posted on 19-Sep-2001 1:15:46 AM by Destinee
Parts 49 & 50 on page 6

Part 48 on page 4

Title: Strong, Dangerous, & Undeniable
Author: Destinee
Rating: PG-13
Category: M/L, with some Mi/Ma, and a strong focus on Michael.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story don't belong to me, but to M. Metz, J. Katims, and The WB- or I guess now it’s UPN. In any case, I'm just gently leading them where I'd like them to go. No infringement intended.

Summary: This story begins with the scene in MITC when Liz does her astral projection thing. It follows along with everything in the show up to that point, and goes on to explore Liz's powers, and to resolve the obstacles in the path of her being together with Max.

Author's Note: Okay, this is me. *smile* This is me trying to write this story lately. *icon_smile_a_frusty*
LOL. Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad, but it has been giving me problems lately. I honestly am sorry for taking so long between updates. It's really not by choice, I promise. Thanks to everyone who asked for more of this one on the Fic Request thread. It really tickled me to find my fic on some of your lists. Sorry I had to make you resort to that though. lol

The new one is another extra-long part. My goal is to get through with this story before we reach 60 chapters, so I may be cramming a lot into them from now on if it doesn't look like I'm going to make it. At this point, I'm not really sure if that's the case or not. It's pretty much in control, I'm just along for the ride. *1bluewinky*

I went ahead and posted the previous part too in case anybody missed it, because I haven't gotten it up to date on the Repost board yet. Hope everyone enjoys!

Chapter 46

It was a silent foursome that rode in the jeep over to Liz’s house from the old soap factory. Everyone seemed to need the time to themselves to process everything they’d just learned, but at the same time, they each felt the need to be connected to their significant other. As a result, Maria sat close against Michael’s side underneath the arm he had wrapped around her shoulders, and Max and Liz were once again holding hands tightly while he drove.

It was good not to have to worry about covering up their relationship at the moment, and Liz was really glad that Michael and Maria knew about them. It was also good to see that Maria wasn’t letting their discoveries about the depth of their connection destroy the tentative progress she and Michael had made in their relationship today. If anything, they seemed to be drawing closer together.

Liz knew Michael was still doing everything he knew to do to demonstrate his feelings to Maria, and she was sure Maria could really use the reassurance right now. And Liz didn’t have to be able to actually experience his feelings to know that the same held true for Max.

She glanced over at his darkened profile, lit by the greenish glow from the jeep’s instrument panel, and his drawn features gave her heart a pang. Tightening her hand around his, she covered the back of it with her free hand, and began to stroke it softly.

Max automatically returned the small squeeze, and feeling her gaze upon him, took his eyes off the road to look over at her. His expression cleared, and they shared a brief tender look.

Liz received as much comfort as she gave from the silent exchange. She’d thought getting some answers about this connection would make things better. Instead, it had only stirred more turmoil within her, and made her need to know the reason why the connection existed even stronger.

It just felt so wrong to be sharing these things with Michael. She wasn’t comfortable having all this intimate knowledge of him. And she was even less comfortable with the idea that he could invade her thoughts and emotions at any given time. She felt like she couldn’t even think about anything personal with him nearby for fear that he might be able to listen in, and she resented the fact that she had to monitor her own thoughts.

She couldn’t help but think again that she should be experiencing all these things with Max instead of Michael, and that some kind of mistake had been made. Or that Max had switched something around inside her by accident when he’d changed her.

But somehow, in some deep, obscure part of her being, this thing with Michael felt utterly right. Like something finally falling into place. And the thought made her want to run as far, and as fast as she could.

Max imagined that he could almost feel the turbulence of Liz’s emotions communicate themselves through their point of contact, and he brushed the back of her hand with his thumb in a slow soothing rhythm. Though his own emotions were far from calm at the moment.

He was glad to know that while the energy blast was still something of a wild card, it wasn’t necessarily deadly to Liz if they did do it. But that was about the only good thing they’d learned so far tonight as far as Max was concerned. All this stuff about them connecting without meaning to, even from across the room, and having the ability to feel each other’s emotions with a single touch was hard to have to watch, and Max was having to deal with it a little sooner than he’d been ready to. Of course, he probably never would’ve been truly ready, but right now, when he was already aggravated with Michael, all this was only adding to his resentment of him.

He’d known that when Liz and Michael both finally gave in to this connection, he was going to have a hard time with it, but the reality was even worse than he’d anticipated. He hated having to share Liz with Michael in this way. He felt like Michael was taking something from her that should only belong to him. And the fact that Michael could see even deeper within her than he, himself could, was really eating at him.

The only thing that was helping him stay calm was knowing how it would upset Liz if she knew how much all this was bothering him. He wanted to make this as easy for her to deal with as he could, and knowing how jealous he felt over it would only make things harder for her.

He just wished they could find out why they shared a connection like this. One that was so strong, and carried abilities with it that none of the rest of them had. It was crazy, and it made no sense. And it seemed the more they were finding out about it, the more perplexing it became.

They pulled up in front of the Crashdown, and Liz turned in her seat to direct a look at Maria.

“Would you come in with me? It might make it more convincing.”

Maria nodded her assent, and Liz turned back to say softly to Max, “Be right back.”

He gave her a slight smile and brief nod in return, and the two girls climbed from the jeep, leaving him and Michael alone.

As they sat waiting for Liz and Maria’s return, the silence in the car was thick and stifling, and the very air around them seemed to churn with tension and hostility.

Michael just knew words of chastisement were coming his way, the only question was, over which incident? The two of them hadn’t had a moment of privacy like this since the last time Max had chewed him out, two days ago.

That had been because of the way he’d been treating Liz all week, and Michael admitted, if only to himself, that the lecture had been deserved on that one. But he was just daring Max to say anything about what had happened at the club last night. Not when his own behavior was far more deserving of a lecture than Michael felt his had been. He knew he’d said some things he shouldn’t have, but if Max dared to try and call him on it, he had plenty he could say to him in return. And Michael was feeling just edgy enough over this connection business to welcome the fight.

He wasn’t too thrilled about the revelations they’d made about it tonight. He’d hoped he and Liz would be able to explore the thing without it getting all that personal, but the discoveries they’d made earlier proved that would be an impossibility. He didn’t want Liz seeing everything that was inside his head, and now it seemed he was going to have to be on constant guard against that whenever she was around. The infringement really irritated him

But as much as he hated feeling that he no longer had the privacy of his own thoughts, the urge to find out an explanation for this connection was riding him hard. There had to be a reason why they could do all this stuff, and he just knew if they dug deep enough they could find it. The resentment and objection to these mental abilities, and the need to explore it more deeply, were warring emotions within him, and the conflict was making him extremely ill-tempered. And the tension of waiting for Maxwell to get on his case was making him feel wound even more tightly.

Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore, and in an abrupt movement, he leaned up between the seats and said shortly, “Alright, let’s have it.”

Max threw a dark look over his shoulder, then went back to his scrutiny of the front of the Crashdown.

“Let’s have what?” he asked tonelessly.

Michael scowled and said, “Don’t play coy with me, Maxwell. Just say what you have to say and let’s get this over with.”

His brusqueness had the same affect as putting a match to tinder, and Max’s irritation with him immediately reached a flash point.

Twisting around in his seat, he said tightly, “Okay. You wanna know what I have to say? This whole attitude you have lately is unacceptable, and I’d better see it change, quick. One more crack like the one about me getting lucky, and I swear I won’t be held accountable for my actions, Michael,” he told him with a stormy-eyed look of warning. “I warned you last night about being more respectful of Liz than that, and I’m not gonna tell you again.”

“Hey, what I said had nothin’ to do with Liz,” Michael refuted. “It’s not her fault all you seem to be thinkin’ with is your energy source these days,” he said contemptuously.

“What?!” Max flushed a dull angry red at the accusation. Harshly, he said, “Look, I don’t know what your problem is about what happened between me and Liz last night- unless it’s these ‘feelings’ you suddenly think you have for her,” he charged scornfully, “But I do know that what happened at that club is none of your business. It’s between me and Liz. And I don’t care if you can see all the way down to the very bottom of her soul,” bitterness colored his words, “That does not give you a right to censor her actions, or mine, and you’d better just step back and stop giving me grief over this.”

“Is that an order from the king?” Michael challenged sneeringly.

Max’s expression hardened. “No. It’s a warning. From me, Max. The guy that used to be your best friend, remember?”

“Used to be is right,” Michael returned. “You sure haven’t been much of a friend lately.”

Max felt a flash of outrage. “I haven’t been much of a friend?! What about you, Michael? Ever since that day at the cave when we found out who we are, all you’ve done is constantly criticize me and try to tick me off. I’m sorry, but it’s a little hard to be a friend to somebody who’s always at your throat,” he said accusingly.

“Well don’t kid yourself, Maxwell. It’s not any easier bein’ friends with someone who’s always on your back,” Michael shot back.

“I am not always on your back, Michael,” Max emphatically denied. “If anything, I think I’ve been pretty patient with you considering all the stunts you’ve pulled.”

“Yeah, that’s you all right. Patient ,” Michael agreed, his mouth turned down in disgust.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Max pounced on his words. “That right there. If you don’t think you aren’t always on my back about something, you’re sadly mistaken. You never have anything to say to me anymore unless it’s some kind of dig about the way I’m doing things. So forgive me for thinking our friendship isn’t exactly something you cared much about anymore.”

The words seemed to strike at the very heart of the matter.

At the abrupt cessation of their raised voices, the silence in the jeep felt profound, as they both realized their argument had somehow wound around to the crux of the problem between them.

Michael didn’t know what to say. While it was true he’d been feeling generally pissed off at Max since that day at the cave, never once had he ceased to think of him as a friend. He and Isabel were the closest thing to family he’d ever had, and he didn’t think he’d ever be able to get so mad that he’d want to break off their friendship.

Not that he even could if he’d wanted to. Now that they knew how important it was for them to stay together they were stuck with each other. But for Michael, it was a good kind of stuck. It offered a kind of stability he’d never had before, the assurance that someone would always be there, and he’d found that he liked having it.

It made him feel a little guilty to know that Max had been thinking he didn’t even want to be friends with him any more. Michael knew he’d been giving him a hard time lately, but he obviously needed to try and make an effort to cool it. It wouldn’t be easy, though. Everything Max did these days just seemed to irk him for no good reason.

Michael cleared his throat. “Listen, uh- Maxwell,” he started, but that was as far as he got before the opening of the jeep’s passenger door interrupted him.

Maria was in position to climb into the car ahead of Liz, but now she stood there awkwardly as she gained the impression they’d interrupted something important.

“Sorry,” she apologized uncertainly.

Michael glanced at Max, but the moment had been lost. He hadn’t really been sure what he was going to say anyway.

In dismissal of her apology, he shrugged and said, “For what?”

Max sighed with frustration. He didn’t know what Michael had been about to say, but he thought they’d been on the brink of having a discussion that was long overdue between them. Who knew when they might ever get back to this particular place in time again? But as let down as he felt, it wasn’t Maria’s fault, and Max took pity on her.

“Yeah, there’s no reason to apologize, Maria,” he assured her. “Get in.”

Maria hesitated, then stepped up into the jeep, and Michael put up a hand to steady her as she climbed between the front seats to join him in the back. Liz threw a quick look between Max and Michael before getting in behind her. Slipping her backpack from her shoulder to sit it on the floorboard at her feet, Liz looked at Max questioningly. She’d been so focused on making a persuasive argument to her parents, she hadn’t thought about it being a bad idea to leave him and Michael alone out here, but she knew they weren’t on the best of terms at the moment.

Max shook his head slightly to indicate that it was nothing, then glanced at her bag in the floor.

“So they said okay?”

“Yeah,” Liz answered. “They said it was fine.”

“Good. I guess now we should run by my house so I can get some things,” Max said to the car in general, then started the jeep and pulled out.

Michael sat in the back seat with his hand wrapped around Maria’s, and aimed a brooding look at Max and Liz. He didn’t much like this plan of the two of them spending the night together in his apartment. He was probably doomed to another sleepless night as he worried over what they were doing together, he thought with resignation. But he’d rather they were close enough for him to keep an eye on them than to be across town at Max’s place again. And he didn’t want Liz to be alone and unprotected tonight any more than Max did. There was no question of her spending the night in his apartment without Max there, Michael knew, so this was probably the best solution. But he still didn’t like it much.

After a quick stop at Max’s, the four of them returned to Michael’s apartment together, and filed in the door to the living area.

They stood in awkward uncertainty, exchanging glances with one another, until Maria finally said, “So, what are you guys gonna do now?”

She watched while Michael and Liz looked at each other in question, and wondered jealously if they were speaking with that language she couldn’t hear. She was really hating witnessing all this supernatural stuff they were able to do with each other. She’d thought about just telling Max to take her home after they’d gotten through at his house, but she figured it would make her even crazier to sit at home and wonder about everything they were finding out than it would to just be here and see for herself. Neither option particularly appealed though.

Actually, Liz and Michael weren’t speaking silently. They were just trying to guess at the other’s line of thinking. Liz was listening, but she got no sense of him trying to communicate with her. It made her wonder exactly how paranoid she was being in thinking he could hear her thoughts at any time.

After a moment of inquisitive silence, Liz said, “Um....I guess I kinda have the idea that you could tune into my thoughts just- whenever. It, uh- it’s making me a little paranoid,” she admitted.

“Tell me about it,” Michael said in agreement.

“I’d really like to find out if that’s true. Or, do we actually have to be connected first? And as far as connecting goes... I don’t understand how we can just do that even when we’re trying not to. I mean, the thing doesn’t have a life of its own, right? There has to be some way to control it, don’t you think?” She asked the question of Michael, but she looked at Max and Maria to see if they had any insight to offer. She certainly hoped they could learn to control it, otherwise she would be leery of ever even looking at Michael again for fear of forming a connection at some inopportune moment.

“Maybe there is. But the only way to find out is to practice with it,” Max reluctantly concluded. “Find out if maybe something triggers it, or if you’re unconsciously doing something that brings it to life.”

The last thing he wanted to do was encourage them to work on it and strengthen this bond between them, but he didn’t like the idea of Michael being in Liz’s head at any and all times either.

“Well, we definitely know that when one of us uses our powers it activates it,” Michael said ruefully.

“But only at a certain distance,” Liz put in.

“Right,” he agreed with a nod.

“Is that the only time, do you think?” she asked. If that was the case, it shouldn’t be that big a problem. But then there was that thing about feeling each other’s emotions. That hadn’t really felt the same as a connection though. At least, not at first.

Shrugging, Michael replied, “Like Maxwell said, I guess there’s only one way to find out.” He glanced over at Max, but he wasn’t exactly seeking his approval, he told himself. He was just checking on his reception of the idea.

To be honest, Michael really didn’t relish giving Liz another opportunity to get inside his head himself. But he needed to find out everything he could about this thing with an intensity that almost bordered on desperation.

Liz glanced at Max and Maria apologetically, then asked Michael, “So how should we do that?”

In lieu of a reply, Michael reached up to give Maria’s elbow a gentle squeeze before moving away towards the kitchen, and motioned Liz to follow.

She looked up at Max, and he gave her a slight smile of supportive understanding that tugged at her heart. He was being so great about this thing. Him and Maria both. She knew they had to be hating every minute of this, but they hadn’t spoken a word of protest about their experimenting all night. Liz briefly lay a hand over Max’s heart and tried to convey all her gratitude and appreciation with the simple touch, and Max covered it with his own to give it a light squeeze before sending her on her way.

She pulled herself away from him and moved across the room to join Michael, who sat sideways on one of the barstools at the counter that separated the tiny kitchen from the rest of the apartment.

“Have a seat,” he invited, indicating the twin to his stool.

Liz slipped off her jacket as Michael had done and laid it on top of the bar. Tucking her hair behind her ear as she sat, she said somewhat nervously, “What are we doing?”

Michael could feel her uneasiness with the whole situation. Or maybe he just heard it in her voice and felt deeply empathetic. He didn’t know whether he could be sure the emotions he felt were hers or his anymore.

“Relax,” he told her soothingly. “I just thought we could see if we connect without trying to when we’re this close.”

Liz nodded her comprehension and shifted on the hard seat. She didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands, and finally just clasped them loosely together in her lap. Hesitantly, she looked over at Michael, and waited tensely to see what would happen.

Michael let his eyes meet hers and braced himself for her entry. They gazed at each other for a few strained moments, but no connection formed.

Both of them breathed a sigh of relief, but then Liz said, “You know, this really doesn’t prove anything. We were braced against it. All those times before, it happened when we weren’t expecting it.”

Frowning at her logic, he replied, “Well, we can’t exactly sit here and be unsuspecting, Liz, so I don’t see how we can test that theory. Maybe it just takes more than looking at each other.” He pulled a face. “When we aren’t using our powers, that is. Let me just...” He lifted his hand to hover near her lap. “I wanna try something, okay?” He waited for her nod of assent before moving to lay his hand gingerly atop her forearm.

In only an instant, he was inundated with a wash of emotion that wasn’t his own. Curious dread, guilt, and apprehension all settled over him in a tangled coil. It didn’t feel exactly like they were connected, he couldn’t actually feel her inside him, it just seemed like some kind of instinctual knowing what she was feeling at the moment. But then she looked up at him with a slight frown of disquiet, and that was all it took to form a genuine connection between them.

When Liz was inexorably drawn into Michael’s subconscious, she let herself be pulled there and thought wryly, I guess that’s one of those triggers Max mentioned.

She was slightly startled to hear an answering echo say dryly, Yeah. Definitely something we should avoid in the future.

Liz couldn’t get used to hearing him talk inside her head like that. It was such an odd feeling. It wasn’t like hearing spoken words, but it was more vocal than if she were just hearing herself think. It was more like a subtle vibration of tones inside her head that somehow managed to convey all the inflections that his voice would have if he spoke aloud. Sitting this close, she had no trouble hearing him perfectly.

Responding to his last statement, she thought back to him, Maybe we should make it a rule. No touching, not even accidentally, when we’re in public.

She could feel his amusement as he made the comment, Looks like you’re following a lot of rules these days.

She knew then that he’d ‘seen’ her list of rules for her and Max and felt a distinct sense of encroachment. Her indignation increased when she heard him silently ask with a frown, What’s this about rule # 23?

Hey! That is something that’s just between me and Max, Michael. Get out!

Giving him a dark look, she thought, Obviously, we are gonna have to have some rules about invading each other’s private thoughts.

Hey, I couldn’t help it
, he protested. It was right there.

Well, your little makeout session with Maria before we interrupted is right there too, but you don’t see me delving into it and making personal comments about it, now do you?

Feeling a mild sense of outrage, Michael hastily tried to pull his thoughts into hiding, resenting her intrusion into what had been a very personal moment.

Grimly, he asked, What were you saying about some rules?

She could feel him trying to tuck his thoughts away, but it wasn’t working. She could still clearly hear the flirty comments Maria had made earlier to encourage Michael to kiss her, and Liz felt the surge of lust and love Michael had felt when he’d complied.

Appalled, Liz desperately tried to block all that out, and she returned in a thought every bit as grim as his had been, I don’t think rules are gonna do any good. Maybe we should just break the connection.

Michael’s first instinct was to agree. Everything in him objected to the idea of her seeing things he was determined would remain hidden. But at the last minute, he shook his head in dissent.

“We need to figure out a way to block this kind of thing, Liz. I want to find out everything we can about this connection, but we can’t do that if we’re constantly worrying about what the other one is gonna see.”

“But what if we can’t do that, Michael? I don’t want you horning in on all my private thoughts. Y’know, they call them private for a reason.”

He gave her a look of exasperation. “Look, I probably have a lot more thoughts I wanna keep private than you do, but you want to find out the reason for this thing, right?” he asked, already knowing the answer. “And I know the answer’s in there somewhere. We just have to look.”

“And how exactly are you planning to go about doing that, Michael?” Max asked with displeasure, as he and Maria joined them at the bar.

Michael looked at them in surprise. Neither he, nor Liz had been aware that they’d started speaking aloud, allowing Max and Maria to hear the latter part of their conversation. The two of them had listened to Liz’s protests about Michael’s entry into her private thoughts with grim dismay. It was one thing to think Michael and Liz had the ability to know everything there was to know about each other, but to hear them voice an actual confirmation of it made it really hit home.

Fighting back the jealousy that threatened to consume him, Max asked with dark skepticism, “How do you think you’re going to find the answers about this connection inside each other?”

Michael’s brows drew down in frustration as he grappled for an answer. He couldn’t explain why he thought the answers were hidden somewhere inside the connection itself, and he wasn’t really even sure what to do to get at them, he just somehow knew they were there.

“I don’t know how, okay? I just know they’re there. I feel it,” he finally replied feelingly. “We just have to... keep connecting, and- I don’t know...explore it.” Looking at Maria and Max, he said in acknowledgement, “Look, I know none of us are crazy about this whole thing, but I think we all need to get some answers about it, and this is the only way I know how to get them. But I’m up for suggestions if anyone else thinks there’s a better way.” He looked at each of them in turn, and waited for an answer.

Max looked at Liz unhappily, wishing there was some other way to do this. He’d known the whole purpose for tonight was to find some answers about the thing, and he agreed with the plan in theory. It was just that watching them go about it now was stirring up all kinds of objections in him. He wanted them to stop, but at the same time, he wanted to know more about it.

Reluctantly, he shook his head in answer to Michael’s question, and abjectly prepared himself to have to watch his girlfriend share her innermost being with his ‘used to be’ best friend.

Maria looked between Liz and Michael broodingly and asked, “Well, do you think you can at least block each other from seeing everything?”

Liz reached out to touch her on the arm and replied emphatically, “Believe me, Maria. We’re going to do everything possible.”

Slowly, Maria sighed in acceptance. She knew none of this could be very easy for them either, but it just seemed so much worse to have to stand on the sidelines and watch it all unfold in front of her.

She and Michael exchanged a look much the same as the one Max and Liz were sharing at the moment, as each of them tried to silently bolster and reassure one another.

Finally, Max and Maria retreated to the living area with unwilling footsteps, and settled themselves side-by-side on the couch.

Michael and Liz watched them go, feeling conflicted about doing this because of what it was putting them through. But they both felt that the sooner they found the reason for this thing, the better off they would all be. Hopefully.

They looked at one another uncertainly, and Liz said, “, how did you want to do this? You know, I could feel you trying to hide your thoughts before, but I could still see them.”

Michael thought for a moment, then said, “Let’s just connect, and focus all our concentration on keeping each other blocked out. Maybe if that’s the only thing we focus on we can figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

It sounded as good a plan as any to Liz, and she nodded her head in agreement.

He watched her take a deep breath, and asked, “Ready?”

Nodding, she lifted her gaze to his, and he reached out to grasp her forearm, the same as he had before.

In the next breath they were connected.

Again, Liz felt a twinge of disconcertment at how easily that happened between them. They really were going to have to be careful about making contact when they were in public from now on.

Michael’s energy and emotions flowed all around her. The first thing she became aware of was his conflict regarding this whole thing, and his need to know why the connection was there felt even more urgent than her own. What was it that was pushing them in this, she wondered uneasily. She could feel Michael’s worry and remorse over Maria and her feelings, and there was a sense of regret that seemed to be attached to Max somehow.

At the same time that she felt a slight resistance go up in him, she heard him tell her, Focus, Liz.

Turning her attention towards the matter at hand, Liz focused all her concentration on forming some kind of wall around her thoughts to keep Michael out. She could feel the brushing of his mind against hers, and she did everything she could think of to block him, pulling her thoughts back into the deepest corner she could find, and trying to exert an actual force against him to push him away. At the same time that she was doing all that, she could feel the sensation of something pressing against her mind, as Michael tried to do the same to her.

But in spite of their best efforts, he was still there in her head, a presence she couldn’t seem to expel, and though his thoughts were somewhat muted, she could still hear the whirling of his mind.

After several minutes of the struggle, Liz thought, This isn’t working, Michael. She felt, more than heard his concession, and suggested, What if, instead of me trying to keep you out, I just, like, try to keep myself from seeing your thoughts, and you do the same with me?

Michael nodded. It’s worth a try.

Going at it with a different approach, Liz began to reign in her subconscious mind and try to separate it from his, so his thoughts would no longer be audible to her. She pulled with all the power her mind could summon, but she was perturbed to find there seemed to be just no getting them apart.

She could tell Michael was having no more success than she was, and after a few moments, she heard him explode with frustration. What is this thing that binds us together like this?! It’s the same as with our energy. Once they come together, it’s like they fuse or something.

Trying to ignore the heated wave of emotion he’d set off inside her with his spurt of temper, Liz sent calming thoughts his way, and said mentally, Let’s just try something else, okay?

Sighing shortly, he rubbed a hand over his mouth and tried to calm down. What? he asked for her idea.

Well, maybe each of us could just try to focus on one thing, you know? Like, you just concentrate on getting inside my thoughts, and I’ll focus on keeping you out. Maybe if I don’t let myself be distracted by what’s going on in your head, I can figure out a way to anticipate you, and keep you from getting in.

Michael nodded in favor of the strategy. Sorta, you be defensive, I’ll be offensive, he clarified.

Right, she agreed.

Okay, let’s try it.

He gave her a moment to shore up her defenses, and Liz tried to gather her thoughts and pull them back into what felt like the deepest reaches of her mind. When she felt Michael advance upon them, she attempted to get a sense of where he would make his entry. Since he wasn’t focusing on restricting her access to his thoughts at all, it wasn’t hard to read his intentions, and she put everything she had into throwing up a defensive block and push him back. She thought she’d been successful when she felt him pull away and come at them from another angle, but she became distracted by a sudden series of flashes that came from Michael’s unguarded mind.


Darkness all around, heart pounding with fear as a small, trembling figure huddles close.


A man, waving a belt around wildly, his face contorted with fury, as he shouts, “I’ll have her taken away! Is that what you want, you little snot?! Don’t think I won’t!”


A middle-aged woman, dragging a struggling little girl towards a dark sedan, the girl squirming desperately within her grasp, and wailing Michael’s name.


The car, pulling away, a tiny, pale face pressed against the back window as a small boy chases behind screaming, “Wait! Take me too! I’m her brother! Sara! I’m sorry, Sara! I’m sorry!”

The heartrending emotion that was left in the wake of the flashes made Liz gasp, and tears choked her throat. Her guard against Michael’s intrusion into her thoughts was all but forgotten as the troubling images took root in her mind, allowing Michael an unchallenged entrance with his next approach. Once inside, he became aware of what she’d seen almost immediately.

Liz felt a sudden withdrawal as he swiftly turned his attention to his own thoughts, and he desperately tried to push her away, while at the same time doing his utmost to shield them.

Get out, Liz! he ordered her fiercely.

Still trying to assimilate what she’d just seen, Liz was unconsciously searching his memories for answers to some of the questions the flashes had wrought. Michael, what...?

Realizing what she was doing, he pushed at her harder and thought harshly, I mean it, Liz! Get out! NOW!

Liz hardly even heard him. Her mind was whirling a mile a minute as she tried to fill in all the blanks of the story that had just played out.

Michael had a sister? How was that even possible? What had happened to her? And how was it that he’d gone through an obviously traumatising situation like that, and nobody knew? She was almost positive Max didn’t know about it. Or Maria either.

Not until she felt him forcibly pushing at her mind, did she realize that she was still intruding on his thoughts, and it was more than apparent that he wanted her out. But she was unwilling to just let this go. Why hadn’t he ever told anybody?

Michael, who was that? Was she...?

I’m not gonna tell you again, Liz,” he interrupted, infuriated by this invasion, and even more incensed that she wasn’t listening to him, and wouldn’t back off. He was terrified of what else she might see if he didn’t get her out immediately, and he shouted insistently into her head, GET OUT!! With that, he gave her a forceful mental shove that hit her with the impact of a physical blow, and she recoiled violently, her hands flying to her head as if she really had been hit.

She saw stars for a moment as pain bloomed inside her skull, and she groaned softly while pressing her palms against the sides of her head as if she could hold the pain at bay that way.

Instantly remorseful, Michael jumped from his stool and grabbed hold of her upper arms. “Liz! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...”

Max elbowed him aside as he rushed to Liz’s aid, and he asked Michael furiously, “What did you do?!”

Michael looked at Max guiltily before turning his gaze back to Liz , whose head was now cradled in Max’s hands.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I just...pushed her out of my head. Hard,” he admitted regretfully.

Knowing the two boys didn’t need another bone of contention between them, Liz forced herself to ignore the pain that had now faded to a throbbing ache, and pulled Max’s hands from her scalp to hold them in hers.

“I’m alright, Max. Michael didn’t mean to,” she glanced at Michael with a silent assurance of forgiveness, then lifted her eyes to Max’s to see the expression of worry there. She gave his hands a reassuring squeeze, and said, “Really, I’m fine. We were just trying to figure out a way to block each other from our thoughts. And I think we found it,” she ended dryly.

“Yeah, but I won’t ever do that again, Liz,” Michael promised. “If I’d had any idea it would hurt you like that, I swear I never would’ve done it in the first place.”

“I know, Michael. It’s okay. Really,” she assured him. “You know, I think maybe what we were doing before that might have been working.”

Grateful that she was willing to forgive and forget, and that she hadn’t said anything to the others about the flashes, he fell in with her attempt to move on, and said quietly, “Yeah. You may be right.”

“But you aren’t gonna work on it anymore tonight, right?” Maria said imploringly to them both as she looked at Liz with concern. “I mean, you could’ve given her a concussion or something for pete’s sake,” she declared, lifting a hand to lightly place it on the back of Liz’s head. She hated to see her keep getting hurt from this thing. As far as she could see, this stupid connection had absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

“Maria, no. I really am okay,” Liz insisted, hoping the throb above her right eyebrow couldn’t be seen pounding underneath her skin the way it felt like it was doing.

Max studied her carefully, and said, “Just the same, I think Maria’s right. Why don’t you guys just take a break from it tonight? You should probably rest if you’re still gonna do the dream thing later on,” he told Liz, gently pulling one of his hands free to stroke her upper arm in a quest for a more substantial physical contact.

After everything she’d undergone today, he needed to reassure himself that she was okay. He didn’t think he could hate this connection any more passionately than he did. Not only because of the facets of it that aroused him to jealousy, but because every time they did anything with it, Liz ended up suffering for it. He wished he could just forbid them from ever messing with the thing again, but he knew he couldn’t do that. Ultimately, it was Liz’s decision as to how they dealt with it.

“Well, if we’re basically through here, why don’t I take you home, Maria,” Michael suggested.

Frowning slightly, Maria agreed. “Yeah, alright.”

She hated to miss out on their attempts to learn more of the aliens’ past tonight, but she had to go home and cover for Liz in case her parents happened to call.

Pushing Liz’s hair behind her shoulder, Maria asked gently, “You’ll be okay?”

Liz caught her forearm in a light grip and looked up at her, feeling immensely grateful to have her best friend back. “I’ll be fine, Maria,” she assured her warmly. “Thanks.”

“Okay,” Maria replied, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I promise I’ll tell you everything we find out.”

Forcing herself to be content with that, Maria let Michael lead her out after he’d said a subdued, “Be back later.”

When the door closed behind them, Liz looked up at Max solemnly, and he pulled her up from the stool and into his arms. She hugged him back tightly and thought that this was all she needed to deliver peace after all the turmoil of this day. His loving arms enfolding her close against his heart.

After a long moment, Max lowered his lips to kiss her forehead and said softly, “Now will you let me heal your head?”

Her lips curved slightly in affectionate amusement, not terribly surprised that she’d been unable to hide her pain from him. Though it might seem that this connection with Michael overshadowed what she had with Max, she knew that could never possibly be true. She and Max had a heart’s intuition of one another, and a language of the soul that needed no words, not even silent ones, to communicate that which lay at the innermost part of their beings. Overly poetic, maybe, but true nonetheless.

As she allowed him to place his hands on either side of her head, the stance reminded her poignantly of the one from so long ago when he’d reversed their connection to let her ‘see’ him. She’d known that day that her life would never be the same. And she’d never been more right about anything.

Not only had Max revealed the existence of far-away worlds that day when he’d risked saving her life, but he’d awakened her to a love so deep and pure and encompassing, she’d never even imagined anything like it existed. And he did it all with a single touch of these gentle, healing hands. She realized suddenly that all these changes went hand-in-hand with everything she’d known with Max since that day, and the trade-off was more than worth it.

Curling her fingers around his wrists, she looked deeply into his eyes while her own glowed with emotion, and said softly, “Heal me, Max.”

Everything she was feeling poured into him through their connection, and Max sighed as the warmth of it flooded his heart. Nothing she could’ve said would’ve made him feel more favorable towards her connection with Michael than the sentiment she was sending him now. And nothing could’ve made him feel more like a vital part of her happiness than the feeling that she’d never known what true happiness was until that day he’d healed her.

Max’s hands gently tightened around her hair reflexively as he thought to himself, she might not possess the alien power of healing, but still, she held the ability to heal all the dark places in his heart, and his chest swelled with an overwhelming feeling of loving gratitude.

“No, Liz,” he gently refuted, as he gazed into her eyes with an adoring look of earnestness. “You heal me,” he quietly avowed.

Chapter 47

When Max had finished healing her headache, its tingling aftereffects lingered inside her head, while the warm current of their emotions continued to flow through their open connection. His reverent words to her still rang in her ears. And that, coupled with the outpouring of love and enamored appreciation Liz could feel inside him, made her own heart feel even fuller if that were possible.

Being connected to Max like this was better than anything she could imagine. His emotions always had the effect of buoying and swelling her own, as hers, in turn, did to his, and they sometimes pushed each other so high she wasn’t sure how they could contain the seeming overabundance of sensation. But the best part was the way their emotions intertwined together, creating an intricately woven tapestry of feeling between them that somehow seemed to bind them together, and when things got intense, it was almost impossible to tell which of them the feelings originated from. It was as close to being one with a person she could conceive of, short of making love.

There was such a vast difference between their connection and the way it felt when she connected with Michael. With him, there was always this guarded sense of cautiousness, like they were connected, but they were trying not to really BE connected. But with Max, it was always an open exchange of emotion. He laid everything he was open to her, and she was more than willing to share all of herself with him. With them, it felt like they connected on every level possible.

As they stood there silently sharing the depth of their love for one another, their heads slowly began to tilt towards one another’s simultaneously, and finally came together in a perfect moment of breathless expectancy. Gently, Max brushed his lips across the petal-like softness of hers, then after a minute pause, angled his head to possess her mouth more completely, and Liz welcomed him in wholeheartedly.

A sweet feeling of peace from all the trauma of the day stole over them both with the pliant caress of lips, but as the moment wore on, the warm glow of tranquility was steadily replaced by a more restless kind of heat.

While their mouths moved against one another’s feelingly, Liz closed the distance between them, sliding her hands up his arms and stepping forward until she was up against his chest, and Max dropped one of his hands from her face to wrap his arm around her waist and hold her tightly to him. His other hand tunneled under the ebony fall of her hair to cup the back of her head, and without conscious thought, Liz tilted her head back further to fit her scalp more firmly into his palm.

The kiss gained momentum as Max took advantage of the sharper angle, urging her lips wider, and pressing inside with a heated glide of his tongue. He stroked the dark interior of her mouth with a studied thoroughness, as though he could drink in her very essence that way. And as he fed on her sweetness like a man starved for the taste of dessert, Liz met each tender lash of his tongue with an equally hungry thrust of her own.

Max pressed forward against her, doing his utmost to imprint her on his body, and the swaying motions of his head became a little less smooth, a little more urgent, as his lips twisted against hers and his tongue delved deep.

He wanted to absolutely immerse himself in her. To sink so deep inside her that his every inhale was filled with the scent of her, that every precious beat of her heart was the only sound he could hear, that she became the very air he breathed. But at the same time, he wished he could draw her tiny form deep inside himself. That he could enfold her within his depths until no harm could possibly reach her.

Thoughts of all the dangers that had seemed to come within touching distance of her that day had him tightening his hold on her, and hugging her close. This latest incident with Michael in her head had been only the last in a string of things that could’ve ended up seriously hurting her, or even worse.

As they pulled away from each other slightly to drag in desperately needed air, Max began to trail open-mouthed kisses towards her neck. Without taking his lips from her flesh, he rasped huskily, “You really scared me today, Liz.” Remembering where the most serious threat had come from, and that they couldn’t even be sure she was out of danger yet, his hands fisted around her shirt and hair as if to reassure himself she was really here, safe in his arms. Working his way back up from her neck, he lay a fierce kiss upon her lips, and in a tone of fearfulness he ground out, “If Nicholas ever got his hands on you...”

“Shhh,” she soothed softly, drawing his head down, and closing her lips over his to cut the thought off mid-sentence.

The connection allowed her to feel his utter fear for her safety, and the worry that if anything happened it would be entirely his fault for dragging her into all this, and her brows drew together in a slight frown of disturbance. Holding his face gently within her hands, she tried to chase away all his fears with the tender movements of her lips on his, and Max clutched her close and allowed himself to be pulled under the sensual spell she always wove over him with her kisses.

Her ardent stroking of his lips was a sweet paradox, momentarily easing his worries and bringing comfort, but also stirring a hot rush of desire within him. And though she’d offered it in an attempt to soothe, Max could feel the matching sensation of excitement the kiss was arousing in Liz.

Dragging her lips from his, Liz slid them across his jaw, and turned her face into his neck. Pressing occasional kisses there, and alternately brushing his skin with the softness of her cheek, she reassured him breathlessly. “We don’t know it really even was Nicholas, Max. And... if it was.. we know what to watch out for now.”

Just because they knew to watch out for him didn’t mean they’d be able to stop him if he tried to do something else to Liz, but Max didn’t voice the frightening thought aloud. Even the idea of that happening made his heart pound with terror instead of the excitement her lips were invoking. Nicholas was a powerful enemy. And if it ever came down to a fight between them, Max wasn’t sure they would be able to defeat him. But he knew he’d die trying if it meant keeping Liz safe.

Cupping her head in his hands, he eased her lips from his neck and looked into her eyes with an expression of sincere earnestness, his breath rushing heavily. “I just want you to know, Liz.. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure nothing ever happens to you.”

Liz looked up at him warmly. Though she didn’t like the idea of Max putting his own life in danger to keep her safe, she knew he was offering the only thing he could to try and make them both feel better about all this.

“I know,” she assured him lovingly, curling a hand around his neck to stroke his hair lightly. “You always have, Max. I always feel safe when I’m with you. And- if this really is Nicholas watching us...we’ll stop him somehow. I have faith in you.”

Emotion tightened Max’s throat. Her assurances were like a benediction that somehow managed to give him ease, and her confidence in him made him feel stronger and more capable of handling the situation.

Admiring appreciation swelled inside his chest, and a fierce determination to protect this strong, but delicate girl who held his entire world in her small hands overtook him.

“I love you, Liz,” he declared gruffly, enclosing her within the tight ring of his arms once more, and passionately taking her lips with his.

The emotional fervor of his kiss made Liz’s breath catch in her throat, and his ardency sent a spiral of heated pleasure unfurling low in her belly. A low sound of desire escaped her throat, and her fingers closed around the fringe of hair at the nape of his neck, as she crowded close against him and kissed him back with a quicksilver flash of need.

Her tongue swept inside his mouth with a fevered avariciousness that heated his blood, and Max responded immediately with an answering greed, his claim on her mouth growing hungrier as he shifted against her restively.

His small movements against her were producing a delicious friction between the front of their bodies, and as they continued to ply each other with fervid kisses, Liz found herself moving slightly in counterpoint. His arms, like steel bands around her waist, tightened still further, and at first, she thought he was trying to still her tiny movements. But he was only pulling her hips more snugly into his.

He swept her hair aside to hungrily mouth the delicate skin at the curve of her neck, and Liz gave a breathy little moan as her head fell back to give him access. The feel of his hardness pressing into her near the juncture of her thighs sent a lightning bolt of charged awareness through her, and she clung to him as her legs grew weak at the dual stimulation of his mouth gently biting at her throat, and his obvious arousal teasing at her senses.

Max held her up as she sagged against him, and slowly began stepping her backwards toward the couch, his lips never pausing in their amorous activities, sliding up over her chin, and latching onto her mouth once more.

In only a matter of several steps they had crossed the expanse of the small living area, and when they had reached the couch, Max sank down upon it and pulled her with him. She ended up on her knees beside where he sat, and Max tipped his head back to continue to kiss her in a reaching manner, while placing a hand at the bend of her knee to urge her leg over his lap. Following his bidding willingly, Liz straddled his hips and allowed him to pull her in tight against his body, then wound her arms around his shoulders. She made a whimpering sound as the position pressed her even more intimately against him, and her thighs clenched around his, her pulse tripping chaotically.

Max gasped at her involuntary thrusting motion against him, and his fingertips dug into the flesh of her hips where he held her. All the blood seemed to rush from his head to pulse low in his body, leaving him dizzy and mindless to everything but the feel of her surrounding him, and the heat that was cradling him intimately.

Their kisses grew needy and desperate as the level of one another’s arousal communicated itself through their connection to drive their own even higher. Liz was vaguely aware that things were skittering dangerously out of control, but it was the stirring of energy at her center that finally raised a red flag of caution in her mind, and brought with it a sobering rush of awareness.

Still, it was hard to break away from the intensity of feeling that was keeping them linked and the drugging pleasure Max was evoking with his mouth and body.

Liz reluctantly pulled away from his kiss, but he didn’t let her go far, cupping the back of her head in his hand, and sliding his lips across her cheek to suck the lobe of her ear into his mouth.

Struggling to think clearly, Liz gasped out, “Max, we can’t... we can’t do this here.”

He made no indication that he’d heard, but continued worrying her tender flesh with his teeth.

Forcing out further words of caution, she said breathlessly, “Michael will... absolutely have a kitten if he- if he finds us here... doing this.”

That finally got a verbal response from him, but he didn’t remove his mouth from the sensitive hollow behind her ear as he muttered in unconcern, “Let him.”

She subsided momentarily, as he dragged his lips back over her face to close over hers with hungry insistence. But her energy was fully charged now, and the worry that it might somehow bring Michael bursting in on them kept her from responding as fully as she wanted to.

Even responding half-heartedly, the tide of desire threatened to pull her back under if only she would let it. Max’s hands slowly moved up and down her back, molding her against him, and making it difficult to remember why she’d been wanting to call a halt to this in the first place. She somehow managed to retain some small shred of cognizance, and with a tiny sound of reluctance, tore her lips away.

Max instantly buried his face in her neck, and she could feel the warm wetness of his tongue lapping at the base of her throat as she swallowed and said weakly, “Yeah, but... he’s still really um- really upset about the last time. This would... it would only make things worse.”

Max finally pulled away and looked up at her with a frown, his cheeks flushed with a hectic heat.

“Why are you so concerned about what Michael will think?” he rasped out a bit crossly.

Cupping the sides of his neck in her hands, Liz frowned too, and said protestingly, “Max, come on, you know that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just...things are already so- strained between everybody, I think we should just try and keep the peace, you know?”

Feeling frustrated, and resentful of the fact that Michael once again seemed to be at the root of his problems, Max said, “Well, that may be true, Liz. But it just seems kinda funny that only a few seconds ago we were all wrapped up in each other, and now all you seem to be thinking about is Michael.”

Liz was taken aback by what she could only see as an accusation from him, and she was filled with a stunned hurt. They’d been connected- were still connected even. He had to know as well as she did that the pulling together of her energy was the only reason for Michael being in her thoughts at all. What exactly was he accusing her of?

As soon as the words had left his mouth, Max wanted to call them back. How could he have said something like that to her? Besides being completely irrational, it had been insulting to Liz in its implications. Even though he was feeling really raw about the connection stuff tonight, Max never would have believed it of himself to take those feelings of resentment out on Liz.

“Max, that’s not true,” she denied in a small wounded voice that made his chest feel tight with guilt and self-reproach. And when he felt the stab of her hurt come at him through the connection, he felt doubly disgusted with himself.

His face drawn in lines of remorse, he framed her face with his hands and tried to retract what he’d said. “I know it’s not. I’m sorry, Liz, I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t mean it.” Gathering her against his chest, he said again, “I’m sorry.”

Upon feeling the genuine flood of regret that came pouring from him, Liz rested her mouth against his shoulder and allowed herself to be comforted, but the accusation still stung a little. She knew the connection with Michael could probably be cited as the motivation behind it. It couldn’t have been easy for Max to stand by and watch them tonight, she was sure. But she thought they’d laid all Max’s doubts and uncertainties over her and Michael to rest last night.

Now that her mind was no longer clouded with passionate emotion though, she suddenly became aware of the quiet feelings of jealousy and resentment that were seething deep inside him, and she realized just how hard a time he was having dealing with all of this.

Guilt over this connection reared its ugly head for the umpteenth time that night. Not only because it had been making Max feel like this and she hadn’t known, but also because the thing existed at all. Whether that was something she could help or not.

Pulling herself back from his embrace, she cupped her hands lightly over his ears and said with a small frown of distress, “Oh, Max, I’m sorry too. Why didn’t you tell me how much all this was bothering you?”

Chagrined that he hadn’t hidden it better, Max shrugged slightly, as his eyes fell away.

“I didn’t want you worrying about it. You’ve got enough to handle without worrying about my petty problems over this thing.”

Tilting his face up to hers, she gently chided, “They aren’t petty if they’re making you feel this way, Max.”

Liz had known he was feeling a little insecure because of it, and that it was creating tensions between him and Michael, but she hadn’t realized just how much it was eating at him. And he’d been trying to keep it all in for her sake.

She brushed a hand tenderly over his hair. “Tell me what I can do to make it better,” she urged, wanting to do whatever she could to take away his turmoil. “I thought exploring it was what was best for everyone, but maybe I was wrong. If you want us to stop we will.”

Lifting a hand to curl around her forearm, he said in assurance, “I don’t want you to stop. You’re right, we do need some answers about it. You aren’t doing anything wrong, Liz. This is... it’s my problem, and I’m just gonna have to get over it, that’s all.”

Looking at him unhappily, Liz said, “You know how much I love you, right? And that I’d give anything if this connection between me and Michael just wasn’t there. It’s been nothing but trouble since the day we found out about it, and I hate it. You know all that, right?”

Skimming his hand lightly up and down her arm, he looked into her eyes and said with gentle affirmation, “Yes, I know all that. I don’t think I really have an issue with any of that, Liz. It’s just...” he struggled with himself, then admitted with a grimace, “It’s just- sharing you I’m having a problem with. “

Her eyes dark and melancholy, she said with soft regret, “Max, I’m sorry.”

His hands came up to frame her face, and he shook his head as he insisted, “You don’t have anything to be sorry for. None of this is your fault, Liz. And I don’t want you to worry about it, okay? Just- keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m gonna deal with this. And I promise, no more remarks like the one I made before,” he said apologetically. “I really am sorry for saying that to you,” he told her again remorsefully.

“It’s okay,” she said in easy forgiveness, stroking his cheek with her thumb.

Suddenly, a huge yawn overtook her. Smothering it with her hand, she said sheepishly, “Oh, excuse me.”

Max smiled affectionately and tucked her hair behind her ear.

“You must be worn out. You used a lot of energy tonight.”

Yeah, I am pretty tired,” she confessed. “But we aren’t done yet. We still have to try sharing a dream.”

Smoothing her hair down her back, he said, “Well, you have to be asleep to do that anyway. Why don’t you just get some rest before Michael gets back?”

As she yawned again, Liz thought that sounded like a pretty good idea.

Before getting off his lap, she leaned in to give him a soft lingering kiss, and Max’s lips moved under hers in a slow, sweet response.

When they broke away, she rested her forehead lightly against his.

After a moment of tranquil silence, she said with a quirk of her lips, “You know, I think the next thing I need to work on is getting my energy to behave when we do this kind of thing. You wanna help me practice?” she asked impishly.

Max grinned in answer. “Just tell me when and I’m there.”

*~~~~~~~~~~* *~~~~~~~~~~*

Michael entered his apartment to utter silence, and looked around quizzically, wondering if Max had just taken Liz home to his house after all. He wouldn’t blame Max if he had after the way he’d hurt her earlier, Michael thought with self-disgust.

But actually, they were still there. Michael found them cuddled together on the couch, both of them fast asleep. Max was slouched low on the cushions, his legs stretched out in front of him, with feet resting on the coffee table, and Liz was curled up at his side, her head lying on his shoulder, and legs tucked up to rest half-across his lap. Both were held fast in one another’s arms.

They were a peaceful sight there on his living room couch. A loving sight. A sight that bugged Michael to no end.

He’d felt the telltale surge of Liz’s energy not long after he’d left the apartment. It had been weak and somewhat vague, making Michael wonder just exactly how far this connection between them could reach, but the feeling had been unmistakable. He’d kinda been on the lookout for it.

He’d wanted to hurry and get Maria home as quickly as possible, so he could get back and police their actions, but Maria had been full of questions once he’d gotten her there and cut the noise of the bike’s engine. Not wanting her to feel shut out from all of this, he’d tried to curb his impatience, and had answered as many of them as he could. He’d managed to successfully dodge everything she’d asked about the incident that had ended their session, though.

Thankfully, the feeling of Liz’s upsurge in energy had disappeared almost immediately. But he’d been afraid that could just as well be because he’d finally gotten out of the connection’s range. Looking at them now, he thought darkly that either they’d stopped themselves before things had gotten out of control, or they were now in a sated state of blissful sleep. Considering the fact that they were both fully clothed, and he really hadn’t been gone all that long, he figured it was the former.

Slipping off his jacket and tossing it aside, Michael moved across the room and lowered himself into the chair near the end of the couch. Mirroring Max’s pose, he slid down low in the seat, propping his feet on the table near Max’s, and steepled his hands in front of him. Resting his mouth against his clasped hands, he looked at their embracing forms broodingly and tried to figure out what it was that made him go so mental over their being together.

He’d felt like he had his head on more straight today than he had all week, and he knew for sure now that he didn’t harbor any romantic feelings toward Liz. He really never had. It was just that he’d allowed himself to be sucked in by all the possibilities of why this connection existed, and he guessed he’d just been trying to prepare himself for whatever they might find.

It was much the same kind of situation as the one last spring when he and Isabel had been having those dreams about being together, and she’d thought she might be pregnant. He’d had illusions then that that was the way things were supposed to be, and he’d let himself be pulled along in the flow of that as if it were fate. His feelings for Is hadn’t suddenly changed from brotherly to romantic, but once the possibility had been introduced, he’d deluded himself into thinking he just had to be open to their being together, and give it a chance. After all, if it was meant to be, who was he to fight it? And, too, the idea of having his own family with someone he loved had offered a really strong enticement.

But he couldn’t believe anymore that this connection with Liz meant they should be together. He’d really never been able to buy into it completely anyway, because something just wouldn’t let him see her that way. And besides that, there were other people involved. People they loved.

He cared about Maria more than anything in this or any other world, and there was no way he would turn away from her again like he almost had with the Isabel situation, and like he indisputably had after he’d killed Pierce. He still didn’t think it was a good idea for them to be together, for both their sakes, but he knew now that he needed her in his life. In any way he could get her there. He would never cut her out of it like he had before.

And Liz– He’d experienced her feelings for Max in the times he’d connected with her, and it was downright scary to him how much she loved him. Michael didn’t know how someone could so fully entrust their heart to someone else’s safekeeping. And her happiness was so bound up with Max’s, that he honestly couldn’t see how they could even live without each other.

It was a depth of feeling that aroused an unmistakable sense of jealousy within Michael. He couldn’t deny anymore that that was what it was he’d been feeling. And it was a fact that disturbed and utterly baffled him.

How could he possibly feel resentful of something that he could definitely say he wouldn’t want any part of? He would never want his heart’s well-being to be so entangled with someone else’s. And even if he did, he’d already established the fact that he wouldn’t want it to be with Liz. Sure, he’d come to care about her more this past week than he had in the entire year they’d been friends, and though he hated to admit it, he felt really close to her now. It was impossible not to when they knew such intimate facts about one another. And that was not to mention how protective he’d been feeling of her lately. But in spite of all that, he wouldn’t want to be with her. The idea felt all wrong somehow. And even if they were to find out some reason for the connection that might possibly intimate things were supposed to be that way, he would refuse to follow up on it. The same way he and Isabel revolted at the dictate that they be together.

So what was with these feelings of jealousy, he asked himself in consternation, as he studied Liz’s sleeping posture. It was ridiculous for him to feel that way, and he could see absolutely no reason for it, except...

Except... somehow, this insidious feeling of possessiveness had crept in to take up residence inside him without him quite being aware of when it had happened.

There it was. The reason for all his crazy behavior lately. He was surprised he hadn’t realized it before. But now that he did, he felt incredibly foolish in admitting it, even to himself. It really was stupid of him. Even if he hadn’t known that for himself, Max and Liz had certainly told him often enough that this connection didn’t give him any rights over her. And he agreed, in principle.

What did he think he even had to feel possessive of, anyway? He was nothing more to Liz than some random guy she shared this weird and unexplainable connection with. They were only friends. Friends who knew each other better than anyone else probably ever would, and who were capable of doing these pretty incredible things together, but friends nonetheless. Feelings of possessiveness implied there was way more to their relationship than that, and that simply wasn’t true.

He didn’t understand himself anymore. And he knew if Max, Liz, or Maria knew he felt like this, they wouldn’t understand either. Their reactions, if they found out, would probably range from outraged fury to hurt incomprehension. Even imagining what they would think made him feel guilty and angry at himself for feeling this way.

But that was nothing new. He’d felt guilt and self-reproach pressing in on him from all sides tonight. Guilt over the way all this connection stuff was affecting Maria and Max, and over the things Max had said when they’d argued earlier, and most especially over the way he’d physically hurt Liz before. He pretty much felt like an utter jerk all the way around.

Michael sighed dispiritedly and rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. He felt physically and emotionally exhausted, and he wanted nothing more than to just go fall into bed. But they still had this dream thing to get through.

Leaning his head back against the chair’s cushions, he looked sightlessly toward the ceiling and told himself he needed to get up and get things put into place for their experiment. But as he’d sat there, sleep had begun to reach out and draw him in, and it just felt like too much of an effort to get up at the moment.

He told himself he’d just sit there and rest for a few minutes, and then maybe he’d get his second wind.

That was his last thought before sleep claimed its victory over him.


Deep purple clouds hung low in an indigo sky, and the air was heavy and close with the expectancy of the daily meridiem dust storm. In the center of a large walled-in courtyard, two men were engaged in what appeared to be a fierce-looking battle, while two young women sat in a spot of sparse maize-colored grass several yards away.

One of the girls was filing her nails nonchalantly with a palm-sized wedge of something, and the other girl sat beside her with her eyes trained on the men worriedly.

The fair-headed one of the two was shooting sharp blasts of energy from his palm in bright bursts of light that made the air around them crackle with electricity, while the darker-haired man kept throwing up a green-tinted energy-shield just in time to stop each blast from reaching him, and bounced the flash of light off of it to volley it back at his opponent. Both men were sweating profusely in the humid atmosphere as they dodged each deadly blast, sometimes only escaping danger by mere seconds.

The blonde girl sitting on the ground flinched as the fair-headed man missed being hit with one particular bolt only by darting aside at the last minute.

“Maybe we should make them stop,” she said nervously to the other girl.

The girl lifted dark eyes from her task to give the men a cursory look, and said, “Would you relax, Drey? You’ve said that about a hundred times in the past ten killaseconds. They’re just practicing. They know what they’re doing.”

Drey gasped as the brown-haired man barely got his shield up in time to counter two quick successive blasts from his adversary, and the fairer man grinned wickedly in triumph before feinting to the side to avoid the deflected energy.

“What they’re doing is trying to kill each other,” Drey said grimly.

“Nonsense. They’re just letting off a little steam, that’s all.”

The darker man grunted at the impact of the next round of blasts against his shield, then violently threw them back to where they’d originated from.

“That is not all, Laannie,” Drey argued. “Put down that nail slate and just look at them for a second. Rath honestly looks like he’s out for blood.”

Laannie dropped her hands into her lap with a sigh and eyed Rath obediently.

“He does look a little intense,” she finally admitted. “But Zan is giving as good as he gets. He can take care of himself.”

Her eyes fixed on Zan, Drey said worriedly, “That was before. It hasn’t been that long since your transition. He hasn’t gained all his strength back yet.”

At that moment Rath sent a bolt of energy at the outer edge of Zan’s shield where it was the weakest, and it pierced through the green protective force, missing Zan’s vulnerable flesh by only a hair.

“That’s it,” Drey announced wrathfully, jumping to her feet. “You can sit here and file your nails if you want, but I’m putting a stop to this.”

She strode fearlessly toward the two battling men, and once she’d neared them, seemed to knock Rath’s latest burst of power aside with nothing more than a glance, then planted herself midway between them both.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Rath exclaimed angrily. “You do something like that again and I will take you over my knee, you hear me?”

“That was really foolish, Shaan,” Zan added in concerned disapproval. “We could have easily hit you.”

Unfazed by their admonishments, she said stormily, “What, you think you could have killed me? Pity you don’t have that much concern for each other.”

Suddenly the scene shifted. The courtyard melted away to be replaced with a red-gold desert landscape. The same four people were huddled behind a large outcropping of black granite, and there seemed to be nothing around them but sand for miles.

Laannie was peering around the rock, and seemed to be studying the emptiness in front of them. Beside her, Drey leaned with her back against the granite wall, casting a look heavenward as if asking for deliverance, while the two men faced each other and spoke in a low, intense tone.

“I think we should get ready for them and prepare to set up a wall of defense there,” Rath was saying as the scene zoomed into focus.

Zan shook his head. “They aren’t going to come at us from the direction of the city, Rath. That would be too obvious. It’s predictable.”

“Well, they can’t come from any other direction, Zan. Look around us. There’s no cover. I’m telling you, if we try to defend ourselves against a vast open space of desert, we’re going to have our backs to them when they come from the direction of the city,” he pointed in front of them insistently.

“Would you two stop arguing for five killaseconds?” Drey asked exasperatedly. “While you bicker over the best course of action, they’re going to close in on us. Why don’t we just let Laannie seek them out and put an end to all this second-guessing?”

Laannie shook her head regretfully. “Dracaar got wise to that. This is a new troop he’s sending out, and they’ll be guarded against it. I don’t know if I could get in.”

With an impatient move of his head, Rath said, “We don’t have a need for Laannie’s psychic intel if you would just admit that I’m right. It’s asinine to think they would try to approach without the possibility of any stealth at all.”

“It’s not as asinine as thinking Dracaar would do anything so unchallenging as to follow us straight from the city,” Zan countered hotly.

Laannie heaved a long-suffering sigh and said to Drey, “The moment any of this becomes real we’re doomed. You know that, don’t you?”

Suddenly, pandemonium erupted around them, as blasts began to come at them from a dozen different sources atop the bluff they were using as cover.

The four of them hurriedly reached out for one another’s hands as Zan threw his shield into place, but not before one of the flashing bursts of light caught Drey in the shoulder and spun her into the hard granite that had hidden their adversaries from them.


The shouted name seemed to echo hollowly as the three of them jerked awake in the apartment, and Michael was on his feet as if ready to attack before his eyes were even fully open.

They looked at each other disorientedly for a moment, their breath coming in harsh, unsteady gusts, as the vestiges of sleep slowly cleared from their heads.

Michael dropped back down into his seat shakily when awareness had finally returned, and Liz said with breathless uneasiness, “That was so real.” Looking up at Max from her position at his side, she asked, “Did you see it?”

“Yeah,” he answered with a significant look.

“Well, what did you see?” Michael asked them both. “Let’s go over it before we forget it.”

“I don’t think I’m gonna forget this one,” Liz refuted.

“Yeah, me either,” Max agreed. “You’re right, it seemed really- clear this time.”

“Because there were three of us?” she guessed.

Shrugging a little, he replied, “Maybe.”

“Whatever it is you’re doing, maybe you got something from me and Max both that time, and that made it stronger,” Michael suggested.

It sounded as good an explanation as any, and Liz accepted it with a nod.

“So you were both connected to me? That makes it sound like the dreams are coming from me. You think I’m somehow taking memories or something from you and just... turning them into dreams?”

“That’s what it seems like,” Max agreed.

“Like a dream-catcher or something,” Michael put in.

The corner of Liz’s lip tilted up. She kinda liked that. Their dream-catcher. She’d always tried to help Max and the others find out more about where they came from in whatever way she could. This might actually be the first thing she’d done with these new powers that she felt kinda good about. Aside from saving Max from the Dupes, of course.”

“So, you both saw all of it?” she asked them for confirmation. “Zan and Rath practicing their powers, and Laannie and... that other girl watching? And then, the four of them out in the desert when that girl got... shot?” she ended with a wince.

When they both asserted that they had, she said in confusion, “Who was she? I mean, obviously the four of you were fighting together. Where was Ava?”

Max stroked her upper arm absently as he thought back to this dream and the one he and Liz had shared the night before. “I don’t know. But this girl... didn’t Zan call her Shaan?”

Liz nodded upon reflection. “Yeah, I think so. But Laannie called her something different.”

“Doree?” Max suggested, trying to recall.

Frowning a little in contemplation, Liz shook her head. “Darah, maybe?”

Michael had been silent as their questions and recollections had seemed to rouse something inside him that had suddenly solidified into an unaccountable certainty that had turmoil churning in his gut.

“Drey,” he supplied with quiet surety. “Dreyah,” he added Rath’s nickname for her.

Looking at them with tumult in his eyes, he said softly, “She was my sister.”


Okay, enough with the redundant sister revelations, you might be saying right about now. It'll start to get clearer with the next part, though. I hope.

What did everyone think about the dream? I really had fun writing that part, but it's been so long since I've even read any sci-fi I was afraid I might be getting in over my head. Was it bad? Did you see any glaring mistakes? Did I take too much creative license?
Any advice would be appreciated. *smile*

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 15-Oct-2001 2:08:36 AM ]
posted on 20-Sep-2001 8:03:27 PM by Destinee
Wow, guys! Thanks so much for all the great feedback! You really know how to motivate a girl to hurry up with the next part so I can hear more great stuff. *wink*

I'm so glad everyone had only good things to say about the dream sequence. I was just the teensiest bit worried about that part. InkaCajo, your comments honestly gave me the warm fuzzies. Star Wars? *blush* Go on! LOL
Angela35, I'd love to say the coincidence of the desert climate in both lifetimes had been a deliberately planned little cleverness of mine, but that actually hadn't even occurred to me. LOL. I just had something of a Dune-like environment in mind for Antar, and I hadn't even thought about them living in the desert now too. That's a big duh on my part, I guess. I'm glad you pointed it out. *big*

True Blue Healer- I'm so glad you said what you did about all the details. I was afraid people probably thought all the tiny details just made the story looong. LOL. And that's probably true too. I just hope everyone feels the same as you do, and that it adds to the enjoyment of the story as well.

Sheeijan- I hope you weren't too upset with Max about what he said to Liz. I was a little worried about that part too. I was hoping it wouldn't make anyone mad at him for talking to Liz like that, but I didn't think it was realistic for him to always handle her with the very gentlest of kid gloves, especially not when he's experiencing so much turmoil over this connection. I thought he was bound to slip up and say something he would regret sooner or later. But he was properly apologetic afterward, don't you think? That's what I was aiming for.

So, is everyone confused about all the flying sister references? LOL
You'll find out all about who Sara is in the next part. That's actually taking up a pretty big chunk of the chapter. And I'm not sure she'll have all that much bearing on the big picture like most of you might be thinking (although that could change). Her part in all this is really more of an incident that has shaped Michael's character. I hope that doesn't end up being a disappointment. As for whether Michael actually remembers Dreyah, InkaCajo, I think at this point that's just something he instinctively knows, rather than an actual memory. But we are getting there. LOL

I wanted to apologize again for taking so long to update (ballyhoo and Scottie *wink*). I'm pretty well into the next chapter, so hopefully it won't take too long to get that one up.

Again, I appreciate all the feedback. It really made my day. *smile*

Oh, and LindaCrazy4Jason, great pic you got there. *big* Thanks for the free publicity. *wink*

"Whether I die tomorrow or 50 years from now, my destiny is the same. It's you. I want to be with you, Liz. I love you." ~Max

Edited by - Destinee on 09/21/2001 20:08:07
posted on 20-Sep-2001 9:47:45 PM by Destinee
LOL. I'm glad you like the pic so much, Linda. I first noticed it in one of your posts on another thread, and was like whaaa...? How'd my pic get over here? LOL. I'm flattered that you use it like that. *smile*

zannyb- No, Liz isn't Sara. I think I've gotten everyone confused with the two different sister revelations. Sara is someone from Michael's past that made a huge impact on him, and I may use her later in the story, but I don't really have any plans to at the moment. You'll learn all about her in the next chapter. (Maybe more than you want to know). lol

Juliet- Isabel didn't actually participate in the dream, they were just dreaming about her. The only reason the three of them shared the same dream is because they were connected. Probably, the next step will be to try and see if they can connect with Isabel too, so the four of them can share one. I actually haven't gotten that far in my mind yet though. lol

Thanks for the feedback! *smile*

"Whether I die tomorrow or 50 years from now, my destiny is the same. It's you. I want to be with you, Liz. I love you." ~Max
posted on 23-Sep-2001 11:30:51 PM by Destinee
Hey bhoney! *smile*

Thanks for posting! No worries about taking a little long. I actually appreciate the bump. LOL. That's a bummer about your computer. Did you have to go without it for long? I don't think I'd know what to do with myself anymore if I had to go without mine for any length of time. LOL.

I hope you weren't disappointed that Liz isn't Sara. I'm actually a little worried about the whole Sara issue right now. I thought I'd have the next part done by today, but I'm in the middle of a rewrite. *dissapprove* Hopefully, I'll have it ready within the next couple of days at least. Oh, and I'm glad you didn't stay mad at Max for too long. I tried my best to make him make up for it. *wink*

About my art... some of my stuff is posted at the DDD. I think that may be where Linda found that pic. And I've also posted some on the Multimedia board here on this site. But if you want to see all of it, you can go to fotki where I upload it all and look at my album if you want. I thought maybe I'd given you that link before in a pm. Did you ever get that?

Anyway, here's it is:

Thanks for asking. Hope you enjoy it! *smile*

And thanks for the feedback!

"Whether I die tomorrow or 50 years from now, my destiny is the same. It's you. I want to be with you, Liz. I love you." ~Max
posted on 29-Sep-2001 12:21:01 AM by Destinee
For summary and disclaimer, see page 1.

Author 's Note- I think until I get this caught up on the Repost Board I'll keep posting new parts on this thread. Is that really weird to just start doing that this far into the story? I hope it'll be less confusing that way and make it easier for you to catch up if you need to.

I have a lot to say about this part, but I'll try not to blather on for too long. First, I want to give a little warning. This chapter deals with a pretty dark issue, and I wanted to let you know ahead of time. I thought the part of Michael's past that he's been hiding had to be bad enough that he wouldn't want anyone to know about it, but I didn't want it to be so dark that it would actually be disturbing to anyone. I couldn't bring myself to make it too bad, so I'm hoping that the fact that it only remained a threat and nothing actually happened will make it okay with everyone.

I'm honestly not feeling all that great about this part. I was excited about it when I first started writing it, but I don't really think I like the way it turned out. The Mi/L scene lasted way longer than I expected it to, and for anyone who isn't all that into their part, I'm afraid you might not enjoy it. There isn't really any action going on, but loads of character development, I think. There is the tiniest bit of Dreaminess in it, and it set up the next chapter, so I'm hoping that even though it's not the most exciting part of the story, everyone will just hang in with me. *smile*

Chapter 48

Liz awoke to the sweetest feeling of contentment and security she’d ever known. She’d only felt its like one other time in her life, and she thought she could live quite happily until her dying day if she could have nothing else besides waking to this feeling every morning until that day came.

Her slight movements as she snuggled deeper into Max’s chest made his arms tighten reflexively around her just the slightest bit, and a smile tipped up her lips at the unconscious gesture. It was as if, even in sleep, he was determined to never let her go. Waking in his firm embrace felt like heaven. It made her feel cherished and precious to him knowing that he had held onto her so tightly throughout the night, without letting her get so much as a mattress-span away from him.

She tilted her head back slightly to look up into his face, boyish and innocent in sleep, and her heart swelled with loving affection.

He was so beautiful, she thought with a dreamy sigh. He would probably blush furiously if she were to ever tell him that, but it was the truth. Now even more so, with the delicate flush of sleep tinting his bronze skin, his hair laying tousled over his forehead in an adorable mess, thick, dark lashes resting with feather-like softness against his cheeks, and lips...

Ah, those lips.

Liz couldn’t stop herself from lifting a fingertip to trace them with the faintest of touches.

His lips were carved perfection. Whether they were tipped up in his familiar half-grin, frowning in that brooding way he had, or most especially when they were loving her, his lips had the power to lift her heart to the highest peaks and open her up to an incredible world of sensation, or make her aware of his every trouble or worry, usually without even the benefit of a word.

Gentle...passionate...and expressive, she mused, as she lightly followed the outline of their perfect curves. Magic lips...

A silent giggle lit her features upon remembering the whimsical notion she’d had a few nights ago.

Whimsical, yes, but there was no denying that what he kindled inside her with those lips was definitely pure magic.

With her slumberous gaze fixed on his mouth, her thoughts turned dreamily towards memories of passionate encounters between them, and desire came stealing over her lazily.

She had some vague idea in mind of waking him with a little gentle magic of her own, when her sleepy morning reverie was interrupted by the sound of Michael’s bedroom door opening.

He strode out, dressed in sweatpants and a loose t-shirt, and seemed to studiously avoid looking at the two of them curled up underneath the blankets on his sofa-bed. Liz watched as he made his way silently to the kitchen and sluggishly began to go through the motions of putting a pot of coffee on to brew.

Liz looked back at Max with a sense of disappointment. It would’ve been sweet beyond measure to rouse him with tender kisses, and begin their day in a sleepy haze of passion, but the opportunity was lost now.

The situation would’ve had the potential to quickly slip out of control anyway, she admitted wryly to herself.

She threw a glance toward the kitchen to find Michael leaning against the counter while staring fixedly at the filling coffee pot. She hated to leave the warm haven of Max’s arms, but she should really go try to talk to Michael while they had a chance to speak privately. She didn’t know when they would get another chance today between work and school.

They’d made several startling revelations the night before, not the least of which had been what they’d learned from the dream the three of them had shared. Michael hadn’t been able to tell them how he knew the girl, Dreyah, had been his sister in their other life, he’d just said he was sure it was so. And who knew? Maybe it was. The four aliens often seemed to just know certain things by instinct that they later found out to be true. But it must really be tearing Michael up to think that he’d once had family that he’d left behind on their planet, and to not know what had become of Dreyah.

That wasn’t what Liz needed privacy to discuss with him, though. There was the small matter of this other sister revelation she wanted to find out about.

Giving Max a soft look of mild regret, she leaned down to place a gossamer kiss atop his perfect lips, then eased herself out of his arms, trying not to wake him. She suffered a tiny pang when he didn’t seem to want to let her go, but she finally got herself untangled, and slipped out from under the covers. Gently tucking the blankets back around his sleeping form, she left him with a tender brushing of his hair off his forehead.

Shivering in the early morning chill of the apartment, she grabbed one of the extra blankets Michael had laid out on the chair for them and wrapped it around herself, before following the same path Michael had taken to the kitchen.

“G‘morning,” she greeted him softly.

He glanced at her, then immediately looked away and busied himself with setting out the milk and tobasco to flavor his coffee.

“'Morning,” he returned gruffly, feeling a little uncomfortable with her after all his disturbing self-discoveries from the night before.

The blanket trailing the floor behind her, Liz moved to take a seat on one of the barstools, and watched silently as he got out a loaf of bread and began making toast.

After throwing a quick glance over at the couch to check on Max, she said quietly, “Listen- we need to talk.”

He didn’t spare her a glance as he moved to the fridge for butter and his favorite strawberry jam.

“No- we don’t,” he refuted, knowing instinctively that she wanted to bring up the thing with the flashes.

“Yes we do, Michael,” she insisted. “You can’t expect me to just forget what I saw when we connected last night.”

Stopping what he was doing, he turned to look at her and said without heat, “You know what, Liz? I actually do expect you to do that. This was something you had no business seein’ in the first place, and I’m still really ticked at you for not backing off of it last night when I told you to. I know we can’t seem to control what we see in each other’s heads, but you didn’t even try,” he accused. “You were deliberately trying to find out more when you knew I didn’t even want you seein’ as much as you already had.”

Biting her lip, Liz dropped her eyes a bit guiltily. She couldn’t really blame him for being mad. She knew if the situation were reversed she probably would be too. But then, she didn’t have any skeletons that were this huge in her closet.

“Look, I’m really sorry I did that, Michael, but it wasn’t deliberate. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing. But.. now that I’ve seen it, I can’t just let this go. It’s too big. I mean, you just suddenly have sisters popping up all over the place, and you never said anything to anyone. I can understand about Dreyah- you didn’t remember her. But what about that little girl, Michael? Who was she? What happened to her?”

His eyes stormy, he said, “We are not having this discussion, Liz, so just drop it, alright? This is none of your business.”

Her bottom lip tucked between her teeth, Liz looked at him silently. But there was just no way she could not pursue it. She couldn’t understand why he would keep something like this a secret anyway. Surely, at least Max and Isabel had a right to know.

“Why haven’t you told anybody about this, Michael?” she asked bewilderedly. Studying him closely for a moment in hesitation, she said carefully, “You know... I felt how much this hurt you. When we were connected. You should- you should really talk to somebody about it. If not to me, then maybe Maria, or- or Max. I can’t believe you haven’t told him and Isabel about it before now. I mean, how is it even possible that you have a sister on this planet they don’t know about?”

Michael felt completely exposed and vulnerable at learning how much she’d seen of his feelings, and he grew angry at her persistence. No way would he ever tell Maria or Max about this. She didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Michael,” she prompted at his silence.

His jaw tight, he quietly burst out, “She wasn’t really my sister, okay? She was just some girl that lived in the same foster home as me for awhile. That’s all you need to know, Liz, so just drop it now. I mean it.”

Stubbornly refusing to give up because she somehow knew he needed to get this off his chest, she asked, “Why did you say you were her brother then? She couldn’t have just been ‘some girl’ if you would do that, Michael.”

“Liz,” he gritted warningly.

“What is the big secret? Did this girl... did she like- die or something?” she asked, almost dreading to know the answer.

“No,” he ground out in answer, then, so low she almost didn’t hear him, “Not that I know of anyway.”

Made more curious than ever by his answer, she asked, “Then what is it? What happened? Where is she now?”

He just looked at her with silent ire, his hands curled into fists as if he’d like to wrap them around her throat.

Her chin tilted up obstinately, and she told him, “I’m not gonna let this go, so you might as well tell me, Michael. You know I can find out anyway. In fact, I’d say it’s likely if we keep working on this connection, unless we discover the secret of blocking our thoughts from each other. Is that really the way you want me to find out?”

Michael felt trapped by the truth of what she was saying. It seemed like he only had two choices. Tell her now before she got a chance to see it in living techni-color, or just stop connecting altogether. Somehow, the second wasn’t an option he would consider. Even though the thing was turning his life completely upside down, he had to know the reason for their connection.

Striking out angrily at being cornered, he spat, “Fine! You wanna know all the ugly details? I’ll tell you. But if it tears down any pretty little illusions you’ve got going on, just remember you asked for it!”

Apprehension fluttered in Liz’s stomach at the dire warning, and she braced herself for whatever it was she was about to hear.

“I got put in three different homes in the month after we came out of the pods. Did you know that?” he began belligerently. “Nobody would keep me ‘cause I kept running away. Sara was in the third one. She’d already been there eight months, and the Jessups were talkin’ about adopting her. She–“ he faltered, and took a deep breath. When he spoke again, his voice had lost some of its harshness. “She kinda took up with me as soon as I went to live there. Started callin’ me her brother. And- I sorta didn’t mind. I liked the idea of bein’ her big brother. She reminded me of someone. I didn’t know who at the time, I think maybe it could’ve been Dreyah,” he said quietly.

Liz reached across the bar to lay her hand on his arm in sympathetic understanding, and suddenly she could almost ‘see’ what he was telling her. Not really flashes, but just like, maybe she was actually seeing his memories.

Michael removed her hand from his arm in a slow, deliberate move. She’d forced him into the telling of this, it was a little late to try and be understanding now. Besides, telling her was bad enough, she didn’t need the visuals to go along with it.

Chastened, Liz took her hand back, and waited for him to continue.

Sighing heavily, he went on. “I ran away from there a couple of times, but Sara begged me to stop, so I did. I’d been there a month when Mrs. Jessup got sick. They never really told us exactly what was wrong with her. I think she had some kind of surgery, and she didn’t do so well with it. Anyway, she was in the hospital for almost two weeks. While she was gone, Mr. Jessup started acting... different,” he said grimly. “He’d always been pretty affectionate with Sara, I guess, but it was like he had his hands on her all the time. It got so bad, she started tryin’ to avoid him. I think she knew something was off, but she was too young to really understand what was goin’ on.” He stopped and gave Liz a piercing look to see if she was getting the picture, then his eyes fell away in shame.

Remembering this stuff made him sick to his stomach, and he felt dirty by association. He was sure Liz would never look at him the same way again after she heard all this. She might not look at anything the same way again. He knew he certainly hadn’t after it had happened. And he felt like he was destroying something innocent and pure in her with each ugly word that fell from his lips. It made him angry. At her for forcing the issue and making him tell this, and at himself for even having this inside him in the first place.

Though her stomach was now churning over what she was sure he was going to say next, Liz urged softly, “Go on, Michael.”

He looked at her for a brief moment, the muscles in his jaw bunched, then he crossed his arms and fixed his eyes sightlessly on a point across the room, trying to distance himself as he continued on with his dirty little tale.

“I did what I could to...kinda run interference, but he was always givin’ me chores and stuff to do to keep me busy. It was a relief to be able to go to school just to get out of the house. Sara started sayin’ she didn’t know if she wanted him to be her daddy anymore, and we just kept praying for Mrs. Jessup to come home so things could go back to the way they were. But then... a couple of nights before she came back... he- he came into Sara’s room.” He swallowed with revulsion at the memory. “She started yelling for me, and when I found him in there I got mad ‘cause he was scaring her, and I asked him what he was doing. I wasn’t really sure what was goin’ on either, but I knew he shouldn’t be in there. I told Sara to come sleep in my room, and he let us go. I think- I think maybe he was embarrassed.”

His lips tight, he rubbed at his eye, wishing he could just stop there. That wasn’t all there was to the story by any means, but he was sure Liz got the idea now. As he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, he thought she looked as if she were prepared to patiently sit there forever and wait him out. And now that he’d started, it was like something was compelling him to finish, like it was a poison or something he had to purge. He’d never told this to another living soul, and if he’d ever even considered it, Liz would have been the last person he would’ve thought to tell it to. But for some inexplicable reason, at the moment, he couldn’t imagine telling anyone but her.

Clearing his throat, he looked at his shoes as he started again. “Mrs. Jessup came home, and for a couple of weeks we thought everything was back to normal. But then he started doin’ it again. Coming into her room. And every time he did, she yelled for me. She said he threatened to spank her if she didn’t stay quiet, but he’d never spanked her before, so I guess she didn’t believe him. She told Mrs. Jessup she was havin’ nightmares, and after the first few times, she started just lettin’ Sara sleep in my room every night. That worked for awhile, until she stopped havin’ her ‘nightmares’, and Mrs. Jessup told her she was gonna have to learn to sleep in her own bed.”

He ran a hand through his hair agitatedly. “We didn’t know what to do. We wanted to tell her what was goin’ on, but he told us if we did, they’d come take Sara away, and we didn’t want to be separated. So we started sneaking out at night.” He smiled tightly. “It made him furious, but he never punished Sara. He started threatening me if she didn’t do what he wanted, but I wouldn’t let her stay in that house at night. So- we kept sneakin’ out, and he kept punishing me for it. But he never did anything at night to stop us from going. I guess he didn’t want Mrs. Jessup to hear and find out what was going on,” he sneered in disgust.

He chanced another glance at Liz to see how she was taking all this, and found her looking at him with an expression of caring concern.

Michael swallowed tightly. How could she be looking at him like that, he wondered in incomprehension. Wasn’t she hearing what he was telling her? He couldn’t understand why her face wasn’t filled with the same kind of revulsion he felt inside.

Liz was horrified at what she was hearing, but if she’d known Michael felt as though her disgust should be directed at the part he’d played in any of this in any way, she would’ve been still more appalled. Her heart was absolutely breaking for him, and for the unknown Sara, for having to live such a fearful nightmare when they’d been hardly more than babies. She’d known he’d had it rough growing up with Hank and everything, but she never would have dreamed he’d been scarred by a brush with this type of abuse. She wondered worriedly how this all ended. The had obviously ended up being separated anyway.

Catching his searching look at her, she swallowed and asked tentatively, “Did he... did he ever, um- you know, do anything? When he went to her room?”

Avoiding her eyes, Michael hesitated before reluctantly replying, “I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. I think she would’ve told me.. I-if he had. I’ve always hoped she yelled before he had a chance to do anything.”

When his words fell to a halt, she gently prompted, “Tell me the rest of it, Michael.”

He looked up and they locked gazes for a moment, and Michael could see no hint of judgement of any kind in her dark eyes. A slight crease appeared between his brows, and his eyes fell away again. Pulling in a deep breath he went on to finish the story.

“When it started gettin’ cold at night we knew we were gonna have to do somethin’ else. We were sleeping wherever we could find a place. A kid in the neighborhood had a treehouse we stayed in a lot, and there was a park not too far away, or if we didn’t have any other choice, there was an old abandoned house a few blocks over. Sara didn’t like staying there, though. Said the place scared her. It wasn’t really safe anyway. Place was barely standing. It finally got too cold to stay in any of those places, and I didn’t know what else to do except go to Mrs. Jessup and tell her what was goin’ on.” His voice roughened as he said, “Sara asked me if that meant they were gonna come take her away, but I promised her it didn’t. I don’t know how Mrs. Jessup could’ve been so oblivious to what was goin’ on in her own house, but I really believed she cared about us. About Sara anyway. She kept mentioning adoption, but they never really did anything about it. I don’t know, maybe deep down she knew her husband wasn’t fit to be a dad, but she sure never admitted it.” His expression hardened, and his fists curled into tight fists. “When I told her what was happening she went ballistic. She accused us of lying. Said she wasn’t gonna have anyone who could make such filthy accusations in her house.” He shook his head in disbelief. “She never even confronted him about it. Didn’t even ask him. She called Social Services that day. And the next day they came and got Sara. The day after that, social workers from Dade county came and got me. See, she recommended,” he drawled the word bitterly, “that they didn’t keep us together. She told ‘em she’d never had a day’s trouble out of Sara before I showed up. And she advised them not to ever place me in another home that had other kids.” He gave an almost soundless gust of humorless laughter and made an ironic face. “I don’t know if they listened to her or what, but I went through three more homes before I got stuck at Hank’s, and none of them ever had any other kids.”

Liz looked at him with compassionate eyes, her heart going out to him. It didn’t seem possible that she’d known him all this time, and she hadn’t known he’d been through such a traumatising experience. This was the kind of thing that could scar a person for life, and she saw Michael in a completely different light now. She couldn’t imagine being betrayed like that by someone you were counting on to make everything right. Especially at such a tender age. It was no wonder he had so much trouble now reaching out to anyone whenever he needed help with something.

“What ever happened to him? To Mr. Jessup, I mean. Do you even know?”

He smiled sarcastically. “Oh, now there’s the kicker. You’re gonna love this part,” he added in a caustic aside. “I went back to find him a few years ago. I don’t know exactly what I thought I was gonna do, but I’d had a pretty rough day with Hank, and I just got fed up with things, I guess. I think I had some idea that if I didn't have any other choice but to stick it out at Hank's, the least I could do was go make sure the Jessups didn’t have some other poor kid he was inflicting his sick self on. So I hitched a ride over to the next county. They weren’t in the same house anymore, but I did some checkin’ around. Seems like Mrs. Jessup must’ve finally wised up. Or maybe she kept her blinders on till the end and told herself it was because he was neglecting her or something, who knows?” he said bitterly. “Anyway, they got divorced. Less than a year after Sara and I left. And good ol’ Mr. Jessup- well, he didn’t waste any time goin’ right out and finding himself some sweet young thing fresh outta high school to marry. His very own child bride,” he said, his mouth twisting with disgust.

Liz had never felt such intense loathing for another human being. Especially not one she’d never even met. But she was filled with an almost blind hatred for this unknown man who had been the cause of so much pain for Michael.

“Why didn’t you try to tell someone else what he’d done, Michael? The man deserved to rot in jail. Or at the very least, someone needed to force him to seek counseling. He was obviously a really sick individual.”

A little surprised by her vehemence, Michael tilted his head in a tight shrugging motion and replied, “The way Mrs. Jessup reacted kinda cured me of the idea that any grown-ups would listen to me. I figured they all must pretty much stick together.” A wicked glint entered his eyes. “But he didn’t get off completely scot-free. I left a few little surprises for him when I paid my visit 3 years ago.”

Her brow lifted. “What did you do?”

He shrugged nonchalantly. “Just a few of the things I could manage to do with my powers back then. Let’s just say him and little wifey probably didn’t get to have too much fun for awhile after I left,” he said with a vicious smile.

Sharing his feelings of vengefulness, she said, “Well, I’m sure it couldn’t have been nearly what he deserved. I hope he never had any kids of his own. There’s no telling what he went on to do after that.”

Michael shook his head. “No kids. At least- not back then anyway.”

Accepting that with a slight nod, she looked at him closely and asked tentatively, “Um... do you know what happened to Sara after that? Where she is now?”

His eyes fell away, and he shook his head shortly. “Nobody would ever tell me anything back then. I tried tracking her down after I got my emancipation, but she got shuffled around a few times, and I guess somebody must’ve changed her name or something, ‘cause I just kind of lost her trail. I thought about hiring a private detective, but I’ve never had the kind of money that would take.” He shrugged a shoulder slightly. “Doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not like I’d actually want to see her or anything. I’d just kinda like to know where she ended up. Make sure she’s okay, you know?”

Liz shook her head slightly in confusion. “Why wouldn’t you want to see her? It sounds like you really cared about each other.”

His expression cynical and droll, he said, “Yeah well, that was a long time ago, Liz. We were different people then. I’m probably the last person on earth she’d want to see now.”

Still confused as to what he was thinking, she asked, “Why would you think that?”

He gave her that patented look of his that said he thought she was being dense and said, “Because, Liz. She probably hates my guts after what I did to her.”

Frowning deeply, Liz tilted her head a bit, and looked at him searchingly. “What you did to her.” she repeated. “What is it you think you did, Michael?”

Angry that she was making him spell it out, he said harshly, “I betrayed her, can’t you see that? I let her down. She trusted me to do the right thing, to make everything better and keep us together, and I didn’t do that. I promised her they wouldn’t take her away if we told Mrs. Jessup. I should never have done that. I shouldn’t have told. I should’ve just taken her with me and run away. I’d already done it a hundred times. I don’t know why I didn’t just do that!” he said with bitter regret.

Liz’s eyes darkened with his pain. Shaking her head gently, she said, “Michael, you were six years old. Not even that old, really. If you want to get technical, you’d only been alive on this earth for a couple of months. How do you think two little kids like that would’ve been able to survive on their own?”

His jaw worked silently for a moment, then he said shortly, “I don’t know how. Maybe we couldn’t have. But at least she wouldn’t have been alone. Who knows where she went next? She could’ve gone on to someplace even worse, and she didn’t have anyone to look out for her there.”

Her face reflecting concern, she said in protest, “That wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah? Well then, whose was it?” he asked, sounding angry.

Unable to believe he was serious, she said emphatically, “It was his. Mr. Jessup’s. And Mrs. Jessup’s too. How could you think anything else?”

His eyes were turbulent as they looked into hers, and Liz was sure that deep down he did know that. But then they clouded over with guilt and he looked away as he said, “All I know is, I didn’t do right by her. She probably feels the same way about me as I do about Mrs. Jessup. And I wouldn’t blame her.”

Disturbed, Liz just looked at him for a long moment. How could he possibly feel as if he were in any way responsible for what had happened, she wondered in bewilderment. Could he honestly not see that he’d been every bit as much a victim as Sara had been in all this?

Leaving the blanket behind as she slipped off the stool, Liz walked around the counter to stand in front of him, and laid a hand gently on his arm.

Her eyes dark with earnestness, she said, “Michael, what you did does not compare in any way with what that woman did. You were only doing what you thought was right. It was the only option you had left. You couldn’t have known she would turn on you like that. Nobody could have,” she finished grimly, thinking what a blind and cowardly woman she must have been. She tilted her head so that she could see into his down-turned eyes. “How could you think Sara would blame you for that?”

As if it had been timed to happen that way, a few brief images flickered in her mind and provided the answer to the question.

She saw again the scene where the social workers had come to take Sara from the Jessups',' but this time they were inside the house, telling her she was going to have to come with them. Then came an image of Sara looking at Michael in confusion and fear, and exclaiming accusingly, “You promised! You said I could stay with you! I don’t wanna go! Please!” Over and over she cried the same words as Liz saw them physically carrying her from the house, until her cries gave way to nothing more than Michael’s name, said in the most pleading, heartbreaking manner.

Liz caught her breath at the wave of helpless despair that accompanied the flashes, and Michael roughly jerked his arm out from under her hand.

With a sound of infuriation, he said, “I don’t want you seein’ that stuff, Liz! Cut it out!”

It maddened him that she was getting such a deep glimpse inside him and he was virtually helpless to stop it. And the strong sense of saddened sympathy he felt from her got his back up even more. He didn’t want her pity!

Ignoring his look of censure, Liz forged ahead determinedly and addressed the flashes anyway.

“She was just a little girl, Michael. She didn’t understand then. But I’m sure if she remembers it now, she knows you did the only thing you could back then. She wouldn’t blame you.”

Shortly, Michael said, “Just forget it, Liz. I don’t know why we’re even still discussing it. You know the whole sob story now, so let’s just drop it!”

“No. Michael- listen to me,” she said, quickly catching hold of his arm to keep him from turning away. When she realized what she was doing, she hastily dropped her hand.

He’d deliberately adopted a bored expression, but Liz didn’t let that deter her.

“You can’t go around thinking you’re somehow to blame for what happened. Y- you just can’t, okay? It’s not even remotely the truth. You have to know that. What you did... it may not have worked out ideally in the end, but you did save her, Michael. It isn’t realistic to think the two of you could’ve made it on your own, and if you hadn’t told when you did... well, you couldn’t have held him off forever. It’s a miracle you kept him away from her as long as you did,” she said, shaking her head a little in disbelief.

When she thought about it, that really was amazing. She couldn’t imagine the strength it must’ve taken for a six-year-old boy to stand up to a grown man and actually succeed in holding him at bay. As she remembered the flash of Mr. Jessup screaming threats at Michael while he beat him with a belt, it tore at Liz’s heart to think of all the physical punishment he must have endured. But even then, Michael hadn't given in.

Her lips curved a little sadly as she looked at him with a newly-born sense of affectionate admiration.

Always tough. Always the protector. Even from the beginning.

She wanted to reach out to him again in comfort and empathy, but she wisely kept her hands to herself, and instead, gently said, “How can you think she could blame you for anything after everything you did for her, Michael?”

The look on her face as she gazed up at him made Michael's throat feel tight. Just as he’d predicted, it seemed she was looking at him differently, but not in the way he’d expected. She wasn’t reacting at all the way he’d imagined she would. Where was the disillusionment and distaste he’d thought he’d find in her eyes when she learned this about him? There wasn’t a trace of anything like that. And in spite of what he thought he’d felt in her before, she didn’t look as if she were pitying him either. He didn’t know if he could put a name to the soft emotion he could see shining in her eyes, but it filled him with a warmth that was somehow soothing. Her gentle understanding and acceptance seemed to make something inside loosen its grip on him, and for the first time, he allowed himself to wonder if what she was saying might be true.

He knew it was irrational to think he and Sara could’ve made it on their own that young, but he’d just always felt such a sense of failure towards her that he’d always thought there had to have been something else he should’ve done back then. But maybe Liz was right, maybe there just hadn’t been anything else. There really hadn’t been all that many options open to a clueless six-year-old. He didn’t know if he could let himself off the hook in thinking Sara saw it that way, though. Especially if she’d gone on to an even greater hell.

As if she’d read his thoughts- which he couldn’t see how she’d done since they weren’t connected- Liz said, “And even if the worst happened, and she went to another bad home, how much worse would it have been if Mr. Jessup had...had succeeded in- doing what he wanted to do,” she forced the words out sickly. “If he’d gotten caught, she would’ve been taken away anyway. But you kept that from happening,” she looked at him searchingly to see if she was making an impact, and thought he at least looked like he was listening. “And what if she didn’t go to a bad home? What if she ended up with parents who loved her, and she grew up happy? Don’t you think she would thank you for that?”

Inwardly, Michael shook his head. Liz’s naivete was showing through with that one. He had enough experience with foster homes to know that while they weren’t all as abusive and oppressive as the Jessups’, or even Hank’s, they were always lonely. And he couldn’t imagine anyone being lucky enough to find one where they fit in and felt wanted. He’d always believed that the only ones who happened to fall into that kind of situation were those rare sort of people who seemed to lead charmed lives. He and Sara hadn’t been lucky enough to be born that kind of people. Max and Isabel had.

The foster parents he’d come into contact with had mostly just been do-gooders that had always made him feel like some charity case they were doing a favor for. And then there had been those like Hank, who were just too lazy to hold down a steady job and coveted that monthly check from the state. He guessed there were people out there who had genuine motives for taking kids into their home. The Evanses were proof of that. And out of all the lousy foster parents in the world, Max and Isabel had found them.

He doubted Sara had been as fortunate. He found it hard to believe that any good could have come from the situation at the Jessups', and he didn’t know how Liz could entertain the idea either. Hadn’t what he’d just told her done anything to show her what it was really like outside her sheltered little life in Roswell?

Michael fixed her with an unwavering gaze, and as if he were imparting some great truth that she was unaware of, he said, “Everybody doesn’t always get a happy ending, Liz. Real life doesn’t work like that. You keep going on always expecting it to be that way, and you’re gonna end up disappointed.”

“May be,” she said quietly, accepting the possibility of his ‘truth’. “But if you go through life always expecting the worst, you’ll miss seeing all the good, Michael,” she told him, offering a truth of her own.

They looked at each other silently, both aware that they couldn’t be coming from two more opposite poles. But in an odd way, that felt right. Fitting, somehow. The feeling didn’t make sense to Michael, and he dropped his eyes in confusion.

Looking at the floor, he gave a slight shake of his head. He was amazed at how easy she’d made all this to tell her. He didn’t know how she’d managed to do that. But it felt like a profound weight had been lifted off his shoulders with the telling of it, and he found himself feeling grateful to Liz.

The corner of his lip curled up in the semblance of a smile, and he said with gruff appreciation, “You’re alright, Parker.”

Liz grinned slightly. High praise indeed coming from Mr. Stone Wall. “You aren’t too bad yourself, Guerin,” she returned fondly.

A brief smile later, they both dropped their eyes shyly to the floor.

Michael cleared his throat and said, “, I’d better go get a shower. We’ll probably have to try and space them out if everyone wants hot water.”

She nodded in response.

“Help yourself to coffee and toast,” he told her on his way out of the kitchen.

A couple of minutes later, she heard what she presumed to be the bathroom door closing as she was looking through the cupboards for the cups.

Several moments after the muffled rain of the shower sounded through the door, Max silently came up behind her. Liz put down the two coffee mugs she’d found and leaned back into him as he slipped his arms around her waist, and gently pulled her back against his chest. He dropped a soft kiss on the bare flesh at the juncture of her shoulder and neck, and lingered there for a moment before saying with quiet soberness, “You were great with him, Liz. Thank you.”

Tipping her head back to rest on his shoulder, she laid her arms atop his at her waist, and sighed. “How much did you hear?” she asked softly.

“Most of it, I think,” he admitted, brushing his cheek against hers meditatively, then brought it to rest against her hair.

Caressing his forearm lightly with one hand, she said, “He’d hate it if he knew.”

“I know,” Max agreed with mild regret.

When he’d woken to hear Michael telling Liz about his life before Hank, Max had been slightly stunned. Michael had never even told him and Isabel much about his life before they’d found each other again.

Almost immediately, that ugly, plaguing feeling of jealousy had sprang to life in Max. Was it not enough for the two of them to have the capabilities to share their every thought and emotion without the close-mouthed Michael sharing things verbally with Liz that no one else knew, Max had wondered bitterly. And in an extremely weird sort of flip-flop, it had suddenly been Liz Max had been jealous of.

At one time, he had been as close to Michael as he’d thought the other boy would allow anyone, and never once had Michael shared these details with him. He’d asked, but Michael had never been willing to disclose them. After only a few minutes of listening to him disclose them to Liz, Max had realized that he hadn’t exactly been willing to share them in that moment either.

And then, as his story had unfolded, all thoughts of jealousy had quickly fallen away to be replaced by those of horror. Max couldn’t believe Michael had undergone such a horrible ordeal almost as soon as they’d come out of the pods. It made him feel incredibly guilty. Not only because of the fact that while Michael was suffering through such an abusive experience, he and Isabel had been taken into a loving home, but also because he hadn’t done something more that night to make Michael stay with them when the Evanses had found them in the desert.

Max had known he should let them know that he was awake, but he’d been afraid that if he interrupted them, no one would ever get Michael to tell this story again. And Max was almost positive this was something he’d needed to tell. To someone. He was extremely grateful to Liz for being that someone. And for handling it so well.

He just couldn’t believe Michael had been carrying this around all this time. It explained a lot of things about him.

“We just- shouldn’t tell him,” Max said, craning his head back a little to look at her against his shoulder. “That I heard, I mean. If he ever wants me to know, he’ll tell me himself.”

Liz nodded in agreement, but she silently fretted that Michael would find out whether she told him or not. It seemed an impossible feat for them to keep secrets from each other right now. But she told herself that if that happened, Michael was just gonna have to deal. She was actually glad Max knew about it. She thought having this new insight into Michael might somehow help to mend the rift between Max and his best friend.

They might have gone on to discuss Michael’s revelations in more detail, but both were aware of the fact that he could step out of the bathroom any minute now and catch them talking about it, so they stood there silently for a long moment in one another’s embrace, subdued and contemplative.

Finally, Max gently turned her around to face him, and lovingly framed her face with his hands.

Brushing her cheeks lightly with his thumbs, he rested his forehead against hers and said, “I’m really glad you were here for him, Liz.”

Max wasn’t quite sure how she’d managed to get Michael to spill everything he had, but he thought she’d said all the right things in response, and hopefully Michael had taken them to heart. He wasn’t sure the other boy would have listened to him if he’d tried to tell him the same things. Her gentle compassion had probably been exactly what Michael had needed, and Max loved her all the more for her tender-hearted display and the easy acceptance that seemed to be a never-failing part of her.

He pulled back a little to silently communicate his love through the warmth of his eyes as he gazed at her for a moment, then he tipped her head back and bent to give her a tender kiss of appreciation. Their lips came together and clung at the meeting of their mates, then moved against each other in soft, languid motions that sent a soothing wash of warmth over the both of them. Mouths dropped open slightly to allow the gentle greeting of tongues, and they slid together sweetly as the kiss continued in a lingering, unhurried fashion.

So involved with each other were they, that they almost missed the sound of the bathroom door opening, but when it finally penetrated their awareness, they regretfully drew apart. They faced Michael in a state of slight breathlessness, and he grimaced at catching them thus.

After a final feathery caress of her cheek with his thumb, Max let Liz go and stepped away from her, an action Michael noted with a slightly lifted brow.

His gaze darted suspiciously toward the sofa-bed and he asked Max, “When did you get up?”

“Just a couple of minutes ago,” Max answered nonchalantly. “You through in there?” he indicated the bathroom with a nod of his head.

Still eyeing him leerily, Michael nodded and stepped out of the doorway.

“I’ll only be a minute,” Max told Liz. “You can have the next shower if you want.”

“Okay,” she replied, giving him a soft smile.

After the door had closed behind him, Michael met Liz’s gaze for a brief instant before looking away, and the hint of vulnerability she saw in his eyes tugged at her heart.

“I didn’t tell him anything, Michael,” she assured him gently.

His head came up and dipped toward his shoulder in a show of indifference, but he ruined the effect by saying sternly, “It never leaves this room, Liz, you got that?”

Feeling a little guilty for misleading him, she answered, “I promise I won’t say anything. But- you should really think about telling him, Michael. And... maybe Maria too,” she suggested tentatively. “You told me, and the world didn’t end or anything. What would it hurt to let them in a little bit too?”

He narrowed his eyes at her and said impatiently, “I only told you because I didn’t have any other choice. But it’s not gonna go any further than this, Liz, alright?” He hesitated, and added a qualifying, “Not...not right now.”

Telling Liz really hadn’t been nearly as bad as he had thought it would be, Michael silently conceded, but he still didn’t think he’d ever be able to tell Maria about this. It would leave him way too vulnerable to her, and he already felt vulnerable enough whenever he was around her.

Happy that he’d conceded at least that much, Liz said, “Just think about it, that’s all I’m saying.”

Meeting her eyes in another darting glance, he nodded shortly, then crossed the room and moved past her to snag one of the mugs she’d retrieved, and pour himself some coffee.

No one else alluded to the incident as they got ready for school and had a cursory breakfast. Instead, they talked about everything they’d learned the night before about Liz and Michael’s connection, and about the dream they’d shared. They all figured Isabel was going to trip out when she heard about it. And they were right.

“This is so exciting, you guys!” she enthused when they briefly filled her in upon their arrival at school. “I’m so bummed I wasn’t there. You dreamed about Vilaandra too, though?”

“Yeah,” Max nodded. “She was there when Rath and Zan were practicing their powers, and then at the end when the four of them were fighting.”

Frowning, Tess said, “And this...Shaan, or- Dreyah girl was there, but Ava wasn’t?”

The seven of them had gathered in the empty band room before classes so Max, Liz, and Michael could relay the dream to everyone at once. Kyle had elected to skip the meeting, telling Tess she could just fill him in later.

Glancing at Michael and obtaining a silent go-ahead, Liz broke the news to the group for the first time. “Yeah, um- Michael thinks maybe she was his sister.”

“What?!” Maria said, startled, and threw a quick look at Michael for confirmation.

“What makes you think that?” Alex asked, looking at Michael in slight consternation.

Michael took in the curious gazes trained on him, and gave a single dissatisfied shake of his head. “I don’t know. I just- feel it. In this dream, and in the one Liz and I had the other night... when she was together with Rath... I don’t know, there was just something...” he shook his head again in frustration. He wished he could come up with something concrete to validate the truth of what he felt, but all he really had to go on was this instinctive certainty that he was right. “I just feel it, that’s all,” he finished shortly.

“So what happened to her, then?” Maria asked gently.

Locking eyes with her, Michael answered lowly, “I don’t know.”

It pained him to even contemplate it. Because any explanation he could think of left him feeling lonely and depressed. Either something must have happened to her before the incident that had claimed the lives of the Royal Four, or she was still alive back on their planet. Otherwise, why hadn’t she been cloned too, and sent to Earth with them? She’d obviously been capable of fighting with them. The idea that they had witnessed her death in that dream they’d had last night had been haunting him, and it filled him with grief to think of the loss of that spirited, giggling girl he’d seen in their dreams. The family he never knew he had.

“Well, maybe you can find out. If you guys keep having these dreams,” Maria said soothingly. “Are you gonna try it again?” she asked, addressing the question to all of them.

Max looked at Liz questioningly.

“I’m up for it whenever you guys are,” she readily replied .

“Do you think maybe I could get in on it too?” Isabel asked eagerly.

Max shrugged uncertainly and said, “I think Liz is the key here, and I’m not sure how we’re connecting in our sleep, but I guess if it didn’t work that way for you, Is, you could always just dreamwalk one of us and see it.”

Isabel nodded excitedly, anxious to get through the day so they could try this. She couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of their home planet, and of her alien counterpart.

“What about me?” Tess asked stiffly, feeling a little irritable and out of sorts. It troubled her that they hadn’t seen Ava in any of these dreams. She wasn’t sure what it could mean that she had never been present in any of them. But more troubling still, was the fact that Max and Liz had spent the night at Michael’s apartment with practically no supervision. Just what had the sleeping arrangements been, Tess wondered suspiciously. It all sounded far too cozy for her peace of mind. And the fact that they had mentioned nothing about their plans for this little slumber party last night made it sound even more questionable.

Again, Max deferred to Liz for her response in this rather delicate matter, and Liz forced herself to say, “Sure, Tess. We can try.” It didn’t seem like an entirely safe proposition to connect with Tess while caught in the oblivion of sleep, but what else could she say? No, Tess, you can’t do this because I’m afraid you might see something that will give away me and my secret boyfriend?

“So– Michael’s place? Right after school?” Isabel asked, to set the plan.

Michael shook his head. “No, I gotta work. It’ll have to be after 7:00.”

“7:30 then?” she said in modification.

Everyone agreed, and Maria asked, “Would it be okay if I come? I’d kinda like to be there this time.”

“Yeah, of course it’s okay,” Michael assured her, touching her lightly on the back.

She smiled up at him, then asked somewhat wryly, “Alex? Will you come keep me company while these guys are off having their little interplanetary flashback?”

Just as he nodded his agreement, the bell rang signaling the beginning of classes.

“But first, on to more important things,” Alex quipped dryly. “Like learning how the French express that ever-so-crucial announcement, 'My yellow pencil is broken’."

The others smiled as they filed out of the band room, then separated to head for their respective classes.

More important things, indeed.



What did you think? Boring? Did you think Michael's story was plausible? Once again, I may have gotten in over my head with that, but like I said, I wanted it to be a bad chapter in his life, but not too awfully bad. Was everyone okay with it?

I'd like to get your opinion on a couple of things. They're going to be having another dream of their past in the next part, but I didn't want to be repetitious with that, so do you guys actually want to see the dream as it takes place, or would you rather just hear about it after it happens?

I'm thinking we may not have too much longer to go before I wind this one up. After I reveal the watcher and the mystery of the connection, I'm thinking I'll probably leave enough questions open that we can move directly to a sequel from the point where this one leaves off. How does everyone feel about that idea? Does it make you frustrated to know that all the questions won't be answered right away? If so, I could probably change my mind pretty easily. I was just thinking that the discovery of the entire story of the aliens' past could take another whole fic of its own if I do it the way I have in mind. But I'd really like to hear your opinions about that. *smile*

Edited by - Destinee on 09/30/2001 17:47:40
posted on 15-Oct-2001 1:13:47 AM by Destinee
For disclaimer and summary, please see page one of this thread.

Author's Note: Boy, I can't even tell you how much I've missed this board! They've done an amazing job of getting it back up and running, haven't they? It's so good to have it back!

I just had to tell everyone how heartwarming your feedback was on the last part. I'm so sorry I didn't get a chance to reply, but you guys definitely keep me going with all your kind words. *happy* I'm glad everyone only had good things to say about Michael's situation, and I was especially glad to hear that everyone would be interested in a sequel. If you can keep putting up with my slowness in posting, we'll definitely go that way. *tongue*

I know I promised another dream in the next part, but it seems two other little incidents insisted on happening first, so I haven't gotten to that yet. Hopefully, the fact that I'm posting two new chapters will keep me in your good graces, though. *big* I promise we'll get to the dream in the next part, and then after that, I think we may have a chapter that will be about M/L spending another night together, then I'll reveal the watcher and the truth about the connection, and that should wrap it up. Just to give you an idea of the timeline I have in mind.

Okay, that's all I have, so read on! Hope you enjoy it! *happy*

Chapter 49

Liz felt the same prickling sensation across the back of her neck that she’d felt off and on all day, and she turned quickly to try and catch whoever had their eyes on her.

All she found was a moderately populated diner whose occupants were all focused on conversation with their table companions, or on eating their meals. No one seemed to be paying her an undue amount of attention, as had been the case every time she’d turned to look today, and she sighed with frustrated irritation. It was driving her crazy, this feeling of being watched, and it was also freaking her out the slightest bit. She didn’t know if it was just her paranoia kicked into overdrive, or if there was honestly something to worry about, but just the idea that Nicholas, or some other evil mind-warping alien might be silently stalking her, left her completely unnerved.

She hadn’t said anything to anyone today about her wariness, but the gang had stuck pretty close to her anyway, after hearing about the incident with Nicholas from yesterday. Liz realized she was going to have to tell Max about it. He’d gotten so upset when he found out she hadn’t told him the last time. She really hated to, though. She knew it would probably make him crazy with worry. As it was, he was already with her every possible minute he could be. He’d walked her to every one of her classes today, even though sometimes they were extremely out of his way, and she had her suspicions that he’d ended up late for a few of his classes because of it. They’d sat close together at lunch, and she hadn’t had the heart to enforce the two -foot distance rule because it was so comforting to have him near. Fortunately, Tess hadn’t eaten with the rest of the group, but had instead sat at another table with Kyle and one of his football buddies and his cheerleader girlfriend. That had been one heartening aspect of the day. That Tess had felt comfortable enough to break away from the group, and that she had wanted to be with Kyle instead. It seemed a promising sign.

Max had brought her home from school, and probably would’ve hung around the Crashdown during her shift if he hadn’t had to work, himself.

Longingly, Liz looked out the window towards the UFO Center. She wished 7:00 o’clock would get here already. She needed to see him.

“Hey, Earth to Liz,” Michael said at her back, making her jump and swivel around sharply to face the pick-up window. She’d been coming to check on table seven’s Orbit Rings before she’d gotten so side-tracked.

Michael was looking at her quizzically and said, “Spaced out much? I said your name three times.”

“Oh. Sorry,” she said distractedly.

He threw a quick glance out the window to see what she’d been so intent on, and looked back at her with a slight frown when he saw nothing unusual.

“You okay?” he asked with concern.

“Um... yeah, I’m fine,” she replied, her expression one of dismissal. She wasn’t going to make the mistake of letting Michael in on her feelings of leeriness before she told Max this time.

She scooped up the basket of rings and started to turn away.

“Liz,” Michael said insistently, catching her arm to stop her. When he became aware of what he was doing, he jerked his hand away immediately. “Tell me what’s wrong. You’ve been actin’ weird all day. Did you think you saw something out there?” he asked, glancing out the window again.

Her expression softened as she looked up at him. “No, I didn’t see anything. Everything’s fine, Michael. Really,” she assured him.

Michael had been hovering quite a bit today too. Which was surprising to Liz. After sharing so much of himself with her this morning, she’d thought he’d probably be quick about getting his wall back up into place, and would give her a wide berth. But amazingly enough, just the opposite was true. She’d often felt his presence nearby throughout the day.

He’d actually shown up after their first period was over, presumably to walk her to her next class, but as soon as Max had made an appearance, he’d made himself scarce. He’d sat on her other side at lunch, with Maria between them so they wouldn’t inadvertently connect, and after school he’d ridden to the Crashdown with her and Max, getting out of the jeep with her and going in to start his shift early.

Liz was feeling a lot more indulgent of Michael’s behavior than she had been the past several days, seeing it now for the protective effort it was. And Max had tolerated it pretty well today too, but she wasn’t sure if he’d truly been okay with Michael’s frequent appearances. The two boys had been so careful with each other all day, doing their best not to argue or step on each other’s toes, while both trying to keep an eye on her. Their excessive politeness with each other might have almost been comical to watch if it hadn’t been so painful to see what a strained effort it was for these two once-best friends to merely get along now. Liz hated to see them acting so stilted with one another. She wished they could just get everything cleared up between them.

After looking at her for a moment, unconvinced by her assurances that nothing was wrong, Michael said, “You know I know you’re lying, right?”

Liz made a small sound of exasperation. Thanks to this connection, they were learning to read each other way too easily.

“Okay,” she admitted. “Something has been bothering me a little. But I need to talk to Max about it first, Michael, alright? I don’t want to mess up with this thing anymore. I hate that we keep having so many hurt feelings between the four of us, and I want to make sure we do everything right from now on. I just want everything to be okay with us again,” she said with regretful longing.

“I know,” Michael said, somewhat soothingly.

Liz’s mouth twisted wryly, and she shook her head. “Of course you know. Why do we even bother to talk?”

Smirking, he replied, “Beats me. Not my department.”

She gave a snort of amusement at the truth of that, and left to deliver her order.

She continued to have that crawling feeling that someone was watching her for the duration of her shift. But every time she tried to catch someone at it, no one was looking that she could see. Several times she went to the window to visually search the sidewalks outside, and though she spotted a few people lounging around who seemed to have no purpose, no one really looked as if they were paying the restaurant any mind.

The whole thing was making her extremely nervous, and by the time 7:00 o’clock neared, she was jumpy and on edge. A fact Michael and Maria both took note of rather worriedly.

“Are you okay, Liz?” Maria asked as she came to help her friend with the task of bagging up the trash out front.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Liz answered automatically, knotting the top of the trash bag and shaking out a replacement with a sharp snap of her wrist.

When Maria continued to look at her in concern, Liz sighed in concession. “I’m just tired, I guess. And a little on edge. But there’s nothing to worry about, Maria,” she told her, hoping that were true.

“You sure?” Maria continued to press.

“Yeah,” Liz nodded assuringly. “Really. I’m fine.” Her lips tipped up in a small grin, and she added, “And I’ll be even better in about 20 minutes when I can see Max.”

Maria made a face of dawning comprehension and said, “Is that all this is? Here you had me all worried, and it’s nothing but Max withdrawals,” she teased.

Grinning widely now, Liz said, “What can I say? I need my fix.”

She hefted the two industrial-sized bags of garbage, and Maria quickly took one from her, saying, “Here. Let me help. You takin’ them to the dumpster?”

Liz nodded in answer, and after a brief stop to collect the trash from the back room, the two girls headed for the back door.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re goin’?” Michael called, just as they were pulling the door open.

They stopped and turned back to face the kitchen where he loomed in the doorway.

“We’re going to deliver presents to all the good little girls and boys,” Maria replied with dry wit, lifting her bags slightly in the air. “Where does it look like we’re going?”

Narrowing his eyes a little, he leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms, then returned smoothly, “Well, it looks like you’re going outside alone, but I know you can’t be that stupid, which is why I asked.”

“Michael, the dumpster is like three yards outside the door,” Maria said exasperatedly. “If anything happens in the two minutes we’re out there, I’m sure we’ll be close enough to make a run for it.”

“Think you can outrun an energy blast?” he challenged. “‘Cause I don’t. Just let me do it,” he said, straightening to head in their direction.

“What, you think you’re faster than a speeding bullet or something?” Maria asked with derisive sarcasm. “Just relax, would you? We can do this. We’re only gonna be going to the alley, not setting off for the Mexican border on foot. I appreciate your protectiveness, Michael, really, I do, but let’s not go overboard, alright? If we can’t even step foot outside the door without a bodyguard, we might as well just lock ourselves in our homes until you can rid the world of evil aliens.”

Michael’s only response was a tightening of his lips.

Taking it as a sign of concession, Maria said, “Now be a good little spaceboy and let us go, ‘kay? We’ve gotta get back to our customers.”

Sighing, Michael shook his head. “You are so pig-headed. Anybody ever tell you that?”

Maria smirked. “Yeah. My mom. All the time.”

“Well she knows what she’s talkin’ about,” Michael agreed. “Alright, fine. If taking the trash out is so important to you, go do it. But I’m staying back here to watch. If that offends your sense of independence, that’s tough.”

“Hey, do what you gotta do,” Maria said with shrugging airiness.

Liz hadn’t involved herself in the argument for a little more freedom from Michael’s watchfulness. His sense of cautiousness over this small act had awakened apprehension in her over it as well. But Maria was right. They couldn’t just cower down and let fear rule their lives until Nicholas or whoever was caught. What if that never happened?

Lifting her chin determinedly, Liz reassured herself with the thought that they were just taking several steps outside the door then they would be right back. Like Maria had said, it would take two minutes, tops. What could happen in that short amount of time?

With those bolstering thoughts, she and Maria turned to go.

Just as Michael was leaving the kitchen doorway to follow them, the loud popping sound of grease pulled his attention towards the grill. He still had several burgers cooking, and they were just about due to be taken off. Glancing back at the alley door in a moment of torn indecision, he kept an eye peeled on the open door as he hurried over to the grill to get the meat off before it burned.

In spite of her earlier bravado, Michael’s reminder of the need for cautiousness had made Maria the slightest bit uneasy, and she darted a rather nervous glance toward the end of the alley as they entered it.

“Let’s hurry, okay?” she suggested.

Liz nodded in wholehearted agreement, and they moved as quickly as their burdensome loads would allow, trash bags bouncing against their legs with each hurried step.

They reached the large metal container in only a matter of moments.

Half-way there, Liz thought, throwing a quick look toward the alley’s opening while waiting for Maria to swing her bags up and over the dumpster’s side. She told herself she was being ridiculous to be so tense about this brief venture outside, but she decided right then and there that Michael could just have garbage duty from now on. Defying possible danger and refusing to cower were all well and good, but there was something to be said for having a big, strong guy, who happened to have alien powers, at your side while you were doing it.

Just as she’d copied Maria’s action and tossed the trash she was carrying into the dumpster, Maria suddenly seized hold of her with a crushing grip.

Liz jerked her eyes towards her to see her friend’s face frozen in an expression of voiceless fear, and she twisted around in panic to see what had put that look there.

There, at the end of the alley, several feet from the street, stood Nicholas.

Liz’s heart seized, as time seemed to come to a stop for a brief instant, then it suddenly began pounding furiously in terror as he slowly began to raise his hand towards them, palm out.

Quickly turning to crowd against Maria, Liz herded her in front of her as she began moving in the direction of the alley door, saying shrilly, “GO! Go, Maria!”

Her words seemed to unlock Maria’s frozen posture, and she turned swiftly, keeping hold of Liz as the two of them scrambled towards the door together, both fearful of feeling the blazing impact of an energy blast against their backs at any moment.

Maria had the fleeting thought that Michael had been right and she should’ve listened. There was no way they would be able to escape the wave of energy once Nicholas made it airborne. He could fry them in only seconds, and they wouldn’t even have a chance to know what hit them.

Upon thinking of Michael, his name slipped from Maria’s lips in a panicked cry when they were still several feet from the door.

When they had reached the open door, she could see him racing across the break room with a look of fear on his face, but suddenly the door was pulled closed in front of her as if by an unseen hand. Maria let out an involuntary shriek as it slammed in their faces with a crash.

Liz frantically twisted at the knob, terrified that this was it, this was the way they were going to die. The handle refused to turn under her hand, and she knew instinctively that Michael was doing the same thing she was on the other side of the door as his fist pounded against it with furious frustration. It crossed her mind to wonder if energy could transfer through metal, and if so, could she bring herself to actually use their massive power blast against someone.

The sobbing sound of Maria’s breath as she anxiously bounced beside her in a spurring motion, as well as her own desire to live to see Max once again, helped Liz decide that yes, she could, and she threw a glance over her shoulder to check on the enemy alien’s whereabouts.

It had probably been only a mere matter of seconds since they’d spotted him, but it seemed as if an inordinate amount of time had passed, and Liz wondered why he hadn’t released an energy blast on them yet.

In the same instant that she realized he was no longer there, the knob turned underneath her hand, and she and Maria practically fell inside the door as it flew open without warning.

Michael was nowhere to be found, and as they turned back to look toward the empty spot where Nicholas had been standing, they saw Michael appear at the entrance of the alley.

He paused a brief moment to look their way and make sure they were alright, then ordered, “Go inside and lock yourselves in the bathroom. Do not come out until I come get you.”

“But... there’s no one else to watch the restaurant,” Liz said inanely.

“I don’t care!” he shouted. “Just do it!”

Maria tugged on Liz’s arm to get her moving, and when Michael was sure they were obeying his orders, he took off running across the street in the direction he’d seen someone fleeing. He’d barreled out the front doors of the Crashdown in time to catch a glimpse of someone running around the corner of a building a few doors down the street, but he was afraid his brief stop to check on the girls had given them time to get away.

Just as he’d reached the corner where their mysterious assailant had disappeared, a car came careening down the narrow street alongside the building with a screech of burning rubber, missing him by mere inches.

Michael jumped back out of the way, crashing back against the store’s wall, and looked after the car, straining his eyes for good look at the driver. But it was moving away fast, and it was impossible to make anything out in the early evening twilight other than a dark baseball cap pulled low over the driver’s face.

Michael’s heart was racing from the near-collision, but he had enough presence of mind to take note of the fact that the car had been a dark sedan with no tags. As it flew around a corner several blocks away and disappeared from sight, Michael bent at the waist with his hands propped on his knees, and tried to catch his breath.

It occurred to him that if he’d only had his bike, he might have been able to chase them down. But he wouldn’t have wanted to leave Maria and Liz unprotected anyway, he realized. If there were more than one of them, whoever they were, this could’ve just been a plot to lure him away.

At that thought, Michael abruptly straightened and made his way hurriedly back to the Crashdown. He returned to an almost silent restaurant, and nearly everyone inside swivelled their heads around to look at him curiously as he entered.

He guessed they had kind of made a spectacle of themselves as the diner’s only cook had gone tearing out in panic, and the only two waitresses had presumably rushed in to lock themselves in the bathroom.

Clearing his throat, he rubbed at his eyebrow disconcertedly. “Uh... sorry about that, folks. We just- had a little incident in the alley.” Trying to think fast, he said the only thing he could come up with. “Seems a couple of guys from Goddard High got started early on the pre-game pranks and shook up one of the waitresses pretty bad,” he told them, referring to the rival school Roswell High was slated to play football against on the upcoming Friday. The two schools were notorious for pulling ridiculous, but usually harmless pranks on one another every year before their teams went head-to-head.

Michael thought it sounded like a plausible excuse for their behavior, and apparently he was right, as everyone seemed to accept it and went back to their meals with a shaking of their heads.

Once he was no longer the focus of attention, he crossed the restaurant and discreetly knocked on the Ladies Room door.

“It’s me. Open up,” he said softly.

The door was opened instantly by a white-faced Maria.

Enormously relived to see him safe and whole, she threw her arms around him, and they shared a quick hug

“Okay,” she said shakily against his shoulder, as if resuming a conversation they hadn’t been having. “You can play bodyguard all you want. I swear you won’t hear another word about it from me.”

Pulling back from her embrace, he looked her over and asked quietly, “Are you okay?” He glanced at Liz to include her in the concerned query, and she nodded jerkily in answer.

“Yeah, we’re okay. Are you? Did you find him?” Maria asked.

Michael shook his head regretfully. “He got away.”

He rubbed her upper arms lightly to reassure himself she was okay, then bent to place a kiss of thankfulness on her forehead. Feeling eyes on him, he looked over his shoulder self-consciously.

Several of the patrons were watching them with interest, and he gently extricated himself Maria’s embrace, saying quietly, “Come on. Let’s go in the back.”

He guided Maria out with an arm at her waist, but when Liz was slow to respond, he stopped.

“Liz?” At her continued lack of response, he stepped inside and took her gently by the arm to begin leading her out. “Come on, Parker. Don’t fall apart on me here. Let’s just go in the back, okay?”

He was assailed with the tumult of her emotions the moment he touched her. He could feel the trembling aftermath of her fear, the terrifying realization that someone was really after them and could have even killed them, and... a jarring note of guilt.

Michael was puzzled by that last one, but he didn’t take the time to analyze it. Liz kept looking at him almost incomprehendingly, and he was worried that she was in some kind of shock or something. He swept his hand down her back in a single, soothing motion, then gently pushed her forward.

As they exited the rest room, Maria reached for her and said, “Come on, Lizzie.” She wrapped an arm around Liz’s waist, and the two girls clung to each other as Michael ushered them through the swinging door to the back.

He got them both settled on the couch in the break room, then crouched on the floor in front of them.

Rubbing a hand along the outside of Maria’s thigh, he asked again, “You’re sure you’re alright? He didn’t do anything? Did he say anything this time?”

Maria shook her head and said unsteadily, “He- put up his hand, like he was gonna blast us or something...but nothing ever happened. You were right, Michael. We shouldn’t have gone out there.”

Dismissing the matter of who was right and wrong as unimportant, he said, “As long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters.”

“This is really real, isn’t it?” Liz asked in a slightly dazed tone. Looking at Maria, she said, “It wasn’t just a hallucination this time. You saw it too. And...” she switched her attention to Michael, “You said before, ‘they got away’. You actually saw someone running away?”

“Yeah,” he confirmed gently. “I saw them go around the corner over beside Movies and More, and then they got in a car and drove away. Fast,” he tacked on, failing to mention the fact that they’d almost run him down. “I don’t think it was really Nicholas, though. I could see him over the steering wheel,” he said with grim humor.

“So... it was a mindwarp?” Maria asked distressfully. The idea that someone had been playing around with her mind totally freaked her out.

Michael’s hand had come to rest just above her knee, and now his thumb brushed her leg in a comforting gesture. “It kinda looks that way,” he affirmed.

Just then, the phone out in the front began to ring insistently.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back,” Michael said, getting up to go answer it.

“Somebody should really get back out there to the customers,” Liz said faintly.

“Don’t worry about that. I got it,” Michael assured her on his way out.

A couple was standing patiently at the register waiting to pay when he got out there, and he held up a finger to indicate he’d be with them in a minute, then picked up the phone underneath the counter.

“Crashdown,” he answered shortly.

“Is everything okay over there?” Max asked without preamble. “I’ve been having the weirdest feeling that something was wrong,” he said worriedly.

“Yeah, it is,” Michael told him. “Knock off early and get over here, would ya? Liz needs you right now.”

“Is she alright? What happened?” Max asked with a panicked tone.

“She’s fine. Just shook up,” Michael hurried to assure him. Turning his back slightly towards the customers, he said quietly, “She saw Nicholas again. Maria saw him too this time,” he added significantly.

“I’ll be right there,” Max said abruptly and hung up.

Michael took care of the customers at the register, then made a quick check around to all the tables to see if anyone needed anything. Fortunately, the café wasn’t too awfully busy, and the customers seemed to be understanding of the supposed situation, a few going so far as to express concern over Liz and Maria. By the time Michael had reassured them that the girls were fine, and had fulfilled a couple of requests, Max came quietly bursting through the door.

Their eyes met across the room, and Michael indicated with a small movement of his head that they were in the back, sending Max hurrying in that direction.

He couldn’t believe this was the second time in as many days that Nicholas had managed to slip in and show himself to Liz when he and Michael were so nearby. It terrified him to know how easily the enemy alien could get to her. He felt a brief flash of anger at Michael for not keeping a better eye on her when he couldn’t be here himself, but Max tamped the feeling down. He needed to be calm for Liz’s sake. She was probably feeling even more scared than he was right now, he thought with concerned regret.

Liz thought she’d been holding it together pretty well until Max strode through the door. Though a myriad of churning emotions were bubbling inside her, they seemed to be somewhere in a place so deep she felt numb to them, allowing her to function in an emotionless void that didn’t require thinking too much about what had just happened. But the minute Max entered the room, feeling seemed to come rushing to the surface with prickling awareness, and tears sprang to her eyes as she catapulted off the couch to throw herself into his arms.

Max caught her up against him and held her crushingly, one hand going up to cup the back of her head protectively.

“Are you okay?” he asked with gruff emotion.

She nodded tightly against his chest, and his hand closed around her hair as he threw a searching glance behind her at Maria to make sure the other girl was okay too.

Maria forced a weak smile and said, “We’re okay. Just majorly freaked is all.”

He accepted that with a small nod, then leaned back a little, lifting Liz’s face in his hands. Her big brown eyes were swimming with tears, and Max’s heart clenched painfully at seeing them.

Brushing at her cheeks with his thumbs, he asked with concern, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Liz nodded in reply, and she wanted to reassure him that nothing had really happened beyond another huge fright. She didn’t want to worry him. But her throat felt too tight to speak, and the next thing she knew, tears were leaking from her eyes and cascading hotly down her cheeks.

“Liz?” Max questioned in alarm.

“I’m sorry,” she said on a breathless sob. “I don’t know why–“ the rest of her words became choked in her throat, and she could only shake her head helplessly. She tried to stop the tears from falling, but it was as if her feelings of helplessness, and the knowledge that Max was here to catch her if she failed to be strong at the moment, had broken something loose inside her, and she couldn’t seem to stem the flow.

His face twisting into an expression of caring sympathy, Max tenderly enfolded her in his arms and rubbed her back soothingly. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “You’ve been under a lot of pressure lately. It was bound to catch up with you sooner or later.” Rocking her slightly within his embrace as she cried, he stroked her hair and whispered, “Just let it go, sweetheart.”

His tender words of understanding seemed to break down some final barrier, and Liz clung to him tightly as sobs began to wrack her body. As though they’d been given permission now to fall, her tears flowed in a torrential outpouring. What had begun as an emotional reaction to the fear of being killed and all the resulting implications of that incident, quickly evolved into something more, as she found herself crying for everyone and everything. For the whole Future Max ordeal and the pain she and Max had been put through. For Tess and her misguided notions of destiny that might still cause the end of the world even after all they’d endured. For the stress of lying to her friends and hiding her relationship with Max when all she wanted to do was be with him and be happy. For Maria and Max and all the pain and confusion her connection with Michael was causing them. For Michael and his desperately unhappy childhood. And for all these alien changes that had been set into motion inside her without her consent, changing her life irrevocably. Changing her irrevocably.

Liz was hardly able to even recognize herself anymore. She was deeply shaken by the knowledge that, if circumstances had led to it, she would have done her best to kill Nicholas. It scared her to know that about herself. And she cried with a strange sort of grief, as though the Liz Parker she’d once been had died or something, and this new stranger had taken her place.

It seemed she might possibly drown in sorrow as everything came pressing in on her at once, and she felt powerless to do anything but stand there and watch as it all threatened to bury her beneath its heaviness. She just didn’t seem to have control over anything anymore, and it left her feeling aimless and adrift in a vast sea she had no idea how to navigate.

Max continued to stroke her and murmur soothing platitudes while she cried out all her fear and helplessness, the sound of her heart-wrenching sobs making his chest constrict. As he lay his cheek against the softness of her hair, his lips curved sadly. His sweet, tough Liz, he thought with loving affection. Such a tender soul and yet so brave-hearted. She’d been strong and unflinching for so long now- since May really- and this emotional storm had probably been a long time in coming. He’d felt the urge to break down like this himself over the past several months. But even though he was sure this was something she needed, her pain tore at his heart, and made him ache with regret for all she’d been through recently and the part he’d played in all of it.

He decided on the spot that she was not going to hear anything more from him about the problem he was having with the connection between her and Michael. Even if he had to block part of himself from her when they connected to do it. She had enough to worry about without adding that to the pile, he told himself reproachfully.

Michael entered the break room quietly after one of the waitresses that was working the night shift had come in to take over out front. The cook who was to relieve him was due in any minute. His steps faltered in hesitation next to Max and Liz as he crossed the room, and he and Max exchanged a brief look over the sobbing girl’s head tucked under Max’s chin, before he moved on to sit on the couch next to Maria. She immediately moved in against his side, and Michael put an arm around her shoulders to pull her in close as they somberly bore silent witness to Liz’s tears.

Michael was disconcerted to feel unshed tears thick in his own throat, and troubled confusion swelled inside him oppressively. He was almost positive that he was feeling what Liz was feeling, despite the fact that they weren’t connected. Maybe because her emotions were so strong right now, he concluded. As he tried to hold back the flood of painful emotions, Michael sat with down-bent head, unable to help but share in her sadness.

Maria, too, was subdued during Liz’s emotional outpouring, her terror from before all but forgotten in the face of her friend’s pain. She guessed this had been the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back. Liz had just been carrying too much for too long. It made Maria feel deeply ashamed of her childish behavior the past couple of days, and for treating Liz the way she had. She should’ve been more understanding of Liz’s point of view in the whole connection thing instead of striking out in resentment and giving her the silent treatment the way she had, she thought with self-remorse.

When her sobs had died down to an almost silent hitching of breath, Liz buried her face tightly against Max’s firm chest, embarrassed over losing it like that. It wasn’t like anything had really even happened that had been terrible enough to provoke it.

Max was feeling incredibly attuned to her emotions in that moment, and when he became aware of her embarrassment, he hugged her to him comfortingly and dropped a soft kiss atop her head.

Bending his head over hers, he said gently into her ear, “Nobody blames you for doing this after everything you’ve been through, Liz. It’s completely understandable, okay?”

A barely perceptible nod was all the reply he received, and Max leaned backwards at the waist to see her face, lightly palming the soft curve of her jaw.

The sight of her flushed, damp cheeks made his heart melt, and it brought every protective instinct he owned rushing to the fore. He would give anything to save her from all of this.

Smoothing her hair away from her face before brushing away the remnants of her tears with his thumb, he asked, “Feelin’ better now?”

Fingering a button low on his jacket, Liz peeked up at him, before lowering her eyes and nodding shyly. Her throat felt scratchy and raw, and a slight headache throbbed behind her eyes, but she did feel better. A little lighter somehow. She’d just suddenly been feeling so overwhelmed by all the upheaval and uncontrollable circumstances. Thank goodness Max had been here, she thought, glancing up at him in loving gratitude. He was her port in the storm, gentle and understanding, and offering a steadying strength to hold her upright.

Max pushed the fall of her hair over her shoulder and asked softly, “Wanna talk about it now? I’m not really even sure what happened here. Michael said you saw Nicholas but you weren’t hurt, and that’s about all I know.”

Her voice husky from her bout of crying, Liz said, “Yeah, um... w-we can talk about it. I only know what I saw, though. Michael actually went after someone.”

Max threw a slightly startled glance Michael’s way, then looked back down at her with a nod, and placed a kiss on her forehead, before they turned to face Michael and Maria on the couch.

Not looking at them directly, Liz said self-consciously, “Sorry.. about the- um, the meltdown.”

“Don’t apologize, chica,” Maria said gently in understanding. “You were definitely entitled.”

Liz darted a glance at them, then looked away and nodded.

“You okay?” Michael asked quietly. He could still faintly feel the tumultuous swirl of her emotions, but they didn’t seem to be quite as dark and tangled as they’d been only a few minutes ago.

With a softening of her features at his concern, Liz met his eyes shyly and nodded again. “Yeah, I- I guess everything just... kinda caught up with me at once.”

Sensing that she just wanted to move on without anymore discussion of it, Max slipped an arm around her before asking Michael, “So- you went after him? And he got away?”

Maria felt Michael stiffen beside her at the way Max had phrased that. As if Michael had failed. He’d let them get away. She knew Max hadn’t meant it like that, but the way things stood between the two boys right now, she knew Michael would probably take it that way.

Hoping to forestall a defensive outburst, she said quickly, “He got away in a car, Max. There wasn’t any way Michael could’ve kept up with him.”

At her quick defense of Michael, Max realized how his words must have sounded, and he hurried to assure him, “I wasn’t saying you let him get away, Michael. I was just asking what happened.”

Michael accepted that with a tight nod, then proceeded to tell them about his pursuit and how the runner had made his escape. “I didn’t get a real good look at the guy,” he admitted, “But I really don’t think it was Nicholas. This guy seemed a little bigger than the pipsqueak.”

Max frowned. “So- what, you think this was a mindwarp?”

“Yeah,” Michael answered simply, giving Max a direct look.

“Tess?” Max voiced the possibility grimly.

Shrugging a little, Michael replied, “It’s possible I guess, but they were driving a dark gray Taurus. Unless she somehow managed to get her hands on an unmarked car, I’d say it was someone else.”

“A dark, unmarked vehicle?” Maria said uneasily. “Does that not just scream FBI?”

Michael made a considering motion with his head. “Yeah, maybe. But an alien with mindwarping capabilities in the FBI?”

“Why not? Whittaker held a public office, and she was an alien,” she pointed out.

Max had gone quiet and still at the suggestion that this was someone from the FBI. The idea had made him go cold all over, and now acid was churning violently in his gut. And the thought of someone with alien powers in the FBI was even more terrifying. What would someone like that be able to do if he ever captured one of them? And if Liz was the one he was after... the idea didn’t even bear thinking about. He would go out of his mind if he even considered it.

Beside him, Liz could sense Max’s state of unrest in the stiffness of his posture. She’d curved her body to fit his when he’d put his arm around her, turning her front to his side and resting her head on his shoulder while she’d listened to their exchange with quiet disturbance. She shared Max’s fears completely. This whole situation was just unnerving to her. And she knew the suggestion that this was FBI had to be resurrecting old terrors in Max. But it really didn’t seem to make sense.

Tightening her arm around his waist as comfort for them both, Liz quietly said, “But if this is someone with the FBI, or even just an enemy alien, what could their plan possibly be? I mean, they really haven’t done anything... except scare us. It’s like- they’re just out to- to terrorize us or something,” she ended with a slight shiver.

Forgetting his own fears as he sought to soothe hers, Max pulled her in closer to his side and asked gently, “What did he do this time? When you saw him?”

Liz related the entire incident that had taken place in the alley, catching him up on all that had happened.

When she was through, Max looked at her sternly and asked, “What were you two doing going out there by yourselves in the first place? We aren’t supposed to go anywhere alone, remember? Especially after what happened yesterday.” He sent an accusatory look at Michael and asked, “Why weren’t you with them?”

Michael felt his defensive hackles rise, but he knew Max was right in accusing him. He shouldn’t have let them out of his sight. No matter what Maria had said. If anything had happened it would’ve been entirely his fault.

“It wasn’t his fault, Max,” Maria defended, as if she’d heard what he was thinking. “It was mine. I talked him into letting us go. We were just going out to the dumpster. I didn’t think anything could happen,” she excused guiltily.

Filled with self-reproach, Liz confessed timidly, “He probably wouldn’t have let us go if- if I had told him I had a feeling someone was watching us when he asked earlier.” Max looked at her sharply, and she said quickly, “I thought maybe it was just my imagination. And I wanted to tell you about it first.”

She dropped her eyes from his, and Max looked from one to the other of them, each blaming themselves for the episode.

Sighing, he said, “Alright, look- it happened. Everybody feeling guilty about it isn’t gonna change anything. Thankfully, nothing really bad happened this time, but from now on, no one goes anywhere unless one of us is with you, okay?” He looked from Maria to Liz to make sure he had their agreement, and they both nodded. “And I think we can trust your instincts, Liz. They haven’t been wrong yet. If you think someone is watching us, they probably are,” he said grimly. “It doesn’t matter who you tell first, just so long as you tell someone when you think it’s happening, okay?” he ended gently, feeling a little guilty, himself for that part. He knew he was at fault for making her think that way, and he would’ve never forgiven himself if something had happened to her because he’d made her feel as if she were doing something wrong by telling Michael something he’d needed to know just because she hadn’t told him about it, first.

They all fell silent as Michael’s replacement came through the swinging door on his way to the kitchen. He cast a curious glance their way, but the look on Michael’s face urged him to just keep walking, and he did so hastily.

When he’d disappeared into the kitchen, Michael said, “Let’s get outta here. The other’s’ll be at my place soon. We should tell them about this so they’ll be on the lookout.”

Max would feel better if everyone were all together in one place where they could keep an eye on them, but after everything that had happened, he wasn’t sure Liz was still up to tonight’s activities. Which would be fine. He just knew that wherever she wanted to be, he was going to be there too.

Without releasing his hold on her, he looked down into her face and asked, “Do you still want to do this tonight, Liz? I’ll stay with you whatever you want to do. If you want to just stay here, we can.”

Liz took only a moment to consider. There was no question that she wanted to be with Max right now- needed to be, really- but she thought it might be better if they were with the group. She had complete faith in Max’s ability to protect her, but she thought she might feel better if he had some back-up readily available. If this lunatic came after them when it was just the two of them, she would fear for Max’s safety if he had to fight this enemy alone.

Smiling her thanks for the offer, Liz said, “I’d really rather not be here right now, Max. We should go ahead with our plans. I- think I could probably use the distraction.”

“Okay,” he said easily, smiling softly in understanding.

He pressed a kiss to her temple before reluctantly letting her leave his arms, and the four of them left for Michael’s, watchful caution directing their every move.

Chapter 50

Liz and the four aliens were all lying in various positions as they tried to share another one of Liz’s dreams. They had piled pillows and blankets on Michael’s living room floor, and now Liz lay at Max’s side with an arm stretched across him to make contact with Isabel, who was lying on his other side, and Tess was behind Liz with a hand on her upper arm to connect them. Michael was stretched out on the couch above them.

With a feeling of amusement, Liz recalled the way Isabel had complained that it was hardly fair that he got to enjoy the comfort of the couch while the rest of them had to lie on the hard floor. To which, his surprising reply had been, ‘Well, I guess maybe there’s a few merits to this connection after all.’ He’d darted a glance at Maria and Max after saying it, and Liz had chanced a peek at them as well to find them showing no visible reaction to his statement. She wasn’t sure if that was because what he’d said hadn’t bothered them, or because they just didn’t want to upset her. The three of them seemed as if they were trying to be really careful of her feelings. She might say they were almost treating her with kid gloves, ever since her outburst at the Crashdown.

Liz was still embarrassed about breaking down in front of them like that. It was ridiculous that after everything she’d managed to get through in recent months with a certain amount of stoicism, a small run-in with Nicholas that had really done no harm had made her lose it that way. Of course, physically it had done no harm, but emotionally, she’d been scared out of her mind. She’d honestly thought she and Maria were going to die in that alley. And though Nicholas had turned out not to be real, the whole incident had been enough to leave her and Maria pretty subdued tonight. They hadn’t really had a chance to talk to each other about it, but Liz knew that for her part, it was extremely disturbing to know that there was someone out there who could be secretly watching them at any time, and he had absolutely no compunction about terrifying them the way he had. Even scarier was the thought that he was only playing with them before he really did kill them. And he could strike at any moment.

Liz shifted restlessly with the disturbing thought, and after a moment, she heaved a sigh. This wasn’t working. They’d been lying here like this for a good 20 minutes, and she wasn’t the least bit drowsy. She opened her eyes to find Max looking over at her.

“Can’t sleep?” he asked with husky softness.

“No. You either?”

Max shook his head in answer, leaving unsaid that her fitful movements beside him had alerted him to the fact that she was having trouble sleeping, so he’d stayed awake too.

“Do you want to go talk or something?” he suggested.

Glancing at the sleeping Isabel while she considered, Liz said quietly, “Let’s just give it five more minutes.”

Max nodded in acceptance, and they both fell silent as she snuggled in against his side and closed her eyes once more. Necessity had dictated that she lie close beside him so she could reach Isabel at his other side, but it was an action Tess hadn’t seemed too thrilled over. She really hadn’t been able to argue with it though, seeing as how Isabel had quickly lay claim to the position next to him, and they thought they all needed to be in contact with Liz in some way. Liz didn’t know whether to be upset that Tess had seemed bothered by it at all, or encouraged over the fact that she’d fallen in with the sleeping arrangements quickly enough.

After her prescribed five minutes were up and she was still no closer to sleep, Liz sighed in defeat.

Almost before she’d fully gotten her eyes open, Max was quietly climbing to his feet. Reaching down for her hand to pull her up with him, he said softly, “Come on.”

When she was up, they wandered over to the kitchen where Maria, Alex, and Kyle were sitting around the bar engaged in quiet conversation.

They looked at Max and Liz in some surprise when they ambled up, and Kyle threw a quick glance at the still-sleeping aliens, before saying facetiously, “What’s the matter? Need a bedtime story?”

“Funny,” Liz said with a fake little smile. “I just can’t get to sleep. I have too much on my mind, I guess.”

“Well turn on the t.v. and watch half an hour of info-mercials,” Alex suggested. “That’s always worked for me. Especially that one for like that...” he gestured with his hand, “Miracle car wax or whatever? Fifteen minutes of watching that dude wax on, wax off, and put his poor car through torture, and I’m out like a light.”

“What’re you talkin’ about, man?” Kyle mildly protested, commandeering one of the bags of chips Michael had set out for them. “That’s like a top of the line car-care product. It really does everything they say it will, you know,” he informed them, munching on one of the chips he’d retrieved.

“What, you’ve tried it on the mustang?” Alex asked disbelievingly. At Kyle’s nod, he said skeptically, “You’ve actually tried setting your car on fire.”

“Well- not on fire,” Kyle admitted. “But I did hold the lighter very close. I’m sure it would’ve melted some cheap Car-Mart brand. But this stuff? It’s like...” he cast about for a descriptive equivalent, and when his eye fell on Max, he gestured toward him as if he’d hit upon the perfect description, “An alien force-field for your paint job.”

The corner of Max’s lip tipped up a little as he gave Kyle a dry look, then he shared a small smile with Liz, beside him. It was the first he’d seen from her since the incident with Nicholas earlier, and for some inexplicable reason, it made Max want to wrap her in his arms protectively.

Michael chose that moment to join their small group.

“You’re still awake, too?” Maria said, as he came to a stop next to the stool she was sitting on and slung an arm around her shoulders.

He shrugged as he reached for a handful of chips for himself. “No point in sleepin’ if Liz isn’t goin’ to. She’s kinda the star of the show,” he pointed out logically.

Alex glanced over at the two sleeping figures left on the floor. “Well should we wake up Isabel and Tess?” he asked.

“I still want to try this,” Liz assured them, in favor of letting the girls sleep. They might have trouble getting to sleep again themselves, if they woke them now. “I just need.. a distraction or something. You know? Something that’ll just tire out my brain so it’ll stop racing and let me get to sleep.”

“Which would be what, exactly?” Alex asked with lifted brows.

With a small shrugging motion, Liz paused for a moment to consider. The idea she came up with had her casting a slightly uncertain look between Max, Maria, and Michael. Almost as if she were asking for an endorsement from all three of them, she asked, “Do you- think maybe we could work on the connection a little? That really seemed to tire me out last night.”

Max and Maria seemed to develop a sudden interest in the counter top, neither of them putting up a word of objection. Of course, Max couldn’t really object even if he’d wanted to, Liz acknowledged with regret. Not with Kyle and Alex sitting right there. She would’ve liked nothing better in that moment than to offer him some small gesture that might reassure him, but their unwitting witnesses put the same kind of restraints on her. Liz felt a brief flash of resentment that they couldn’t just be open about the status of their relationship.

Michael sent the same kind of questioning look towards Maria and Michael as Liz had before saying in agreement, “Yeah, uh- we could work on figuring out how to block each other again if you want. I promise I won’t push you out the way I did last time,” he tacked on, looking at Max in assurance as he said it.

Max steadily returned his look, acceptance of Michael’s promise in he dark gaze, as well as a silent warning that he would hold him to his word.

Liz dared to brush Max’s hand with her own as she was leaving his side, and Max made an infinitesimal move of his arm to prolong the contact for as long as possible. They exchanged a gaze that spoke to one another when she moved around him to follow Michael into the living room, their eyes holding on to their lovers’ gaze until the last possible minute.

Once she and Michael had reached the main living area, he scooted the room’s only chair within reaching distance of the couch, nudging the corner of a blanket out of the way with his foot as he did so.

Alex and Kyle watched with interest as Liz sat down cross-legged on the end of the couch, and Michael took a seat in the chair in front of her. Reaching out, they linked hands, and stared at one another intently, then became utterly still and silent.

Kyle eyed them raptly, the bag of chips lying forgotten in his hand. “So what is it they’re doin’ exactly?” he asked, in a tone that said he was sure he knew the answer but somebody tell him again.

Glancing over at the frozen couple, Maria answered darkly, “They’re in each other’s heads.” When Kyle just looked at her in incomprehension, she reluctantly elaborated. “They can both hear everything the other one is thinking, and they’re trying to find out if there’s a way they can block their thoughts from each other.”

Kyle lifted a brow. “So they’re like, talking to each other inside their heads? Like telepathy or something?”

Maria nodded tightly.

“Freaky,” he commented leerily. “And they can hear each other like that all the time?” He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to always have an alien presence in your mind. Or a human presence, depending on whose point of view you looked at it, he supposed. But whichever way you looked at it, it didn’t sound very cool, and Kyle wondered worriedly if that was something he could expect to develop in the near future.

“Not all the time. Only when they’re connected,” Max finally answered when Maria failed to.

“So why not just stop connecting?” Alex asked in consternation. He’d heard most of this from Isabel, but he didn’t get that part. It looked like if this connection was causing so many problems for everybody, they would just stop using it.

“They think they can find out why the connection’s there if they explore it,” Max explained expressionlessly, as he sent a brooding glance at the two in question.

Alex made a face of comprehension, and the four of them watched the mysteriously connected twosome until their utter lack of action failed to hold their attention. Their conversation moved on to other topics, and every now and then, each of them glanced at Michael and Liz with differing expressions.

Kyle’s gaze especially, was drawn to them again and again with an almost morbid fascination. Here was Liz Parker, his one-time girlfriend, a girl he’d grown up with, and who was 100% human, sitting there engaging in an alien activity as if it were no big thing that she had audible brain waves. Audible to one other person, at least.

If it weren’t for an occasional change in their expressions, or even freakier, a slight move of their heads in a yes or no motion every so often, Kyle would’ve thought they were just having an incredibly intense staring contest. Knowing what they were really doing totally wigged him out.

He’d grown somewhat used to the fact that this kind of alien weirdness existed in the world, thanks to living with Tess these past few months. Although, he tended to forget about Tess’ other-worldly status a lot of the time he was with her, until she reminded him of it forcefully by doing something totally outrageous, like changing the clothes she was wearing right in front of him, with nothing more than a wave of her hand. Presto chango, Barbie’s wearin’ a new outfit.

Or creepier yet, she would do something like change his own clothes. While he was still in them. No matter how many times he flayed her for working her voo-doo on him, she continued to get a kick out of freaking him out by pulling her cute little alien stunts every once in awhile.

But that was Tess, who’d been born with a little green blood in her veins. This was Liz, who was only capable of doing this kind of stuff because of something Max Evans had done to her. And he’d done that same something to him.

Kyle had done his best not to really think about that too much. If he was somewhere that he was able to, he immediately threw himself into a session of meditation to rid himself of them whenever thoughts of alien changes crept in to haunt him.

But looking at Liz now, he couldn’t help but wonder if he might be capable of doing the same kinds of things she was.

He just didn’t see how she was taking this whole change thing in stride as well as she was. Kyle would never admit it to another living soul, but it terrified him to think he’d been changed into some alien-hybrid freakazoid. Because it that were true, it seemed like everything he’d ever known about himself would become null and void. He wouldn’t even know what he was anymore. Or what he might become. It was true that he hadn’t shown any signs at all of being different, but all this creepiness hadn’t shown up in Liz either, until now, over a year after the fact. The idea that he might have another year of appearing normal wasn’t really all that comforting. Waiting that long for the other shoe to drop did not sound like fun. The questions about it could drive him crazy before then, if he let them. He didn’t even know what being changed meant. Had Max actually changed something inside him physically? Kyle didn’t know how he would ever find out the answer to that unless he went to a doctor or something, and now he would be forever afraid to do that. If he were to ever have an accident like the one he’d had several months ago when he’d sprained his ankle playing basketball, it could easily turn into a nightmare. What would a doctor do if he found out Kyle was a little martianally inclined? Would he try to split him open right there on the examination table so he could discover just exactly what a human-turned- space-freak looked like on the inside?

Kyle didn’t know how Tess and the others had lived with the fear of someone finding out what they really were for almost 17 years. He would be a complete basket case if he’d lived with this all his life.

But Liz had been right about one thing the other day when they’d had that conversation in his car. Probably the biggest fear was just not knowing. If he just knew for sure what was going on inside him, and what to expect in the future, maybe he could find some way to move on from there and somehow learn to live with it.

Without quite knowing how he’d gotten there, Kyle found himself over in the living room, standing next to Liz and Michael. They didn’t seem to even realize he was there at first, but after a few minutes, they broke eye contact as if they were severing a physical link, and blinked a little disorientedly, before lifting their eyes to him in question.

Sliding his hands into his pockets, Kyle shifted self-consciously.

Glancing at the sleeping girls a few feet away, he said quietly, “So, uh... havin’ any luck?”

Michael and Liz exchanged a glance, before Liz nodded slowly and replied, “Yeah, maybe. But it was taking every ounce of concentration we had. If we connected to do something else, I don’t know if we could do both at the same time.”

“Maybe with practice we could,” Michael said optimistically.

Liz nodded and watched Kyle do the same, and when he continued to just stand there awkwardly, she asked quizzically, “Did you want something, Kyle?”

"No," he denied in an attempt at casualness. Realizing he probably should offer some reson for coming over and interrupting, he said, "I just wanted to see how things were goin'." He paused briefly, then asked offhandedly, "So, you guys can actually talk inside your heads, and you can hear each other just like you were talkin' out loud?"

"Um- yeah. Pretty much," Liz replied.

"And you can't do that with any of the others?" he asked Michael. "I mean, it's only Liz you can talk to like that, right? It's just something about her that lets you do that?"

A little tight-lipped at the resurrection of all the old questions, Michael nodded in answer.

Liz studied Kyle curiously, wondering what was on his mind, and with his next question she thought she understood.

"So it could be something Max did to her inside that makes you able to do that? Something he changed or whatever?"

Excitement lit Liz’s eyes at what he seemed to be hinting at. Was he finally ready to explore his own ‘change’? And could it be true that whatever linked her and Michael also lived in Kyle right now, simply because Max had changed him too? She looked at Michael and saw the same expression on his face that must be gracing her own features. A 'Do you think this is it? Can we find out here and now?' kind of look.

Trying to moderate her tone, Liz asked, "Kyle, are you thinking maybe you could do something like this?"

"Me? No," he back-pedaled quickly, no longer sure if he really wanted those answers when actually confronted with the prospect. "I mean, we don't know if I've really even been changed. I was just wondering what was goin' on with you two, that's all." His eyes roamed around restlessly, and after only a moment, he asked reluctantly, "Uh- how would I know if I could do it? This... telepathy, or whatever."

"Do you want to try it?" Liz asked, trying not to be too eager and be sensitive to Kyle's feelings in this.

Michael was having to curb his impatience too. He wanted to just sit the guy down and demand that he let them try this. This could settle a lot of the questions they had about the reason this connection existed.

Kyle hadn't answered for a long moment, but he finally asked cautiously, "What would I have to do?"

"Nothing. I'll do all the work," Michael quickly assured him.

"Here," Liz said, scooting over to vacate her spot in front of Michael's chair. "You can sit here." As he took her place on the couch, she asked, "Have you, uh... has Tess ever connected with you or anything?"

“Gotten inside my head, you mean? No, not that I know of,” he answered.

“Well... not that exactly,” Liz corrected. “If you two had connected, you’d definitely know about it. A connection isn’t just someone getting inside your head really, it’s more like...” she came to a halt as she searched for an apt description.

“Sharing who you are with each other,” Michael finished for her quietly.

Liz lifted slightly startled eyes to his, surprised at hearing something like that from him. “Yeah,” she agreed softly. “That’s exactly what it is.”

Kyle looked between them with lifted brows. Guerin ‘shared himself’ with her? Now that was interesting. He hadn’t been completely ignorant of all the bad vibes lately between these two, and Maria, and Evans. It all suddenly became a little clearer to him. Knowing Maria, she must be absolutely freaked over this, Kyle figured.

“So how do you go about doing that exactly?” Kyle asked leerily. “‘Sharing who you are’?” It didn’t particularly sound like something he’d care to do with Guerin, no matter how you went about it.

“You just... form this link between you,” Liz attempted to explain. “You may see, like flashes of memories from each other through it, and you can feel what they’re actually feeling, and sometimes you can get a sense of what they’re thinking about.”

Kyle was liking the sound of this less and less. It sounded like sharing who you were, alright. If he was being honest, it sounded like handing over way too much information. He couldn’t imagine why Michael would be any more eager to do this than he was.

“So we’ll both see that kind of stuff if we do this?” Kyle asked, wanting to be clear on it. “And you’re completely okay with that?”

“I just wanna see if we can do this, Kyle,” Michael answered, tired of all this talk, and wanting some action. It felt like possible answers were just within his reach. “If you’re right about this telepathy thing being something Max somehow created in you too... well it would just be good to finally have some definite answers, okay? We won’t connect for long. Just long enough to see if you can do it.”

Liz could feel his hesitation in his silence, and after a moment, he said, “I don’t know, guys...”

Kyle just felt uneasy about the whole deal. It seemed too... intimate. And too weird to be doing with another guy. Especially one he really didn’t even know all that well.

“Would you feel more comfortable doing it with me this first time, Kyle?” Liz asked gently. “We probably wouldn’t see a whole lot we didn’t already know about each other anyway.” She glanced at Michael to see if that was okay with him. “Do you think this is something I can do on my own?”

Michael shrugged and said, “You won’t know until you try, I guess. But if the telepathy thing doesn’t work, that could be the reason why.”

“Well, if that happens, maybe you’ll feel better trying it with Michael once you see what it’s like,” she suggested, looking at Kyle questioningly.

Kyle didn’t know about that, but it did seem a much friendlier prospect to do this with Liz. It still sounded pretty intense, though.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” he finally answered.

Liz nodded in understanding. “It’s okay. We’ll just take it one step at a time. If you feel weird at all, just break the connection, okay?”

At his nod, she turned around on the couch cushion so she was facing him, and tucked one leg up underneath her

Taking his cue from her, Kyle twisted around until he was mostly facing her, feeling unaccountably nervous about this step he was about to take. In a couple of minutes, he guessed he’d have the answer to whether he’d been changed or not. Or he’d have a better idea of whether it was true, anyway.

Liz held out her hand, palm up in invitation, allowing Kyle to make the next move whenever he was ready.

Slowly, he reached out to take it in his, and she gave it a small squeeze in reassurance. She knew how scared she’d been that night when she’d made that monumental leap in taking Isabel’s hand, and she’d had the strongest incentive she could imagine urging her on. But this was a deliberate decision made with plenty of time to think about it on Kyle’s part. She figured he must be feeling pretty tense about it.

Taking a deep breath, she warmly remembered the fateful words she’d heard so long ago, and repeated them softly. “Okay, just take deep breaths, and try and let your mind blank out.”

Max approached the trio on soundless feet and stopped next to Michael’s chair to ask quietly, “What’s going on?”

Michael glanced up at him and answered, “We’re gonna see if you changed Kyle the same way you did Liz. He kinda got the idea that if the whole connection thing with Liz is because of what you did, maybe he can do the same things.”

Liking the idea immediately, Max said with keen interest, “Oh yeah?”

Reading him like a book, and knowing they were on the same page, Michael grinned a little dryly, and replied, “Yeah.”

Kyle threw a quick glance over his shoulder that didn’t quite land on Max, uneasy with his presence here. He already felt uncertain and a little vulnerable in doing this, and having Max here really didn’t help. This was the guy who had possibly remade him into something not human. The guy who’d stolen his girlfriend and had the affection of someone he really cared for now. The guy who’d saved his life.

His feelings regarding Max had always been a dark confusing mix of emotion, never more so than they had been since the spring. Kyle could probably really like Max Evans if he just didn’t hate the guy so much. Owing him his life... well, frankly, it sucked. Irony was not a pretty thing.

Liz lifted sparkling eyes to Max’s, and his lips curved upward in response. “We don’t even know if I’ll be able to form a connection,” she told him, “But we’re just gonna try it this way first.”

He nodded encouragingly, and she turned her attention back to what she’d been doing before. “Ready?” she asked Kyle.

“Not really. But don’t let that stop you,” he said wryly.

“It won’t hurt a bit,” she teased. “Just relax.”

They locked eyes, and Liz concentrated on reaching out with her mind and touching upon his subconscious.

After a long discouraging moment of trying and being unable to, she redoubled her efforts. It was like she could feel its presence there, hovering nearby, but she just wasn’t sure how to get to it.

“Come on, Kyle, relax,” she murmured, thinking maybe his tension was keeping her from getting in.

“Use your energy to give it a push, Liz,” Michael told her. Judging by the quietness of his own energy, he knew she wasn’t really using her powers.

Instinctively, Liz knew that was what was missing, and she drew together her energy to send it out in a gentle wave towards Kyle’s subconscious, in effect, creating a pathway into his mind.

She suddenly found herself falling into his inner being, a stream of emotion rushing past her. Images of Tess- lots of them- flashed in front of her. Some laughing and playful, some serious and sober, and others sad and lost-looking. Liz could feel how he felt about Tess, and he really liked her a lot. He felt extremely protective of her, and Liz thought he might even love her. But he was afraid of being overlooked in favor of Max again, so he refused to even acknowledge the extent of his feelings for her.

Liz felt a pang of sympathy and regret. She’d had no idea she’d left him with such a wariness. She’d really hurt him last year, she realized remorsefully.

She saw flashes of him with his dad, a few hazy ones of his mom with him when he was very small, and there were even a few brief images of her, one of them in bed together where she felt his desire to help her weighing against a tangled mix of guilt and an almost triumphant vengefulness, then a later remorse. And she saw another flash of their first kiss in the Eraser Room at school, with all its attendant emotions. She’d always known, from that very day that she would only ever have casual feelings for Kyle, but she saw now that he’d believed differently. He’d honestly thought things might become serious between them. Yet another thing she’d been blind to, she realized guiltily.

But the flashes that took her most by surprise were the ones she saw of Max. And they were accompanied by a swarm of feeling so tangled and confused, she almost couldn’t decipher individual emotions. There was an image of Max laughing like she’d never seen him do before, and of him yelling something that sounded like, ‘I’m faster!’ as he raced ahead of Kyle towards a mailbox. There were brief pictures of the time Kyle had come after them when they’d been on their way to Atherton’s house in Marathon, Texas, the time he’d followed her and Max to Michael’s trailer park and had gotten a very wrong idea about what was going on while she’d been leaning over Max trying to fish her grandmother’s ring out of the floor board of the jeep, she saw a flash Max at her window when he’d seen them in bed together, the time the Skins had made everyone in town disappear and Max had told Kyle he wasn’t someone he trusted, and an image that produced a complex snarl of emotion in Kyle, even more so than the others, of the day Max had saved Kyle’s life.

Poor Kyle, Liz thought. It looked like he just couldn’t reconcile his feelings about Max. It must be hard to feel so grateful to someone you had always considered a rival. She wished Kyle didn’t look at Max in terms of an enemy like that. For Max’s sake as well as his own. She didn’t think Kyle would ever be able to feel like a legitimate part of their group as long as his feelings toward Max were so conflicted.

She wished he could see Max the way she did, as a gentle, caring, responsible person, who would never knowingly hurt anyone. She didn’t know if it would help or hinder things to let Kyle be inundated with the millions of images of Max she was sure she had filling her own mind. She knew she could probably block them from him if she chose to. She was already holding back thoughts that might tell him the true state of her and Max’s relationship. But she realized in that moment that there really wasn’t any need.

Kyle wasn’t in her head. In fact, she couldn’t feel him anywhere in her subconscious. For some reason, this connection was only going one way.

Had she done something wrong, Liz wondered, cocking her head in bewilderment. Michael had said Kyle wouldn’t have to do anything and he’d do all the work. Did the same not hold true for her?

Breaking the connection with a small shake of her head, she looked up into Max and Michael’s expectant faces apologetically.

“So what happened?” Kyle asked. “You couldn’t do it, or I couldn’t?”

“Um- I’m not sure,” Liz replied. Shifting her gaze to the two aliens again, she told them, “I connected with him, but he wasn’t connected with me. Did I do something wrong?”

Max and Michael looked at each other in question. They didn’t exactly have tons of experience with connections. There just really weren’t that many different people they’d connected with . But Michael knew in his experience with Maria he’d gotten flashes from her whey they kissed without her getting anything form him. And Max, too, thought that the first time he’d made a connection with Liz when he’d healed her, she hadn’t seen anything inside him even though he’d gotten flashes. Of course, that could have been due to the fact that she’d been completely out of it.

“It ever happen like that for you?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, maybe,” Max answered. “You?”

“Yeah, it’s like that with Maria all the time.”

“Maybe it’s a human thing,” Max concluded.

“Human?” Kyle asked, jumping on the words eagerly. “As in ‘not changed’?”

Liz gave his hand a quick squeeze before letting it go. “We probably shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, Kyle. Maybe it was just something I couldn’t do. One of you guys should try.” Knowing Kyle would probably balk at connecting with Max, she quickly suggested, “Michael, why don’t you do it? If it works, you can check out the telepathy thing.”

The idea that this might prove that he hadn’t been changed, rather than the other way around made Kyle less reluctant to try it with Michael this time, and he turned around to face the other boy in preparation.

“I’m not holdin’ your hand, though,” Kyle said emphatically. “You’re an okay guy and all, Guerin, but I just don’t think we’re ready to go that far yet,” he joked a little nervously.

Giving him a deadly look, Michael said, “Can it, Valenti.” Lips quirking wryly, he added, “We’ll take it easy on this first date, okay?”

Laying his hand on Kyle’s forearm in what was, to his mind, a casual, cool-guy kind of way, he instructed, “Try not to be completely passive this time. If you can feel me when I connect with you, try to reach out with your mind and grab on.”

Kyle looked at him as though he were speaking his native alien language, and said dubiously, “Grab on with my mind. Right.”

Seeing that he didn’t really understand, Max said, “Just give it a try, Kyle. If you’ve been changed like Liz has, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to do this. She hasn’t ever had any problems with it.”

His eyes drifted to hers, and they locked gazes, smiles playing across both their faces as they recalled different examples of the times she’d displayed the ease with which she could connect with him.

Sometimes the link between them came to life like a gentle unfurling, or sometimes blazing to life with electric intensity, but it had always happened with an effortlessness that almost seemed like an unconscious act on Liz’s part.

Of course, the activities they were engaged in when it took place could’ve had a lot to do with it.

“Different circumstances,” she murmured, her eyes glittering with heated memories.

“Yeah. I guess so,” Max agreed huskily.

With a look of disgusted exasperation, Michael nudged Liz’s foot with his own to break up the flirty little show the two ‘friends’ were putting on for Kyle. When Liz realized what he was warning her against, she threw a quick assessing look at Kyle, before dropping her eyes contritely.

Fortunately, Kyle was pretty focused on what they were about to do and what they might find out to catch the slip-up, and Michael further distracted him by saying quickly, “Alright, let’s do this.”

Kyle wasn’t nearly as comfortable staring into Michael Guerin’s eyes as he had been to look into the familiar brown gaze of his former girlfriend, but Kyle told himself to just grit his teeth and be a man here. It was possible they were only seconds away from finding out whether or not he could expect his future children to require pods to hatch from.

On the other end, this wasn’t exactly Michael’s idea of a good time either. He’d had lots of practice with Maria at keeping his inner self closed off, and he was determinedly doing the same thing now. No way was he gonna allow the Buddhist jock even the merest peek into his inner soul. And he didn’t particularly care to have any deep insights into the sheriff’s offspring either. Sure, they’d both turned out to be pretty stand-up guys and all, but how much did he really need to know about the inner workings of a person who lived in a completely different sphere of a completely different planet from his own?

As if she knew exactly what he was doing and why, Liz said quietly, “You have to be willing to let him in at least a little bit, Michael, or he’ll never be able to form a connection of his own.”

The connection between the two boys faltered slightly as Michael broke eye contact to shoot Liz an annoyed look. How did she keep reading his mind like that when they weren’t connected? Maria had done something like that at the Crashdown earlier, too. What, was he becoming completely transparent?

Begrudgingly, he allowed that Liz had a point, and he attempted to open himself up the slightest bit. But he was careful to keep a firm barrier in place to conceal his emotions, and guard against giving Kyle any flashes. If Kyle had the same abilities Liz did, it might become more difficult to hide these things from him, but Michael’s instinct was telling him Kyle wasn’t like Liz. Their connection didn’t feel anything like the one with Liz. Somehow, this seemed more similar to the way it felt when he connected with Maria. Without all the soft emotions, of course. And not anywhere near as fun.

And Kyle wasn’t getting inside him at all. Michael thought he could feel him trying, but it wasn’t working out. After several more minutes of letting him try, Michael cut the guy some slack, and opened to him completely, not really expecting it to make any difference.

And he was right.

A few moments later, Michael broke the connection and said, “Alright, enough, Valenti. It’s obviously not gonna happen.”

Kyle gave up his attempts with a sigh of exhaustion, but then his face was transformed into a picture of joyous relief.

“So that’s it. That means I’m normal, right? No unidentified alien objects floating around inside me, no cravings for barf-inducing tobasco concoctions, no Siamese brain linkage of any kind?”

Liz looked at Max and Michael, her brows drawn into a V of consternation. She was happy for Kyle if he didn’t have to go through any of this stuff, truly she was, but she also felt a bit disturbed by the possibility.

“But that can’t be possible, can it?” she asked. “I mean, look how much it’s changed me. It’s not possible that- it just left Kyle completely unaffected. Is it?”

Max’s expression was a mix between regret, guilt, and sympathy when he shrugged helplessly in response. “I don’t know, Liz. I told you the other night that healing Kyle didn’t exactly feel the same as when I healed you. I don’t really know why, but something was just different about it. I didn’t get any flashes, and the connection just wasn’t the same. I didn’t know if that would make a difference in whether he was changed or not, but maybe it did.”

Max was glad if it was true that he hadn’t totally wrecked another person’s life with an unwitting alien change, but he bitterly regretted the fact that Liz was the one who had to suffer the consequences of the one time he had done that.

From his quarter, Michael was disappointed that this hadn’t provided the answers they were looking for. He’d thought a definite explanation for the connection had been right at their fingertips, but apparently it was staying out of reach. And it made all the questions that much more confusing. He still wasn’t ready to give up on this idea completely, though.

“We can’t take this as proof-positive, though, right?” Michael asked. “I mean, Liz didn’t do the telepathy thing right off the bat either.”

“Yeah, but she could at least make a connection,” Max pointed out.

“Michael’s right, though, don’t you think?” Liz asked of Max and Kyle both. “We shouldn’t dismiss the possibility just because this one thing didn’t work. Would you be willing to try something else, Kyle?”

“Like what?” he asked warily.

Liz blinked. Yeah, like what, she wondered when she realized she didn’t have a ready answer. She hadn’t really had anything in mind when she’d asked, it just seemed like they needed more proof before they scratched this theory entirely. They needed to be sure for Kyle’s sake.

And besides that, what would it say about her own change if Kyle hadn’t been changed with Max’s healing too?

“Well...” she said slowly, looking to Max and Michael for any suggestions they might have.

“Well,” Max repeated, helping her out. “One power that’s common among all of us, even Liz, is the ability to manipulate molecular structure. Maybe we could see if you can do that,” he told Kyle.

Kyle gave a skeptical look. “Manipulate molecular structure,” he repeated tonelessly. “Sounds like nuclear fusion or something. You’re gonna have to give me a little more to gon on than that.”

“Hasn’t Tess ever explained her powers to you?” Liz asked, unable to believe the subject hadn’t come up in almost three months.

“We don’t talk about this stuff,” Kyle answered in short dismissal. Hesitating a beat, he amended, “I don’t talk about this stuff.”

Understanding compassion coloring his features, Max explained, “Molecular manipulation is just when you change the color or shape of an object into something else.”

When his meaning became clear to Kyle, he said ironically, “Like zapping yourself a new outfit.”

“Right,” Max agreed with a nod.

Inwardly, Kyle shook his head, and thought sarcastically, wouldn’t it just be nifty if he could do this trick too. Then he and Tess could have like a clothes-zapping war. The idea stopped his thoughts short, as the intriguing possibility of being able to make her clothes vaporize into nothingness came to mind.

Shaking himself from his inappropriate thoughts, he agreed to try it out.

Maria and Alex watched from across the room as the others explained the process to Kyle, and began to conduct experiments to see if he had the capabilities to do it.

“Has it occurred to you that we’re becoming vastly outnumbered?” Maria asked idly.

Alex lifted a brow questioningly.

“Well, like, you have the four aliens on one side, then you have you and me, in all our human glory, on the other, and now Liz and Kyle are somewhere in the middle, like a couple of pinch hitters for either side.”

Alex smiled. “I’d say Kyle’s position is still pretty much up in the air,” he commented. So far, they seen no evidence that the sheriff’s son possessed any alien abilities. “I think maybe we can still claim him as a member of the Human team.”

That did seem like a likely assumption, as Max, Michael, and Liz worked with Kyle for about fifteen minutes, and found him unable to do even the simplest manipulation, not even at the moderate success level Liz had in doing it.

Kyle was elated. The possibility of his being changed had been weighing heavily on his mind for weeks, looming like a dark threat ready to pounce at any moment. But with each additional failure he encountered with this, his sense of relief grew. I’m a totally human human being, he wanted to crow in triumph.

Liz was completely bewildered. How could this be true? This just wasn’t anything Kyle possessed the capabilities to do. He’d even allowed the three of them to try connecting with him and give him a boost with their energy, but nothing was working. Max had said that he could feel Kyle’s energy moving within him, but there was just no spark to it. It wasn’t charged into a heightened state that they could even help him use.

It had become pretty obvious that he was no different now than he was the day before Max had healed him.

Liz looked at Max, her heart pounding with uneasy distress. She tried to convince herself that maybe he’d been right. Maybe somehow, in some way, his healing of Kyle had just been different than when he’d saved her. But she was having trouble believing it. It was looking more and more like there had to be a completely different explanation for this connection between her and Michael, one that had nothing to do with Max’s healing. And it scared her so much to even contemplate what other reason there could possibly be.

“He can’t do it,” Liz said hoarsely, just wanting to end this farce, and give Kyle the peace he needed over this. She took the ink pen from his hand that he’d been attempting to turn a different color with Michael’s help, and repeated, “He can’t do this. He obviously hasn’t been changed at all. Just... just stop, and leave him alone.”

“Liz...” Max said, his tone sad and remorseful. He wanted so very much to go and enfold her in his arms to give her comfort. It was obvious she was upset over what this meant in terms of her own change.

Liz swallowed hard and looked away from him, his sympathetic face threatening to bring tears gushing once again. What was wrong with her tonight, she wondered in consternation. What was with all the waterworks all of a sudden?

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she shook her head a little, and sighed wearily. “Can we just go to sleep now? I- I feel really exhausted. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble falling asleep.” In point of fact, she welcomed sleep. She felt like crawling somewhere and pulling the covers over her head, actually.

Max looked at her in concern, and asked, “Are you sure you still want to do this, Liz? We don’t have to.”

Liz nodded faintly. “I just want some answers,” she said, sounding tired and defeated. “I’m tired of having all these questions. And all the answers just keep eluding us.”

Looking at her compassionately, Michael said with gentle irony, “Welcome to our world.”

The corner of her lip tilted up, but her expression remained as that of one with flagging spirits.

“Come on, let’s go get some sleep,” Max invited, moving around Michael’s chair to help her out of her seat.

Before she stood, she gave Kyle’s arm a squeeze, and said, “I’m glad everything turned out okay with you, Kyle.”

Kyle was feeling a little guilty to seemingly be getting off scot-free when he knew Liz’s life had been changed so drastically by this supposed change.

“Thanks,” he replied softly. “Uh- I feel like I should say sorry, or something.”

Smiling slightly, Liz asked, “Sorry for what? Being human?” She shook her head. “Don’t be sorry, Kyle. I’m not. I’m happy for you.”

Admiration glowing in his eyes, Kyle accepted that with a silent nod. She really was one of the most amazingly generous people he’d ever known. He was lucky to be able to count her as a friend.

Max stroked her back soothingly as they moved back to their places on the floor, uncaring if the gesture looked overly friendly or not. She needed the comfort right now, and there was no way he could just stand aside and not give it to her.

Liz huddled close against him as they lay down side-by-side, and once they’d gotten settled, Max tilted his head on his pillow just a little to rest it against her forehead. Liz gave him a brief squeeze as she stretched her arm across him to reach Isabel, and though the gestures weren’t nearly as much as they would have liked to offer one another in that moment, the small actions were effective in silently communicating love and support, and they brought a small measure of comfort to them both.

As Michael settled himself on the couch above them, they closed their eyes, and waited for sleep to come sweep them away on the journey toward more answers.

posted on 23-Oct-2001 8:29:57 PM by Destinee
Very soon. *big* Hopefully tonight, but tomorrow night at the very latest. I just can't seem to make this chapter cooperate. Sorry to make you guys wait, but thanks a bunch for asking for more. *happy*