posted on 12-Sep-2001 1:23:09 AM by Breathless
Part 20 added 09/21/01 on page 5

Part 19 added 09/18/01 on page 2

Here is the link (IF I did this right) to chapters 1-16:


Author: Debbi aka Breathless
Category: Max and Liz
Rating: PG 13 to R
Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with Roswell, I'm just borrowing them for awhile.

Author note: Hi everyone. With everything that's been going on (the new board and the tragedy on Tuesday) I decided not to post this until tonight. As some of you know because I've mentioned it before,I live in Washington state, but my husband has been in New York for the past 2 weeks visiting family. He had intended to go into the City on Tuesday morning and his destination was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. At the last minute, he decided not to go. Thank God. Now he's trying to figure out a way to get home, because he won't fly. That's one long drive in a rental car. But he's safe, and that's all that matters. Deep breath.

Now, about the story . . .
In part 17, I took you to another place, another world. An alien world. I'm glad to see that so many of you found it an interesting place. bhoney, your feedback after the last part made me smile. My intention was to make it feel . . . alien. I tried to be descriptive, yet leave a lot to the imagination at the same time. We know from the mommygram in Destiny that in that other life, Zan and the rest of them didn't look human.

Part 18 is a continuation of that alien world, and completes the story of Zan and Rena. How that effects Max and Liz, well that comes later . . .

Excerpt from Part 17 . . .

“I need you to do me a favor,” Zan told Rath as they exited the Palace and made their way onto the grounds. He wanted this conversation to be private, and privacy was a hard thing to come by inside those walls. The three moons were out in full force tonight and the gardens looked inviting in the shimmering light.

“That sounds interesting,” Rath said. Zan didn’t often ask him for personal favors. “What do you need?”

“There’s someone I want you to find out about. A girl. I want to know where she was born, who her parents are, where she got her education. Basically, I want to know everything you can find out.”

“This is an interesting request. What’s her name?”

“I don’t know.” Zan could feel Rath’s penetrating gaze and his colors fluctuated, showing his nervousness. “She’s a member of Ava’s entourage. I . . . I just want . . .”

“Looking for one last hurrah before settling into married life, huh?” Rath said suggestively.

‘No. Not at all,” Zan denied hotly. “I just . . . there’s something familiar about her.”

“I see. For a minute there I though you were finally going to take that vestal body of yours and enjoy some carnal pleasure.”

“I’ve enjoyed carnal pleasure before!” Zan retorted.

“I’m not talking about with yourself! I’m talking about with any one of the lovely females that live within your domain.” He gazed at Zan and almost laughed at the shocked maroon color of his friend’s markings. “I’m just saying that it’s about time you showed an interest in the female population. Some of us have been wondering just where your loyalties lay, if you know what I mean.”

“What are you talking about? I’m just more discreet in my liaisons than you are. I don’t boast about them to just anyone that will listen.”

“More discreet?” Rath said shaking his head. “More like celibate!”

“I’ve had my share of females,” Zan insisted and felt his colors taking on a purple hue.

“Ha! When?” Rath needled him. He was enjoying watching his King’s embarrassment.

“Just last cycle I found pleasure in Benoi’s fair cousin.” Zan replied.

“Everyone’s found pleasure in Benoi’s cousin.” Rath laughed.


“A King should be spreading his seed throughout the kingdom and bestowing his infinite charms on the fine young maidens. I dare say, they would line the streets beseeching you to choose them. Your rep-”

“There she is!” Zan interrupted him. He felt his respirations increase and the cool night air felt hot against his dilating markings.

Rath studied Zan in utter amazement. His King was well known for his cool demeanor and his aloof nature. His control of his physical responses was legendary and he never gave away his emotions. It was why he had been so successful as the head of the Council. To look at him now, bright red with desire, stopped Rath in his tracks.

Zan stared at her from across the garden as she moved among the flora. He isolated her scent and he breathed in deeply, drawing her unique fragrance into his lungs. Her scent put the flowers to shame. His blood rushed to his markings causing his color to flare a vivid red but he didn’t even notice. He watched her as she picked a small bud and he noticed her markings turn yellow with contentment. Without conscious thought he moved in her direction.

The rustling of his coverings drew her attention and she looked up to see the King coming toward her. The blood rushed from her markings leaving them a pale cream and she bowed before him.

As he neared her he realized his colors were on display and he quickly muted them. Had she seen? Had Rath? He glanced over at his friend and confidant but his appearance was neutral, giving Zan no indication of what he might have seen. He shifted his sight back to the girl and when she spoke, her voice was musical.

“Forgive me your Majesty. I . . . I shouldn’t be here in your private gardens. Your permission to leave . . .”

He was fighting an internal battle to keep his colors neutral and when he spoke his tone sounded tense. “It’s much too pleasant a night to be cooped up indoors. You have my permission to stay, and glean the gardens until your heart’s content.”

“Thank you, your Majesty, but . . . but I really must go.” She remained bowed before him and her colors paled even more. “Please . . . my Lady awaits.”

“Yes, of course.” His colors darkened slightly at the mention of Ava and then he said, “But please, come back. Anytime. The gardens love the attention of a beautiful Lady.” He noticed the lavender blush that rose in her markings and then she backed slowly away from him.

“Thank you, your Majesty.” She rotated, intending to flee to the Palace but her movements froze when he called out to her.

“Wait!” She turned back to him with her head bowed and he said, “I didn’t get your name.”

“Rena,” she answered softly. “My name is Rena.”

“Here Rena, you dropped this . . .” He held the bud out to her that had fallen to the ground and she tentatively reached for it. Their digits touched and her colors flared red before turning deep purple. He could hear her sharp intake of breath and his colors betrayed his own attraction. She pulled away from him and once more fled toward the safety of the Palace.

He watched her go and he memorized every detail of this magical moment. How she looked and how she moved and how her scent filled the air all around him. He memorized everything, right down to the color of the flower bud she had picked. She liked the white ones.

Dying Embers
Part 18

Rena. What a beautiful name. Zan had awakened with the musical sound of her name ringing in his mind. He had dreamed of her in the night. Sweet dreams.

He rose early, as was his custom, and he walked the quiet halls of the Palace and let his mind wander back to last night when he’d seen her in the garden. She’d looked so beautiful standing there amongst the flowers. She looked like she belonged there. He could fairly hear the sounds of the flowers crying out for her return.

Alanee opened her chamber door and her eyes encountered the sight of her son on his morning ritual, roaming through the halls. Lost in his thoughts, she could tell he hadn’t noticed her. She watched him as he passed by and she could see that his movements were lighter than normal. Bouncier. As if he was actually happy. The last two cycles, ever since his father died and Zan had taken on the responsibilities of King, he hadn’t allowed himself time to just enjoy life.

What a difference a day could make, Alanee thought as she watched her son. Yesterday his despair had been palpable, and today . . . today he was literally glowing. His normal muted brown tones were glowing a vibrant yellow, radiating an aura of contentment around him. Her heart swelled with maternal joy as she watched him disappear around the corner. She could sense the change in him, see it in the way he moved and in the way his colors were on display. The signs were all clear. Her son was falling in love.

* * * * *

Zan entered the dining hall for the morning meal and inhaled the succulent smells of his favorite meal of the day. Cook was just finishing laying everything out on the sideboard and he could hardly wait to begin feasting. He loved the mornings the best, when everything was quiet and the day held so much promise.

There hadn’t been much that looked promising lately, Zan mused while he waited for Cook to finish. The unrest in the south, the attacks aimed at the government, even an altercation against the Palace Guards in the town square weighed heavily on his mind. His friend Larak had warned him that too many changes in the wake of his father’s death could cause strife, but there was so much he wanted to do. He wanted his people to have a better life. Was that so wrong?

There was also the conflict with the Council he’d had to deal with. His thoughts turned to Ava and unconsciously his colors muted to a neutral brown. It had been decreed shortly after his birth that Zan and the first daughter of Pau, ruler of Ceri Prime would be betrothed and marry to bond the two houses together. The prophets had declared the first son of Antar and the first daughter of Ceri Prime, bonded in marriage would herald in a time of wealth for all nations, peace and prosperity. The union was considered sacred.

However, before Zan had even reached the age of the awakening, Pau had been overthrown by Tirus in a bloody coup. Pau’s mangled body had been left on display in the Capitol Square on Ceri, as a reminder of what would happen to anyone that opposed the tyrannical Tirus. Pau’s family had perished in the coup as well, and his wife and young daughter had been buried in an unmarked grave.

Zan had forgotten about the decree after Pau was killed, and the subject of marrying had not been mentioned again until after Zan’s father had died two cycles ago and Zan had ascended to the Crown. Tirus had gone before the Council and insisted the decree was still valid, and Zan was obligated to marry his daughter, Ava. Zan had been adamantly opposed, asserting the binding contract was with Pau, not Tirus, but the Council had declared the contract was valid. The first son of Antar, Zan, must marry the first daughter of Ceri Prime, Ava. Zan was left with no choice in the matter.

He sighed inwardly as he watched Cook finish arranging the morning meal, but his mind was no longer filled with thoughts of food. When he met Ava the day before, he had been disappointed that he hadn’t felt a sense of connection to her. He hoped his Mother was right, and that this union would grow into something more than just a political pairing, but somehow he doubted it. Marrying for political expediency was common practice among the hierarchy of the five planets, but that didn’t make Zan feel any better about it. Perhaps, someday, love would find a way.

Cook moved aside and Zan’s thoughts turned to the happier ones of the feast laid out before him. He moved closer to the buffet and let the mouth watering aromas waft up around him. He inhaled deeply and then he caught a scent that set his colors ablaze. She was here. His gaze shifted around the room and then there she was, standing in the doorway. He’d never seen a more beautiful sight.

“Your Majesty, pardon my intrusion,” Rena said softly. Her head was bowed in deference to him and she moved backwards tentatively, as if she were about to flee.

“Good morning, Rena,” Zan rushed a greeting to prevent her departure. “Please, come in, come in. You’re just in time. Cook has just served the meal and everything is fresh. Join me, please.”

Her colors flared maroon and he could tell that he had shocked her. “Sir, my Lady asked that I prepare her a plate and return it to her chambers.”

“I see,” Zan said and studied her. Her bearing was regal. She held herself with such grace and dignity and poise, and her manner of speech indicated a formal education. Yet she lived the life of a servant girl, catering to Lady Ava’s wants and desires. It left him with a feeling of anger that a girl such as this should serve another and his colors briefly flared blue. He saw her eyes grow wide in alarm and he instantly reined in his emotions. Returning to his neutral shades of brown, Zan said, “If Lady Ava wishes a plate delivered to her, then let me help you prepare it.”

“Your Majesty! No-”

“In fact, I will help you hand deliver it!” Zan rushed on. “Come. Help me choose which foods she will find satisfactory.”

Reluctantly, Rena joined Zan to assist in selecting the appropriate foods for Ava’s finicky palate. When the plate was filled she reached for it and Zan felt a sudden jolt of intense emotion as their digits touched. He could tell that she had felt something too, and the plate almost dropped to the floor. She quickly recovered and stepped back from him, clutching the dish close to her.

“Thank you, your Majesty, for your assistance. I must now take this to her.” She bowed to him and backed quickly to the door, seeking her escape.

Zan watched her, still feeling the shock of their physical contact and before she disappeared he called out, “Rena, wait!”

She froze in place and for a moment he wasn’t sure what to say to her. Should he ask her if she felt it too? But how? He could hardly even describe what he had felt. Need? Want? Desire? Or was it, could it be . . . Love? He was a male, betrothed to another and his wedding day was looming ever closer. It was a wedding he was bound to by contract. Falling in love with another was not an option for him. He could see the plate that Rena was holding shaking in her hand and he said, “Please tell Lady Ava I’ll be by within the hour to escort her around the city.”

Rena bowed lower, never raising her eyes to him, and softly said, “Thank you, my Lord,” and departed swiftly. As she disappeared from sight, the light in his eyes dimmed and he realized he no longer had an appetite.

* * * * *

Zan walked the streets of the Capital with Ava at his side and a company of Palace Guards surrounding them. Ava was accompanied by a handful of her ever present entourage, and Zan was keenly aware that Rena was in attendance. He could smell her scent in the air, had isolated her rich fragrance from the others, and he drank it in like a fine wine. Though he couldn’t see her, he could sense she was just a few paces behind him. Her scent was so unique, and it almost felt like his body knew it, and reacted to it as if . . . as if . . . she was something more-

“Zan?” Ava said with a touch of blue staining her colors. Was he ignoring her? Had he heard a single word she had said?

“I’m sorry Ava,” Zan hastily said. “You were saying?”

“Perhaps it’s time to return to the Palace,” Ava said coolly.

“Yes. Yes, of course,” Zan responded and mentally shook himself. He was getting off to a bad start with Ava and he was afraid it wasn’t boding well for the union. They rotated back in the direction of the Palace and Zan had to consciously keep from studying Rena’s graceful movements when she came into his line of vision. Looking at her markings, he once again felt a familiarity, as if he had seen the pattern before. He became aware of Ava, standing beside him, waiting for him to show her the proper intimacy that she expected from her soon to be husband. Holding back an inward cringe, his digits wrapped around hers and they made their way back to the Palace grounds.

* * * * *

“The Rebels have taken a foothold in the southern province,” Rath informed Zan as they reviewed the current status of the dissension that had been sweeping across the southern region of the planet. The bands of insurgents were growing in number, leaving a violent path in their wake.

“Casualties?” Zan asked with trepidation. Every loss of life he felt personally, as if every soldier were a part of his own family.

“A few,” Rath spoke somberly. He eyed Zan closely and then gave him the bad news. “I just got word General Weston suffered a fatal injury in a skirmish in sector 27 earlier today.”

Zan’s colors flared maroon as the shock set in. Weston had been a trusted member of the Palace Guard, and a boyhood friend. When the fighting had broken out, he’d volunteered to lead the southern regiment. “Has Marissa been informed yet?”

“No,” Rath answered, feeling his King’s pain. “I knew you would want to do it personally.”

Zan nodded and when he spoke his voice was thick with suppressed emotion. “I will attend to Marissa as soon as we are finished here.”

“Who is Marissa?”

Zan rotated swiftly at the unexpected voice and his eyes met Ava’s. Her colors were muted, neutral, but he was certain he heard a hard edge in her tone. “The mate of one of my finest Generals, and a dear friend. He was killed today in battle and I must inform her of his fate.” Zan watched her colors change to the subdued gray shade of sympathy, but for a moment he thought he saw something else there. Had his eyes only thought he’d seen the aqua shade of triumph? What did that mean?

“My sympathies to both you and the unfortunate widow,” Ava said in a composed tone. She turned to one of her entourage and spoke quietly. Turning back to Zan she said, “You must take an offering of the Weeping Heart, as is custom, when you visit the General’s wife. I have dispatched an expert to pick the finest sample from your gardens. She is exceptionally skilled in the flora of Antar and will chose a proper specimen.”

“Thank you Ava, for your thoughtfulness,” Zan uttered solemnly.

“I take your leave, so that you may continue your discussions,” Ava said with a respectful bow. Zan nodded his acknowledgment and she disappeared into the hallway. He stared at the empty doorway with a vaguely uncomfortable feeling hovering over him.

* * * * *

Zan shuffled through the reports on his desk and things were looking bleaker. Rebels had reportedly infiltrated the Capital City and rumors of a planned attack on the Palace were circulating. With dignitaries arriving for the wedding from across the globe, as well as off world, security had been heightened and the Palace Guard was on high alert.

He sensed her long before the sound of her footfalls reached his ears. He let the paper in his hand flutter to the desktop, forgotten as his eyes concentrated on the door, wondering if she was coming to see him, or just passing by. As her footsteps grew louder, they slowed, and he rose to a standing position as she appeared in his doorway. His colors took on the shade of surprise, turning a vivid magenta for just a moment and then he said, “Rena . . .”

“Lady Ava charged me with the selection of an appropriate Weeping Heart to give as an offering to the unfortunate widow of your General,” Rena said as she bowed to Zan in respect. “I pray that my humble knowledge of the flora of Antar will prove satisfactory.”

Zan stared at the flower arrangement she cradled in her arms. He’d never seen a finer example. The eye at the heart of the bud was the perfect shading and the coloration at the outer edges looked exactly like teardrops. He noticed that she was wearing the traditional mourning garb, and the gray sympathy robe that draped her body and covered her head only served to make him respect her more. She knew his customs well. “Rena,” Zan managed to say finally. “Your selection is the finest I have ever seen. I am honored to present it to the General’s wife.”

Rena felt a sense of pride fill her. She had studied long and hard to understand the customs of Antar, and to have the King praise her was more than she had expected. His next words left her maroon in shock.

“You must accompany me, Rena,” Zan informed her. “The task is a daunting one, and your gentle presence will help ease the pain. Marissa will welcome your gift into her home.”

Rena was about to utter a protest, to suggest that his bride-to-be accompany him, as was fitting, but she held her silence. Zan had just requested that she attend him, and who was she to question the King’s desires? She nodded her head in understanding and waited while he prepared for the unpleasant task ahead of him.

* * * * *

“Nooooo,” Marissa cried out as her eyes took in the sight before her. Zan was standing on her doorstep, wearing the traditional gray robe of sympathy and beside him stood an equally draped female holding a Weeping Heart. “Noooo,” she cried again and Zan caught her as she collapsed to the floor.

“Marissa, I’m so sorry,” Zan said softly as he held her close to him. Her body was trembling with grief and no words were necessary for her to know why Zan was here. Her husband was dead, killed in the fighting. He guided the weeping female back into her home and Rena closed the door to block out the prying eyes of the neighbors.

“Say it isn’t true,” Marissa pleaded.

“I wish it wasn’t true, but he’s gone Marissa,” Zan said nearly choking on his own emotion.

Rena watched Zan as he ministered to the grief stricken widow and she was taken by the tenderness he showed. He had a reputation as unemotional, intolerant, and even cruel, but everything she had seen so far belied that. As Marissa sobbed against him, he held her gently, rocking her back and forth and speaking soothingly to her.

Rena set about the task of displaying the Weeping Heart in a place of prominence in the room. As family and friends came to offer condolences, they would stop by the altar she was preparing to wish the departed a safe journey to the afterlife. It was an integral part of their grieving process. When her task was completed, Zan drew Marissa to the alter and they knelt before it, praying for Weston’s soul to find peace.

Later, after the house had filled, Zan said his solemn goodbyes and escorted Rena to the door. Marissa’s mother walked beside them and said humbly, “Thank you Zan, for taking the time to tell Marissa personally. And to you, Ava, for the fine display you created. The altar is the most beautiful one I have ever seen.”

“No . . . I mean,” Zan stammered, wanting to correct the mistake. “She’s not . . . this isn’t Ava . . .”

“No? I thought . . . you look so . . . you two seem so . . .” Now it was her turn to feel flustered and then she lowered her head. “Pardon my error.”

“This is Rena. A . . .” and then he wasn’t sure what to say. A servant? To use that name for her seemed wrong. Mari was staring at them with a strange look in her eyes, and then Zan let his colors take on a soft yellow as he finished, “ . . . a friend. Rena is a good friend.”

They said their final goodbyes and Zan lead Rena out the door and into the afternoon sunshine. He pushed the hood of the mourning robe off of his head and he turned to gaze at Rena. “Thank you,” he said solemnly.

“For what, Sire?” Rena asked.

“For making this unpleasant task easier to bear,” Zan answered. “Marissa was deeply touched by the beauty of your offering. Tell me, Rena, how did you become so well versed in Antarian customs? How much time have you spent here?”

“This is my first visit,” she answered, avoiding eye contact with him.

“Impossible! How can you know our ways so well?”

“I spent my life knowing I would live here. I began studying your ways when I was but a child.” She met his eyes then, and he could see that there was something hidden there, something that he couldn’t read. With a small laugh she said, “I think I know Antarian customs better than those of my home world.”

Why, Zan wondered as he came to a halt in the middle of the street. Where did she grow up? Where was she schooled? Why did she think she would someday live here on Antar? He had so many questions for her. He wanted to know everything about her. No detail of her life was too minor or inconsequential. As he pondered even more questions he wanted to ask her, he was interrupted by one of the Palace Guards that was in attendance.

“Sir, your presence is requested back at the Palace.”

He nodded at the soldier but continued to stare at Rena. There was something about her that made him want to know about every facet of her life, every dream, every desire, every fantasy that she had ever thought about. He didn’t know what it was that caused him to be this way, he only knew he wouldn’t rest until he knew more. In silence, they turned back toward the Palace gates.

* * * * **

“We need to talk when this torture is over,” Rath whispered into Zan’s ear. They were seated around a large table and enduring yet another stately dinner, complete with visiting dignitaries who had begun arriving in anticipation of the impending nuptials.

Zan looked at Rath with his interest piqued and said, “What about?”

“Your side dish,” Rath answered.

Zan looked at his plate and wondered what in the world Rath was talking about. He didn’t have a side dish.

“You know Zan, sometimes you can be a dim color,” Rath needled him. “I’m not talking about your food.”

Zan looked at him questioningly and Rath glanced over at the girl that hovered behind Ava, waiting on her beck and call. “Are you talking about Rena? Did you find out something about her?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Rath responded. “Something very interesting.”

“What?” Zan demanded. He wanted to know right now. He didn’t want to wait until later to hear what Rath had to say about her. He hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind, and with each passing day he could feel his connection to her growing stronger. He knew it was wrong. He was destined to marry another, but he couldn’t help the way he felt drawn to her. There was just something about her . . .

“Let’s just say that under different circumstances,” Rath said conspiratorially, “your fair Rena would have been much more than just a side dish.”

* * * * *

“Explain!” Zan demanded. He was pacing back and forth in the anteroom off the dining hall, waiting for Rath to tell him what the hell he meant. “Exactly what did you find out about Rena?”

“My, my, Zan. I’ve never seen you act this way before.” Rath was eyeing his friend, taking note of his obvious agitation. “If I may be so bold as to say, I think this girl has gotten under your markings. If I believed in it, I would swear you have fallen victim to that dreaded disease, Love At First Sight.”

“Why do you say that?” Zan asked with a touch of blue showing his irritation. Rath was mocking him.

“I’ve seen the shade your colors turn every time you look at her,” Rath said taking on a more serious tone. “I’ve seen the way you watch her, and I must say, you’re lucky Ava hasn’t noticed it too.” Rath could tell that Zan was about to object and he barreled on. “I’ll wager you even know her scent, and can isolate hers from everyone else’s, even after only knowing her such a short time and barely even having spoken to her.”

Zan looked at his friend and admitted to himself that what he felt for Rena went far deeper than curiosity or simple attraction. She made his heart beat faster, just thinking about her. When she walked into the room his breath caught in his throat. He lost complete control of his colors every time she was near. He’d never behaved this way before, not even during the agony of the awakening when he changed from a boy into a mature male. The words Rath spoke were true. God help him, after all this time of waiting, after all the lonely days and nights he had spent wondering if he would ever find the one he dreamt about, Zan realized love had finally entered his heart. But once again, nothing ever quite worked out the way he wanted it to. He was in love with Rena, and yet in mere days, he would take another as his wife.

“It’s too bad,” Rath sympathized. “If it hadn’t been for Tirus, everything would have fallen into place. You would have had the girl, the Crown, and the Kingdom.”

“That’s the second time you’ve inferred something, Rath,” Zan said and his colors showed his irritation. “Exactly what are you trying to say to me?”

“Zan,” Rath locked eyes on his King. “I found out Rena is the daughter of Pau, of Ceri Prime. Your father and Pau bonded you to Rena when you were just a boy. If Tirus hadn’t wrested the Crown away from Pau, Rena would have been the one destined to become your wife.”

* * * * *

Zan stood at the Palace window and stared out over the grounds. It was late, but he had been unable to sleep. His conversation with Rath kept echoing through his brain. Rena was the one he had been bonded to. Rena was the daughter of Pau. Rena should have been the one to become his wife. If only things were different . . .

But things weren’t different. Over his objection, the Council had upheld the contract. Ava would become his wife a week hence, and nothing short of death could stop it.

A movement in the garden caught his eye and he felt his heart skip when he recognized her. She was walking among the flora again, as she had the previous night and the night before that. He felt himself drawn to her and he opened the door and made his way silently across the lawn.

Rena leaned forward so that she could breathe in the scent of the flowers on the vine. The foliage on Antar was different than that of home, on Ceri. Not good different, nor bad different, just different. She had spent the better part of her life studying Antar, it’s customs, it’s traditions, it’s way of life and it’s lifeforms, but this was her first opportunity to really study the flora up close in it’s native environment. With all the things that had gone wrong in her life, at least she finally had this. Everything was as beautiful as she had always thought it would be.

Examining a bud closely, Rena was able to deduce what genus this flower derived from and extrapolate its Cerian cousin. Mating this Rosacea alba with its blue Cerian cousin should create a white hybrid with spectacular blue markings on the tips of each velvety soft petal. Her ruminations were suddenly interrupted by a sound behind her and she froze in place when his scent drifted to her on the night air.

“Hello, Rena,” Zan said softly.

She straightened up and slowly rotated in the direction of her King’s voice. He was standing just a few paces from her, and the rising moon cast his features in its soft glow. Her heart began to beat wildly in her chest and she had to force herself to take slow, even breaths so as not to bring attention to her inappropriate response to him.

“Your Majesty,” she said with a bow of respect.

“Rena, I request a favor of you,” Zan said and his voice was like honey to her.

“Yes, my Lord,” she replied. What could he wish of her, a lowly servant girl?

“When we are alone together, it is my most fervent wish that you refer to me by my given name.”

“But your Highness-”

“That is not my given name,” Zan interrupted.

“But your-”

“No. My given name never has a ‘your’ in front of it. A simple Zan will do very nicely.”

“But . . . but . . . you Maj-”

“Zan,” he cut her off again.

“Please, yo-”

“Zan,” he said again and his colors turned a shade of green to reflect his smile.

“It is improper for me to refer to you in that fashion, Sir.”

“Sir is not my given name either.” He took a step closer to her and said, “Repeat after me . . . Zan.”

“I . . . I . . .” she stumbled over her words.

“Zan,” he repeated. He stepped closer still until he could breathe in the air around her. Her fragrance was heady and he felt his colors turning a vibrant red. It was good that only one of the three moons had risen and the light was still low.

“Please, kind Sir,” she begged.

“Rena, say my name. Please.” She looked at him then, and he sighed as he drank in her beauty. “Please.”

He could see her reticence waver and then her colors took on a glowing shade of yellow. Shyly, and ever so softly, she said, “Zan.”

It was musical in his ears, just the way he had known it would be. Sweet music floating from her mouth to take away the emptiness of the night. His heart sang with joy to hear her say his name. “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Zan teased her to add levity to the mood.

“Yes!” Rena said boldly. “Yes, it most certainly was . . . Zan.”

His colors flared bright yellow to hear the ease with which his name flowed from her lips. It felt so right, so fitting . . . so natural. Just being in her presence filled him with a contentment he had never experienced before.

“Tell me, Rena, of all the flowers in my garden, which one is your favorite?” Zan watched her closely, noting the way her eyes dropped from his and her colors took on a purple hue.

Her gaze darted to the white Rosacea and she slowly reached for one delicate bud. “My Mother loved this one, and I guess it was only natural for me to find the same beauty in it that she did. The white ones are my favorite. They are so . . .”

“Pure?” Zan offered when she didn’t finish the sentence.

“Yes,” Rena nodded. “Pure and simple, yet complex. Their beauty is so natural.” She was lost in thought for a moment, of memories of days spent walking hand in hand with her mother through her own precious gardens, before everything had been lost. Zan took a step closer to her and then she asked, “Which is your favorite . . . Zan?”

She turned to him and he held her gaze as he replied, “Until tonight, I had no favorite flower. Now, the Rosacea alba, in all its splendor, will forever hold that most special place in my heart.” Even in the low light of the single moon, Zan could see the way her colors shifted from purple to red. There was no mistaking it, no doubt in his mind. She was as attracted to him as he was to her. But it wasn’t just simple attraction, he corrected. It went much deeper than that.

“I really must go now,” Rena said and began to back away from him. “Lady Ava will become angry if she notices I am away too long.”

Zan watched her rotate and move swiftly toward the Palace. She had only moved a few paces when his words stopped her in her tracks. “I know who you are, Rena.”

He could hear her sudden intake of breath and then she slowly shook her head. “I am but a lowly servant girl, bound to do the bidding of my Lady. I exist only to serve her.”

“You are Rena,” Zan said moving to stand behind her. “Daughter of Pau, tenth ruler of Ceri. You are Rena, the female my Father bonded me to when I was but a boy.”

“I am no one,” Rena whispered.

“You are the one I was intended to marry,” Zan leaned into her, whispering to her. “You are the one I should be marrying. You are the one I wish I was marrying.” He touched her and turned her to face him and even in the low light he could see her unshed tears. “You are the one who brought out emotions in me that I never knew existed. You are the one that makes my heart sing every time I’m near you.” He lifted her face up to his and said, “You are the one I’ve been waiting my whole life for.”

“Zan . . .” her voice quivered as she spoke.

“Tell me I’m wrong, that you don’t feel anything for me, and I’ll walk away right now,” Zan said leaning even closer to her. Their heads were nearly touching as he looked down into her eyes and he saw her slowly shake her head.

“My Mother gave me a picture of you on the day our Father’s bonded us,” Rena spoke in hushed tones. “As soon as I saw your image that day when I was just a young girl, I knew. It was as if my soul recognized you, and from that moment on, I knew I could never be with anyone else. All my life there has been only you. Even after my Father was murdered, and my Mother as well, the thought of someday seeing you, of actually traveling to Antar and being near you, kept me going. I knew we could never have the life that I had dreamed of, but just the thought of you kept me alive day after day.”

“Are you saying . . .” Zan struggled to speak around the constriction in his throat.

“I’ve always been in love with you,” she whispered.

“Rena . . .” Zan managed to say. He pulled her close to him and then closed his eyes, struggling with the reality that he was in love with her too. He barely knew her, but it didn’t matter. He knew he’d always been waiting for someone, and now he’d finally found her, only it was too late. His fate was already sealed. Or was it? “Maybe there’s a way.”

He was grasping at straws and he knew it, but the thought of marrying another when his heart belonged to Rena was more than he could take. His entire being was screaming for her. His heart, his mind, his soul cried out to love her.

“You’re bound by contract,” Rena said and Zan could hear the sorrow in her voice.

“Contracts have been broken before,” he countered, not wanting to give up.

“Not this kind,” she sadly shook her head. “The Council has spoken.”

“I’ll find a way, Rena,” Zan pledged. “I’ll find a way to make this work for us.” He leaned even closer and his mouth moved along the delicate ridges of her cheek, brushing along the aroused markings on her fine skin until he reached her mouth. When they touched, his mouth to hers, it was the culmination of every desire he’d ever had, every dream he’d ever dreamt. An explosion of intense emotion passed between them and left them shaking in its aftermath.

“Zan . . .” Rena whispered.

“I love you, Rena,” Zan whispered back.

“I love you,” Rena answered. “I’ve loved you my whole life.”

* * * * *

Zan paced back and forth in his chambers waiting for Vilandra to arrive. Rath watched him and couldn’t help the smug look that crossed his face. It was so unusual to see Zan so out of control. This was a male that rose every morning at the same exact time, that demanded adherence to a strict code of conduct, who would deal swiftly and harshly with his enemies. Yet in the face of true love, he lost all composure.

“Relax, Zan,” Rath urged. “She’ll be here shortly.”

“I know,” Zan replied in agitation. “It’s just that time is running out and this is the only option I have been able to think of. We have to make this work.” A rapping at the door drew his attention and he barked out, “Enter!”

“What is so important that you had to drag me out of my weekly game of Kia?” Vilandra demanded as she glared at her brother.

“I’m sorry, Vi,” Zan answered, “but I need your help.”

“Help with what?” she asked suspiciously.

“I want you to help me break up the wedding.” Zan watched her colors change to a deep shade of maroon.

“Are you crazy?” she blurted out.

“Maybe, but that doesn’t change anything,” Zan replied. “I don’t want to go through with this wedding, and I want you to help me. I’ve been studying case law and I believe there is one way we can make this work . . .”

* * * * *

Zan lay in wait in the Palace hall and his ears picked up when he recognized the sound of her familiar tread on the marble floors. Once again, she was headed toward the gardens as she did every night, but this time he was ready to intercept her. The echo of her footsteps grew louder as she neared and when she passed by, he reached out and grabbed her. Her cry was smothered by his mouth covering hers, claiming her as his rightful mate.

“Zan,” Rena mumbled. “Someone will see.”

“I don’t care,” he answered as he planted kisses on her face. “After tomorrow, everyone will know that you belong to me. Soon, you will be my rightful Queen.”

“What are you talking about?” Rena asked and her colors took on a deep shade of maroon. It was impossible. She could never be Queen.

“I’ve found a loophole in the law,” Zan answered as he pulled Rena along the hallways. He reached his chamber and slammed the door behind him and then pulled her close to him, relishing the feel of her body pressing against his. “I found an old reference to a similar situation in case law.” He began to touch his cheek against her dilated markings and his own swelled as his blood rushed to the surface of his sensitized skin. The intimacy of his touch was making her feel things she’d never felt before and he was making it hard for her to keep her mind on the current pressing matters.

“Explain, Zan. What do you mean?” He was making her heart race, her blood boil, and all she could think about was her desire to be with him.

“I’ve already used my one allotted objection,” he said looking into her eyes, “but Vilandra hasn’t. During the ceremony tomorrow, as first in line to the Crown, she has the right to claim a fraudulent marriage. My contract is with you, not Ava. The Council thought you were dead when they decreed I marry Ava. Now that we can prove that you didn’t perish along with your Father and the rest of your family, Vilandra’s objection during the ceremony will halt the proceedings and cause a mandatory review of the situation. At that point, I can demand that the original contract be fulfilled. I can demand you as my rightful bride.” He was breathless as he finished telling her the news and she stared at him with a deep shade of maroon highlighting her shock.

“Will she do that for you?” Rena asked, daring not to hope.

“Of course,” Zan answered with certainty. “She’s my sister.”

“Do you think this will work?” Rena asked, afraid to believe in it.

“Yes,” Zan answered as he stared into her beautiful face. “The law will be on our side this time. A week from now, after all the proper paperwork has been filed, I can take you Rena, the love of my life, as my lawful Queen. That is, if you’ll have me.”

Rena stared at him afraid to let her true feelings show through. To be his wife was all she had ever dreamed of, ever since she was a child and saw his boyish face for the first time. Her breathing reflected the depth of her desire for him and she replied, “Of course I’ll have you. I’ve waited my whole life to become your wife.”

Zan stared at her in utter amazement that he had found her. In just these few days that he had known her, his whole world had come to revolve around her. His needs and his desires craved to be fulfilled by her. He had never wanted someone so intensely before. He could feel his skin begging to touch her again.

“Zan . . .” she muttered as the deep red markings on his skin once more came in contact with hers. He was making her weak, showing her the kind of intense pleasure they could one day experience in each others embrace. “Zan . . . I want . . .”

“Stay with me,” Zan insisted as his nuzzled next to her ear. “Stay with me tonight, and tomorrow we’ll announce our plans to marry. Please Rena, stay with me.”

She met his intense gaze and saw his need, his desire in the vibrant red tones he was showing her. Her colors were a matching shade, showing him just how much she wanted him too and he swept her into the air. He ran, holding her delicate body close to him, and when he reached his bedroom chamber, he ordered his servants to leave.

Tonight, Zan would mate with his true love, and together, he and Rena would create something magical. Tonight, their life and their love would be joined forever. Tomorrow their future would begin. Or so they thought.

* * * * *

“Oh, look at your brother,” Alanee said to Vilandra as they watched the ceremony unfold. “He’s so nervous.”

“Yes, he is, isn’t he,” Vilandra agreed.

“He couldn’t even eat his morning meal, and you know how much he loves to feast in the morning. I’ve never seen his colors so vivid before.” Alanee squeezed her daughter’s hand and watched as the ceremony went into the final stage. “I knew he would find true love. The prophets said this union would be something special. Ava has made him happier than he’s ever been before. And speaking of happiness, when are you and Rath going to set the date for your wedding?”

“Soon Mother,” Vilandra smiled. “I hope to marry very soon.”

The high priest continued his chant and Zan struggled to remain calm. Vilandra should have voiced the objection already. He tried to make eye contact with his sister but each time their eyes met she simply smiled and looked away. What was she waiting for? He watched as Rath went to her side and whispered to her. He pulled her to her feet and Zan sighed. Finally. He allowed himself to relax while he waited to hear her voice raise in objection. A minute later, after hearing nothing, his eyes swept the room again but Rath and Vilandra were no where to be seen.

* * * * *

“What do you think you’re doing?” Rath hissed.

“Whatever are you talking about?” Vilandra asked innocently.

“You know what I’m talking about. The ceremony is almost over, and still you remain silent. Zan is counting on you to stop this marriage.”

“I plan on doing no such thing,” Vilandra shot back. The Council decreed that Ava is my brother’s intended, and I will not object so that he can take a servant girl to become his Queen. I was first born, and the Crown should have gone to me upon my Father’s death, but this male dominated society bestows privilege based on gender. My brother is King. Let him live with the Queen the Council chose for him. I’ll not lift a digit to help him.”

“You’re killing him,” Rath said in condemnation.

“No,” Vilandra said chillingly. “That comes later.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rath said in shock.

“Things are about to drastically change,” Vilandra said coldly. “If you want to stay in power, you better not side against me.”

* * * * *

The ceremony drew to a close with Zan in a state of shock. The high priest declared he and Ava bonded and married, a Royal Union that could only be dissolved upon death. As long as Ava lived, Zan could never take Rena as his wife.

He stared at Ava with a combination of dread and disbelief. She was waiting patiently for him to show the traditional male’s acceptance of his bride. He slowly rose from his kneeling position and drew her to a standing position beside him. A cheer went up from the crowd as Zan embraced his bride and he held her stiffly with his extremities while his mind kept repeating, ‘This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening . . .’

The next hour was a blur as well wishers paraded past the newly married Royal pair. After an interminable time, Zan was able to finally break away from Ava and went in search of Vilandra. He found her in the vestibule off the Grand Parlor.

“I only have one question,” Zan seethed as his colors flared a deep blue. Vilandra turned to him at the sound of his voice and met his gaze head on. “Why, Vi? Why did you betray me?”

“I didn’t betray you, Zan. Your marriage to Ava was decreed by the Council. An alliance with Tirus and Ceri Prime is in the best interest of Antar. You were blinded by the pretty face of a servant girl. I kept you from making a terrible mistake.”

“Damn you, Vilandra. Damn you to hell,” Zan said in a fury.

“There is a way out, dear brother,” Vilandra said scornfully. “Abdicate the Crown, and I’ll grant you an annulment. I was first born. The Crown rightfully belongs to me!”

Rath burst through the doorway and Zan turned his blazing colors toward his second in command. “Were you in on this too? Have you been conspiring against me right along with my sister? Did you really think I would turn the Crown over to you so that the two of you could corrupt it? How could I ever have trusted you? Either of you?”

“Zan, there’s no time for accusations now,” Rath shouted at his King. “The Palace is under attack.”

* * * * *

“Zan,” Alanee said cupping her son’s face with her digits. “Don’t send me away. I should stay here, with you. With all of you.” She looked from his solemn face to those behind him. Rath and Vilandra stood together and the strain was evident on their faces. Ava stood behind Zan, and Alanee thought she looked shocked by the turn of events. Her wedding day had been darkened by the attack.

“Mother, I want you to be safe. Go to the country, and when things settle down again, I will call for your return. Don’t worry about us. We will be fine. Take these good people with you, and I will let you know when things are safe enough for your return.” Zan looked beyond his Mother to the downcast eyes of Rena. He had insisted she attend his Mother, fleeing to the safe haven beyond the Capital walls. Had she thought he betrayed her by marrying Ava? How was he to let her know that it was Vilandra that had been the betrayer? “Go now. Your safety is of the utmost importance to me,” Zan said earnestly. His eyes were riveted to Rena as he said those words, but still she didn’t look at him.

“Very well, “ Alanee adhered to her son’s wishes. “I pray to the Gods that our separation will not be a long one.” He didn’t need anymore stress to add to his complicated life. She had no way of knowing that she would never see him alive again. She was unaware that death was waiting to claim him.

* * * * *

Rena busied herself around the Queen Mother’s chamber, trying to keep her mind off of what was happening in the Capital City. The word from the front was that the City was on the verge of collapse, and the government was in disarray. The invaders had the upper hand, and Rena feared for Zan’s safety.

A noise drew her attention, and Rena cast her eyes in the direction of the near window. Something was outside, scratching to get in. Feeling a sense of impending doom, Rena made her way across the room. At first she saw nothing and she breathed a sigh of relief, until she saw the bloody handprints on the glass and she knew. She pushed the windows open and not far away, in his Mother’s sacred gardens, she saw him standing with his back to her. She slowly exited through the window and walked up to his unflinching silhouette, elated to see him but a part of her knowing bad news was afoot. As she neared, he turned to look at her.

“Ever since the first day that I saw you, I knew every time you were near me,” Zan said when their eyes met. “I memorized the sound of your footsteps on the marble floors. I could smell your scent long before you ever entered a room. I spent my whole life knowing there was someone for me, out there somewhere among the stars, that would make my life complete. I just didn’t know that, when I found you, I wouldn’t get to keep you.” His eyes swam with suppressed emotion, even now wanting to deny the inevitable.

Rena watched him and her heart filled with dread. Something was terribly wrong. He wavered on his feet and then she watched in horror as he collapsed to the ground and she rushed to his side. “Zan! Zan, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Everything is lost,” he said looking up into her face as she held him close to her. “No one can ever know what you meant to me. It would mean you’re death too, and I couldn’t bear that. The precious time that we had together, the intimacy that we shared, just know that in the short time that we had, I loved you for a lifetime. I would have given up everything, the Crown, the Kingdom, everything, if it meant we could have been together.”

“Zan, don’t say that. Don’t talk like that.”

“Rena,” Zan sighed. “All my life I waited to find you, always knowing there was someone out there for me. Even after my Father died, and I became King, I always knew that someday you would enter my life.” He choked on his words and a stream of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth. “I just didn’t know that we’d have so little time together.” He tried to lift his digits to touch her face, but he didn’t have the strength.

“Zan, please,” Rena pleaded. “You’re going to be okay. You have to be okay. There’s something you need to know. There’s something I have to tell you. Zan, please, you can’t leave me!”

“I love you,” he whispered as the last of his strength left him. He was dying and nothing was going to stop it. There was no medicine, no healing powers that could prevent it.

“Noooo,” Rena cried as she watched his colors turn ashen and the light dimmed in his eyes. “Zan! You can’t die! Listen to me! There’s something you must know . . .” but the light was gone. His lifeless body lay in her arms and she knew she’d lost him. She clutched him to her and she made a solemn vow. She would find him again. Her soul would search the stars for him if she had to, and someday, their love would be reunited . . .

TBC . . .

I plan to post the next part on Tuesday.

Concerning Captive Hearts, I hope to post the next part on Sunday night. You all have been really patient in waiting for me to get that part posted. I still have a little work to do on that one before it's ready.

Edited by - Breathless on 09/13/2001 02:28:55

Edited by - Breathless on 09/16/2001 00:46:39

Edited by - Breathless on 09/18/2001 21:32:45

Edited by - Breathless on 09/21/2001 10:20:09
posted on 17-Sep-2001 9:27:22 PM by Breathless
Author: Debbi aka Breathless
Category: Max and Liz

Dying Embers

Part 19

Max and Liz were trembling as their eyes swam back into focus. The vision had slowly faded, but not the emotions that had accompanied it. Grief, despair, pain, fear, loss, but the overriding emotion that they both felt was love. Such a deep feeling of love.

“Wha-” Liz tried to formulate coherent words but she couldn’t quite get her brain to tell her mouth what to say. “Max . . . did you . . . did you see that?”

“Yeah,” he answered staring down into her eyes. He was also having a hard time putting his thoughts into words.

“Did . . . did you understand any of it?” A part of her understood perfectly well what she had just seen. Another part of her tried to deny it. It wasn’t possible, was it?

“I . . . I don’t know,” Max answered truthfully. He was speaking in hushed tones, still overwhelmed by what he had seen. He needed time to absorb it. “Did you?”

“I . . . um . . . I don’t know. What do you think? Was it . . .”

“. . . real?” Max finished her question. He was trying to get his thoughts together after experiencing such an extraordinary event and he said, “I think . . . I think I wasn’t the only one who lived before.”

“You mean, you think . . . I was . . .” and again she hesitated.

“. . . Rena?” He watched her slowly nod her head and all he could do was stare at her. Had she lived before? Had she been his true love in another lifetime? Is that why he had recognized her from the first moment he set eyes on her? Is that why he’d always known she was the only one for him?

“No, Max,” Liz said shaking her head. “It can’t be. I can’t be Rena. I’m not . . . like you. There’s nothing alien about me. Not in my blood. Not in my cells. I’m . . . human.”

“But it makes sense, Liz,” Max said. “What I felt . . . what Zan felt, in the vision, it’s how I’ve always felt about you.”

“Maybe it’s wasn’t . . . real.” Liz suggested. “Maybe, because things have been so . . . intense lately, maybe what we just saw was like some weird Quentin Tarantino movie, you know? Like our minds going into overdrive or something and making a bunch of weird shit up?”

“Is that what you really think?” Max asked with an uncertain look on his face.

Liz stared up at him as she thought over what she had just said. Quentin Tarantino? Is that what she really thought? She shook her head almost imperceptibly and said, “No . . .”

“Then you think it was real?” Max asked her.

“Is that what you think?” she asked.

“I asked you first,” Max countered. He didn’t know what to make of this crazy shit either. Did he really believe in reincarnation? Who would have thought he could be cloned and brought back to life in a new body, a different species even, but it had happened. Her soul had searched for him and when she found him, she too was reborn. Did he believe it? Looking at her, he realized he didn’t just believe it, he knew it. But what about her? Could she accept it too?

With her eyes roving over his face, she slowly, almost imperceptibly, nodded her head. She did believe it was real. A memory of the life he lived before. The part she wasn’t sure about was if it had anything to do with her. Max had been Zan. But there was no evidence that she had anything to do with the events in the memory they’d shared. There was nothing to prove that she was Rena. “Max . . . do you think that’s how you really looked . . . before? All the . . . weird spots that changed colors? And the ridges . . .” her voice trailed off as she touched her face.

“And the way the arms looked and, um, the hands weren’t really hands,” Max said and then cleared his throat. “And the eyes, did you see how big the eyes were . . .?”

“You look much nicer in this life Max,” Liz said smiling up at him and lifting her hand to run her fingers through his hair. “I like you better with hair.”

“Well, you didn’t have any either you know,” and let his fingers slip through her long, luxurious strands. God how he loved the feel of her hair. It’d been so long since he’d been able to touch her this way. He could feel his stomach rumbling with that old, familiar sensation and he wondered if she could hear it too.

“Zan didn’t seem to mind my lack of hair,” Liz said and her fingers brushed over the smooth skin of his cheek.

“So you do believe,” Max jumped on what she had just said. “You do believe you were Rena.”

“I . . . I . . .” she stumbled as she looked up into his expectant eyes. The words had flowed so easily from her mouth a moment ago, as if subconsciously there was no doubt in her mind. She swallowed hard and then said, “I guess so.”

“What made you changed your mind?” Max asked. “I mean, a minute ago . . .”

“It feels right, Max,” Liz said smiling up at him. “It just feels like the truth.”

“It does,” Max agreed. Everything felt right now.

“Are you guys gonna stay in here forever?” Maria asked from the doorway. Max and Liz both shot a look in her direction and she continued, “Look, let’s go back to Michael’s apartment and try to figure out what’s going on.”

Max turned back to Liz knowing there was so much they needed to talk about, and maybe here wasn’t the best place. Maybe it would be better to go back to Michael’s. The two of them looked at each other and in silent agreement, they turned to follow Maria. Max slid his hand into Liz’s and he breathed out a contented sigh when her fingers entwined with his. After they had walked a few steps, Max hesitated and he squeezed her hand as he came to a sudden stop.

“We’re okay, right Liz?” he asked almost fearfully as she turned to look at him. So much had happened between them in the last year, he was afraid to assume anything. If she said no, he didn’t think he’d survive to the end of the day.

“Yes, Max,” she said as she looked up at him with a smile that emanated from deep inside her. “We’re okay. In fact, we’re more than okay.”

Elation swept through him and his smile lit his face. He pulled her into his arms and he just had to kiss her. Fireworks erupted every time his lips touched hers, and this time was no exception. He would have been happy to spend the rest of his days standing here like this, holding her . . . kissing her . . . loving her. But, of course, Maria chose that moment to poke her head back into the room.

“Holy Shit!” she exclaimed as she watched two of her dearest friends. “Here we go again.”

* * * * *

Max and Liz walked hand in hand out of the Granilith Chamber, and the intimate way they touched wasn’t lost on the rest of the group. Michael and Maria accepted it, Isabel grudgingly approved of it, and Kyle had come to terms with it.

As a unit they turned to exit the pod chamber, when something caught Kyle’s eye. Over in the shadows, he’d seen a movement. Something out of place. What could it have been? Feeling a sense of protectiveness for the others, he took a step in that direction.

Liz slowed her pace as she watched Kyle head into a dark corner of the pod chamber and she pulled on Max’s hand to bring him to a stop. He turned to look at her and curiously followed the direction she was looking. Kyle had wandered deeper into the cavern and with a touch of apprehension in her voice Liz said, “Kyle? What’s wrong?”

Kyle carefully rounded a corner and in the dim light he could see a figure in the shadows. It was hovering against a wall, trying not to be seen and Kyle felt the hairs rise up on the back of his neck. He took a step closer and the figure bolted, running deeper into the cavern.

“Hey!” Kyle shouted, and took off running, chasing after the intruder.

“Stay here!” Max ordered Liz and he ran after Kyle.

“Max!” Liz cried out. Fear gripped her as he disappeared into the shadows and she chased after him. She’d almost lost him earlier, and she wasn’t going to stand by and watch him get hurt again. Running footsteps echoed throughout the chamber and Liz could feel Michael right behind her as they raced deeper into the shadows.

The figure was moving fast and Kyle was struggling to keep up. He must know these caves well, Kyle thought fleetingly and wondered who it could be. His pulse raced even faster when the realization hit him that he was probably chasing another alien, an alien that could probably blast him into a million little pieces with just a look. Who else could get inside this place? You needed that secret decoder hand print shit to get in here. What the hell was he doing chasing an alien? Had he lost his fucking mind? The figure stumbled and Kyle ran even faster to close the distance between them.

Max could dimly see Kyle up ahead but he was having a hard time keeping him in sight. He was still weak from what had happened to him earlier and his legs were threatening to give up on him as he tried to run. What was Kyle chasing? Who was Kyle chasing? Had someone been watching them? What if it was Sean? Sean had been helping Tess. If Sean was alien, another hybrid, Kyle could be in a lot of trouble. He didn’t have any defense against alien powers. Max pushed himself even harder, trying to catch up to the dark figures ahead of him. He needed to protect Kyle.

Liz could see Max just up ahead and her worry intensified. She knew he hadn’t recovered yet and here he was chasing after some unknown threat. If anything happened to him, she’d just die. She finally had him back, her Max, the Max she loved more than anything in the world. She tried to run faster, but her short legs couldn’t equal his long strides. He rounded a corner and Liz panicked as she lost sight of him. A hand closed over her arm and brought her to a sudden stop.

“Michael!” Liz cried out as his face loomed above hers. “Let go!”

“Max said to stay put,” Michael’s voice rumbled. “You and Maria go back to the entrance. In fact, go back to the car where it’s safer.”

“No,” Liz said shaking her head. She tried to pull her arm out of Michael’s grasp but he squeezed harder.

“This isn’t open for discussion,” he said angrily. “Now go! Both of you!” His eyes met Maria’s and he pushed Liz in her direction. “Get out of here!”

A look passed between Michael and Isabel and they both took off running in the direction they had seen Max going.

Maria held onto Liz as she watched Michael’s figure disappear into the depths of the chamber. What did he think he was doing, blindly running after some unknown intruder? Why did guys always have to be so stupid? Acting all macho and invincible and shit. Male testosterone was really overrated. It made them act crazy. Girls always thought things out more thoroughly than guys. Girls made a plan first, and then acted on it. Maybe not, Maria thought as Liz tore away from her and chased after Michael. Hell, who needs a plan?

Isabel could hear two sets of running footsteps behind her and knew that Liz and Maria had ignored Michael’s order. Didn’t they realize they would be safer outside? They had no way to protect themselves, not like she did. Rounding another corner, Max came into view up ahead and she ran faster trying to catch up to him. He had looked so weak earlier, and she was sure his powers weren’t up to strength. He was probably as helpless as the girls were.

Kyle felt a surge of triumph as the figure ahead of him stumbled again and he lunged forward. His body hit the mystery man in the back and they went down together, Kyle on top, pinning the figure to the ground. His lungs were heaving as he tried to suck in air and he could hear the labored breathing of the guy beneath him. His arm went around his throat and Kyle jerked him up to his feet.

“Who the fuck are you?” Kyle hissed in his face and pressed him back against the rock wall of the cave. In the dark, Kyle couldn’t see his face, but his brain was slowly starting to take in what his other senses were feeling. Whoever it was, he was short. Probably not much taller than Liz, and definitely shorter than Maria. With his hand around the guy’s throat, he could feel the small bone structure and the smooth skin. A small whimper escaped from the intruder’s mouth and it caused Kyle to blink. At the same time it dawned on him that his chest was pressing into a pair of soft breasts.

In surprise, Kyle took a step back as a female voice said, “Let go of me.”

Max came up behind Kyle and tried to assess what he was seeing in the dim light. He could feel Michael behind him, and Isabel, and he was distracted for a moment as he sensed Liz nearby, and then Maria too. He cupped his hands in front of him and created a light so that they could see their surroundings, and see the face of the intruder.

A gasp went up from the group as a pair of startling blue eyes came into view. Liz rushed to stand protectively in front of Max, worried about his weakened condition and she felt him put his hand on her shoulder. He looked down at her briefly, letting her know with his eyes that he was alright, and then he turned back to look at Kyle, and the girl standing in front of him. With contempt in his voice he said, “Tess.”

* * * * *

Michael held Tess roughly with his hand clenched around her upper arm and led her into the chamber near the withered pods. She struggled against him, which only served to make him tighten his already painful grip.

“Let go of me,” she hissed and turned her steely blue eyes on him.

“Don’t play mind games with me Tess,” Michael warned her menacingly. If it meant protecting the others, he’d gladly break her neck.

“What are you doing here Tess?” Max’s voice was thick with contempt and her eyes narrowed as she turned to glare at him. “How did you get here?”

Her head lifted defiantly and Michael angrily shouted in her face, “ANSWER HIM!”

“I never left!” she screamed. She looked at the rest of them with hatred and then her eyes settled on Max. “I just made you think I did.”

“Why? I thought you said the baby was dying. That he couldn’t survive here.” He was trying to draw her out, find out how much she knew. Had she heard him earlier, when he was talking to the others and telling them what he remembered?

“There was never anything wrong with the baby,” she said with scorn. “Your son is fine.”

“Tess, I never slept with you,” Max declared. “I never touched you!”

Tess shot a look at Liz and said ominously, “There’s more than one way to get pregnant.”

“No, you’re not,” Liz said with controlled fury. “There never was a baby. You made it up. You made the whole thing up.” She reached back to take Max’s hand and they intertwined their fingers in a show of solidarity.

“Why Tess?” Max asked. “Why did you do it? We opened up our homes to you. We let you in, to be a part of us. We trusted you.”

“It’s because of her!” Tess spit out and glared hatefully at Liz. She turned her gaze back to Max and shouted, “It’s always been because of her! You never loved me.”

“No,” Max said in an even tone and shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“Not here,” she cried. “Not back home. She was always between us.”

“Yes,” Max nodded and looked down at Liz. “I loved her then. I love her now. Nothing and no one could ever change that.”

“She ruined everything,” Tess cried. “She even had your bastard child!”

“Tess! Shut up!”

They all turned at the sound, a voice from behind them, in the shadows. The figure stepped forward, into the light, and Tess shrank back from him. A whimper escaped her lips and she said, “Sean.”

“Can’t you ever do anything right, Tess? You had one simple job to do, and you couldn’t even do that.”

“Don’t come any closer!” Max commanded and his hand rose up ready to throw out a protective shield just in case Sean made any suspicious moves.

“Who are you?” Liz stared him up and down, knowing this wasn’t really Sean. She stepped toward him and felt Max’s hand on her shoulder holding her back, trying to protect her. She looked up at him quickly and then back to Sean. “Are you Kivar?”

Sean smirked arrogantly, smug in his self-conceit. He shook his head like she was child and said, “Parker.”

“Or are you Kendal?” She watched as the smug look faded from his face. She guessed right that time.

“How do you know that name?” He looked at her through narrowed eyes. There was no way she could know who he was. None of them knew anything about his world, not even the King. They were all ignorantly unaware of their past, and this girl, this human, was nothing to fear, unless . . .

“Who is Kendal?” Michael asked in confusion. His eyes shifted from Sean, first to Liz and then to Max, and he could tell they both knew something he didn’t.

“Kendal is Ava’s brother,” Liz spoke softly as she looked at Sean and for just a moment she thought she could see something in his eyes. Something that looked like fear. “And Kivar’s brother too.”

Tess inhaled sharply and she whispered, “How do you know that? I never told anyone.”

“You didn’t have to. We know,” Max said and took an intimidating step toward her. “And now I want you to tell me everything else. Start with what you said a minute ago. What child?” Tess stared up at him defiantly and he shouted into her face, “WHAT CHILD?”

“Your child!” she screamed back at him. “Zan’s child, with that servant girl.”

“Rena,” Max said softly as he stared down at Tess.

Tess cowered back from him, staring at him in disbelief. How could he know? She’d probed his mind many times over the last year and never seen evidence of any memories of his prior life. But now he seemed to know about Kendal and Kivar, and even Rena. How? Her eyes narrowed slightly as she tried to see inside his mind again and alarm gripped her when she encountered a wall of resistance. An incredibly strong wall of resistance.

The tension in the air was thick and then Isabel asked what the rest of them were wondering. “Who’s Rena?”

“Me,” Liz answered. She felt a sense of satisfaction as Tess shot her a startled look. Tess hadn’t expected her to know anything about Rena. Liz turned her eyes up to Max as the words they’d heard finally sank in. Zan and Rena had had a child? They hadn’t seen that in the vision. Or had they? Those final, ominous words that Rena had spoken. Was that the declaration that Rena had tried to tell Zan as he lay dying in her arms?

Max turned his cold gaze on Tess and said, “You better tell me everything.” Tess looked at him with hate filled eyes and she turned away, refusing to answer. Max stepped closer to her, towering above her and shouted, “EVERYTHING!”

“Just keep your mouth shut!” Sean lunged forward and Michael shot out his hand knocking him backwards with a blast of energy.

“Michael!” Maria cried out. “Don’t hurt him!” Sean crumpled unconscious to the ground and Maria ran to his side.

“I want to know everything,” Max insisted. He grabbed Tess by the chin and turned her face to his. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll take it out of your mind.” Tess glared up at him, sensing an idle threat, but she didn’t know him as well as she thought she did. His hand clamped over the side of her face and she felt his eyes boring through hers.

“Max . . .?” Liz said questioningly. She could see the strain on his face and the fear on Tess’s. Something was happening, she didn’t know what, and all she could do was watch. Liz saw the color drained out of Tess’s face, and then her eyes were drawn to Max as his hand and then his arm started to quiver. His jaw was clenched tight and the veins in his neck were bulging and she grasped his arm and repeated, “Max!”

His hand pulled back from Tess like it was on fire and he blinked as he refocused his eyes. He took a step back from her and then he looked at Liz and then the others in the room. Tess slumped forward from the strain and a sob escaped her throat.

“We had a daughter . . .”

“Max?” Liz looked up at him worriedly.

“Zan and Rena had a daughter,” Max said and his mouth turned up in a small smile as he looked down at Liz. He looked around the room, to Isabel and Michael and then said, “Kivar didn’t know about it at first. No one did, except my mother and that wasn’t until . . .”

“Until what, Max?” Liz asked.

“You kept it a secret. You didn’t tell anyone, not until the night you went into labor, when something went wrong.” Max stared down into Liz’s enthralled face and his fingers brushed her hair back from her face. “That’s how you died, during childbirth, but you told my mother the truth first. She hid the child, to protect her, so that Kivar wouldn’t know.”

“Know what Max?” Isabel asked. “What are you talking about?”

“That I had an heir. An heir that had a claim to the throne.” Max turned to look at his sister and Isabel could see the hurt in his eyes. “You weren’t . . . Vilandra wasn’t like you Isabel. She was bitter and she harbored a deep resentment toward me because the Crown went to me. And you had so much anger in you because Father had forbid you to marry the one man you loved. Kivar.”

“What?” Isabel took a step back and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. What was Max saying?

“You’d been in love with Kivar for years, but you kept it a secret. First from Father and then after he died, from me. You told Kivar about the contract between Father and Pau, and from there together you hatched the plan. Force my marriage with Ava and after a reasonable time I’d meet with an unfortunate demise. A victim of an attack on the Palace. Ava would act the role of the grief stricken wife, and wanting no part of stately matters, she would defer the Crown to her oldest brother. Kivar. So with me out of the way and no heir apparent, Vilandra and Kivar could marry and she’d be the Queen she always wanted to be, with the husband she always wanted to have. And Kivar could take the title of Royal Prefect, not as good as King, but close enough. He’d rule Antar, with Vilandra at his side.”

“No, Max,” Isabel whispered and her eyes were filling with tears. She couldn’t have been that cruel, that ruthless, that cold-blooded. Everything that Max was saying confirmed the things Whitaker had told her. She’d betrayed her own brother, even plotted his murder.

“It’s okay Isabel,” Max said to her soothingly. “It wasn’t you. Vilandra is not the person you are.” Michael and Maria stepped over to Isabel, Michael on the left and Maria on the right, showing her their support. She looked at them gratefully but she was still reeling inside. Max turned back to Tess and the gentle look that had been in his eyes a moment ago hardened into something else. “But you, you’re the same, aren’t you Tess. You planned my death in that life and then you planned it in this one too.”

“No . . .” Tess said shaking her head. How could he know these things?

“But something went wrong with Ava’s plan, didn’t it Tess? The attack came early, and instead of you being safely out in the country, you were caught right in the middle of it. So was Vilandra. All four of us were there. All four of us died.” Max looked down at Liz then and he knew she was remembering the same thing he was. That Zan had lived long enough to find his way to Rena, to see her one more time before he died.

“So my Mother,” Max continued and turned his harsh gaze in Tess’s direction again, “not knowing Kivar had orchestrated the whole thing, turned the Crown over to him. He was, after all, the brother of the late Queen. When she sent us here to be reborn, she didn’t know about you or Vilandra or Kivar. She didn’t learn the truth until the night Rena gave birth. After that the rumors started, didn’t they Tess? Rumors that there was an heir to the Crown. Zan’s heir.”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Tess and she shrank back. When had Max gotten so strong? He’d never shown abilities like this before. He had scoured her mind and seen everything. For the first time, she was afraid of him, of what he could do.

“Isn’t that right Tess,” Max said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” Tess whispered, knowing it would do no good to resist him. “No one opposed Kivar until the rumors started. They were too afraid of him. But then they heard the ‘Great Zan’ had an heir, and an underground movement was formed to oust my brother and place your daughter on the Throne. A Queen with Zan’s royal blood flowing through her veins. They didn’t even care that it was a bastard child. She was yours. That’s all they cared about.”

“And so Nasedo made a deal,” Max said coldly, “with Kivar.”

“Yes,” she said and her voice quivered as she answered.

“Nasedo gave up his loyalty to me, and he raised you for one purpose only. Bring home a male child. Zan’s child. A male heir who would have first right to the Crown and that Kivar could raise and control.”

“Yes! But you wouldn’t cooperate, because of her.” Tess turned her cold eyes on Liz, and Max pulled Liz closer to shield her from danger.

“So you messed with his mind,” Liz said with disgust, “so you could take him and Isabel and Michael back home for execution.”

“I had a job to do,” Tess said and her eyes darted around the room. “It was what I was raised to do!”

“So you pretended to love Max all this time,” Liz fumed, “knowing that in the end you were going to send him to his death?”

“It didn’t have to be that way!” Tess cried out and turned back to Max. “Kivar said he would let you live, if only you would have been willing to cooperate! But you wouldn’t, because of her. It always comes back to her.”

“You’re right Tess,” Max smiled inwardly. “It does always come back to her.” He’d seen many things inside Tess’s mind a minute ago. He’d seen that the rebellion was gaining momentum and Kivar was losing ground. He’d seen that Kivar was desperate to hold on to power, but fighting not only the memory of a King that the people refused to forget, but his progeny as well, the daughter Zan had never known. A daughter that now led the movement against Kivar.

He’d seen Kivar’s merciless demand for Tess to bring home a male heir to authenticate his control of the Crown, or face the consequences. But most of all, he’d seen the one thing that frightened Kivar the most.
A proclamation from the prophets that the reborn King would be reunited with the true daughter of Ceri and the Crown would be rightfully restored. A prophecy that said brothers would lay down their weapons and kneel quaking in fear before the King. A Prophecy that the people had come to believe Zan, reborn as Max Evans, was the living embodiment of. A prophecy come to pass.

Max wasn’t sure if he believed in prophecy but the important thing was that Kivar did. It was something that Max could use against him, when the time came to face his enemy. Something had changed in Max today. Zan’s memories had made him stronger, wiser, and given him insights he hadn’t had before. An inevitable confrontation was coming, and for the first time Max felt like he would be ready.

Everyone was quiet as they stared at Tess. How could they ever have trusted her? From the moment they met her, she had been plotting their demise. The silence was finally broken when Isabel asked, ““What are we going to do with her Max? She killed Alex. She was taking us to our deaths. Where does it stop?”

“It stops here, and now,” Max answered as he stared hard at Tess. “What happened to the Granilith? You’re still here. It must be here.”

“It’s gone. I don’t know where it went.”

“What do you mean, ‘You don’t know where it went’? And what’s so special about it that Kivar wants it back? If it’s just a spaceship-”

“It isn’t. It’s the only one in existence. It doesn’t exist in time and space, not like we do,” Tess said meeting his eyes. “It can move from one plain to the next, connecting one place to another. That’s why it can be use to travel from here to Antar or anywhere else, almost in the blink of an eye.”

“Or for time travel,” Liz said quietly and looked up at Max.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michael suggested, “and figure out what we’re gonna do with her. And juvie boy over there.” Max nodded his head in agreement and Michael and Kyle went to lift Sean’s unconscious body from the ground. Isabel grabbed Tess by the arm and pushed her toward the entrance to the cave and Max and Liz, walking hand in hand, followed close behind her.

Liz’s footsteps suddenly faltered and she felt a strange sensation. She reached into the front pocket of her pants and pulled out the pendant that Max had left on her balcony this afternoon and she held it in her hand. She had always felt that there was something special about it, some purpose besides just an ornament or a piece of jewelry and now she was positive of it.

“Liz?” Max said as he watched her walk toward the Granilith chamber with the pendant resting on the palm of her hand. The symbol in the middle was glowing, pulsing with an unearthly light and Liz pressed her thumb against it. Max stood at her side, with the rest of them crowded behind them and they all watched spellbound as the room began to shimmer in a multitude of color, and the Granilith once again took solid form.

“It’s like a fucking remote control!” Kyle eloquently declared as he looked from the Granilith to the object in Liz’s hand.

“Maybe I should send you back,” Max said taking Tess by the arm and walking her toward the Granilith. It was pulsing with a rainbow of colors and the room was filling with a steadily rising hum. “Back to Antar.”

“No! Max! You can’t do that!” Tess cried.

The shocked look on her face took Max by surprise and he asked, “Why not? Isn’t that what you always wanted? To go home?”

“No, please! You can’t send me there! I can’t go back now! You don’t understand what he’ll do to me!”

“You mean Kivar? You’re afraid of your own brother?”

“I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. He’ll kill me if I come home empty handed! Max, please!”

“Well that’s your problem, isn’t it?” Max said harshly.

Tess broke away from his grasp and ran to the crystal in the face of the Granilith. She clawed at it with her fingers until it pulled free and she threw it to the floor where it smashed into a thousand pieces. “I won’t go back!”

“Tess,” Max said as he took a step toward her and she cowered back against the Granilith. “What did you do?” The air in the room suddenly changed, filling with an electrical energy and Tess fearfully turned her head to look at the imposing machine. The colors inside were swirling faster than before, a riot of colors and her eyes grew even wider as she felt the pull. Her body began to tingle like pins and needles on her skin and then she disappeared.

The room shimmered and suddenly her body was inside the belly of the beast, instead of standing beside it. It was real this time, not a mindwarp she had created for the others to see. She was about to be transported to another world, another place, but where? She’d taken the crystal out, the crystal that navigated the transport. Without that, the direction was random. It could fling her into the black void of space, or into the molten core at the heart of a planet. She could materialize on the sandy shore of a far away paradise, or disintegrate in the corona of a nearby sun.

“Tess . . .” Kyle stepped forward looking at her worriedly. Max rushed to the Granilith looking for a button or a lever or a control panel to stop whatever was happening, but the surface was smooth. The Granilith refused to give up its secrets.

Max watched her and knew there was nothing he could do. The Granilith was still a question mark in his mind. Kivar wanted it and needed it, and Max had it. Now he needed to learn how to use it. But it wasn’t going to help Tess right now. Nothing was going to help Tess.

The low hum in the room built to a roar and they all stared helplessly at the image of Tess inside the Granilith. “Max!” she cried one last time. “I wanna stay-”

Her image blinked out, but her final word echoed around the chamber long after she was gone. The Granilith powered down of its own volition, and the swirling colors dimmed and faded away. They stared at the empty space where Tess and been, and then one by one, they turned their backs and walked away. Kyle was the last to leave.

* * * * *

They were all quiet as they reached the main entrance to the chamber and Max looked out at the darkening sky. It’d been the middle of the day when he’d driven out here, and now he could see the sun had already dipped below the western horizon and all that remained was the residue of what must have been a spectacular sunset. “How’d it get so late?”

“Max,” Michael squeezed him on the shoulder as he passed by. “We’ve been in there for hours. You lost a chunk of you life while you and Liz were in that trance, or whatever it was.”

Max looked down at Liz who was standing at his side. They smiled at each other over how far off Michael was. He hadn’t lost a chunk of his life. He’d gained a whole new one. He’d had so many questions his entire life. Who he was, what he was, where he came from, why was he here? He didn’t have all the answers yet, but now at least he knew enough to give him a better understanding of what he had once been.

They crossed over the threshold and Max sealed the chamber closed before turning to look at Sean. “What are we going to do with him?” Michael asked. They’d propped him against the rock surface just outside the cave and it looked like he was starting to come around. Max knelt in front of him and placed his fingers on the side of his head. He closed his eyes and concentrated hard and his fingertips began to glow. After a minute, Max broke the contact and rose slowly to his feet.

“What did you do?” Maria asked as she watched Sean stir.

“I put a block, inside his brain. He won’t remember anything. They also won’t be able to use him again. Kendal won’t be making any more visits, at least not using Sean.”

Sean stirred and opened his eyes. He looked up at everyone standing around him and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He looked at Maria crouched next to him and he said, “What’s going on? Where are we?”

“We were on a picnic,” she told him. “You fell and hit your head. Do you remember anything?”

“I don’t even remember getting out of bed this morning,” he said sounding confused.

“Come on,” Maria said helping him to his feet. “Let me help you to the car.”

“How’d you learn to do that?” Michael asked in amazement as he watched Sean scratch his head and follow Maria down the rocks.

“Just a little something I picked up today,” Max said and a tired smile graced his face. “Let’s go home.”

Max felt Liz slip her hand into his and they headed down to the cars below. They broke into two groups, Max and Liz leading the way to the jeep with Isabel following behind and Michael following Maria and Sean to the jetta. Kyle came to a stop and stood staring at Michael’s broad back as he walked away from him. Even after all that they had seen, and all that they had heard, Kyle was still Kyle.

“Hey, Michael!” he called out to get his attention. “When are you gonna fix my fu-, when are you gonna fix my car?”

“Later,” Michael said indifferently.

“Later?” Kyle repeated. “Later, in like an hour? Or later, like when hell freezes over?”

“Later,” Michael repeated as he opened the driver’s door of the jetta and climbed inside.

“Great.” Kyle’s eyes narrowed as he watched Michael settle in behind the wheel and then decided Buddha wouldn’t approve of his violent thoughts. But Buddha never had to put up with freaking aliens! He kicked at the ground with the pointed tip of his boot and followed Max and Liz to the jeep.

Max reached into the front pocket of his jeans to retrieve his keys and as he pulled them out, Liz took them out of his hand. “You’re tired Max. Why don’t you let me drive? Then you can just sit back and relax. Rest.”

He was about to protest, to tell her he was just fine, but he really was tired after everything that had happened today. He nodded and then helped her into the jeep before walking around to the other side. He waited while Kyle settled into the back seat and then he climbed into the passenger seat next to Liz.

Michael put the jetta in gear and headed for the highway with Liz following close behind. As they passed Kyle’s mustang, Liz slowed and Max leaned over to get a good look at the damage Michael had inflicted on it. The front end really was smashed, and Max just shook his head and said, “Jesus, Michael really did a number on your car.”

“No shit,” Kyle mumbled from the back seat. “You people really are a menace to society.”

“Look Kyle . . .” Max looked back at him apologetically.

“Forget it, man. It’s not your fault.”

“Kyle, about earlier,” Max said, dropping his eyes. “Thanks for-”

“Forget it,” Kyle said again but his tone was much mellower. “Let’s just say we’re even.”

Their eyes met and held as they both contemplated the things they’d been through over the last year. Max had saved Kyle’s life and healed a bullet hole in his chest. Today, Kyle had returned the favor, helping Max come back from the brink of death. A slow smile spread over both their faces and Max said, “Yeah.”

“What do you think happened to her?” Kyle asked after a brief silence. He could still hear Tess’s final words echoing in his head.

“I don’t know,” Max answered. “Maybe we’ll never know.”

“I really liked her, you know? She had a good side, but they never let her have a chance to . . .”

“To what Kyle?” Liz asked as she looked back at him in the mirror.

“To be human.” He looked from Isabel, and then to Max and slowly shook his head. “Just do me a favor.” He stole a glance back toward the rocks and said regretfully, “Don’t introduce me to any more of your alien friends.”

* * * * *

Liz pushed open the door to her apartment just as the phone began to ring. She rushed over to answer it and Max closed the door behind him. He listened to her side of the conversation and a frown creased his brow.

“Is everything alright?” Max asked worriedly as Liz set down the phone.

“Yeah,” Liz answered. “That was my Mom. She’s going to stay with my Dad again tonight, to keep her eye on him. She says he’s fine, but still . . . I can tell she’s worried about him.” With all the events of the day, for a while she’d forgotten about her father still recovering in the hospital.

“Do you want me to go over there?” Max offered as he gently lifted her chin up. “To see if everything’s okay?”

“No, Max,” Liz said shaking her head. “I’m sure he’s fine. Besides, you can’t get near him. My Mom never leaves his side. But maybe we can go tomorrow?” Liz asked hopefully. She felt guilty for not going to the hospital this evening to see him. She felt guilty for forgetting he was there.

“I’m sorry, Liz.” Max felt terrible once again for disrupting her life so badly. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead, wishing things could be normal and knowing they never would be.

She heard him sigh again and her hand rose up to brush against his forehead and she said, “You look tired. Maybe you should go home. Get some rest.”

“I’m okay,” he assured her and his hand closed over hers. Maybe she was right, though. It was late and the events of the day really had taken a toll on him. He really should go home but the thought of being separated from her, even if it was only for the night, left him feeling uneasy. He knew it was unreasonable, but he didn’t want her out of his sight ever again. “I don’t feel good leaving you here all alone.”

“Max, I’m fine here,” Liz reassured him. “You’re the one I’m worried about. Besides,” Liz said with a laugh, “if you leave Isabel down in the jeep any longer, she’s gonna kill you!”

“You’re right,” Max laughed lightly. “I wouldn’t want her to do that again!” Turning more serious his smile disappeared and he said, “You call me if anything bothers you. And I mean anything.”

“I will,” Liz promised. She was looking up at his face, already missing him even though he hadn’t left the room yet.

“I’ll see you in the morning then,” he said and he kissed her lightly, aching for more. “I’ll make sure everything’s locked up when I go downstairs.” With difficulty, he tore his eyes away from Liz and he crossed the room, opening the door to the stairs that would lead down to the Crashdown. He paused there, staring at Liz one more time, and then the door closed and he was gone.

Liz stared at the empty doorway and then she was chasing after him. “Max! Wait!” She flung the door open and he turned to her with a look of intense longing on his face and then she was running to him. His long strides closed the distance between them quickly and he swept her into his arms, crushing his lips against hers, claiming her mouth as his own, showering her with all the love he felt for her. Their kiss was long and filled with all the passion that they felt for each other and been denied for so long.

The sound of a door opening drifted up the stairs and then Isabel’s strident voice interrupted them. “Max!”

“I guess I better go,” Max smiled sheepishly at Liz. He rested his forehead against hers and said, “I meant what I said. Call me if you need anything. Anything.”

“”I will,” Liz smiled at him to ease his worries. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“In the morning. Goodnight, Liz,” Max said and he had to kiss her again. His arms crushed her to him and his lips pressed hard against hers and when he pulled away, her arms felt empty without him. He took the stairs two at a time and when he reached the bottom he turned around to look up at her again. She thought his skin looked flushed, tinged with red, or was it just her imagination? His face was shining as he looked up at her and he said, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Max,” she said softly. His smile was full of joy as he backed away and then he turned and disappeared from sight.

TBC . . .

If everything goes right, I intend to post the final part here on Thursday night. As the saying goes, I'm ready to put this story to bed. Did I just say that? You'll have to come back on Thursday to see if I meant what you think I meant. I know what you're thinking! You think I'm finally going to have Max and Liz get hot and heavy and roll around on . . . come back on Thursday!

posted on 20-Sep-2001 9:37:32 AM by Breathless
Sorry guys, I couldn't post last night because the board was down, and the old board wouldn't let me post either. I should be at work now, instead of posting this, but what the hell.

Author: Debbi aka Breathless
Category: Max and Liz
Rating: When I started this fix, I didn't think I would get to this point, because I had a lot of issues to work out with Max. Actually, I still have issues with Max, but not in THIS story. The Max in TV land might never be the same, but my Max, well, I like him again. So he's gonna get what he wants. And so is Liz. And so are you guys! I know you've been waiting for a little rolling around!

So, yes, this part is NC 17. If you don't like nookie, you better stop reading now!

I just want to say that this story has put me through a lot of emotions, and while I loved writing it, sometimes it was as hard for me to write, as it was for you to read it. I'm glad you stuck with me for the ride. I tried to make it interesting and at the same time fit many of the details from the real show in to it, trying to make some sense of it. But the sad thing is, Roswell is so full of chads that it's impossible to make sense of it all. Sigh.

I know some of you have said you are sad to see this story coming to an end. ChrissyP47, your post touched me because it meant that my writing really touched you. All things must come to an end though. I wanted to finish this before season 3 started, because obviously, the real Roswell isn't going to be anything like what I have written here. Its hard to live in my fantasy world when I see all the spoilers for the upcoming season.

As many of you know, I hate Tess. I believe the introduction of Tess was the downfall of Roswell. It turned it from a show that was rich in metaphor and had depth of writing, into a soap opera with childish sci-fi thrown in. The true meaning of Roswell got lost. But even though I believe that, I've never been able to make Tess absolutely diabolical. I guess there is always that little part of me that wants to believe that there is good somewhere in everyone, so even though Tess was flung into the outer reaches of space, Kyle will still remember her, and think about what could have been.

About the daughter Zan and Rena had on Antar . . . she leads the fight against Kivar, the people support her and see her as the true Queen. That does leave open the possibility that Max can stay on Earth with Liz, now doesn't it??? Or maybe Max will go back, and as he once wished when he was eleven years old, maybe Liz will go with him.

Anyway, all things come to an end. I'm gonna miss writing this story. So let's go out with a bang!

Dying Embers

Part 20

Max tossed his keys on his dresser as he passed by and then wandered over to his stereo. He waved his hand in front of it and music began to float from the speakers. Staind was playing on the radio and a bittersweet smile played across his lips.

It’s been awhile
since I could look at myself straight
It’s been awhile
since I said I’m sorry
And it’s been awhile
Since I’ve seen the way the candles light your face
And it’s been awhile
But I can still remember just the way you taste . . .

Max touched his fingertips to his lips and sighed deeply. The taste of her lips was still fresh. The feel of her body in his arms had felt like heaven to him. After the nightmare of the last year, ever since that day out in the desert when his real mother had left a message about his supposed destiny, Max had been walking around without purpose, without direction, without a will of his own.

Liz was what grounded him and gave him a reason for being. He felt alive again, remembering the feel of her in his arms, the taste of her on his lips. He’d had to lose everything, to get back what he wanted most of all. Liz. He didn’t want to be without her ever again.

He sat on the edge of his bed and wearily pulled off his boots and his socks and tossed them in a corner of his room. He hooked his fingers under the hem of his green t-shirt and pulled it over his head. It joined his shoes and socks in a heap on the floor, and then he stretched out on his bed. His hand rested on his chest and he remembered how it had felt when Liz rested her hand there earlier. It had made his heart race faster in his chest.

As weary as he was, he just couldn’t get Liz out of his mind. But that really wasn’t surprising. It had always been that way. She filled his thoughts, ever since the day he climbed off a big yellow school bus and saw her smiling face across the school yard. He’d known from that moment that she was the one. The only one. He just hadn’t known how really true that was.

Max turned his head and looked at the picture on his nightstand, the picture he had of Liz, and he picked it up and brought it closer so that he could see her face. Maria had taken it one day last fall, and she had been showing Michael the pictures she had just had developed when he looked over her shoulder and he saw it. He had begged Maria for it, pleaded with her until she finally relented and gave it to him.

He touched her face through the glass and not for the first time wished he had the ability to dreamwalk Liz. He could be with her right now, in his dreams, if only . . .

He sighed and set the photograph back on the nightstand. As weary as he was, he decided he’d be lucky to get any sleep at all tonight. He was just too keyed up. So much had happened today, and he was still trying to take it all in. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, knowing sleep was out of the question. He looked at Liz’s picture again and he knew he couldn’t stay away. He needed to be near her.

His mind made up, he hastily grabbed his shirt off the floor and slipped his boots on, sans socks, and grabbed his keys off the dresser. He opened his window, climbed through, and headed out into the night, and the one place he desperately wanted to be.

* * * * *

Liz sat on the edge of her bed idly running a brush through her hair. Her hand covered her mouth as she stifled a yawn, but she knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy on this night. Too much had happened. She’d seen too much. Felt too much. Experienced too much. She’d almost lost Max forever today, and in the process of getting him back, she experienced things that were beyond imaginable.

Who knew what tomorrow would hold? Maybe they wouldn’t even have a tomorrow. Maybe all they had was the here and now, and it should be lived to the fullest, because tomorrow might not ever come. She’d always looked at life in long term possibilities, but for Zan and Rena, one night of passion was all they had had. And then life had conspired against them and taken him away from her. And what of her and Max? Did a similar fate await them? Was their love destined to always fall short of what it could have been?

What did she really want? If she had her choice, would she choose to deny herself, or would she give in to the primal urges Max caused in her? And that was the key, wasn’t it? Max. All roads lead back to Max. Not surprising with all that she had seen today. He was, after all, the center of her world.

* * * * *

Max pulled the jeep to a stop and stared up at the lights in her bedroom window. He’d been surprised that they were still on, but maybe she couldn’t sleep either. He slowly climbed out, but hesitated to climb up her ladder. Was he here just to be near her, just to breathe in the air around her? Or was he hoping for . . .

He ached for her, but what if it was too soon? What if she wasn’t ready for . . . more? Maybe he wasn’t ready either. Oh God, who was he kidding?

His feet moved of their own accord, and he found himself at the base of her ladder with his hands poised, ready to rise. Going on blind instinct, his foot found the bottom rung, and he began to climb . . .

* * * * *

Liz opened the drawer of her nightstand and took out the wooden box that she kept there. Her favorite possessions were stored in it. Her Grandmother’s wedding rings that her dad had given to her after she died. The blue ribbon she had won in her first science fair. An arrowhead that she and Maria and Alex had found in the desert and used to proclaim themselves blood brothers.

She moved those objects aside and reached for the one she was looking for. A silver hair clip, in the shape of a V, with intricate little symbols along the edges. She smiled as she picked it up and laid it on the palm of her hand, and fond memories returned. She closed her nightstand drawer and opening the clasp on the clip, she slipped it into her hair.

* * * * *

Max rose up the ladder and he hesitated as he reached the top. He could sense her on the other side, feel himself being drawn to her. He’d felt that pull his whole life, always known that he was meant to be with her. He lifted his foot and his boot slipped off, falling to the sidewalk below. He hadn’t bothered to tie them in his haste to leave his room. It hit the ground with a dull thud and he fleetingly thought of retrieving it, but he was drawn to Liz, and there was no time to waste.

He swung his leg over the top of the wall and clumped across her balcony, coming to a stop as he reached her window. And there she was. His heart climbed into his throat as he looked at her, sitting on the edge of her bed and running a brush through the ends of her hair. Her pink tank top contrasted beautifully with her dark hair and her matching pajama bottoms had little white stars all over them. For some reason, that made him smile. He lifted his hand, and hesitated briefly before tapping lightly on the glass.

Liz turned at the sudden sound and when her eyes met his she felt a rush of emotions. Surprise, elation, joy, euphoria, delight, desire. Her heart rate tripled as she rose from her bed and crossed her room to the window. Her hand reached out to disengage the lock and Max lifted the window, removing the obstacle that separated them.

“What are you doing here, Max?” Liz asked in surprise.

“I just . . . I wanted to see you,” he answered, hoping she wouldn’t be mad at him for coming back. “I couldn’t stay away.” They stared at each other for a minute, with an air of anticipation all around them, and then he asked, “Can I come in?”

She stepped back from the window, giving him her silent consent, and he hesitated only briefly before slipping over the windowsill and letting his feet hit her floor. He stood before her, feeling a gentle breeze pushing him toward her, and then he reached around and closed the window behind him.

“You really shouldn’t be here,” she said, biting nervously at her lower lip. What did she have to be nervous about? Didn’t every girl have an exotic dark haired mystery man climb up their balconies during the middle of the night? With one shoe on, and one shoe off? And wind swept hair, and smoldering eyes? And lips . . . oh, those lips . . .

“Do you want me to go?” he asked and held his breath, waiting for her answer. He wasn’t sure if he was physically capable of leaving. His body wasn’t going to let him . . .

She slowly shook her head back and forth, and when she found her voice she said, “No . . .”

The air that he had been holding rushed out of his lungs and he felt lightheaded. She didn’t want him to go. She wanted him to stay. Her eyes were looking up at his, so big, so expressive, so innocent, so full of love and he felt incapable of speech. He was living a dream, one he hoped he’d never wake up from. “I . . . I want to show you something . . .” he finally managed to say.

“What?” An uncertain smile touched her lips and her stomach fluttered again. He stepped away from her and she watched his every move as he crossed the room to her stereo. She covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing over the way that he walked, with one shoe on, and one shoe off, and when he turned to see her staring at his feet, he looked down in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed.

With an embarrassed look in his eyes and a blush rising in his cheeks, he lifted his foot and pulled off his remaining shoe. He let it fall to the floor with a sheepish smile and then turned back to her stereo. Soft, gentle music flowed from the speakers and he walked slowly back to Liz. His hand reached out for hers, letting his fingers glide along the palm of her hand and he drew her away from the window, into the center of her room.

“Close your eyes,” he said softly. She looked into his eyes, trying to guess what he was going to do and then she did as he asked. The trust that she showed him made his heart sing, and he just stared at her for a moment, knowing that he was the luckiest man alive. His hand rose toward the ceiling and the wood and plaster and nails shimmered and wavered before disappearing to reveal the stars twinkling in the night sky and the moon shinning down on them. He snapped his fingers and the lights blinked out, replaced by an abundance of flickering candles casting her room in a soft glow. Her eyes popped open at the sound and her trembling hand flew up to cover her mouth as she looked around the room.

“Max . . .” she whispered.

“Do you like it?” he asked, unable to take his eyes off her.

She blinked, trying to keep from crying, and she said with a sigh, “Yes.”

Max looked up at the night sky and said, “We came across the stars, Liz, to find each other again. Both of us.” He looked back down at her and drew her into his arms. “We just took different ways to get here. We belong together, Liz. Then. Now. Always.”

Her eyes held his and she said, “Yes. Always.”

They began to move slowly to the music, their bodies swaying gently together as they lost themselves in each other’s eyes. His hand wrapped around hers and brought it to his chest where it rested over his heart. His arm circled around her, with that hand pressed against her delicate back. Their bare feet brushed together as they danced in the center of her room.

“I love you, Liz. Forever.” He swallowed hard as he looked into her beautiful face, lit by a multitude of candles, and colors danced across her face. Colors that reminded him of a place far away, and a time long ago.

“Forever, Max,” Liz whispered as his lips moved toward hers. “Forever.” Their lips touched and fireworks were added to the candlelight. Their hearts raced, their passion soared, and nothing could keep them apart. His hand roamed over her back as they kissed, and he could feel the heat of her body through the material of her tank top. His fingers rose to touch the skin of her shoulder and lifted higher to cup the back of her head and then he touched the clip in her hair.

“You’re wearing . . .” he said huskily as he broke off the kiss. His fingers traced the shape of the V and he took a step back from her. He turned her chin so that he could see it in her hair and he was touched to see her wearing it again. She turned back to him and a smile spread over his face. “You missed a strand, there, on your left,” he said, and he watched as her hand rose to feel for it. “No,” his smile deepened and his eyes were twinkling, “on your other left.”

“Will you fix it?” she asked throatily, and then turned her back to him. His hands rose to the back of her head, gathering her long hair between his fingers. He reached for the clip and unfastened it and then carefully removed it from her hair. He set it on the nightstand, safely away from the edge, and lifted his hand to her hair again. He brushed it to the side, away from her shoulder, and his lips descended to kiss a trail down her throat. Her skin was so soft and tasted so sweet, and she leaned back against his chest as if her legs were too weak to hold her up. His arm wrapped around her, crossing over her chest, and his hand lightly brushed over her breast. The contact was electrifying, and his body couldn’t help its natural reaction.

She turned around to face him and her eyes looked up at him, burning with a fire that he had never seen before, and he once more found it almost impossible to breathe. He was frozen between want and self-denial, needing her desperately yet not wanting to push her into something she wasn’t ready for. The strap on her tank top had fallen off her shoulder and the flickering candlelight accentuated the creamy color of her skin. As she stood before him, he could swear she was literally glowing.

“Max . . .”

“I don’t want you to do anything that you’re not ready for-”

“Max . . .”

“I don’t want to pressure you, and I want you to know I’ll wait for as long as you need to-”

“Max . . .”

“That’s not what tonight was all about. I know you said you just weren’t re-” and then the words froze in his mouth as her hands went to the hem of her top and slowly pulled it over her head. She let it fall to the floor and Max couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was perfect. Everything about her was perfect. Her breasts were better than anything his imagination had ever come up with. Round and full and perfectly formed with compact rosy nipples right in the center, nipples that were hard rigid peaks-

“Max . . .”

God how he wanted to touch her, to taste her. He could imagine how she would feel against his hand, in his mouth. How wonderful those rosy peaks would taste-

“Max . . .” she said and moved a step closer to him. His eyes rose to her face and he tried to remember that breathing was necessary to survive, even for aliens. Softly, she said, “I think you’re overdressed.”

Her hands were at his hips and he could feel his shirt starting to rise. This was really happening, not a dream, not a fantasy, not a nightmare forced upon him. The woman that he loved was standing half naked in front of him, and she was right. He was overdressed.

He grabbed his shirt and tore it off, pulling it over his head as quickly as he could. He let it join hers on the floor at their feet and then she moved even closer to him. Her arms went around him and their skin came into contact, chest to chest. Her nipples were like points of fire pressing into his flesh and all hesitation disappeared.

He clutched her against him while his mouth chased after hers. He kissed her hard and his tongue swept over her lips, touching her, tasting her, tempting her with more. Her hands cupped his face as they passionately attacked each other and his hands roamed over her back, up the back of her neck, and threaded into her luxurious hair as he pressed her even closer to him. Her arms wrapped around him and he shivered with sexual excitement when her nails scraped lightly over his skin. He broke off the kiss abruptly and stared down at her while he tried to catch his breath. His eyes roamed over her face and he said, “Liz . . .”

He attacked her mouth again and one hand moved from her back to her side, and then slowly forward. He moved along the swell of her breast until his hand covered her and he could feel her erect nipple pressing into his palm.

“God, Liz . . .” he mumbled against her lips and the moan she emitted from deep in her throat only served to stroke the fires of his passion even more. His lips moved from hers, along her chin, to the sensitive spot below her ear, then down along her throat. Together, they flashed on a distant memory, of a time when the skin on their throats was alive with color, and their flesh blazed red with passion. Max nuzzled his cheek along Liz’s exposed throat, stimulating her phantom markings and Liz moaned as her body reacted to a sexual awakening.

“Zan,” she cried out softly.

“Rena,” Max mumbled into her ear, lovers finally reunited across space and time.

Their skin was alive with heightened sensation and their bodies trembled with mounting desire. Everywhere their skin touch came alive with building pleasure, nerve endings humming to a rising crescendo. Cheeks stroking cheeks and the skin on their throats burning with sexual fire. Chest pressed to chest, his skin stimulating hers as they touched, taking on a life of its own as the friction mounted until they both cried out in pleasure.

“Max . . .?” Liz managed to say between deep lungfuls of air. What was that?

He lifted his cheek from her throat and looked into her eyes, reading her unspoken question. Only half jokingly, he said as he tried to catch his breath, “Foreplay?”

Their skin on their throats and their chests was tingling and throbbing and he cut off her throaty laugh as he kissed her again. That was only the beginning.

As he kissed her, he reached blindly for the edge of her bedspread. He pulled her covers aside and the scent of roses drifted up around them. Startled, she looked down at her bed and saw the rose petals that were sprinkled over her sheets.

“Max . . .” she smiled at him in astonishment. A blush rose up in his cheeks and he shrugged his shoulders as if it were nothing, but she could tell he was pleased by her reaction. “Silk sheets too?”

“Only the best,” he answered and his eyes darted between her lips and her eyes, until he just had to kiss her again. With a wave of his hand, the petals flew off the bed and danced in the air above them. He swept her off her feet and held her in his arms for a moment, just looking into the depths of her eyes, and then he set her on the cool sheets. He hovered above her and he couldn’t help letting his eyes drift over her body as he said, “God you’re beautiful.”

He stretched out beside her and she looked up at him, self-conscious in her partial nudity. His hand went to the pillow next to her head and lifted the long stem white rose that had suddenly appeared there. He brought it forward for her to see and she took it from his hand with a look of surprise on her face.

“Max . . .”

“No thorns,” he said smiling gently at her. “Nothing to hurt you. I don’t want anything to ever hurt you again.”

“Max . . .” Liz said again and his fingers stroked slowly along her cheek. His hand trailed down along the sensitive skin of her throat and he could feel her pulse racing there. He leaned down, taking her lips once more in a slow kiss, and his hand closed over her exposed breast. He felt her sudden inhalation at the intimate contact and he parted his lips from hers to look at her, to see if maybe she had changed her mind, and wasn’t ready for this to happen this soon.

He looked at her flushed face, and what he saw wasn’t hesitation or uncertainty or even second thoughts. What he saw was need, and want, and desire and his heart pounded out a staccato beat, drumming rapidly in his chest. She wanted him. He wanted her. He watched her, felt her skin press against his as she stretched to place the rose on the nightstand, right next to the silver hair clip, and when she looked back at him the air around them was filled with energy just waiting to be unleashed.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her and the fire that he saw in her set his passion ablaze. His mouth swooped down onto hers, devouring her, parting her lips with his tongue, probing the moist depths of her mouth, seeking to merge completely with her. He could feel her hands in his hair as she tried to pull him even closer, hear the moans rumbling deep in her throat, feel the pounding of her heart in her chest.

He wanted her, and she wanted him, and nothing else existed except for this moment in space and time. His hand caressed her breast as he kissed her and he felt her nipple harden even more. He stroked it with his thumb and heard her whimper in pleasure and knew he wanted more than just a touch. His lips moved from her lips, down to the tender skin under her chin, lower then to the hollow at the base of her throat and then on to claim his prize. His mouth moved along the valley between her breasts and then up the soft mound until his lips encountered that sweet, erotic peak. His lips closed over her, tasting her with his tongue at first, and then sucking her deeper into his mouth.

“Max . . .” Liz could barely contain the sensations he was making her feel. Her back arched up as he pulled at her nipple and she moaned even louder. “Oh God, Max.”

The air crackled with sexual energy and Max released one hard peak so that he could taste the other. Liz slid her hand into the hair at the nape of his neck, pressing him hard against her while her sounds filled the air around them. His body moved from her side, gliding into position on top of her, and then he slowly kissed a trail back up to her throat so that he could claim her mouth again. She spread her legs apart and his thighs nestled between hers, pressing his extremely aroused manhood against her equally aroused feminine center. He devoured her lips again and her legs wrapped around his hips so that she could feel him better as he rocked his hips against her. His jeans were painfully tight but he couldn’t stop. It felt too good to stop.

Her hips were rubbing against him, her nipples were drilling into his chest, and he could sense something happening inside her. He pressed his body harder against her and the sensation grew, building in pitch until her body shuddered with a blinding climax and his name erupted from her lips. And she hadn’t even taken her pants off yet.

“I felt that,” Max said breathlessly as he hovered above her. “I felt what you felt, just now . . .”

“You did . . .?” she looked up at him and tried to catch her breath.

“Is that how . . . I mean, is that the way it’s supposed to . . . for you . . .”

“I guess so,” she smiled shyly and then said, “We’re in virgin territory here, Max. I don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to feel, but I can tell you this. I really liked it. I mean I really liked it.”

He smiled then, a smile somewhere between relief and rejoicing. “I do know one thing,” she said with a certainty as her eyes roamed over his candlelit face.

“What’s that?” he asked huskily.

“You’re still overdressed.”

He stared at her mutely for a moment and then he swallowed hard and said, “So are you.”

He shifted his weight and moved to her side, eager yet hesitant at the same time. This was a major change in their relationship, one they could never go back from. He lifted his hand and gently touched the skin on her cheek, and then brushed his fingers over her throat, trailing his hand down to cup her breast while his eyes lingered there, and then he moved lower. He touched the smooth flesh that covered her ribs and then down to her flat stomach, where he hesitated once more.

His eyes met hers and he saw her consent, and his hand slipped lower to the top edge of her pajama bottoms. His hand slid under the material and his fingers encountered a patch of silky hair. Yes, he must have died today out at the pod chamber, he thought as his hand moved lower, because surely now he must be in heaven. He tugged at the material that still covered her and it easily slid down her hips, along her shapely thighs and then down her legs and past her feet. She lay before him, vulnerable in her nakedness, and Max had never seen a more beautiful sight.

Her hand was suddenly on his chest and he felt her push him backwards until his back was resting against the sheets. He stared up at her this time as her hand went to the front of his jeans. Her fingers deftly unfastened the top button and she lowered his zipper in what felt like agonizingly slow motion. Her hand could feel his rock hard erection straining at the fabric and she lingered there, judging what was beneath the material. When the zipper had been lowered completely, Max almost frantically pushed his jeans down his legs and Liz helped pull them free. She moved to toss them to the floor to join the rest of their clothing when he suddenly cried out, “WAIT!”

Startled, and suddenly feeling terribly exposed, she clutched his jeans to her naked flesh. She looked at him apprehensively and said, “What?”

“There’s something in there I need,” he said and she could see the flush in his cheeks. He pulled his pants out of her hand and reached into the back pocket. He pulled out his wallet and set it on the bed, and then tossed his pants to the floor. Settling in next to her again he murmured, “Now where were we?”

She smiled at him, regaining her composure and said, “It looks like these need to come off.” She slid her hand under the top band of his boxers and the smile froze on her lips and then slowly disappeared. She stared at him and then said slowly, “Max . . .”

“What’s the mat-” he started to say and then he groaned outloud when her hand surrounded him. Her fingers explored him, feeling his size and his shape and his texture and then she tugged off his shorts so that she could see him, too. All coherent thought left him as her hand moved up and down the length of him.

“Max, you’re so . . .” and her voice trailed off.

“What?” he said hoarsely. If she didn’t stop touching him, he was going to lose it right now. God, her hand felt-

“Perfect,” Liz said as her hand roamed over him. “You’re perfect, Max.” She raised her eyes to his and she leaned in to kiss him then, and they were once more swept away on a titlewave of passion. His mouth covered hers and he became the aggressor, driven by a blinding need to become a part of her. He chased her back down to the sheets, his lips consuming hers, his chest pressing against her soft breasts, his stomach sliding over hers and his thighs settling between her legs. Her hand was still holding his throbbing sex and she drew him near.

His hot flesh came into contact with her wet heat and they both groaned as a bolt of sexual energy surged between them. His sex rubbed against her sex, stimulating them even more until they were both panting with need. Max was smothering her mouth with his, tugging at her lower lip while his hands moved over her hot skin, touching her everywhere. She rocked her hips against him, feeling the way his erection slid between her slick folds, getting closer and closer to that sweet place they both wanted him to go.

“Max . . .” she mumbled against his lips. “Now. I want you now.”

His hand blindly search the bed for his wallet and as his fingers closed over it, he tore his lips away from Liz. Almost frantically, he opened it and searched for the small packet he had placed there in hopes that some day he and Liz would reach this point. He slid the packet out and dropped his wallet carelessly on the bed.

Max lifted his body off Liz and she watched him as his fingers tore at the protective wrapper. He removed the condom and she could see that his fingers were trembling slightly as he rolled it into place over his impressive member. He tossed the wrapper hastily aside and then he leaned over Liz again, hovering above her for just a moment and then she laced her fingers through his hair and pulled him down to her.

His body settled onto hers and the moment that they had been waiting for for such a long time was upon them. With his thighs between her thighs, his proud sex moved once more toward that special place. He could feel her rapid heartbeat resonating against his chest, feel her heated puffs of breath on his throat, feel her legs open wider to let him in. His lips touched hers, kissing her tenderly as he gently pushed forward, entering her with care and all the restraint he was capable of gathering. His body screamed for more, but his mind told him patience as he slowly pushed inside her.

“Max . . .” Liz moaned as she tore her lips away from his. His lips went to her throat, kissing the skin there that felt like more than just skin now. It was alive with sensation, stimulated by his lips, his flesh, his very breath on her inflamed nerve endings. Her sense of touch was heightened, enhanced in some old yet familiar way and she arched against him, wanting to feel more.

His hips moved forward and then back, entering her slowly, amazed at the feeling that surrounded him as he moved deeper into her. Her hands were in his hair and then her fingernails were scraping down his spine to the small of his back, driving him nearly mad with need. Her hands moved lower, digging into the muscles of his butt and he could feel her urging him deeper. With a moan escaping from her throat, her hands rose up to cup his cheeks, lifting his face from her throat, and she stared up at him with her eyes ablaze.

“Now, Max,” she breathed out.

He looked down at her and knew what she meant. Do it fast. Do it deep. The pain would be fleeting, but their joining would be for a lifetime. Maybe even longer than that. Her legs shifted, opening herself to him even more, and he moved his hands to her hips. He hovered at her entrance while he stared into her eyes, and then she said it one more time. “Now.”

He drove into her, hard and deep, feeling her membrane tear as he stripped away her barrier. She cried out as he filled her and his hand slipped between them, pressing against her belly and glowing softly to ease her pain. Her eyes closed as she adjusted to his presence, taking in these new sensations. Such wonderful sensations. She wanted more.

He felt her body arch up against him as he plunged into her and he used his healing powers to try to stem the pain he could feel in her. It ebbed and was gone and in its place he could feel her desire flood into him. The feel of her inner walls surrounding him, hot and tight and wet and so much more than his imagination could have dreamed of, was almost enough to send him over the edge right now. He rocked his hips back and then plunged into her again, this time with no pain to mar it.

“God Liz,” he said heatedly as he sank into her the second time. He pulled back again, craving more as together they experienced these new sensations. Her legs lifted up to wrap around his hips and he sank into her with vigor. Her breasts danced against his chest with each deep thrust into her body, and the hard ridges in his stomach pressed against her soft belly.

It seemed that he had waited his entire life to claim her, and now that it was happening, now that he was inside her and a part of her, all of his dreams were coming true. His arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly to him while he thrust deeply inside her. Their skin, wherever it touched, seemed to be on fire, on their cheeks and down their throats and along their chests. He plunged down into her while she raced upwards to meet him, driving them to new heights, and they both trembled as they were swept into a maelstrom of sexual tension just waiting to be released.

“God . . . Max . . .” Liz intoned as Max drilled into her. His thrusts had taken on a hungry tone, building to a fevered pitch as Liz moaned against his ear. He had always felt the fire in her, waiting to come out, and unleashing it was like letting a wild tiger free. She was eager. She was primal. She was grinding her body against his to increase her stimulation. She knew what she wanted, and Max was going to give it to her.

His hips pulled back and his thick sex throbbed with building tension as he raced toward climax. He could feel it in her too, ready to explode, hovering right there on the edge, and he drove into her hard. Her hips rose up to meet him and she cried out as they crashed together. Her walls, already tighter than imaginable, clamped down on him, quivering and throbbing as she came, and he exploded in a mind searing rush of sexual release. His seed burst from him, spurting out of him in a pulsating rhythm and his body shuddered as he drove into her one last time. His own cry joined hers and they clung together as their climax crested and they rode a wave of sexual ecstasy.

Their bodies spent, they lay in each other’s arms with their hearts pounding and their breathing coming in gasps. Their skin, slick with sweat, quivered, vibrating with their underlying passion, quenched now but ready to burst into flame again. Their wild heartbeats thundered in their ears and pounded in their chests while their lungs heaved, trying to catch their breaths. His body weighed down on hers, their chests, their bellies pressed together, their skin tingling and contracting wherever they touched. They stayed connected for long minutes afterward, Max buried deeply inside of Liz, while their bodies hummed in the afterglow.

He slowly lifted his head from her throat and he looked down at her radiant face. Her eyes opened slowly and a smile spread over both their faces. He kissed her forehead and then her nose and then her lips and he said, “I always knew that it would be this way for us.”

“What way?” Liz asked as she stroked her fingers tenderly through his hair.

“Magic,” Max said and his eyes were shining with the love that he felt for her. “It’s all magic when I’m with you.”

* * * * *

The candles flickered and burned out one by one, casting the room into near darkness. Soon, a beam of moonlight was all that remained to keep the night at bay. It bathed the couple on the bed in its pale glow and the dark sky above them twinkled with a thousand stars.

They lay on their sides, Max with his body wrapped protectively around her, Liz with her head tucked under the hollow of his chin. His arm was draped around her holding her close to him, and his hand cupped her warm breast. The silk sheet covered their naked bodies from the waist down and their skin appeared to glow with a reddish tint in the pale light of the moon.

A war was brewing on a distant shore, a battle they would have to someday face, but not tonight. Tonight was just for them. Their sleep was peaceful and comforting, unmarked by any dreams as they lay in each other’s arms. The final candle flickered out and all that remained was the ember of the wick, glowing orange in the dark. A tendril of smoke rose from it and then dissipated into the night air. For now, all was quiet. But tomorrow . . . tomorrow the flame would be relit, and burn brightly once again.

The End