posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:26:37 AM
Title: The Apprentice
Author: Mikyla
Rating: NC-17 for violence and sexual content
Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine. No infringement was intended.
Distribution: Ask first
Summary: AU Max and Liz fic. No Isabel or Tess. Sorry to the fans, but there is no room for them, unless you want them to die. That's all you get lol

Author's note: There's a killer in this one folks. This story deals with the death of a number of people. If that sort of thing offends you please do not read it. If you choose to read it after that, it's on your head, not mine.

Part 1

New York City, New York

Liz sat bolt upright in bed, her heart pounding, her eyes scanning the bedroom restlessly for something out of the ordinary. She found nothing but continued to search, closing her eyes and letting her ears listen to the sounds of her apartment. Nothing. As her breathing and heartbeat returned to normal she turned the examination on herself, wondering what had brought her out of a sound sleep so frightened, terrified. She lay back in bed and tried to capture the elusive dream she'd been having. Then she saw it. Just a small picture, but one she wasn't used to. She focused on it, bringing it closer to herself in her mind so she could see what it was. Her breathing sped up again but she ignored her body's reaction and continued bringing the picture closer, closer, straining to make out something in the blurry image.
When she finally saw what it was, her breathing stopped altogether, and tears welled in her eyes and ran silently down her cheeks. The woman had been beautiful. So beautiful. She wasn't anymore. Now she was just dead, her eyes staring up unseeingly, forever looking into the face of whoever, or whatever, had done this to her. Liz opened her eyes again and rolled over, picking up the phone, holding the image in her head. She dialed the number and waited impatiently for him to pick up. "Valenti."
His voice was grumpy, and despite the sickening image in her head, Liz felt her lips curl in a smile. "Jim it's me."
"Are you ok?" His voice was suddenly alert, infinitely reassuring.
"There's a woman," Liz told him. "I don't know where yet, but she's been murdered. We have to find her."
"We will," Jim said soothingly. "You know we will. What can you tell me?"
Liz rubbed her forehead and sighed. "Nothing besides what I've told you so far. I didn't see her clearly the first time, and by the time I realised what I was seeing I had nothing else. Just her picture."
She heard shuffling and knew Jim was getting out of bed. She did the same, wearily pulling on the robe at the end of her bed, putting it on, and carrying the phone with her into the kitchen.
"If this is another one like the others you'll see something soon. Did you recognize the woman?"
"No," Liz said, frowning. She searched her mind again and came up with nothing. "No, I don't recognize her."
He remained silent on the other end, and Liz knew from experience he was going over the options, working out a plan. Liz heard a door open in the hallway, and she smiled apologetically as Maria stumbled into the kitchen, her hair everywhere, her eyes blinking owlishly. She focused on the gurgling coffee machine and walked towards it unsteadily, absently brushing her lips over Liz's cheek as she went past.
"So, you don't think it's him then?" Jim asked.
Liz didn't even have to think about it. "Oh it's him. I wouldn't have seen the woman otherwise."
Jim murmured in agreement, and they talked about stupid things, inconsequential things, until Liz hung up, promising to be in to work soon. She put the phone on the counter and stared out the window, waiting for the sun to come up.
"You're up early," Maria said quietly, already inhaling her first cup of coffee, handing one to Liz. "Who was that you were talking to?"
"I didn't mean to wake you," Liz said quickly.
Maria waved her hand, indicating the unimportance of it. "Who were you talking to?"
"Jim."
Maria lowered the coffee cup, cradling it against her chest. "Another one?"
Liz nodded.
"Do you recognize her."
Liz shook her head. "Not yet, but I imagine I will."
"Is it him then?"
Liz nodded. "Oh yes. It's definitely The Apprentice."

Violent Crimes Unit

As Liz strode down the narrow hallway she went over the woman's face again and again, trying to feel some spark of recognition, trying to find out who the woman was. So far she had nothing. She pushed against the heavy doors and moved into the huge room, her eyes automatically looking for Jim. She found him standing in front of the table dominating the middle of the room, watching information scrolling on a large monitor on the wall.
"Do we know who she is yet?"
Jim shook his head, and Liz turned to the man banging away at the computer keys. He stopped typing and looked up with a tired smile.
"Morning sunshine. Are you the reason I'm up so early?"
Liz nodded.
"Morning Alex. Who's my lady?"
He turned back to his computer and resumed banging away. "I've gone through the missing persons reports for the last 6 months..."
Liz shook her head. "No, this'll be recent. He hasn't been playing with her for long."
Alex took the new information and fed it into the computer. "I've fed in all the information you gave Jim. Blonde hair, blue eyes, young. It would help if you could give me a city. Even a state."
"I don't know where she is Alex just...just get me the pictures and I'll find her."
He punched a key and a series of pretty faces appeared on the wall monitor. Liz sat down and began looking them over, determined to find her. It took her almost an hour.
"There she is," Liz told them, pointing to the screen. "Number 94. Bring her up Alex."
Her face suddenly filled the screen, and Liz felt hot tears welling again.
"Marjorie Summers," Jim said, reading the facts from a piece of paper he was holding. "Thirty-seven years old. Lives in New Jersey. Reported missing a week ago by her boyfriend when she didn't show up for dinner."
"Alex, get me a map of New Jersey," Liz said quietly. "I need to find her."
The picture moved to a different screen, leaving room for a huge map of New Jersey. Liz stared at it intently, going over the picture of the woman she still had in her mind in minute detail, trying to remember anything new and suddenly pointed.
"She's there," Liz said with certainty. "Norvine Green Forest."
"Um...not that I doubt you Liz, but there a lot of forests in New Jersey. She could be in any of them, if she's in a forest at all," Alex said hesitantly.
"She's there," Liz told him. "Jim...?"
"Alex, call Michael in. Tell him we're leaving for New Jersey and I want him here to take care of this place. You'd better call Kyle in too," he turned to Liz. "Do you want us to bring Maria in? Just until we know more about what's going on here?"
"Yes, please," Liz said gratefully.
"Alex..."
"I'm on it," he said, picking up the phone.
Liz took one last look at the woman's face, alive, healthy, before following Jim out the door.

Part 2

Norvine Green Forest - New Jersey

Liz looked around, trying to see something that might tip her off, something that might tell her that this was indeed the work of The Apprentice. She couldn't see anything.
All around her were the signs of the investigation. Police tape cordoned off the whole area. Little red markers indicated footprints, fibres, blood; anything that was evidence. In the middle, sitting up against a tree, was Marjorie Summers. Liz had taken a cursory glance at her, but had quickly turned to other things. There was nothing anyone could do for her now, except find the man who did this.
"Oh great," Jim said under his breath. "What the hell are they doing here?"
Liz turned around and spotted two men getting out of a car wearing the standard-issue black jacket worn by the FBI, and turned back to Jim.
"They're our guys," Liz said. "What's the problem?"
"They might be FBI but they're not our guys," Jim told her.
Liz grinned at him. "Don't you think you're a little old for these games?"
"I'll never be too old," he muttered, as the two men approached them.
Liz turned around again and her eyes collided with those of one of the men. Everything around her stood still as she watched him stop right in front of her.
"I'm Agent Evans, this is Agent Carter. We weren't informed that there were already people here."
Jim stuck his hand out. "Jim Valenti. Violent Crimes."
They all turned to Liz, and she stuck her hand out, hoping no one would notice how much it was shaking. "Liz Parker."
"And what do you do Ms Parker," Agent Carter murmured, looking her up and down.
Liz straightened her spine and gave him a frosty smile. "I'm a profiler Agent Carter. The MO in this case matches ones we've been working on. I'm here to see if it's the same guy."
"And?" Agent Evans asked.
"Agent Valenti?" A voice called from the other side of the clearing. "I think you'd better see this."
Jim strode off and Carter wandered away, leaving Liz alone with Agent Evans.
"Liz Parker," he said slowly, jogging his memory. "Youngest female to be assigned to Special Forces."
"That's me," Liz said lightly. "A criminal nerd."
"There were all sorts of rumours going around about you," he told her.
Liz sighed. "What? Sleeping with the boss? Cheating on my tests...?"
"Psychic," he said bluntly.
Despite her immediate reaction of fear, Liz looked up at him and laughed softly. "Psychic? Someone actually started a rumour that I was psychic?"
He said nothing, just stood and watched her intently.
"There are no such things as psychics Mr Evans."
"Max," he told her.
Liz blinked at him. "What?"
A smile crept onto his face. "My name is Max."
"Is it?" Liz said slowly. "Well isn't that nice."
"Liz!" Valenti called. "I need you here."
"Something's sure going on over there," Carter said, rejoining them.
"Nice to meet you both," Liz mumbled as she turned away and hurried over to Jim. "What is it?"
He pointed to the ground, and Liz spotted a small piece of paper. She scrunched down to take a better look, and froze.

Teachers always think they're so smart.
Think of this as a pop quiz.
Did you miss me Lizzy?

Liz stood up very slowly, her stomach churning. She heard Jim tell someone to bag the note, and a gentle arm enfolded her and led her away from the scene. She saw Agent Evans out of the corner of her eye, watching her closely, noting how pale she was.
"Come on Liz," Jim said quietly. "Let's get you out of here."
She let him lead her to the car, put her in it and do up her seat belt. He stepped away to talk to a young officer, who nodded and strode away. Then he came around the car and jumped in. Liz closed her eyes and lay her head back against the headrest.
"We'll be home soon Liz," Jim promised her.
"I need a phone," Liz murmured.
"You have one in your bag honey," Jim reminded her.
Without opening her eyes, she scrambled in her bag and came up with her phone. She punched in the number blindly and put it up to her ear.
"Alex? This is Liz. I need you to go through my file and find the names of all of my teachers. Yes, all of them. Do it now please."
Silence reigned in the car while Liz waited for the information. "She is. All right thank you Alex. We're on our way back in now."
She hung up and dropped her phone, unconcerned where it landed.
"This isn't your fault Liz," Jim told her. "You know it's not."
"It wasn't Marjorie Summers fault either," Liz said bitterly. "Now she's dead. And why? Because she happened to have the misfortune of being my fifth grade teacher."

Violent Crimes Unit

Maria sighed hugely and squirmed in her seat. "Are you sure there's nothing to do here? I mean anything? I can't just twiddle my thumbs."
"Yet you do such a good job of it," Michael said sarcastically.
Maria glared at him, then turned in her seat, ignoring him completely. Michael grinned at her back. Maria looked around her and shook her head.
"I do not understand how the hell Liz spends so much time here. It's dreary, there is no television, and these lights do nothing for your complexion."
She turned to see the two men, the little computer guy Alex, and that idiot Michael staring down at her with the same perplexed expressions, and she almost burst out laughing. Now here was a way to entertain herself. She could play the dumb blonde just to see these guy's reactions. The doors swung open and Maria took one look at Liz's face and jumped out of her chair.
"What happened?" She said, rushing over. "Honey are you ok?"
Liz tried to give her a reassuring smile. "I'm fine. How was everything here?"
Maria shook her head. "You're not fine, and everything here was terminally boring. If you hadn't come back just now I was going to hunt down a gun and kill Michael Guerin."
Liz laughed softly. She'd been watching this strange relationship unfurl between her best friend and her colleague since the first time she'd brought Maria in here. "Just Michael?"
Maria glanced up and frowned. "He was the closest."
"Right," Liz said. "Of course he was. Now go and find something to do. Mummy has to go to work."
Maria glanced up, frowned heavily, then turned around and walked off, throwing a glare at Michael as he watched her. Liz shook her head, indulged in another smile, and walked over to the table.
"Alex, what else do we have on Marjorie Summers?"
"Completely ordinary life. Born to good home, loving parents, good at school. Always wanted to be a teacher. Got her degree when she was 23, started teaching at her local school and stayed there. You were in her fifth grade class."
"Could she have known The Apprentice before he killed her?" Liz asked. "Could we find out who he is by asking relatives, friends, anyone like that?"
Alex shook his head. "It's unlikely. You know he doesn't work like that."
Liz sighed and nodded. "It's a long shot I know, but can we try?"
Alex turned away and started hammering away on his computer again. Liz turned to Jim.
"I'm going to go and see if Kyle has found anything."
Jim watched her walk away with a worried frown, then turned to Michael.
"Get me everything we have on The Apprentice. We need to recap."
Michael nodded and walked away.

Part 3

Liz, Alex, Michael, Maria and Jim all sat around the huge table. Information streamed across one side of the huge monitor, while on the other side a series of photos revealed themselves. Jim stood up to address the group, but stopped when the doors opened, and Max Evans walked into the room.
"Every time I turn around," he muttered, going over to see what the guy wanted. "Agent Evans, what brings you down here?"
Max held out a piece of paper with a friendly smile. "I've been reassigned. They said upstairs that you were looking for new people."
Jim looked at the piece of paper. "Did they? First I've heard of it."
Max looked beyond his head, his eyes focusing on Liz. He had no idea if they needed new guys. He's asked to be reassigned. She was the reason he was here.
"Well, I guess you'd better take a seat," Jim said, gesturing to the table. "You're about to get a crash course on our biggest customer."
Max walked over, smiled at the whole table, then chose a chair directly opposite Liz. She sat up straighter and turned to Jim.
"What's going on?"
"Everybody, this is Agent Max Evans. He's been temporarily reassigned down here. Evans, this is Michael Guerin, Alex Whitman, Maria Deluca, and you've already met Liz Parker."
Max nodded to everyone as the introductions were made. When it came around to Liz, his eyes bored into hers. "Nice to see you again."
Liz stared at him for a moment before turning once again to Jim. "We don't have to do this now. Maybe you should show Agent Evans...."
"I told you this afternoon it's Max," he interrupted.
"Maybe you should show Max around a little bit," Liz said through her teeth. "Settle him in before we get into all this stuff."
"We need to do this now Liz," Jim said firmly.
Liz sat back in her chair with a sigh, gesturing for Jim to proceed. Jim picked up a huge manila folder full of pages and threw it in front of Max. Max flipped it open, looked at the top piece of paper and closed it again. "The Apprentice."
"Right," Jim said with a nod. "The FBI's, and our, most wanted man. What do you know about him?"
"He's killed 19 people so far that we know of," Max said. "All in the last 10 years. His methods are never the same twice, making him almost impossible to predict."
"Not almost impossible," Jim told him. "Just flat impossible."
Max nodded, conceding the point. "The faces I see on the screen over there are his victims, another reason he's remained so elusive. No more blacks than whites, no more women than men. He's indiscriminate, not choosing any one group of humanity to prey on. We know very little about this guy. That's why he's still out there."
"When I give you all the official papers to sign, one of them will be a confidentiality statement," Jim told him. "I assume you have no problem with that?"
Max shook his head.
"Then I will tell you now that that might be all the FBI know, but not all we know," Jim continued, pointing a small box at the screen and bringing up all the information they had. Max looked impressed. Liz stood up and stared at the screen.
"The Apprentice is one of the most unique minds of our time," she said. "Almost certainly a genius. As history has proven over and over again, genius mixed with mental illness is one of the most dangerous combinations there can be."
"You think he has a mental illness?" Max asked.
Liz didn't look at him, not wanting to be distracted. "I know he has."
Max thought it was a weird thing to say, but as he looked around the table he held his tongue. No one else seemed surprised by the statement. There was something going on here, but Max knew he would have to wait to find out exactly what it was.
A young man had walked up to the table and was waiting patiently to speak. Liz turned to him.
"Anything?"
The man shook his head apologetically. "Same as all the others. Nothing to tell us it's him but the note."
"Note?" Max said quickly. "What note? The Apprentice doesn't leave notes."
The man turned around, seeming to notice him for the first time. "Who the hell are you?"
"Kyle," Jim said quickly. "This is Agent Max Evans, just arrived from the FBI. Max, this is Kyle, our forensic scientist. And my son."
Max found himself being eyed up distrustfully, and he grinned. "Nice to meet you Kyle."
Kyle took another moment to frown at him, then turned back to Liz. "The family wants her body released as soon as possible. Can I tell them to come and pick her up?"
Liz nodded, picked up her things from the table and turned to Jim. "You don't need me for anything else here. I'll be in my office."
Jim nodded and waved her off. Maria stood as well, smiling at Max, and throwing one last glare for absolutely no reason at Michael before following her friend. Max watched them both go, then turned back to the table and pinned Jim with a glance.
"So this is the part you tell me whatever it is she doesn't want me to know."

Part 4

"No," Jim said firmly, definitely. "You help us work the cases, that's it. Nothing to do with Liz, or whatever involvement you think she has with this case, is any of your business."
"I can't help you if I don't know all the facts," Max argued.
"Then don't help us," Jim said simply. "I'll send a letter saying we don't need you, you go back to doing whatever it is you FBI guys do, everybody's happy."
"Oh I'm not leaving," Max said softly. "But I also can't protect her properly if I don't know everything."
"Protect her?" Jim said, genuinely puzzled. "Why do you think it's your job to protect her? We do that."
Max fought the instinctive anger at being left out this way. He was the new guy. And even if he wasn't, he didn't think he could explain to anyone this driving need he had to make sure that Liz was safe, to see to her safety. To see her at all. He'd only just met her, he hadn't managed to explain it to himself yet. So he stood up and smiled easily.
"You're right," he said breezily. "So...what do you want me to do first?"
"I"ll show you around," Michael told him. "Get you up to speed on the other cases we're working on."
"Meet me later in my office and we'll go over those forms you need to sign," Jim said as they turned to leave.
Max nodded and followed Michael away from the table. When they'd walk for a awhile, Michael pointing out people and places Max needed to know, and filling him in on all the cases, he stopped and turned in a small hallway.
"Don't take anything Jim says about Liz personally," Michael said with a friendly smile. "He's very protective of her."
Max nodded, then gave Michael a shrewd look. "You're going to tell me what he didn't."
"I'm going to tell you some of what he didn't," Michael told him. "The rest you need to find out from Liz."
"You really think she'll tell me?" Max said with a grin.
Michael chuckled. "She won't want to tell you, but she will. You won't let up on her until she does."
Max raised an eyebrow in surprise. Michael chuckled again.
"In this job you have to be able to read people. You're like a big neon sign my friend," he said, holding his hands up and making a flashing motion. "Blink, blink. I really like Liz. Blink, blink."
Max started laughing, shaking his head. "And here I thought I was being so stealthy."
Michael grinned. "Not to me you weren't. Sure was entertaining. So what I think we'll do here is you can ask me whatever questions you want, and I'll answer them if I can."
"Sounds good," Max told him.
Michael nodded and gestured down the hallway. "See me in my office."
Five minutes later Max was completely comfortable, coffee in hand, sitting across from Michael in his office. He didn't waste any time.
"There have rumours flying around about Liz Parker since she started," Max told him. "What I want to know is if any of them are true."
"I'll help you as much as I can," Michael told him. "Fire away."
Max thought about it, then decided for a relatively easy one. "Is she the reason he chose to call himself 'The Apprentice'?"
Michael stood up and walked over to a small TV and video in the corner. "It was just a stupid comment she made on television. Completely harmless."
He rummaged around in a huge pile of video tapes and finally pulled one out, putting it in the video machine. He stepped back and Max watched Liz's face come on screen. Michael leaned over and turned it up.
"This was a statement she gave to a reporter about five years ago," Michael explained.
The reporter smiled into the camera then looked at Liz. "So Miss Parker, explain to us why this man seems so elusive, why the FBI hasn't caught him yet."
Liz gave him a cool smile. "Most serial killers have a pattern. Ted Bundy preyed on white women who looked a certain way, John Wayne Gacy chose only teenage boys. This pattern can be a tool to helping discover the killer's indentity."
"This killer's pattern is different?" The reporter asked, sounding fascinated.
"This killer has no pattern at all," Liz said bluntly. "No specific age group, sex, ethnic background, even city. The victims have nothing in common. He never kills them the same way twice. All of these things make our job incredibly difficult."
"You mentioned Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. Would you say this killer is like them in some small way?"
Liz's impatience began to show and Max found himself grinning.
"If I had to pin a label like that on him, I'd say he's an apprentice," Liz said.
The reporter looked confused. "An apprentice? What exactly do you mean by that?"
"His crimes hold elements of some of the most viscous serial killers of our time. He's learning from the best. Just like an apprentice."
Michael stopped the video and sat back down behind his desk. "So that started it. Perfectly innocent comment. The next time he popped up he'd taken the name 'The Apprentice'. Stupid name if you ask me."
Max could only nod. He considered what he'd seen, what Michael had said, and his head came up quickly. "It's her."
Michael looked at him. "What?"
"You said that after Liz said that on television, this guy started calling himself 'The Apprentice'. That means he was watching. Watching her. You and I both know serial killers are very rarely interested in their own press unless it puts them in danger. She's got a personal stake in this. What is it?"

Part 5

Michael watched him from across the desk but said nothing.
"So that would be one of the questions you're not going to answer right?" Max said dryly.
Michael nodded. Max sighed and sat back. "Ok then, what about the psychic thing. Is that true?"
"Do you believe in psychics?" Michael asked him.
Max thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't disbelieve, but I've never seen a genuine one before."
"I don't know if you'd call Liz psychic," Michael told him. "But she has a special gift. Something I've never seen before. I've never heard her call herself psychic, so that's not how I think of her."
"Explain it to me," Max said. "What exactly do you mean by 'special gift'?"
Michael sighed, his face screwing up as he tried to organize his thoughts. "She sees things. Sometimes before they happen, sometimes not until afterwards. Sometimes it only images, or impressions, other times she knows exactly what happens from beginning to end. Like a movie playing in her head."
"She sees what happens to these people?" Max said, a little sickened. He only ever saw the end result of what humans could do to each other and that was almost more than he could take. Seeing it while it happened...he didn't know how the hell she could cope.
"Yes," Michael said, his tone serious.
Max shook his head in amazement. How the hell could someone live with that? Michael looked up and grinned, and Max turned around. The pretty little blonde that had been sitting at the table stood uncertainly in the doorway. Rachel, Max remembered. He smiled and she came in, smiling back. She didn't even look at Michael, and Max's eyebrows went up.
"Apparently I'm the new messenger boy," she said grumpily.
"Well you make a very attractive one," Max told her.
She beamed at him, then turned to Michael. Immediately her brows slammed together in a frown. "Jim sent me to tell you to bring Max to his office. Something about forms."
"All this time I knew you'd eventually be good for something," Michael replied.
Gasping, Maria picked up a pen, threw it at him, and stalked out of the room. Michael rubbed the spot on his chest where she'd hit him, a huge grin breaking out on his face. Max got out of his chair and waited for Michael to do the same.
"Something going on there?" Max asked casually.
Michael nodded. "If I have my way there will be."
"Good, then I don't have to worry about you and Liz," Max admitted.
"Not about me no," Michael told him. "Just remember what I told you about Jim. I'd back off of her Max, just until you've settled in here. You go after her too fast and you're going to have Jim all over you."
Max said nothing, not wanting to worry the man who seemed destined to be his biggest ally in here. But he wasn't going to back off. He wanted Liz, it was that simple. And he had every intention of getting her.

Liz felt him as soon as he walked into the room. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and her heartbeat stuttered for a minute before resuming at a noticeably faster rate than before. She turned around and faced him squarely, trying not to notice how good he looked.
"Do you need something?" she asked politely. "Or are you lost?"
"I need something," he told her, looking around the room. "But it can wait. This really isn't the time."
Liz knew exactly what he was talking about, and normally she would have ignored a blatantly sexual overtone like that, but something about this man seemed to bring out the worst in her. "I wouldn't say it's exactly the place either."
Max looked behind her to the huge desk, and grinned. "Don't see why not."
Liz's eyes widened, and she knew if she responded it could go on like this forever. "What is it that you want?"
"This case is tied to you," he said bluntly. "I know it is. I want to know why."
"You're seeing something that isn't there," Liz told him, her knees shaking badly. She walked calmly behind her desk and sat down. "I'm the profiler. That's all. I just have to try and find out what makes this guy tick."
"You already know what makes this guy tick," Max said softly. "You've been in his head."
Max knew if he hadn't been watching her so closely he might have missed the way her hands shook, but he didn't.
"Is this the psychic thing again?" Liz said mildly. "Because I thought we'd already covered that."
"What is he to you?" Max persisted. "If you don't tell me I'll just find someone who will."
"If you're spouting this psychic nonsense again you've already found someone who's told you something. They won't tell you anything else. And you're not going to hear it from me."
Max's frustration was building, but he pushed it aside. He's find out sooner or later. For right now he could be patient.
"So how long do you think we have before he kills again?"
Liz looked suspicious at the change of subject, but she went along with it. Well she talked to filled out forms on her desk. "It could be days, it could be weeks. Months even. We just don't know."
"Have you ever anticipated this guy? Maybe been there before him?"
Liz shook her head. "If we had we'd have caught him by now."
"So you only ever see what he's done after it's happened?"
She was distracted, Max knew it, and he took full advantage of it. Liz didn't even look up from her paperwork.
"Most of the time. Sometimes during. But never before."
Silence reigned, and Liz slowly looked up from what she was doing. Max gazed at her, his eyes steady and compassionate. Tears welled in her eyes and hung on her lashes as she pointed a shaky finger at the door.
"Get out."
"No," Max said simply.
"Get out now or I'll have you escorted out."
Max got up, going towards the door. But when he got there he didn't leave, only closed the door and locked it before coming over and sitting back down. Liz picked up the phone, intending to call security, but Max simply reached over and took it off her, pulling the cord out of the wall and throwing it across the room.
"I have a gun in my desk," Liz told him. "I will use it."
"Not on me you won't," Max said confidently.
Liz opened the drawer and pulled out the gun. Max sat there calmly as she took the safety off, lifted the gun slowly, and pointed it straight at his head.
posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:27:39 AM
Part 6

"Wouldn't it just be better if you told me about it?" Max said quietly, his chest hurting as she sat there, pointing a gun at him, helpless tears streaming down her face.
"There's nothing to tell you," Liz cried. "Nothing I want to talk about with you. Leave me alone."
"You're in this guys head," Max said ruthlessly. "He's in yours. You can't carry that around alone. I won't let you. Someone needs to know."
"No they don't," Liz said desperately, holding her arm out further so the gun was closer to him.
Max reached out suddenly and grabbed the gun, pulling it from her before she had any time to react. He put the safety back on and put the gun on the floor. Liz slumped back in her chair in defeat and tipped her head back, closing her eyes.
"Tell me everything," Max said softly. "Explain it to me. How do you see what this guy does?"
"I see what he sees," Liz whispered. "We have some kind of...of mental link. I see it through his eyes"
"How long have you been able to do this? Does it happen with anyone else?"
Liz shook her head. "Only with him. I don't know why. It's been that way since I was eighteen."
Max grappled with that for a moment, sympathy almost crippling his throat. He pushed it aside in favour of getting everything he could from her. "Why you? Why isn't every psychic picking him up?"
"I don't know that they aren't," Liz said, although she knew that was a lie. "They might be ignoring what they see."
"What happened when you were 18? What started it?"
Liz shook her head. "I've already told you more than you have any right to know. I can't tell you about that. I won't."
The doorknob to the office rattled, and Max sighed when whoever it was began banging on the door.
"Liz? Liz why is the door locked? Open the door."
Liz opened her eyes and turned to look at Max. "You'd better open it or she'll call someone."
The banging continued until Max flung the door open. Maria frowned heavily at him, then turned to Liz. "Why was the door locked?"
"I locked it," Max told her. "I wanted to talk to Liz."
Maria's eyebrows shot straight into her hairline and she smiled at Max. "Good for you."
Liz turned her head sharply and glared at her best friend while Max chuckled.
"Maria what do you want?" Liz asked, then she pointed at Max. "And you, get out."
"Oh come on Liz," Maria said, walking in and taking up Max's seat. "The whole thing sounds fairly romantic to me."
"She held a gun to my head," Max said helpfully. "I think it's the beginning of something really beautiful."
Maria turned huge eyes on Liz. "You held a gun to his head?"
"He's becoming a stalker," Liz said definitely. "I have to find some way to curb these tendencies. And besides it wasn't his head. More like the chest area."
Maria turned back to Max. "You're stalking her?"
Max nodded. "It would appear that way."
Maria looked like she was watching a tennis match, her eyes swinging from Max to Liz and back again. She still hadn't found anything to say when Alex appeared in the doorway.
"Liz, Jim wants to see you in his office straight away."
Liz sat forward with a frown. "Did he say what it was about?"
Alex shrugged, smiled at Maria and Max, and left. Liz got up, pointing a finger at Maria. "Don't go anywhere. I'm taking you home."
Max followed Liz out of the office and down the hallway. She stopped outside Jim's office and turned around.
"As you can see I am safely at Jim's office," she said sarcastically. "Jim didn't ask to see you, just me. You're not coming in."
Max grinned. "Don't want anyone knowing we've got something going Lizzy?"
She felt all the blood drain from her face, and she looked up at him in horror. The note she'd seen at the last scene flashed through her mind, as did the notes they'd found on all the victims. Did you miss me Lizzy? Welcome back Lizzy. I love you Lizzy. No one else had ever called her that. No one. Except him. Max put his arm on her arm, saying her name softly, but she pulled back violently.
"Don't touch me," she whispered.
"What's the matter?" Max said urgently. "You're as white as a sheet, what's going on?"
Max heard the door open, and he turned around slowly, facing Jim.
"Get away from her," the older man said quietly.

Part 7

Max stood his ground and waved his hand at Liz. "Find out what the hell's wrong with her. She won't tell me."
"He called me Lizzy," Liz whispered to Jim.
Jim planted himself between the two of them and put his hands on Liz's shoulders.
"Honey you know it doesn't mean anything. You're overreacting. Evans might be annoying but he's not The Apprentice."
"Evans is not annoying," Max said behind him. "And he's still standing right here."
Jim turned around, putting Liz behind him so Max couldn't get a good look at her face. "This was just a misunderstanding Evans, no harm done. I don't think anything else will be happening today, why don't you head on home. I'll see you tomorrow."
Max shrugged as if it made no difference to him and walked away. He ran into Michael at the doors and smiled ruefully.
"So how did it go?" Michael asked.
"Great. Liz wants to shoot me, and now she thinks I'm The Apprentice. As first days go it wasn't boring."
Michael eyebrows shot up and he nodded.
"Not bad," he said in admiration. "I've been working with Liz for a long time and she's never held a gun to my head."
"An oversight I'm sure," Maria said dryly, joining them at the door. "She'll get around to it. And I'll make sure she shoots you."
"Oh come on Deluca," Michael said with a grin. "You know you love me."
Maria choose to ignore him, and the frisson of heat that curled in her stomach, and turned to watch Liz come out of Jim's office. "She looks tired."
"She always looks tired," Michael said quietly.
Maria shook her head. "Not like this. I've never seen her like this. I'm not sure how much longer she can hold up under this pressure."
"Is she sleeping?" Michael asked, moving closer and unconsciously running his hand up and down Maria's arm. For once she didn't push him away.
"Not a lot," Maria admitted. "And not well. I still hear her at night."
Liz walked up slowly, her eyes on all of them. Maria looked worried, so did Michael. Max looked...she decided not to analyze too closely what was in his eyes.
"God will you cheer up," Liz murmured. "You all look manic-depressive."
Michael started chuckling, and Maria grinned. Max was the only one who didn't smile, just continued to watch her steadily. Liz shifted uncomfortably and threaded her arm through Maria's. "Let's go home."
As they walked out the doors Liz felt the prickling at the back of her neck, telling her Max was watching her go. She fought the urge to turn around and look at him again. "Come on," Michael said, pushing the other door open and gesturing for Max to proceed him. "Let's go get a beer. If you buy me enough I just might have some more stuff to tell you about the very beautiful, very mysterious Liz Parker."
"I'm not above bribing a city official," Max said with a grin.
As they walked out Max glanced behind him with a frown. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. Looking around swiftly he saw nothing, and shaking his head at his paranoia he let the door close behind him.

Liz lay in bed looking up at the ceiling, trying to clear her mind before she went to sleep. She didn't think it would work, but she tried the same thing every night. Unbidden, an image of Max Evans popped into her head, and she frowned.
"Oh no you don't," she said loudly. "You can just go away."
"Well fine, but you did ask for the hot chocolate."
Liz sat up in bed and pushed her hair out of her eyes. "No, no. Come in Maria. I wasn't talking to you."
Maria looked around the room slowly, then back at Liz. "Of course you weren't."
"No, it's just that I was lying here and I got this picture in my head..."
Maria set the cups she was carrying on the bedside table and flopped down onto the bed. "Ooooo, was it a dirty picture?"
Liz snickered. "Maria that's gross."
Maria grinned and the two women sat in companionable silence, drinking their hot chocolates. Maria glanced quickly at Liz, then sat back.
"That Max Evans isn't bad," she said casually.
"Compared to what?" Liz said grumpily.
"You don't think he's good looking?" Maria said innocently.
Liz shot her a suspicious glance, but Maria was studying her nails. "If you like that sort of thing."
Maria looked up, saw she was going to get absolutely nothing, and got off the bed. "Well I'll let you get to sleep. I'm assuming I can go back to work tomorrow?"
"I'd rather you didn't," Liz admitted. "But not for any good reason. Just be extra careful ok?"
Maria nodded and walked to the door. She stopped and threw a grin over her shoulder. "Max Evans is gorgeous. And you know it."
Liz picked up a pillow and threw it at the door. It thumped softly to the floor and she stared at it, then got up with a huff and picked it up. She got back into bed, finished off her hot chocolate, and lay back down again, turning her lamp off. She closed her eyes and the emotional upheaval of the day caught up with her, and moments later she was asleep.
Five hours later she woke Maria, screaming.

Part 8

Benton, Minnesota - Ten Years Earlier

Liz woke up slowly, rolling over and looking around her room. She couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary, and her lashes drooped, her body lulling her back to sleep. But then the noise came again, and she sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily. She looked at the glowing Mickey Mouse clock as she swung her legs out of bed. It was early. Maybe the noise she had heard was her Mom or Dad, getting up to fix a snack, or get a glass of water. She sat perfectly still, trying to hear it again. There it was. Whispering, she thought with a shy smile. Someone was whispering. She got out of bed, sure she was about to see something important. As she snuck across the room, the first violent image hit her and she stumbled to a stop. Her eyes widened and she felt a terrible stab of guilt. It was just her imagination, her mommy was always telling her that, and she shouldn't be imagining her mommy and daddy being hurt like that. She ran back to bed and pulled the covers over her head, shivering and crying. The whispering continued and she covered her ears, humming softly. But it didn't stop, and Liz knew it was in her head. It had happened to her before, and most of the time she could ignore it. But not this time, not like this. She began to cry louder as more images flashed into her head, each one more gruesome and frightening than the last, until they were running thorough her head like a movie, too horrifying to be real. And the whispering grew louder, more distinct, until all she could see was the carnage, all she could hear was the maniacal laughter, and silent screaming, of the depraved mind she had somehow tapped into.
That was how the police found her the next morning, after receiving a frantic phone call from the cleaning lady. Still curled up, the covers over her head. The blood they found on her pillow was her own, put there when she tore her vocal chords, and a good portion of her throat, screaming. Nobody who walked into the warm, open house that day would ever forget what they saw. Rookies would quit, seasoned veterans of the field would retire, and one little girl would start on the path of a killer who's every move she knew, but who's face she had never seen.

New York City, New York - Present Day

Maria ran into Liz's room, throwing the door open and heading straight for the bed. Liz was still thrashing around, crying out, tears streaming down her face even though she was asleep. Maria sat down an the bed beside her, took Liz's face in her hands, and started calling her name softly.
"Liz? Liz it's Maria. I need you to wake up for me honey. Come on. It's only a dream. Wake up now Liz."
Maria repeated the same thing over and over again, trying to reach her friend and bring her back from wherever she was. Slowly Liz's frantic movements stopped, and Maria knew she was waking up. Hey eyelashes fluttered open, and Maria put on a reassuring smile.
"Hey."
Liz blinked in confusion. "What are you doing in here?"
Maria scooted her over and lay down beside her. "You sounded like you were having one hell of a wet dream and I didn't want to miss it."
Liz turned over to face her friend, her face solemn. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Maria nodded. "Should I call Reilly?"
"No," Liz said quietly. "No it wasn't that kind of dream."
"What kind was it?"
"My parents," Liz told her. "The first time I ever connected with him. I haven't had the dream for a long time. I guess tonight was my lucky night."
"Did you want to talk about it?" Maria asked softly.
Liz shook her head. "No. You already know everything anyway. There's nothing new to tell. I'm going to make a cup of tea. Want one?"
Maria nodded and Liz slipped out of bed, still a little shaky. Maria watched her carefully, and after Liz left, she gave her friend a few moments to compose herself before she followed her out into the kitchen.

Violent Crimes Unit

Liz walked into her office and just sighed when she saw Max sitting at her desk again. "Aren't they giving you an desk of your own?"
"Probably," Max said with a shrug. "But until they do I'll use yours. Is this everything you've got on The Apprentice?"
Liz looked at the file on his lap and nodded. "If you want any of the good stuff you'll have to talk to Jim or Michael. Those are just my personal findings."
"How'd you sleep?" he asked quietly.
"Fine," Liz said automatically. "Have you seen my file on the car bombing last month?"
When she turned around again he was standing right behind her, and she yelped in surprise. His hands came up to frame her face and Liz moved back, trapping herself between him and the filing cabinet.
"I believe you're sexually harassing me," she said haughtily. "Anyone in law enforcement should know that's illegal."
"I haven't done anything yet," he said innocently. "I'm just making sure you're not lying."
"Lying about what?" Liz asked, trying unsuccessfully not to get caught up in his eyes.
"How you slept."
He stared at her for another minute, until Liz lifted her hands and put them on his chest, pushing lightly.
"You can let me go now," she said breathlessly, pushing again.
Max moved forward again until there was nothing between them, and slid his leg between hers. "If I'm going to sexually harass you, I may as well do it properly."
Liz did nothing, just watched helplessly as he bent his head, and his mouth touched hers.

Part 9

She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but when Max just brushed his mouth gently backwards and forwards across hers, she knew this wasn't it. He did nothing but that for a long minute, until Liz was moving her head, trying to capture his mouth and coax him into kissing her properly. He lifted his head and Liz opened her eyes slowly.
"That was a pretty weak effort Evans," she whispered.
Max smiled down at her. "I'm sorry. Maybe I should try to do better."
"Maybe you should," Liz agreed, already rising up on her toes. "Don't make me get my gun again."
Max laughed softly against her lips, and Liz smiled. Then without warning he took her mouth, fisting his hand in her hair and pulling her head back to take what he wanted. Liz fought him and the rising tide of feeling instinctively, not wanting to give up control. Max gave her no choice. The hand in her hair tightened, and the other dropped from her face to her back, pulling her closer. Liz finally gave up, lifting her hands to his shoulders and digging her nails in, making a small sound. Neither of them heard the footsteps approach the door, then stop.
"Ahem," Michael said discreetly.
When he got no response he swallowed a chuckle and tried again.
"Ahem!"
Still nothing. He considered his options, looked at the entwined couple, and decided rather drastic action was necessary. He reached around the corner and tripped the fire alarm. The two jumped apart, and he quickly punched in the code to stop the shrieking. Max spun around, putting Liz behind him to protect her, and glared at Michael.
"Was that really necessary?"
"I thought it was," Michael said easily, strolling in. "I did try the polite approach."
Liz peeked around Max's shoulder and smiled. Michael grinned back at her approvingly. She moved away from Max and sat behind her desk.
"Is this an official call or are you just satisfying you voyeuristic tendencies," Liz asked.
"Both," Michael said, making Max chuckle. "But mainly official. We've got a new case."
"I don't have time for a new case," Liz said definitely. "Go and harass someone else."
"Was I talking to you?" Michael asked. "Did I say 'Liz, we have a new case.' I think not. I was talking to Evans."
Liz tried desperately not to laugh. She knew from past experience that it only made Michael worse if he knew he had an audience.
"Then take him into your office and leave me alone."
Michael looked at Max, who nodded and started following him out of the office. He turned back at the door and shot Liz a determined look.
"We're not finished," he told her.
Liz nodded. "I know we're not."
Satisfied with that for the time being, he left.

Liz stood up and stretched, groaning when her back muscles protested. She'd been sitting at her desk for too long again. She walked around her office, stretching her legs, pondering her caseload and what Max might be up to. She'd seen him and Michael leave with Jim a few hours ago and they hadn't come back yet. Shrugging her shoulders, she sat down behind her desk again and got back down to work. When she found herself reading the same paragraph in her report over and over again, she looked up with a frown. What the heck was wrong with her this afternoon? Normally she had no trouble concentrating, now she couldn't seem to understand English. Thinking a cup of coffee would help, she got up and walked towards the machine. As soon as her vision blurred she knew it was coming, and stopping right where she was she braced herself. The vision surprised her with it's clarity, it's lack of violence, and it's location. As her mind assimilated she realised what it meant. Her eyes flew open and she ran out of the office, yelling as she went.
"Alex! Call Jim. Get him back here now."
Alex jumped up and watched her run past him. "What is it? What's going on?"
"He's here," Liz said, throwing a side door open. "The Apprentice, he's here. He's in the carpark. Hurry!!"

Max suddenly straightened up from where he'd been examining the body, and turned to Jim.
"We have to get back to the office now. Liz is in trouble."
Jim blinked in surprise. "Come again?"
"I don't have time to explain. We have to get back."
It was obvious Jim was having a few problems. Michael wasn't.
"Is it him? The Apprentice?"
Max nodded. "She's had another vision. And wherever he is this time, it's close."
Jim looked at him closely, and whatever he saw in Max's face convinced him.
He called one of the junior officers over. "Secure the scene. Noone in or out. We'll be back tomorrow."
The officer hurried off, and Jim, Max and Michael ran for the waiting helicopter.

"Liz you can't go down there by yourself," Alex yelled.
When she just ran out Alex sighed, and ran after her. He stopped long enough to grab two guns from a locked draw, and yell instructions.
"Someone call Jim and get him back here. Liz and I are going down to the carpark. If we're not back in 10 minutes, I want five...no, ten guys down there after us."
He didn't wait to see if anyone would do what he asked. He knew they would. Instead he took a deep breath and plunged down the stairs.

Part 10

Alex came barrelling down the stairs, almost running straight into Liz, who was standing just at the bottom.
"You didn't have to come down here," Liz whispered. "I could have handled it by myself."
"Sure you could have," Alex hissed. "By the way, you have no gun. How exactly were you planning on taking this guy on?"
Liz looked back at him and took the gun he was holding out. "I didn't need a gun. I knew you'd bring one with you."
The pair made their way very slowly through the parking lot, jumping at every shadow. Liz could hear Alex breathing and she turned to him again.
"Alex, you're hyperventilating. Go back upstairs and send someone else down."
Alex shook his head. "This is my chance to be the big hero."
"Do you even know how to use that thing?" She asked, gesturing to his gun.
Alex stared at it, then began waving it around wildly. "I figure I can scare him like this, while you move in for the kill." He looked up from the gun and caught the look on Liz's face. "What? I'm a technoweinie Liz, I'm not Rambo."
Turning back to the lot, Liz strained her senses, trying to find out if he was near. The vision she'd been having was gone, and she wasn't picking up anything new. She lowered her gun, blinking away frustrated tears.
"He's gone," she told Alex. "He got away."
Alex glanced around. "Are you sure?"
Liz nodded. She sunk down slowly to sit on the ground, burying her head in her knees.
"He was so close Alex," she said, her voice catching on a sob. "How did he get away?"
Alex scrunched down to comfort her and happened to glance towards one of the cars. He got up quickly. "Liz?"
Liz lifted her head and looked at Alex, then at where he was staring. A pair of legs stuck out from beside a car, and Liz jumped up.
"Go back upstairs," she told him. "Tell them we've got someone down here."
She started for the car, but Alex grabbed her arm. "Liz, it could be him. You don't know that it's not."
It's not," she said confidently. She was getting no visions, not even a creepy feeling. This wasn't him. Even so, she approached the car cautiously, her eyes darting about. When she was sure noone was going to jump out at her, she ducked down next to the body and felt for a pulse. The man was alive, but only just. She smoothed his hair away from his face and called to Alex again.
"Get Kyle down here," she said. "He needs medical attention badly."
"Who is he?" Alex said quietly.
"I'm not sure," she told him. "But he's one of ours"
After Alex had left, Liz stood up, scanning the area again. A flicker of white from the windshield of the car caught her gaze. She pulled her shirt out of her skirt, using it to cover her fingers, and preserve any prints it might have on it. She already knew what it was. She opened it up and read slowly, her stomach tightening in fear and revulsion.

I'm disappointed in you Lizzy.
Where were you when I needed you?
Have I ever told you how beautiful you look in blue?

Liz folded the note up carefully and put it in her pocket, then bent down again to hold the man's hand until help arrived.

Max ran through the doors just in time to see the stretcher being carried up from the carpark. His heart stopped, and he ran over, expecting to find Liz. He'd almost reached the stretcher when she came through the door, her every movement conveying a bone-deep weariness and disappointment. She looked up and saw him, and her eyes widened at the look on his face. He stalked over to her and pulled her into his arms.
"Max," she said, pushing at him weakly. "Come on let me go. Everyone's here."
He back up a bit, but didn't let her go. "What the hell were you doing going down there alone?"
"I wasn't alone," Liz snapped. "Alex was with me."
Max looked up and saw Alex leaning weakly against a wall. The younger man smiled and held his hand up. "Delayed reaction. I'll be fine. My legs just aren't working right now."
Max looked back at Liz, and she studied one of the buttons on his shirt. "He does much better under pressure."
Michael sauntered over from where he been checking on the man who was hurt.
"How's he doing?" Liz asked quietly.
"He's got quite a few blows to the head," Michael told her. "But he should pull through. Are you sure this was him?"
Grabbing a pair of gloves from a nearby desk, Liz put them on and pulled the note out of her pocket. Michael went to take it, but Max got there first.
"Fingerprints!" Liz snapped, but Max ignored her. He read the note, handed it to Michael, and took Liz by the arm.
"Michael, tell Jim I'm taking Liz home. She can write a report or whatever it is you guys do tomorrow. Call us if anything new comes up."
"Will do," Michael promised, ignoring the way Liz was struggling.
"I'm not going home," Liz said while Max pulled her along. "Let me go you maniac!"
"That note was personal," Max said, holding his anger ruthlessly in check. "I want answers, and I'm going to get them. Now."
Liz continued to struggle but it was no use. Max bundled her into his car, and got in the other side.
"And how am I supposed to get to work tomorrow?" she griped. "My car is still here."
"I'll drive you," he told her. "Now put your seatbelt on."
Liz considered throwing herself out of the car, decided it was too melodramatic, and probably painful, and put her seatbelt on instead.
"Don't even think that just because of one kiss you get to spend the night at my house, or in my bed," Liz said firmly. "You're going home."
Max looked at her for a moment, then started the car.
"We'll see," he murmured, as they took off down the road.
posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:28:28 AM
Part 11

Liz unlocked the door to the apartment and went in, throwing her bag on the table in the hall.
"Would you like a coffee?" she asked quietly. "It'll have to be instant. The machine will probably take too long."
"Instant's fine," Max murmured, looking around curiously.
The apartment was a smooth blend of both the girls. Maria colour and brightness, Liz's calm and elegance. Cool watercolors on the walls competed with bright rugs on the floor. Beautiful antiques stood next to a lamp with fake fish in it. Max chuckled at that one, then turned when Liz came back into the room. She handed him the coffee and gestured to a chair.
"Make yourself comfortable. This could take awhile."
Max was already beginning to feel uncomfortable, but he took a seat anyway. He was pretty sure this was a bad idea, but he had to find out what was going on here. Liz walked down a hallway and into another room. Max took a moment to calm himself down, to try and shut himself off, and when Liz came back in he was marginally better. She threw a huge folder onto the couch beside him and sat in a chair opposite him. Max ignored the folder in favour of asking her questions again.
"You told me the visions started when you were eighteen..."
"No, I didn't," Liz said. "I told you I've been having visions of him killing people since I was eighteen. I've been having visions for most of my life."
"Did they all involve him?"
Liz frowned. "I think so. But I have no way of being sure. I was so young the first time. I was only ten years old and I wasn't sure of what I was seeing."
"What did you see?" Max asked.
"A boy," Liz said, closing her eyes to try and remember it better. "A little boy. He's was being...beaten. Badly. By his father. He was calling out for help, screaming it really, but only in his mind. I picked up on it. I was sitting to dinner with my parents and I suddenly began crying, screaming at them to help him. It went on for awhile before I fainted apparently. I don't really remember that much about it."
"What did your parents do?"
"Took me to a psychiatrist. They were told I just had an overactive imagination."
Max shook his head at the inadequacy of it, then went ahead.
"When was the next one?"
"I was fifteen," Liz told him. "He, the little boy, tried to contact me, to talk to me I guess. Through this link we had. I made him...angry. The next time the connection was made he was killing someone."
"How did you make him angry?" Max asked, moving around to try and get comfortable. It wasn't going to happen. The pain was coming from Liz, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
"I wouldn't respond," Liz told him. "My parents had told me that hearing voices was bad, that people that heard voices got sent away. I didn't want to get sent away. So when I heard him again I ignored him, kept telling myself he wasn't there. He must have picked that up."
Max was already in a lot of discomfort, but he knew he had to keep going, had to find out everything. "How much do you know about the people he killed?"
Liz opened her eyes and gestured to the folder. Max picked it up and opened it, his stomach rebelling as soon as he saw what was in it. All the photos were numbered, and he picked up the first one. "Who are they?"
Liz closed her eyes again. "Jeff and Nancy Parker. My parents. The first people The Apprentice ever killed. The first time I saw it."
Max felt like someone had punched him solidly in the stomach. He took a moment to catch his breath and picked up the next picture. "Victim three?"
"Bradley Shaw. My first boyfriend."
He picked up the next picture and Liz spoke without prompting. "Stephanie Marshell. My best friend at the time."
The list went on. The next three victims, an old couple who lived across the road from Liz, and a nice old man who fixed Liz's toys.
"Victim eight is the doctor who delivered me," Liz said. "Nine is the librarian I used to get my books from."
Max wanted to tell her to stop, wanted the pain to stop wracking him, but Liz was too far gone now. She was punishing him for wanting to know, for not leaving her alone until she had no choice but to give him everything. The names kept coming, all of them connected to her, all of them people she knew, cared about, spent time with.
"Liz," Max murmured. "Stop."
Liz didn't even open her eyes. "You wanted to know it all Max. Well here it is. This guy has been after me since I was eighteen years old. And there is nothing I can do to stop him. He's just going to keep killing people I get close to until there's noone left. Then he'll come after me."
Max stood up, swaying unsteadily. The pain was battering at him, and he looked around wildly. Liz finally opened her eyes, and they widened when she saw him. Max took off down the hallway and found the toilet. Liz followed more slowly, realising he was being violently ill. She went back into the kitchen and got him a glass of water. By the time she got back he was propped up against the wall in the hallway. She gave him the glass of water in silence and he rinsed his mouth out before drinking the rest.
"I think you'd better lie down," she said quietly, leading him back to the lounge and the couch. He lay down with a tired sigh and covered his eyes with his forearm.
"What the hell's going on Max?" Liz asked him. "I mean I know my story is pretty gruesome but I've never had this reaction before."
"You've never told an empath before," he said quietly.
Liz sat back on her heels beside the couch and waited for him to explain.

Part 12

Liz heard him sigh softly.
"You're not the only one with something to hide here," he told her. "If this sort of thing ever got out, I'd be in the exact same boat as you. I'd lose the respect of the people I work with, and then eventually my job. I'm not entirely sure I haven't screwed it up for myself already."
"Somebody knows?"
"Jim knows," he said. "Michael knows. When you went down into the carpark I knew you were scared. I've never felt fear like that. I told them we all had to get back, that you were in trouble."
"You felt my fear?"
Max uncovered his eyes and slowly sat up. "Yes. That's what I do. I'm empathic, I feel people's emotions. Especially strong ones."
"But we were miles apart!" Liz exclaimed.
"It doesn't seem to matter," Max admitted. "Not with you. I've learned over the years to close myself off, so that I don't feel everyone's emotions all the time. But I can't do that with you. I don't know why."
"What am I like a freak beacon?" Liz grumbled.
"Oh that's nice," Max said. "If I'm a freak you're one too."
Liz looked up with a smile. "That's immature Max."
He chuckled. "I know, but it was funny."
Liz got up off the floor and sat back down in the chair she'd been in before. "I know what's it like to be telepathic. What was it like for you? Growing up. What did your parents think when they found out?"
"My parents were great," Max told her. "My mother was an empath as well, so as soon as they found out they started teaching me what I needed to know. How to block out emotions so I wasn't being constantly bombarded with them. How to focus on one person's emotions if I was trying to help. It was hard for awhile. I couldn't even go outside because it was just too painful. Eventually I learnt to deal with it and now it's fine. It's just something I live with."
"Have you ever felt someone's emotions as strongly as...as you seem to feel mine?" Liz asked hesitantly.
"No," Max admitted. "I've never felt anything like this before."
Liz considered that for a moment, then decided it was dangerous territory and left it alone. "Have you felt it since the first day? That first time you saw me at the crime scene?"
"Yes. I got out of the car and it hit me. I felt like I'd been shot. You were angry, and scared. You didn't want to be there," he told her. "I wanted to get back in the car and drive away but I couldn't."
"You know nothing can happen between us," Liz said quietly. "I can't get close to anyone Max. It's too dangerous."
"You live with Maria," he pointed out.
"Maria wouldn't leave me alone," Liz said with a small smile. "I tried everything I could to keep her from moving in here. In the end I told her the truth. She still wouldn't leave."
"I'm not going to either," he told her. "I think you owe it to me to give me a chance here."
Liz stood up, unable to keep looking at his face, into his eyes. "I'm not worried about anything happening to me," he insisted. "It's you I'm worried about. I can help you."
"This isn't fair," Liz cried. "What you're asking me isn't fair. I've spent most of my life protecting the people close to me. It's all I know how to do."
"I'm not asking you not to protect me too," Max said quietly. "I'm just asking you to let me do the same thing for you. Please Liz. If anything happened to you...I'd feel it. And it would kill me."
"You only just met me," Liz said desperately. "You're curious, I can understand that. But we can find out about this strange connection without you getting hurt. Just work with me, spend time at the office with me. But when I come home, leave me alone."
"No," Max said firmly. "I can't."
"Max for Christ's sake..." Liz sputtered, stopping when she heard the front door opening.
Maria breezed into the room and stopped dead. She eyed up Max, then looked at Liz.
"Everything ok?"
"No," they both said at the same time.
"Well I'm glad we got that sorted out," Maria said with a laugh. "Max are you staying for dinner?"
"Don't mind if I do," Max said with a grin.
"Oh fine, don't anyone listen to me," Liz said wearily. "I just live here."
"I've never listened to you," Maria said, grinning. "At least I'm consistent."
Liz threw her hands up in the air and stalked down the hallway. "I'm going for a shower."
Max turned around to Maria. "Do you think she'd cheer up if I offered to wash her back?"
Maria chuckled. "I think she'd like to kill us both."
He slung his arm around her comfortably and they wandered into the kitchen. Maria stuck her head into the fridge.
"So how'd you end up here anyway!" Maris yelled, her head still in the fridge.
"Liz got into some trouble at work today," Max told her.
Maria pulled her head out of the fridge. "What kind of trouble?"
"The Apprentice," Max told her. "He was there. He attacked one of our agents in the carpark. Liz had to go in after him."
"Oh my god, he killed someone right there? How horrible."
"No, he didn't kill the guy," Max assured her. "He's alive. Beat up some, but alive."
Maria frowned. "Really?"
Max felt a hesitation, a fear coming from Maria. "What?"
Maria shook her head. "Well it's just not like him. To leave someone alive like that."
"He might not have had time to finish the job," Max told her, but he was getting a really bad feeling. He stood up slowly. "Can I use your phone?"
Maria nodded and waved towards it. Before Max could get to it, it started ringing. Max picked it up.
"Evans."
He listened for a moment, then swore. "Yeah I'll tell her. So I guess it was him then?"
He listened for another moment and then hung up. Maria stood uncertainly in the doorway. "What's happened?"
"I'm have to tell Liz something," he said quietly. "It's going to be hard on her. She's going to need you."
Maria nodded. "Tell me."
Max took a breath and blew it out wearily. "The guy from the carpark went missing from the hospital shortly after he arrived. When Jim found out he confiscated any medical findings. The wounds were self-inflicted."
Maria sat down heavily. "It was him."
Max nodded. "And it's going to kill Liz that she was so close. And she let him go."

Part 13

Max watched Liz from across the table and brooded. He knew it wasn't doing either of them any good, but sometimes a guy just needed to brood. He'd broken the news to her as gently as he could. She's said nothing then, and nothing since. But he knew she was devastated. He could feel it, and dammit she knew he could feel it. He stared at her intently, but she didn't look up from the table.
"We've asked anybody who came into contact with him at the hospital what he looked like," Jim told them. "So far everyone is saying his facial injuries were too extensive. We're also checking our records and security video."
"How did this guy get in?" Michael asked harshly. "How does a killer get into the FBI?"
"I told you, he's smart," Liz murmured. "Very, very smart. We keep underestimating him. People hide mental illness all the time. It's almost too easy."
"This isn't your fault Liz," Jim said firmly. "I've been doing this a lot longer than you have and I would never have picked him coming this close."
Liz went back to being silent.
"For right now there's nothing we can do but look at the security video," Jim continued. "Michael, Liz, Evans, I'm putting you on that. You'll start tomorrow. Tonight we've been ordered to close down. They're going to go over this place and see if there's anything they can find."
Liz stood up and moved away mindlessly. Max wanted to grab her but he knew there was nothing he was going to be able to do for her now. And he had some things of his own he had to tackle before he could get back to her. Instead he turned to Jim.
"You'll have someone watching her place tonight?"
Jim nodded. "We always have someone watching her house. Tonight she's got about three cars parked outside her door."
Max nodded and walked off. Jim watched him go, frowning. There was something weird going on there, and after Evans' performance this afternoon, he was going to find out what it was.

Max let himself into his apartment, took a careful look around, then turned the light on. Despite the fact that he too had agents outside his door, he needed to be careful. When he was satisfied everything was the way he left it, he relaxed and closed the door. Shucking off his jacket, he hit the button on his answering machine and listened to his messages. Noting down numbers, ignoring anything he wasn't interested in, he strolled into the kitchen and got a beer out of the fridge. He contemplated the contents of his fridge, realised he was courting death by food poisoning, and decided to call for something. But first he had another call to make. He got comfortable on the couch, picked up the phone, and dialed the number. He was smiling before anyone answered.
"Hello?"
"Hey Mum, it's me."
"Max!" He felt his spirits lift as he listened to her pleased voice. "How have you been?"
"Good Mum," he assured her. "I've been good. I've moved within the agency. Thought I'd let you know."
"Well that's wonderful honey, but how about you tell me why you really called."
Max sighed. "Mum, just once in my life I'd like to get something past you."
"No you wouldn't," she said confidently. "Now tell me."
Max took a moment to gather his thoughts, then blurted out something that had been on his mind for a while. "Mum, when you met Dad did something tell you that you were supposed to be together?"
"Have you met someone?" His mother said quickly. "Oh honey that's wonderful!"
"Mum," Max said patiently. "Don't marry me off yet. I'm just asking."
His mother made a highly sceptical sound.
"Mum, just tell me if you felt something when you met Dad. If you knew you were going to be together or anything like that."
"I knew straight away."
"How?" Max asked, sitting forward.
"I learnt to block things off, like I taught you. But not with him. I got everything he was feeling loud and clear."
"Damn," Max whispered.
Of course, his mother heard it. "Who is she?"
"I'm not going to talk about it yet Mum," Max told her firmly. "When I'm ready to admit there's something more here than just attraction I'll let you know."
"Fighting it is pointless," his mother advised breezily. "It's fate."
"Mum, not the fate talk again," Max groaned. "I don't have the time or the inclination."
"Then tell me about this girl."
"Are you blackmailing me?" Max asked, grinning.
"Yes," she said shamelessly. "It's the girl or the fate talk. You choose."
Max sat back, and told his mother everything.

"Liz please," Maria said quietly. "I need sleep."
Liz waved her hand absently. "Then go to bed. You don't have to stay up for me."
"I'm not going until you do," Maria insisted.
Liz resumed her pacing, and Maria sighed. It had been like this since she got home. The pacing, the worrying. Liz was going through every moment of that morning in her mind, trying to remember something, anything that might tell her who The Apprentice really was. Maria knew she wasn't going to find it, but it didn't mean she could go to sleep either.
"Well, I guess I'll get more coffee then," Maria sighed, getting up and wandering into the kitchen. It was going to be a long night.

Max stepped out of the shower, rubbing his hair absently as he focused on Liz. He shook his head. She was worrying again. He considered calling her, was actually rounding the bed to pick up the phone, when he saw it. Everything in him went still, and he stared at it for a long minute. The rose sat on his pillow, blood red. It shouldn't have been frightening at all. But it was. He'd been here.

Part 14

Maria flung the door open with a smile.
"Don't ever just open the door like that!" Max snapped.
"Fine I wont," Maria snapped back, and slammed the door in his face.
Max stared at it in complete disbelief, then raised his hand and knocked again.
"Who is it?" Maria sung out on the other side.
"Open the door Maria," Max said, laughing.
"Can you please hold some identification up to the peephole?" She inquired.
"Maria, there's no peephole. Just open the door."
She opened it slowly. "Can I help you?"
Max shifted his feet and Maria glanced down at the overnight bag in his hand. Her eyebrows disappeared into her hair.
"Moving in?"
"It's a long story," Max said wearily. "That I'm not telling you standing out here."
Maria opened the door wider and gestured him in. He looked around and frowned. "Where's Liz?"
"Calm down protective-boy, she's just in the shower. Now tell me what's up with the bag."
"I'm staying here tonight," he informed her. "I'll sleep on the couch."
"Do you often invite yourself to people's houses like this?" Maria said sweetly.
"Just..don't argue with me Maria please," Max said quietly. "I'm going to get enough of that from Liz."
"Just tell me what's happened," Maria said, pushing him down onto the couch.
"The bastard was in my house," Max spat out. "In my bedroom."
"Oh my god," Maria gasped. "Are you ok. Did he do anything?"
"I'm fine," Max assured her with a smile. "He was long gone by the time I got there. Just left a rose on my pillow. Corny huh?"
"A rose?" Maria said, frowning. "That's new."
"No it's not," Liz said, appearing in the doorway. "He left a rose when he killed Harlen."
"Harlen?" Maria asked.
"My boyfriend," Liz told her, turning to Max. "If you got one, here is the last place you should be. I would have thought that would have been obvious."
Max threw a helpless look at Maria. "Doesn't waste time does she? No Hello Max. How are you? So sorry to hear about your brush with a psycho. Nope, straight into the fighting."
"I'm not fighting," Liz said calmly. "I'm just stating the obvious, which you seem unable to grasp. If you want to get yourself killed it's none of my business."
"Timeout!" Maria snapped. "Confrontation gives me nose bleeds. Both of you pick a corner and stay there."
"He's not staying here!" Liz snapped.
"Yes he is," Maria told her. "If you were thinking about this like you should be you'd know he has to stay here. It's safer."
"And how should I be thinking about this, oh wise one?" Liz said through her teeth.
"Liz, I love you, you know that," Maria said quietly. "I would, and do, trust you with my life. But you think this connection you have with this killer is going to help you catch him."
"It is going to help me catch him," Liz said definitely.
"It can also lead him straight to you!" Maria cried, frustrated. "I've tried to talk to you about this before but you never listen. For Christ's sakes, he got into where you work. He was there everyday. And you didn't know."
"I'm aware of that Maria," Liz said coldly.
Max stood up and planted himself in front of Liz. "Don't take this out on her. You know it's me you'd like to kill right now." He then turned to Maria and frowned. "For a person who gets nose bleeds from confrontation you're doing a bang up job of one."
Maria threw her hands up in the air. "Just..talk to her. Take her to bed. Do something. She's irrational."
She slipped past them and stalked into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Liz moved around Max and sat down on the couch.
"She always says I'm irrational when she knows I'm going to win."
Max sat down beside her. "You wouldn't have won that one. She's right."
"Isn't a little too early in the relationship for you to already be taking someone else's side?" Liz asked.
Max grinned. "We're having a relationship?"
Liz slapped him on the arm as hard as she could, then did it again for good measure.
"Ok, ok," Max said, holding his hands up in surrender. "But I think you should warn me now if you're going to spend a lot of time slapping me around like this. I'm fragile. I can't become a victim of domestic violence."
Liz snorted, then chuckled. Max swooped down quickly and captured her mouth, giving her no chance to push him away. Liz struggled for a brief moment, then twined her arms around his neck. Max took immediate advantage and pushed her down onto the couch until she was lying half under him. He pulled her shirt out of the skirt she was wearing and plunged his tongue into her mouth. He nearly groaned and reluctantly broke the kiss when he heard Maria's bedroom door open. Liz scrambled up quickly, glaring at him. Maria gave them both a soppy smile.
"I'm going to stay with Mum," she told them. "I'll be back tomorrow."
"Tell one of the cars across the road to take you," Max said easily, winking at her behind Liz's head. "And tell them to stay with you at your mother's house."
"Right you are," Maria said easily.
Liz jumped up off the couch, shaking her head wildly. "You can't leave me here alone."
Maria laughed and hugged her. "You won't be alone. You'll be with Mr Wastes-No-Time. And I will, most definitely, be in the way."
"No you won't," Liz said, a trifle desperately. "You can sleep in my bed."
"Three's a crowd Liz," Max said behind her.
Maria laughed again and, waving happily at both of them, left. Liz turned around slowly and found Max, patting the couch beside him. "Now, where were we?"

Part 15

Liz arched her eyebrows. "My aren't we optimistic?"
"Always," Max agreed, patting the couch again. "Get back here."
Liz shook her head and turned around, walking into the kitchen.
"Fine, the counter it is then," Max called after her, getting up. "But I thought you might wanna save that for a rainy day."
"We're not having sex on the counter," Liz told him, getting a glass of water.
"Well make up your mind," Max whined. "I did offer the couch."
Unbelievably, Liz felt like laughing. "We're not having sex on the couch either."
Max looked around. "You really don't believe in wasting time do you? Fine. We can do it up against the fridge, but I should warn you I have this niggling knee injury. Just wanted you to be prepared if it gives out at a crucial moment and I drop you."
Liz gave up and burst out laughing. While she was helpless Max stepped over and wrapped her firmly in his arms. Liz pushed away half-heartedly, still giggling.
"This is not going to happen," she said.
"Like hell it isn't," Max said, grinning. "I've got ya now."
"I'll scream," Liz promised.
"I certainly hope so," Max said. He got a dreamy look in his eyes. "Oh now my mind is wandering. Give me a minute."
Liz bit down hard on her lip so she wouldn't start laughing again. "I'm not going to stand here while you indulge in gross sexual fantasies."
"They're not gross," he told her. "They're very tastefully done."
Liz yelped when he swung her up in his arms.
"Now I wanna try them out," he said, kissing her quickly. "Onwards to the bedroom."
Liz considered fighting him, but as she looked up into his face, she knew she'd not only be fighting him, she'd be fighting something inside of herself. The part of herself that was relieved to have finally found someone who knew what she was going through. Who could shoulder some of the burden. Someone who wanted her as much as he seemed to. Taking a huge chance, she buried her face in his neck shyly and waved behind him.
"It's down the end of the hall," she whispered, breathing his scent in deeply.
He brushed his lips across her temple softly and turned around. "Get the lights as we go past."
Liz reached out blindly when he stopped, and patted around until she found the lightswitch. She switched the lights off and twined her arms around his neck.
"Should you be carrying me with your knee?" She inquired absently, more interested in exploring his neck with her tongue.
Max stopped as the knees she was so concerned about went weak. "Liz, quit that or we won't even make it to the bedroom."
Liz lifted her head and looked around. The floor looked too hard. "Well hurry up then."
"She says no, she says hurry up," Max mumbled to himself. "Is it any wonder I can't figure you out?"
Liz figured it was a rhetorical question, and didn't much care to answer when he juggled her weight and flung open the bedroom door.
"This isn't going to last long," he told her, his voice already hoarse with arousal as he lowered her to the bed and began unbuttoning her shirt. "I'll make it up to you later, I promise, but this time I need you too much."
Liz nodded, lifting up to help him take off her pants. She could see what his feelings were doing to him in the fiery need in his eyes, could sense it in his almost desperate impatience. She reached up and cupped his face, bringing his mouth down to hers. Max groaned as he plunged his tongue into her mouth and cupped her breast. Liz gasped and arched towards his hand. He kissed her harder, pressing her deeper into the mattress, as his hand slid lower, lower, rubbing lightly on her thigh until she shifted, opening her legs for him. She tore her mouth away, gasping for air, and her head fell back as he probed her body.
"Max," she said helplessly. She couldn't believe she was letting it happen this fast, that she wanted it this way.
Max lifted his head and nearly lost it right then. He'd expected her to be nervous, maybe a little afraid. Certainly annoyed at the way he was rushing them headlong into this. Instead she lay there, her head flung back while he did all he could to make sure she was ready for him. He probed her lightly again and she moaned, rolling her hips against his hand, forcing him deeper. He moved on top of her, his hard thighs pushing between hers and widening them further. Liz barely had time to suck in her breath before he before he took her head in his hands, holding her still as he leaned down and covered her mouth with his again. His tongue probed, and Liz parted her lips to accept him. Simultaneously she felt his penis begin pushing at the soft entrance between her legs. She groaned, her breath catching. Max merely tightened his arms around her and held her more firmly beneath him, all his attention focused on getting inside her. Liz dug her nails into his back, moving restlessly to somehow make it easier. She hadn't been with anyone in a long time, and it wasn't as easy as it might have been. Max simply pushed harder, until her tender flesh gave way under the pressure, and he surged into her. He went still, kissing Liz softly, whispering to her, giving her time to adjust. When her breathing had calmed, he slowly began moving. Liz lay passively, but his long, smooth strokes got to her, and she began lifting her hips slightly, moving with him. Max could feel the tightening at the base of his spine that indicated how far gone he was. He lifted up slightly and pressed his hand between their bodies. Liz bucked when he touched her again, and she cried out, her whole body tightening. It happened fast under his hands. He didn't ease her into climax, he hurled her into it. He rode her harder, thrusting deep, and Liz bucked under his hand in an effort to escape the intensity of it. It spiraled inside her, growing stronger, and stronger, and when it finally shattered, she arched wildly beneath him, her slender body shuddering.
His weight crushed her into the mattress as he moved his hand from between them to grip her hips hard, holding her still as he plunged ruthlessly. It took no more than a few strokes before he convulsed, slamming himself into her again and again, and she felt the wetness of his release.
In the silence afterward, Liz lay limply beneath him. She was exhausted, her body limp and weak. She murmured a soft protest when he slipped from her body, but she didn't move. Max jostled her around until he could pull the covers up over both of the, then he settled her down beside him.
"Go to sleep," he ordered gruffly.
Liz didn't want reality to intrude, not this night, but she had to warn him. "If you hear me screaming in my sleep don't wake me. It's the only way we've got of catching him."
Max rolled over and tucked her more closely into his side.
"Go to sleep," he told her again.
She yawned, kissed him on the shoulder softly, and went limp. Max was tired too, his body unnaturally heavy, but he knew he wouldn't sleep. Not after what she'd said, the killer she'd put between them again. Instead he got comfortable, held her tighter and, his eyes on the window, waited for morning.
posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:29:26 AM
Part 16

Liz woke up slowly, muttering and pushing at the heavy weight across her stomach. When it moved slightly she quickly flipped over onto her stomach and snuggled down, more than ready to go back to sleep. She was almost there when a finger began running slowly up and down her spine, distracting her. She moved her hand to slap it away and it was captured. She grumbled when she felt her fingers being nibbled.
"If you're hungry, go and get some breakfast," she grumbled. "Otherwise leave me alone."
The arm snaked around her again, and Liz groaned when he shifted his attention to her ear.
"Open your eyes," Max told her.
"I'm thinking about it first," Liz told him, shifting her head and kissing him before burying her face in the pillow again.
"You're not avoiding me are you?" Max asked.
Liz lifted her head out of the pillow and looked at him blearily. "Max, I'm in bed with you. If I was avoiding you I'd be gone."
Max leaned over and nibbled on her lips, heating her blood. "I know that. I just wanted you to get your head out of the pillow."
When he pulled his head away Liz followed him, murmuring wordlessly in protest. He grinned and gave her what she wanted, deepening the kiss and rolling her over. He was getting ready to pull the sheet down when they both heard the front door slam open, and Maria begin calling Liz's name. They both sat up just as Maria ran into the room.
"She's gone," Maria said wildly, waving a piece of paper in the air. "You have to help me."
"Who's gone?" Liz asked. "Maria I thought you were at your mother's."
"He's taken her," Maria cried, sobbing. "She was gone this morning. I've looked everywhere, I've called her mobile. Then I found this."
She started waving the piece of paper around again, and Max wrapped a sheet around himself and got up, taking it off her and pushing her down onto the bed. E opened it and read it slowly, then looked at Liz. She sat in the middle of the bed, Maria's head on her lap. All it took was one look, and Liz knew.
"That's not possible," she said firmly. "It's a copycat, some psycho who wants to be like him. It's not him. If it was him I would have known."
"Maria, go out and call Jim," Max said quietly. "Tell him everything you remember about last night and this morning. Tell him we'll be in with you within the hour."
Maria stood up, glad to be given something to do. Max waited until she was out of the room, and sat down on the bed, taking Liz's hand. "This..gift. This ability you have. It's not foolproof Liz. He's found a way around it."
"No he hasn't," Liz said stubbornly. "It's not him."
"He left a note Liz," Max reminded her. "Noone outside of the agency knows about these notes. Noone outside of Violent Crimes knows."
Liz threw the covers back and got out of bed. "Go and see if Maria's ok while I get dressed. Then we're going to go in, and get this sorted out. It's not him."
"Liz...."
Liz spun around. "Max, you don't want to do this. Trust me."
"Do what?" Max said, frustrated.
"If it is him, if I've somehow missed it, I need to know why," Liz said quietly. "So I have to examine anything, everything about me or my life that might have changed since the last time I saw him. And only one thing's changed Max."
"You have got to be kidding me," Max shouted.
Liz said nothing. Max stared at her, then shook his head wearily.
"If you want to tell yourself that sleeping with me has made you miss something I can't stop you," he said quietly.
Liz watched him, surprised he was taking it like this. She'd expected him to fight her. When she finally realised what was going on, she felt an overwhelming sense of panic.
"No," she said quickly. "No Max I don't want us to stop seeing each other. That's not what I...."
"Liz, I've done all the chasing I'm going to, I'll the begging I'm going to," he told her wearily. "And we have to get into the office. I'll take my car and meet you there."
"You've never begged," Liz said. "I've never asked you to beg."
"You ask just by being, Liz," he told her. "This intriguing little puzzle I thought I needed to figure out. Well I appear to have done it already. I knew as soon as I saw that note you'd blame me, blame what we had together last night."
"I'm not blaming you," Liz cried desperately. "I'm just trying to figure out..."
"There is nothing to figure out Liz," he said. "And we have to get going. Get dressed."
"I want to talk about this some more," Liz said. "Please. Come home with me tonight."
Max looked at her carefully, then nodded. "Alright. We'll talk then."
Liz smiled uncertainly, but gratefully, and went into the bathroom.

Michael stood up when he saw Maria, and walked over purposefully. She looked up, tears swimming in her eyes, and walked straight into his arms.
"What if she's..."
"She's not," Michael said firmly, kissing the top of her head and rubbing her back soothingly. "I'm with Max on this one honey. I don't think it's him."
"It's not," Alex announced to the group. "Results are back already on the letter. Different typewriter, different ink. It's not him."
Maria burst into relieved tears, and Liz sunk down in her chair wearily.
"Jesus," Max said disgustedly. "Do people think we don't have enough work to do?"
Jim strode over, took a moment to murmur reassuringly to Maria, then sat down at the head of the table.
"Ok, people, let's get to work. We've got a copycat, and we need to find him."

Part 17

Liz looked at the clock one more time, then turned to Jim.
"He's late," she told him. "Where did we get this message from anyway?"
"One of the guys in forensics," Jim told her. "It came through this morning."
Liz frowned and shook her head. "This isn't right. These people are meticulous Jim. He would consider being late...beneath him."
"You keep comparing every case we get through here to The Apprentice, Liz," Jim said gently. "You have to stop doing that. This guy has taken on some else's ideas, someone else's way of doing things. He's already proved he's lazy."
Liz shifted uncomfortably, and Max reached over, putting his hand on the back of her neck and rubbing gently. The phone rang and Liz jumped up.
"Don't answer it yet," Alex told everyone sharply. He tapped away at his computer for a few more seconds, then nodded. Maria jumped up and picked up the phone.
"Where is she you son of a bitch?" she yelled, grasping the phone tightly.
Silence hummed on the other end, and Maria took the phone away from her ear and looked at it, then put it up to her ear again. "Hello?"
"Give it to Liz," Max told Maria.
Maria handed the phone over reluctantly. Liz took a deep breath and put the phone up to her ear. "This is Liz Parker."
"I will not be insulted like that again," a voice said sharply.
"I wasn't aware we even tried to insult you," Liz said calmly.
"I'll only talk to you," he whined.
Liz was surprised at how young he sounded. And with the synthesizer, it wasn't a voice she recognized.
"You've got me," she told him. "Now I want something from you. I want to speak to Amy."
"Amy can't talk right now."
Liz looked at Alex, and he held up five fingers. Five seconds, she needed to keep him on the phone another five seconds.
"Is she still alive?" Liz asked.
Liz could hear Maria sobbing, but she couldn't afford to take her attention off the voice at the other end of the phone. Alex gave the thumbs up signal, but Liz knew the longer she could keep him on the phone, the easier it would be to trace him.
"What would happen if she wasn't?" the voice asked smugly.
Kyle strode up and spoke quietly to his father. Liz could tell from his face that he'd found something when they'd gone through Amy's house.
"She's alive," Liz told him confidently. "If you've killed her already you've got nothing to bargain with and this conversation is a waste of my time."
There was nothing but silence on the other end, and Liz made a disgusted sound. "Goodbye."
"She's alive," he said quickly.
"I want to talk to her," Liz demanded.
There was a shuffling on the other end, and Liz took the time to breath deeply, to calm herself before she spoke to Amy. She felt Max take her hand, and she smiled at him gratefully.
"He..hello?"
"Mrs Deluca," Liz said softly. "It's Liz Parker. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she said. "Just scared out of my mind. Is Maria ok?"
"She's fine Mrs Deluca, I promise. She's really worried about you though. We'll get you out of there, I promise you."
"I know you will sweetie," she said firmly. "Don't you worry yourself to death over it."
Liz jolted in surprise. The woman was comforting her! Liz smiled mistily. The juggling sound came again, and Liz heard heavy breathing.
"So what do you want for her?" Liz asked.
"Who said I wanted anything?" he said with a nervous giggle. "Maybe I just want to keep her here for a while before I kill her."
Liz looked up when Alex spoke to Jim and they both stood up quickly.
"Hang up," Jim snapped. "Hang up now."
Liz slammed the phone down. Maria cried out and Michael quickly picked her up and strode off in the direction of his office. Liz ran around the desk and looked at the computer.
"What is it?" Max asked.
"The signal is coming from inside the building."

The man giggled nervously as the shadowy figure appeared in the doorway. "I did what you wanted."
"Not quite Bill," the voice said, silky, angry. "They traced the call. They know it came from inside the building."
Bill backed up slowly, looking from the woman to the man. "You never said anything about them tracing it."
"I would have thought you could have figured that out for yourself Bill," the man said, advancing into the room slowly. "Do I have to spell everything out?"
Bill began to cry uncontrollably, and the man stared at him in distaste.
"Shut up!!" The man suddenly yelled. "Shut up or I'll kill you right now."
Bill's weeping tapered off to the occasional sob. "Wi..will they find you?"
The man waved his hand. "No of course not. I made sure they couldn't. But they will find you, so I suggest you lay low until I can let the woman go."
"You're going to let her go?"
"She's of no use to me," the man said breezily. "I just wanted to send a message. I've done so."
Bill shuffled his feet nervously, then looked up. "You said you'd pay me."
"I'll pay you when I get what I want," the man said sharply. "Don't hassle me about it Bill or I'll make sure you wished you hadn't."
Bill moved out of the way as he swept past, anger rising uselessly in him. He knew he couldn't take this guy on. All he could do was bide his time. The man came back in and pinned Bill with a steely glare.
"Put her out on the road and let someone find her. Do not hurt her. It's worth more than your life if you do."
"And then what?" Bill demanded.
"You wait to hear from me."
Bill opened his mouth to speak again, but the man was already gliding out the door. Muttering underneath his breath, Bill did as he was told.

Part 18

"She was found on the highway at about one this morning," Jim said as the walked quickly towards their cars. "There are no signs of any injury. It appears whoever it was just let her go."
Liz frowned. "That doesn't make any sense. Are we coming up against the stupidest criminal in history, or is there something else going on here?"
"Let's just pick her up and get her back here," Jim said. "We'll figure out anything else after that."
Liz got in her car and started it, the jumped when someone knocked on the window. She looked up, sighed, then reached over and unlocked the door.
"Is this going to be come a habit?" she asked sweetly. "Or are you going to try asking for your own car."
"I have my own car," Max said complacently. "While I'm at work I'll travel with you."
"Are you back to being all I'm-not-leaving-her-alone-for-a-second?"
"Relax Liz," Max said. "Noone is going to figure out we slept together just because I'm in your car."
Liz jolted in surprise. Had she really been that bad? "Max, I'm not sure if I deserve that, but I don't care if anybody knows. I'm a big girl now. I can sleep with whoever I want."
"But you don't," Max said. "This is going to get some attention."
Liz shrugged. "I don't care."
"Not just in the office," Max warned her. "He'll know Liz. Something tells me The Apprentice will know."
Liz sighed, then nodded. "I know. But if you're just careful, he won't get to you."
"Or you," Max said quietly.
Reaching over, Liz covered his hand with hers and squeezed. Max turned his over, linking their hands, and they travelled the rest of the way like that, to the little bus stop where Amy calmly waited.

"I don't understand why I can't just take her home now," Maria griped. "She's had a bad night."
"Maria, sit down," her mother ordered.
"We'll get you out of here as soon as possible," Jim said with an apologetic smile. "We only have a few more questions left."
Amy nodded. "I understand."
"Is there anything you can tell us about the man who was holding you?" Liz asked gently.
"He was young," Amy said, her face scrunching in concentration. "Early to mid twenties. Kinda skinny."
"You saw him?" Michael asked.
Amy shook her head. "No, but when he was tying my wrists I grabbed one of his. It was very thin."
"Was he calling himself anything?" Liz asked. "A name we might be able to use?"
"Bill," Amy told them, grimacing. "Just Bill. It doesn't give you much to go on."
"Good," Jim said approvingly. "You're doing great Mrs Deluca. Anything else?"
Amy scoured her mind, then shook her said slowly. "No, I'm very sorry. It was dark in the room I was in, and he never really spoke much to me."
Jim nodded. "That's perfectly all right. We'll get an agent to drive you and Maria home."
"That reminds me, what happened to the agents that were supposed to be outside the house?" Maria asked.
Jim grimaced. "Yeah, well I'm afraid that has nothing to do with me. I'm working against bureaucracy gone mad."
"Meaning?" Maria asked.
"New rules Maria," Michael explained. "Agents can only be expected to sit anywhere for a maximum of about 10 hours at a time. And all agents going out to, or coming back from, an assignment have to convene here first. With agents coming here to check in, and here to check out, it leaves about a ten minute window of opportunity for anyone wanting to get to a person bad enough."
"But that's ridiculous," Amy exclaimed. "You must lose people all the time."
"It's not common knowledge," Jim told her. "And if it's a high profile case, the person being protected is brought here whenever an agent has to check in so that they are never left unguarded. We didn't think we'd need to do that with you."
Maria looked like she was going to blow a fuse, but Amy nodded. "I can understand that. Well, if it's all the same to everyone, I'd like to get home."
Jim nodded. "Of course. We have a car waiting for you."
Michael gestured down the hallway, and the three of them moved away. They had only gone a few steps when Amy stopped.
"Oh my god, I can't believe I forgot," she said, whirling around again. "Just before they let me go I heard voices. A conversation in the room next to the one where they were holding me."
"Conversation?" Liz said, frowning. "There was more than one person there?"
"For a little while," Amy told them. "It was hard to hear them."
"Just tell us anything," Liz said. "Anything would be helpful."
"Well from what I heard, none of what happened to me was Bill's idea," Amy said. "He was working for someone else. Who that is I couldn't possibly guess."
Jim nodded. "You go on home now Mrs Deluca. And thank you so much for your help."
When the two woman had left, Michael in tow, Liz sat down and sighed. "So what now?"
"Alex, you start looking in the databases for anyone with the name Bill."
"The name Bill!" Alex exclaimed. "You have got to be kidding me."
"Look for links with kidnapping, anyone who might hire himself out. Real name Bill, nickname Bill. Anything," Jim continued. "Liz, Evans, we're going to treat this guy as unimportant. You're first priority is still The Apprentice, closely followed by this new bozo."
"I believe we call the perpetrators now Dad," Kyle said dryly.
Max chuckled and Liz smiled. "Hey there Kyle."
"How are you doing honey?" he said gently.
"I'm doing ok," she assured him. "I meant to come and see you before. What did we get from Mrs Deluca's house."
Nothing conclusive," he said with a grimace. "Some shoe prints, of course the most popular brand on the market just to make it that extra little bit difficult for us."
"You'd think they'd be a little bit more accommodating," Max said dryly.
Kyle chuckled and nodded his head. "Some fibres off a jacket of some kind. I've only had a preliminary look at this stage. I'll come back in and have a better look tomorrow."
Liz nodded and stood up. "I'll come in and see you as soon as I get here."
She leaned over and kissed Jim on the cheek. "Go home. There's nothing left to do here until tomorrow."
Jim nodded. Liz turned to Max and smiled. "You coming?"
Max nodded and stood up.
"And what about me?" Alex said. "Do I get to go home? Or do I have to spend all night looking for the elusive Bill?"
Jim laughed softly. "Go home Alex. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Bill?" Kyle asked. "Who's Bill?"
"Our kidnapper," Jim told him. "I'll tell you about it while you drive me home."
Max looked around warily, and Liz wrapped her arm around his waist. Alex noticed and bent his head to hide a pleased smile.
"Everything ok?" Liz said softly.
Max looked around once more, then nodded. "Whatever it was is gone now. Come on, let's go home."
But as he walked along, he couldn't shake his uncomfortable feeling, and he pushed Liz in front of him. He was definitely picking up something, but he's have to wait until tomorrow to try and figure out what it was.

Part 19

"I honestly don't see how this week could get any weirder," Liz griped as she opened her apartment door and strode through, leaving Max to close the door behind him. "I mean, I've had a vision, met you, had another vision, told you everything about me, found out you're an empath, slept with you, and now we have a copycat, and an accomplice, pretending to be The Apprentice."
"Sleeping with me is in the weird category?" Max said mildly.
Liz looked at him for a moment, blinking. "You picked that out of everything to focus on?"
"It occupies a goodly part of my thinking hours," Max told her seriously.
Liz's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Is this one of those 'guys always think about sex' things. Cause I never really got that."
Max chuckled and shrugged. "It's our civic duty. Takes the pressure off the ladies."
"How interesting," Liz said dryly. "And I imagine you take this duty very seriously."
Max wandered over and wrapped his arms around her tightly, grinning. "Hey, if all I have to do is think about sex a lot to make the world a better place, I'll do my bit gladly."
Liz wiped an imaginary tear from her eye. "You're so patriotic."
Laughing, he lifted her up and turned towards the bedroom. Liz put her hands on his shoulders and smiled down into his eyes.
"I was kinda hungry," she told him. "I thought we could eat first."
Max shook his head. "I want to get you into the bedroom before you change your mind and send me home."
Liz slid her fingers into his hair and kissed him. "I know I've been a bit of work, but I wouldn't do something like that Max. You're here now, I want you here. For however long you decide to stay."
Max stopped where he was, standing in the hallway with her in his arms, and kissed her. Liz wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her legs around his waist, and kissed him back, trying to reassure him without words that the fighting, the trying, was over. He had her. Max lifted his mouth from hers and slid it down to nibble on her throat.
"You still hungry?" He asked softly. "I can rustle us up something."
Liz shook her head. "We'll eat later. Why are we still standing in the hallway?"
Max shrugged and walked into her bedroom. "I have no idea."

Where last time has been fast, this time was slow and long. Max took his time, like he'd promised. Eye locked with hers, he moved slowly, thrusting gently in and out, watching avidly as she closed her eyes and tipped her head back over his arm. He opened his senses, and his eyes widened as he made the connection. He felt her desire, her need, and fear. Despite where they were, what they were doing, still fear. He drew her closer, tilted her hips up to plunge deeper.
"Open your eyes," he said hoarsely. "Liz, open your eyes for me."
Her eyes fluttered open, glazed with desire. Max thrust deeper, as deep as he could go.
"I'll never hurt you," he promised.
Liz's eyes cleared, and she stared up at him. "You won't mean to."
"I won't," he said firmly. "I couldn't."
Liz moved subtly, trying to get him to forget what he was saying and just keep loving her. "It doesn't matter Max. Not right now."
"No it does," Max insisted. "If I hurt you, I'd feel it. I'd know. I can't do that."
Liz arched up desperately and Max swore, giving up for the time being and giving all his concentration back to her. She moaned when he ran his hand lightly down her body, then back up again. She moved restlessly, her hips arching again and again, moans breaking from her and washing over him. Her movements became more erratic, her breathing shorter, and Max began moving faster, deeper, harder, until her head fell back and she groaned. Max took a moment to savor her climax, to feel her body milking his, before he let himself go. Fisting his hand in her hair, he buried his head in her shoulder, and with a few desperate thrusts, went over the edge.

Max woke up suddenly, his breathing harsh, and looked around the room wildly. The bed moved beneath him and he turned to Liz. She arm shot out blindly, hitting him in the arm, but he barely noticed the small pain as he watched her thrashing about. He reached out and pulled her into his arms, stopping her erratic movements. He saw with swiftly mounting panic that she couldn't catch her breath. He shook her roughly, then remembered that she had told him not to wake her if anything like this happened. Swearing softly and steadily, he put his mouth over hers and blew air in, forcing her lungs to work properly. He did it once, twice, and a third time before she gasped and began to breath more steadily. When he was sure she was going to stop breathing, or hurt herself thrashing around, he left the bed. He paced alongside the bed, sweating, his stomach churning. He watched Liz with a desperately frail look in his eyes. He wanted her to wake up. He didn't want to feel this paralyzing fear, this sickening terror.
"Liz..." he whispered.
She moved restlessly once more, and Max ran for the bathroom. He threw the lid of the toilet seat up and was violently ill. When his stomach had nothing left to get rid of, he slid down the wall to the floor and sat where he was, waiting for the sick feeling to pass before he went back into the bedroom to try and help Liz. When he was sure he wouldn't embarrass himself, he stood up and staggered into the bedroom. He got back into bed and pulled her into his arms.
"Liz," he said softly, shaking her. "Baby wake up."
He shook her harder when she didn't respond. "Liz, wake up."
She muttered something vaguely obscene, then her eyes fluttered open. She smiled up at him for a brief moment, then the smile faded and her eyes filled with tears. Max tucked her head into his neck and held her tightly.
"I have to call Jim," she whispered. "I have to tell him."
"I'll call him in a minute," he promised her. "Just hold on for a minute."
"I don't need to hold on...."
"I do," he interrupted.
She lay still, little shudders rocking her every so often, then pulled back and got a proper look at his face.
"My god Max," she cried, her hands framing his face. "What the hell happened to you?"
He shook his head and this time it was him that burrowed in, holding her so tightly she wondered for a moment if he was going to cut off her breathing. She scoured her brain to try and find out what might have happened to him. When it finally hit her, her arms tightened around him, and she brushed his hair with soft kisses.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
"I can't go through anything like that again," he told her. "I won't. If I ever wake up and you're like that again, I will bring you out of it."
"Max you can't," she said softly. "You know this is the only link we have to him, the only clue we have to the type of person he is."
"He's a monster Liz!" Max said fiercely. "What else do you need to know?"
Liz closed her tired eyes and sighed. "I need to know why Max. Why me? Why, after all these years, is he still going after me. If you can tell me that right now, we'll do it your way."
Max said nothing, couldn't say anything, and Liz hugged him once more before turning away. She got out of bed and put on her robe.
"You get the coffee, I'll call Jim."

Part 20

"We've got a missing persons report out based on what you've told us," Jim told them. "We should have something within the hour."
"I didn't recognize her," Liz said. "But then I never do."
"Let's just find her first, then we'll find a connection."
Liz nodded and turned away. "I'll be in my office when you find something. Alex, anything on our Bill guy yet?"
Alex shook his head. "I've narrowed it down to ten possible people. Still working on it."
Liz walked into her office and closed the door quietly behind her. She didn't think she'd ever been this tired. She didn't want to do this, but it was her ritual. Something she always did after a bad night, going through the dream again to see if there was anything she missed, anything she could give Jim that would help. She had found she could retain the images, without her knowledge, but only for a short time. She turned the lights out and made her way blindly to her desk, sitting down slowly. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes, slowing her breathing down until she was totally relaxed. Then she slowly brought to the front of her mind everything she could remember about the dream. Images battered her, and she felt her fear rising, but she ruthlessly clamped it down. She heard her office door open, but she knew who it was, so she didn't open her eyes. She felt more than heard Max sit down opposite her, waited for him to say something, but he didn't. He was just there, calming her enough for her to keep going. She wiped her mind again, and let the images come. The first time she saw it she was focusing too intently on something else and missed it. Her mind strained to catch a better glimpse of the woman he was pursuing. Something that might trigger a reaction in Liz's memory, tell her who this woman is. She made a frustrated sound and opened her eyes.
"There's something there to find," she told Max. "I just can't get a hold on it."
Max got up and went to her, putting his hands on her shoulders and rubbing lightly. He bent over and brushed a gentle kiss over her brow. "Try again."
Liz took a deep breath, blew it out, and with his fingers still kneading the tension from her shoulders, she closed her eyes and started again. When she finally saw it, it lasted only a split second, but had her sitting bolt upright in her chair.
Max wrapped his arms around her from his position behind her chair, and murmured reassuringly in her ear, bringing her through whatever she was seeing. He expected to feel fear, the kind he had had to suffer through with her last night, but it didn't come. Instead he felt a rushing excitement, a curious relief. He waited until she relaxed, then began his massage again, waiting patiently for her to surface.
Liz went over it twice, three times, then continually, making sure she was seeing what she thought she was seeing and she wasn't just creating an image to give herself some kind of hope. When she was sure it was part of the dream, she focused on it, almost dissecting it. Finally she was satisfied, a picture firmly imbedded in her mind, and she opened her eyes.
"Could you turn the light on please?" she asked Max. "And get Jim for me?"
Max left her reluctantly to do what she'd asked him. When he returned he brought Jim and Michael. Liz looked up and smiled, tears shimmering in her eyes.
"What is it?" Jim asked. "What's happened? Are you okay?"
"Max told us you were going over the dream again," Michael said. "You shouldn't do that. We can find him without you...."
"I've got him," Liz said, cutting him off. "After all this time, after everything...I've got him."
"Got him how?" Max asked. He couldn't help worrying that she might be setting herself up for a huge fall.
Liz got up and ran around the desk to clasp his face in her hands and kiss him happily.
"He screwed up," she said simply. "I've seen his face. I've seen him Max."

Liz spent the next hour with a sketch artist, drawing up a composite picture, while Jim put anything and everything else that was going on within the offices on hold. He gathered all the agents that were there into the conference room to address them.
"Ok, you all know we've been chasing The Apprentice," he told the, pushing a button and bringing up a wall monitor. "You'll have an updated file on your desks by this afternoon. In it will be the first picture we have of this guy."
Silence hummed in the room for a few seconds, then the murmurs started, growing in volume as his words sunk in. Jim let it go for a few minutes before holding his hand up for quiet.
"Now, as you all should know by now, knowing what this guy looks like may not make it any easier to catch him. And when he finds out we've got this far, chances are it's going to make him angry. You'll all, at one time or another, be assigned to watch Agent Parker and her friend Maria Deluca, and their home. Stakeouts on the house will go on whether the girls are there or not. You'll also be assigned to the homes of Agents Evans, Guerin and Whitman. And mine. From this moment on Agent Parker goes nowhere without at least one agent tailing her if she's on foot, or a car."
"What about our other cases?" a junior agent asked.
"With the agencies permission, all other cases have been put on the back burner. If anything new comes up, anything that could possibly break that case, whoever is working the case will be temporarily reassigned."
Again the room filled with murmurs, but this time some of them were discontented.
"I know some of you have been working on these cases for a while," Jim told them. "But complaining will not get you anywhere people, trust me. The police, the FBI, and more law enforcement agencies than I can tell you about have been after this guy for a long time, as well as us. So let's keep the bitching down to a minimum."
He shut off the monitor, effectively dismissing the group. He turned as Liz came into the room, clutching a piece of paper.
"I'm almost afraid to give it to you," she said with a self conscious laugh. "What if I'm wrong?"
"You're not," Jim told her, all confidence. "So give it here and we'll start getting out to everyone who wants to have a look at this guy."
Liz help on to the picture for another uncertain second, then handed it over.
posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:30:30 AM
Part 21

"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of this picture being splashed in all the papers," Max confided in Michael later that week. "Not yet."
Michael nodded. "I can understand that, but this came from over our heads. Apparently way over. This unit answers to very few people, but one of the ones we do answer to called in the decision this afternoon."
"Yeah well noone he cares about is under constant guard," Max muttered. "It's already getting to Liz and it's only been a few days."
"You think Liz is bad, you should hear Maria," Michael said with a wince. "I've had her on the phone everyday about these guys. She's worried she's going to lose her job because she has to have someone with her all the time."
"You love her even when she's bitching," Max said absently.
Michael looked surprised, then uncomfortable. "I lust after her Max, I never said anything about loving her."
For the first time in a days, Max felt a smile teasing his lips. "Maria hasn't been home a lot lately, and when I called Amy's the other night, she wasn't there either."
"What were you doing calling Amy's?"
"Liz asked me too," Max told him.
Michael looked down at the paperwork on his desk with a sudden ferocious, and unjustified, interest. "Is that so?"
"So being the hot shot FBI agent that I am, I put two and two together," Max said, enjoying himself. "And came up with another two. You two."
"Cute," Michael said dryly while Max grinned at him. "Mind your own business."
Max held his hands up in surrender. "Fine, fine. No need to get testy."
"So where are we on the case?" Michael asked, changing the subject. "What have we got besides this guy's face?"
"The woman was Cheryl Kane. Liz knew her when she was a child."
"Knew her how?" Michael asked.
"Well that's the weird thing," Max said, frowning. "Liz said she lived close, and Liz knew her, but not well. She wasn't someone Liz cared about."
"That breaks pattern," Michael said. "What's this guy up to?"
"If we knew that he wouldn't still be out there," Max said dryly. "But it gives us something else to think about."
"You know, I'd really like to get a hold of the guy who decided we don't have enough to do," Michael said, almost whining.
Max chuckled, standing up. "I'm going to leave you with your misery. Liz and I have plans."
"Plans?" Michael asked. "Dinner, movie, dancing? What kind of plans are we talking about?"
"Home, bed, sex," Max said, grinning. "About the only thing we can do without an agent following us."
"Good argument," Michael said. "I'll have to use that one on Maria."
Max nodded sagely, then chuckled. He looked up curiously when someone raced past the window, then shrugged it off. When a second person went racing past, he began frowning.
"This doesn't look good," he muttered. He threw open the door and snagged the next person who went flying past. "What's going on?"
"I'm not sure," the agent told him honestly. "We were just told to get into the conference room as soon as possible. Mr Valenti has pulled us all in. Everyone that was on surveillance."
Michael got up and the two of them hurried from the room just as Liz came running up. Max caught her and gathered her close.
"Liz baby, you're trembling," he muttered, hunching over her protectively.
"We've had a break," she said breathlessly, burrowing closer. "This is it."
Max rubbed her back soothingly. "What is it?"
"A letter was delivered to the offices this afternoon," she told them. "A mother frantic to save her son."
"Save him from what?" Michael asked. "And what does this have to do with the Apprentice?"
"She says that her son is The Apprentice," Liz told them. "Claims she has irrefutable proof. She arranged a meeting for tonight."
Michael looked around. "Then why are we here?"
Liz took a deep breath to calm herself. "The letter came from Cheryl Kane. The Apprentice's last victim."
Max felt the blood rush from his head. "Jesus. If this pans out...we're closer than we've ever been before."
Liz nodded. "And it means he killed his own mother."

Liz let herself into her apartment feeling tired, but good. Very, very good. They were closing in on him, she could feel it. She'd sent Max home to pick up some more clothes for himself, safe with two FBI vehicles parked outside her house. She flipped on the light...and froze. The barrel of the gun shone brightly under the light, pointing right between her eyes. She looked beyond it to the man holding it.
"You must be Bill."

Liz lay in the back seat of the car, bound, curiously unafraid.
"So I guess I finally get to meet our rather inept copycat," she said conversationally.
"How do you know it's a copycat?" Bill said with a nervous giggle. "I could be taking you to the man himself."
"The man himself would never send a drug crazed loony to do his dirty work," she said scathingly. "You're taking me to a second rate, attention seeking idiot."
The car stopped suddenly and Liz rolled over, landing painfully on the floor. Her ribs protested strongly, and she lay where she was, trying to catch her breath. The door at her feet swung open, and Bill giggled again.
"Whoops," he said mildly.
He grabbed her feet and began pulling, forcing Liz to lift her head or risk being knocked out. When he got her out of the car she looked around frantically for something, anything she recognized. Then she was being dragged up a small set of stairs to a dirty shack. She was thrown into a chair, and the door of the shack slammed behind her. She sat up straight and flicked the hair out of her eyes. She took a long look around the dark room, and spotted him immediately, hiding in the shadows at the corner of the room.
"You bring me all this way and I don't even get to see you?" she snapped. "How disappointing."
He rose from his chair and crossed the room to her. When she finally saw him, Liz's eyes widened, and she wished with everything in her that he'd stayed where he was. That she didn't have to shoulder the burden of knowing, from this day forward always knowing, who he was.
"Hello Liz," he said silkily. "You have no idea how long I've waited for this."
She couldn't believe this was him, so dangerously insane. The copycat.
"Hello Kyle."

Part 22

Max got up from his chair and paced again, ignoring Jim's advice to sit down. He'd been sitting for half an hour, if he did it any longer he was going to go insane.
"Okay, I've got an address for every Bill in my list," Alex said, running a hand through his hair. "If we put an agent on each of them we should have something within the hour."
"And if he's not on your list?" Max said, eerily quiet.
"He's on here," Alex said, feigning a confidence he really didn't feel. "I promise you, we'll know soon."
"In the meantime I want you to sit down," Jim said again. "Don't make me send you home Evans."
"I have to say, it's admirable that you think you could," Max said.
Michael put a restraining hand on Max's arm and stepped in front of him. "We all know you're upset Max but don't do anything stupid."
Max looked at him, around the room at everyone watching him with sympathetic eyes, and sat down heavily.
"Hurry up," he whispered to Alex. "Please tell them to hurry up."
Alex nodded and spun around, picking up the phone.

Liz looked up at him with barely concealed disgust. "I don't suppose you care what this will do to your father?"
He shrugged. "He won't know. You'll turn up dead, everyone will assume it's The Apprentice, I'll go back to doing my job."
"And you're friend?" Liz asked, jerking her head at the man on the other side of the room. "How does he fit in?"
He doesn't," Kyle said calmly, turning around and shooting the other man in the head.
Liz gasped and jerked frantically on her bonds, trying to release her hands. She glanced around the room, at the floor, the ceiling, anywhere but at the body. She watched with sick dread as blood seeped across the floor, coming closer and closer to her feet. She could feel a hysterical scream building in her throat, echoing in her head. She was getting ready to throw herself out of the chair just to get away from it when Kyle jerked her up by the hair. She cried out, gaining her feet and pulling back despite the pain. But she was no match with her hands tied, and Kyle dragged her into another room, throwing her down on a makeshift bed.
"Why?" She spat. "Why me? What have I ever done to you?"
"A boy needs his father Liz," Kyle said, circling the room and running the gun up and down his cheek.
"You have one," Liz said, still pulling on her hands. She could feel the rope cutting at the fragile skin of her wrists but she ignored the pain and kept going.
"Who cares more about you than me," Kyle yelled, finally snapping in some little corner of his mind.
Liz stopped what she was doing and just stared at him for a moment in complete disbelief. Then she cracked.
"What are you, stupid?" She yelled, missing the surprised and confused look that passed over Kyle's face. "Let me get this straight, because it's just about brilliant. You kidnapped and scared Amy half to death, kidnapped me, killed the idiot junky, all because you think your father cares more about me than he does you?"
Kyle just stood where he was, watching her.
"Oh I don't believe this," Liz finally said when he didn't answer her. "You know, in all the time I've known you, you've done some stupid things Kyle, but this one takes the cake."
Liz looked up in time to watch his hand come down, snapping her head back as he slapped her viciously. Too far, she thought groggily, I've pushed him too far.
"Shut up," he screamed. "Shut up or I'll kill you right now."
Liz tried to get up, then stopped when a image flashed across her vision. Shaking her head she sat up again.
"Your father loves you Kyle," she told him quietly. "More than anything, or anyone, else."
"You're lying," Kyle spat. "I've seen the way he is with you. Always protecting you."
"I have a psychopath after me," Liz said impatiently. "Or two."
He hit her again, but this time it barely registered as Liz had another flash, this time of the exterior of the shack. Her whole body stiffened as she realised what was happening.
"Kyle, you have to get out of here now," she whispered.
"I'm not going anywhere," he told her, leaning over her and grinning manically. "And neither are you."
"Kyle please," she pleaded. "Get out of here. Go out the window. He won't see you."
"Who won't see me?" Kyle asked. "What are you talking about?"
The door of the shack creaked open loudly, and Kyle turned around slowly, frowning.
"Kyle get out!" Liz screamed, fear freezing her. "It's him! He's here. Get out."
Something in her voice must have alerted him, and he spun back to her, his eyes cloudy with fright. "It's him?"
Liz lay down and closed her eyes, tears spilling from her eyes into her hair.
"It's too late," she whispered achingly. "We're both dead."
She felt herself being turned over roughly, but she didn't open her eyes. She was too tired to care. Then she felt a touch on her wrists, and a tugging at the ropes that bound her. Her eyes flew open and she looked over her shoulder. She watched in disbelief as Kyle, watching the doorway, tried frantically to cut the ropes. They came away, and Liz nearly screamed in pain as the blood rushed back into her hands. Kyle stood up and pointed his gun at the doorway.
"Go," he whispered, gesturing to the window. "Break it and go."
Liz stood up slowly and faced him. His eyes were clear, sane for the brief moment it would take him to save her life. Somehow, he'd pulled back from the edge enough to not want her to die that way, the way she knew The Apprentice would kill her. She felt an aching pity and shook her head.
"I'm not leaving Kyle," she whispered.
He looked at her, tears shimmering in his eyes. "My father will be really proud that I tried, I think. That I was here and tried to save you. You won't tell him about anything else will you? It can be our little secret. You don't have to tell."
Liz swiped at the tears blinding her and nodded. "I won't tell Kyle."
She saw him focus on something over her head, and before she had a chance to turn around and face it, something hit her heavily on the back of the head, and she cried out to him as she lost consciousness.

"Max, I understand that you have some kind of special..gift," Jim said calmly. "But you can't expect us to believe..."
"The person who has her is someone she knows," Max said stubbornly. "Someone she cares about. It's not the Apprentice."
"How do you know?"
"She feels sorry for him," Max told them.
"We've got him!!" Alex said, holding up a piece of paper triumphantly. "Bill Reynolds, age 35, lives right here in New York. Busted numerous times for kidnapping. His family has a shack out near the Oneida Lake. According to his mother he's been up there for about a month now. He's not working alone. She said a man came to see him just before he left."
"Any description?" Jim asked.
"Well that's the weird thing," Alex said, frowning down at the piece of paper. "The person she described sounds a lot like Kyle."
Jim snatched the piece of paper out of Alex's hand, and Max turned around, heading for Kyle's office.
"She's obviously mistaken," Jim said, reading the description himself. "This could be any number of people Alex."
He looked up as Max came striding back into the room. He said nothing, picking up his jacket and putting it on.
"This isn't Kyle," Jim said firmly. "What did he say when you told him?"
Max looked up, and Jim felt his stomach clench. "He's not there."


Part 23

Liz groaned and sat up slowly, touching the back of her head, then pulling her fingers away swiftly. She had a lump the size of a emu egg, and a splitting headache to go with it. She climbed unsteadily to her feet, and leaned against the wall for a moment to get her balance. When she was reasonably sure she could stand on her own, she looked around the room slowly. As memory returned, she noticed the absence of Kyle, and her stomach twisted, bile rising to the back of her throat. She knew he was in here somewhere. The coppery smell of fresh blood, and a lot of it, swirled sickeningly in the air. He was close, probably just through the doorway into the other room. Taking deep breaths to settle her stomach, she prepared herself to go in and find out what had been done to him. She stepped forward, then stopped suddenly when she heard a voice booming from outside.
"This is the FBI. We know you're in there. Come out now with your hands up."
Liz almost gave in to hysterical laughter as she stayed where she was. If she came stumbling out, she was liable to get shot. She walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain slightly. She could see a large number of officers protecting themselves behind three cars. She scanned the faces, then finally settled on the one she was looking for, behind the last car. Tears of relief sprang into her eyes, and her throat tightened.
"Max," she whispered.
His head came up suddenly, and he looked right at the window. Liz watched him jump up and begin running towards the house. She sat down to wait for him, sobs wracking her body.
"Max!"

Max ran, not aware of the voices calling out behind him, his only thought to get into the shack and get her out. He jumped at the door, hitting it with all the weight of his body, splintering the wood and causing the door to fly open. The smell assaulted him immediately and he stopped, his stomach heaving violently as he took in the sight in front of him. Whoever had done this hadn't been kind. Kyle's body had been cut from throat to navel, his torso gaping open and blood everywhere. Max heard the stamp of footsteps behind him and turned around. He tried to reach Jim before he saw it, but he was too late.
"Oh Jesus," Jim whispered, his knees buckling. "Oh Jesus Evans, who the hell did this?"
Max pushed the older man on to Michael. "Take him outside. Get the forensics team in here as soon as possible to remove the body. Don't leave him sitting like this."
He didn't wait for Michael's nod, but ran into the next room. He looked around wildly, finally spotting Liz sitting on the floor by the window, her head on her knees.
He approached her slowly, and knelt down behind her.
"Liz," he said softly. "Baby, it's Max. Are you okay?"
She didn't move, and Max clamped down on his panic. "Liz?"
With a small moan, she lifted her head and turned to him. Max waited until he saw the recognition, until he was sure he wouldn't frighten her, then he pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, burying his face in her hair. "I'm so sorry. I got here as soon as I could."
"I know you did," Liz said softly. "It's okay. Just get me out of here. Please."
He tucked her head under his chin and picked her up, whispering to her to stop her from looking up as he strode out of the shack and into the sunlight.

Max came into the office and shut the door behind, taking a moment to close the blinds as well.
"I wish you'd go home," he said gruffly.
Liz shook her head. "I want to wait, make sure Jim's ok."
"I don't think he'll come back here Liz," Max told her.
"You don't know Jim," she said, smiling to take any sting out of her words. "He always comes here when something isn't going right for him."
He looked at the empty chair across the desk from her and dismissed it. Instead he wandered over, picked her up and sat in her chair, settling her on his lap when he was comfortable.
"I heard you giving your statement to one of the other agents," he told her.
Liz buried her face in his neck and nodded. She'd told them that Kyle had somehow found out about the trouble she was in and tried to help.
"You lied," he said matter of factly.
She nodded again. Max tucked her body tighter against him and brushed a kiss across her temple. "Why?"
"You didn't see him Max," Liz said quietly. "You didn't see his face when I realised The Apprentice was there, that he was coming for me. He was so scared."
"Anyone would be," Max said. "There's nothing particularly admirable in that Liz."
"No, he was scared for me, not for himself," Liz told him. "He untied me and told me to go. In the end, he saved my life Max."
She looked up at Max, and he stared down at her. "I'm not going to forgive him Liz. And I'll only resent it if you keep trying."
"But..."
"The Apprentice got as close to you as he's ever been Liz, and it was Kyle's fault. I can feel sympathy for the way he died, noone should have to suffer that, but I'm not going to forgive him, or try to understand him. That can be your job."
Liz opened her mouth to argue again, but Max stopped her by covering it with his. The kiss quickly got out of hand, and Liz pulled back, breathing heavily.
"Max, we're in my office," she told him weakly. "The door is unlocked."
"No it's not," he murmured against her neck.
Liz let her head fall back, then jerked it up again. "Max, we can't do this in my office."
"I almost lost you today," Max whispered. "I could feel everything you were going through, and it almost killed me. I need you."
Liz got a look at his face, at the tormented expression, the seemingly never ending desire he had for her, and nodded. He quickly stood up and set her on the desk. His impatience was a living thing, and Liz grabbed his shoulders, content to simply be there for him, be whatever he wanted. He lavished attention on her neck while his hand slid up her thigh, under her skirt, and into her. Liz bit her lip to hold in a moan she was sure everyone outside would hear.
"Max," she pleaded, as needy as him now. "Please.."
She registered the tearing sound as he ripped her underwear from her, then the feel of his knuckles as he released himself. She pushed her hips forward greedily and Max swore softly. He finally got his zip down and pulled Liz forward, perching her on the very edge of the desk. Fisting one hand in her hair and using the other to hold her to him, he pushed himself into her roughly. Everything was too intense, the need to great, to prolong it. They had both stared death in the eye, and needed to celebrate life in the most primal way.
Max thrust fast, clearing his mind of everything but her. He felt the tightening at the base of his spine and slid his hand in between them to touch Liz, to make sure she was with him. It took only two quick, deep thrusts before he felt her body tighten and, gathering her to him, he followed her over the edge.

Part 24

Liz approached him slowly, wary of frightening him. An empty glass sat on the table, beside an almost empty bottle of whiskey.
"Jim?"
He didn't raise his head, didn't acknowledge her at all, but she knew he was aware of her. She sat down in the chair next to him.
"I'm so sorry."
He pushed the bottle to her and after a moment she poured him another drink.
"I read the report you gave," he said after downing the glass she gave him.
"You should be so proud of Kyle," Liz told him. "I wish he hadn't come in after me, hadn't died that way, but he did."
"We found some things at Bill's place," Jim said, looking up at her with bloodshot eyes. "Things that don't look good for my son."
Liz almost swore, but instead strived to look casual. "What kind of things?"
"Did you lie?" Jim asked her harshly. "Did you lie about what happened in that room?"
"No," Liz said, amazed she was looking him right in the eye. "Whatever you found must have been a set up. Kyle went there to help me."
"How did he know the shack was there?" Jim persisted. "And that Bill would take you there."
"How did The Apprentice know?" Liz shot back. "Maybe Bill broadcast it. I don't know."
"You're not helping me if you know Kyle was working with him and you're not telling me," Jim told her.
"Then believe me," Liz begged.
Jim looked at her for a long, tension filled moment, then ran his hands over his face with a tired sigh. "All right. I believe you."
"Good," Liz said, hoping he kept believing her. "Now, I came to get you because you're needed back at work."
"What now?" Jim asked.
"We've got a name on The Apprentice. I think it's time we told everybody"

Max was watching Jim closely, probably more closely than anyone else. He could feel the grief and anger coming off the man in waves. Waves that could easily turn on Liz. They were gathered in the conference room again, as many agents as could fit gathered in around them. A lot of people were vested in the morbid drama of the dance they were doing around this one man.
"As you all already know, we've got a photo of The Apprentice," Jim said, bringing up the image on the monitor.
Max looked at the man, trying to see something in him that screamed 'serial killer'. It was an occupational hazard, one they were always warned not to indulge in. He remembered clearly being told not to take anything, or anyone at face value. Remembered the photos of the exceedingly normal, sometimes good looking faces of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. The aristocratic class of The Ripper. This man would slip into that category, Max knew. Ten years from now instructors would warn of the evil behind the young face, the blond hair, the innocent blue eyes.
"His name is Dennis Kane," Jim continued. "33 years old. Agents are at his last known address now. This guy is meticulous, so I don't expect them to find anything. So we'll be going through everything we have so far again today."
Liz wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt and stood up slowly. Max squeezed her hand for encouragement, and she smiled down at him.
"Agent Parker is going to take over now," Jim said.
Liz turned around to the room and felt her throat tighten. Fastening her gaze on Max's eyes, she relaxed and picked up the controls to the monitor and pulled up the first picture.
"Some of you may wonder why I'm showing you these pictures," she said. "Most of you have seen some or all of them before."
Murmurs of agreement scattered the room and Liz held her hand up.
"You haven't seen them with me," Liz said simply. "My connection to this killer is a closely guarded secret. Only a few people within this unit know, noone else. Not even the FBI. We're getting a lot closer, and I think all of you deserve to know what you're up against. So I'm going to go over the names of all the victims and hopefully by the time I'm finished you'll have some idea as to why catching this guy is so important to me in particular."
An expectant silence fell over the room, and Liz turned to the monitor. The picture still had the power to turn her stomach, but didn't send her running from the room anymore.
"I imagine most of you think of these people as Victim 1, Victim 2, and so on. I know because that's how you're trained to think of them. For this case, I'm asking you to think of them as people, as faces," She turned back to them and pointed back to the monitor. "These faces are my parents. Jeff and Nancy Parker."
The shock caused a sudden tension in the room, and she could see a few of the younger agents taking a closer look. She left the photo there for another minute, then changed it.
"Bradley Shaw. He was my first boyfriend."
Slowly, she made her way down the list., changing the picture over and over again.
"Stephanie Marshall, my best friend. Dottie and Russell O'Neil, an old couple who lived across the street from me. I used to have lunch at their house every Sunday. Pappa Murphy. He used to fix kid's toys. He lived just down the road. Dr Gregory, he delivered me. Lilly Harper, the librarian I used to get my books from. Dr Sarah Michaels and her husband Hank Michaels. She was my psychiatrist."
She could tell some of the agents were getting uncomfortable, but she wouldn't stop.
"Joey Pollock, who worked at the video store I used to go to. Lochlan Tracy, my prom date. He went for the boyfriends again when he got Harlen Malone, my boyfriend at the time. Next was Regina Watson, my roommate. Tasmen Right. It took us a while to find her connection, but she was in my first grade class."
The next photo caused voices to rise, and Liz nodded. "This guy some of you will know. John Watt. My first boss at the academy. Next is Doctor Geoffrey Hayes, the surgeon who performed my appendectomy when I was 15. Marjorie Summers, my fifth grade teacher. And yesterday, Agent Valenti."
She shut off the monitor and gave them all a moment to digest what she'd just told them before she went on.
"I know some of you were unhappy when you were assigned to protect my roommate, Maria, and I. Now you know why. The bottom line is there are very few people left in the world that I care about. But as long as I do care about people, he'll go after them. Now if any of you have questions, I'll answer them the best I can, and then hopefully we can move on from there."
The questions were quick in coming.
"What about the victim before Agent Valenti? How was she connected to you?"
"She wasn't. Her name was Cheryl Kane, and she's the only victim not directly connected to me. She did live down the street from me when I was growing up, but she wasn't someone I cared about, or kept in touch with."
"Then why did he go after her?"
Liz hit the button again, and the letter they had received came on-screen.
"He killed her because she sent this letter to us. She was his mother."
"How does he know so much about you?"
"That's something we won't know until we catch him."
"Do you remember him?"
"Assuming I met him before he started killing people, I've forgotten him. The other possibility is that I don't know him at all. I never did."
Liz grappled with that for a moment, then pointed at another agent. "Yes?"
"If he's gone outside his little circle, the people you care about, and killed someone you don't know, is he likely to do it again?"
"No," Liz said definitely. "This was an isolated incident, with a very apparent motive. He won't do it again."
"So where do we go from here?"
Jim stood up again and walked to the front of the room.
"Agent Parker and anyone closely connected to her will be go into protective custody, effective immediately."
"Like hell," Liz said, shocked. "I'm staying here."
"No you're not," Jim told her firmly. "Don't argue with me on this Liz."
Max got up as well, strolling over. Liz turned on him and pointed at Jim.
"Tell him. Tell him I'm not going into custody."
"He's not arresting you Liz. He just wants you out of harm's way," Max said mildly.
"You can't solve this case without me and you know it," she said smugly.
"Why is that?"
Liz turned back to the room, dreading what was coming.
"You seem to know so much about this guy," a junior agent asked, looking around at everyone to make sure he had people's attention. "I'm just a little curious as to why. You seem to have these murders memorised"
He was just attention seeking, Liz knew it, and she could have pulled rank and told him to mind his own business. But if she did that the questions would still remain, and she wouldn't be able to work with anyone. She would, in the eyes of this room at least, become a suspect.
"I'm psychic," she stated bluntly. "I know every murder, every move, even thought. Because I see it. I see them through his eyes."

Part 25

"You know you didn't have to do that," Max told her quietly in bed that night. "We could have come up with something."
"That kid already had suspicions," Liz answered. "He probably thought I was working with The Apprentice. Or at least knew who he was."
Max turned over on his side and pulled her closer. "What he thought wasn't important. Not to me. You're the only thing that's important. And I didn't like the way any of them were looking at you as they left."
"Max, let me stand on my own two feet on this one," Liz said firmly.
"I like you standing on my feet," Max said. "They're bigger."
Liz chuckled and shook her head. "I'll do it for dancing, but for this I won't. Please just trust me."
Max looked down at her, then grimaced. "Do I have to like it?"
"No," Liz promised. "You're under no obligation to like it. Just respect it."
Max frowned for a long minute, then finally nodded. "All right, I'll leave it alone. On one condition."
Liz had been expecting it. "I'm not going into protective custody Max."
"This is non-negotiable Liz," Max said firmly. "You can railroad Jim with that temper but it won't work on me. You're going."
"And what about us?" Liz snapped at him. "If I go into protective custody you can't come with me."
Max stared at the top of her head in astonishment, his thoughts scattered.
"Is that why you won't go in?" he finally asked.
Liz shifted uncomfortably. "It's against regulations Max. You know that."
"I don't care!" he said, disbelief making his voice rise. "For god's sakes Liz, I never intended to let you go alone. I was always going with you."
"Good luck," Liz said dryly. "Jim's real big on regulations."
"I'll find away around him," Max said confidently. "Now go to sleep. I'm tired."
Liz sat up and stacked her hands on his chest, looking down at him. "You have this irritating habit of ordering me to sleep."
"Is it going to work tonight?" he said hopefully.
"I'm not tired," Liz told him.
He could feel her fatigue beating at him along with his own, but he just sighed. "Was there something else you wanted to talk about?"
"Babies," Liz said promptly.
"What about babies?"
"I want one," Liz told him firmly.
"Right now?" Max said with a grin.
She hit him on the shoulder. "I'm serious. I want a baby."
Max could see she was serious. "Wouldn't it be better trying with a dog or something first?"
"No," Liz said firmly. "If..no when, when we catch The Apprentice and my life is finally mine again, I want this. And we're close now. So I thought I'd bring it up."
"And will anyone do, or is it me you want the baby with?" Max asked. He could picture her in every stage of pregnancy, see her holding his child, their child. He wanted it, more than his next breath.
Liz took his face in her hands and kissed him, gently. "I want it with you. I love you."
"I love you too," he told her, emotion swelling and tightening his throat.
Liz smiled down at him, and Max watched, fascinated, as her eyes began to twinkle merrily, and she grinned. "So, can we have a baby now?"
Laughing softly, he sat up and rolled her over onto her back.

Max groaned and buried his head in the pillow. They'd finally fallen asleep less than an hour earlier, and he did not like being woken up again.
"Liz, I did my level best to impregnate you," he muttered. "I'm not up for a repeat performance until I've had at least 12 hours solid sleep."
He waited to hear her laugh, but when he heard nothing, he rolled over. Cursing, he opened his eyes and looked over at her. He'd been too deeply asleep to take note of exactly what he was feeling at first.
"Liz, come on baby wake up."
She tossed fretfully, the moonlight spilling through the window making the tears on her cheeks gleam. Max wrapped his arms around her.
"Not this time," he murmured softly, and began shaking her. "Liz, I want you to wake up now. Come on honey. Come back."
He kept at it until Liz suddenly stilled, and her eyes opened quickly. She stared at him blindly, terror making her body shudder convulsively.
"He's outside," she whispered, making the hairs on the back of Max's neck stand up on end. "He's right outside."
Max opened his mouth to comfort her, when a shadow passing over the window caught his eye. He rolled out of bed and grabbed for his pants.
"Don't move," he told her in a whisper. He felt around for his jacket and found his gun holster. He took it out and felt the reassuringly familiar weight of his weapon. He watched as Liz leant over and opened a drawer on the bedside table, withdrawing her own weapon. They both heard the tinkling sound of breaking glass, a window somewhere, and Max leaned over and put his lips next to her ear.
"Do not leave this room," he told her. "I'll yell before I come through the door. If you don't hear me, and that door opens, shoot whoever it is."
Liz nodded and rubbed her cheek against his. Max looked down at her with a calm smile, then left the room.
Liz propped her back against some pillows and pointed her gun at the door, her hands steady. She strained to hear any noise from outside the room, surprised she wasn't picking anything up with him so close. She pondered that for a moment, and as she thought about it her entire body tightened. She got up, throwing her robe on haphazardly as she ran through the house.
"Max!" She screamed, throwing the back door open and running out into the yard. "Max!"
She looked around wildly, already running for the gate leading to the front yard. Her breath labored in and out as she ran onto the curb and looked up and down the street. She ran back into the house and picked up the phone.
"Jim," she sobbed when he answered.
"What's wrong?" He said quickly.
"I couldn't feel him," she said hysterically. "I should have known but I was so scared. I should have told him to stay with me."
"Liz, I need you to calm down for me," Jim said softly. "Tell me what's happened. Where's Max?"
"He was here," she said, her voice high and thin. "Outside the house. I saw him. Max made me stay inside and he went out to..to. And then I couldn't see him anymore. He's controlling it somehow. Our connection, his emotions. I've lost the only link I had with him and he's..he's.."
"Liz, where's Max?" Jim asked again.
"He's taken him," Liz sobbed out, sliding down the wall to the floor. "He's got Max."
posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:31:37 AM
Part 26

Max woke up slowly, his head aching, confused. Where the hell was he? He looked around the room carefully, and as the events of last night came back to him, his body stilled. He pulled on his arms, unsurprised to find them bound behind him. He tested the strength of the rope, decided trying to free his hands was useless, and settled down to study his surroundings.
"Another shack," he murmured, looking at the bare walls and the trees outside the window in the room. "What is it with these guys and shacks?"
"They suit our purposes," a voice said laconically from the doorway. "No traffic, no cops, noone around to hear you scream."
Max looked up into the face of Dennis Kane and raised an eyebrow.
"You think I'm going to scream?" Max said calmly. "That's highly optimistic of you."
"I imagine you don't want to give me the satisfaction," Dennis said, walking further into the room. "That's very predictable Agent Evans."
"It has nothing to do with your satisfaction," Max told him. "As you said, noone would hear me, so what's the point?"
Dennis nodded understandingly. "You're right."
"So," Max said, looking around. "You wanna let me in on why I'm here? Or am I just supposed to guess?"
"Don't play stupid Agent Evans," he said sharply. "It's beneath you."
"Humour me," Max said with a smile. "I'm going to die apparently. Consider it my last request. What the hell do you want?"
"I want her to suffer," he said.
"Why?" Max asked, honestly curious. "She doesn't know you, so whatever she did can't have been that bad."
"She let me suffer," Dennis spat, suddenly angry. "She knew what I was going through and she sat by and did nothing."
Max stared at him for a moment, then shook his head.
"You know, up until right now, I always assumed you had some intelligence to you," Max said. "I mean, you plans all those murders, left no evidence. But that must have all been blind luck because you my friend are as dumb as a post."
Max watched him blink rapidly, trying to reconcile the situation. He had a hostage who wasn't behaving as he should.
"Liz was only a kid the first time she ever connected with you," Max said contemptuously. "There was nothing she could do even if she could get anyone to believe her. Her family wasn't The Brady Bunch, and her parents didn't want a child that was a freak."
"My parents believed me," Dennis said smugly.
"Your parents believed you heard voices?" Max said dryly. "I don't doubt it."
"Don't mock me!"
"Don't make it so easy," Max said, sitting back in his chair and looking for all the world like he was quite comfortable where he was. He watched Dennis struggle for control.
"You won't get to me," he said, walking to the door and turning back. "I'm going to make a phone call now. Judging by what I saw the other night, Liz will come scrambling to the rescue when I tell her where you are. And she'll come alone too. If she doesn't I'll just kill you."
"Yep, definitely dumb as a post," Max said again. "You touch her, you so much as look at her wrong, and you won't make it out of here alive. You may kill me, but I'll make sure you come with me."
He sat back in the chair, watching the man at the door carefully. He stood there for a moment, then slammed the door shut behind him. Max closed his eyes and blew out a tired breath. He could still smell the ether from the cloth he'd had clamped over his nose. It was making him dizzy and nauseous but he fought the feelings and focused on the feelings he knew were coming from outside of his body. He could feel Liz, her panic, and for a moment he allowed himself to bitterly regret the fact that he couldn't contact her, couldn't send his feelings back to reassure her. Letting the anger rage through his system and cleanse his mind, he took another careful look around the room and began formulating a plan.

"Nothing yet," Alex said apologetically. "Agents are still going over the mother's house."
Liz nodded and stayed where she was, the same chair she'd been in for almost three hours. She wanted to get up but knew as soon as she did she'd pace and she'd think, and then she'd scream. She'd start screaming and she wouldn't be able to stop because this time it was bad. This time it was almost as much as she was going to be able to take. He had Max.
"Maybe you should wait in my office," Jim said gently. "You know I'll come and get you as soon as anything happens."
"No," Liz said bluntly. "I'm staying here." She turned back to Alex. "Hook up a phone. He's going to call."
"Liz he's never done anything like that before," Jim reminded her.
"He's never had anyone this close to me before," Liz snapped. "I know him better than any of you. If I say he's going to call, he'll call."
Alex got up and walked away. He came back a few minutes later with a phone unit and plugged it in. Sitting down in front of his computer again he began rapidly tapping away at the keys.
"What number?" he asked, looking up.
"My mobile," Liz said after some thought. "Max's phone was in the back pocket of his jeans. My number's on there. It's the only number he has access to."
"If Max has his phone..." Alex began tentatively.
"He wouldn't have just walked out of the yard Alex," Liz interrupted. "He's been drugged, or knocked out, something like that. I doubt very much if he still has his phone with him, or if he even remembers that he had it."
Alex nodded and tapped away again. "Okay the phone is programmed with your mobile number on it, and a trace. Remember keep him on for as long as you can."
Liz nodded and sat back, striving to stay calm. If she was wrong... She shook her head. She wasn't wrong. She couldn't be wrong. If she was, they were all sitting here waiting, and Max was probably already dead.

"Careful with that thing," Max said. "It cost me a fortune."
Dennis continued to press buttons on the little phone, frowning in concentration. Then his face cleared and he smiled "Ah, there it is. I knew her number would be in here somewhere." He looked up. "I want you to talk to her, tell her you're ok. She won't come unless you talk to her. Tell her you're okay, and to listen to me. I'm going to tell her where to meet us."
He punched the button and held the phone up to Max's ear. Max waited, then closed his eyes when he heard her voice.
"Where is he?" Liz said frantically.
"I'm okay," Max told her quickly.
"Max," she sobbed. "Where are you?"
"He's going to tell you where to meet him," Max said, watching the man wearily. "Listen carefully baby. He wants me to tell you to come alone."
"I'll do it," Liz said immediately. "I'll do whatever he wants."
"That's not like you," Max said, thinking quickly. "Doing as you're told."
"He's going to kill you," Liz said hesitantly.
Max could tell she knew he was trying to tell her something. He almost smiled.
"You never listen to anyone, even if they're trying to protect you."
Silence hummed for a moment, then her voice came again. "No, no I don't. It's my one bad habit."
Max opened his mouth to tell her he loved her, but the phone was snatched away from his ear. Dennis put it to his own and spoke quickly, telling her where to meet them and when, then he hung up. Max sat back and regarded him. "That went well."
He had no time to prepare, no sign it was coming. Just the sound of the shot, and the agony of the bullet ripping through him.

Part 27

"You didn't keep him on the phone long enough," Alex griped.
"I didn't have to," Liz said, moving quickly now. "I know where I'm going, I know Max will be there. That's all I need to know."
"Give me a minute to get a crew together and we'll leave," Jim said.
Liz shook her head. "No, no crew. He wants me there alone."
"Not a chance in hell," Jim said flatly. "It's a trap. You're not going alone. I'll pull you off this case right now if I have to..."
"Do I look like I've lost my mind?" Liz snapped. "If you'd let me finish. I'm not going alone, but he'll be looking for a whole team. I'll take you."
It was obvious Jim wanted to argue, but he also knew he couldn't. He was feeling guilty, and he knew it. There should have been agents parked outside her house, this shouldn't have happened, but he'd thought they would be safe, at least for one night. He'd planned to put her straight into protective custody the next day. No time now, he though grimly. They had not time.
A phone on the desk beeped and Alex answered it quickly. He listened for a moment then hung up.
"That was the guys at Cheryl Kane's house," he told them. "They think they might have found him. There's deeds to an old fishing shack amongst her papers."
"That's the place," Jim said, going with his instincts. "Send the team there. If he gets a whiff of me he'll run. And I'm banking he'll go back there."
Liz took a moment to get her gun from the office, then she and Jim sprinted out the door.

"The chances of me not killing you have now been greatly diminished," Max said through gritted teeth, holding his shoulder.
"Shut up and get in the car," Dennis shouted, prodding at his back with the gun.
"Aren't you worried I'll get blood all over your nice, clean seats?" Max asked, the sarcasm all too evident in his voice.
He ducked his head quickly to avoid being knocked out, and bit back a curse when his shoulder hit the seat. Pain shot up his arm and his stomach rolled warningly, but he took deep breaths and eventually managed to sit up.
"You know, I'm with you," Max said, only a little breathless. "I say kill me now."
He had the satisfaction of seeing Dennis' eyes widen as the darted to him in the rear vision mirror.
"Of course," Max continued. "Things don't look too good in that department. I mean, you've already tried to kill me once and missed. And considering the distance.."
"You're trying to make me angry," Dennis said in an eerie singsong voice. "It won't work."
"I'm just telling it like it is," Max said, shrugging. "You were about five feet away from me and you missed."
"I did not miss!" He yelled, the car swerving dangerously.
Max decided it might be more prudent to keep quiet, and keep on the road.
"Whatever you say," he murmured. "You're running the show."
As the road whizzed past, Max watched out the window, looking for anything that might look familiar, something that would tell him where he was in case he found himself on this road with no car. He knew they must have been miles from anywhere. He could see tress stretching on either side of the road.
"If I asked you where we are, would you tell me?" Max said hopefully. "I mean, since I'm going to die and all."
"Shut up," came the growl from the front seat. "Just shut up."
Max almost laughed. He moved around until he was as comfortable as he was going to get, and pressed his hand harder on his wound. It was still oozing blood, although more slowly now, and he was beginning to feel light-headed. He looked around and spotted a dirty rag on the floor. He couldn't afford to worry about any infection he might get. Grabbing it up he ripped a strip off, folded the rest, and tied it around his shoulder. A clattering sound caught his attention and he looked out the window again. They were headed over the bridge into the city.

Liz watched the gates into the old wrecking yard. They'd been there for at least half an hour. She looked over to where she knew Jim was hiding. She couldn't see him, but just knowing he was there made her feel secure. He was the only person she could think of who wanted The Apprentice as badly as she did. She didn't like waiting, but Jim had decided they couldn't do anything until they knew Max was safe, until one of them had seen him.
The sound of crunching gravel reached her ears, and she turned towards the gates, watching the black car come towards her. It stopped only a few feet away and a door opened. Liz had to stop herself from just running forward and killing him. This was the man who had ruled her life for the past ten years.
"Hello Liz," he said quietly, his voice filled with something like awe.
"Where's Max?" She said bluntly.
Another door opened, and Liz looked past him, breathing a sigh of relief when she finally saw him. He walked closer, and her stomach dropped. There was blood all over his chest.
"You shot him," she said tonelessly.
"He missed," Max said. "He was going for my head."
"That's not funny," Liz said with a frown.
Max jerked his thumb towards Dennis. "He didn't think it was either."
"What do you want?" She asked the other man, not taking her eyes off Max.
"You," Dennis said quickly. "In exchange for him."
Max took his eyes off Liz long enough to glare in disbelief, then shook his head. "Not gonna happen."
Dennis pulled a gun from the pocket of his coat and pointed it at Max. Liz held up her hands quickly.
"Don't!" She cried. "Don't hurt him. I'll come with you."
"No!" Max said sharply.

Jim swore slowly, willing Evans to move. He couldn't get the shot in. He took long deep breaths, kept his eye to the scope, and waited.

"You come with me, or I kill him now, right in front of you," Dennis said calmly, still holding the gun to Max.
"Don't listen to him," Liz begged. "I'll go with you. I promise."
Max couldn't risk looking around to try and find out where Jim was. He knew the other man was here, knew Liz would have picked up on his message and brought him, but he had no way of knowing where he was or what he was carrying.
Dennis took a step towards Liz and Max moved with him.

"Oh for god's sakes Evans," Jim muttered beneath his breath. "If you'd just stay still he wouldn't even have a chance to take her."

Dennis clamped his hand on Liz's arm and began pulling her towards the car, still keeping the gun on Max.
"Don't you move," he said desperately. "You stay where you are."
Liz kept her eyes on Max, and he could see the apology in them, the regret. He watched them move away, his fists clenched in fury at his helplessness. They reached the car, and Dennis began pushing Liz inside. Max waited until the last possible moment, then charged.

Jim saw his opportunity and took it. As soon as he pushed Liz's head into the car, and out of the way, he took his shot. He shouted out when he saw Evans begin to run forward. Max stopped, and turned his head. It was all the time he needed. Dennis jumped into the car, got it started, and sped away.

Part 28

"Get in the car," Jim yelled, running down from where he'd been hiding. "Over there, behind the old truck. We can try and catch up to him."
"I don't know where he's going," Max yelled back, running for the car behind him.
Jim jumped in and gunned the engine. "Call the office. They have a location on the shack you were in."
"What the hell were you doing shooting at me?" Max raged.
"I wasn't shooting at you, I was shooting at him," Jim snapped. "You just got in the way."
"If I hadn't heard you yell I'd be dead."
"You're not!" Jim said. "So call the office and find out where the hell we're going."
Max swore, picked up the car phone and dialed.
"Over the bridge," he told Jim as he waited for someone to answer. "He went over the bridge."
Jim took the exit almost on two wheels, throwing Max against the door.
"For Christ sakes will you slow down!" Max roared. "You're going to kill us."
"In case you missed it, he has your girlfriend," Jim snapped back, glaring at him.
"The road," Max said quickly. "Eyes on the road."
"There he is," Jim said, pointing. "We've got him."
Max put the phone down and looked over. "Are you sure?"
"That's his licence plate," Jim said confidently. "It's him."
Max focused all his energy on the car, and knew Jim was right. He could feel Liz.
"Floor it," he said tersely.
Jim snorted. "You've been watching to many cops and robbers movies. It's already floored Sherlock."
Max bit back his angry response and instead focused on Liz. He watched the car as they got closer, and everything in him screamed when he saw the back door open.
"Oh Jesus no," he whispered. "No! Liz don't!"
"She's going to jump out," Jim said tersely.
"Slow down," Max yelled. "We'll hit her. You gotta slow down!"
Jim slammed on the brake and the car fishtailed wildly as Max watch Liz's body fly out of the car.

"Why don't you just pull over here and kill me?" Liz said from the back seat. "You're going to do it anyway. I don't see any point in wasting time."
"I have plans for you," he said silkily.
"I don't suppose those plans include telling me why?" She asked.
"I had this discussion with your lover," he said impatiently.
"That's fascinating," she snapped. "But since I'm never going to see him again, I'd like to know for myself."
When he said nothing, Liz just shook her head. As she did she happened to glance at the door, then quickly turned her eyes away. The door was unlocked. She inched over in the seat slowly, not wanting to be noticed, and reached out until her hand rested on the handle. She slowly began turning it and bracing herself to jump out of the swiftly moving car.
"How did it feel?" He asked suddenly. "All those years ago when I was being beaten and you knew. How did it feel?"
Liz kept her hand where it was, but sat back in the seat. As much as she wanted out of the car, she needed to hear this.
"Is that what this was all about?" She replied.
"You did nothing!" He yelled.
"What was I supposed to do?" She cried back. "I was only a child!"
"You deserve to suffer," he said viciously. "And you will."
Liz waited for the rest but he said nothing. "That's it? That's the only reason."
"It's enough," he said simply.
Liz grabbed the handle again.
"Not for me," she told him.
Praying for her life, she jumped from the car.

Jim swore viciously as he struggled for control of the car. Eventually they stopped, down a small ditch. Max jumped out and ran for the other side of the road, praying the whole time. He was only barely aware of Jim jumping out behind him, his running steps thudding alongside. He looked around wildly, finally spotting her lying in a small patch of bushes. He ran over and knelt down beside her. He turned her over slowly, and his blood froze when she just lay there, her eyes closed.
"Don't you dare," he muttered. "If you die, I swear I'll never forgive you. I'll follow you wherever you go and make your life hell."
"Well really," Liz said weakly. "Is that any way to talk to the mother of your children?"
Max huffed out a huge sigh of relief, blinking rapidly at the tears that stung his eyes. "You're not the mother of my children yet," he reminded her. "When you are we'll negotiate."
She laughed a little, then groaned. "Oh god, everything hurts. All the things. All at once."
"Don't move," Jim ordered gently. "I've got help coming."
"Oh don't worry," Liz said. "I'm not going anywhere."
Max just sat where he was, holding her hand, staring down at her. He heard the screech of brakes and didn't even look up.
"That was quick," he murmured, looking over at Jim.
In time to see him go down. The gunshot shattered the quiet and Max jumped, whirling around to face the danger. Dennis Kane stood beside his car, an unholy smile on his face.
"Well isn't this convenient," he said. "Not one, not two, but three birds with one stone. I guess this makes today my luckiest day ever."
Max moved until he stood over Liz's body, but he knew it was hopeless. He was unarmed, Liz couldn't move. They were both going to die. Jim was probably dead already.
"I'm spoiled for choices," Dennis said, still behind the door of his car. "You, or her?"
"Her," Max said. "Kill her first."
Dennis seemed to consider it. "If that's what you want...no. You go first."
It was what Max was counting on. He couldn't watch Liz die. He wanted to be first. As he stepped forward Dennis stepped out from behind the door. Max took another step, and tripped. As he fell he heard another shot ring out. He looked up quickly and saw a baffled look on Dennis' face. He turned around and saw Liz, her arm pointed, a gun in her wildly shaking hand. She fired again, then her arm dropped.

Epilogue

The bride bounced nervously in front of the mirror, fussing with her dress, playing with her hair.
"What if I forget my vows?" She fretted. "That would be so embarrassing. What if I just faint? What if...?"
"You'll be fine," her bridesmaid said soothingly. She popped her head out the door and received the signal. She turned around and smiled. "It's time."
One last fidget and a deep breath, and the two woman stepped out of the room and took their place in front of the big doors. They opened slowly, and with a smile, Liz stepped out. She walked slowly up the aisle, her eyes on the man waiting for her at the head of the church. He stepped down to take her hand, and they moved up together.
"You look beautiful," he told her.
"I'd better," she said back. "It took forever to get into this outfit."
They moved off to the side and turned around.
"She looks better," Liz murmured, blinking back sentimental tears as she watched Maria join Michael at the altar.
They had so much to be thankful for. After long months of physio therapy, Jim was finally able to walk again. The shot that should have killed him, was supposed to kill him, had only nicked his spine. He was sorry to miss the wedding, but promised to be out soon.
Michael had proposed to Maria soon after she'd moved in with him. She's made a lot of excuses when she'd moved out, about the lack of room since Max moved in, no longer the need for safety in numbers since The Apprentice had been killed, but Liz had known all along. Her friend was stupid in love.
Liz had undergone the inevitable investigation following the events of that afternoon. She was back on active duty, chasing down killers, trying to get into the mind of the lowest forms of humanity. She and Max had foregone the big affair for a small service at Jim's hospital bedside. Maria and Michael for witnesses, Jim as best man. It was short, cheap, and exactly what Liz wanted.
As the minister began to speak, Liz slipped her hand into Max's and smiled up at him. He rubbed his thumb gently over her own wedding band and bent down to brush his lips over hers.
"My day," Maria griped under her breath, making Liz laugh.
Max chuckled as well, and they turned around and faced the priest again.

Max waited impatiently, then jumped up when the doorbell rung. He threw it open and glared at the delivery boy.
"You're late," he pronounced, grabbing the flowers while he reached in his pocket for the tip. "I wanted them delivered this morning."
The boy glanced at his chart. "Evans?"
"Yes, I wanted them delivered first thing this morning," Max said, looking down at the flowers. "And these aren't my flowers."
The boy looked down at his chart again, then shook his head. "There must have been a mix up at the office. If you like I can take those and bring you back the flowers you ordered."
"That won't be necessary," Liz said, coming down the stairs. "Max, tip the poor boy and let him go."
Still frowning, Max took the money out of his pocket and gave it over. He shut the door and took the flowers into the kitchen.
"But these aren't the flowers I ordered," he whined. "I ordered a huge big arrangement. Very impressive. Lovely card. You know, romantic."
"That's so sweet," Liz said, reaching up to brush a kiss on his jaw. "I'm sure they'll get here soon. These are the ones I brought for you."
"You brought me flowers?" Max said, looking down at them again. "I thought that was the guys job."
"Happy Anniversary," Liz said softly. "There's a card."
"When is everyone arriving?" Max said while he fished out the card.
"Maria and Michael should be here in about fifteen minutes. Jim phoned from work and said 7.30 at the latest."
Max murmured agreeably as he pulled the card out of the envelope. Liz turned around so she could see his face as he read aloud.
"Happy Anniversary. I love you."
He looked up and smiled, then looked down again. "P.S. The rabbit died."
He stared at the small piece of paper for another minute, then looked up at Liz. She bit the inside of her lip, hard. He looked like he'd been hit by a train.
"You're pregnant?"
"Well you were trying so hard," Liz said. "I thought it would be rude not to..."
Whatever else she'd planned to say was lost in the warmth of his mouth. He kissed her soundly, came up for air, then kissed her again. When he lifted his head for the second time, Liz laughed.
"Are you okay?" She asked.
He smiled at her sweetly, told her he loved her, then fainted at her feet.

"Laura?" Max said, looking up from the baby name book. He shifted on the couch, trying to ease the nagging pain in his lower back.
Liz lay on the floor, her current resting place of choice, her hands folded on her enormous belly. She considered it then shook her head. "No. And why are you fidgeting again?"
"I've still got that pain in my back," he grumbled. "It's been there since this morning. It's really bugging me. But, names. Lainie."
Liz said nothing about the pain, and shook her head to the name.
"Ok, let's move onto boys names," Max said equably. "Jared."
"No."
"Jamie."
"Nope."
"Liz, we need a name soon," he told her for the hundredth time. "You're due in two days."
"How about this," she said, turning her head so she could see him. "You pick for a boy, I'll pick for a girl."
Max put down the book and lay down on the floor, cradling her head. "Ok, you go first."
"I want Lily," she told him.
"Works for me," Max said. "I want Alex."
Liz nodded. "Ok, Lily for a girl, Alex for a boy. Michael or Maria for middle names respectively."
"Alex Michael Evans," Max murmured. "It's a good name."
"So we're decided?"
He nodded.
"Good. How's that pain in your back?"
"Still there," Max told her. "Why?"
"Because I know what it is," Liz told him. "Can you take me to the hospital? Little Alex or Lily really wants to come out now."

"You were in labour the whole day and you didn't tell me," Max raved. "What kind of a thing is that to do to your husband?"
"Shh," Liz said calmly. "You'll wake her up."
Lily Maria Evans had made finally made her long awaited appearance that night after 15 grueling hours of labour for both Mom and Dad. Max was in unspeakable agony for most of the time, and the nurses loved him.
"I should have had more time to prepare," Max insisted, although he did lower his voice. "That was tough."
"Really, I thought it was a walk in the park," Liz said dryly. "Didn't feel a thing."
"A only child," Max said firmly. "One. That's it. No way am I going through that again."
"Yes Max," Liz said sweetly. "Whatever you say."
She didn't mean it. He knew it. But for the time being they had each other, they had their child, and their whole lives ahead of them. It was enough.

THE END