tell you..."

Ben shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't want to know, Liz. I mean, I knew there was someone else...someone I could never replace, but I didn't want to know his name or what he looked like. How you whispered his name like a prayer. And I certainly didn't want to know how your eyes light up when you look at him...how you're whole body comes alive somehow. You, Liz. You...come alive around him."

Liz's secret smile spread over her lips. "That's the way it always was with us…"

"Then what happened?" Ben asked quietly.

Liz shook her head her eyes began to brim with tears. "It's…really very…complicated."

"Not from what I've seen…"

Liz swallowed and wiped away a tear that had fallen. "Trust me, it is."

"If you're adding Tess to the mix of complications, I wouldn't. She and Max are no more together than Michael and Maria are separated."

Liz looked up in surprise. "What makes you think…"

"She as much as admitted it to me, Liz." Ben answered quietly. "I've spent years studying people. Observing them, reading reactions. I could tell something wasn't right with them."

"But that doesn't mean they aren't together. Maybe they're just having problems." Liz was trying desperately not to allow hope to flare up in her heart. What if what Ben was saying was true? What if they weren't together? What did it all mean? Did she and Max really still have a chance after all this time?

"You're right. But you know there's a difference in having problems and simply not being in love with each other. They play the part, Liz, but they aren't. In fact, she seemed rather eager to prove to me just how much you and Max still love each other."

"But that makes no sense." Liz said more to herself than to Ben before she let out a shaky sigh. Shaking her head clear of confusing thoughts, Liz fought back sudden tears. "It doesn't matter anyway. He has a destiny, Ben. And it's with her."

"Then who is yours with?"

His question caused Liz's gaze to move upward toward the night sky. "I thought I used to know…"

"You still do." Ben responded softly. "You just have to listen to your heart then follow it…wherever it leads."

Liz's head snapped to the side and her eyes blinked suddenly. "That's…what my grandmother told me to do." A smile touched her lips as she began to remember out loud. "She also said he wasn't a soulmate if it wasn’t complicated…"

"Sounds about right." Ben smiled wryly. "Come on, Liz. You know me. I don't believe in soulmates or destiny and fate the way some others do. I think destiny is a two-way street. On one hand, there is a destiny that chooses you. But on the other…well, you also have to be willing to choose that destiny back."

"What do you mean?"

"Take love, for instance. You can't choose it. Who you love. Why you love them. Or even when. But doing something about it…well, that's a choice. You can either reach out and embrace it…" Ben ran his thumb over the ring on her third finger. "…or you can let it go."

Liz nodded. "Is that what you're here to do? Let me go?"

Ben's eyes remained fixed on the ring. His ring of promise. Promises that meant nothing if given to someone whose heart belongs somewhere else. He rubbed it once more and smiled sadly. "I want what he has, Liz. I want to know what it's like to love someone with every part of me…and know they love me back the same way. I want to know that no one can ever take my place in someone's heart. To find my soulmate."

"But I thought you didn't believe in soulmates."

Ben shrugged and looked away. "What can I say? You and Max made me a believer tonight. Besides, I think I deserve to feel the most amazing feeling in the world too." Looking back at her, Ben winked with a smile. "Only I think I need to find my own 'Liz' to feel it with."

Liz sniffed back the tears that she couldn't stop from falling as she reached up and touched Ben's face. "You do deserve it. And you'll find her. I know you will…"

Ben smiled through his own film of tears and swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat as he watched her slip his ring off her finger. She held it for a moment lost in thought before she handed it to him. "We were good together."

"Yeah." Ben breathed quietly as he took the ring from her and looked up into her eyes. "But we weren't the best." He slipped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to him for one last hug. "That's still to come." Liz nodded against his shoulder as she hugged him back. He patted her back and pulled away forcing a smile onto his face. "Now. What are you still doing here?"

Liz smiled back at him, a new sense of peace having washed over her. She wiped a tear away as her gaze drifted across the street to the restaurant she's run from only a short while ago. The feel of Ben's hand on hers brought her eyes back to his. He inclined his head toward the restaurant. "Go. Find your heart. Fight for it if you have to, but whatever you do, don't let go. It only comes around once in a life…"

Liz stood with a nod. Leaning down she quickly kissed Ben on the cheek and whispered a quiet "Thank you" then turned and walked toward the direction of her destiny…whatever that may be.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"What?" Maria mouth dropped open. "But I thought all that was over and done."

"Apparently not." Max responded tersely as his gaze shifted back to Tess. "Is it, Tess?"

"I don't know, ok?"

"What do you mean you don't know?" Michael asked as he stepped forward.

Tess' face flushed with anger. "I don't know! How more plain can I make it?"

"Try!" Michael commanded loudly before he felt Maria's hand slip into his.

Tess let out a sigh and leaned back against the pool table. "I noticed him before. At the booth when I was coming back to the table with Ben." An involuntary shiver ran through her. "There was something in his eyes…" She looked around the group. "I don't know if it's him or not, but he really creeped me out."

Max swallowed hard as he looked around the group. "Did anyone else get the idea that message was somehow meant for us? For me?"

Tess stood and stepped up to Max shaking her head. "No. Don't even start thinking that way. Max, don't let some crazy words from some creepy stranger stop you from following your heart."

"I have to if that creepy stranger was Nasedo, Tess!" Max dropped his head and let out a sigh of frustration. "God, don't you get it? I can't take the chance. If it means Liz's life…"

"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Wait a sec." Maria's voice broke through Max's self-directed declaration. "What do you mean 'Liz's life'?" Maria shot Michael a glance but received nothing more than confusion in return. She stepped up to Max, pushing Tess to the side. "Max?"

Max stood staring at the ground unable to lift his eyes any higher. He felt like it was happening all over again. Loosing Liz. Having to make a choice. To let go or suffer death. His heart felt dead inside at the thought. But wasn't death what he had been living with for the past 7 years anyway? Maria's voice pulled him back to reality.

"Alright, buddy. You've got exactly 5 seconds to start explaining how my best friend's life is suddenly in danger if Nasedo is, in fact, back in our lives."

Max swallowed hard and looked up at Maria. "It's our destiny."

Everyone's eyes shifted to the door when they heard Liz's voice. "Well, then. Looks like we're right back where we were before…" Her eyes locked with Max's. "…doesn't it?"

Tbc…

posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:25:18 AM by Ashton
(Blessid Union of Souls excerpt)
"Where We Were Before"

And you're just what I've been waiting for
To come and take me in
To grab ahold and take control and make me whole again
And if you need my everything you can take it all and more
Just help me to get back where we were before

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ chapter 12 ~

Max swallowed hard and looked up at Maria. "It's our destiny."

Everyone's eyes shifted to the door when they heard Liz's voice. "Well, then. Looks like we're right back where we were before…" Her eyes locked with Max's. "…doesn't it?"

Having only heard Max's three-word answer to Maria's question, Liz's recently discovered resolve began to waver. Max's voice had sounded so determined. Detached. Resigned. Automatic. As if it were a part of him now. That phrase…'it's our destiny'. That pronoun…'our.' Meant to apply only to two aliens, the word included one more now. A human.

Correction. That human was the original owner of the phrase…

Liz squealed as Max tickled her along her ribcage with his left hand. Squirming in the arms that were holding her several feet above the ground, her laughter echoed around them. "Max! Max, stop it! You're going to drop me!"

Laughter died quickly and Max hoisted Liz higher in his arms then bent his head down to whisper in her ear. "Oh, ye of little faith. Don't you know that now that I've got you, I'm never letting go?"

A bright smile accompanied her question as Liz tightened her grip around Max's neck. "Never? So, does that mean you're never going to put me down?"

She could feel his smile against her cheek and her fingers automatically traced the side of his face. "Only when we reach your surprise and then only if I have to." A soft kiss was delivered to her lips before they both fell into a comfortable silence.

Liz let out a sigh of happiness and snuggled her face into the crook of Max's neck as he turned forward and continued to carry her to their next destination. This was heaven. Breathing in Max's own personal scent. A scent that made her dizzy with desire at times and overcome with peace at others. Being in his strong, solid arms. Arms that made her feel safe in the midst of their power. And sheltered in the warmth that surrounded her. She never wanted this moment to end…

But it did end moments later after she felt Max take a few steps up and stop abruptly. "Well, Princess, we've reached your palace."

"My palace?" Liz's dark eyebrow raised beneath the white cloth Max had used to temporarily blind her to their surroundings. "Does this mean that you’re my Prince Charming?"

Max's chest rose and fell with the deep breath he took as he loving stared down at the only girl in the world that could ever own his heart. "Here…we can be whatever you want us to be, Liz. Your wishes are my command."

"Ohh, I like the sound of that." Liz's giggled filled the space around them and she was suddenly struck with the smallness of the sound. Her lips turned into a befuddled frown. "Max? Where are we?" Hearing his silence, she kicked her feet playfully as a pout found its way to her lips. "Come on. When are you going to let me see?"

Max chuckled as he shifted Liz in his arms till she was parallel to his body, her only support being the arms she tightly clung to him with and the one he had firmly planted around her waist. "Not till I say, Liz."

Taunting her with the knowledge only he held Max then stopped her next question with an urgent, breathless kiss when her feet were firmly planted in front of him. Having allowed her to slide down to the ground slowly…teasingly, the fire that ignited inside of him as her feminine curves met his hard toned body sent his senses reeling. He needed contact. He craved it. Required it to breathe.

And breathe he did. Of her. Into her. With her. With his lips as they slanted over hers in a well perfected flow. With his hands as they slide through her velvety tresses to trail over her shoulders, down her back to her waist, pressing her closer to him than she'd ever been before. He breathed until he couldn't breathe any more. Until this kind of breathing threatened to take them places they'd never been before as Liz responded with equal fervor…

The sensations that simple contact had created in him made the small, rational part Max's brain wonder how he'd make it to the end of the evening. In fact, if he had his way, they'd jump to the final portion of the evening right here and now. But this night was for his Liz and he was going to make every last dream of hers come true…or die trying. And pulling away from her right now certainly felt like dying, but he did it.

For her. Forcefully lowering his raging desire from boiling to simmer, Max slowly grinned against her lips and leaned his forehead against hers, pulling away after a moment. His eyes were bright with happiness and love that Liz could feel even though she was, for all purposes, blind.

"Wow." Liz breathlessly licked her lips slowly and leaned into him. Her eyes would have been dazed had he been able to see them. Her voice made up for that handicap as slightly slurred speech found it's way from her kiss-swollen lips. "Wow. W-what…what was…that for?"

Urgency was suddenly replaced with leisure as Max nuzzled Liz's neck and pulled her into a hug, breathing her scent in deeply. This is where he belonged. In her arms. Always. In her arms is where he always would be. They had time. Time to experience every good thing life had to offer. Max let out a sigh of contentment. "Just because."

"Just because why?" Liz asked as a dreamy smile lit her face when she wrapped her arms around Max's shoulders and felt his warm breath against her skin. If Max Evans did nothing else in his life but hold her, it would be enough for Liz. This felt right. In a way nothing in her life ever had. It felt…like home.

Her smile deepened when she heard his loving confession blow lightly through her hair and hover just over her ear. "Just because I love you."

She savored the moment a bit longer before, playful Liz took momentary control and shook her head with mock disbelief before pushing Max backwards teasingly. "Wait a minute here…" Liz crossed her arms in front of her. "I'm not buying, Evans. You just did that to distract me."

Max's laughter echoed around her as he released her momentarily to step behind her and once more engulfed her in his warm embrace. Applying a soft kiss to her temple, Max made an apparent observation. "You are so suspicious tonight, Ms. Parker…"

"Imagine that…" Liz noted teasingly before her laughter joined Max's. She leaned back against him and tilted her head upward as her hand snaked up to wrap around his neck, her fingers beginning a lazy riffling through his hair. "You're so funny, you know it? You tease me all night with little hints of things to come and expect me to not be curious or suspicious of your actions. What ever am I going to do with you?" Liz asked suggestively as her fingers threaded through the silky hair at the back of Max's head.

"I have a few ideas…" Max's whisper in her ear was equally suggestive before he planted a quick kiss on her cheek. But before I tell them to you, I think it's finally time for you to see your surprise…"

Liz giggled and clapped her hands like an eager little girl and Max chuckled at her enthusiasm. How he adored her. Mischief danced in his eyes as he shook his head in admiration. "Now, if you're not ready we can always wait…"

"Don't you dare make me wait any longer!" Liz exclaimed as she spun around, her hands coming to rest on her slender hips in protest.

Another chuckle. "Ok. Ok. I get the point." Max slowly removed the blindfold and grinned widely at her. "Ok. Go head. Open your eyes."

Liz blinked her eyes in surprise when she opened them. They were engulfed in darkness. She could barely see Max and he was standing right in front of her. "Max? Why is it so dark in here?"

"Because I have to go do something and I don't want you exploring by yourself before I get a chance to do it, ok?" Max took her hands in his and moved her forward slowly placing her feet on a little glow tab he'd placed on the floor earlier. Taking her gently by the shoulders he turned her away from him and pointed her in a new direction. "Now, stay. I'll be right back…"

Before she knew it, he was gone. A shiver ran through her. In the silence, Liz found that her mind was finally catching up and reacting to the physical contact she'd just experienced in Max's arms. She had literally felt a blazing heat radiating throughout his body and reaching out to scorch her every place their bodies melded together. Even now his lightest touch still seared her skin then froze into a dull ache waiting impatiently for his return.

Liz's face flushed hotly as her mind attached a word to that particular kind of heat that had swept through them. 'Desire'. 'Passion'. Overwhelming. Instantaneous. Almost primal. It had engulfed him. Momentarily ruled him. Ruled both of them. In a way it never had before. The absence of it surrounding her now was like the Antarctic. Sharp, stinging, biting cold.

She heard a click then tiny points of light began to twinkle overhead. Stars. Another click and a spotlight illuminated the space before her. Liz let out a gasp. "Oh wow! Oh my God. Max…" Liz took a few slow steps forward and gazed around, her eyes growing wide with delight. "This is…"

~~~~~~~~~~~~
~chapter 13~


Liz tilted her head to the side as she contemplated the man standing in front of her. “What’s the matter, Max? Can’t think of anything to say?” Her voice softened as her eyes shimmered with unsummoned tears. “You know there was a time you had so much to say to me…”

“Do you remember that, Max? That night? That one perfect night when you…” Liz paused to fight back tears that were fearlessly unconquerable. “…Max…you made all of my dreams come true.” Her voice dropped to a faint whisper. “Do you even remember that? Our dance? Our seasons?”

“Every star. Every rainbow." Max swallowed hard, his eyes intently locked with hers. "Every falling leaf and every fresh snowflake." He took a ragged breath, his eyes beginning to shine with unshed tears. "Liz Parker, I remember everything…”


She heard a click then tiny points of light began to twinkle overhead. Stars. Another click and a spotlight illuminated the space before her. Liz let out a gasp. "Oh wow! Oh my God. Max…" Liz took a few slow steps forward and gazed around, her eyes growing wide with delight. "This is…"

Liz couldn’t find the words. The scene that greeted her was just that. A scene. In a theater. Standing in the center of a circular stage, Liz glanced around her taking in her surroundings. Above her she saw stage lights and catwalks. Heavy maroon-colored curtains created a semi-circle behind her blocking out her view of three fourths of the theater’s seating on her sides and to the back. The floor was painted black, the shape of the stage--curved and jutting out toward an empty auditorium while the smell of fresh paint mixed with the musty odor of costumes hanging on racks somewhere nearby.

As if that perception alone triggered some action, a sudden fresh scent of flowers floated around her, overshadowing all of her other senses. Her eyes drifted closed and a delighted smile hovered over her lips as she allowed herself to just feel. And, suddenly, what she felt was that she had been placed into the Garden of Eden.

And that feeling wasn’t wrong. Especially since Max had somehow transformed a fourth of the auditorium seating that she was facing into a virtual garden scene. A sturdy platform extended out from the circle stage Liz was standing on, over folded chairs to the back exit row. Like an arched rainbow, a cobblestone bridge connected the stage to the platform with such grace that Liz felt she could literally dance over it to reach the world Max had created beyond.

On that platform, was a set with painted scenery so beautiful that Liz’s eyes stung with tears. Trees and flowers of every kind. A bubbling fountain in the center. Bright blue skies and birds taking flight into a bright unknown. And intimate little benches scattered here and there for lovers to sit, hold hands and whisper dreams of their future together.

But if it was only a set, then why did Liz feel like she could take a step forward and be part of the action depicted? If it was only painted, then how was it possible to smell each flower and feel the soft spring breeze blowing through her hair? It all seemed so familiar…but so surreal…

"Max…." Liz's eyes, dancing with curiosity, squinted into the darkness beyond the bright spotlight shining down on her as she swept her hand gracefully around her. "This is amazing. How did you do all of this?"

“Magic.” Max’s voice steadily came toward her from the shadows.

Liz’s smile brightened and her eyes began to shine with unabashed love. “With you around, I can believe it.” She glanced back out at the garden waiting to be experienced. “But…certainly you had some help. As much as I love you, your artistic abilities leave a lot to be desired…”

With a mock gasp, Max came closer to his dreamgirl. ”I'm telling you, no faith at all…"

"Max…"

Max chuckled and owned up to his 'magic'. "Alright. They owed Milton a favor for using some of the props from the UFO Center for a play. And Milton owed me, so I worked out a little deal. Plus Michael helped with the painting…"

“You got Michael to help you?” Incredulity laced Liz’s words as her eyebrows raised in surprise.

“For a price.”

“Oh, no. What are you going to have to do?” Liz asked curiously with a near groan.

“It’s a secret.” He paused. “Don’t worry. Maria’s going to love me for it.”

“Ahh, something romantic, huh?” Liz chuckled. "Michael and romance…that would really interesting to watch. Think maybe I could…"

"Uh…no. The conditions included complete secrecy." Max informed her before a light note of teasing entered his voice. "Maybe if you're really good for me tonight, I might accidentally let it slip though…"

"Making deals left and right, aren'tcha?" Liz wagged her finger in the direction of his voice before turning toward the steps he was approaching. "You are such a schemer, Mr. Evans."

"Anything for you…” Max bounded up the stage steps with a grin and a question. "So, I take it you know where you are now."

Liz nodded with a giggle as she reached out her hands to him. "Yes, of course I do. We’re at the Roswell Flying Theatre. Maria and I came her last summer to see 'Our Planet'. You know, Roswell’s take on ‘Our Town’."

Chuckling Max made it to her side and took her hands in his. “Yeah, the plays about aliens here usually suck. No accuracy at all. I mean, they actually portray us as having these grand other-world destinies, you know? Like…one play, they had the main alien who was totally in love with this human, right. He had to leave her, his soulmate, because some blonde-haired former bride of his traveled to earth to take him back to his planet for some grand intergalactic war or something."

Liz laughed at the look of disgust that traveled over Max's face. "You're kidding."

Max raised his hand in a Boy Scout salute. "I swear on my honor as a Boy Scout. Oh, and get this…the blonde that played the part of his 'bride'…no chemistry with the alien. Zilch. Nada. None."

Liz scrunched up her nose. "Really? Ugh. If the plots are going to be so twisted, couldn't they at least get actors that are more…"

"Believable?" Max supplied for her with a grin and a shrug. " I guess not. I'm telling you, Liz, even I could have more chemistry acting opposite a coat rack..."

"Yeah?" Liz's voice lowered seductively as she coyly peered up at him under her long thick lashes. "Well, I wouldn't care as long as you…" She wrapped one arm around his neck. "…have chemistry…" The other arm followed suit. "…with me."

Max grinned as his eyes began to dance with desire. He moved forward a few steps and leisurely wrapped his arms around Liz's waist then in a swift, bold move pulled her tight against him. Wiggling his eyebrows at her when he heard her sharp intake of breath as their lower bodies melded against each other, Max leaned down to nuzzle her nose with his. "Oh, baby. Don't you know? You and I have enough chemistry to light up the world."

He pulled back slightly, his eyes dancing with desire and love. "Not to mention, if they really knew anything about aliens, they would know that we don't let go of real love…"

Liz shook her head slightly as her smile brightened her eyes. "No?"

"No." Max winked at her devilishly. "At least this alien doesn't." Max's head lowered and Liz's lips were captured in a sweet, gentle kiss full of all the promises his heart ached to make. Promises his heart would make before the night was over. Pulling away slowly, he reluctantly released her lips just as Liz let out a sigh of contentment. Inability to stop the grin from appearing on his face at the knowledge he'd been the one to give her that sigh wrapped itself around Max as he stared at her.

She was so beautiful. And smart. Not to mention sweet. His Liz. Forever.

At least she’d be his forever if all went well tonight. His eyes began to twinkle as he gazed down at her still closed eyes and the way a dreamy smile danced across her red lips. When he spoke his voice was low and husky with suggestive desire. "You know the other thing they say about us?"

Dark eyes slowly opened and Liz shook her head slowly. The moment her eyes met his, she was plunged into a sea of tender passion. And she was filled with such an amazing sense of wonder. That she, small town girl Liz Parker could be loved so much…wanted to much…it was…amazing.

Max's thumb lightly caressed her lips as his eyes slowly roamed the planes of her beautiful face. In that moment, Max Evans felt that somehow on his way to this planet, he'd managed to reach out and grab the brightest most vibrant, shimmering star in the sky. And now, she was wrapped in his arms. “They say we aliens have these amazing sexual powers.”

“Really?” A slender eyebrow raised as Liz’s eyes darkened with desire. Her gaze moved from Max’s eyes to his slightly parted lips. “What…uh…kind of powers is it rumored that you have?”

Max licked his lips unconsciously and let out a light sigh as he watched the focus of her eyes drift to his lips. “Well…we have these heightened senses, you see. Something about being able to sense and anticipate our lover’s every desire before they even desire it. Seeing into their souls and all that…”

“Well, I’d say we definitely have the seeing into each others souls thing down pat." Liz commented before nuzzling her nose lightly against his, her soft warm mouth just whispering against his. “I think we’ll have to test out that theory about anticipating a mate’s desire though. In fact, right now would be a really good time to experiment…” She leaned in to claim his lips…

Max pulled back and put a restraining finger against Liz’s lips. Smiling down at her playfully crestfallen expression, Max's eyes twinkled. “Not yet. An experiment of that magnitude needs proper preparation."

A slow, knowing smile hovered over Liz's lips. "Really? And what kind of preparation are we talking about here?"

And there was his opening.

Max casually snapped his fingers.

From somewhere up above the soft strains of a love song began to play causing Liz to pull back from Max's arms and look around her in awed surprise. "Max…how did you…" When she turned back to him, his hand was held out to her. "Dance a rainbow with me?" Her breath caught in her throat and her eyes stung with sudden tears when her gaze met his so full of love and adoration.

Slipping her hand into his, Liz gazed up into his eyes intently and waited breathlessly for him to continue this magic show he had planned. It didn't take him long to comply with that silent request as he pulled her closer and whispered in her ear…

"Do you know that every color of the rainbow can be associated with certain concepts or emotions?" One finger lazily played with the chocolate strands of hair falling loosely around Liz's face as Max anchored Liz's petite body to his with an arm wrapped firmly around her waist. "There's red for passion. Yellow for joy." His fingers lightly grazed the exposed skin of her neck. " Green for jealousy. Blue for peace. And violet for royalty."

"Which makes perfect sense to me…now that you're in my life." Max turned them slowly, dancing them right toward the arched bridge as he continued to speak in soft, tender tones as his eyes blazed with love when he pulled back slightly to look down at her. "See, you're the queen of my heart, Liz. There has never been anyone like you. Not on this planet. Not on mine. Never…anywhere…could there ever be someone that brings me the complete peace that I feel when I'm with you."

"The world could be crumbling at my feet, Liz, and I'd still be able to stand through it all as long as you were standing with me." Max's gaze dropped as a sheepish smile ghosted his lips. The pressure of his arm around Liz's waist increased possessively. "Which is all the more reason why I can never let you go." Max's eyes slowly raised to meet hers head on as a promise formed between them as they continued to sway to the music. "You're mine, Liz. Now and forever. I'll never let anyone hold you like this…" Max's hand cupped the side of Liz's face, his thumb slowly caressing her rosy cheeks. "…or feel the touch of your bare skin…or look into the depths of your eyes and see all the love that I'm seeing right now staring back at me…."

"I own your heart, Liz." Emotion poured through Max's words as his fingers traced the fullness of her lips before dropping to lightly lay over her heart. "Just like you own mine." He gathered one of her tiny hands in his and laid it carefully over his heart. "No one will ever be able to claim either. Not like this. Not after tonight…"

A slow, brilliant smile began at the corner of his mouth and made its way straight into his eyes as his hand came up to arrest the tears that were beginning to fall down Liz's cheeks. "You make me so happy. I never knew…before you, Liz, I never knew what it would be like to laugh without reservation. Where in the past, I had to muster up the strength to force a smile, I can't stop the smiles now. I can't stop the joy. It's because of you."

Their feet were now gliding over cobblestone as they topped the stone bridge. The air around them was swirling and soft. Faint sounds of birds chirping began to mix with the strains of music somewhere overhead. Liz wanted to look around her. To see where they were going. To know what she was hearing. And feel where the sudden hum of life that was strumming through her body was coming from.

But she couldn't look away from Max's darkening amber eyes.

Blazing with desire. Light with adoration. Dancing with love.

They captivated her. Pulled her into his silver web of magic. Taking her into the center of the fire.

"Passion." The one word fell from Max's lips in a heated whisper as his eyes drifted closed and he nuzzled his nose against hers. "It rules my actions. Wraps itself around my mind. Simmers in my blood." Max rested his forehead against hers and cupped her face with his hands, his glittering eyes opening to meet hers, dark with unadulterated desire. "I want you, Liz. I want all of you. Your heart, soul, mind…body."

Liz felt tongues of fire licking her feet as heat swept upward through her from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. Her heart began pounding with an irregular beat as the blood in her veins began to boil with hunger. The faint hum that had begun pulsating through her earlier was now strumming away with a fierceness that startled her. She gripped Max's waist for support.

The air around her seemed to breathe. The ground under her feet began to awaken. With each word Max spoke, the world around her literally felt…alive.

"But I also want your dreams. I want to make them real. That's my only passion now. To live for you. To dream your dreams. To make you smile. Hear you laugh." One tiny tear slipped from the corner of Liz's eye and Max leaned forward, kissing it away with a whisper. "Banish your tears..."

Max brought their dance to a gentle close as he pulled back from Liz's embrace and locked an intense, penetrating gaze on her face. "Let me dance a rainbow with you, Liz. Not just tonight…but through every season of our lives…"

Liz's voice was frozen. Her heart was shouting a resounding 'yes' but she couldn't say a word. She knew he was waiting. She could see it in his eyes. Somehow she knew this moment would change everything for them. It would seal whatever fate may have planned…

A slight nod of her head and Liz's voice was suddenly freed. "Yes, Max. Every season…every dance…"

With her words, a bright light flashed around them and Liz gasped when she saw a faint, multi-colored glow coming from the ground under their feet. Her breathing uneven, Liz struggled to make sense of what had just happened. "Oh, my God. Max…you've…you've created a rainbow…out of the bridge…"

Her tear-filled eyes snapped up to meet his an instant smile spreading over her lips. Max beamed at her in response. "No. We did it. And that's not all." He took one hand in his and wrapped an arm around her waist turning her toward the scene that had been painted on the platform waiting for them. Her hands flew to her mouth as she let out another gasp as memory crashed down on her. "Oh God. It's…alive. It's…it's…"

The air stirred with sweet sounds of the bubbling fountain and softly rustling leaves. The birds' songs combined and became louder till it seemed that they were now chirping out a new love song composed just for Max and Liz. Brilliant, vibrant colors blossomed right before Liz's eyes as flowers opened their fragile petals and released the sweet fragrances of the season.

"Spring." Max whispered in her ear with a smile. "The first of our seasons, Liz. Straight from…"

"My dreams." Liz finished in awe. She spun around in Max's arms. "Max, how did you…" A grin split her face. "You saw my dreams, didn't you? Dreams that I didn't even remember till now. Till this very moment…"

Max nodded and looked down shyly. Raising his eyes back to hers there was a hint of uncertainty. "It's ok, isn't it? That I saw them and…"

"Oh, Max." She barely breathed his name. "This is the most...amazing thing anyone's ever done for me." She reached her arms out to him and he walked into them with ease, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her body close to his.

"So, you like it?" His voice was soft. Vulnerable. Unsure.

Liz's smile widened as she nodded her dark head, her eyes beginning to shine with tears. "I love it." She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his face toward hers with her hand, nuzzling nose against nose, whispering against his lips. "I love you."

As their lips melded together, Liz left no room for doubt that her words were true as their love seeped into the Spring air and whispered its way through the trees...


Tbc…

Tbc…


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 6-Jan-2002 7:06:27 AM ]
posted on 6-Jan-2002 6:26:26 AM by Ashton

~ chapter 14 ~

Eyes filmed with tears, Liz took one more step forward. "Every season, Max. Spring, Fall, Winter, Summer…you took me through them all that night." Her lower lip began to quiver as she squared her shoulders and valiantly tried to fight back the well of tears that drowned her every whispered word. "We made promises. Sacred vows."

"Then we made love." Tears plopped helplessly onto her cheeks and her gaze lowered. "Under a ceiling of stars. Just like…"

"Just like in my fantasies." Max finished quietly for her, his eyes shutting against the sight of the woman he had always loved falling apart in front of him…because of him. The memory drifted through his mind unbidden and he took momentary solace in the love displayed that night. The surrender so sweetly given. The fantasies made reality…

A light tinkling giggle cut through the crystal silence of the night. An answering chuckle filled the air. "Shhhh, Liz. Be careful. There's a step here."

"Max…where are we now?"

No matter how he tried, he couldn't mask the excitement in his voice. "Just…wait, ok? You'll see. I promise you're going to love this…"

A key turned in a lock. A door swung open with a squeak. Max stepped behind a blindfolded Liz and guided her through a now open door. Stumbling forward a few steps, her hands groped in front of her to feel for anything solid and she stopped short in front of Max. He reached around her and pulled her hands into her body as he wrapped his arms around her. Whispering in her ear, Max's voice was soft and low. "Trust me. I won't let you get hurt."

Liz sighed and leaned back into Max, relaxing and letting him guide her where he wanted her to go. Several steps forward, a few right turns then a left then there were stairs that Max gallantly swept her off her feet to carry her. Once at the top, Max put Liz back on the floor then pushed her forward a few short feet. Stopping her suddenly, his voice was low in her ear. "Wait. Right here. This is it."

Liz grinned beneath her blindfold as her fingers entwined with Max's. "This is what?"

Max's answer was a lingering kiss on her cheek as he removed her blindfold. "Keep your eyes closed."

"Why do I get the feeling this is big?" Liz whispered as she leaned her head back.

"Maybe because…" Max sighed into her hair, his long lashes brushing her cheek as he lowered his head to nuzzle her neck. "…it is." A light kiss on her shoulder accompanied the statement and Liz felt her own temperature rise with dangerous rapidity. His lips slid up her neck slowly and seductively. Her hand came up to wrap around Max's neck and she instinctively turned as his lips captured hers in their most passionate kiss of the night. And there had been many.

Liz's knees nearly gave way as Max's arms crushed her to his body and his mouth seemed to engulf hers. Greedy. Hungry. Giving as much as he was getting. Liz's head with spinning with the sensations shooting through her as each relentless kiss stole all logic and thought. The feel of his skin under her fingers. The soft, helpless sounds their contact was pulling from deep inside of him. She could feel the racing of his heart against hers and faintly registered they were speeding down a road they'd never quite taken before. And oh, how she wanted to accelerate their rate straight into heaven.

Max pulled away suddenly, his chest rising and falling with quick breaths as he leaned his forehead against hers and swallowed hard. "Not yet." His thumb caressed her lips as his eyes opened to meet hers sending a shiver of anticipation racing down her spine. His words belying the fact he'd seen the visions popping into her mind. "Not yet…but soon."

"Max…" Liz licked her lips and nudged his nose with hers in protest.

"Soon." Was his one word response as his eyes darkened to midnight followed by a slow, sexy smile. "Do you even know where we are?"

Liz dragged her gaze from Max's grinning face to look around. Not because she wanted to. In that moment, she wanted nothing more than to just drown in Max's eyes. But he seemed so excited. So eager for her to approve of his surprise.

As her gaze shifted to the room they were standing in, Liz's eyes widened in shock. "Oh my God. The nursery."

A smile was in his voice. "Yeah. The nursery."

Liz took a few tentative steps forward, her eyes taking everything in all at once. "Max…this is…perfect. It's just like I remember…"

Pale blue walls were the backdrop of cloud-filled skies. A beautiful hand-carved crib was the focal point of the room. Situated against the far wall right next to a bay window, the Winnie the Pooh theme was prevalent. In the far corner sat a pile of stuffed animals and ancient dolls.

Max stepped behind Liz and wrapped his arms around her, gently pulling her back against him. "Tell me.”

A curious smile played on her lips. “Tell you what?”

“About this place.” Max nudged her lovingly.

“But you already know…”

“No." Max shook his head as he gazed around the room he'd recreated out of Liz's dreams. "I saw it. I felt what you felt when you saw it, but I don’t know why it’s so special to you. Why it figured into each fantasy I gave you tonight.”

"It did not." Liz protested as her cheeks began to burn warm with an embarrassed flush. Having someone know your thoughts to intimately was the most amazing thing in the world. But it can also be the most unnerving at times. This happened to be one of them.

"Yes. It did." His whisper was full of quiet conviction. Noticing Liz's sudden reticence to share the meaning of this particular vision, Max slowly pulled away from Liz and walked toward the crib that was sitting against the wall by the window. He reached down and picked up a fluffy teddy bear, a thoughtful expression claiming his face as an old vulnerability came crashing down on him. "I guess…maybe I went too far, huh? I mean…seeing your dreams, wanting to make them come true…well, it's addictive, Liz. It makes the craving to know everything about you…insatiable. And…and just because I love you…well, that doesn't mean I have a right…"

Max stopped talking when he felt Liz's arms circle him from behind as she rested her head against his back. Her warmth engulfed him and he could feel her radiant smile through his layers of clothes. "You have a right to everything I have, Max. That's what it means when I give myself to you."

She moved to stand in front of him as she reached up to lovingly caress his face. "I love you so much, and I do want to tell you, it's just…"

"Just what?"

Liz's gaze lowered. "If I tell you…you'll know."

His intense gaze never left her face as his voice lowered to a sacred whisper. "Know what, Liz?"

"Just how long I've loved you." A faint smile touched her lips at how easy the confession had been. How right it was to share her soul with him. "How long I've dreamed about you…about us."

Max's fingers ran lightly over her shoulders, down her arms to capture her hands in his. His gaze lowered to their entwined fingers and he raised Liz's hands to his lips his eyes closing in contentment. "Would that really be so bad?"

Liz's smile was warm and her eyes glowed with love as she shook her head. "No."

A slow grin spread over his lips, lighting his eyes with triumph. "So, then. You going to tell me what this particular fantasy is about?"

Liz rolled her eyes and chuckled. "I think it's pretty clear. Don't you?" Her grin deepened. She squeezed his hands as a faint blush painted her cheeks. "I want a family with you, Max. I want to have your babies some day." A slight shrug and Liz committed herself to a confession she couldn't walk away from. "I want a life with you."

Max quirked a smile. "What a coincidence. I want all of those things with you too."

Liz half-chuckled as Max's casual response. "Yeah, but…" A self-depreciating roll of Liz's large eyes caused Max's heart to swell with love. His chest rose and fell at the sight and he curled his toes into his shoes as if that action alone would keep his body from following his heart and soaring straight into heaven. "…you didn't play house like I did." She cast a glance around her and dropped Max's hands while gesturing to the room they were standing in. "Here. In this very room."

Taking a few steps away from Max, Liz soon found herself caught up in childhood memories. "Old Mrs. Bailey used to live here. She had been very rich and very beautiful when she was younger. A social butterfly. The kind of woman that everyone wanted at their parties. That was all before she lost her entire family in a car accident. After that she pretty much vanished from the public eye. Which started lots of wild rumors.”

“Rumors? Like what?” Max prompted softly when Liz’s voice halted as borrowed pain slumped her shoulders.

Liz shrugged slightly. “Oh, people said the loss drove her over the edge. That she began to consult with psychics and delve into black magic to contact her husband. What was left of her family wanted nothing to do with her. The neighborhood kids always made fun of her. Thought she was some crazy old bag that no one in the world would ever care for. Except my mom. She would bring Mrs. Bailey groceries every week and of course, she'd make me tag along."

"Mrs. Bailey liked me though. One day when mom and I were visiting, there was an emergency and mom had no other place to leave me but here. With Mrs. Bailey." Liz let out a sigh as she reached the window and stared up at the stars in the sky. "At first I was scared, but…I learned so much that day.”

“Mrs. Bailey wasn’t crazy. She was devastated. Lost. Lonely. I’d never once thought of her as the romantic type.” Liz turned to face Max. "How wrong I was. She's the first person to use the word 'soulmate' when talking about love to me. The first to introduce the concept of that one person that matches you so perfectly. The one soul that completes you in such a way…" Liz paused allowing the thought to trail off, knowing Max didn't need her words to know what she was saying.

When she continued, it was to tell Mrs. Bailey's story. "Talking about him, Mrs. Bailey changed right before my eyes. She got younger somehow. And her eyes just…lit up talking about her only love. I never wanted to be more like someone than I did in those moments with her reliving her life with her Noah." Liz sank down onto the window seat her eyes bright with memories. "I guess I’m not all that different. Because one day…she asked me if there was any special boy in my life."

Shyly, Liz's gaze lowered to her hands in her lap. "I…I'd only seen you at school. Hadn't even really ever talked to you." Biting her lower lip, Liz's face shone with love. "But when Mrs. Bailey asked me that question…" Liz's dark eyes met Max's. "…yours was the name that popped out of my mouth."

Receiving a shy, understanding smile from Max, Liz's gaze drifted once more around the room. "This was their nursery. It was never used. Mrs. Bailey had been pregnant when her husband and son were killed in the accident. The shock of it all caused her to lose her daughter before she was even born." Eyes bright with tears, Liz blinked and looked at Max once more. "It was like she adopted me that day, Max. She let me come here whenever I wanted to play or just sit and talk. We usually talked about Mr. Bailey. And about you."

A slightly embarrassed smile touched her lips. "And I loved to play house. There were so many dolls in the closet. So many stuffed animals and dreams just waiting to be dreamed…right here in this room. Nothing had ever been used, but Mrs. Bailey let me play with everything here. And each and every time I played mommy…" Again, Liz's gaze faltered and her eyes closed, her cheeks flushing with a quiet confession. "…I was also pretending to be Mrs. Max Evans."

She heard a light rustle and felt a pair of warm hands cover hers. Liz opened her eyes to see Max kneeling before her. The love shining out of his eyes, taking her breath away. His whispered words full of reverent emotion stilling her heart in mid-beat. "You don't have to pretend any more, Liz. Not tonight. Or ever again."

Max stated softly after a moment of searching her shimmering eyes. "You, Liz, are the one I was sent to Earth to be with. We've both known that…for so long now." He pulled back, his expression a study of intense purpose. As if he were on the verge of a major announcement. When he opened his mouth to speak, Liz knew this was the moment the whole night had been building up to. "I think its time to make it official."

"That is…" Max slipped a box from his pocket and turning her hand over, he placed it gingerly in her care. Eyes meeting hers, a smile began to drift over his lips. "…if you're willing to exchange vows with me. Tonight. Just the two of us."

Liz's breath caught in her chest and a choked sob of surprised delight escaped her as a tear slipped silently down her cheek. "Oh, Max…"

"Should I take that as a yes?"

“No.” Shaking her head emphatically, Liz's giggle broke the silence of the room like the sun's rays breaking the finality of a long lonely night. Her bright smile lit every dark corner that had once permeated Max’s heart. Her tears of joy washed away all fears or doubts. "You should take that as a most definite yes."

Eyes bright with love and filmed with emotion, Liz held out her hand and watched as Max reverently placed the ring on her finger then brought her hand to his lips for a tender kiss. Reaching up to gently wipe her tears away, Max smiled then began to speak. "You're the wife of my heart, Liz. I don't need a minister or a judge to tell me that. I've known it all along. And the vows I make to you now are the real ones. The ones that will follow me to the grave."

He paused. His eyes bright with emotion. All of his dreams unfolding right in front of him in the form of a beautiful 16 year old girl. It was overwhelming. And Max was in awe. An awe which could still the tongue of any man. But Max wasn't any man. He was an alien sent to love Liz Parker. He knew that as clearly as he knew his own name. The amazing thing was…she loved him back.

That knowledge unleashed a heart that has been caged for too long and dream-filled promises began to tumble like an explosive waterfall. "I've never wanted any one else. I never will. I will be by your side. From this point on. I will make every dream of yours come true." His hand reached up to caress her face. "More than that, Liz, I will be your dream made reality. I want so much to be the one thing in this world you can never do without. Because I'm simply not alive without you."

"In any season. Every season. For the rest of our lives, I will be there with you." Thumbs lightly brushing wayward tears from Liz's face, Max continued, his voice softening. "In the summer of our lives…when our days are bright, I'll laugh with you. And dance in fountains with you. I'll burn with the fire you light in me. And when we hit rough patches and our lives begin to fall around us…like leaves in Autumn. When our passion threatens to cool, I'll be your best friend and hold your hand. I'll do more than listen to you, Liz…I'll hear you. Every word. Every thought. Every emotion. And if the bitter winds of cold sweep through our lives and steal every last bit of joy, I will warm you with the inextinguishable hope you’ve given me. Cover you with a protective blanket of my love and just wait till Winter passes and spring finds us again.”

A shy smile captured Max's lips. "You're stuck with me, Liz. From this night till the day I take my last breath. I'll breathe every one…with you. For you."

Speechless, Liz took Max's face in her hands and bit her lip trying to control the tears that were beyond the point of no return. She shook her head at him in awe. "I love you so much. I…I simply don't know what to say, Max."

"It's ok. Take your time." Max smiled understandingly as he caressed her face, his fingers twining lightly through her hair. "I've been practicing this for weeks and you weren't expecting any of this."

A bright smile was Max's response. "Not tonight, I wasn't. And you are such a tough act to follow." Seriousness settled over Liz almost immediately and she touched Max's cheek. "But this is right, Max. I know it…I feel it."

"Just tell me what's in your heart, Liz. That's all I need. All I want."

Her gaze faltered as words from her heart pushed their way into her brain. Forming sentences all of the things she so desperately wanted to say to the one person who made her life worth living. "When I first found out who you are…it scared me to death. Because I already felt something for you, Max. And I knew if I embraced those feelings and took a step toward you, the feelings would only grow. Become so powerful that they would overwhelm me. I would be leaving normal to step into a world I would never escape from. An alien world full of mysteries I could never explain away. And I would be completely lost."

Steady gaze raising to meet Max's, a gentle smile touched her lips. "I'm not afraid anymore, Max. I'm not scared of where this will take me. I'm not lost with you. I'm found. I know things won't always be easy for us. But if there's one thing I've learned, we can handle anything that comes our way as long as we're together. Because when danger comes, in your arms I find courage and strength I never thought I'd have. You make me so much more than I ever thought I could be, Max. And now…I just want to be more with you."

"I want to be by your side through everything, Max. I will go everywhere with you. And do everything and nothing…together. From every last alien crisis to simply watching tv with a bowl of popcorn. Raising a family. The first time you see the ocean. Or flying to a planet far away...all the places you've ever dreamed of going, I want to go there too. More than that, Max, I want to be every good thing you've never had. And if our journey through life someday leads us back to your home…I'll be by your side. Holding your hand. Making a new home all over again with you there."

"I'll be your best friend. Your partner. Whenever the weight of the world is pressing down on you, I'll be there to take half of your burden. Forever, Max. Because I simply don't feel alive without you either." Biting her lower lip in uncertainty, Liz's final whispered vow caused Max's eyes to glow with golden light. "I will always love you, Max. Always."

Gravitating toward each other was the most natural thing in the world. Their eyes drifted closed at the precise same moment. Their lips gently came together, sealing their vows with a kiss as pure as their love and as strong as the connection that flared between them.

A connection, not of things they'd already experienced. Not even of dreams. Or fantasies. But of things to come. Laughter. Love. A home.

Deepening their kiss only brought more images. More sensations. More love.

Visions came quickly swirling between them in a haze of dazzling colors. Wrapping the two of them in a silver world of stars as pure white flakes of snow drifted down around them. A golden cord of shimmering love connecting one heart to the other appeared. A golden cord that extended out into the darkness beyond the light of their love. Weaving around a tiny form and creating a bond Max and Liz instantly felt cresting inside of them. Merging souls together. Binding hearts. Melding minds. Not just two…

They instinctively knew, they were no longer alone.

Outside of themselves, Max and Liz gazed into the shadows that began to disappear as a golden light spotlighted a dark-haired angel with big amber-colored eyes. The face of his father and a smile that mirrored his mother's looked back at them. His long lashes fluttered against soft cheeks as he blinked.

Locked eyes with them.

Then grinned.

Liz and Max broke apart suddenly and stared at each other. Speechless. Awe-filled. Shook to their collective core. Voice wavering with uncertainty, Liz blinked rapidly in shock. "Max…Max, what just happened. Who…was that?"

Breathing heavily, Max's face broke into a grin as his thumbs incessantly caressed Liz's cheeks. "I think…I think that was our son."

"Our son?" Eyes glittering with sudden tears, she tilted her head upwards as her fingers raked through his hair. "Looks like we're in for a beautiful life together, Mr. Evans."

Max leaned his forehead against hers as a smile drifted over his lips. He nodded as his fingers lightly stroked her hair before dropping to lovingly caress her cheek. "Yes, it does…Mrs. Evans."

After a long moment of gazing happily into each other's eyes, Liz's gaze lowered to Max's mouth. The meaning of her visual caress was clear confirmed by the way her body pressed tightly against Max's. "I want more, Max." Her eyes drifted closed as she lazily nuzzled her nose against his, eliciting a helpless sound from Max as he attempted to capture her lips only to be denied the pleasure as she continued a seduction he'd wanted all along. "You know...there's only one fantasy of mine you've left unfulfilled..."

A soul full of passion. A heart overflowing with love. Eyes shimmering with unleashed desire. A flicker of amusement. With a dash of confidence. If they had been ingredients, mixed together, they would have made the man before her as he tenderly caressed her face with his gaze. He knew what she was asking. He knew the fantasy she wanted. For once in his life, Max Evans was completely, utterly powerless to deny her anything she asked.

More than that…he didn't want to deny her any longer. Or himself. There was no more fear. Only…devotion. Commitment. Promises. The kind that lasts a lifetime…

Max brushed a light kiss against her lips then pulled out of her arms. Pulling her from her seat, Max lead her forward gently, his whisper filling the air. "Come with me…"

"Where?" Hushed awe shimmered through Liz’s voice and she shivered at the desire blazing in his eyes as they deepened to fathomless black.

"There's more…" Max whispered as he pulled forward, heading straight for the open door.

"More? Than this?" Liz raised an eyebrow in playfully.

Max chuckled. "So much more…" His eyebrow raised enigmatically. Liz’s knees suddenly felt very weak and she faltered a step then squealed suddenly when Max dipped down and swept her up in his arms, carrying her to a room down the hall.

Standing in the doorway, Max gazed at Liz as she let out a gasp of surprise. Before her was a circular room bathed in a warm glow sent off by dozens of candles strategically placed all around. Shadows flickered on the walls as Liz’s gaze swept around the room and stopped to focus in the middle where a bed of plush pillows and a shimmering comforter painted a picture of romantic luxury. Four wrought iron posts were sheathed in sheer white material that puddled at the four corners of the bed.

"Wow, Max. This is…" Liz's speech faltered as her gaze was drawn upward by the tiny points of lights reflectively dancing across the bed and around the floor. A smile weaved its way through every word. "A ceiling of stars."

A faint blush settled on Max's cheeks and his gaze faltered shyly. "That was…"

"You fantasy. To make love to me under a blanket of stars." Liz finished for him as she locked eyes with him once more when his head snapped up in surprise. Her fingers played with the strands of his hair curling around his ear. "You’re not the only one with powers you know.”

"Oh, believe me, Liz…I know." He reached out and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear before his fingers tenderly made a trail down the side of her face. A faint smile haunted his lips. "I've been under your spell since the day I first laid eyes on you. Completely powerless to do anything but what you ask."

"Oh, yeah?" Her breath brushed his lips as she nudged his nose with hers. “What would you do if I told you that particular fantasy..." Inclining her head toward the bed, Liz's smile was slow and seductive. "…has been a fantasy of mine too." Her finger lazily traced Max's lips, her eyes darkened with passion. "What will happen if I ask you to make it come true?"

With one whispered, "Liz Evans…why don't I show you?" Max Evans carried his bride into a heaven of their own creation…


"Whoa. Whoa. Wait." Michael's voice cut through the memory like a sharp knife as he took a step forward his gaze shifting between Max and Liz then back again. "You two did it in high school and didn't tell us?"

"Michael…" Maria's warning went unheeded.

"Don't 'Michael' me. They knew things for years we just learned, Maria." Throwing his hands up in a frustrated gesture. "Seriously. What kind of friend does that?" He turned to face Maria. "You do realize, don't you, that I've had to endure years of countless lectures on the dangers of human-alien relations. And now I find out that Mr. High and Mighty here had personal experience on the subject. An experience, by the way, that you and I, my dear wife, would have had much earlier had I known what it would be like."

Michael shook his head in disappointment as he cast Max another glare. "Unbelievable."

"Sooo not the point here, Michael." Maria glared at him with a hiss as she grabbed his arm and yanked him back to stand next to her.

"Maybe not for you…" Michael mumbled under his breath.

"She's right. That isn't the point." Liz's hardened voice caused Max to internally flinch. Her anguished glare cut right through him. "That isn't the point at all. Is it, Max."

Max shook his head slightly as his gaze shifted away from her pained expression.

"No. It really isn't." Liz swallowed hard as she steeled herself for the battle of a lifetime. A battle for love. "Or is it, Max? Was that all I was to you? A night in the sack? An…experiment on human-alien relations?"

"Liz…" Maria tried to still the anger she saw boiling in her friend's eyes.

Liz ignored her. "No, see…the way I see it…it's all about trust…and love. And how Max here doesn't really understand either one…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Are you saying you don't trust me?" Nasedo's question broke the stillness in the room.

A wry smile touched his lips as he ignored Nasedo's question and asked one of his own. "And the point of this little exercise tonight was?"

Nasedo shrugged. "To see if I could shake them up a little." He practically cackled with glee. He turned his back to his visitor and slowly made his way to his favorite chair by the window. A tiger-like smile curved his lips upward. "I'd say I've still got the touch."

"Unfortunately, you don't have the time." Crossing the room to stand next to Nasedo, Nicholas stuffed his hands in his pockets and gazed out over the cities lights. "I spoke with Khivar tonight. And I have a message for you."

Nicholas waited till Nasedo's eyes met his. "Stop playing games. You've waited too long. Wasted too much time with your experiments on these human women. If Tess won't willingly cooperate with our little plan, then it's time to force her."

Nasedo's gaze shifted to the world beyond his window. "Tess is still my queen. I have no choice but to obey a direct order."

A light chuckle escaped Nicholas. "There is more than one way to make someone do something they don't want to do." Placing a hand on Nasedo's shoulder gained Nicholas his full attention. "Trick her. Just like you did Max and Liz."

Eyebrows furrowed and Nasedo shook his head. "But she knows too much of the plan. She's seen the essence. Knows what we are going to do with it once its developed…"

Nicholas let out a sigh. "You're a shape shifter." Giving Nasedo a pointed look, Nicholas dropped his hand. "So…find her weakness. Then…do what comes naturally."

Turning on his heel, Nicholas walked away stopping a moment at the desk to drop a large manilla envelope. "His name is Ben, by the way." He called out before opening the door and closing it behind him with a commanding click.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nasedo held a small glass vial of swirling colors up to the light. As black as his own alien heart was, there was no denying the magnificence of the sight before him. Strands of silver and gold wove through the curls of mist dancing together in the glass container. Blue. Purple. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green.

Colors of the rainbow.

Colors of love.

Colors of life.

All shimmering with a radiance that rarely wavered and never dimmed. Wrapped in a nearly transparent, milky-white coat as pure as snow. Changing as swift as an emotion, the vibrant rainbow mist would mute to pastel serenity then spring back to instant life with renewed boldness.

Even pure evil could recognize true love when he held it bottled up in his hands.

Raising a glass of scotch as if toasting the vial, Nasedo swallowed a gulp then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Looks like our time together is coming to an end, little one. Soon, you'll be growing and changing. Becoming…human." Nasedo smirked. "Or as human as you'll ever be."

"Don't worry. I'll not leave your side." His finger caressed the vial with uncharacteristic tenderness. "And the moment you come into this world, I'll be there to take you to your new home. We'll rule that world together, you and I. The Prince of Antar and his trusted guide."

An evil smile curled his lips upward as sinister thoughts danced in his mind. "Your mom and dad won't even know what they're missing…"

Tbc….

posted on 27-Jan-2002 11:39:30 AM by Ashton
Hey all!

I know this is going to be a bit confusing, but I will be clearing things up in the next chapter. Thanks for your patience and support! I'd love to hear what you think!!

BehrHugs,
Ashton


~ chapter 15 ~


Ben had no idea what he was doing.

Still sitting on the bench. In the park. Across the street from the place Liz had run to with all her might. Staring at the door into which she had disappeared.

He had let her go. It was the right thing to do. Both of them knew it. He’d known it since the moment he heard her whisper Max’s name. She’d known it long before then. Yes, it had been the right thing to do. If it hadn't been, he would have fought for her harder and she would have let him. She would have protested more. Begged more for his patience. Cried more tears.

As it was, she'd accepted their break up as…inevitable.

Something she wouldn't have done had it been Max Evans.

Ben knew that as instinctively as he knew something was very off about the whole situation. This whole group. The way Tess and Max had tried so hard to conjure up a relationship that clearly wasn't there. How easily Tess had been willing to prove Liz's love for Max. The obvious pain wrapped around both Max and Liz every time they looked in each other's eyes. The kind of pain only betrayal of the deepest kind of love could produce. The strange man that came to their table and struck a disquieting chord of fear in all of their eyes.

"You have no idea how far that man will go for Liz. The sacrifices he'll make. The pain he'll endure..."

Tess' confident words in Max's defense flashed through Ben's mind and sent a shiver down his spine. Something very strange was going on. Very strange and intriguing. Too intriguing to walk away now…

Ben let out a sigh and shook his head. Who was he kidding? He wasn't sitting there rooted to his spot because some man asked for a fortune cookie and freaked out everyone at the table. He was sitting there in case Max Evans turned out to be the biggest fool in creation and hadn't the faintest idea what to do with the gift Liz was giving him…

Herself.

And a second chance.

Ben was no fool. That’s why his eyes remained fixed on the door. Waiting. Just in case it was his eyes Liz sought when she needed a friend…
~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz was no longer thinking. She was no longer feeling. She was numb after years of pain. But oh, how she wanted to feel. Something…anything. At least then she would know she was alive. So she lashed out. Banging long and hard against the wall of betrayal and silence that had separated her from Max for so long. Searching for a way to shed the dead scales of emptiness that had covered her for years.

Irrational as it may be, if she could make Max bleed…she would bleed too. Instinctively, she knew. Even now, after all this time, all the distance…Max and Liz were still…one.

All because of that one glorious night.

They had been sealed together. From that moment on, there was no turning back. No matter what course taken in life, that destiny Max claimed would always affect Liz Parker. Whether by his side or miles away from him. She was part of it. It held her in its grip as tightly as it held Max and Tess.

Even now, unplanned as it was--as unwanted as it had been in this moment--she still loved him. After all this time. All the pain. All the tears and confusion. Denials and efforts to move on. Liz Parker was not aware of the biggest truth in her life. The only truth in her life. She was still madly in love with Max Evans. He was now, always had been and always would be the harmony to her song. The other half of her. Her heart and soul. The reason that somehow made sense of the crazy world around her.

Gazing into his eyes from half a room away, Liz was finally ready to accept the truth of her love. Embrace it. Cling to it. She had it. It was the only thing that kept her breathing now.

As silence hung in the air, Liz's heart began triple-hammer in her chest. Buried dreams caused the ground under her feet to shake as they pushed their way from a well-hidden grave into existence once more. Only now, once breathing and alive, those very same dreams hung precariously over the cliff of uncertainty. Suspended by hope of the thinnest string. That was the only word for it. It was the only thing she had left to hang onto.

Not a rope. Not a harness. Or even a hand. One single string. One golden cord of unwavering love that tied her heart to Max’s. Had always tied her to him. Would tie her to him for eternity.

Was it strong enough to hold her should she take the leap of faith and reach for him now?

Or would one lightening quick slash from the knife of betrayal send her headlong into a fathomless pit of eternal loneliness?

Desperate fear simmered in her dark eyes. Fear that attempted to push down the cresting wave of love with the restrictive, choking straight jacket of bitterness. Anger. Pain. Attempting the impossible. Attempting not to feel every good thing Max had ever made her feel as she looked once more into his eyes.

The result was accusation. The effect, a wall of denial. An unwillingness to feel too much, too soon. Defenses rose with dangerous rapidity.

“No. It really isn’t.” Liz swallowed hard as she steeled herself for the battle of a lifetime. A battle for love. “Or is it, Max? Was that all I was to you? A night in the sack? An…experiment on human-alien relations?”

“Liz…” Maria tried to still the anger she saw boiling in her friend’s eyes.

Liz ignored her. “No. See…the way I see it…it’s all about trust…and love. And how Max, here, doesn’t understand either one…”

Gravitating to him unconsciously, Liz took a few more steps into the room taking confidence in the way Max’s eyes never left hers. There was an honest, straight forward connection. Fear and pain traveled the space between them. And something else. Something that gave her the courage to move forward. “What happened, Max? What happened to our seasons? You promised me. Max, you promised you’d be there when the sun turned its back on us.”

“And I believed you. I believe you so much that…” A soft hand reached out to close the distance and Max’s eyes fluttered shut when he felt the touch of her hand on his face. “…you became my sun. Warm. Vibrant. The one thing in this world that made me hope for a tomorrow. That made me feel…alive. I never…I never thought you’d turn your back on me.” Her next words three came out tremulous with injured emotion. "I. Trusted. You."

He almost wished she would yell at him. Or scream that she hated him. Or hit him. Anything would be better than her quiet words of accusation that were literally cutting his insides to shreds. Coating his heart with a frosty film of guilt. But her touch. Oh, God, that touch. The one that sent a fire raging through him. Melting away self loathing. Burning an image of trust and love and faith into his mind.

In the midst of such overwhelming sensations, Max hadn't the faintest idea what he was doing.

He should be the one moving toward her or doing something like reaching out to touch her face. Wiping her tears. Or taking her into his arms. Forming a connection. Letting her see inside of him. To see all the truths and love he’d been holding back for years. Thinking or feeling. **Saying** something, for God's sake.

But his lips were clamped shut by the anguish drowning Liz’s eyes. His feet were rooted firmly to the floor by her harsh accusations. His arms pinned to his side, fists clenched in desperate fear of imminent rejection. Numbed by the powerful waves of anger shuddering through Liz’s petite frame, Max felt every ferocious jab of fury she was trying desperately to control.

And, like a bolt of lightening, they shot right to his core. Straight into his bones.

A truth of seismic proportions cemented Max to the shaking ground under his feet. Even now, after all this time, all the distance…Max and Liz were still…one.

All because of that one glorious night.

In the thick silence, he could still feel her. Could still read her thoughts. Hear the breaking of her heart as she faced her greatest pain. Knew the mistrust that crested and ebbed deep inside of her. Fighting to believe. Terrified to give in.

And he felt it all through a wall as thick as steel. A wall he had placed there with his lies. A wall that had to come down if either of them hoped to survive…

All of the sensations shattered the moment her electric touch left his face.

Her hand dropped and a tear followed quickly in its wake down the side of Max’s face. “Why? Why did you?”

“Or does it even matter any more?” Liz cast her gaze upward and took a quick breath to stop the tears that suddenly sprang to her eyes. Her voice wavered with shaky emotions as an equally shaky hand ran over her eyes. She turned her back on Max. “God, what am I saying? My life has just been turned completely upside down. I…I really can’t be sure of anything.”

Maria’s voice broke through the private conversation Liz was holding with herself, concerned her friend would once more break into tears. She certainly looked close to it. “Liz, maybe you should…”

Putting up her hand to stop Maria, Liz sense her best friend’s concern and brought her gaze back to look at her. “No. I’m ok. No more outbursts of tears or running away. I’m tired of running. I’m tired of trying to deny what I’ve known all along. I’m tired of…everything. And I was wrong. I am sure of one thing…”

She paused as her lips began to tremble when she realized the gravity of her situation. The only man she ever loved, heart and soul, was standing in front of her…loving another woman. And she no longer had the comfort of Ben’s arms to hide behind. She was on her own.

Yes, she loved him. Yes, she wanted him back. She refused to cry again, but by God she wasn’t going to let him off easy. By the end of this night, Max Evans was going to know exactly what he’d put her though.

Her voice hardened and her eyes took on an injured distance as she turned to face Max once more. “Do you know how long it took me to get over you? How many years of nights I cried into my into my pillow? Unable to breathe or sleep unless I could somehow focus on one happy moment with you? Or do you even care?”

“Liz...” Max took a step toward her, hand outstretched. But seven years of pain and anger wouldn’t be silence.

She stepped back. “Do you know how long it took for me to find someone after you? To even open up enough to feel…anything? Not weeks, Max. Not months. It took years. And patience. Ben had so much patience. He waited…for so long just for me to be able to care enough to try.”

“And once I did, I wanted to. I actually wanted to move past you somehow. I wanted to make it through a day without thinking about you every hour. Or stop my heart from racing when I thought I saw someone across the street that just happened to look the least bit like you. God, Max, I have tried. I’ve tried so…hard. And now…” Liz’s voice began to quiver as her eyes started to shine brightly from the film of unshed tears. “…in once night you have destroyed everything that it has taken me years to build.”

Max swallowed hard at Liz’s words and the agony with which she spoke them. He’d been a fool to believe for even a heartbeat that they could ever move past the destruction he’d caused. That she could ever forgive him the years he had cost her was a foreign concept to his mind at that moment. And trust. It used to shine in her eyes when she looked at him. In fact, there was a time she would have put her life in his hands.

All of that had been completely demolished with all the lies and games he had been forced to play. All to save her life. It had been worth it. Even with her standing there in front of him shaking with anger and pain…at least she was alive. At least she could still feel. That was something he hadn’t been able to do in so long. Now, emotions he’d forgotten were alive and welling up in his heart. The surge of energy living brings washed over Max. It felt so good. To feel again

But, God, did it hurt too.

“Ben let you go, didn’t he?” Tess’ voice broke the silence and Liz’s gaze snapped to her face.

A sneer of hatred curled her lips and her eyes flashed with barely controlled loathing. “It wasn’t enough for you, was it? To take the only man I’ve ever completely loved. You had to poison Ben too. You had to make him see things…”

“He knew before I said a word, Liz. I swear to you, what I did…I did for you. For you and Max.”

“For me?” Liz’s laughter echoed mockingly throughout the room. “When has anything in your miserable life been for anyone else but yourself?” Liz took a step toward Tess as long years of hatred continued to boil. “You waltzed into Roswell, took one look at Max and decided you wanted him. And you didn’t give a damn who it hurt. You did everything to get him. You manipulated him. You lied to him. You used his desire to understand who he was…where he came from…to draw him to you. Then, without even having the decency to wait until he was free…you slept with him. Took him into your bed and ripped him away from me forever…”

“Liz. Stop.” Max really spoke for the first time since Liz entered the room. “Tess doesn’t deserve this. Look, you don’t understand what happened. You’re angry with me, Liz. Not her.”

“The hell I’m not!” Liz practically shouted at Max as she whirled to face him. “What gives you the right to tell me what I’m feeling and who I’m feeling it toward? You gave up that right the night you fell into the arms of your intergalactic slut…”

“I said that’s enough!” Max’s voice boomed through the room as he took another step toward her, pain etched in the depths of his eyes. “You don’t know what you’re saying, Liz. You don’t know the truth…”

‘The truth, huh? That would be nice for once. But I doubt I’ll get it. Not from you and certainly not from her…” Liz shook her head in disgust and ran her hands through her hair. “You know, I should have known you’d defend her. You’d take her side and fight for her. What I want to know, Max, is…when did you ever fight for me? Was there ever a moment that you really meant all those things you told me? That you would do anything for me? For our love?”

“Liz, maybe you should just stop and listen to him.” Maria’s voice of reason seemed to break the threatening storm brewing in Liz’s eyes.

“Why? So he can tell me just how much he loves her? Isn’t it bad enough I’ve had to imagine him in her arms all these years? Do I really have to hear how wonderful his destiny has turned out to be without me?”

“Max is in hell without you.” Tess took the initiative to speak up before Max had a chance to process Liz’s statements. He was concentrating on the years of tears he saw hidden behind her eyes. Tears he had caused. Tears that would have meant her life if she’d never shed them. He felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest and was being slowly, mechanically cut right up in front of him. Bit by tiny bit.

Tess stepped forward and shrugged off the hand that Max had reached out to stop her. It was a protective move. Instinctive. Shielding Liz from any further pain. “Liz. Look at me.”

Liz raised her eyes to meet Tess’ and for the first time in her life saw a genuine smile of friendship on her face. Even more shocking was the sincerity in Tess’ blue eyes. Tess shook her head. “He isn’t in love with me. He never has been. He never will be. Liz, you’re the only one he’s ever…”

“Tess. Don’t.” The command was soft but certain. Like watching a ping pong match, all eyes turned to Max while his remained glued to Liz’s face. “If she’s going to hear the truth, she’s going to hear it from me.”

Tess turned to him and nodded when their eyes locked in mutual understanding. “Ok. But she needs to know all of it, Max. Not just the fear you’re feeling right now.”

Liz let out a shaky breath when Max’s gaze returned back to her face. There were so many emotions running through him. Watching his expression was like watching a storm brewing. There was a fierce gentleness in his expression. A darkness with flashes of light dancing in his eyes. Disaster and chaos rumbled through his breathing as disquieted uncertainty caused his chest to heave then still. Each vivid expression that passes over his face appeared and disappeared just as swiftly, completely throwing Liz for a loop. Through it all, one emotion was clear. Love.

“What is the truth, Max? Is Tess right?” Liz’s voice was barely a whisper. “Do you…still love me?”

“God, yes.” Max didn’t even hesitate in words or actions. Before she knew it he was standing in front of her, cupping her face in his hands in that familiar loving way he used to. “Liz…” He whispered her name with such reverence. Love. Adoration. Awe. “I never stopped, Liz. Not one moment. One second.” Max blinked back tears quickly before they slipped down his face. “I’ll never stop…no matter what happens…”

Caught in a whirlwind of emotions, Liz’s throat closed off as her heart bounced with renewed life in her chest. It wasn’t just hearing the words again. It wasn’t even the truth she saw radiating from his eyes. It was his touch.

That gentle touch. The one that transferred every sensation he was feeling from his body to hers. The one that branded her. That wrapped her in a world of rainbows. Passion. Warmth. Peace. Belonging. Love. Each one permeated her skin and seeped into her bones. She shut her eyes and just absorbed it all in.

But anger wouldn't be denied. Bitterness still ruled. And questions still needed to be answered.

Somehow finding her voice in the midst of everything, she managed to find the darkness amongst all the vibrant colors. “Then why, Max? Why did you…” Liz looked down at her hands, her lips began to tremble and a tear slipped from her eyes. “I saw, Max. In a flash on my balcony that night. I saw the two of you…”

“Liz, listen to me.” Max interrupted abruptly, anxious to wipe that horrifying moment away forever. “It never happened, I swear.”

“But I saw…”

“Liz, that image you saw that night…I gave it to you.” Tess jumped in quickly, eager to shoulder the responsibility of an action that had haunted her for so long. “I knew he was going to end things with you that night. I also knew, as much as he loved you, that he probably wouldn’t be able to do it. So, I followed him to your place. And when I saw him wavering…I sent the image to you. He had no idea until later what I had done.”

“He wanted to tell you the truth right away. But…I wouldn’t let him.” Tess pulled in a deep breath as her hasty ramble wound down to a close. “I wouldn’t let him because it would have ruined everything.”

Tess’ words drifted to Liz through the fogy haze of muddled emotions. Gazing into Max’s eyes, she saw the truth of Tess’ words reflected there. Like a giant pool, the mirror of truth could be read as easily as Liz was once again drowning in his eyes.

‘Is this true?” A strangled voice asked the question. Liz didn’t even recognize it as he own. Max nodded in answer. “But why? Why did you need to…”

Max hung his head and closed his eyes tightly. His grip on her shoulders tightened. He was in agony. It was in every pore of his body. Every cell of his being. He was on the brink of crumbling right before her and she had no idea why.

Unconsciously, instinctively, she touched his face prompting his gaze to lock with hers. Eyes steady and glowing with encouragement, Liz nodded slightly. “Max. I’m here now. I’m ready to listen. I want to know…”

“Why I betrayed our love.” Max finished for her finally saying the words. Acknowledging what he'd done as seen through Liz's eyes. His eyes. They were same, once more. “There’s so much you don’t know. So much I need to tell you. God, I don’t even know where to begin…”

“Just start, Max. Just talk to me. Look in my eyes and…talk to me. Just like you used to.”

Max nodded and found the courage to face the truth in her eyes. “Tess is right. We were never together. As a couple, I mean. I never loved her. I was never in love with her. It was all an act.”

“An act. Why?”

“Nasedo. Liz, he came to us. He told us our destiny…”

Liz’s lips tightened into a hard line and her entire body stiffened. Her fingers grew cold against his skin. “That you were meant to be together, I know that, Max…”

“No. It’s more than that.” Disbelief edged his words as injured eyes sought hers. “Do you really think I would let someone tell me who to love the rest of my life? That I would actually walk away from you for something so little as an engineered mate? “God, Liz, there’s nothing…**nothing**…that would have torn me away from you short of…”

Max pulled back from Liz and turned his back, taking a few steps away from her. His head hung low as anguish once more covered him like a blanket. He was remembering something. Something eternally painful. Something Liz instinctively knew her entire future happiness was hinged on.

She squared her shoulders and prepared for the worst. “Short of what, Max? Why did you walk away?”

His shoulders rose and fell as he took a deep breath. His head raised when Tess stepped up to him and placed a gentle hand on his arm. His eyes sought hers and she nodded almost imperceptibly encouraging him to do the one thing he'd been terrified to do.

Drop the two-edged sword of truth and split Liz's world wide open once again.

Max swallowed hard and turned to face Liz once more. “I betrayed you…because it was the only way to save your life." He glanced toward Michael and Maria. "All of our lives.”

Maria gasped audibly and Michael's eyes narrowed as he slipped an arm around Maria's shoulders. Liz's mind began to whirl. And so did the questions.

"Save our lives? How? What did not being with me have anything to do with saving our lives?" She swallowed hard and crossed her arms in front of her, preparing herself to feel more pain. "What exactly did Nasedo tell you, Max?"

Max took a deep breath and began. “Nasedo told us…told Tess and me…our destiny was to procreate. To have children together.”

Liz's breath caught in the middle of her chest as a possibility she hadn't previously considered hit her like a ton of bricks. “You…you two…have children.”

“No!" Max's instant, violent denial echoed in the room. In a heartbeat, he bridged the distance between he and Liz, needing to touch her. To make her believe. "God, no, Liz. We don’t. We’ve never even…” His eyes sought hers as his fingers tightened slightly around her jaw emphasizing the truth of his words. "You're the only one, Liz. The **only** one I've ever been with."

Liz blinked back the tears of relief. "I am?"

Max's eyes drifted closed as he leaned his forehead against hers. The truth of his words burned her lips as his warm breath blew across her face. "God, yes. How could I ever want anyone after…" His eyes opened to meet hers. "How could I?"

Tears slipped silently down Liz's cheeks as her lips began to tremble. "Me…either."

And then…Max's attention was captured as he saw a faint glow against Liz's skin. Hidden just below the top of her dress. At the end of a delicate chain hung around her neck. He felt her chest rise and catch as his fingers lightly brushed her soft skin when he pulled the chain out to look at it, shock registering in his amber eyes.

The glow was coming from the ring he’d given her so long ago. Faint, but still there. His heart began to hammer against his chest. That one simple glow was proof that love was still alive.

Somewhere.

He could feel the fragile trendils of love struggling to break through the hard ground of bitterness and reach out to him. He lightly ran his thumb over the stone in the ring as he held it up to Liz.

Their gazes simultaneously moved from the ring to lock just above the glowing stone.

For the first time, Max began to smile. It was slow and disarming. Just the way Liz remembered. Before she knew it, she was smiling in return. Bright and instantaneous. Just like she always had around Max Evans.

Fingers wrapped around the ring that held so many promises, Max tentatively lowered his lips to hers. Liz tilted her face upward in breathless anticipation. A light brush of electricity sparked between them as their lips touched. And the ground gave way.

Love surrounded them. Light flashed from the ring.

And Liz Parker threw herself into his arms.

Biting back a giggle of joy that bubble up inside of her, Liz pulled back to look up at Max as his eyes darkened with passion and lovingly roamed her face. Fingers slipping through her hair, his smile deepened to reflect only a sliver of the joy racing through him. Liz let out a tear-filled sigh as her fingers slowly ran over his features, reacquainting themselves with every delicious inch before her hands slipped around his neck to lightly play with the hair at the base of his neck.

Closing her eyes for the first time in years in complete peace and contentment, Liz pulled Max's head down till their foreheads connected once more. Her hopeful whisper danced with heated eagerness across his skin, freezing him in place. "It doesn't matter what happened…we're together now. We still love each other. It's all over now, Max."

Her words dealt a mortal blow.

Pulling back abruptly, Max gazed down at Liz, renewed anguish brushing his features. Tears brightening his eyes. Liz's eyes full of love met his. He felt like he was dying a slow death as ebony brightness dulled to empty understanding.

"No, Liz. We…can't…" His lips trembled. "We can never be together. Ever again…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
His muscles were beginning to ache from sitting on the bench so long. Until tonight, Ben wasn't sure he knew exactly how difficult it was to wait.

He'd never really waited for anything. He simply wasn't the type. When he saw something he wanted, he went for it. If a goal needed to be reached…he reached it. He was a planner and a doer. The guy that was always on the go.

Liz was the only person he'd ever been willing to wait for.

Now he was realizing for the first time since meeting her that waiting really sucked.

A sudden movement caught Ben's eye and he glanced up to see a side door of the restaurant open. A familiar figure emerged, glanced around then quickly, silently shut the door behind her. Rushing across the street oblivious to any observers, she headed straight toward a worn path and disappeared as the trees of the park swallowed her up.

Ben's eyes narrowed. The furtive glances, the stealthy way her body moved. Something was up. And Ben was tired of inaction.

Jumping up from the bench, Ben quickly, quietly made his way toward the path the petite blonde had disappeared down. Trees surrounded him on every side. Slight noises of an occasional falling branch or a scurrying animal reached his hearing but barely phased him. Rounding a bend, Ben pulled up short when he saw the object he'd been pursuing in an apparently heated discussion with none other than that man who had come to their table earlier that night.

Secreting himself behind a bush, Ben strained to hear their heated whispers. Hoping to gain some insight into what was really going on inside that restaurant. And what it all had to do with the stranger that turned their world upside down.

"Are you crazy? Have you seriously lost your mind?" Tess hissed in the stranger's direction causing the man to smile wickedly. Tess shook her head. "I won't do it."

The man let out a throaty laugh. "Oh, yes, you will do it. And you know how I know you'll do it? Because if you don't, the Prince of Antar's blood will be on your hands."

"Oh, no you don't. You do not get to blame me for this." Tess spat back angrily. "I'm not the one that came up with this hair-brained scheme of yours. I 'm not the one that tricked Max and Liz all those years ago. And I’m not the one that's trying to steal their child…"

"There's no trying about it, Tess." The stranger's voice was cold and hard. He leaned in toward Tess, his eyes locking with hers. "I have their son. And his time is running out. Unless you help me with this, he will die."

"I don't believe you." Tess crossed her arms in front of her. "And I will not be part of this."

Nasedo shrugged. "Suit yourself." He turned to go then stopped. "But if I were you, I'd start running now. Because once Max and Liz realize you knew about their son and could have saved him…there will be no place for you to hide. And once they find you, Tess…"

Tess grabbed Nasedo's arm and spun him around. "You think I care about what's going to happen to me? You think that's what this is all about? Well, it's not. I know exactly what you plan on doing once that baby is born. I know you're in cahoots with Khivar and you think being in possession of the Prince will bring you more power than you've ever dreamed of." Tess shook her blonde curls as her eyes flashed defiantly. "You're a fool. Khivar is only using you to get his hands on that boy. Once he does, he'll have no more use of you."

Nasedo shrugged her predictions away with an air of nonchalance. "All the more reason to let the boy die before he's ever born, don't you think? You can defeat all of us with one single blow of inaction. Yet, I know somehow that you won't. And you want to know how I know? Because you love Max. And it would kill you to see him lose so much in one lifetime. And if we lose this child, Tess…so will he."

Tess swallowed hard. "All I have to do is march back into that restaurant and tell them all the truth."

"You could do that." Nasedo agreed. "And, in turn, I could kill Liz Parker for real this time. Now, where exactly would that get you? Hmmm? Max hasn't wanted you all these years, you really think he'll want you after you caused his only love to die? Especially after you've killed his son too?"

"You bastard." Tess' condemnation was low and full of hatred. "You have no idea what you're messing with. The power of their love…"

Nasedo cackled with glee and waved her protest away with a careless hand. "No, my dear, I'm afraid you don't." His smile faded as deadly seriousness masked his face. His voice was low and terse with determination. "Get me the ring, Tess. It's the boy's only hope." Nasedo turned on his heel and walked a few paces away before tossing back one last parting thought. "Whether he lives or dies…all depends on you now."

Ben watched the stranger slip away before turning his attention back to Tess. A sick hand of terror instantly grip his heart. His stomach at the sickening sight of a confident, proud Tess Harding slipping to her knees, her head bowed as silent anguish shook her body.

As the sound of her tears hit his heart like a jackhammer, Ben instinctively knew the stranger had won…

Ben's eyes flashed with determination as his mind added two important words to his thought…

For now…

Tbc…

posted on 17-Mar-2002 11:27:19 PM by Ashton
Rating: PG...the most it'll probably get is PG-13...I think.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything Roswell, etc.
Summary: It's been 5 years since graduation...7 years since Tess Harding entered their lives and changed everything. With a little match-making scheme, Maria and Michael try to see if they can get Max and Liz back 'where they were before'. *happy*
Category: Max/Liz, although all Roswell couples will be/are involved

Hey all!

I KNOW its been forever. I'm very very sorry about that. Next chpt will hopefully be of Kiss the Flame then I'll concentrate on this one again. Hope you enjoy. This will probably fill in some more of the blanks, but I'm sure you'll have lots of questions too. *happy* Please, Please let me know what you think and if you want me to continue. *happy*

BehrHugs,
Ashton
~~~~~~~~~~~
(Blessid Union of Souls excerpt)
"Where We Were Before"

And you're just what I've been waiting for
To come and take me in
To grab ahold and take control and make me whole again
And if you need my everything you can take it all and more
Just help me to get back where we were before

~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ chpt 16 ~


Silence hung in the air. Max's heart was racing to catch up with the enormous impact her words had made on his mind prompting his impulsive statement. Shattering the dreams reflected in her eyes.

Tears clung to her lashes. She jerkily pushed herself out of his embrace. Shoulders sagging, her gaze shifted as she felt the world closing in on her. One dark hopeless cloud of pain descended and entrapped her heart.

As she painfully turned her back on Max, all Liz Parker could say was a weary, monotone "I see."

"No, Liz. You don't." Max's voice was barely a whisper though the renewed grip in her upper arms was strong as he pursued her across the widening emotional distance separating them. He turned her around to declare the only truth he knew and in turn was hit with truth as Liz Parker saw it.

"This has all been a game, hasn't it? A cruel joke. Our love…what I just felt from you, just another…heartless mindwarp." A bitter smile twisted Liz's normally full lips. Her arms hung loosely, dejectedly by her side. "You do love her, don't you, Max?" The doubts still prevalent in Liz's mind nearly brought Max to his knees. There was so much damage to repair. So much time to make up for. So much trust to regain. And Max was just realizing how much. Then Liz continued. And his realization grew.

"After so much time together, how can you not? I know you said…I know you said it was all an act. That you were just pretending…" Liz's chest hitched as she caught a sob from escaping her. "But…maybe you haven't been…and you're just now realizing it. Maybe seeing me again has made you realize you really have been pretending the wrong thing all this time…"

Liz's hands were clasped in front of her so tightly her knuckles were turning white. Her gaze dropped to the floor. "That's what I was doing you know? With Ben. Pretending to feel…" Her eyes slowly raised once more. "…alive. Do you feel that way, Max? With Tess? Does she make you feel the way we used to feel?" Her voice hardened as her lips tightened into a fine line, each clipped word forced out between clenched teeth. "Do you?"

"Liz. Look at me." Her name was spoken with the gentlest caress causing her gaze to drift back to meet his. Determination flashed in Max's eyes. By the end of the night, no matter what it took, there would be one thing made crystal clear. "If you don't hear anything else I say tonight, hear this, Liz Parker. I am not now, nor have I ever been in love with Tess Harding."

"It's always only been you. It will never be Tess or anyone else." His eyes were pleading. His voice tight with earnestness. His fingers dug into her flesh with a fierce gentleness as if she were too precious to ever let go. "This has nothing to do with not loving you enough or loving someone else more. Or even loving someone else…period. It has everything to do with you loving you so much that I would rather live the rest of my life empty and alone than to risk your life just to be with you."

Speechless, Liz blinked.

"Risk her life." Maria jumped in for Liz repeating the words she knew had to be tumbling in her best friends' head as something Max said earlier hit her. "Wait. You said something about that earlier. When you were asking Tess about Nasedo."

Max broke eye contact with Liz as his head lowered with a slight nod in response to Maria. Michael was the next to voice his concern. "So, Maxwell…what aren't you telling us?"

Max shot Michael a look of irritation and his voice hardened. "All of those alien-human relationship lectures you've had to endure, Michael…they weren't just my way of trying to ruin your fun. There is a real danger here. A risk that even you wouldn't take if you knew, Michael."

"God, Max…just spit it out."

"Fine." Max practically spat out the word before his gaze returned to Liz's face. His gaze instantly softened. "Nasedo told me that if I stayed with Liz…" Max swallowed hard. "…she would die." Gaze wavering, his voice became distant as if he were reliving that very moment over again. "He ripped my world to shreds that day…"

"Die." Michael repeated as his eyes met Maria's. "As in…"

"Dead, Michael." Max's voice was hard and bitter. "As in not breathing. As in six feet under." His voice dropped to a whisper. "As in never seeing her smile again. Or hearing her laugh…" Max shook his head as he cast his gaze up toward the ceiling. "How's that for a reality check, huh?"

Unexpectedly, a harsh chuckle escaped Liz. It was devoid of humor. Or belief. Bordering the laughter of insanity.

Concern flooded Max's eyes as he reached up and cupped her face in his hands. "Liz, please. You've got to believe me. Your life is at stake here…"

"No." Tears glistened in her eyes and she pushed his hands away from his face. "No, I won't believe being with you will kill me." Her head began to shake as anguish etched itself in her eyes. "Don't you see, Max? Not being with you is what's draining the life out of me. Year after year of emptiness is what makes it hard for me to breathe…"

"Liz, please." Max reached for her again, the breath in his lungs rattling painfully in his chest. "Please don't cry. This is hard enough…" Max's plea shimmered in the timbre of his voice as his heart instinctively responded to Liz's tears brightening his own shamelessly.

"Whoa, whoa, stop." Seeing her best friend's emotional strength deteriorating at an alarming speed and Max's determination quickly crumbling, Maria stepped between them and threw her hand up to Max in a halting gesture. "You…hang on a sec." Unless someone took control, nothing would get accomplished.

"You…come with me." Pulling Liz to the corner of the room, she forced Liz to look at her, Maria's voice low and pleading as she reached up and wiped a tear from her best friend's face. "Look, I know you're hurting right now. I know you have a million things going on inside of you. I know there are years of things you want to say to him. And I would too. Hell, I would have gone off on Michael an hour ago and ripped him to shreds by now. We're talking tiny little green alien pieces all over the place. On the walls. The ceiling. The floors…" Liz sniffled as a tentative smile touched her face.

Maria continued to minister to her best friend with a shrug as she shook Liz a little and became serious. "Look, I know none of this makes sense, but its not going to if you don't give Max a chance to explain. We have to be smart right now, ok? Listen to the whole story then…" Maria rubbed Liz's upper arms reassuringly. "…then, if you still want, we'll blast him into oblivion. You and me…together, ok?" She gently patted Liz's cheek as if coaxing a child to obedience. "Ok?"

Liz nodded mutely and choked back tears that were dangerously close to falling as Maria wrapped a protective arm around her and turned to face Max. Though facing him, Liz refused to meet his haggard gaze. Maria glanced at Michael who was now standing next to Max with a supportive hand on his shoulder. She nodded once then shifted her gaze to Max. "Ok, Max. Let's have it." Maria's no-nonsense command snapped Max's focus back to the immediate issue. "No more stalling. And you'd better not leave anything out."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She didn't even know where she was or how she got there. In a daze, it wasn't until Ben handed her a steaming cup of tea that Tess finally came back to reality from the disturbing dilemma she'd been faced with.

She blinked her large blue eyes and glanced around speaking for the first time since Nasedo left her in the park with an ultimatum. "Where…where am I?"

"My apartment." Ben sat down in the chair next to the couch and laid a soft throw next to Tess. "In case you're cold. You've been shivering since the park so…"

Tess glanced at him sharply. "What am I doing here?" She sat the cup down on the table in front of her. "Why…why did you bring me here?"

"Just calm down, ok?" Ben raised his hands in defense. "You were pretty upset at the park so I just thought you might want someone to talk to. Who knows? Maybe I can help with what's going on with Liz and Max…"

A harsh chuckle escaped Tess. "Believe me, Ben, the last thing Liz would want is for you to be involved in this."

"Actually, I would think the last thing Liz would want is for her son to die." Ben shot back quietly, his hands folded as he leaned forward and his eyes glued to the coffee table in front of him.

Tess drew in a sharp breath as her eyes widened in shock. "How…how did you know?"

Ben glanced away sheepishly. "I followed you into the park."

"You…what?"

Anxious to head off a volcanic eruption and instead focus on the immediate problem, Ben met Tess' angry gaze head on. "Look. Right now, I don't really think it matters how I know. The point is that I do. I can help you, Tess. I can help Liz and Max. But I have a lot of questions and would need to know exactly what's going on."

Tess shook her head. "No…no, you'd only think its crazy."

"Crazier than two people who are still obviously in love with each other, who have this almost…I don't know…cosmic connection or something. Who have a child together, splitting over God only knows why? Staying apart for years? Crazier than some man coming to our dinner table to ask for a fortune cookie that pretty much freaks the whole table out? Crazier than that same man meeting with you in the park and telling you to get some ring or else Max and Liz's son is going to die? A son, by the way, that my ex-fiancee never told me about?"

Ben shook his head. "No, I think I've been to the threshold of crazy tonight and guess what...I'm still here. Wanting answers. So, I'm thinking that right now…I'm all you've got." He paused to gauge Tess' reaction. "Unless you want me to call Max and Liz and tell them where we are…"

Her reaction was almost violent. "No! Don't do that. They can't know…"

"Can't know what?" Ben leaned forward, sharp questions lobbied in a soft voice. "About your meeting with the mysterious cookie guy? About what he wants you to do?"

Tess set the coffee cup on the table as a shiver ran through her. "They can't know about their son."

Confusion crept into Ben's aquamarine eyes. "Know what? That he's going to die?" He shook his head as his mind raced to process the influx of new information. "Wait. How do they not know…"

"They don't even know he exists." Tess' eyes met Ben's as a wry expression flitted over her face when she saw the shock on his. "See? I told you it was crazy."

"How is that possible?" The hushed awe in Ben's voice caused Tess to swallow hard.

Tess teetered on the brink of a major decision. Survival instinct told her to hold all the secrets in. There were so many lives depending on her ability to keep them. But there was another part of Tess. A part that longed to open up to someone. To confide her fears. To draw much needed strength in the face of overwhelming odds.

Tess eyed Ben carefully, instinctively knowing she could trust this man. It was obvious Liz Parker did. And if there was one thing about Liz Parker that Tess could never deny, it was that she had discernment. She instinctively knew truth from lies. Recognized quality from cheap substitutions. After all, she fell in love with Max, didn't she? She had an inner compass that somehow always pointed in the right direction.

So, if Liz trusted Ben enough to be willing to spend her life with him, why couldn't Tess trust him? Especially when she needed someone to lean on. So much. Secret or no secret, she had to confide in someone. For someone used to keeping secret upon secret, lie upon lie, this was one too many. Tess felt like she was going to break under the weight of it all. Especially now that the life of Max and Liz's son was in her hands.

"This can go no further than this room." Her voice was serious and low.

With equal seriousness, Ben responded. "You have my word."

"I need more than your word, Ben. I’m serious. This is…"

"A matter of life or death. I get that." Ben let out a sigh as he ran his hand through his hair in a sign of frustration. His mind quickly whirling to come up with a way to convince Tess he could be trusted, aquamarine eyes suddenly lit up as an idea hit him. "Look, do you have a dollar?"

"A dollar?" Tess' eyebrow raised in confusion. "Uh…no. I don’t even have my purse."

"Fine. Here's one." Ben quickly reached into his billfold and pulled out a dollar, handing it to Tess but keeping his now empty hand open in mid-air. Eyes on Tess, Ben nodded. "Now, give it back to me."

Eyes narrowing in wariness, Tess did as she was told. With a slight grin, Ben stuffed the bill back into its place his next words dispelling the cloud of bewilderment that had descended thickly around Tess. "Ms. Harding, you have now paid me a retainer. Anything you say from this point out will be considered client-attorney privilege. If I talk, I can be disbarred and believe me, I do not want that to happen."

Admiration danced in Tess' blue eyes at Ben's quick thinking. But doubts still lingered… "You may change your mind after you hear this."

Amidst the seriousness of the moment, Ben chuckled lightly and shook his head. "No, see, you don't understand. If I get disbarred after all the money my parents forked out for my education, they will kill me. So as far as I can see, it's my life on the line now."

Ben's grin spread into a disarming smile that disappeared as he leaned back in his chair, his eyes rested patiently on Tess. "These lips are sealed with crazy glue, Tess. And from what mystery guy in the park said to you, there's a clock we're up against. So if I were you, I'd start talking."

Folding her hands in her lap, Tess took a deep breath. And then she took a leap of faith.

"Tell me, Ben…do you believe…in aliens?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Max had told his story.

Silence permeated the room. Details shifted into place. And Liz was more puzzled than ever.

"Wait." Liz shook her head as confusion passed like lightening through her eyes. "None of this makes sense." Mind functioning in full gear as she pushed her emotions into the back seat, Liz began to pace, laying out each piece of the scattered puzzle. "You’re telling us that we’ve been apart all of these years because of a threat that Nasedo made. That your destiny is to have children with Tess or she'll die and that being with me, would kill me." Liz stopped her pacing long enough to turn and face Max. "Is that what you're saying?"

"Yes."

Liz shook her head. "But being with me didn't kill me. And you’ve never slept with Tess, you don't have any children…and she's still alive."

Running her fingers through her hair in frustration, Liz let out a loud sigh. Accusation once more filtered into Liz's eyes as they met Max's and her voice hardened. "So, basically what you're saying is that we’ve wasted all this time together…broken promises…empty nights…for a threat that hasn’t come true?”

"But it did come true. When you got sick." Max's brows furrowed in confusion. "Our being together…it was killing you, Liz. And the only way to stop it was…"

Liz held up her hand in a stopping gesture. "Wait, whoa. What are you talking about? I…I wasn’t sick."

"Yes. You were." Still adamant, Max's face flushed slightly as the conversation was clearly becoming more uncomfortable for him. His gaze wavered as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Being together…" Clearing his throat, Max glanced at Michael and Maria then shifted his gaze back to Liz. "Liz…making love to me almost killed you."

She shook her head emphatically as she crossed her arms in front of her. "No. No, I…I don’t remember that."

"Well, I do." Max's eyes locked with hers. "Liz…I held you in my arms. I felt your life slipping away from you. I watched your breathing get shallow. Felt your heartbeat…falter till it was so faint it was nearly undetectable. And I knew I had to do something to save you."

His gentle voice was barely a whisper as the memories clouded his eyes. "But there was nothing I could do. I tried over and over again to heal you…but…every time I touched you…" Max's gaze wavered once more and his jaw clenched in determination. "It's a memory I cannot…will not…forget." Eyes snapping back to meet Liz's stunned gaze, Max shook his head. "And I will not let it happen again."

Panic swept through Liz. As much as she could feel his love…see it in every expression, hear it in every word, she was going to lose him again. She could see that as plainly in his stanch posture as she could the emptiness that threatened to swallow his expression. Her chin raised in defiance. "That’s…impossible, Max. I would know if I had been that sick. If I was about to die."

An emotion related to anger flashed in Max's eyes making them take on a golden glow. "You think I’m lying."

Shaking her head, Liz crossed the distance between them in a heartbeat. "No. I believe you that you believe it happened, Max." Liz's response was instant but firm as she reached up and took his face in her hands willing Max to believe what she knew deep in her heart. "But it didn't. It couldn't. Loving you could never kill me."

Squeezing his eyes shut against the warmth that suddenly flooded his entire body, Max's breathed his protest. "But it nearly did."

"Then something obviously isn't right. Something's…" Liz's hands dropped to her side as her voice hardened. "Tess."

"What?"

"Tess did this." Anger burned in her dark eyes and her lips tightened into a thin line. "God, why didn't I think of it before. Now it all makes sense."

Max's voice hardened. "No, Liz. You're wrong."

Her eyes snapped up to meet his as irritation danced across her expression. "How can you say that? After what she did to me with that vision. You think she wasn't capable of mindwarping you into believing I was dying because of you?"

"Of course she's capable of it, Liz." Max's jaws tightened. "But capable doesn't mean that she did it."

Liz whirled to face Maria and Michael. "What about you two? Do you know anything about this? About me getting deathly ill? About…Tess **not** mindwarping us…"

Sensing a new war brewing, Maria once more tried to run interference. "Hey, guys maybe we should just ask Tess…"

"Good idea, babe." Michael stepped forward and glanced around the room. "Wait. Where is she?" The others did the same. All came to the same conclusion…while the focus of the room had been firmly on Max and Liz, Tess had disappeared. And no one had any idea where she could have gone.

"Typical." Liz let out a harsh chuckle. "When its time for the truth, the liar disappears."

Max's shoulders slumped as he turned once more to face her. "She wouldn't lie about this, Liz."

"You're unbelievable. After all she's done to separate us…" Liz crossed her arms in front of her. "…you're still defending her."

"No." Max shook his head and fought back rising frustration. "I'm simply telling you that Tess didn't do what you're suggesting. She didn't mindwarp me into believing you were dying."

"Riiight." Liz drew out the word in clear disbelief. "Because she's such a perfect little alien saint."

Max let out a weary sigh. "I'm telling you, Liz…Tess did not do this. I know you don’t trust her, but I know her. I know that she didn't make this up."

Maria added her doubts to Liz's. "Max…how can you be so sure?"

"Yeah, Max." Michael chimed in. "I mean, come on…Liz does have a point about Tess. I mean, she my sis and all, but…"

"Dammit! None of you believe me!" Max's chest rose and fell with a labored breath as his eyes met Liz's. His jaws tightened. His hands made fists at his sides. His announcement was harsh and full of anger. "I know Tess didn't do it. I know she didn't because she's the one that's dying now!"

Liz blinked. Maria gasped. And Michael whispered an involuntary… "What?"

Gaze shifting between the three of them, Max 's head lowered with the weight of blame none of them understood. "That's right. Tess is dying…because of me. Because I can't give her what she needs to live. I can't give her…" Raising haunted eyes full of so much guilt to meet Liz's, Max's next statement was barely a whisper. "…me. I traded her life…for yours, Liz. And now, Tess…she **is** going to die."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Ben?" Tess bit her lower lip nervously as she watched the various expressions play out on Ben's handsome face. "Ben…are you alright?"

As if snapping himself back from a world he'd never been before, Ben cleared his throat and shook his head before nodding slightly. "Uh…yeah. Yeah, I…I'm alright." Meeting Tess' worried gaze, Ben blinked again. "You're dead serious, aren't you?"

Tess nodded slowly.

"Wow." Ben exhaled a loud breath and got up from his seat. He began pacing in front of the large picture window that overlooked the city. "Ok. So, let me get this straight. The four of you…are from another planet. And…and Max save Liz's life…literally…back in high school. They fell in love and then Max got Liz pregnant…"

"Right. But Max never knew she was pregnant. And Liz…" Tess let out a sigh and got up from the couch to walk toward the window. After a moment she spoke. "Ben, this is all very complicated."

Staring at her back for a moment, Ben remained silent. The stiffness of her posture, the way she held her head so high let Ben know just how difficult opening up to him really was for her. He slowly walked up next to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. When he spoke, his decision to see this…whatever it was…through was made. His voice was gentle and reassuring. "Complicated is my specialty, Tess."

"It's dangerous." Tess countered.

"I'm willing to risk it."

"For Liz?" The question was barely a whisper as Tess held her breath.

"For everyone involved." Wetting his lips, Ben contemplated his next words. When the finally came, Tess knew she'd done the right thing in turning to him. "I love her. There's no question about it. But I don't want her back. Not knowing how much she loves another man. And especially not knowing they have a family together. They belong together, Tess. You know that as well as I do or you wouldn't be fighting so hard to make this right for them, no matter how much you love Max."

Tess glanced up at Ben, her smile warm and genuine as her eyes danced with amusement for the first time in hours. "You're right, Ben. I do love Max. But only because he's my friend. We've never been anything more." Shaking her head slightly, she gave Ben a pointed look. "I have a feeling you know why…first hand."

Ben conceded Tess' point with a slight tilt of his head before his gaze returned to the world going on aimlessly outside. "It's untouchable, isn't it? What they have. What they've so carelessly disregarded…"

Tess' smile disappeared. "It wasn't carelessly disregarded, Ben. It nearly killed Max to break her heart. To stay away from her all these years." A gentle smile touched her lips. "Do you know that every year on her birthday, Max buys her a gift?" Nodding at Ben's surprised expression, Tess continued. "He does. He wraps it…so carefully. And he locks himself up in his apartment, shuts the phone off and…just…dreams. Dreams of how they would spend the day celebrating her birthday if they were together."

She glanced down at her hands and shook her head at the injustice of it all. "Birthdays are only the start. There's Christmas. And special anniversaries only the two of them know about…"

"Let me guess." Ben interjected. "September 19th."

"How did you…"

Ben answered with a shrug and a bittersweet smile. "Max isn't the only one who dreams, you know." Shifting gears from the question to the questioner, Ben pursed his lips as his gaze took in the bright lights of the city. "So, we've established they love each other. We've also established he broke her heart. Apparently, his as well. So, I guess the next question is…why did he?"

"Because if he didn't, she was going to die." Tess turned to face Ben. "At least, that's what we were told. Now, I know that it was all a lie."

"Nasedo."

Tess nodded. "Yes."

Taking Tess by the shoulders, Ben turned her away from the window and walked her to the couch. After they'd both been seated again, Ben leaned forward in his chair and nodded. "Ok. Tell me the rest. How long were they together before…"

"Before I dropped into town and destroyed them with the fact I'm Max's alien bride?" Tess remarked wryly. She shrugged off any emotion that might have resembled bitterness…pain. "Only a few weeks. Maybe a month, I really don't remember. They were totally inseparable. Then we showed up. Let's just say Nasedo and I were not a welcomed sight."

"I'm sorry. "

"Not a big deal." Tess pursed her lips in thought. "You know, after seeing them together, knowing what he felt for her then, I never wanted to come between that. To take her place. You see, it was obvious that I couldn't even if I tried." She took a deep breath, her gaze glued to an unseen object on the wall. "I told Nasedo I wouldn't do what he wanted. That I wouldn't come between Max and Liz. Manipulate them the way he wanted me to. That's when Liz started getting sick."

"Sick."

Nodding, Tess swallowed hard, the memory clearly not pleasant. "She uh…would have seizures. Her temperature was out of control. And she drifted in and out of conscious so many times. I was there with him…with Max…every time he tried to heal her. It seemed no matter what he did, he only made her worse." Blue eyes drifted shut as whispered words became more difficult to say. "Every time he touched her…she just…"

Shaking herself from the memory, Tess opened her eyes to look at Ben. "That's when Nasedo told us."

"Told you what?"

A wry, bitter smile touched Tess' lips. "The grand-daddy of all lies. He told us Liz was dying and Max was the reason. He said each time Max touched her, he was stealing years of her life." Tess shook her blonde curls in disgust as her arms crossed in front of her, a sign of vulnerability…a sign of defiance. "I was too damn stupid to see it was all a ploy and Max was too scared and vulnerable to question."

"So, if Liz wasn't dying…" Ben prompted.

"She was having symptoms of pregnancy. Only they were being exaggerated by Nasedo. Twisted for his own purposes."

"Which are?"

Tess' gaze snapped to meet Ben's. "To own that child. To rule our world. To make alliances so evil…" Tess broke off a moment and she swallowed hard. "You don't understand, Ben. Max's son will be a prince. The Prince of Antar. Anyone who controls the Prince, controls the planet. Anyone who controls the planet…"

"Can control the universe?"

"That's the goal with all of its evil ramifications."

Ben blinked in shock at the nonchalance with which Tess confirmed his fears. To know all of this…to see the destruction laying ahead for generations to come…and to be so…calm. The seed of sympathy that had been planted in Ben's heart toward Tess began to grow. To face so much and have no one to help…

Quickly bringing his thoughts back to the present line of questioning, Ben pressed on. "So, how is it that their son is going to die? And how is it Liz doesn't know about him?"

Tess let out a deep sigh and leaned her head back against the couch as her gaze drifted upward toward the ceiling. Her voice was devoid of the emotion swimming in her eyes. The anger. The hatred. The fear. "Nasedo erased the memory of what really happened and planted a false reality in her mind. She doesn't even remember being sick. Doesn't remember Max's fear. And she certainly doesn't remember Nasedo stealing her baby from her..."

"Wait." Ben threw his hands up in a stopping gesture. "You mean, she was pregnant for nine months, delivered her son and doesn't remember any of it?"

The shake of Tess' head was slight but discernible. "No. I mean…she doesn't remember Nasedo stealing her son before he barely got a chance to…" Letting out a sigh of frustration, Tess pushed herself away from the couch till she was sitting on the edge. Tears gathered in her eyes as her hard focus remained on the table in front of her. "You know, Ben…I…I don’t think this is such a good idea."

"What?" Alarmed, Ben swallowed hard.

With a wave of her hand, Tess sought to dismiss the subject. "Telling you…all of this. No. It…it wasn't a good idea at all. Just…just…forget that I ever…" Jumping up from the couch, Tess began to rush toward the door her words tumbling as quickly as her feet were carrying her. "Just forget all about…forget everything…"

Ben barely beat her to the door. Slamming the half open door shut and grabbing her by the waist, Ben gently turned her around as she collapsed against him. He held her as she shook in his arms, tears wetting his shirt and sobs coming out in heated breaths against his chest. She clung to him and Ben unconsciously ran his fingers through her curls, barely registering how different the texture was from Liz's silky strands.

Once her sobs had turned to hiccups, Tess pulled out of Ben's embrace refusing to meet his gaze. She sniffled and wiped the tears from her eyes. "I'm so sorry for…"

"Shhh. Don't worry about it." Ben reassured her as he placed his hands gently on her shoulders. "I don't even have the whole story yet and crying seems like a fairly attractive option right now." He leaned closer to Tess and whispered conspiratorially. "By the way, that confession I just made is also protected under our client-attorney privilege…"

Tess' chuckle was tear-filled but her eyes danced with a spark of laughter when they met his. The laughter died instantly as Tess bit her suddenly trembling lip. "I can see why Liz wanted to marry you. Why you almost made Max disappear for her…"

Ben's gaze wavered as he shook his head. "No…he was always there." A bittersweet smile touched his lips and he swallowed hard. "Always."

Tess nodded in understanding and cleared her throat. "Ben…I really think I should go…"

Ben's head snapped up in alarm as his fingers unconsciously held onto her arms a little tighter. "And I think we should tell them."

Eyes widening in fear, Tess shook her head. "No. No, we can't."

"Why not?" Confusion flashed in Ben's misty green eyes. "It's their son who is in danger. They have every right to know what's going on." Ben took a deep breath and continued, his voice softening. "Besides…how is it ok for you to love Max and want to help him be happy, but its not ok for me to do the same for Liz?"

Tess spun away from Ben and ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. "God, Ben. Because I'm part of this…more than you know. And I'm sorry, but loving Liz doesn't put you in the same boat. Not by a long shot."

Ben took a step forward, an attorney ready to plead his case. "Look, Tess. I just lost the woman I was going to marry tonight. I need to do something to make sure she's happy. Being with Max…saving their son…that will make her happy. I'm willing to bet my life doing that, she'll be happier than she's ever been. Please. Please...let me help."

"It's not…Ben, it's not about that. This is a situation that involves Max, Liz and me. We're the only ones that can fix it."

"How can they fix it if they don't even know what's going on?" Ben demanded gently.

"Look, you didn't see them in the restaurant when I left, Ben. You didn't see the way they were looking at each other. How much they still love each other…" Tess grabbed Ben's hands in hers, blue pleading eyes upturned to meet his. "But no matter how much they love each other, there's still so much standing between them. They have enough to work through on their own without this to worry about…"

"I would think no matter how much they have to work through, Tess, that they would want to know they have a child who needs their help." His penetrating gaze cut right through her, seeing beyond the lame excuses searching for the real reason beneath. "What is it? Why won't you tell me what's really standing in your way? Why don't you want them to know the truth?"

"Because it could destroy them for good." Panic etched every word.

"How?"

Tess blinked back the tears that were gathering and gulped back a sob as the truth came pouring out in an enigmatic confession. "This son of theirs, Ben…he isn't even born yet. And if he ever is…" Squeezing her eyes shut, anguish was etched in every feature. "God…if he ever is…" Opening her eyes to meet his gaze, Tess let out a shaky breath. "…there's a very real chance that I will be the one to give him life." Her hands squeezed Ben's as she shook her head as Ben's brows furrowed in confusion. "Not Liz. Me."
~~~~~~~~~~~
"I thought you should know, sir, they've left the restaurant."

Nasedo pursed his lips, his gaze fixed on the moon shining through the window. "Where are they now?"

"I followed them to Ms. Parker's apartment."

"All of them?"

"Yes. All except Ms. Harding and Ms. Parker's fiance'. Apparently, they had left earlier."

"Good. Very good. Keep an eye on them and report to me the second anyone leaves. Especially Max Evans. We'll want to nab him as soon as possible. One way or another, this mission will be completed soon."

"Yes, sir. And…what about Ms. Harding?"

Nasedo's eyes danced with delight as his lips curled into an evil smile. "Leave her to me." He clicked the phone off and reverently uncovered the glass vial.

Stroking the vial gently, Nasedo's voice soothed the vapors swirling inside. "Soon, little one. Tess will see the light soon. She'll get the ring and we'll begin the ritual. I'd prefer with your father, but if that's not possible, I think I have found a fairly adequate substitute." Nasedo's eyes glowed with diabolic delight as he glanced at the folder Nicholas left him earlier on Ben. His chuckle filled the room. "Either way, Max's precious Liz can kiss motherhood good-bye. Very, very soon…"

Tbc…


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Mar-2002 11:32:58 PM ]
posted on 8-May-2002 2:59:03 AM by Ashton
Hey All!!

Next part! Hope you enjoy!! *happy* Thanks soooo much for the support and feedback! Ya'll are the best!!! ;) Please let me know what you think and if I shoudl continue! *happy*

BehrHugs,
Ashton


~ chapter 17 ~

Ben blinked. Tess' words seemed to collide with the logic in his mind and bounce back, thoroughly rejected as impossible. Never mind the fact he'd accepted without question the possibility of aliens alive and well on Planet Earth. Never mind the concept of memories being erased, people being brought back from the dead and babies being stolen before they were even born. This latest bombshell was the one thing Ben couldn't quite wrap his mind around.

Ben dropped Tess' hands and took a step back before breaking the silence that had permeated the room since Tess' announcement. "You want to run that one by me one more time?"

Tess' shoulders slumped wearily as she let out a sigh. "See? I knew this was no good. Telling you…"

"Not going to work, Tess. I already know to much for you to back out now." Realizing his tone had been less than understanding, Ben hung his head he let out a sigh. "Look, just…" Pleading eyes looked back up at her, revealing the emotional beating he'd taken in the past several hours alone. "…I'm sorry. It's been a rough night, ok? Please…just tell me how it's possible that you would be the one to have Liz's son and not Liz."

Tess bit her lower lip, decision to continue or not warring in her eyes. The defeated yet determined look in Ben's made her decision for her. She took a deep breath and began to explain. "When Nasedo took him from Liz, he didn't take an actual baby, Ben. He stole his essence…his spirit."

Seeing Ben's encouraging but slightly befuddled expression, she waved an unsure hand in the air and continued. "Ok, his soul…whatever you call that part of you that makes you who are. That’s what Nasedo took from Liz. That's what he has in his possession right now. That's what's dying…if I don't find a way to save it."

"If **we** don't." Ben emphasized their solidarity by reaching for Tess' hands and squeezing them reassuringly. "I'm not letting you do this alone."

A bittersweet smile touched Tess' lips. "You don’t really have a choice, Ben." Pulling her hands from his, Tess turned from him and slowly made her way back around the couch. Running her fingers through her hair, her gaze was fixed firmly on the floor.

Ben allowed her the time to gather her thoughts as he watched her. Marveled at her. An alien queen stripped of her rightful place because her husband fell in love. A stranger on a planet who had yet to find the love of a lifetime. And there wasn't an ounce of anger or jealousy in her eyes. Only fear. Regret. Strength.

Ben's assessment of Tess was cut short when Tess turned to him and began to speak. "For this baby to survive, there's a procedure…a ritual…that needs to be performed. An Antarian ritual. One that I don't know all the details on…but one thing has been made very, very clear to me."

"What's that?"

"There are only two women in this entire world who even have the chance of carrying that baby to term once the ritual is performed." Tess gave Ben a pointed look. "Liz…and me."

"And you know this because…"

"Nasedo told me." Ben gave Tess a skeptical look accompanied by an upraised eyebrow and she let out a sigh of resignation. "I know, I know. He's the last person I should believe given all that's happened. But…I've researched this, Ben. It makes sense."

Crossing his arms in front of him, Ben leaned against the couch. "How?"

"Well, Max and I are the same, physically. We're hybrids. Half-alien, half-human. Being the same species as Max, I would have no problems carrying his child since my body is equipped to handle the alien in the essence." Her gaze faltered and the words that slipped out of her mouth were a bare whisper. "In fact, that's all I was put here on Earth to do."

Before Ben could question or comment, Tess hurried on. "But this baby…this essence…he's unique. Because he's not mine. Max and Liz created him, which makes him…"

"More human than alien." Ben filled in for her.

"Yes." Tess nodded once. "Now, the way I figure it, Liz should be able to carry him full term because…well, she's his mother. It was her body that helped give him life. Her dreams, along with Max's, that brought him into being. He's part of her. Her body shouldn't reject him even though he is part alien. Especially if she was changed even the slightest bit when Max healed her."

Ben swallowed hard and asked the obvious question. The question he feared had an unpleasant answer. "Then why not just tell Liz so she can have her own son?"

"Because theory and reality don't always coincide, Ben. Liz SHOULD be able to carry the essence to term, but…" She swallowed hard as her knuckles turned white, evidence how difficult it was for her to disclose what she knew. "…none of the other humans Nasedo has experimented on have made it…"

"Wait." Ben stopped Tess with an upraised hand. "What do you mean 'the other humans'?"

Tess lowered her eyes as shame washed over her. In her whole life, this was the one thing that she had always dreaded…seeing the disgust and fear in the eyes of someone she respected. Because of what she was. Because of the things her alien race was capable of. Because of the evil they had done. An evil, that though she had rejected it, seemed to pull her in, none-the-less. Despite her own personal choices, she was who she was…an alien, queen of a race of liars and worse…

And as strange as it seemed, she did respect Ben. A human. A man she'd known less then twenty-four hours. Perhaps it was that fact that made him so easy to talk to. Perhaps it was his easy going demeanor. His openness. He made it easy to reveal her deepest secrets and fears. To…trust. If only that trust wouldn't inevitably turn his azure eyes of understanding to a steely gray gaze of disgust.

But Tess had gone too far to stop now. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for his inevitable revulsion. "Five women in the past two years have been found dead. There were several in the three years before that. Exact cause of death unknown. Except…" Her voice shook with a whisper. "…I know the cause. Their insides…specifically, their uteruses…were scorched. They literally burned from the inside out."

"My God." Ben's quiet whisper of horror sent shivers through Tess' spine.

Tess swallowed back the bile that rose to her throat. "You see, Nasedo has tried several times to bring that essence into being…and he's used unsuspecting human women to do it. Each subject is desperate for a child of their own. Nasedo preys on that. He shape shifts into someone they trust…their fertility doctors…and reveals a new artificial insemination procedure which will guarantee their motherhood. Except he doesn't tell them he's impregnating them with an alien baby. He doesn't tell them tried the procedure before. He doesn't tell them each time has failed. That each time, the prospective mother has suffered a horrible death."

"Tess…"

Tess continued on, despite the way her hands had begun to shake. Despite the tremor in her voice, the tears filming her eyes. "And I know Max, Ben. I know the way he loves her. I know just how protective he is. How he'll never let a hair of her head get singed if he can help it. He'd never let her take such a risk. He just…he wouldn't. I’m not sure he would even for his son."

Ben moved unconsciously toward Tess, compassion warming his eyes. Hearing every word and seeing how much it was hurting her. "And even…even if he did, Ben…Nasedo will never allow it." Ben reached out and took Tess' trembling hands in his when he finally reached her. Then, he held his breath as the unpleasantness kept coming when Tess looked up into his eyes. "He will kill Liz before he'd ever let her have this child."

"Why does he hate her so much? Why does he want to hurt someone who is so gentle and kind…" Ben's voice hardened in anger and his blue eyes turned cold as steel. "I want to rip this guy apart. You do understand that, don't you?"

"Believe me, Ben…once Max gets wind of this, you won't even get the chance."

"Speaking of Max…" Ben cleared his throat and gave Tess a pointed look. "Why haven't you told him?"

"Gee, I don't know, Ben. I was thinking I'd like to keep him alive awhile longer." Letting out a sigh, Tess shook her head. Realizing how flippant she sounded, her eyes softened contritely. "Look, I know Max. You don't. It's better if I do this for them. If I'm the one to take the chance…"

"So…wait. How exactly are you going to do this?" Ben demanded, his voice tinged with a note of panic. "Seriously, Tess…what's the plan here? Are you going to present yourself to Nasedo, have him do this life-threatening ritual and…then, what? If it doesn't kill you, have the baby and present it to Max and Liz at the end of nine months? Don't you think Nasedo will kill you before you even get the chance to do that? And that's if you survive the procedure, the pregnancy and the delivery. And if it does kill you…"

"If it does kill me, it's not a big loss, Ben." Tess' shoulders sagged. Her voice sounded defeated, weary.

Horrified, Ben took her shoulders in his hands and peered into her eyes. "How can you say that?"

Tess swallowed hard and pulled in a steadying breath. She even amazed herself at how calm she sounded when pronouncing the terms of her destiny. "Because this is my last chance to make things right, Ben. It’s my last chance…before I die.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz had retreated to her room.

Once back at her apartment, she'd mumbled something about changing and abruptly left Maria to play hostess to Michael and Max. It had been a half an hour since she'd disappeared.

An uncomfortable silence blanketed the room as Michael and Maria whispered conspiratorily in each others' ears. Max stood staring out the window into the night sky, lost in his own world. A world that was no further than a room away.

He ached for Liz. For the pain he'd caused her. For the lies he'd had to tell. The truth that was breaking her heart right that moment. He wanted nothing more than to break her door down, gather her in his arms and make her forget all of those promises he'd broken all those years ago.

It was becoming increasingly clear that would never happen.

Michael's voice broke through Max's thoughts. "Uh…Max. Maria and I've been wondering…"

Max turned from the window, an untouched coffee cup in his hand. "How can I be sure that Tess didn't mindwarp me all those years ago into believing Liz was dying?" He shook his head at the surprised looks on Maria and Michael's faces at the fact he'd guessed their first question. "Because it makes no sense."

He leaned against the ledge of the window and continued. "You think I haven't suspected her? Haven't had my share of doubts? Well, I have. I've gone over that experience time and time and time again. I've looked at it from every angle. Questioned everything. Hoping…praying, that I'd been wrong. That somehow I'd been tricked. I would gladly accuse Tess if I thought for one second it would mean I could touch Liz without fear of her dying."

"But I can't. It just doesn't fit. It's not consistent with who she is. Why would Tess lie all those years ago and never once try to weasel her way into my life? Into my heart? Why would she spend years as nothing more than my friend…if she were devious enough to mindwarp the love of my life into the grave?" Shaking his head, Max let out a sigh. "More important than all of that…I've healed her several times. I've connected with her. I've seen her soul. She didn't do it. I wish to God she had so this nightmare would be over, but…she didn't. I'd stake my life…and Liz's…on that."

Maria and Michael exchanged glances. Maria nodded slightly and Michael cleared his throat before addressing Max again. "Uh…Max. Haven't you wondered why Maria hasn't been sick since we…you know…"

"Until today I didn't know for sure that you had, Michael." Max answered wearily. "And yes, when I found out you were married, I did think about it." With a shrug, Max answered the only way he knew how. "I honestly don't know. The only thing I can think of is that Tess is destined to have my children. That was her whole purpose in being sent with me. It’s the reason she's dying. Maybe you and Isabel had different roles to fulfill so having sex wouldn’t affect you the same way."

"So, Tess is really dying." Maria stated quietly.

"Yes."

"How long have you two known this?"

"Since the beginning." Max answered quietly. "Tess accepted her fate without one word of argument. There was no pleading or playing games. No manipulation. She just told me she understood that I would always belong to Liz. And that I shouldn't feel guilty for not being able to love her."

"I take it that's why you're so protective of her." Michael's quiet observation caused Max to nod. "Wow. I never knew my sister was so…selfless."

"Yeah. Looks like we really misjudged her." Maria commented as she glanced at Michael and covered his hand with hers. Giving him a sympathetic smile, she turned her attention back to Max. "Thing is, Max…Liz doesn't quite see it that way. She sees Tess as the woman who took you away from her…"

"But that's not…"

"A little advice…" Maria stopped Max's protest with an upraised hand. "Despite what you know, you might not want to defend Tess so much when Liz is around. She has years of hate built up inside of her toward that girl. Your sticking up for her is not going to help you get back into Liz's good graces."

"Maybe I shouldn't even try." Max mumbled softly as his gaze faltered.

"Max…"

As if having made a decision, Max pushed himself from the ledge and set his coffee cup down. "I think I should go. I've caused Liz enough pain…"

"No, Max, don't…"

"Don't what?" A sardonic smile claimed his lips. "Why do you think Liz is locked in her room right now? It's not because she couldn't find something to change into. It's because I'm out here. And she doesn't want to be where I am."

Shutting his eyes in painful realization, Max let out a deep sigh. "Look, I know you guys meant well setting all of this up, but…" He swallowed hard and opened his eyes to look at the couple in front of him. "…its time for everyone to realize it just wasn't meant to be." He forced a smile. "I'm really happy for you guys. I'm glad you've been able to find each other again, but…not everyone can have a happy ending. Just…take yours and never let go. You'll be sorry you did."

"Are you sorry, Max?"

Liz's voice stopped Max dead in his tracks and his head snapped up to see her framed in her doorway. His breath caught in the middle of his chest and he felt his heart pound so hard it echoed in his ears.

She was an angel. Her soft hair was hanging loosely around her face. A faint light from deep in her bedroom glowed around her. Part of her face was in shadows, but her eyes…her eyes were shining bright with emotion. Begging him to answer her question.

"Every day of my life." Was his whispered response.

As if understanding, Liz nodded once. Though her gaze was locked on Max’s face, she spoke to another. “Maria, can I see you in my room for a moment?” Noticing Maria immediately responding to her request, Liz’s eyes flickered with a plea. “Please stay, Max. I just…I need one more moment alone, ok?”

Max readily nodded his agreement then watched as Maria and Liz slipped behind the privacy of a closed door. Lost in a million thoughts and sensations as he continued to stare at the closed door, Max jumped slightly when Michael spoke. “I hope you realize what this means.”

Max looked at Michael questioningly, his brow furrowing in uncertainty. “I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Michael rolled his eyes and cocked and eyebrow at Max. “She wants you, dude. She’s giving you a second chance and if you screw it up this time, I swear I’ll kick your ass myself.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz slipped onto her bed and leaned against the pillows propped along her headboard as she let out a weary sigh. Picking up her favorite toss pillow she hugged it to her chest. “Maria, sit down. I need to know something.”

Maria plopped down on the bed and crossed her legs Indian-style. “Ok. Shoot.”

Gaze focused on her hands as they played with the fringes of her pillow, Liz’s expression was thoughtful, sad. “Would you do it? If it were you, would you give him another chance?”

“Oh, Lizzie…” Maria patted Liz’s hand sympathetically. “I can’t tell what to do about this. I wish I could but I’m not you and Michael isn’t Max and we’ve certainly never had the kind of intense…connection…you and Max have.”

“Which really bothers me, Maria.” Liz stated calmly as her eyes raised to meet Maria’s. Hastening to explain when she saw Maria’s instantly troubled expression, Liz ran a hand through her hair. “Not the actual connection part. I obviously had no issues with that at all. In fact, connecting with Max is the single most amazing, mind blowing thing I have ever experienced in my life.” She took a deep breath then released it in a long sigh. “But…why does it seem to be so hard for us? Even at the beginning. Even though we just immediately feel right into step with each other, at the same time everything was so very, very hard.”

“Hey, it’s not like Pod-boy and I have had a laugh a minute. But…I know what you mean.” Maria conceded before she slipped into thoughtful silence for a moment. “I really don’t know, Lizzie. You know, maybe it’s true what Grandma Claudia used to say. Maybe he wouldn’t be your soulmate if it was easy.”

Leaning forward Maria took Liz’s hands in hers. “I do know one thing. That guy in the other room there…he adores you. He’d do anything for you, even sacrifice himself. And that includes staying faithful to you the rest of his life…even though he’s had ample opportunity and you were getting married to someone else. I believe him when he says he’s never been with anyone but you. And I believe him about Tess.”

Liz shut her eyes against the truth of Maria’s words. Maria continued, cautiously…softly. “I also know that I’ve never seen you love anyone the way you love Max Evans. You just exist now, Liz. With Ben, there were moments where I could see you were content, but with Max…Liz, with Max, you are everything you were meant to be. That’s gotta be worth something.”

Biting her lower lip, Liz nodded her head slowly. “Yeah, yeah, it is. Maria…” A new thought occurred to her as she shifted her thoughts to something that had been nagging her since hearing Max’s story. “…when you and Michael…” Liz broke off and gave Maria a pointed look.

Maria grinned, suddenly liking the turn of conversation. “Get down and dirty? Yeah? Want some tips on how to please alien boy out there?”

Liz chuckled and shook her head. “Uh, no. Based on past experience, I think I can manage.” Smile fading from her lips, Liz turned serious once more. “Do you ever…see things? Like visions and stuff?”

“What? Oh, you mean like stars and flying through outer space and all of that?” Seeing Liz’s hesitant nod of her head, Maria shook hers. “Nope. Nothing out of the ordinary. I mean…the man can certainly make me see stars but they usually aren’t the literal variety.”

“So…you’ve never seen…” Liz tried to shrug her shoulders casually as her gaze once more focused on playing nervously with her pillow. “…I don’t know…a baby.” Her eyes flicked back up to catch Maria’s reaction. She wasn’t disappointed.

“Whoa.” Maria’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. “Are you telling me you have?”

Sinking back into her pillows, Liz shut her eyes in frustration. “I don’t know. I mean…yes, we both saw this baby boy.” A dreamy smile drifted over Liz’s lips. “He was so beautiful, Maria. And when we saw him, we knew. We just knew he was ours.” Her confused gaze met Maria’s. “But it was so long ago that there have been millions of times through the years I thought I had to have only been dreaming it, you know?”

“Does Max remember?”

Liz shrugged. “I don’t know. In case you didn’t notice, we’ve not really talked that much the past seven years.”

“Maybe you should.” Maria suggested. “Maybe together you can figure out what the hell is going on. Because I’ve gotta tell ya, Liz…none of this makes sense. It’s like there’s this huge piece of the puzzle that’s missing.”

“Yeah, I know. A huge piece.” Liz agreed as her eyes drifted close. Raising her hand to her head her brows furrowed in pain as she began to rub her temples. “God, my head is killing me. It’s been hurting ever since the restaurant. I took something when I got home hoping it would help, but it looks like this one’s not going away. Way too much to deal with at one time I guess.”

A suggestive smile touched Maria’s lips. “Well, I know one sure way to get rid of a headache.” Wiggling her eyebrows, Maria nodded toward the direction of the living room. “In case you forgot there’s a bonifide healer out there who has not had serious loving in a pretty long time.”

Liz let out a weary sigh. “He thinks I’ll die because of him, Maria. Knowing Max he’s probably too terrified to even touch me at this point.”

Tilting her head thoughtfully, Maria asked a pointed question. “Do you believe it?”

“That I’ll die if Max and I make love?” Liz asked before quickly, definitively shaking her head as her eyes flashed with certainty. “Hell no. I’ve never felt more alive then when Max and I were…” She gaze Maria a look that clearly finished her sentence for her.

“Yeah?” A playfully scheming light came into Maria’s eyes. “So, how’s that headache again?”

“Murder.” Liz stated as she leaned her head back.

“Hmmm. What a perfect opportunity to prove him wrong.” Maria slipped off the bed and patted Liz’s arm, giving her a devious wink. “He’s probably so guilt-ridden right now, he’d do just about anything you ask.” Letting out a satisfying sigh, a dreamy look shifted through Maria’s eyes. “I love it when Michael gets like that. I’m telling you, putty in my hands.”

Liz chuckled. “You are so bad.”

Maria gave Liz a meaningful look. “I’m in love. People in love usually like to **make** love.” Maria headed toward the door, stopped and turned with her hand on the door to give Liz one last parting shot of advice. “Maybe it’s time you and Max forget all this alien mumbo jumbo crap and remember what’s really important to us humans…”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“What did you just say?” Ben’s quiet whisper caused her stomach to tighten into a knot.

She pulled her hands from his and stepped around him, heading to the couch where she slumped down dejectedly. Focus locked on her hands folded tightly in front of her, Tess took a deep breath. “I’m dying, Ben.”

”No, that’s…that’s impossible.” Ben stated confidently as he came to sit on the table in front of Tess. “You’re too young and…and healthy. I mean…you just can’t die.”

A wry smile haunted Tess’ lips. “Tell that to my body. See, I was sent here to Earth with one purpose and one purpose only…the bear Max’s children. Obviously, that hasn’t happened so…my purpose here, not being fulfilled…”

“You can’t possibly mean that you’re dying simply because you’ve never had a baby.” Ben asked incredulously.

“Uh…well, yeah.” Tess nodded as she scrunched up her nose in thought. “Yeah, that is pretty much what I’m saying.”

Ben sat back a moment as he allowed the bombshells being dropped all around him, time to settle. When he spoke, it was with the judgment of a lawyer. “But that’s…that’s just criminal. What is wrong with that planet of yours?”

Tess actually chuckled at his response. “Believe me, I wish I knew.” Her gaze shifted as her thoughts turned once more to the situation they were being faced with. “But criminal or not it’s what’s happening. It’s all the more reason I want to save Max and Liz’s son, Ben. It’s so very risky for Liz. And I’m already dying…so, if I can give them their future in the form of their son somehow…” Tess broke off her thought and locked eyes with Ben. “Max wouldn’t be able to take losing his son **and** Liz at the same time. Please tell me you understand that.”

Covering her hands with his, Ben nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I understand.” Giving Tess a pointed look, he continued with caution. “But I still think Max and Liz have a right to know.”

Tess let out an exasperated sigh and opened her mouth to protest.

Ben beat her to the punch. “Look, you’re right. I don’t know Max. But I do know Liz. And the last thing she’ll want right now is for another major decision that will affect the rest of her life to be made by someone else.”

“But…”

Ben continued his argument without pausing. “Put yourself in her position. You’re pretty much a complete control freak going along in life just fine when, out of the blue, you get shot. A boy you’ve known most of your life puts his hand on you and heals you. You’re life is completely changed from that point on because of an impulsive decision someone else made. And that’s fine with you this time, because hey, you get to live a bit longer and you think this boy is pretty amazing.”

“So, you end up falling in love, you make plans for a future when once again all of your choices are taken away from you because his alien bride shows up and her so called protector tricks the boy you love into thinking you’re dying because of him. Because he loves you so much, he decides to not let you in on what’s going down. Instead, in a misguided effort to save your life, he lies to you and breaks your heart. Something, by the way, that you never get over.”

“Fast forward a few years. You’ve managed to gain back a bit of the control you lost long ago. You’re making decisions on your own. You’re pursuing your goals. You feel that your life is your own again. You’re feeling normal and safe, when once again…into your life breezes the alien boy who owns your heart. Your life goes straight out of control again.”

“And then…” Ben paused for dramatic effect as he gave Tess a pointed look. “…then, his alien bride, a woman who you happen to pretty much loathe for having come between you and your alien, waltzes in and hands you your own child. One that you don’t remember being pregnant with in the first place. One that she’s decided to have for you without your knowledge or consent. One that, though highly unlikely, you may not even want.” He cocked a blonde eyebrow at her as his blue-green eyes bored into hers. “Are you getting the picture here, Tess?”

Tilting her head back, Tess slumped into the couch with a groan. “Ok. Ok. I get the picture.” After a moment’s silence, Tess opened her eyes to gaze at Ben imploringly. “What do I do?”

“Tell them.” Ben stated quietly, simply. “Let them decide their future and if they want help, then help. If not, you have to let it go. It’s the only way.”

“I don’t know if I can do this alone.” Tess mumbled to herself as her gaze drifted.

Ben’s steady, strong hand appeared in front of her, palm up. “Then don’t.” Giving Tess a sympathetic smile when her eyes drifted from his outstretched hand to his eyes, he shrugged slightly. “Let’s do it together.”

“Ok.” Taking a deep breath, she slipped her hand into his and nodded. “Together.”
~~~~~~~~~
Max stopped short when he saw Liz lying on the bed, her eyes closed and her hand pressed against her temple. Her long dark hair fanned out across the pillow and Max couldn't stop the wave of desire that shot through him as memories flashed through his mind. Memories of nights spent in her arms. Memories of a love so deep and so strong shared between two souls that at times it was earth-shattering.

Sensing his presence at the entrance to her room, Liz opened her eyes and attempted a weak smile. "Hey."

"Hey." His quiet greeting echoed with uncertainty. "Maria said you had a headache so I…I wasn't sure if you'd still want me…"

"Stay."

That one word washed over Max as one of the sweetest sounds he'd heard in years. His expression of relief brought a slight smile to Liz's face before she silently patted the bed next to her. She'd known he was there...had felt his presence. And she'd feared he would leave without a word. Relieved that he didn't, she tried to push back the pain shooting through her head to focus on Max.

A half-smile touched Max's lips as he took her silent invitation and slipped onto the bed next to her. For a moment they sat in silence, Max's eyes roaming her room, taking in the mementos of her life without him. Liz just gazed at him, unable to look away.

Until Max's eyes darkened. He swallowed hard as if trying to dislodge a huge lump in his throat. Liz's eyes drifted to what Max was staring at. Her heart stopped.

"So. You and Ben." Max reached over and picked up the picture frame sitting on Liz's night stand. Inside was a photo of Ben and Liz, his arms wrapped around her, both smiling widely for the camera. Max's voice softened. "You look happy."

Liz's hand hesitantly covered Max's, her eyes never leaving his face. "You of all people should know looks can be deceiving."

Silence trapped them in the moment.

Max couldn't get over what her simple touch did to him. How it warmed him from the inside out. How sparks he hadn’t felt in long, lonely ages were shooting though him with a force that made his heart pound. He kept his eyes averted from her face, afraid to look in her eyes. Afraid to lose himself so completely that the whole vicious cycle they were in would start all over again.

"Liz." Max was the first to venture into spoken territory.

"Yeah?"

Max sat a moment longer in silence contemplating his next words. Should he even try? Should he take the risk to know the truth? Where would it lead if he did? Swallowing his fear, Max quietly whispered the question he'd asked himself every day for the past five years. "Did I do the right thing? You know, all those years ago? I mean…obviously I didn’t because of how much pain I’ve caused you. I’ll never be able to make up for that, Liz.”
“But I had…hoped that eventually…did you, have you…" Max let out a short sigh as he tried to put the hard question into words. "…have you been happy, Liz?"

"Right this moment, I’m very happy." Liz answered softly.

Max swallowed hard and looked away. Nodding once he focused once more on the photo in his hands. "I see…"

Knowing the thoughts going through his mind by reading his unreadable expression, Liz smiled slightly and shifted into a sitting position. "No, I don't think you do." She reached over and pulled the frame gently from Max’s hands. She placed it face down on the night stand with deliberation.

Max’s eyes followed her every move before locking with hers when she gathered her hands in his. Despite his inner doubts, he couldn’t help but silently urge her to continue by the sudden hope in his eyes. "You think I've been happy because I found Ben. Because it seems I found a way to move on. Because before tonight I was wearing the ring of a wonderful man…when the truth is…" Liz paused and took a shaky breath. "…the truth is, Max, that even if I was still wearing his ring, if someone had asked me the same question five minutes ago my answer would have been completely different."

"Why?" Max whispered softly.

"Because five minutes ago…I couldn't feel you. Or hear your voice.” Liz reached up to caress Max’s face. A small smile drifted over her lips at the blissful expression on Max’s face as his eyes drifted closed at the feel of her touch. “Look into your eyes. Five minutes ago, you weren't sitting so close to me that I could hear you breathe…that I could feel my heart start to beat for the first time in five years…"

Max swallowed hard and his hands moved with a will of their own to cup Liz's face. "Oh, Liz…God, I have been so lost without you."

“Me too.” Liz whispered as her hands covered his. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his, soaking up the warmth that surrounded them. A warmth that seeped down into the coldest, most remotes parts of her heart. “I've tried, Max…I've tried so hard, but it doesn't work…I just don't work without you."

After a moment of silence, Max ventured a quiet question that sent a chill through the air around them. “What do we do now?” He pulled back to look into her eyes.

Gaze lowering, Liz shrugged slightly. “I…I really don’t know, Max. Talk. Sort things out. Talk some more. There’s so much that just doesn’t add up.”

“This thing with Nasedo isn’t over, Liz. I can feel it. Something big is about to happen and I just…I can’t stand the thought of you being put in danger again.”

“If I was ever in danger in the first place, that is.”

“Liz…”

“Max, I know you believe I was dying.” Meeting his gaze with determination, Liz shook her head. “I wasn’t. There is no way in hell that your touch could ever bring me pain.”

Max swallowed hard as his gaze faltered. “I really wish I could believe that, Liz.”

“Believe it.” Liz’s confident whisper feathered across his skin and penetrated his heart. Her hands covered his. Her eyes pleaded with him to fulfill a simple, yet meaningful request. “Max…heal me now.”

His fingers twitched nervously under hers. Desire to take the chance danced in his eyes. Liz nodded her encouragement as her eyes began to dance in response to his. Taking a deep breath, Max’s eyes drifted closed when Liz gently wrapped her fingers around his hands and directed them upward till she placed them along each side of her head.

A minute passed. Then two. Liz bit down on her lower lip as she watched Max’s inner struggle play out on his face. Every fear, every doubt slipped through his features. His tightly squeezed eyes revealed to her the depths of his terror. He was immobilized. Paralyzed. Captured in the horror of a memory Liz couldn’t share with him…

He could see her dying. Her body seized with convulsions. Her skin soaked with perspiration. He could feel her clutching at his hand, begging him to hold on to the sliver of life left inside of her and bring her back home. Bring her back to life.

And he felt her slipping away the moment he instinctively, impulsively placed his hand over her heart. Energy drained from her. Life began to float away. A chill swept through her body.

Nasedo had been the only one who could stop it.

Fingers curling into tight fists, his hands slipped from the side of her face to fall with a defeated thud in his lap. “I’m so sorry, Liz. I’m just…I can’t risk it.”

“But Max…” Liz captured his face in her hands forcing him to look at her. “I know you can’t hurt me. I **know** it. Deep in my soul.” She swallowed back the bitterness her words conjured up, knowing if they were to ever get past his fear, one of them would have to make the first step. “You didn’t trust me back then, Max. You didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth. I begging you…look in my eyes. Trust me now.”

Her plea broke his heart. Broke his spirit. Broke his will.

With a slight nod, he hesitantly returned his hands to each temple. Eyes locked with hers, he took a deep breath and concentrated…
The knots of pain trembled then exploded, disintegrating into nothingness. Max felt the pressure release its hold on Liz and his fingers tingled with new energy. A smile breezed past his lips and his eyes began to brighten with excitement. “It worked.”

Returning a smile just as bright, Liz nodded. “Yeah, it did.” Her fingers curled around his as she brought them to her lips. Reverently kissing each hand, Liz’s gaze full of love raised to meet his. “You took the pain away, Max. You took it away and I’m still here. With you. Alive…” Her voice trembled with emotion. “…and wanting us to try again.”

“I want that too.” Max whispered simply, his gaze lowering to her waiting lips. “I want that so much…”

Capturing her face in his hands, Max lowered his lips to brush against hers. Passion exploded between them and Liz was instantly in his arms. Wrapped once more in the warmth of his love. Feeling again sensations long buried, but never forgotten as bodies collided and tongues dueled with relentless abandon. Trapped in a world somewhere between heaven and earth. A world where a human and alien connected in such a deep and profound way that the rest of the world paused in reverence.

That was…until reality came crashing down on them…

“Liz! Lizzie are you here?”

At the sound of Ben’s voice, Liz and Max broke apart in breathless reluctance. There was a knock on Liz’s door only seconds before it flung open to reveal Ben standing in the doorway. His eyes flickered from Liz with her brightly dazed eyes and swollen lips to Max lying half next to her, half on top of her. His arms were wrapped tightly around her, fingers still tangled in her long thick hair and eyes cloudy with passion.

A momentary pang of jealousy raced through Ben and he felt an instant tightness in his chest. His fists balled up at his side and he swallowed hard trying to control the instinctive urge to lunge at Max with all the force of a tornado.

Tess came to his rescue. Her tiny, cool hand slipped around his and her cornflower blue eyes gazed up at him imploringly. “Please, Ben. Not now. Let’s just focus on what we came to say. Lives depend on it.”

Glancing down at her, he nodded as he felt the bitterness of seeing Liz in Max’s arms so soon after their break up begin to fade. It was only right, after all. Only natural that the parents of the baby they were trying to save were unable to keep their love hidden. Or keep any sort of distance once the truth of their separation had been revealed.

Ben prepared himself to see more of the same. Pushing personal issues to the side, he turned a steady gaze on Max and Liz, who were still ensconced in each other’s arms. His gaze faltered. “Look, I’m sorry to interrupt but what we came to say…well, it can’t wait.”

Seeing the urgency in Ben’s stance, Liz found her voice and spoke for the first time as she attempted to untangle herself from Max’s arms, but not so much that he wasn’t still holding her. “Ben, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Not one for mincing words, Ben cut to the chase as his eyes locked with hers. “You have a son, Liz.” His gaze shifted to Max. “You both do. And if we don’t find a way to save him very soon, you’ll never get the chance to see his face…”

Tbc…

posted on 20-Aug-2002 8:18:35 PM by Ashton
Hey all!

I know I said I'd do TWT next, but this one just came to me. Sorry its not one of your favs, but I thought those who do like it would appreciate some kind of update. Anyway, hope you enjoy! *happy* Please let me know what you think and if you do want me to continue!

BehrHugs,
Ashton
~~~~~~~~~~
~ chapter 18 ~

Seeing the urgency in Ben’s stance, Liz found her voice and spoke for the first time as she attempted to untangle herself from Max’s arms, but not so much that he wasn’t still holding her. “Ben, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Not one for mincing words, Ben cut to the chase as his eyes locked with hers. “You have a son, Liz.” His gaze shifted to Max. “You both do. And if we don’t find a way to save him very soon, you’ll never get the chance to see his face…”

Liz Parker shivered in Max's arms.

Her eyes instantly locked on a target and flared with protective anger. A hundred scenarios racing through her mind, her voice shook with fear. "What did you do to him? What did you do to Ben?"

"Liz, I…" Tess began but was quickly cut off by a panic-filled question that echoed in the room.

"WHAT DID YOU DO!?"

"Lizzie, she didn't do anything." Ben's voice was calm and even, like a doctor trying to gentle a terrified patient. "We've talked. That's all…"

Fear coursing through her, Liz ignored Ben's defense. Untangling herself from Max's arms, she jumped off the bed, and took a menacing step toward Tess. "Get your hands off him and get the hell out of my home!"

Seeing the focus of Liz's outburst wasn't going to change, Ben put a protective arm in front of Tess and began to plead his case. "Lizzie, wait. I know what you must be thinking. How you're feeling. But you need to hear what Tess has to say. What we both have to tell you."

Liz's dark eyes crackled with fury. "No, Ben. You don't know how I feel. This tramp is the reason I've been alone all of these years. She's the reason Max and I lost each other. You have no idea what she is capable of." A plea darkened her eyes with dread. "Please don’t let her touch you, Ben. I have no idea what she's been telling you, but there's something you need to know. She is a liar. She can't be trusted. There's not one single thing that comes out of her mouth that you can take at face value and she will use and manipulate you to get what she wants…"

"I know Max is an alien." Liz gasped as her eyes grew wide at Ben's announcement. Ben continued. "So is Tess. And Michael. And Isabel. I know they all have powers. Powers that have been used on you to hurt you and to heal you. I know Max saved you in high school from a gun shot wound and that you've loved each other ever since." Ben took a hesitant step forward, his eyes locked with hers. "I know you lost him when Tess came to town. Not because he loves her…" Ben took another step forward, his sincere gaze softening. "…but because he couldn't bare to watch you die because of him."

Liz's eyes began to fill with tears. Ben reached out and took her face gently in his hands, commanding her full attention. "And most important of all, I know you created a son together. A son you've never seen, but one who needs you now more than he ever will. Which is why you need to trust me and listen."

Stunned into silence since the moment Tess and Ben entered Liz's room, Max finally found his voice. "A...son?" Eyes glued to Liz and Ben, his stomach twisted with jealousy and writhed with anguish. They knew each other so well. Understood each other. Protected each other instinctively. It was more than just difficult to watch. It was heart wrenching.

Tearing his eyes from the familiarity Ben displayed in his affection of Liz, he searched for the truth in another's eyes. "Tess? What…what is he talking about?"

Taking courage from Max's inquiry, Tess took a tentative step into the room. "We've been lied to, Max. By Nasedo. All those years ago."

Emotion flickered through Max's gaze. "What do you mean?"

"When we thought Liz was dying…" Shaking her head, Tess' eyes began to shine with unshed tears. "…Max, she wasn't. You…you weren't hurting her. And when you tried to heal her, Max…you couldn't. You couldn't because…there was nothing to heal." Tess paused, her voice a soft, low echo in the room. "She was pregnant."

"Impossible." The whisper came from Liz who shook her head and pulled away from Ben. Dazed, she backed up a few steps and sank down onto a nearby chair. "That's…no. No, it's impossible.

"No, Lizzie, it isn't." Ben responded softly, his entire focus centered on his former fiancee'. "You and I having a child together…*that* would be impossible. We've never made love." His voice softened to a whisper. "But you and Max did."

"How…how do you know this?" Instantly alert, Max turned to Tess inquiringly.

"Nasedo. He contacted me and told me everything." Tess paused. "Max, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but I had to be sure. I had to know how far he would go."

Max's voice hardened. "And just how far is that, Tess?"

"He's holding your son's life in his hands." Tess came forward, a plea for forgiveness in her eyes. "Max, Nasedo stole the baby's essence from Liz before he even had a real chance to grow and now, he wants to create him all over again."

Confusion flashed through Max's eyes. "Create him? What do you mean?"

Tess let out a sigh as her gaze shifted nervously. "He needs to make this child live so he can take control of him the moment he's born. He wants to take him to Antar. He wants to rule the King on the throne…your baby."

"How?"

There was silence as Tess struggled with the words. Max reached her in two, long determined strides, his fingers gripping into the flesh of her arms. "Dammit, Tess! Tell me how!"

Letting out a faint cry of pain, Tess' words tumbled forward. "He says he needs a ring. A ring that you gave Liz. And…and he wants me to be the one. He wants to implant the essence inside of me. He wants me to give birth to your son."

Max jerked his hands away from Tess as if she were a disease and took a giant step back. His head shaking, Max's voice was low and determined. "No. Absolutely not."

Liz's voice echoed with force immediately after Max's and her eyes locked on Tess sending a clear message. "Over my dead body."

Max's gaze shifted to Liz. "Sounds to me like Nasedo's going to be one very disappointed shapeshifter."

"That is…if what Tess is saying is true."

"Liz." Ben's voice pulled her attention back to him. "It is."

"But…" Liz swallowed the tears forming a lump in her throat. "…but I would know."

"Nasedo erased your memory." Ben answered in quietly.

Eyes snapping up to meet his, a wry, bittersweet smile flitted over Liz's lips. "And you know this all because Tess said so." Shaking her head at Ben in disbelief, Liz's eyes darkened with doubt. "And you actually believe her? You believe Tess."

"No, Lizzie." Ben knelt in front of Liz and captured her face in his hands once more, forcing her to look in his eyes, willing her to see beyond his words to his meaning. Each word was emphasized with complete faith and sincerity. "I believe you."

The effects of his actions were exactly what Ben wanted. She knew. She understood. He could see it in her eyes. Realization dawning, brightening her eyes with increased tears. Liz shook her head. Her one word response was a whispered wail. "No."

"Yes, Liz. Sweetie, you know what I'm talking about." Ben brushed hair back from her face gently like he had so many times before. "You know it's true. You just have to be willing to see it."

"No!" Liz's voice hardened as she pushed Ben's hands away from her face and wrapped her arms around her legs as she pulled them to her chest. Her plea was a bare whisper. "Ben, please don't do this."

Ben pressed forward. "Lizzie…don’t you see?" He covered her hands with his. "It's the key to all of this."

"What the hell are you doing to her?" Max demanded as he approached Ben and Liz. His own level of panic was rising rapidly. His own layer of fear beginning to dance on the edges of his mind.

Neither Ben or Liz heard him. They were locked in their own battle for the truth.

"A mother doesn't forget her baby." Ben whispered enigmatically. "Those were the first words you ever said to me, Lizzie."

A tear slipped silently down Liz's cheek as her eyes drifted closed. Her hands were shaking and her lips trembling with a wall of tears she wouldn't allow to fall. "That…that was just a…a dream…"

"Liz." Ben shook his head. "Sweetheart, it was a memory."

"No." Liz bowed her head as tears began to slip silently down her face.

"Would someone like to tell us what's going on?" Tess exchanged glances with Max before turning to focus on the drama playing out before them.

Sensing Liz was close to a breaking point, Ben pushed forward his words to Liz an explanation to Max and Tess in and of themselves. "That's why you have nightmares and panic attacks. Why there are blocks of time that you don't remember. Why you end up in places you can't explain."

"That first night I met you…in the park. You were sitting on the bench like I told everyone earlier. But what I didn't tell them was that you were carrying a baby blanket and a stuffed bear. You were looking for your baby, Liz. You were looking for your son. We both thought it was just an extreme case of sleep walking, but I don't think that's the case now." Ben paused and lifted Liz's chin till her tear-filled eyes were looking into his. "And I know you know it isn't."

The tremor in her voice sent a shiver through Max. "How can I be sure?"

Max had never felt like more of an outsider than he did at that moment. Watching the wife of his heart turn to someone else for answers. Seeing another man walk her through doubts and fears to face a truth that was as terrifying as it was earth-shattering. For the first time, Max really felt the life that Liz had lived without him. It had been complete with friends and love and trust that Max had never touched.

But Ben had.

In that moment, Max felt the profoundest sense of loss. Ben felt victorious.

His chest rose and fell with a quick, relieved breath and his expression relaxed. He'd gotten through to her once again. He felt as if half the battle had already been won. "Maybe you should try to remember what happened back then." Seeing the instant panic in Liz's eyes, Ben tried to head off her protests. "Lizzie, please, just…work with me here, ok? Just close your eyes. Try to bring it back. Try to bring back the dreams…"

Seeing Max stiffen at Ben's suggestion and the pain in his eyes as he watched the girl he loved responding to another man, Tess jumped in with a suggestion of her own. "Maybe Max should connect with her."

"Connect?" Ben's eyes narrowed in confusion as he glanced over his shoulder at Tess. "What's that?"

Max gaze shifted from Tess to Liz just as her eyes raised to meet his. "I…I don't know that that will…"

Liz was caught between loathing for Tess and anything she would suggest and the intense desire to make a conscious connection with the man she loved, possibly even the father of her child. Despite the realizations forced on her over the past few moments, Liz wasn't oblivious to Max. Or his feelings.

She could sense his hurt, feel his reluctance. The pain in his eyes was palpable. The arms crossed over his chest were a sure sign he was trying to control himself from lunging at Ben in possessive jealously. Trying to protect his heart from the connection still so strong between the girl he loved and the man she had planned to marry. He was misinterpreting the interaction between Ben and herself and it was building walls in his eyes with rapid speed. She couldn't let him back away. Not when they'd reached such a fragile, precarious agreement before Tess and Ben broke in to their solitude.

There was only one thing to do. Liz swallowed hard and plunged herself headlong into the conversation. "Tess…is right. I…I think we should connect…"

Max blinked at Liz's quick acquiescence. "I don’t…I don't want to hurt you."

Tess stepped up to Max and put her hand on his arm. "She's hurting now, Max. You're the only one she can share the pain with." She waited till his eyes met hers. "The **only** one."

Eyes locked with Liz, Max's whisper rippled with uncertainty. "Are you…sure?"

Her response was to wordlessly reach her hand out to him.

Nodding silently, a flicker of hope raced through his eyes. Max took a step forward and reverently gathered her hand in his. Ben quickly rose and stepped back. His blue eyes dulled as Max knelt in the place he'd just vacated. He swallowed hard at the look of love that instantly flared in Liz's eyes as she looked into Max's and the faint smile that shadowed her lips as their fingers entwined naturally, without effort. He could practically feel the electricity generated in the small space between them. The heat. The energy.

Without removing her gaze from Max, Liz's next request was made to the other occupants in the room. "We need to do this alone. Can you wait outside for us?"

"We'll call Michael and Maria." Tess was the first to move. When she did, it wasn't toward the door. It was toward Ben. She wrapped her hand around his and gently pulled him toward the door pausing only long enough for Ben to look back one last time before shutting the door on two lovers ready to discover the truth.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Tess had made her phone call.

Ben was standing in Liz's living room with his hands stuffed in his pockets, staring out the window at the stars. Tess joined him in silence with her hands linked behind her back. After a few moments, she ventured an observation. "Liz loves you."

Ben nodded and pursed his lips in thought. "Did you see the way her eyes lit up? The way she came alive when he took her hand? I've never seen her look at me the way she looks at him." He paused before continuing, his voice tired and heavy. "Yes, she loves me. But she's not in love with me. That's the difference between us."

"She let you get through to her." The comment was thoughtful and reverent. "I don't think she lets too many people do that. It's…special."

"No. What's special is what's going on right now in that room." Gaze lowering to meet Tess', Ben shook his head with a bittersweet smile. "If I got through to her its because I know her secrets, Tess. I've been there when she didn't know where she was or what she was doing. But she didn't really let me in just now. She let me hand her the puzzle pieces so she can make the genuine picture with the man she really wants. The man she really loves."

Sympathy clouded Tess' blue eyes. "Ben…"

Ben cut her off before she could try to make him feel better. "Look. I'm ok. You've had years of practice, seeing them together, knowing about their love. I'm just now learning and it's…overwhelming, to say the least."

"Is there anything I can do?" Tess' sincere gaze met his.

"Yes." Ben answered back softly as his hand drifted up to tenderly brush her skin. A thumb lightly traced her lips and Ben's gaze followed every languid movement. His eyes snapped up to meet hers. "But I don't want to use you that way."

Tess turned to him, vulnerable hope shining from her eyes. She took a slight step toward him. "I don't mind."

Eyes brightening a notch, Ben let out a deep sigh and leaned forward to brush his lips lingeringly against Tess' forehead. When he pulled back, Ben's eyes met hers meaningfully. "I do."

Gaze lowering shyly, Tess' whisper warmed his heart. "Would a hug be ok?"

Lifting her chin till her gaze met his, Ben smiled with a slight shrug. "Only if you really need one."

As Ben opened his arms, Tess stepped into his warmth and for the first time in a long time felt peace wash over her. And when Ben wearily sighed against her hair and whispered a quiet 'thank you', Tess felt even more. She finally knew what it felt like to come home for the first time in her life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Max gazed into Liz's eyes in silence.

"You believe her, don't you?" Liz asked quietly after several moments had passed.

Max shrugged. "I don't know what to believe right now." He paused. "Do you?"

Biting her lower lip, Liz nodded slowly. "Ben's…right, Max. This makes a lot more sense than dying because of our love. It explains so many things in the past. What you believed, my own experiences…"

"You've really been searching for him unconsciously all this time?" Max's voice was filled with awe.

Liz nodded slowly. "I guess in my own way I have." She let out a sigh as her gaze lowered painfully. "I can't tell you how many times I found myself in a park where children were or at a nursery. Or staring up at the stars. There was always such an…emptiness…deep inside." She swallowed hard, her lips brushing his hands as she brought them upward. "I always thought I was just missing you and the life we were supposed to have had."

Max's eyes brightened with a film of unshed tears. "I remember him, Liz. I remember the vision right after our vows…"

Liz's breath hitched in her chest as her fingers tightened around his. "So do I. Max, I…I thought so many times that he was just my mind playing tricks…"

"No, Liz." Shaking his head, Max began to smile despite himself. "He was real."

Her hands captured his face as her eyes glowed warm with love. "As real as you and me."

Filled with sudden doubt and pain, Max's gaze faltered. He swallowed hard and attempted to speak around the sudden lump in his throat. "Ben and you are…"

"Over." Liz finished for Max, her eyes softening with understanding. She allowed him the space to continue to voice his doubts. He didn't.

Clearing his throat, Max's gaze met hers switching the topic back to more solid ground. "What do we do now?"

Liz paused a moment wondering if she should bring the subject of Ben up herself. The hint of pain in his eyes was enough to make her want to press the point. But there were things even more pressing than her past relationship with Ben. Like the son she and Max had created.

"We connect." Liz leaned forward and leaned her forehead against his. "Let's see if we can feel our baby boy, Max..." Nuzzling her nose against Max's, her breath warmed his lips. "Let's find him…then let's bring him home…"

Eyes drifting closed simultaneously, lips merged. Emotions danced. Feelings rumbled.

Visions flared as a connection instantly began…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nasedo's head snapped up when he heard the unusual hum begin.

Glancing around the darkened room, his gaze abruptly stopped on the ornately carved box where he kept the vial. There was a light coming through the crack of the lid. Nasedo jumped up from his seat and headed toward the table. Flipping open the lid, his eyes widened as a glow surrounding the vial brightened.

Nasedo instinctively reached inside. He let out a howl of pain as the vial seared his skin on contact. Breath coming in heavy pants, he stared with increasing panic as the vial began to shimmer in its velvet case. "What the…"

Appearing out of nowhere, Nickolas was suddenly, unexpected by Nasedo's side. "They're seeing him again."

Nasedo's head snapped to the side. "What are you talking about?"

"Max. Liz." Nickolas shrugged. "They're connecting. They can feel him…and my guess is that their son can feel them right back." He paused. "If I were you, Nasedo…" Nickolas clapped Nasedo on the back. "…I'd get ready for a war."

An evil chuckle filled the room as Nickolas drifted into the shadows before locking the door on a prince and his keeper.

A keeper that was suddenly trembling with fear…

Tbc…


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 20-Aug-2002 8:38:10 PM ]
posted on 10-Sep-2002 7:21:48 PM by Ashton
Hey all

Here's the next part...obviously. *happy* Hope you enjoy. I swear I'm determined to get this and other stories done. I sooo appreciate your wonderful patient. Would love to hear what you think. *happy*

Ashton
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ chapter 19 ~


Ben couldn’t tear his gaze away.

From their hands...

They way they clung together. Fingers entwined. So natural. So effortless. So…right.

From Liz…

Nearly blinded by her smile, the happiness dancing in her eyes left him breathlessly stunned. His heart literally did a somersault when her beaming gaze met his, including him in her joy, yet unintentionally excluding him by the very fact she had to make an effort.

Her enthusiasm was…unmatched. Her delight…fathomless. The years of pain that usually edged her eyes and put lines around her mouth, fell away like a heavy burden as youth became her best friend once again. It was in that moment, Ben felt he was really seeing Liz Parker for the very first time.

It had been a half an hour since Michael and Maria had rejoined Tess and Ben at Liz’s apartment. Hasty explanations had been made and wide-eyed questions had been asked in hushed whispers. All details were out on the table. Max and Liz had only just emerged from her room moments before to hear Tess’ tale of Nasedo’s demands and update the group on their most recent unified experience.

They were…elated. To say the very least.

And Ben was…overwhelmed.

With emptiness. Jealousy. Concern…

Liz’s sweet voice chattered away excitedly as she attempted to explain to her friends the connection she and Max had shared with their son. “We saw him. We…we actually saw…” She let out a sigh. “And…and we felt him. And he was…he was so…” Glancing at Max she bit down on her lip to keep from bursting into joyous laughter.

Max’s quick, responding smile lit his eyes as he nodded, his normally cool reserve melting with the warm pride of a father as he finished Liz’s description of their son. “…perfect. Beautiful. And alive.” Max’s hand absently covered the hand he was holding and rubbed it with warm reassurance. “And so very much ours.”

Nodding emphatically, Liz’s animated ramble picked up where Max’s left off. “He has Max’s eyes.”

Eyes crinkling with happiness, Max’s response was quick. “But he has Liz’s smile.”

“Max’s ears…” Liz nudged Max playfully as she reached up and tugged on Max's earlobe, a giggle escaped her. “Those adorable little ears…”

Wrapping his arm around Liz’s shoulder, Max began to chuckle as he pulled her into him for a hug and brushed his lips against her temple. For a man who had been terrified to touch her only an hour before, Max Evans was certainly making up for lost time. And he was doing it…effortlessly. Unrestrained. Instinctively.

“He’s amazing." Forgetting they had an audience, Max's focus was entirely on the mother of his child as he tilted her face upward to look in his eyes. "Did you…did you feel his excitement?”

Liz nodded with a bright smile. "At first I wasn’t sure if that was him or us…"

"Oh, it was him." Max quirked a smile and winked. "And a little bit of us."

Taking Max' face in her hands, Liz's whisper electrified the room. "Max…he recognized us. He…knew. He knew we were his mommy and daddy."

Swallowing hard, Max nodded as his eyes began to shine. "I know. Because of him…” Fingers gently caressing Liz’s face, Max’s voice was thick with emotion. “…because of you…I now have a fourth most amazing feeling in the world.”

With a nudge from Michael, it was Maria, once again, who broke into Max and Liz's own private world. "So, it looks like you were right, Liz. You did see him in a vision way back then."

Liz nodded as she once more took Max's hands in hers and turned back to their friends. "Yeah, we both did."

"You…never said anything." Michael ventured with a hint of hurt in his voice as his eyes met Max's. "About the vision. Your vows. Nothing."

Gaze faltering, Max's eyes clouded with pain. "It was…too…difficult. There was so much fear. Regret. So much…"

"Pain." Liz finished for Max when his sentence faltered. "But it's over now." Leaning into him, she rubbed his arm reassuringly and sent him a lovingly, understanding smile. He responded with gratitude dancing in his eyes and a gentle kiss against her lips.

Their joy was so complete. Their interaction so refreshing. The awe of their glances so full of intimacy.

After such a long period of silence, the sound of Tess' voice was almost startling. No more so than her guilt-ridden statement. "I should have told you. I should have said something the moment he came to me. You would have…have been together so much sooner." Tears began gathering in her blue eyes as she watched the love flowing so easily between Max and Liz. "I'm…I’m so very sorry…"

"Tess, we can deal with that later…" Still captivated by the awe of the moment, Max's distracted response was interrupted by Liz's hard voice.

"You should be."

The shift in the atmosphere was abrupt. Hostile. Accusatory.

Max's gaze snapped to Liz's face with alarm. Another storm was brewing. He could see it in her eyes. Hear it in her voice. Feel it in the way she stiffened next to him, her fingers instantly going cold. "Liz. Liz, let's not get into this. Please…not now…"

Liz ignored him. Her eyes blazing with fury, her glare was hard and unbending. "So why did you wait so long, huh? I mean…what exactly was the plan here, Tess? Have Max's son…**my** son…and pass him off as your own? Get Max to be with you out of sympathy? Out of a sense of duty?"

Tess' head began to shake. "No, no, Liz…I swear. I only wanted to find out the truth. You've both already been hurt so much…"

"Because of you."

"Because of Nasedo." Max corrected as he turned to Liz. Her focused fury still on Tess, Max took her face in his hands forcing her to look at him. Pleading to get through. "Liz, Tess did not cause this situation. She's not the one who separated us from our son. Nasedo did. Nasedo's the one we should blame. He's the one we need to destroy."

"And we will." Liz agreed with determination rippling through her voice. "But not with her help."

Max blinked in uncomprehending confusion. "What?"

"I mean it." Pulling away from Max, Liz stood and took a step toward Tess. The struggle to remain civil was etched in her expression. Her hands fisted at her side. "I…appreciate you telling us about our son.” There was a slight pause that rippled with meaning. “Finally.” Her eyes flickered with determination. “But now that you have, I want you to leave my home. We'll handle it from here on out."

"Liz, you can't be serious."

Liz spun around when Max's protest sounded behind her. "I've never been more serious."

"But…" Max's frantic gaze shifted from Liz to Michael and Maria, a plea for assistance clearly in his chocolate brown eyes. His eyes snapped back to Liz, wide with concern. "…we need her. We need her to get our baby back. Nasedo contacted Tess. Not you. Not me. Tess."

"And why is that, do you think?" Liz asked with a sneer on her lips. "Because she's just like him. A manipulator. A schemer. Someone we cannot trust!"

Seeing Max struggling to reign in not only his emotions but the bitter and still aching part of Liz's heart, Ben spoke up and tried to reason with her. "Lizzie…Max has a point about Tess. She's the one Nasedo's reaching out to right now." He stepped forward and gathered her hands in his to gain her full attention. "Look, you and Max aren't the only ones with something on the line here. Nasedo needs your son to rule. He's tried several times to bring that little boy into being. He's failed. From what I gather, he's on a time clock and right now that clock is ticking out his final seconds. Now, if he's desperate enough to finally contact Tess for her assistance…then he's desperate enough to believe whatever we tell him."

Liz pulled her hands from Ben's gentle grip. "And what exactly would that be? That Tess is willing, able and ready to bear Max's child?" Shaking her head emphatically, Liz's eyes darkened with protective fire as her voice lowered with deadly seriousness. "That woman will go near my son over my dead body. I'll face Nasedo myself if I have to."

"God, Liz…" Max's panic stricken voice echoed in the room. "…that's what we've been trying to avoid. That's what all of these years of separation have been about. Keeping you from Nasedo. Saving your life."

"I'll give it up in a heartbeat for my baby." Liz's retorted quickly. Sincerely. Unbendingly. "For you."

Max's face instantly paled. His horrified whisper sent a shiver through the room. "You can't possibly mean that."

"How could you think I'd not mean it?" Liz's incredulity raced through her eyes as she turned to Max. "I thought you of all people would understand, Max. I thought you'd know about sacrificing for the people you love. Especially after what we've just seen together…"

"I do." Taking a step forward, Max cradled her face in his hands. His earnest gaze met hers willing her to believe him. Begging her to listen to his heart. To trust him. Beyond the anger, the bitterness and the fear racing through her. "But you don't have to sacrifice yourself to keep our son from Tess. She's not our enemy. Nasedo is. And there's no way in hell I'm letting you sacrifice anything or…or rush into the center of danger if I can help it. Especially not when we are not alone in this."

"Max is right Liz." Maria's gentle intrusion brought tears to Liz's eyes. "Tess has powers we need and even more than that, she has Nasado's cooperation, if not his trust."

Pain of betrayal began to flare in Liz's eyes. Her voice was shaky with emotion. "I see. You're all on Tess' side. That's just...wonderful."

"Liz…"

Pushing Max's arms away from her, Liz's shook her head as her lips tightened in hurt and anger. "You know what…just…just don't mind me. I didn't have a say in the past…why should the fact I'm his mother change anything now?" Storming past Max, Liz's quiet sob echoed in the room only moments before she slammed and locked the door to her room.

Instinctively, Max and Ben both took a step forward.

Whirling on Ben, Max put his hand on Ben's chest and pushed him back a step. His glaring eyes met Ben's. "Back off."

"You'd better know what you're doing when you go in there, Max." Hands on hips, Ben’s warning blue-green eyes flashed with protective fire. “She is no longer a delicate sixteen year old you have to protect with lies and sacrifices. What she wants right now is to know you trust her the way she thinks you trust Tess. She needs to feel in control of something and if you take that away from her right now…”

Max’s tone was cold and defensive. "Do **not* lecture me about Liz.”

“Someone has to.” Ben retorted. “For a guy that has purportedly seen into her soul, you sure are missing a few pieces of the puzzle when it comes to Liz Parker.”

Max took a step forward, his eyes blazing into Ben’s. “Look. I am completely aware that you have been involved with Liz for the past year or so, but that changed tonight. By her choice. So, the way I see it, this is none of your concern anymore." Max snapped back, his eyes darkening defensively. “That is the woman I love. The mother of my child. I will take care of her.”

"It'll be my concern as long as I love her." Ben retorted, his voice low with determination. "So, if I were you, I'd get used to seeing my face, pal. I’m not leaving till I’m sure Liz is safe. And I mean more than just physically safe.” He cocked a knowing eyebrow at Max and crossed his arms in front of him. “In other words…you’d better not break her heart again."

“I’d rather die first.” Shooting Ben a hard glare, Max backed away before turning to head toward Liz’s room. Running his hand over the door knob, a glowing flash released the lock and Max slipped through the door, closing it behind him and shutting two aching hearts away from the prying eyes of anxious and concerned friends.

Tess was the first to speak. “It…would be best if I go.”

“No, it wouldn’t.” Michael answered, his voice hard as steel. “Max and Liz will have to work through all their issues on their own. And they will...eventually. Right now they've got a million things going on inside of them. But Liz will put her son first no matter what she's feeling right now. They'll be back out the second they both realize that. And when they do, it’ll be time for us to go into action against Nasedo. For that, we need you, Tess. We need to make plans and get set to move as soon as they’re ready.”

“Let’s just hope they get ready fast.” Tess whispered.

“What exactly is our time frame here, Tess?” Maria asked after having exchanged worried glances with Michael.

Tess glanced at Ben. "I…don't know exactly. Nasedo just seemed so…"

"Desperate." Ben filled in as he came and sat next to Tess. His eyes met Michael and Maria's. "When he was threatening Tess, he tried to act like he was in control, but…" Ben shook his head. "…that control is quickly slipping away from him. We can use that."

Concern for her friend's former fiance' edged Maria's voice. "You know, Ben, this really isn't your fight. All of us, well…we've all been dealing with this alien mumbo jumbo for a lot longer…"

Gaze hardening, Ben shook his head knowing exactly where Maria was heading. "I'm not walking away."

"Maybe you should." Michael interjected. "Seriously, man. This is a danger you don't willingly take on. Max, Tess and I…this is part of who we are. Part of why it's so hard for us to form anything…normal. We have no choice. Liz and Maria have lived with the risks almost as long as we have. They know the score. But you…"

"Have no choice either." Ben stated unequivocally. "Look. I meant what I said to Max. I'm not leaving till I know Liz is in a good place. She's not right now. So I'm staying." He paused, his gaze shifting to Tess. "Besides, I made a promise to someone that they didn't have to do this alone." Tess offered Ben a grateful smile before he turned his attention back to Michael and Maria, his expression unmovable. "So, I suggest you stop trying to convince me not to be here and start thinking of ways we can use my resources."

Michael's eyes narrowed. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well…" Glancing once at Tess, Ben leaned forward. "…here's what I'm thinking…"
~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz heard the click of the door closing behind her. "I had the door locked for a good reason."

"Yeah?" Max's soft voice echoed in the room as he approached her. "Well, I had a better reason for unlocking it." Stepping behind Liz, Max attempted to put his hands gently on her shoulders.

She shrugged off his attempted and stepped away.

Hands dropping heavily to his side, Max hung his head a moment in thought. When he finally spoke, it was with a gentle deliberation. "I just have one question for you, Liz. Do you want to save our son?"

Liz whirled on Max, her eyes bright with tears. "God, yes, Max. You know I do."

"Alright." Max took a hesitant step forward, his pleading eyes locked on hers. "Then let's save him." He reached out to take her face in his hands. "Together."

A tear trickled down Liz's cheek as her lips began to tremble with uncertainty. "Is that you and me together? Or you and Tess and everyone else together while I get pushed to the side where it's going to be what you'd consider 'safe'."

Brushing Liz's tears away with his thumbs, Max shook his head with a regretful sigh. "I've given you so much reason to doubt me. To not trust." His own eyes began to film with tears. "I'm so sorry. I should have never shut you out before. I shouldn't have made decisions for you. I wish…I wish I had all the time in the world to prove to you just how wrong I was, Liz." His eyes darkened with sorrow. "But, honey, we just don't have the luxury of time right now."

Swallowing hard, Max continued, his voice softening. "I know that you hate her. For what she did back in high school. For being with me all these years. And I don't blame you one bit, ok? God knows I can't stand Ben and I've only known him for one day. But you have to understand something, Liz. In all of these years, Tess has known about and respected my love for you. Never once has she tried to take advantage of the situation or pressure me into feeling things she knew I'd never feel."

"Now, she is my friend and I do trust her. But she is not you. She will never be you. She'll never, ever own my heart. I’ve never trusted her that much." Max shrugged slightly. "Hate her all you want. Don't believe her intentions for all I care, but you have to respect the place she's had in my life the way she respects yours. If you can't do that, there's a very real possibility we will lose our son."

After a moment's hesitation, Liz spoke. "Do you want…" Liz bit on her lip to stop her voice from wavering. Blinking back fresh tears, she continued. "…do you want her have him? Will you let her have our baby, Max?"

"Oh, Liz…if I'd wanted Tess to have my baby, I've had ample opportunity." Leaning his forehead against hers, Max took a deep breath, his eyes drifting closed as his entire heart poured out through his words. "You're the only one I've ever wanted. Ever. To be my best friend, my wife, my lover…" His eyes opened to meet hers. "…and the mother of my children."

Caressing Max’s face gently, Liz blinked back a fresh well of tears. "I love you so much, Max. And I believe you. I do.” She shook her head slightly. “But that's not what I asked." Liz responded softly, her bright eyes meeting his as she repeated the question causing her heart to break. More…candidly. "If it comes down to her or me…who will you choose to…"

"I don't want to lose you." Max interrupted, his voice thick with emotion. "I will do anything necessary to keep you safe."

"So then you will let her." Her voice sounded defeated as he gaze shifted from Max. She slowly pulled out of his arms and turned her back to him as she walked toward her bed. Sitting down on it with a weary sigh, Liz bent her head as tears began to fall.

"Liz, please…" Max hesitantly approached the bed and sat down next to her. “…we need to focus on getting him back first.” Max stated with unequivocal firmness. “To me, right now, that is more important than anything else. More important than how much you hate Tess. Even more important than the way my stomach twists into knots every time Ben opens his mouth or the way I have this overwhelming desire to just slam my fist into his face every time he touches you..."

Liz’s head snapped up. “Max…”

"Liz." Max stilled her protest with a finger against her lips. "We’re going to be parents. Our son has to come first now. He has to. Now, we need to get him back…and for that, we need Tess."

“But…” Liz eyes filled with sorry. “…I’m his mother. I…I should be the one.”

“And you will be.” Max stated softly as determination set in his jaw. He cupped her face with his hand, a solemn promise etched in his darkening eyes. “If there is any way under the sun for you to have our baby, it will be you. I promise.” He paused as he pleading eyes met hers. "Please…please…I'm begging you to let this go for now."

Struggling to keep tears from spilling over, Liz down on her lip and nodded her head in agreement.

Slipping his arm behind her, Max pulled Liz into his embrace when she instinctively leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his neck to hug him tightly to her. Running his fingers through her hair in a smoothing motion, Max began to whisper. "I love you so much, Liz. I…I can't imagine a world where you don't exist. I simply don't know what's in store for us. I don't know what will be required of us to get our son back. I don't know what we'll have to sacrifice. But I do know one thing. If it comes down to losing you or losing Tess…" His arms tightened around her unconsciously. "…I will hold onto you with everything I have."

Sniffing back a sob, Liz nodded, complete trust shining out of her eyes as she pulled back to look at Max. “Then…what do we do now?”

“We go back out there and we prove to our friends that we are ready to be parents by putting our son above everything else." Wiping away her tears, Max's eyes darkened dangerously. "Then…we find the bastard that stole our baby for his own twisted reasons and prove to him there is nothing that can break the strength of our love.” Tender, featherlight caresses against her skin. A pause where a solemn promise was made between two hearts. Max’s whisper electrified the air in the room. “Nothing."

"Nothing." Liz repeated in a breathless echo as she leaned her forehead against Max's for the strength she desperately needed to feel.
~~~~~~~~~~
Standing, Tess was the first to speak when Max and Liz emerged from her room, hand in hand. "Max…Liz. I…I can't tell you how sorry I am. I just…I want so much to help. To make up for what I've done to you." Her blue eyes met Liz's. "But what I want is not important. Your son is. And if you'll let me help, I promise I'll do everything in my power to bring him home to you. But, if you'd like me to leave, I'll leave. It's your call."

"No." Liz felt Max's hand squeeze hers in gratitude. She pulled in a shaky breath and swallowed hard. The words were more difficult to say than she'd imagined. "We…need your help." Liz glanced up at Max as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder for support. His small encouraging smile pushed her forward. "Getting our son back is what's most important right now." When her gaze met Tess' there was a slight thaw in their dark depths. "Please. Stay."

"Good. Now its time to get down to business." Michael stated as his eyes met Max's. He nodded to the loveseat. "We've got a plan if you're willing to listen."

Nodding, Max and Liz silently slipped onto the seat Michael had indicated. Never once letting go of each others' hand. Never once being out of step with one another. "What's this plan you've come up with?"

"Ben. You explain." Michael stated authoritatively. "It is your plan."

Looking slightly uncomfortable, Ben cleared his throat and nodded. "Ok. Uh…well, I think the first step is for Tess to make contact with Nasedo again. We really only have half of the story about this ritual that's supposed to be performed and how this is all supposed to work. Now, to do that…" Ben paused as his gaze met Liz's inquiringly. "…Tess will have to pretend to be willing to have your son."

Liz nodded stiffly. Max's fingers entwined encouragingly through hers as pulled her into him for support. She instinctively responded by covering his hand with hers.

Ben continued. "I think the best and safest thing is if Tess goes alone."

"But…" Liz began.

Ben held up his hand. "Michael and I will be outside waiting for her in the car. She'll be wired so we can hear everything going on. I've got contacts…"

"Ted?" Liz inquired, the first hint of a smile touching her lips.

Ben smiled in return as he nodded. "Yeah. Ted. I've already called him and he's agreed to loan me the equipment." Glancing around the group, Ben continued. "Once we get the details on this ritual he's been talking about then we'll know how to proceed."

"I don't like it." Max was the first to voice concerns.

Blinking in surprise, Ben stiffened. "Why not?"

"Well, for starters, I don’t like not being involved. I think I should be there too so I can help if something happens. Which is my second concern. Too many things could go wrong. With Tess facing Nasedo on her own and the two of you too far away to help. Not to mention, only one of you has any powers and…no offence, Michael, but you’ve never quite gotten control of yours. So, I’m thinking this plan of Ben’s is just a tad risky." Max stated simply as his gaze shifted to Michael. "Don't you agree?"

"The possibility of something going wrong is going to be there, Max. I mean, this is Nasedo we're talking about." Michael responded logically. "But it's the best we've been able to come up with. As for my powers, I’ve been working on them. With Tess and me…we can handle it. And Ben will be there for back up while you and Liz, who I'm sure Nasedo would love to get his hands on, will be safe for the time being.”

Michael paused, his next reason giving both Liz and Max a dose of reality they hadn’t previously considered. “Look, Max…if you thought Liz was in danger before just because you loved her…” He shook his head solemnly. “…that danger has just skyrocketed now that she’s the mother of a prince. You need to stay here and protect Liz. We have no idea if Nasedo’s working alone or if he has help at this point. Tess can get as much info as possible and get a lay of the office. That way, when we go back to get you son, we'll know exactly what we're dealing with."

Doubt still lingered in Max's eyes as he turned to look at Liz. "What do you think?"

There was a moment of hesitancy before Liz went with her gut instinct. "I…think for now, it's all we've got."

Nodding with a hint of reluctance, Max turned back to the group. "Alright. It's a go." His gaze met Tess'. "You sure you're up to this?"

Tess nodded. Few in the room missed the way Ben's hand snaked over to cover hers reassuringly. "Yeah. I want to do this, Max. For you…" Her gaze shifted to the petite woman sitting by his side. His other half. The wife of his heart. "…for all of you." She glanced at Ben in response to a gentle squeeze of her hand. "I uh…I need something from you both though."

"What's that?"

"The ring that you gave Liz."

"Why?" Liz asked curiously as her hand immediately drifted to the ring hanging delicately around her neck.

Tess shrugged. "It's what Nasedo said we needed to save the baby."

Face scrunching up in confusion, Max's quiet question echoed in the room. "But why would he need that ring?"

"I really don't know." Tess shook her head. "But I intend to find out."

Lost a moment in thought, Liz shook her head. Her fingers rubbed over the amber stone reverently. "No."

"No, what?" Maria asked.

"No, I don't want to give the ring up."

"Liz…" A note of warning edged Max's protest.

Eyes meeting Max's Liz shook her head. "No, Max. It…it's not that I don't…" Her gaze shifted to Tess. "I can feel the power in this ring. I've always felt it. I think…I think if you take it with you, something irrevocable is going to happen and I just…" She let out a sigh. "I'm sorry. I don't want our choices taken away from us."

Realizing what Liz was most afraid of Tess nodded. "Alright. I understand." Shrugging her shoulders she glanced around the room. "Any ideas how to convince him I couldn't get the ring?"

After a lengthy silence, Ben swallowed hard and spoke. "Use this."

Every eye turned to see Ben holding out Liz's engagement ring.

Liz's breath caught in her chest. "Oh, Ben…we couldn't…"

A bittersweet smile touched his lips. "Look, I have no use for it now." As the uncomfortable silence continued, Ben's eyes met Liz's bright with a sheen of unshed tears. "It's yours anyway. Just…" Deliberately turning to Tess, Ben placed the ring in her hand and closed her fingers over it. "…alter it. Make it look like the one Max gave to Liz and when Nasedo wants to see it, use your powers to make it appear to have power."

Full of gratitude, Liz's voice shook as she swallowed past a lump that rose in her throat. "Thank you, Ben."

Nodding curtly, Ben refused to meet Liz's eyes and cleared his throat, standing abruptly. "I'll uh…get the equipment from Ted if we're going to do this tonight."

Tess stood with him. "I'll go with you."

"Yeah, we'd better go too…" Michael stated after casting Maria a meaningful glance.

Before they knew it, Max and Liz were standing in the room alone once more. Turning to each other simultaneously, Max opened his arms and Liz stepped willingly into them. With a deep sigh, Max pulled her to him, his whisper of reassurance sending a trickle of warmth straight into her heart. "I'll get him back for you, Liz. I promise you I will. Even if it’s the last thing I ever do…"

The echo of Max's final promise sent a shiver through Liz Parker's soul…

Tbc…