posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:24:55 PM
Title: Between the Sand and Stone

Author: Kath7

Author's Note: Decided to start posting this on this lovely little community, which I heard about from a couple of my pals over on Jenn's board, which appears to be down for a while. Sigh. Anyway, thought I would start posting here in the meantime. Many have probably already read this, but I will be posting new parts here as well eventually.

Category: M/L

Summary: From a challenge by Blanca at roswellfanfic.com. What if Max had left with Langley in "Control?" This is a future fic.

Disclaimer: Don’t own the characters, just borrowing them. Lyrics are from "Wherever You Will Go" by The Calling.

Rating: Probably no more than an "R," and then only if Max is lucky.

BTSASsm

"Wherever You Will Go"

So lately, I've been wondering
Who will be there to take my place?
When I'm gone, you'll need love
To light the shadows on your face.
If a great wave should fall
It would fall upon us all.
And between the sand and stone
Could you make it on your own?

If I could, then I would,
I'll go wherever you will go.
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go.

And maybe, I'll find out
The way to make it back someday.
To watch you, to guide you
Through the darkest of your days.
If a great wave should fall
It would fall upon us all.
Well I hope there's someone out there
Who will bring me back to you.

If I could, then I would,
I'll go wherever you will go.
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go.

Runaway with my heart,
Runaway with my hope,
Runaway with my love.

I know now, just quite how
My life and love might still go on.
In your heart and your mind
I'll stay with you for all of time.

If I could, then I would,
I'll go wherever you will go.
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go.

If I could turn back time
I'll go wherever you will go.
If I could make you mine
I'll go wherever you will go.

The Calling

[image]home1.gte.net/res0sc7r/posting/BTSASsm.jpg[/image]

Part 1

Albuquerque, New Mexico - October 2009

"Tell me again what we’re doing here this early?"

Liz Parker elbowed her best friend in the side as Maria Deluca barely managed to stifle a yawn. "Maria, you promised you would be good."

Maria sighed heavily, running her fingers through her short, strawberry blonde hair. "Liz, its nine-thirty in the morning. I don’t usually get up before at least one." She rolled her eyes. "I still don’t get why we’re doing this anyway. It’s not like Queen Amidala has ever done anything for us in the long span of our unfortunate acquaintance with her and her fellow Czechoslovakians."

"We’re not doing it for Isabel." Liz replied, beginning to feel a little annoyed at Maria. "I told you, we’re doing it for her kids. Plus you were the one saying yesterday that you were bored with everything being about weddings since we came home."

Maria snorted. Liz watched her best friend as Maria pulled a compact out of her purse and began to fiddle with her make-up. "I said bored. I didn’t mean I was desperate to visit a bunch of rug-rats." She noticed Liz’s glare. "Right, right. Career Day. I know I’m being a witch, but I’m tired. That stagette was wild babe. I didn’t realize that Harvard graduates were capable of partying that hard." She snapped the mirror shut and glanced at Liz, grinning slightly as she looked around the room in which they found themselves. "If you’d told me ten years ago that Isabel Evans was going to end up teaching fourth grade, I would have told you you were crazy."

Liz smiled back, shrugging. "Remember when we did that career survey sophomore year? I remember hearing somewhere once that Ms. Topolsky told Isabel that she belonged in a care-giving job. I guess maybe she was right."

Maria narrowed her eyes slightly. "I can guess who you heard that from."

Liz sighed, glanced away. "Max." She admitted.

Liz lowered her eyes briefly, avoiding the concern on Maria’s face. There was no reason for Maria to be worried, but Liz knew that that didn’t stop her best friend.

Max. It was a name that was never far from her thoughts, try as she had over the years to forget him. Being around Isabel lately had only made it so that she thought about him on a more regular basis.

She had gotten over him a long time ago, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t remember him.

He had been her first love. She could never forget him. She didn’t even want to forget him anymore.

She had gotten over her anger and hurt a long time ago too. Now when she thought of him, she just hoped that he had found what he had been looking for, that he was safe and happy, wherever he was.

"Liz, are you okay?" Maria was waving her hand in front of Liz’s face. Liz refocused on her friend. Maria was shaking her head. "I so knew this wasn’t a good idea. Being back here is only going to hurt you again Liz. Especially being around his sister."

Liz smiled. "Maria, you’ve got to stop this. I swear, its okay. You know that I got over Max a long time ago."

Maria did not look convinced. "Lizzie, he broke your heart."

"More than once." Liz agreed, shrugging. "Which is why I’m better off without him. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think about him. He was a part of my life once upon a time. I loved him. He didn’t love me as much. It’s as simple as that. I’m a grown-up now Maria, not a love-sick eighteen year old. I can remember Max - remember the good times. Because there were good times." Liz laughed. "Even if they were few and far between."

"Good times. I wonder what those are like." Maria replied darkly. "Michael and I have had like maybe two in the span of ten years."

It was Liz’s turn to be worried. She put her arm around Maria’s shoulders. "Maria, you told me that you and Michael were finished."

"We are. This time I swear we are." Maria told her resolutely. "He wouldn’t even come back to New Mexico with me. The bastard."

Liz sighed again. Maria had refused to open up about what had happened between she and Michael before she had returned to Roswell, but, whatever it was, Liz knew it was bad.

She didn’t have time to ask any questions though because Isabel suddenly appeared in the doorway of the empty classroom where Liz and Maria were waiting.

Liz had been amazed when she had met up with Max’s sister the week before. It had been the first time she had seen Isabel since she had left Roswell for Albuquerque more than five years ago.

Isabel looked much the same. She had let her hair grow out again, but it was still dark. Liz remembered when she had first dyed it. It had been in the week after she had graduated from high school, after they had found out what Tess Harding had done to their best friend Alex Whitman. Liz and Maria had wondered at the time if it had been her way to mourn Alex permanently, but they had questioned that guess when Isabel had married Jesse Ramirez barely six months after Alex had died.

At first they had wondered if the wedding had been a consequence of Isabel’s grief, the ultimate rebound, but she and Jesse were still together. Liz even had to admit that she liked him. He was a nice guy - no Alex, but he had made Isabel happy and had made her feel normal, especially after Max had disappeared.

"Hey guys." Isabel said now, smiling serenely. All the bitterness and snootiness that had once been such a part of Isabel’s make-up were gone. Isabel Evans Ramirez was happy and it showed.

Liz wished that she could say the same for Maria.

She hoped that she would soon be able to say the same for herself. She was almost positive she would.

"Thanks again for coming." Isabel continued. "The kids are super excited to meet you Maria. You too Liz."

Liz smiled, amused. "I doubt they’re as excited to meet a molecular biologist as they are to meet the next ‘Celine Dion’." She laughed when Maria glared at her. "Hey! I wasn’t the one who called you that! It was that woman at the Blind Date concert. The one you sang at with the Whits!"

"Don’t remind me." Maria muttered, rolling her eyes. "Those were the days when I still wanted to be the next Alanis." She giggled. "I almost drove Alex crazy that day."

"I know he’d be really proud of you Maria." Isabel said, smiling to herself at the thought of Alex. Liz watched her closely. She didn’t see any sadness in Isabel’s expression at the memory of their lost friend. Over the years, her grief had melted into an unswerving love and dedication to keeping his memory alive. This had been reinforced to Liz when she had heard from her mother that Isabel had named her daughter, who was now two, Alexandra.

"Anyway, I swear they are Liz." Isabel insisted, changing the subject back to their original topic. "They know what Harvard is." She grinned suddenly. "But I do have to admit the idea that I am actually friends with Maria Deluca has upped my cool factor a considerable margin with all these nine year olds." She paused, cracked another smile. "But maybe Liz, you should go first. I don’t know if we’ll be able to settle them down again after they meet Maria. They still don’t know she’s here and once they find out, they’re going to be crazy for the rest of the day."

Liz laughed. "No problem. So Jesse’s almost done then?"

"Completely done actually." Jesse Ramirez poked his head through the doorway. "I’ve regaled them with the mysteries and intrigues of the law profession long enough I think." Isabel’s husband grinned as he entered the room. He pulled Isabel into his arms as he admitted to Liz and Maria, "Every year I bore them a little more."

"You do not Sweetie." Isabel gave him a peck on the cheek. "Just make sure he doesn’t give a speech at your wedding." She pretended to whisper to Liz, then laughed as Jesse pinched her lightly in punishment.

At the mention of her wedding, Liz felt her heart skip a beat. She smiled softly to herself as her thoughts drifted towards her husband-to-be, who right now, was back in Roswell, helping her mother and father make the last arrangements for the wedding, which was a week away. "You’ve decided to come then?" Liz asked, pleased.

"Jesse was able to rearrange a few appointments." Isabel replied. "My Mom can’t wait to actually have Lexi in Roswell too. She’s never been. It all worked out for the best."

"Are you sure that it won’t be too weird for you Isabel?" Liz asked, concerned.

Isabel snorted. "Because of Max? Please. He’s the one who deserted you. I don’t owe HIM anything." Isabel’s face darkened at the thought of her brother. Liz knew that it had taken Max’s sister a long time to admit to herself that her brother was never coming back - almost three years in fact. Since she had, she had been angry anytime anyone even mentioned him.

Liz knew that anger was Isabel’s way of dealing with how much she missed Max, but it was still fairly disturbing to see it reflected on her face now. "I’m sorry Isabel. I shouldn’t have brought it up." Liz said now.

"Never mind." Isabel waved her hand in the air dismissively. "He chose to go. He didn’t think about us before he left. Why should we bother worrying about him now?" Liz saw the concern on Jesse’s face, reflecting her own.

But strangely, it wasn’t just concern for Isabel that Liz was beginning to feel. Memories of that horrible time were threading their way through her mind - memories of pain that she had thought was long-forgotten. Pain that she had just told Maria was long over.

Why on Earth had she brought this up?

It had been almost exactly eight years ago that Max Evans had gone to Los Angeles to track down the second shapeshifter from the ship that had crashed near Roswell in 1947. He had been looking for a way to get back to his home planet, desperate to track down the son he had sent back to Antar in the company of his murderous former-life bride Tess Harding.

Liz had spoken to him several times on the phone while he had been searching for the other alien, but then all communication had ceased. Liz remembered how he had been cut off during one of his conversations with her. He had been in a film vault on the Paramount lot, had discovered something about the shapeshifter and then had disappeared.

She had not heard from him again, even though they had agreed that they would talk at least once a day. Isabel had been the last person to actually speak to Max. He had called her when he had found out that she was engaged to Jesse. Isabel had hung up on him and that had been the last that they had ever heard of him.

At first Liz had been angry that Max had called Isabel and not her, that his search for his son seemed to be driving a wedge between them, even though she had done everything in her power to help him. She had even helped him to hold up a convenience store so that he could access a ship that might have been able to take him back to Antar. She had later realized that it had all been a fairly desperate bid to hold on to someone who had already left her in all the ways that counted.

They had all expected Max to show up sooner or later to stop Isabel’s marriage. Liz had not known what she was going to say to him when she saw him, had even been considering breaking up with him, although she had known that she would never stop loving him.

It was only when Max never appeared that they all became frantic. Liz had remembered how they had first become aware that the shapeshifter existed - because he had killed someone. What if he had hurt or, even worse, killed Max?

The wedding had been postponed while Michael, Isabel and Liz had driven to Los Angeles to try and find him. They had managed to trace his movements through his visit to the Paramount Lot, had even uncovered who the shapeshifter had been. Max had told Liz that he was a producer. It had turned out that the producer’s name was Cal Langley.

But Cal Langley had apparently disappeared as well. Completely. They had concluded that he had likely disappeared right off the face of the Earth in fact, taking Max Evans with him.

Everyone had concluded this except Liz and Isabel that is. Michael had accepted it almost immediately. He had always understood that Max would not rest until he had recovered his son. Only later had Liz admitted to herself that she had secretly hoped that Max would give up someday. She had not truly understood his obsession, although she had pretended that she did.

Isabel had continued to insist that Max would never leave without her. He had told her that once, right before they had almost returned home the first time, when Max had sent Tess off instead. Liz had believed Isabel, had secretly hoped that Max would never leave her either. The old Max would not have.

But then the old Max Evans would never have slept with Tess Harding either. The old Max Evans had been completely destroyed the day that he found Liz Parker in bed with Kyle Valenti. Even when he had found out the truth - that it had never really happened, that she had been trying to save the world - he had not been able to completely return to the way he had been before. Too much had happened. They had both hurt each other too much.

And yet, Liz had still loved him. She thought that she knew that he loved her too.

Liz had finally had to admit to herself that all evidence told her differently though. Max would leave her - in fact, had left her. He didn’t love her anymore - not the way he had. It had taken almost a year, but she had finally faced the truth. Hadn’t he been perfectly willing to leave her on Earth after Alex’s death when they had still thought a murderous alien was running around? They had not known that Tess was responsible for Alex’s death after all - not the first time he had almost left her.

It had been a clear spring day in 2003 when Liz Parker had finally given up on Max Evans. She had left for Harvard that fall and had not looked back since.

But that didn’t mean that she didn’t remember Max. As she had told Maria, he had been her first love. You didn’t forget your first love, especially one you had been convinced was your soul-mate. Deep down, Liz had admitted to herself that she still thought that, even after she had become engaged.

Liz had learned the hard way that soul-mates weren’t always destined to be together.

Yes, Liz had gotten over Max a long time ago, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t remember him. She was even happy to say that she could remember him with a smile now, instead of tears.

Liz Parker had grown up.

But it did sound like Isabel had NOT gotten over her brother’s departure. Liz regretted bringing it up. "I guess we shouldn’t." Liz told Isabel now. "I’m just glad that you’re coming to the wedding."

Isabel smiled again, more forced this time. "It’s the least I can do for one of my former bride’s maids." She replied, with forced cheer. She clapped her hands together in a gesture common to most teachers of Liz’s memory. "So, are you ready to fill my little kiddies in on the mysteries of the scientific world?" She asked Liz.

Liz and Maria exchanged a look, but Liz nodded. "Ready and willing." She followed Isabel out of the room.

***********************************

Liz was still smiling to herself about half an hour later as she stepped out of the auditorium and went in search of a Ladies Room. Her presentation had gone well, although she had been right that the greeting that Maria had received after Liz had finished had been deafening in comparison to the children’s interest in HER job. Liz could imagine how excited the students were to meet a real singing star. She would have been thrilled at their age. Even the reflection that she might have met one of the New Kids on the Block made her giggle.

Liz was glancing from right to left into various classrooms where children were working. It had been a long time since she had been in a public school. She had not been anywhere near one actually since she had graduated from West Roswell. She had forgotten how much fun school was, how much she had loved learning when she had been a child. She knew that she was one of the few kids who had actually admitted to herself that she loved school, but it had been true.

Learning had lost a lot of its luster since she had taken her job at Harvard. She had achieved her dream, but it was not the wonderful thing she had once imagined it might be. She was confronted by a lot of academic rules and deadlines every day. The joy had gone out of it. Plus, it was annoying that she very rarely got to pursue her own interests. She was the low woman on the totem pole, assigned her research topics and her classes. It would be years before she would be allowed to foster her own research.

Liz was not an impatient person, but being back in New Mexico, getting ready to marry a man she loved, was beginning to remind her that there were other options in life. As she stared at herself in the mirror in the Ladies Room several minutes later, she wondered if she had the courage to make the break she had been considering…

On her way back to the auditorium to meet up with Isabel and Maria again, Liz paused just outside the school office, gazing at the class pictures on the wall. She found Isabel’s group of fourth-graders, smiled to herself again. She realized that she envied Isabel. It must be nice to teach kids who actually listened to you. Most of Liz’s undergraduate students at Harvard were so busy trying to prove how smart they were, they often tried to knock HER down a few pegs to show it.

"…sure that he’ll be very happy here Mr. Evans." The voice drifted through Liz’s mind as she tilted her head to the side and gazed at the face of a small child with two missing front teeth in Isabel’s class. She blinked.

Liz whipped around, stared in the direction from which the voice had come. She realized that it was drifting out from under a door marked "PRINCIPAL."

Had that voice just said "Mr. Evans?" It was impossible. She must have Max on the brain. Liz laughed softly to herself. But she found herself holding her breath to hear the voice of the person who replied. It came, but it was too soft for Liz to get any sort of recognition factor. She wasn’t even sure that she would recognize Max’s voice anymore. It had been so long…

Liz shook her head, smiling to herself again. All of these thoughts of Max should have been disturbing her, but instead she found them reassuring. It was only natural to remember old romances in the days leading up to your wedding. If she was trying to block the memories, she would have been more worried about her state of mind.

She turned, made her way back towards the auditorium. It was time to head back to Roswell, time to return to her fiancé and her real life.

Once she was back with Dan, all memories of Max Evans would be just that - memories.




[ edited 4 time(s), last at 19-Aug-2002 1:54:42 PM ]
posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:25:35 PM
Part 2

Max Evans slammed the door of the rented apartment, calling out as he threw the pizza box onto the sofa in the living room. "Soup’s on! Get out here you guys!"

He could hear the yelling coming from the second bedroom Michael had lugged the TV and VCR into two days before, telling Max that he had the responsibility to ensure that Ben caught up on his TV as quickly as possible. "To fit in with the other kids Maxwell," Michael had explained in all seriousness. Max had just nodded, trying hard not to laugh.

"HOLY CRAP! THAT WAS AMAZING!"

Max rolled his eyes at the voice emerging from the bedroom. Nice to see some things hadn’t changed. Apparently Michael was already filling Ben in on some of the finer points of the English language.

He threw his jacket over the back of a chair in the kitchen, grabbed some plates, the Tabasco bottle that was sitting on the table, and the pizza as he walked back through the living room, and went to join his best friend and his son.

Michael was sprawled on the bed, the remote control in his hand. Max eyed him in amusement as he pointed at the screen, talking to the boy sitting beside him. "See, that’s when Gretzky scored the game winning goal to take the Cup."

"He’s amazing." Ben replied. "But I want to see that Selanne goal again."

Michael was nodding in approval. "Yeah, that guy had some moves in his day. You’ve got taste kid."

"Ice hockey Michael?" Max asked, raising an eyebrow as both Michael and Ben turned their heads to stare at him. "You did tell my kid that we don’t usually have it in New Mexico?"

"Hey, just because we’re in the desert, doesn’t mean the kid can’t appreciate the coolest game on Earth." Michael retorted as Ben said "Hi Dad." Michael pointed the remote at the TV again, shutting the screen off.

"Hey!" Ben exclaimed, looking annoyed. "I want to watch that!"

"Sorry kid. It’s time for the pizza." Michael replied, standing up and grabbing the box from Max. "This is an important component of your earthly education. Right after cereal, pizza is the most significant food you’re going to encounter on this planet."

Ben looked interested. But then, Max reflected wryly, Ben had been interested in absolutely everything Michael had told him since they had met the week before. In Ben’s eight year old eyes, Michael Guerin was the essence of humanity. He wanted to be exactly like him, Lord help them all.

Max settled into a chair next to the bed, grabbed a slice of pizza and dumped a liberal dose of Tabasco on top. He bit in, closed his eyes briefly, enjoying the blast of flavour that greeted him.

God, had he missed Tabasco.

The three guys munched away at their pizza in companionable silence for several minutes before Michael spoke, his mouth full. "So, is the kid all registered?"

"Yeah." Max replied, wiping his hands on a napkin, then handing one to Ben, who was starting to smear his greasy hands on the blankets on top of the bed. "You start tomorrow kiddo."

Ben didn’t reply, just glanced at Michael to see what he had to say about school. "Did you meet his teacher?" Michael asked. Max wondered at the weirdly chipper way he said it. Michael had changed since Max had been gone, but not that much. Michael sounding so excited about teachers - it was an oxymoron.

"Nah. I’ll meet her when I take Ben in tomorrow." He grinned. "Apparently she’s young and cute, at least from the way the principal was drooling while he talked about her. You were right though Michael. It’s a great school. Good call."

Michael suddenly had a scowl on his face. "But you didn’t even get her name?" He demanded.

"No." Max raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Just curious." Michael replied, holding his hands up. He looked away. "Er - maybe I better go in with you guys tomorrow." He said quietly a moment later.

Max narrowed his eyes. "Again, why? I do remember how school works Michael. Besides," he added, "I thought you said you were finally going to call Maria tomorrow."

"Um, I thought I might wait a couple of more days." Michael said quietly, glancing at Ben, who had picked up a comic book from the far side of the bed. He didn’t seem to be listening to their conversation, as he knew that school wasn’t really that important for him. Max was only sending him so that he could meet some other kids after all. It wasn’t like he needed the education.

Max eyed Michael for a moment, then tilted his head towards the door. "I suggest we go discuss this elsewhere."

Michael scowled again, but followed Max out into the living room.

Max grinned when Ben called after them, "Are you going to talk about girls again? Because I won’t listen! I promise!"

"Shut the door." Max yelled back. He heard his son muttering to himself as he moved to comply. He turned back to Michael, who was now sprawled on the couch. "Okay, what’s going on?"

"Nothing." Michael muttered, picking up a magazine that was sitting beside him.

Max sighed. "Michael, are you ever going to tell me what happened between you two?"

"I told you Maxwell. She can’t accept who I am." Michael replied, tossing the magazine aside.

Max just shook his head. "Unfortunately Michael, since you haven’t told me who you are these days, that doesn’t tell me much." He shrugged. "I’ve been gone for eight years. You need to fill me in on these things."

"She doesn’t want to get married." Michael yelled. "There! Are you satisfied?"

Max blinked. "And you do?"

"It’s all about her career with her!" Michael stormed, ignoring Max’s question entirely. He stood up, started pacing. "I don’t think she’ll ever want to settle down!"

"Michael, are you having a mid-life crisis?" Max joked. Michael stopped, turned to glare at him. "You’re twenty-six. There’s plenty of time."

"Maxwell, she told me that she doesn’t ever want to get married." Michael snapped back. "And the way she said it, I know it’s true. I’m not saying that I want to get married right now, but I do want to eventually! I want kids - and I’ll tell you this much - no kid of mine is going to come into a house where the parents aren’t committed to each other." He raked his hands through his hair. "I know what it’s like to feel unwanted." He muttered.

Max frowned. Michael had changed yes, but it was becoming clear that his best friend was still haunted by his childhood. It was memories of some of the stuff Michael had had to endure with Hank that had helped Max to solidify how he planned to raise Ben after all. Michael had gone through hell and it had shaped the kind of person he had become.

Just like being raised by Diane and Phillip Evans had shaped the kind of person Max was. The kind of human he was anyway.

Ben was going to have the same happy childhood Max had had if it was the last thing Max did.

Max forced his mind to refocus on the problem at hand. "Okay, tell me how you know that she really meant it."

"It was the off-hand way that she said it. It was right after Liz had called to tell us she was marrying Dan. She hung up and turned to me and said ‘And another one bites the dust. I’m never getting married.’ Just like that…" Max was staring at Michael as he trailed off. "Oh Christ." He ran his hands through his hair again. "Oh man. I’m sorry Maxwell. I didn’t mean to tell you like that."

Liz was getting married.

Max felt like he had been punched in the stomach and then had been kicked in the head for good measure.

He and Michael had barely discussed Liz at all since they had met up the week before. Michael had come to pick he and Ben up at the bus station in L.A., had broached the subject almost immediately, but Max had told him that it could wait. He needed to make sure that Ben was adjusting all right before he even started to think about Liz. Michael had tried to insist, but Max had told him that he didn’t want to know.

What a liar he was.

He had needed to get his son settled before he started to think about how he was going to find his soulmate and how he was going to win her back. Ha. Right.

Why the hell had he waited a whole week to let Michael tell him? He had let Michael tell him about Maria and Isabel and his parents and even the Valentis, but the subject of Liz had been totally off limits - until he could devote his full attention to it. It had seemed like a pretty good plan at the time.

What an idiot he was.

"When?" He managed to choke out.

Michael was staring at him, looking like he wanted to kill himself. "On Saturday." He said evenly. "I’m really sorry man." He paused. "He’s a nice guy…" Michael trailed off again. "Um, well I guess you don’t want to know that."

Max swallowed, hard. "I want to know. Tell me." He didn’t want to know actually, but he knew he had to.

He was trying to focus on what Michael was saying, but the same thought kept drifting through his mind. You’ve lost her. You left her and you’ve lost her.

And it wasn’t until that instant that he realized that the reason he hadn’t wanted Michael to tell him about Liz was because he had been pretty sure there was nothing to tell.

It was true. He had truly, in his selfish, self-absorbed way, believed that she had waited for him, that she had known that he had every intention of returning to her someday. He had just assumed that she knew that when he left, he was planning to come back to her - that from the moment he had blasted off of Earth with Langley, he had been on his way back to her.

He had truly believed that she was waiting for him. He had believed that she would wait for him for eight years while he chased after the son she still believed he had fathered with another woman.

He was a complete fool.

"…they met at Harvard." Michael was saying. His voice was drifting in and out of Max’s state of consciousness. "Maxwell, would you stop looking like that!" He heard Michael exclaim.

"Looking like what?" He murmured in a daze.

"Like you’re about to fall on your sword." Michael retorted.

Max shook his head to clear it, images of Liz the last time he had left her, sitting in his old Chevelle, staring up at him as he told her that this time he had to go alone…

He hadn’t even kissed her goodbye. He hadn’t because he had known that he was going to see her in a couple of weeks, had known that they had a whole lifetime of kisses ahead of them.

He had been focused on one thing. His son. How could he have known how quickly things would progress when he had reached LA? How could he have known that he was going to have to leave so soon? How could he have known that he wasn’t going to get the chance to really kiss her goodbye?

"Sorry." Max managed to say. "Tell me." He repeated, this time with every intention of listening.

"His name is Dan Riley." Michael repeated patiently. "He’s a scientist like Liz. They both teach at Harvard."

Max smiled slightly, despite himself. "She’s teaching at Harvard huh?"

Michael shrugged. "Some kind of biology." He shook his head. "I have no idea what the hell kind. Maria knows."

"Molecular." Max said quietly.

"That sounds right. Anyway, Liz waited for you for a full year before she went. She only started to accept that you might not be coming back when Isabel started to…" Michael trailed off, frowning. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"

Max nodded mechanically. Dan Riley. Molecular biology. Dan Riley. Molecular biology. The names were interchanging through his brain, every time making his heart break a little more.

"Anyway, Iz started to accept it. And Liz realized that she needed to be strong for Isabel." Michael scowled at him. "She’s never gotten over you leaving Max. She’s never gotten over you telling her that you would talk to her when you got back…and then you never came back. She’s never forgiven herself for hanging up on you that day."

Max closed his eyes. The thought of phone calls was making him think about the phone call he had ignored from Liz on that fateful day. He had always known why he hadn’t answered it. If he had answered it, he wouldn’t have gone. He would have chosen Liz over his son and he would have lost his last chance to save him.

Because Max had truly believed that he could have both. He had believed that he could ignore Liz’s phone call because she would be waiting for him and he could apologize and they would both happily raise his son together…

What kind of blind idiot was he? The fact that he had only been eighteen years old was no excuse.

He had chosen his son and he had lost Liz. Supreme irony that - because in the end, it had turned out that Liz never would have forgiven him if he hadn’t gone after Ben.

And now she would never know why.

Because he was going to leave her in peace. He couldn’t disrupt her life now. And the only way to leave her in peace was to not see her - and so she would never see Ben.

"Are you planning to call her Max?" Michael was asking. Max wasn’t sure if he meant Liz or Isabel, but he had made his decision. He couldn’t call anyone until Liz’s wedding was over. He wouldn’t hurt her that way, wouldn’t interfere in the most important day of her life.

He told himself that anyway. Told himself that this was about Liz. About what was best for her.

He tried to ignore the fact that he didn’t want her to know that he was back, because he could absolutely not bear the fact that she might not care. At least if she never knew, he could pretend to himself that she might - that it might stop her from marrying this Dan guy. That it might have made a difference.

"The wedding is this Saturday?" He asked Michael. "In Roswell?"

"Yeah. And then they’re going back to Boston." Michael replied.

"I’ll call Izzy after the wedding." Max said woodenly. "You can’t tell anyone until after the wedding."

"I haven’t told anyone so far." Michael retorted. "I even told Maria I wouldn’t go to the wedding so that she wouldn’t find out. I told you when you called me man. We play this your way." He glanced towards the closed bedroom door. "You’re the one with the kid to think of."

"Yeah." Max stood up slowly, felt like a zombie as he walked towards the room where his son was likely watching some violent show he wasn’t supposed to be watching. "I better get him ready for bed. He has an early day tomorrow."

Max heard Michael cough behind him. "Er Maximillian…"

Max turned his head wearily. "What?"

"I think maybe I might have to take Ben to school tomorrow." Michael grimaced. "If this secret thing is going to work."

"Why?" Max eyed him suspiciously.

"Well, um…because Isabel is his teacher." He blurted out in a rush.

Max closed his eyes in resignation. "What?"

"I thought you were being a dick." Michael said bluntly. "I didn’t understand why you weren’t calling anyone except me - and I still don’t understand why you weren’t before - and so I arranged it so you would run into Isabel anyway," he explained. "But now I think you’re right and I think that maybe seeing you would be too much for Iz. She’s going to Liz’s wedding. I think she would tell her."

"I was afraid." Max replied honestly, only now realizing it was true, now that he had stopped lying to himself. "I knew that you were the only one who wouldn’t tell me anything unless I wanted you to. I was afraid of finding out exactly what I just found out." He scrubbed his eyes. He smiled weakly, suddenly feeling extremely tired. "You know, deep down, I really though life would stop while I was gone." He snorted derisively. "It’s the king in me I guess."

"You always did think the Earth revolved around you." Michael agreed. He held his hands up when Max glared at him. "I’m totally kidding. Man, I’m really sorry. I’m sorry that it didn’t." Max knew that Michael was completely sincere. It actually made him feel worse.

"Thanks. And I’d appreciate it if you’d take Ben until I can tell Izzy the truth."

"Sure. I’ll just tell her he’s my neighbour’s kid."

"Michael, you live in LA." Max sighed.

"Ah, she knows Maria and I broke up." Michael replied. "I’ll just tell her I moved back to this hell-hole."

"Whatever."

Because ‘whatever’ was all Max Evans was feeling at the moment. It was what he felt all through getting Ben ready for bed, all through watching the news with Michael in a vain attempt to get caught up on what had happened on the Earth while he was gone, was what he felt as he had fallen into bed himself close to one o’clock in the morning.

‘Whatever’ was all he felt until he suddenly awoke in the middle of the night, a certain knowledge hitting him so abruptly that it couldn’t be ignored.

He had been dreaming about her.

She had still been eighteen year old Liz in his dream. She had been in her Crashdown uniform staring at him, an unreadable expression on her face. He had been walking towards her, knowing that she was angry at him, knowing that he had never been more sorry in his entire life, knowing that he could never leave her.

Knowing that he had to tell her. That she had to know that he was sorry.

It had been so realistic, it had almost been like a vision of what was supposed to have been, of what should have been…

And, in that instant, before he was fully aware, before fully awake, he knew. ‘Whatever’ turned into ‘however." Meaning that, however long it took, he was going to win her back.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:28:46 PM
Part 3

"Are you sure Isabel?" Liz could feel her heart beating double-time with excitement. "I won’t be a total pain?"

Isabel grinned as she put the dirty plate into the dishwasher. "Liz, any pair of helping hands with twenty-five eight year-olds is a God-send. You’re doing me a favour." She glanced back as Liz handed her another dish. "The kids loved you too - not as much as Miss Deluca of course - but they thought you were great."

"Well, I certainly don’t blame them." Liz laughed. "Me or the woman responsible for the theme song from Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest love fest? I know it’s a tough choice, but I think they made the right one."

"Do I hear mocking?" Maria demanded as she sauntered into the kitchen, lightly punching Liz on the shoulder as she passed her to sit at the kitchen table in Jesse and Isabel’s comfortable split-level house. Isabel had invited Liz and Maria for dinner after the she finished at work, so the two friends had spent the day shopping and then had met up with their other friend that evening.

Liz was still amazed by how well they were all getting along. Isabel had changed drastically since she had left Roswell and had found her calling in teaching. She was not nearly as high-strung, nor as cold. Liz had always wanted to be closer to Max’s sister when she had been with Max, but had given up fairly early on in their relationship. Isabel had been impossible to get to know in high school. The only ones who had ever really known her were Max, Michael and, surprisingly perhaps, or maybe not because of who he had been, Alex Whitman.

"You could grab a dishtowel oh famous one." Liz countered wryly, as Maria continued to watch Isabel and Liz clean up the kitchen.

"Liz, you know that I vowed these hands would never touch another dirty dish after I quit the Crashdown." Maria smirked back. "I am far too famous to waste my time on mere chores." The twinkle in her eye belied the tone of her words though.

"Oh, so that’s why you couldn’t keep your hands to yourself when we were at the Crashdown yesterday?" Liz retorted, snorting at the memory of Maria’s first visit to her father’s restaurant since they had returned to Roswell. She had taken over completely, ordering the waitresses around like a dictator until they had almost revolted.

"Those waitresses are idiots." Maria shrugged innocently. "Someone had to show them what to do. I couldn’t leave your parents with such incompetence."

"I’m sure my father was eternally grateful that you helped Tina and Tonya." Liz rolled her eyes, grinning towards Isabel in amusement.

"Anything for your dad." Maria replied. "Anyway…What are we discussing in here? Jesse and Dan are talking about football. I deemed it best to escape as quickly as possible."

"Liz is coming to school with me again tomorrow." Isabel told her, sounding pleased.

Maria raised an eyebrow, glanced at Liz. "She is? Why?" She backpedaled quickly when both Isabel and Liz stared at her. "I mean, they’re cute and all, but one day with a bunch of kids was about all I could handle."

"I just liked it." Liz replied, defensively. "I liked being in a school again. I thought it might be fun to actually see a classroom in action."

"Lizzie, don’t you have stuff to do for the wedding?" Maria asked suspiciously.

"Nah." Liz waved her hand in the air dismissively, although she knew it wasn’t true. "Dan is perfectly happy to take care of all that. He’s so organized. He loves it."

"A man who likes planning a wedding?" Isabel sounded jealous. "Jesse can’t even organize his socks!"

"Yeah." Liz smiled. "He’s great."

Maria spoke up again, unwilling to leave the previous topic. "I don’t get it though Liz. What is this about?"

Liz sighed heavily. She should have known that Maria would not accept this as easily as Isabel. Maria knew her a lot better after all. She had to know that something strange was going on. "Okay. I’ll tell you the truth. But you have to promise me you’re not going to flip out."

Maria raised her hands innocently. "Liz, it’s me!"

Liz giggled, glanced at Isabel again. "Do you know, the last time I heard that was when I told her the truth about you and your brothers." She raised an eyebrow towards Maria. "Did you, or did you not, flip out in that instance?"

"Liz, I’m assuming that whatever you’re about to tell me is not on the same level as that piece of Czechoslovakian information." Maria snapped back, looking embarrassed. Suddenly her expression changed to one of horror. "Is it?"

"Well, I hope you don’t think so." Liz replied. She took a deep breath and said aloud for the first time what she had been dealing with inside for a long time. "I absolutely, positively despise my job."

There was a minute of complete silence as Isabel and Maria both stared at her.

"Is that all?" Isabel finally said.

"But…but… Liz! You have your dream job! You’re a molecular biologist at Harvard!" Maria sputtered at the same time. "What does this mean? The entire axis of my world is tilting! The universe is turning upside down!" By that last phrase Liz knew that Maria was joking. She scowled affectionately.

"Okay, okay!" Liz did feel a little offended. This was a life-changing decision she was making here after all. "It’s not on the level of finding out there’s life on other planets, I admit, but this is pretty significant for me."

Maria jumped up, threw her arm around Liz’s shoulders. "I’m sorry Lizzie! You should have seen the expression on your face though. You looked like you were about to tell us the world was ending."

"Don’t you see?" Liz shrugged Maria’s arm away, looked at them both seriously. "For me, it is. My entire life revolves around that place. And I hate it! What does that mean about my life?" Liz had not realized until this moment how much she really meant what she said. She was not happy at work. In fact, she was ready to make a complete break.

It scared the hell out of her. If all the dreams she had ever had had turned out so poorly, what on Earth was she going to do with the rest of her life?

"That you hate it?" Maria asked, confused.

Isabel elbowed her soundly. "Maria!" She grabbed Liz by the hand, pulled her towards the kitchen table and pushed her down on a chair, taking a seat across the table. "Liz, its okay to have doubts about your career. You’re young still. There’s plenty of time to change your mind. I think you’re making a wise decision to take advantage of your situation this week. Come to work with me. See if there could be something out there that you like better. What harm can it do?"

Liz sighed heavily. "A lot actually." She glanced towards the door leading towards the living room. "Dan is going to freak."

Isabel looked nonplused. "He is? Why?"

"He’ll never understand. Harvard is the be all and end all to him." Liz closed her eyes briefly. "He’s going to think I’m crazy."

"Let him!" Isabel replied. "Husbands need to be kept on their toes."

Liz sighed again. "You don’t understand Isabel." She swallowed. "If I’m not working at Harvard, I don’t know if I want to live in Boston."

"Oh." Isabel’s mouth snapped shut after that single syllable. "That is a problem."

"I really miss the desert." Liz admitted. "I never though I would miss it as much as I do, but it’s true. Being back here has only reinforced it."

"But Liz," Isabel looked sympathetic, but serious, "you have to understand that marriage is about compromise. Dan might be perfectly fine with you leaving your job. But I think you might have to allow that you do pursue something else, its going to have to be in Boston."

"I know." And Liz did know. She just didn’t like it.

She knew she was being the epitome of selfish, but there it was. It was how she felt and she had to get it out there.

The sound of a child crying caused all the women to look towards the baby monitor sitting on the counter. Isabel glanced at the clock. "Lexi’s awake. That’s weird. I better go check on her."

"Oh! Bring her down!" Maria insisted. "It was so not fair that Jesse had put her to bed before we got here. I want to see this wonder kid you can’t stop talking about."

Isabel smiled, looked pleased to be asked. "Do you really want me to? I thought you were sick of kids."

"Kids that belong to strangers Isabel. Not kids I know!" Maria replied. "Am I not right here Liz?"

"Totally. I would love to meet Alex’s namesake."

"Okay, I’ll just be a second." With that, she turned and hurried out of the room.

Maria turned around and grabbed Liz by the shoulders the instant Isabel was out of the room. "Okay Liz. It’s truth time. This is about Max isn’t it?"

Liz blinked. "What? Maria, what on Earth are you talking about?" She truly had no idea what Maria was talking about.

"All this talk about moving back here, leaving your dream job. You’re having second thoughts about this wedding, aren’t you?" Maria demanded. "Seeing Isabel has brought it all back and now you’ve decided to go back to pining for your soulmate. I know you."

"Maria! That’s absolutely crazy!" Liz felt a flash of anger. She had told Maria a million times that she was totally over Max Evans and it was more than true. She was in love with her fiancé. "Max has nothing to do with it. He’s on another planet for God’s sake! Why would I suddenly make a decision like this because of him?"

"Because you have exactly six days until your wedding and you are starting to freak out." Maria replied, sounding absolutely certain that she was right. "Don’t try and tell me that you haven’t always secretly dreamed that Max would come back in time to stop you. Can you honestly tell me that you’re not settling?"

"Settling for Dan?" Liz exclaimed. "Are you crazy? I’ve been dating him for three years Maria. He’s brilliant, he’s gorgeous, he’s successful! Who in their right mind would call that settling?"

"Liz." Maria pressed her lips together. "He’s not Max Evans."

"No Maria. He’s not. Max Evans deserted me. Max Evans is likely either dead or married to the alien skank that murdered our best friend!" Liz said evenly. "I don’t know why you’re bringing all of this up right now, but I want you to stop it! Just because something happened between you and Michael… Don’t try and mess up my relationship!"

"This is so not about Michael!" Maria almost yelled back. Liz took a step backward. Was her best friend going crazy? "This is about you Liz! Admit it! You are totally denying what you really feel. You have refused to say one word about Max since the day you left for Harvard. You’re bottling it all up and it’s not fair to Dan."

"Is everything okay in here?"

Liz whirled at the sound of her fiancé’s voice. He and Jesse were standing in the doorway to the kitchen, both staring at she and Maria in dismay.

"Elizabeth?" Dan was the only person in her entire life who had called her by her full name. She continued to stare at him, not knowing what to say. He knew all about Max of course - well, minus the alien stuff - but how could she tell him that Maria was flipping out about her ex-boyfriend, for some reason that Liz still didn’t understand?

"Everything’s fine." Liz finally said, hurrying across the room and linking her arm with Dan’s. He stared at her, confusion in his green eyes. "I think we should go now. Thanks for everything Jesse. Tell Isabel I’ll see her tomorrow."

"Liz…" Maria called after her. "We’re not done here."

Liz ignored her. She needed air. Quickly. She actually felt like she was about to pass out. "Elizabeth, are you all right?" Dan was asking as he followed her.

But escape was not meant to be. As she passed by the stairs on her way to the front hallway, Isabel was just coming down, her small daughter balanced on her hip. Liz glanced up, saw Alexandra’s face, her gaze pulled directly to the little girl’s shining dark eyes, eyes that seemed wiser and more intelligent than the eyes of any two year old had the right to be.

But, the thing was, she didn’t see Isabel’s daughter at all. Because the little girl was staring back at her with Max Evans’ eyes. She was the spitting image of the boy who had deserted her, Liz, so long ago.

Liz brought her hands up to her mouth, gasping. "Oh my God. Isabel!" She felt behind her, collapsed into a straight-back chair that sat against a wall in the hallway. "How…how is this possible?"

And she knew that every single word Maria had said was true. Maria had known and she, Liz, hadn’t even realized it herself.

She was not over Max Evans.

"How is what possible?" Isabel asked, sounding confused. She looked at her daughter with concern, obviously thinking that there was something wrong with Lexi.

"She…" Liz swallowed, hard, glanced at Dan out of the corner of her eye. He looked like he thought she was going insane, which perhaps she was. "Isabel, I need to talk to you alone. Now."

"Elizabeth…"

Liz kissed him quickly on the cheek. "I’ll be right back honey." She had a feeling she was going to pay for that later. If there was one thing Dan hated it was feeling like he was out of the loop, but she had no choice.

"Can we go upstairs?" Liz asked Max’s sister.

"Of course."

They didn’t say another word until they were back in Lexi’s nursery. Liz made sure the door was firmly closed before she said. "How could you not have warned me?"

Isabel placed the baby back in her crib, turned back, her arms crossed across her middle. "Tell you what Liz?" She sounded genuinely perplexed.

"Don’t you see it?" Liz demanded. "How can you not see it?" When Isabel still eyed her with concern, no sign of understanding on her pretty face, Liz almost yelled, "She looks exactly like Max! How is this possible? You were both cloned! You are not genetic siblings!"

"Oh that!" Isabel looked back at her daughter. "I guess you’re right that there’s a resemblance. I don’t really see it. I think she looks like Jesse’s mom."

"Isabel!"

"Liz, I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Michael and I just figured that Max and I had genetic donors who were related. It would make sense, don’t you think? We were brother and sister on Antar, so they decided to clone us from a brother and sister on Earth." Isabel shrugged. "Who cares? I try to forget that she looks anything like my idiot brother."

Liz brought her hands up to her temples, tried to rub away the headache that was beginning to pound away there. "I’m sorry." She sat down heavily in a rocking chair near the crib. "I just didn’t expect it. Maria was yelling at me about Max in the kitchen and then there was Lexi…" Liz stood up again, moved towards the crib and gazed down at Isabel’s daughter, who was gradually falling back to sleep. "It’s absolutely amazing…" She whispered, reaching down and sweeping a black curl back off the baby’s forehead.

Liz felt her heart swell up in her chest. Was this what Max’s son had looked like as a baby? Was this what their children would have looked like, if things had turned out differently?

She felt Isabel’s hand on her shoulder. "Liz, what is this about?" She sounded concerned. "I thought you were over Max. Who cares if Lexi looks like him?"

"Don’t you ever wonder where he is Izzy?" Liz asked, using the name Max had always used to address his sister. She saw Isabel flinch at it. Liz guessed that no one had called her that since he had left. "I mean…I do. I wonder if he’s alive. If he found his son. If he’s fighting a war with Khivar right now…."

Isabel closed her eyes briefly. "I try not to wonder Liz."

"Are you ever going to forgive him Isabel?"

"Did you?" Isabel snapped back, turning away.

Liz smiled slightly. "I think I have." She replied, knowing it was true, even if Maria had been right that maybe she wasn’t as over the memory of Max as she had insisted to herself for years. Maria had been right that being near Isabel had brought it all flooding back. There had been a reason it seemed that she had not sought out Max’s sister’s company in the years since she had left Roswell. "But I think it’s pretty clear that I haven’t tried to forget him. You have. Why?"

Liz saw a shudder pass through Isabel’s body. She turned, gripped the side of Lexi’s crib tightly. "Because if I hate him…" A sob broke through. "Then I don’ t miss him so much."

"Isabel, I’m sorry." Liz sighed heavily. "I didn’t mean to upset you. Maybe it would be best if I didn’t come to the school tomorrow." Isabel turned, looked surprised. "Maria said something that I think might be accurate. Being around each other isn’t healthy. I know that seeing you has made me think about him, and I think it’s the same for you. Am I right?"

Isabel was quiet for a long moment. Finally she said, "I think it is true Liz. But that doesn’t mean I regret it. I want you to come. I think maybe it’s time I deal with this. It’s not healthy to go through life hating my own brother."

"Or blaming yourself for him leaving." Liz added, taking a wild guess. "It wasn’t your fault that he left Isabel."

"But I hung up on him!" Isabel replied. So Liz had been right. The other woman was haunted by the fact that she had been the last to speak to her brother. Not only haunted, but guilty as well, no doubt.

"It wasn’t your fault Isabel. None of this was anyone’s fault." Liz insisted, suddenly seeing a way through this morass of guilt and pain. They had to move past this - together. The mistake they had made was in ignoring the common bond they shared, which was Max.

"I know it Liz. It doesn’t mean I don’t still feel it." Isabel replied, rubbing a weary hand across her eyes.

Liz knew exactly what she meant. Because telling herself that she didn’t still dream about Max Evans certainly had not stopped her from doing so.

And until this moment she had not even admitted this to herself. Did it mean that she didn’t love Dan? Of course it didn’t. All it meant was that a relationship in her past had never had a chance to play itself out to it’s natural end. It had been stopped in it’s tracks on two separate occasions - first when she and Future Max had messed with the timeline in the fall of her junior year, and again when Max had left the planet without even saying goodbye.

Because the main problem with all of it, was that Liz knew, in her heart of hearts, that if there was absolutely any way, Max would come back for her.

But she just wasn’t strong enough to wait for that.

She didn’t want to wait for it. She had a man who loved her, one that she loved.

And she was going to marry him on Saturday, come hell or high water.

"Okay." Liz said resolutely. "We’ll deal with it then. Together."

Isabel smiled, reached out and hugged Liz. "Starting tomorrow."

As they moved to leave the room, Isabel checked on Lexi one last time. The little girl was sleeping peacefully again, her small thumb tucked into her mouth.

"She is beautiful Isabel." Liz told her. "I hope I have a daughter some day."

This caused Isabel to pause before opening the door. "Liz, what are you going to tell Dan about this? He’s bound to ask questions." She paused again and then continued, a little more tentatively. "I really like him by the way. He…" She swallowed. "I don’t know whether I should tell you this or not, but he reminds me of Max - from before I mean." Isabel amended. "Before Tess."

Liz thought about it for a long moment. "I think you might be right. But he’s his own man. I’m going to tell him the truth - or as much of it as I can. That I’m having doubts I mean. And we’ll work on it together."

"I’m glad you have him." Isabel said after another moment of silence. "I think Max would be too."

"I hope so."

Isabel frowned slightly, then asked quietly. "Do you think he’s still alive somewhere? I mean, I try not to think he isn’t - even when I’m my angriest at him - but…"

This question Liz could answer with absolute certainty. Because she knew the answer, knew that she would always know. Because even if Max had left her, even though he was on an entirely different planet, one of the reasons Liz had never been able to totally let go was that a tiny part of him still held on in her heart, still burned brightly, would always exist as long as he was safe and alive, as long as there was still hope that he would return someday - maybe not to her but to everyone who loved him.

"I know he is."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:32:09 PM
Part 4

"You came back." Liz stared at the boy standing in the doorway to the Crashdown, a tentative expression on his face. He looked exactly the same - did not even look a day older. Everything was exactly as she remembered it, from the haircut, to the old t-shirt he had been wearing the last time she had seen him.

Well, one thing was different. His eyes were haunted, having witnessed horrors that no one should ever be subjected to - maybe having even experienced them himself.

"I had to see you." He said, his voice husky with emotion

"You didn’t even say good-bye."

"I couldn’t. I would never have found the strength to go if I had."

"It’s too late." Liz said it quietly, firmly, knew it was the truth. His eyes darkened with pain, making her want to rush into his arms despite herself, wanting to comfort him. She moved slightly, against her will, causing the full skirt of her white gown to swing into the line of her vision. "It’s too late." She repeated, sadly this time. And she knew it was. It was her wedding day after all. She was marrying another man.

"I know." He turned, started to leave.

She swallowed, tried not to call after him, but her heart was screaming for him. "MAX! Don’t leave! Please!"

But he kept walking.

"MAX! Come back!"

Liz sat up with a gasp, clutching the thin sheet to her chest. She took great gulping breaths, trying to get a hold of herself. It took her a full minute to get her bearings.

The familiar shapes and shadows of her childhood bedroom began to come into focus, and with them, a sense of security and comfort. Liz threw the sheet back, stumbled across the room to the bathroom, filled a glass with water and drank it down before she even tried to get a sense of what had just happened to her.

She knew it had been a dream. She had just woken up hadn’t she?

But it had been the most realistic dream she had ever experienced. She had been able to see Max breathing, could smell him even.

Even after all this time, she remembered exactly what he smelled like. And she had tried to convince Maria that she was over him! Ha!

It was being back in Roswell that was doing this to her, seeing Isabel, talking about Michael… She had been perfectly sane, perfectly happy back in Boston, perfectly in love with a perfect guy. Max had been a distant memory.

But, here, he was back. Maybe not physically… But there was no question that he was back.

What the hell was she going to do?

You are going to go to Isabel’s school and you are going to exorcise his ghost once and for all a firm voice in the back of her head told her.

Yes. That was what she was going to do. She was going to get her life in order and she was going to be happy, even if it killed her.

As Liz showered and dressed, she sighed with relief that her parents were still old-fashioned enough to insist on separate bedrooms for she and Dan until the wedding day. They had to know that they were sleeping together - they were living together after all - but under their roof, she was still their little girl. And it was a blessing.

Because how on Earth could she explain it to her fiancé that she had woken up screaming another man’s name? And not just any man. Max’s.

Dan Riley was not an insecure person, but he knew about Max, knew how much he had meant to Liz. She had explained the essentials - that Max had saved her life once, that they had fallen in love, that Max had made a mistake and slept with another girl and had gotten her pregnant, that he and Liz had tried to make it work but that Max had ended up leaving in order to be closer to his son.

Dan also knew that if there had been no Tess, Max and Liz would still be together. Liz had refused to keep anything from the man she was going to marry. To understand who she was, he had had to understand about Max.

And he did. But that didn’t mean that having her wake up screaming Max’s name would not have upset him. He was only human.

Which was one of the many reasons that Liz loved him. No alien destinies would come crawling out of the closet with Dan Riley. She was safe loving him.

It had been hard enough dealing with Dan’s reaction to the fact that she planned to spend the last few days before their wedding helping her old friend Isabel teach school.

When she had told him on the drive back to Roswell last night, he had glanced at her incredulously from his spot behind the steering wheel, clearly aware that something strange was going on with her. Maria had been in the back-seat so he hadn’t truly grilled her until they had dropped Liz’s best friend off at her mother’s and had returned back to the Crashdown.

"I just don’t get it Elizabeth." He had been sitting on her bed, concern on his face. "What is this about?"

"Well, you seem to have most of the wedding preparations under control." Liz had explained lamely. "I’m bored. I had a good time today and I love kids. Plus, it’s been great spending time with Isabel. We’ve barely seen each other since high school."

Dan had narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Elizabeth, you told me that you and Isabel never got along in high school, that the only reason you even associated with each other was because you were dating her brother."

"Er…" Okay, why had she ever told him that? He had accepted readily enough earlier when she had invited him for dinner at Isabel and Jesse’s that the two girls were trying to let bygones be bygones.

Dan had stood up, coming to pull her into his arms. "It’s okay to have the jitters Sweetie."

Liz had pulled back, smiling nervously. "I swear that’s not it." She had kissed him firmly. "I just need to get a little perspective and Isabel is helping me with that. She’s been married for a long time Dan. She’s just giving me a little insight into what I can expect."

Dan’s expression had softened. "Okay. If it’s what you want…"

Liz still didn’t know why she hadn’t told him the truth - that she hated her job and that she was interested in seeing if teaching younger kids might be a future career path that could interest her. For some reason, she couldn’t seem to talk to him about this - maybe because she knew it would upset him. She knew that one of the things Dan loved the most about her was that they had so much in common, down to their job descriptions.

The only thing she and Max had ever had in common was the belief that they had found the other half of their souls in each other.

And he had left her anyway.

Having things in common with Dan - it was secure. She understood her connection to him. It was only when she had finally given up on Max coming back to her, the year she had left for Harvard, that she had begun to realize that what she and Max had had never been secure.

It had been passionate, volatile, exciting, but it had never been secure.

After complete heartbreak, a little security can go a long way.

She loved Dan Riley and she was going to marry him. But, first, she needed to say good-bye to Max Evans once and for all.

Even if he never knew that she had.

********************************************

She didn’t know why she was nervous as she raised her hand to knock on the door to Isabel’s classroom a few hours later. It had taken her close to two hours to drive from Roswell to Albuquerque and so she was a little late. Isabel had suggested last night that, she if she liked being a teacher assistant, Liz could maybe stay with she and Jesse for a couple of nights. Liz had an overnight bag in the trunk of her car. She had known the minute that Isabel had agreed that she could come to school again to help that she was going to love it.

It was because she was late that Liz noticed the little tow-headed boy lurking at the far end of the hallway. He was standing just under the pictures Liz had examined on the wall the day before, swinging a back pack between his legs, clearly bored.

Liz frowned slightly. Shouldn’t he be in class? Had he been sent to the principal’s office as a punishment? Should she intervene?

The question was answered for her when the boy caught sight of her and brightened. "Hi! Do you know where Mrs. Ramirez’s class is?" He asked, moving towards her. Up close, Liz could see that he was about eight or nine. His blond hair caught the sun through one of the big hallway windows as he passed under it, glowing brightly until he returned to the artificial lighting closer to where she stood.

"Right here." Liz replied, smiling, indicating Isabel’s door. "Are you new?"

"Yup." He grinned at her, displaying a missing front tooth. "I’m Ben."

"I’m Liz. I’m new too." Liz told him. "A new teacher assistant," she added because Ben looked a little confused. "Did they just leave you to find your own way around?" She asked. That seemed a little weird. He was only a kid. Someone should have shown him the way to Isabel’s classroom.

"No. I’m supposed to be waiting for Michael. He’s getting some stuff straightened up in the office. They had my name wrong." Ben confided. "But I’m really bored. My dad told me I was going to like school, but so far…" He trailed off, looking incredulous. "Michael told me it was all a lie that parents tell you to disguise how bad it really is and I’m beginning to believe him."

Liz tried to hide her smile at the sudden outrage in the boy’s voice. "Ah. Well, maybe you can go tell Michael that I can go in with you if you’d like? So at least you don’t have to wait any longer? Because I think your dad is right. You’ll like Mrs. Ramirez." Liz suggested. Just as she said it, the principal’s door beside which Ben had been standing opened and a tall man came out.

Liz blinked. Unless she had completely lost her mind, she knew this Michael.

Michael Guerin stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of her. "Liz! What the he…" He glanced down at Ben, who had hurried to join him and was now gazing up at him adoringly. "Er, I mean, how the heck are you?" He finished lamely.

"You guys know each other?" Ben asked, sounding interested.

"Michael? What’s going on?" Liz demanded, glancing at Ben.

"Neighbour’s kid." Michael stated bluntly. "He had to work so I said I’d bring the kid in. He was just transferred and couldn’t get off. Plus since I know Iz so well, it seemed like a good idea."

"That’s not what I meant. " Liz muttered. But Michael wasn’t listening to her. He was glaring at Ben.

"Didn’t your dad tell you not to talk to strangers kid?" He glanced back at Liz uncomfortably. Liz frowned slightly. Something odd was going on here.

"She’s not a stranger. She’s a teacher assistant." Ben argued back. "I know her name. And you know her, right?"

"That’s not the point kid."

"Michael, what are you doing here?" Liz asked suddenly. "Maria said you were back in LA."

"Change of plans." Michael replied non-committally. "What are you doing here anyway? Don’t you have wedding stuff to take care…"

He was cut off though as Ben exclaimed, "Hey! You know Maria! My dad and Michael talk about her all the time…" Ben’s face lit up, as a sudden thought seemed to come to him. "Do you know my dad?"

Michael grabbed Ben, placing his hand firmly over the little boy’s mouth. "Of course she doesn’t know your dad kid." Michael shrugged in Liz’s direction. "His dad and I are buds. Neighbours. He likes hockey."

Liz stared at him. Michael appeared on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She literally saw him wipe a bead of sweat off his upper lip as the door behind them opened.

"Hey! What’s all the noise out here?" Isabel’s voice asked sternly before she stepped out into the hallway. She left the door open, glancing over her shoulder at the children she left in the classroom, who were all working quietly at their desks. Her eyes widened in shock and she screeched in delight at the sight of Michael. "Michael! What are you doing here?" She threw her arms around him. Liz could hear the students in the classroom starting to whisper and giggle at their teacher’s behavior.

"New kid. Neighbour. Here he is." Michael grabbed Ben by the shoulders, pushed him lightly towards Isabel. "I’ll be back for him after school. We’ll talk then Iz." And with that, he turned on his heel and stalked away. If Liz was not mistaken, he shook his shaggy head in dismay before he disappeared out the main doors down the hall.

"What on Earth was that all about?" Isabel asked, perplexed.

Liz turned to look at Ben, who suddenly looked a little scared. "I have no idea. But this is Ben." Liz introduced.

"Hi Ben. I’m Mrs. Ramirez. I heard you were coming." Isabel’s tone changed from suspicious to welcoming as she greeted her new student. "Where are you from?"

"Los Angeles." Ben replied. Liz felt a pang of sympathy for him as he moved slightly away from Isabel and towards Liz. Isabel raised an eyebrow at her.

"We’ve already bonded." Liz explained. "Both new and all." She felt something warm stir in her heart as Ben reached out and took her hand. This child was a strange mélange of maturity and childishness. While he had seemed fairly outgoing earlier, now he was a scared little boy, looking for something familiar.

"Oh, I see." Isabel nodded, smiled at Ben. "Well, maybe you and Liz can muddle through together today then. How’s that sound?"

"Good." Ben said.

"Okay, then why don’t you go and put your bag and your jacket on that hook over there and Liz and I’ll get a desk set up for you." Isabel instructed. Ben glanced at Liz, but finally nodded and moved slowly away.

"What’s this all about Liz?" Isabel hissed as they moved into the classroom together. "Michael has clearly been in town for a while and he never called me?" She sounded hurt and annoyed at the same time. "Not to mention, just showing up here with some strange kid?"

"I have no idea what’s going on." Liz whispered back. "But you can bet that I’m going to find out for Maria’s sake. Because my guess is that this all has something to do with the reason they broke up."

"Count on my help." Isabel returned before smiling brightly at Ben as he came back to join them. She turned to the class as a whole. "This is Ben everyone. He’s from Los Angeles and he just moved to New Mexico." She indicated Liz. "And you all remember Miss Parker. She’s going to be helping out around here for a couple of days. You were all so charming yesterday, she couldn’t get enough." Isabel joked. Liz admired the comfortable way she interacted with her kids, it being clear that this was a place where students felt safe and appreciated.

The class giggled before chanting, "Hi Ben. Hi Miss Parker."

Liz felt the glow of belonging return, smiled. This was going to be great. She didn’t care if her fiancé and her best friend thought she was going crazy. She knew that this was where she was meant to be. "Ready to settle in partner?" She asked Ben, who was still half-hidden behind her back.

Ben smiled back. "Ready."

Liz frowned as he walked away from her, towards the desk Isabel had assigned him. There had been something familiar in that smile, something from long ago…

She shook her head, wondering if she was going crazy. She was seeing signs in everything these days. If she didn’t watch it, she was going to be committed to the loony bin before she ever had a chance to marry Dan.

Liz shrugged and followed her new charge.

******************************************

"It was a disaster Maxwell!" Michael exclaimed, flopping back on the couch, one arm thrown over his eyes. "A complete disaster."

"What happened?" Max demanded, still standing where he had greeted Michael at the door to the apartment, waiting to hear how Ben had done at school. "Did he not like it? Where is he? Did Isabel suspect something?"

"It’s worse than that…" Michael moaned. "Liz. She was there."

Max blinked. That was the last thing he had expected to hear. If Michael had told him that Khivar had been waiting for Ben at the school, he would have been less surprised.

And Khivar was dead. Max had killed him with his own hands.

"What the hell was Liz doing there?" Max asked, falling back into a chair, his legs suddenly weak.

Liz was here. In Albuquerque. At his son’s school.

She was supposed to be in Roswell getting married.

Max had awoken that morning, remembering his vivid dream of Liz, remembering the flash of determination that had claimed him in the middle of the night - that he was going to win her back.

In the light of day though, he had come to his senses, had remembered exactly why he was going to leave her alone.

She loved her fiancé. She had built a happy life for herself without him, in fact her dream life - molecular biology at Harvard and everything. He had abandoned her. She was no longer his.

He had to leave her alone.

And he planned to.

But could it mean something that she had suddenly shown up at his son’s school five days before her wedding? What on Earth was she doing there?

"I have no idea." Michael complained. "I got out of there as fast as I could. Oh crap." Michael groaned again. "This means Maria’s going to know I’m here."

Max wasn’t listening though. Another thought had just occurred to him. If Liz was in Albuquerque with Isabel, that meant that her fiancé was probably in Roswell - alone.

And suddenly Max knew exactly what he had to do.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:33:57 PM
Part 5

"You do realize this is probably, hands down, the worst idea you have ever had Maxwell?" Michael asked wearily from the passenger seat. "And that is saying a lot my friend."

"You said that when we left. And an hour ago. And two minutes ago. You didn’t have to come." Max retorted, making a sharp turn onto Roswell’s main drag.

"Yes I did." Michael replied, resigned. "I had to make sure that you didn’t do something even stupider than this." Max snorted. Michael continued, "I mean, really. This is your idea of keeping a low profile? Heading straight to the town where half the world knows who you are and that your parents, family and friends haven’t seen you in almost ten years?"

"I told you I have a plan. And you’re just worried Maria’s going to find you." Max shot back. "Because you know if she finds you, she’s going to demand some sort of explanation."

"I’ve accepted that she’s already on my trail Maximillian." Michael shook his head sadly. "The minute Liz saw me, it was game over. It’s only a matter of time now."

"Have you even thought about what you’re going to say to her when it happens?" Max demanded. "Stonewalls are not an option this time."

"Why the hell are you worried about my problems?" Michael almost yelled. "Don’t you have enough of your own?"

Max shrugged. "Realistically - no. Other than Ben of course, and he’s not a problem. I don’t have much of a say in what Liz is planning to do." Max could feel Michael staring at him incredulously.

"So then why the desperate need to see the guy? What are you planning to do - walk up to the guy and introduce yourself? I think that your many trips through hyperspace have permanently fried your brains Maxwell. You don’t think that’ll get back to Liz?"

Max narrowed his eyes. "I have a feeling that the last thing Dan Riley is going to want to do is tell Liz I’m back."

"And if he does?" Michael questioned.

"Well, then he does and Liz gets to decide if she wants to see me or not." Max replied. He tried not to think about how it would feel if she decided she didn’t want to see him.

If she knew of course. Which she wouldn’t.

"Besides," Max added. "I’m not planning to meet the guy. I just want to check him out. And even if I do meet him, he won’t recognize me."

"This is a really bad idea." Michael muttered, but he slouched down in the seat and said nothing more.

Max pulled the car to a stop behind the UFO Museum, which was still operating apparently. Climbing out, he hooked a thumb towards it. "Brody?" He asked Michael absently, wondering if his old friend was still around.

"Yeah, he’s still here. Sydney is living with him now. She’s at West Roswell. Maria sees him whenever she’s in town." Michael finished darkly.

"Jeez." Max shook his head. "It’s news like that that reminds me of how long I’ve been gone." And the fact that his soulmate was marrying someone else of course. Couldn’t forget about that one.

As the two men carefully poked their heads around the side of the building, Michael muttered, "You know Maxwell, I haven’t done much skulking since you’ve been gone. I can’t say that I’ve missed it."

"I don’t blame you Michael. You always managed to get yourself arrested whenever you did it." Max retorted.

"Touché" Michael smirked. "But I wasn’t the one with the bright idea of committing out and out armed robbery." He was quiet for a moment. "Okay, I changed my mind. Maybe this isn’t quite the worst idea you’ve ever had."

Max ignored him though. His eyes were on the familiar doors of the Crashdown across the street. Memories came pouring back as he stared at the sight of so many significant moments in his human life.

It was where he had spent half of his young adulthood in silent worship of Liz Parker. It was where he had risked his entire existence and that of his sister and best friend to save her life because of that worship. It was where he had first connected with her, where he had told her that he would never give up on her, that they were meant to be together, that he was "coming for her."

He was standing almost exactly in the spot where he had first kissed Tess - the day his relationship with Liz had first started it’s decline, until it had reached its last desperate days, both of them trying so hard to hold onto each other, but, in the end, losing everything.

Right across the road was the place where he had kissed Liz goodbye before he and Michael and Isabel and Tess had been supposed to leave in the granolith.

In some sad way, he almost wished that he had left then. At least he had told her how much he loved her…

But if he had left then, he would be dead. He had not been strong enough then, had not known Tess’s truly treacherous nature.

He was pulled from his thoughts by a rough nudge from Michael. "Are we going to stand here all day and just stare at the place?" Michael demanded. "Or are you going to start your famous plan?"

Max turned, raised his hand towards his friend. He passed it the length of Michael’s body, changing his hair colour, the shape of his nose, even the style of his clothing.

His time on Antar had not been in vain. Max had learned more about their powers than he had ever hoped he could in the time he had been searching for Ben. The molecular structure of anything could be changed - even people. If you knew how to do it that was. While the Royal Four were not shapeshifters, they could disguise themselves enough so as to pass for completely different people.

Not that Max ever intended to teach Michael how to do it. His best friend would likely blow them all up by accident. New powers were not his forte after all.

Besides, one decision Max had made upon his return to Earth was that Michael and Isabel never needed to know some of the things they were capable of, some of the things Max had been forced to do to bring Ben back and to liberate their planet. They deserved to live their normal human lives - especially his sister, who had a husband she loved and a little girl to protect. Michael would be pissed if he knew Max was keeping things from him, but what he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him.

Max had told Michael that Khivar was dead. It was all that he needed to know.

Michael was staring at himself in the side mirror of the beat-up Jeep Cherokee Max had bought last week. He was shaking his head in wonder. "I look like a stockbroker Maxwell. How the hell did you do that?"

Max passed his hand over his own hair, face and clothes, grinning. "Magic."

"Too bad we never had these tricks in the old days." Michael commented.

"Just be glad we never really needed them." Max countered.

On Antar, Max would have been dead fifty times over if he hadn’t managed to blend. His face had been the most recognizable on the planet after all, even more so than Khivar’s. Being hunted by Khivar’s minions - it made Pierce, the Special Unit and the Skins, all together, seem like a walk on the beach.

But he had succeeded in the end.

Zan the King. Zan the Savior. Zan the Avenger.

Zan the Solitary. Zan the Lonely.

Well, he wasn’t Zan anymore.

He was back to being Max Evans, his true self, and Max Evans was going to get a glimpse of Liz Parker’s fiancé if it was the last thing he ever did.

"Let’s go. Act casual." Max instructed.

"Act casual." Michael snorted. "Whatever."

The familiar sound of the Crashdown bell ringing as they walked through the door reminded Max briefly of his dream the night before. He almost expected Liz to be standing at the end of the counter, staring at him, her expression angry, but her eyes revealing that, more than anything, she was hurt.

Max knew about timelines. The whole Future Max fiasco had more than revealed that there was more than one way any reality could go. That dream had been so realistic, he was convinced that it had happened. Just in another life.

He craved that life, wondered what had happened between he and Liz in that reality. Had they stayed together? Had they been happy?

Had she realized her dreams or had she been stuck in Roswell with him, waiting for some alien destiny that might never have come? Had he never found Ben? Had his son been stranded with his evil mother and Max’s worst enemy, one who was in no way Ben’s enemy?

There was no point in what-ifs. All they had now were what-weres.

What was right now was that Mr. Parker was standing behind the counter, going over a menu with a tall, blond guy. Liz’s dad looked older. His hair was almost grey now and he had a lot more lines on his face - but he seemed relaxed, at ease.

He had clearly returned to being the easygoing guy he had always been before he had been desperate to keep Max away from Liz.

But why shouldn’t he be? His little girl was marrying a dream - a molecular biologist yet. Likely not one single criminal act in his background.

Max felt a pang of sadness for the days when he had been on the path to growing up to be that guy. Before Pierce. Before Nicholas. Before Tess. He would have been a doctor instead of a molecular biologist, but at one time, he would have been the Parker’s dream catch for their daughter too.

Max didn’t even need to hear it from Michael to know that the blond guy was Dan Riley. The rapport that existed between he and Jeff pretty much said it all. Mr. Parker was interacting with him like he was already a part of the family.

Max narrowed his eyes, trying not to stare, followed Michael to a booth.

The decor in the Crashdown had changed a little - a few more alien artifacts sprinkled around, a new top on the counter, but all in all, it was the same. Max stared for a long moment at the spot where he had healed Liz, the spot where he had revealed his secret to her and had started their great love affair.

The great love affair was over. Max tried not to glare at the guy who was marrying his soulmate. He tried not to hate him.

It was impossible. Because he already hated him. Just looking at him made Max feel sick to his stomach.

It reminded him slightly of the way he had used to feel whenever he saw Liz talking to Kyle Valenti, before he and Liz had ever gotten together. But this was about a million times worse. Because Liz loved this guy. Kyle had only ever been a high school boyfriend. He had ended up liking Kyle, although Max had always known that Kyle had never really liked him.

Max was never going to like Dan Riley. Ever.

"Stop trying to kill him with your alien death ray eyes Maxwell. They’re going to notice." Michael complained, thrusting a menu at Max. "Here. Read this."

Max scowled, scanned the menu, not really taking anything in.

This had been a terrible idea. What the hell had he been thinking? How could he have imagined that this would make him feel better - seeing the man Liz was going to be spending the rest of her life with?

Max barely noticed as a teen-aged waitress took their order. "We’re going to need Tabasco." Michael yelled after her. Both Jeff Parker and Dan turned to stare at them for a moment. Max rolled his eyes, kicked Michael under the table.

"Ow! Well, we are!" Liz’s dad and her fiancé returned to their conversation.

"Shut up." Max ordered. "I’m trying to listen."

The restaurant was pretty empty. It was late for breakfast, early for lunch, and so Max could eavesdrop fairly easily because Michael had chosen the booth closest to the counter.

"….teaching school on some lark." Dan was saying. His voice grated on Max’s nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. He ordered himself to stop being petty and to pay attention.

"It’s not like Lizzie to do anything on a lark Dan." Jeff replied. "Did you ask her what this was about?"

Dan sighed heavily. "I tried but Elizabeth just said that she was trying to get along with her friend Isabel, that it was a way for them to get closer and that Isabel was giving her marriage tips."

"Isabel Evans?" Jeff demanded. "Really? That’s a little strange." He paused for a minute, looking a little suspicious. "Lizzie and she have never been friends. I wonder what that’s all about."

"Well, I quite liked Isabel when I met her." Dan shrugged. "But I just wish Elizabeth would stop playing around in Albuquerque and come back here so that we can get the plans firmed up."

Max was forced to refocus on Michael when his friend suddenly moaned. "Oh God. We are so dead Maxwell. Maria just walked in."

Max looked over his shoulder, saw that it was true. Maria Deluca was striding into the restaurant like she owned the place. His eyes widened at the sight of his old friend. Her hair was cut short again and she was wearing a low-cut blouse that the old Maria would not have been caught dead in. The Maria Max had known had been all-retro, all the time. This was a woman secure in her sexuality - in fact, playing on it. It was a change that made Max slightly uncomfortable. He wondered if this was one of the problems between Michael and Maria - the fact that she, in no way, seemed like the weepy girlfriend anymore.

This was an independent woman - one who probably wasn’t willing to take any of Michael’s crap any longer.

Max could see Michael’s panic, tried to calm him down. "She’s not going to recognize us. Just stop calling me by my name and we’ll be fine."

"Hi dudes!" Maria did not even glance in their direction, just went over to Mr. Parker and hugged him, keeping her arm around his waist as she addressed Dan. "Any sign of Kyle? He’s supposed to meet me here for lunch."

"I haven’t seen him." Dan replied, looking a little pained if Max was not mistaken. It appeared that Liz’s fiancé was not exactly enamored of Maria. "But then I might not recognize him, being as I’ve only met him once."

"Good point." Maria chirped, not seeming to notice the long-suffering tone of Dan’s voice, and sounding so much like herself at eighteen that Max wondered if he had been mistaken in his earlier assessment of her changes. "Well, try and get by without me fellas! I’m going to go harass José until he gets here."

"José still works here?" Max asked Michael in a low voice, amazed.

"I know." Michael smirked. "I got out of that kitchen as soon as I could. That guy loves it here though."

Max watched Maria pause at the swinging door that led to the kitchen as a little girl approached her for an autograph. She signed off with a flourish, quirking a friendly grin and then disappeared into the back.

"Is she always like that?" Dan was saying to Jeff, sounding annoyed. Max saw Michael tense across the table.

"Who? Maria?" Jeff asked, affectionately. "Pretty much."

Max saw Dan try to hide his grimace, but he wasn’t very successful. Max narrowed his eyes.

"Is that guy insulting my girlfriend?" Michael demanded in an undertone.

"I’m not sure." Max replied.

"I’ve changed my mind. He’s not a nice guy." Michael said, glowering in Dan’s direction as Liz’s fiancé sat down on a stool and began checking things off on a piece of paper. "He’s actually a bit of a prick, isn’t he?"

Max watched Jeff Parker for a moment. Liz’s dad was eyeing Dan, a speculative expression on his face, like he wanted to ask him something. Finally he said, "Say Dan, when you were at Isabel’s…" He paused, waiting for Dan to look up. "Isabel didn’t happen to mention her brother did she?"

"Who? The famous Max Evans?" Dan’s expression darkened. "No." He stared at Jeff for a moment. "Wait a minute… You don’t think that that jerk might be back and that’s why Liz wants to spend time with his sister?"

"I wonder." Jeff shrugged. "I doubt it though. Max Evans hasn’t been heard of in close to ten years."

"But might he not try and come back to screw up Elizabeth’s happiness?" Dan asked, sounding nervous. "I know how much they meant to each other and that he was pretty possessive." He added. "Maybe he doesn’t want her, but he doesn’t want anyone else to have her either."

"Down boy." Michael whispered urgently. Max was glad he said it because he felt his blood beginning to boil. This guy had absolutely no idea what Liz meant to him. That he should so cavalierly toss around the idea that he would come back and try and destroy Liz’s life…

But isn’t that exactly what will happen if she knows you’re back, a small voice in the back of his head asked.

She doesn’t know. She won’t know, Max insisted.

And yet, he was still angry.

He knew that no one would believe how much he loved her, after all he had done to her - first putting her life in danger because of who he was, then believing that she was capable of betraying him with Kyle, even though he knew better, and then betraying her in the ultimate way with Tess.

This was leaving out the fact that he had also left her without even saying good-bye.

But Liz Parker was his soul. The thought of her, the memory of her was what had pulled him through his darkest moments on Antar. The idea that someday he might be able to return to her - it was what had kept him alive on many occasions where the chances of success had seemed bleak. It had kept him moving forward, helped him keep focus in his search for Ben…

He was glad that he had never doubted on Antar that she would wait for him. If he had known then that she would have moved on, he never would have made it.

Max blinked as the waitress plunked their plates down in front of them. He stared down at the Men in Black special with distaste.

"I need Tabasco!" Michael yelled after the waitress impatiently. She returned and handed him the bottle, watching in disgust as he started to dump the contents on his food.

It was just then that Maria came whirling through the swinging door from the kitchen. Her eyes zeroed in on Michael, looking nothing like Michael of course, but with Tabasco bottle in hand, and she stopped abruptly. Max grimaced.

Uh oh.

He breathed a sigh of relief as she was distracted by the bell over the door announcing a new arrival.

"Kyle! Hi!"

It took all of Max’s willpower not to turn around to get a glimpse of his old rival. He picked up his burger took a bite, watching Kyle appear in his line of vision.

Max almost choked on his food.

Kyle Valenti was dressed in the full uniform of a member of the Roswell Police Department.

Michael grinned at him, didn’t even comment. "I call him Deputy Dawg all the time to piss him off." He muttered towards Max.

"How did this happen?" Max whispered back. "I thought the last thing he ever intended to do was go into law enforcement! Why didn’t you tell me this?"

"I wanted to see the expression on your face when you saw him. It’s the family business Ma…" Max raised his eyebrow at Michael, who cut himself off before he said Max’s name. "When he married Sarah, he needed a steady paycheck. It didn’t hurt that his dad was the mayor by then and was able to pull a few strings."

He was so distracted, it took Max a moment to realize that Kyle and Maria were now sitting at the counter, whispering to each other and glancing over their shoulders in the general direction of the booth in which Max and Michael were sitting.

Uh oh. Again.

"Don’t freak." Max instructed quietly. "But I think Maria’s suspicious. We need to get out of here - now." Michael’s eyes widened over his cheeseburger. He set it down carefully, clearly trying not to glance towards the counter. "Let’s just get up, pay and leave. I’ve seen enough anyway." He nodded in Dan’s direction. He didn’t have time to fully reflect on his impressions of Liz’s future husband right now, but he knew he hated him.

It was enough.

Michael licked his lips and complied, leaving a tip on the table.

Max did not relax at all until they were back in the Cherokee and on the highway back to Albuquerque.

"I think it was the Tabasco that did it." He told Michael in disgust. "You couldn’t just leave it alone for once?"

"Maxwell, what is the point of eating without Tabasco?" Michael retorted, but he sounded ill at ease under his general pissed off tone.

"Well, that was too close." Max sighed, leaning his head back against the seat and sighing. He and Michael did not exchange another word on the long drive.

Max brooded about Dan the whole way, wondering what he was going to do. He might not have liked what he had seen of the guy, but everyone else seemed gaga over him. Mr. Parker, Maria…Even Michael until his loyalty to Max had won out and he had heard Dan semi-insult Maria.

Max hated to admit it, but the guy was perfect in every way. Or at least he came across that way.

Dammit.

When they got back to the apartment late in the afternoon, it was almost time for Michael to go pick up Ben.

"What am I going to say to Izzy?" Michael demanded as he put his jacket back on and moved towards the door.

Max was lying on the couch, a pillow over his head, a million potential ways of finding out more information on Dan Riley circulating through his brain. "Just tell her the truth. That you and Maria broke up and that you came back here to get your head together."

"I guess that’ll work." Michael sounded doubtful though. Max heard him pull open the door.

He removed the pillow from his face when no slamming door followed a moment later. There was complete silence for what felt like forever and then chaos erupted.

Maria was already marching into the apartment, her finger in Michael’s chest as she pushed him backwards into the apartment. "MICHAEL! I thought so! An entire bottle of Tabasco on a hamburger? Who else could it be?" Kyle was on her heels, a frown on his face. "What the hell did you do to yourself?" She was screeching. "Why are you here? You said you couldn’t come! Why did you lie to me?"

Max was simply staring at her in horror, waiting for her to see him.

Kyle noticed him first, stopping dead, his mouth literally falling open. A small, strangled noise came out of his throat.

"Kyle?" Maria whirled on him in annoyance. "What’s wrong with you? You told me that you would help me! I can’t believe…"

She was following Kyle’s line of vision. Max felt like time was going in slow motion as her head slowly turned and her eyes met his.

"Max?" Maria gasped, her face turning white.

Part 6

Liz glanced at the clock, then back at Isabel who was sitting at her desk marking papers. "I’m getting a little worried Isabel." She was standing at the window, staring out at Ben, who was sitting on the grass in front of the school, patiently waiting for Michael to pick him up. "Michael hasn’t arrived yet."

Whoever this neighbour of Michael’s was, he clearly had yet to learn that Michael Guerin was not the most responsible baby-sitter in the world.

Isabel looked up, a frown marring her beautiful face. "Is he still out there?" She stood up, came to join Liz at the window. The two women continued to watch the little blond boy for several moments. "He did well today, didn’t he?" She asked. When Liz nodded, Isabel continued, "I’ve never seen a kid so brilliant in math before. I gave him an aptitude test and he aced it - even some high school level questions."

"But he’s still a kid." Liz remarked. "The other boys think he’s great. I saw them all playing with him at recess. I couldn’t make out what they were doing, but he had them enthralled with something."

Isabel nodded. "Yup, I think he’s going to fit in just fine. I’m going to tell him to come wait in here. It’s not safe for a little boy out there all by himself." She shook her head ruefully. "This is why I have never left Michael alone with Lexi."

Liz called after her, "Wait! Why don’t I just walk him home? He has to live in this neighbourhood if he’s registered here…doesn’t he?"

Isabel shrugged. "Yes. But are you sure Liz?"

"Yeah. Then you can ream Michael out when he gets here and get caught up with him afterward." Liz smiled. "Don’t forget. You’re digging for information. Plus, I wouldn’t mind having a little chat with Ben, seeing how he feels after his first day."

Isabel grinned. "You’ve got this teacher stuff down pat already Parker."

Liz blushed with pleasure. "I had a great day Isabel. Thanks so much for letting me come."

She had had a wonderful day. She had loved every minute of it, from helping Isabel give a spelling test, to working in a small group with some kids who needed help with their reading. The way their eyes lit up when they understood something - it was the closest thing Liz had experienced to instant gratification in a job.

For the first time, in a long time, she had actually felt like she was doing something important, something that really made a difference.

And the best part of the whole thing was that it had actually kept her mind off of Max Evans for the entire day. That had to be saying something.

Harvard and Boston seemed to be less attractive to her every time she thought about them though, which was a problem. She still had no idea how she was going to tell Dan that she really did not want to go back to her present job after the wedding. He was not going to be happy.

"Hey, I should be thanking you." Isabel protested. She turned back to her papers. "I’ll see you at home in a while."

Liz nodded, picked up her jacket and purse and hurried out of the building.

She paused for a moment as her eyes settled on the Ben. He was occupying himself in a typical kid way - his arms were twisted around each other and then were looped over his neck. He looked like a pretzel. She laughed, remembering how proud Alex had always been of himself whenever he managed to contort his body into some new formation. Of course, Alex had still been doing that kind of stuff in high school…

Well, it had always confirmed to she and Maria what they had always known anyway. Boys were weird, Alex in particular. It was why they had loved him so much. It was why she still missed him with a deep, dull ache that never went away.

"Hey!" She called to Ben.

He looked up, a smile breaking out across his face. "Hi Liz!" They had agreed that he would call her Miss Parker in class but that when they were alone he could call her Liz - since they were both the "newbies" and all. Liz had bonded with this kid because of it and she had seen him looking at her several times during the day, to make sure that he was doing things right.

If she hadn’t known better, she almost would have thought that this was the first time Ben had ever been in school. But he was so polite and so smart, she knew that that couldn’t have been true.

"No sign of your ride yet?" She asked quietly.

Ben’s smile faltered a bit. "I don’t get it. My dad would never leave me just sitting here. Something must have happened to him or Michael." Liz felt her heart go out to him, knew that she was going to kill Michael the next time she saw him.

"Well, do you feel like going for a walk with me?" Liz asked. "I can walk you home if you like."

Ben looked doubtful. "I want to but I’m not sure…"

"You do know the way?"

"Sure." Ben said, with that typical eight-year-old arrogance. "It’s just that my dad told me not to go anywhere until Michael came to get me."

"Your dad’s careful, which is good." Liz replied, "But he probably doesn’t know Michael nearly as well as I do. If he’s not here yet, he’s not coming."

"My dad has known him since Grade 4." Ben’s expression was confused. "At least that’s what he told me. They were the same age as me when they met."

"Really?" Liz was interested. "That means your dad probably went to school in Roswell." She reflected on how quickly Michael had denied that Liz knew Ben’s father that morning. She was about to ask him what his dad’s name was when she noticed a car heading towards them, going at so quickly, the tires were squealing.

She rolled her eyes. That had to be Michael. But as the car approached, Liz realized that it wasn’t slowing down. In fact, it seemed to be speeding up. She realized that Ben was standing far too close to the curb. The car was swerving, something obviously seriously wrong with the driver.

"Ben!" Liz shrieked, moving forward and grabbing him just as the car ran over the curb, passing through the spot where the child had been standing only seconds before.

Liz had fallen over onto the grass, pulling Ben down with her. She sat up, stared after the car in shock, which was screeching around the corner at the far end of the quiet street upon which the school was located. "Are you okay Sweetie?" She asked, pulling him against her side. She had seen the expression of terror in his blue eyes as he stared at her, clearly not comprehending what had almost happened to him, but knowing that he had had a narrow escape.

"I want to go home." His eyes began to fill with tears. Liz could see Isabel running across the grass towards them, yelling her name, clearly having witnessed the whole thing through her classroom window.

Liz stood up, pulled Ben up with her, hugged him tightly. "It’s okay. I’ll take you home. You’re okay."

But as she continued to stare in the direction where the car had disappeared, she wondered if she was telling him the truth.

Because the more she thought about it, the more it had seemed to her that that car had wanted to hit Ben. It had appeared like a near-miss accident, but Liz’s sixth sense was telling her that this was something much more.

It was time to meet Ben’s father and figure out what the heck was going on with this kid.

***************************************************

"Oh my God. Is it really you?" Max stood up as Maria rushed across the room and threw her arms around him. "You’re alive!"

"It’s me." He hugged her back, knowing that there was nothing else to do. She knew, which meant that Liz was going to know. And soon.

"You big idiot!" She turned to glare at Michael. " This is what you’ve been keeping from me? Isn’t it?"
She whirled, bringing Max in on her sudden anger. "Why are you in Albuquerque? Why aren’t you in Roswell with your family? Why haven’t you seen Isabel? Or…" She smacked him lightly on the arm. "OR LIZ!" She threw her hands up in the air in fury. "I can’t believe you guys! You are such jerks!" She pulled a cell phone out of her purse, started dialing. "Well, this is easily rectified…"

Max felt his heart stop. "NO!"

"Maria…" Michael moved forward, a pained expression on his face.

"Don’t you Maria me!" She snapped. "I am going to kill you as soon as I get off this phone."

Michael didn’t stop though. He grabbed the phone out of his girlfriend’s hand and glowered at her. "You have no idea what’s going on around here, so I suggest you listen before you start messing with everything." He yelled.

Maria stared at him for full minute, then turned to Max again. "How are you here?" She asked, sounding more reasonable again. Max almost couldn’t stop himself from grinning. Hurricane Deluca, changing directions in a split second, just like always.

"Spaceship." He replied. "Ben and I escaped in one about a year ago."

Kyle raised his hands at this. "HOLD IT!" He shook his head, brought his hands down to his face and scrubbed. "Spaceship? Are you telling me that you actually landed a spaceship on this planet and no one noticed?"

Max shrugged. "We were cloaked."

Maria waved her hand in the air in annoyance. "Who cares about spaceships? Who is this Ben?"

"Ben is my son." Max told her simply. "And I’m back because this is my home. It’s his too."

More than they would ever know in fact.

Maria and Kyle exchanged a look. "Where’s…" Kyle swallowed. "Where is his mother?"

Max wondered how long it would take someone to ask him that. They couldn’t even say her name. He didn’t blame them.

He had never hated anyone as much as he hated Ben’s mother. But it had never stopped him from loving that little boy with every part of his heart.

"She’s dead." What he didn’t add was that Max had had to kill her himself, that he had had no choice - that she had been on the verge of killing her own son and the only way to stop her had been to end her life.

But that was something he tried not to think about. She was Ben’s mother after all and he was going to have to someday explain to his son exactly what had happened to Tess Harding. He was not looking forward to it.

"Is…is he normal?" Maria asked. "I mean, I thought he couldn’t survive in this atmosphere."

"He’s a healthy, normal eight-year old." Max replied. "Tess lied." He added. "She lied about a lot of things as it turned out."

Maria’s eyes closed briefly. Max knew she was thinking about Alex. He took a deep breath.

So they still missed him. He should have known they would. He missed him too and they hadn’t even been that close. Alex Whitman’s death had been the greatest tragedy of any of their lives because he had represented all that was best and brightest about their small band.

The rest of them had had flaws. Alex Whitman had had none. He had been loyal and brave and he had paid for it with his life.

It was because of his memory that he could not regret Tess’s death. It might have been an accident, but she had deliberately used and abused the one person who had least deserved it. And, for that reason, her son was better off without her. Max would do everything in his power to make sure that Ben never missed her.

Once, before he had literally come back to Earth, to the reality that life had gone on without him here, he had hoped that Liz Parker would have replaced Tess in Ben’s life. But that was just a dream, a fantasy, a fairy story that had no substance and was not meant to be.

Max was going to have to be enough.

It was in that instant that he realized that no one had gone to pick Ben up. "Michael! You need to go!" Max glanced at his watch in horror. It was almost an hour past the time when school ended. They had been so distracted by Maria and Kyle’s arrival, they had completely forgotten about his son. What kind of father was he?

Michael’s eyes widened. "Oh crap!" He turned to hurry out the door.

Maria whirled. "Where do you think you’re going buster?" She demanded, moving to grab his arm. "You still have some explaining to do."

"Later." Michael shook her off.

Maria screeched in annoyance, but the expression on her face showed that she was more hurt than anything -that something as significant as Max coming home had happened and Michael had kept it from her.

The door slammed behind Michael and an uncomfortable silence descended over the group.

"I asked him not to tell you Maria." Max said, hoping to smooth things over a bit before Michael returned. The last thing he had ever wanted to do was disrupt his friends’ lives with his return. He knew that Michael and Maria had bigger problems than the secret of his return, but apparently this had not helped matters any.

"I gathered that, but its still no excuse. I just don’t understand why Max." Maria sat down on the couch, leaning back wearily, all the anger draining out of her.

"I agree." Kyle spoke up. He had been strangely quiet - as though he didn’t feel like he truly belonged there, in this reunion between a group that had meant everything to each other.

"I…" Max ran a hand through his cropped hair, hair that he had cut as soon as he had returned to Earth. He had let it grow long on Antar, because that had been the fashion there, but he liked it better short. It made him feel more human this way. "I knew that I hurt everyone enough when I left. I needed to get the lay of the land, needed to know if me waltzing back into everyone’s lives - with an eight-year-old kid yet - was too much." He paused. "And then I heard about Liz…and I decided that showing up in her life again - now - when she’s about to get married, it just wasn’t fair."

" Now he thinks about others." Kyle muttered. Max eyed him for a moment, knew that Kyle was remembering all the times Max had ignored what was best for his friends, had pushed ahead with whatever plan he had come up with, dealing with consequences only after it was too late to change anything. Healing Liz…Sleeping with Tess…Taking off with Langley… He had acted before thinking on all of those occasions and had almost destroyed the lives of all he held most dear in the process all three times.

"It’s not your decision Max." Maria was glaring at Kyle, but Max could see that she was mainly in agreement with him, maybe just not with his tone. "Isabel and Liz both have the right to know that you’re back and you have to accept that you’re going to have to take whatever revenge or anger or guilt they might want to dish out."

Kyle was still standing, staring at Max. "She’s right." He stated. "Even if I thought you were a selfish idiot Evans, I never took you for a coward. Not in the old days."

Max felt as though he had been punched, which was followed by a rage so deep, he had to clench his fists to keep from attacking Kyle.

A coward! How dare he? Kyle Valenti had no idea of the meaning of the word. He had not gone through the eight years of hell Max had gone through - eight years alone, searching for a boy that meant more to him than anyone could possibly imagine, finding a way to liberate his planet in such a way that he wouldn’t be needed anymore, that he could come back to them all!

But a small part of Max knew that Kyle was right. It was why he was so mad.

He was scared of his own sister, frightened that Isabel would reject him, that she had moved on without him, would have no desire to have him in her life.

And he was even more scared of Liz. Not of her personally, of course. No matter his past worries, he knew Liz would be glad to see him.

What he was really scared of was seeing pleasure that he was safe, but indifference in every other way. He did not know if he could face her and not see that flash of recognition, that even if they weren’t together, even if they could never be together, they both knew they were supposed to be.

Because he still felt it - that connection. If she didn’t…He didn’t know if he would be able to survive the pain of that. He had survived a lot - torture, physical and mental; loneliness, guilt, fear… But he could not survive losing the dream that he and Liz were two halves of the same whole, that they would always understand each other even if they couldn’t be with each other.

But he knew that he had to face it. It was only fair. Maria and Kyle were both right. The least he could do was give both Izzy and Liz the chance to spit in his face if that’s what they wanted to do. After all, he had had the chance with his worst enemies. They deserved the same.

"I know you’re right." Max sighed heavily. "I just…"

"You don’t want to hurt them again." Maria interrupted. "We understand that Max. But if they find out that you’ve been here for almost…how long? Two weeks, a month and didn’t call them…You don’t think that’s going to hurt them a million times worse?"

Max joined Maria on the couch, buried his face in his hands. "You’re right."

Maria scooted over, put her arm around his shoulders. "Because Max, I have to say…" He looked up at her sideways. "I’m really glad you’re alive. And I have a feeling that how I feel is going to pale in comparison to how Liz and Isabel are going to feel - even if they don’t show it at first."

Max stood up. "Okay. I’m going to do it. I’ll just wait until Ben gets home…"

Maria narrowed her eyes at him. "Go now. I swear I’ll make sure the kid eats okay, that Michael doesn’t drown him in the bath-tub or something. Don’t wait on this Max. Every minute counts here." She reached into her purse, grabbed a pen and piece of paper and scribbled something. "Here’s Isabel’s address. Start with her. I think she’s going to be more hard actually. She is still pissed at you…even after all this time."

Max stared down at the address uncomprehendingly. His stomach was in knots, but excitement was building within him as well. His sister. He was going to see Izzy. And anger he could deal with - there was a thin line between love and hate after all.

It was Liz he was more worried about - because what Maria didn’t say worried him more than what she did. Liz was not going to be as difficult because she really wouldn’t care that he was back.

He had lost her. He knew it with bone-shattering certainty. He had recognized that it might be so before, but not seeing her, he had always been able to hold onto the hope…the hope that if he returned there would be no Dan Riley anymore, that things could return to the way they were supposed to be - Max and Liz together, forever.

There was no hope anymore. His soul mate was lost to him - and he was just going to have to accept it.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:35:25 PM
Part 7

Liz smiled to herself as Ben shifted from foot to foot, searching through his book-bag for the key to his apartment. "Are you sure it’s in there?" She asked again.

"I saw my dad put it in here this morning." Ben replied, sounding annoyed. "I just don’t understand where it could be." Liz reflected that perhaps Ben’s father wasn’t as unaware of Michael’s habit of letting certain responsibilities slip his mind as she had feared. It seemed that he had sent his son off to school well-prepared.

Liz tried the door again. "Well, I guess we can just sit here until they get back." Liz suggested. She backed up to the door, slid to the floor, patted the spot beside her. "Have a seat. You can finish telling me about the hockey game you watched with Michael last night." Anything to help him keep his mind off his near miss with the car. He had been practically catatonic during the entire walk to the apartment block where he lived, had only started to relax when Liz had taken him by the hand and had started him talking about Michael, his favorite subject.

Ben’s face lit up. Liz had been right in her assessment that to this child, everything Michael Guerin did was worth discussing at length. "He explained all the rules to me." Ben told her proudly. "And he even told me that that he might be able to find me a league to play in this winter!" Liz raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment on that. If anyone could find a kid’s ice hockey league in New Mexico, it was Michael.

She snapped back to attention when she realized that Ben was nudging her with his elbow. "You told me that you would tell me some stories about Michael from when he was a kid."

"Well, Michael didn’t like school very much." Liz replied, grinning, "As I’m sure you’re already aware, but I did work with him at my dad’s restaurant. It’s called the Crashdown."

"The Crashdown!" Ben exclaimed. "My dad told me that he would take me there when we go visit my grandpa and grandma in Roswell."

Liz had pretty much determined by now that she had to know Ben’s father. There was absolutely no way she couldn’t - they had clearly grown up together and if he had been in the Crashdown… She opened her mouth to ask Ben his dad’s name again - every time she had done so before they had somehow gotten off the subject, but there was no time like the present.

And then a thought struck her so suddenly, she wondered how she could have been so completely stupid as to not have realized it right away.

Ben’s dad had known Michael since the fourth grade.

He had trusted Michael to look after his child, when no one in their right mind would do so, unless they really knew Michael.

Michael had done everything in his power to convince her that she didn’t know Ben’s father and had sweated profusely while doing so.

There had been something familiar about this kid from the first moment she had laid eyes on him this morning.

It was absolutely crazy…

And yet, somehow, she knew she was right.

Liz felt her breath beginning to come in short gasps. She turned to stare down at the little boy sitting beside her. "Ben…" Her tone of voice must have alerted the boy that something was wrong because he turned his head, glanced up at her worriedly.

His blue eyes gleamed, attracting her gaze like a moth to light.

And then, she knew it without a shadow of a doubt. They displayed none of the guile that had always been present in the eyes of the person Liz most despised in the universe, but there was no question they were the same unique, vivid blue.

They were Tess Harding’s eyes.

How on Earth was this possible? How could she be sitting on the floor of a dirty apartment building beside the child that she knew was Max Evans’s son?

And if this was Max Evans’s son, then Max Evans was back on Earth.

He was back on Earth and he hadn’t even come to see her.

The pain, when it hit, was so sudden and so surprising, it made her close her eyes.

Well, it was officially confirmed. The dreams had been a clue. The doubts about her impending nuptials - in fact, her entire future - had been for a very specific reason.

She was not over Max Evans and, to top it all off, she was going to have to face him too.

"Liz?" Ben’s voice sounded scared. "You look really weird. Are you okay?" His small hand reached out, grasped her sleeve. "What’s wrong?"

But she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t move. All she could do was stare at him.

It was then that she became aware of approaching voices. Two people were arguing as they came out of the elevator down the hall.

"….so irresponsible Michael! The kid can’t eat McDonald’s and pizza every night! Do you guys even try cooking? There’s a grocery store right down the street!"

Maria. Liz’s eyes lit on her friend, trailing behind Michael, who was carrying two grocery bags that Maria had obviously dumped on him.

The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place so quickly, Liz felt faint again. She closed her eyes, leaned her head back against the wall for support.

Ben jumped to his feet. "Michael! Hurry! Something’s wrong with Liz!"

"There you are kid! You gave me a heart attack! Your dad told you to wait for me." There was a pause, and then, "What’s Liz doing here?"

Liz had climbed unsteadily to her feet. She reached out, put her hand on Ben’s shoulder. "I’m…I’m okay." She took a deep breath, began to feel her shock fading and it was quickly being replaced by another emotion so strong, she almost squeezed Ben’s shoulder to control it before she realized what she was doing.

Rage.

She pulled her hand back sharply, clenched it into a fist at her side.

She narrowed her eyes at her best friend, who was staring at her white-faced. Maria had better not have known about this. Because if all that talk yesterday, about her not being over Max, had been her unsubtle way of paving the way for Max Evans to waltz back into her life…Well, Liz would never forgive her.

Liz full-out glared at Michael when he started to talk again, clearly about to try and brazen his way out of the awkward situation in which they found themselves. "Hey Liz. Thanks for bringing him back, but you can go now. Maria and I, we hooked up again and she’s going to help me look after him until Ben’s dad gets back."

"We so did NOT hook back up again." Maria inserted, sounding outraged.

"Is this Maria?" Ben asked, sounding excited and ignoring the fact that Maria looked like she was about to belt Michael. "Hi! I’m Ben."

"I see my name precedes me." Maria replied wryly after taking a deep breath, her eyes returning to Liz worriedly. "It’s nice to meet you Ben."

"Yeah, my dad talks about you all the time. He said that you were the only one who could control Michael." Ben looked at Michael for approval. "Right Michael?"

"Er - right buddy."

Liz started to walk towards Michael. She saw his eyes widen, as he had clearly seen the expression she knew was on her face. He actually took a step backwards before getting a hold of himself. "I’m wondering how Ben’s dad knows so much about your relationship with Maria Michael?" Liz asked, trying to make it clear that she knew exactly why he knew so much. "I also wonder how it is that Ben’s dad grew up in Roswell, with you, and yet I don’t know him?" She tilted her head, glanced at Maria. "Isn’t that weird Maria?"

"Not so weird Liz." Maria replied, sighing and shaking her head. "I swear chica, I didn’t know until like an hour ago."

Liz raised an eyebrow, her anger flowing through her veins like some sort of super drug. "Where is he?"

Michael made one last ditch effort, but it was weak, and Liz could see from the way his shoulders slumped that even he knew it. "Where’s who?"

Liz felt her nostrils flare as she breathed in deeply, doing her best not to erupt in front of Ben. "Hey Ben?" Liz asked through gritted teeth. "Remember how we were saying that I probably knew your dad?"

"Yeah." His tone was uncertain. When Liz looked at him, she could see the little boy shifting his gaze between she and Michael, beginning to clue in on the fact that something was wrong here.

"Why don’t you just tell me your father’s name? And then we’ll know for sure."

"It’s Max." Ben replied. "Max Evans. Do you know him?" He continued eagerly.

"Surprise! I do." Liz replied. "Very well in fact. And I want Michael to tell me where I can find him, so that I can go say… hi."

Michael just shook his head in resignation, sighed heavily. "Isabel’s."

"Thank you very much." Liz turned back to Ben, pulled him towards her for a brief hug. He was still staring at her, looking a little worried. "I’ll see you tomorrow Ben." She paused, her anger beginning to fade towards Michael and Maria. She believed that Maria hadn’t known, also believed that Maria would have told her the truth as soon as she next saw her, although she wasn’t sure why Maria hadn’t sought her out right away. She also believed that Michael had only been following Max’s orders by not telling her.

None of this was their fault. And, because of that, she wasn’t going to take it out on them.

She was going to take it out on the person who MOST deserved it.

Plus, she needed to tell Michael about what had almost happened that afternoon.

"Michael. I need to talk to you for a minute." Liz said. Michael looked so surprised at her about-face, she actually saw him glance behind Maria, as though considering a full-out retreat. "It’s okay."

"C’mon Ben." Maria interrupted, taking the grocery bags away from Michael. "I’m going to show you how to make pancakes." She glanced at Liz as Michael unlocked the apartment door and Ben entered, waving to Liz before he disappeared. "Lizzie, don’t be too hard on him. Let him explain." She paused. "I talked to him a bit this afternoon and he sort of had a reason for not seeing you. Not a GOOD one, but one that I can understand."

Liz didn’t reply. Maria sighed, followed Ben into the apartment, shutting the door behind her.

"Liz, I’m sorry…" Michael began, raising his hands, like he expected her to attack him. "He called me ten days ago. I had to go. They were both in pretty rough shape. It took him a good two weeks to work up the strength to even call me. And I know he wanted to see you, but he heard about Dan and…"

"Michael, I don’t want you to make excuses for him." Liz interjected impatiently. "Listen to me. Someone tried to run Ben down after school today. It’s why I brought him home."

"What?" Michael exploded. "Is he okay?"

"Well, clearly he is." Liz shook her head. "That’s not the point. Is he in danger? Is Max in danger? Did your enemies follow them back here?"

Michael still looked stunned. "Max told me…that Khivar was dead." He finally managed to choke out.

"Does he know that for sure?" Liz demanded.

"He seemed pretty sure. It must have been an accident. But thank God he’s okay." Michael had leaned his hand against the wall, was staring down at the floor. It suddenly hit Liz how much Michael already cared about Ben too. Liz didn’t blame him. She had been drawn to him from the first moment she had met him as well - there was something special about him.

The kid was amazing. How on God’s green Earth could he be Tess Harding’s son?

He’s not just Tess’s son, a small voice in the back of her head reminded her.

He was Max’s son too.

And suddenly it hit Liz why she had liked him so much. He reminded her of Max.

At least, that’s what she thought it was. Something wasn’t quite right about that though.

As she reflected on it, she realized he wasn’t really like Max at all. He was outgoing where Max had always been shy. He bonded easily with people, whereas Max had never trusted anyone.

Except her. He had always trusted her. From the first moment he had laid eyes on her when he had been younger than Ben.

Max! Her heart screamed his name. She took deep breaths, trying to force it to slow down. It was pounding so hard, she thought Michael must be able to hear it.

She was going to see Max. He had come back. And somehow, Liz knew, deep in her heart, which was why it was still beating maniacally, that he had come back to her.

"Michael…" Liz paused, searching for the words, suddenly wondering exactly what Max had had to go through to get back to Earth. "Is he…is he okay?"

Michael shrugged. "He’s Max Liz."

Liz closed her eyes briefly, opened them finally and laughed, the sound more bitter than she had intended. "But did we even know who Max was Michael?"

She had thought that she was over everything that had happened, that she had forgiven him. She had told Isabel as much only last night.

Apparently she had been wrong.

Michael just stared at her helplessly, not knowing what to say and not wanting to make things worse by saying the wrong thing.

"Never mind." Liz walked past him. "I’m going to find out. Right now."

*********************************************

Max stared at the small split-level, his expression blank.

She lived there. Right behind that door. The girl he had grown up with. The sister who had betrayed him in their past life, but who had done everything in her power to ensure that she didn’t do it again in this one.

Isabel.

He knew that she was going to scream at him. Now, as the time approached, he was actually looking forward to it. He deserved it and it would be nice to actually feel like he was beginning to pay for some of his sins.

So then why couldn’t he seem to make himself walk up the pathway to the front door?

Max scrubbed his hand across his face, took a step forward.

He knew then that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t face her. Her or Liz.

It was why he had avoided them for so long. He had spouted all that malarkey to Kyle and Maria about not wanting to disrupt their lives. It was bull. Kyle had been right.

He was a coward.

Max snorted to himself. He could kill Khivar, his most dangerous foe, but he couldn’t even face his own sister.

He was about to turn away, ready to return to his car, ready to let Maria or Michael tell them the truth, ready to let them come to him, ready to give them one more reason to hate him, when he realized that the car that was coming down the street was turning into Isabel’s drive-way.

Well, so much for cowardice.

Max swallowed, hard, waited for the person behind the wheel to get out. It was dark out by now. He couldn’t see the person in the car well enough to make out if it was Isabel or her husband, but he could tell that they had seen him. The person was clearly staring at him, hands still glued to the steering wheel.

But when the person finally opened the door and stepped out, it was the last person Max had expected.

It wasn’t Isabel. It wasn’t Jesse.

It was Liz’s fiancé, Dan Riley. And Dan Riley looked as pissed off as hell.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:36:32 PM
Part 8

"So, Max Evans. We meet at last." Dan’s voice dripped with venom. Max blinked.

"Do I know you?" Max asked quietly, pretending that he had never seen Dan before, because, of course, he was not supposed to have any idea who he was.

"Don’t play games with me Evans. I certainly know you." Dan replied. "I’m Elizabeth Parker’s fiancé, but I’m guessing you know that." He stated it in a possessive manner, as though daring Max to nay-say him, like all he wanted was one excuse to attack him.

All Max could do was frown slightly at the way Dan called Liz "Elizabeth." It sounded weird. He didn’t like it at all. It seemed formal and distant, sounded like this guy had absolutely no idea who Liz Parker was. She was not Elizabeth at all, who sounded cold and professional and grown-up.

But maybe she isn’t your Liz anymore, a small voice in the back of his head reminded him. Maybe she really is this man’s Elizabeth.

Max forced himself to extend his hand. "It’s nice to meet you. You’re a lucky man." The words almost made Max want to puke, but he was not going to mess things up for Liz with this person, even though he already absolutely despised him, couldn’t even begin to see what Liz saw in him.

Dan ignored Max’s hand, snarled. "I know I am. And I also know why you’re here. You’ve realized that you’ve lost her and you’re going to try and take her back."

Max stared at him. "Er, actually, I’m here to visit my sister." He replied calmly.

"Bull." Dan snapped. "I know all about you Max Evans. You haven’t been anywhere near your sister in almost ten years. This is about Elizabeth, plain and simple."

Max raised an eyebrow. "I don’ t think you know a single thing about me actually." He paused, couldn’t resist adding. "And if you’re so sure that you and Liz belong together, then why do you even care that I’m back? I haven’t made one single effort to see her, have I?"

"You’re here, aren’t you?" Dan replied, his fists clenched at his sides, the fabric of his well-made coat rippling as he tensed. "She’s staying here."

Max turned his head, stared at the house. He hadn’t known that, silently cursed Maria for not telling him so. Was Liz in there too? Was he going to have to face both she and Isabel at the same time? He didn’t know if he could do it.

But, on the other hand, he was beginning to realize, more with every passing second, that he wanted to be the one to tell Liz he was back. There was no question that her fiancé was going to tell her anyway and he decided that he did want to see the very first emotion that crossed her expressive face when she saw him.

Because, he knew, that very first flash would give him some sort of idea about how she really felt about his return. Liz could not hide that from him. Not if he saw it for himself.

"Well, why don’t we go in then?" Max gestured toward the house casually. "You can see for yourself that I just got here."

His tone seemed to infuriate the biologist even further but Dan finally accepted this and moved ahead of Max, down the path towards the house, as though he wanted to be the first to see Liz, just to demonstrate his prior claim on her. Max rolled his eyes, but followed.

He was actually beginning to relax. It seemed that fate wasn’t against him after all. This might not be as bad as he had previously envisioned, because with Dan around, Isabel and Liz were at least going to have to be civil. He was positive Dan had no idea about the alien stuff and because of it, they would not be able to really go off on him.

He knew that Dan did not know because he knew Liz and he knew that she never would have betrayed him that way - even after all he had done to her.

Max lurked behind Dan as he rang the bell. The porch light came on and the door opened a minute later. Isabel’s husband, Jesse, who Max had only actually ever met that one time in Utah, when he had helped Max and Liz get off for armed robbery - Max wondered briefly if Dan knew about that - stood there, a towel over his shoulder, a little girl in his arms.

"Hey Dan! What’s up? Are you looking for Liz, ‘cause she isn’t here right now. Isabel told me she’s taking some kid home from school." He glanced past Dan, froze. Max watched Jesse’s eyes widen as he actually realized who he was.

"Hi." Max said. He didn’t know what else to say. It sounded ridiculous, but what else did one say after disappearing for eight years? Hell, Max didn’t even know if Jesse knew the truth about his wife yet. He should have asked Michael about that one.

"Max Evans." Jesse glanced over his shoulder, shifted his daughter from one arm to the other. "Good Lord." Then he looked at Dan in confusion. "What the hell are you two doing together?"

Max almost smirked despite himself. The complete absurdity of this situation was increasing by the minute. "We just met." Max replied. "On the lawn."

"Oh." Jesse replied, frowning. "Okay. Anyway…" He glanced over his shoulder again, turned back to Dan uncomfortably. "Er - maybe you can come back later Dan. I’ll tell Liz you stopped by." He grimaced at Max. "I think my wife and her brother are going to want some privacy to catch up."

"I’m not going anywhere." Dan said seriously.

Jesse stared at him for a moment, then shrugged. "Okay then. Er - why don’t you come in. Max…" Jesse glanced at him sternly. "You stay right there. I’m going to get Isabel."

Max nodded. He felt his heart beginning to beat more quickly. He was only moments away from seeing his sister for the first time in over eight years - the sister he was unsure would be able to find it in her heart to forgive him.

Dan glared at him once more before following Jesse into the house. Max forced himself to sit on the stairs of the porch.

He sat there for over ten minutes before he stood up and started pacing. He glanced at his watch, then at the door, wondering what the hell was going on in there.

Five more minutes passed and still no Isabel.

And then he knew. She didn’t want to see him.

It was confirmed when moments later the door opened and Jesse came out, a regretful expression on his face. "I’m sorry Max. She…she’s…"

Max shoved his hands in his pockets, tried not to let the hurt wash over him. He didn’t blame her really, knew that it was nothing less than he deserved.

He had abandoned his own sister - the sister he promised he would never leave behind. He had always thought that she would forgive him because the last thing she had ever wanted to do anyway was leave Earth, but he understood why she couldn’t.

He had left her when he had left Earth. Without even saying good-bye. He had told her that he would talk to her when he got back to Roswell and Isabel had had to live with the fact that that had never happened.

She had moved on. She didn’t need a brother anymore.

"It’s okay." Max tried not to choke on the words. He could see the sympathy on Jesse’s face, knew instantly that Isabel’s husband did know the truth, that he knew where Max had been all these years. "Can you tell her that I found him and that I’m at Michael’s if she changes her mind?" He paused. "Maria has the address." He turned. "Thanks."

"Max." Jesse called after him. "She will change her mind. She just needs time."

"I know. Thanks." Max repeated.

He was sitting in his Cherokee moments later, hands on the wheel, staring out the front windshield.

That had gone far worse than he ever could have possibly imagined. He had not thought that it could hurt so much, to be rejected by his sister, but it did.

He understood Isabel’s feelings, but that did not mean that it did not hurt.

But, suddenly, he knew, with absolute certainty, that it was only going to get worse. He needed to see her now. He could not just accept this. Ben deserved to have an aunt, his parents deserved to have their family whole again. Estrangement between he and Isabel was unacceptable.

Max climbed out of the car again, walked up the front path, onto the porch and into the house before he could change his mind. He noticed Dan and Jesse sitting on the couch in the living room, watching TV as he moved past. He yelled out her name before they could stop him. "ISABEL!"

Jesse was on his feet, was in the hallway, his arms up as though to push Max back out the door. "Max, she’s not ready! You have to give her time."

"No. Isabel! I’m not leaving until you see me." Max called out again.

"You can’t play out that king card here Max." Jesse hissed. Max stared at him.

"I’m not." He replied quietly, glancing around for Dan. .He was standing in the archway that led to the living room, an expression of disdain on his face, apparently not having heard Jesse’s comment. Despite this, Max felt an almost irresistible urge to punch him, but managed to ignore it. "I’m no king. I’m playing the annoying little brother card."

"He was always really good at it." Max whipped his head around. Isabel was standing on the stairs, staring at him. She had her daughter on her hip, as though as a shield. "You’re okay?" She asked it grudgingly, but he could see a smile beginning to break out over her face despite herself.

"Yes." Max told her. "I missed you Iz."

"I’m still really pissed off at you." Her voice broke as she said it.

"I know."

"You always did have impeccable timing though Max." Isabel continued to smile through the tears that were streaming down her face, shaking her head ruefully.

"Why?" He asked, confused.

"Because I convinced her yesterday to try to forgive you." Max’s heart stopped at the sound of the familiar voice. He watched Isabel’s gaze sweep past him, settle on the person who had clearly just come through the front door.

He had never once forgotten what her voice sounded like. He had heard that all memories faded in time, but his of her had not even dimmed. The voice was as familiar to him as his own.

Liz.

"And I think she has."

Max turned his head.

She looked smaller than he remembered. Her dark hair was hanging loose around her face, shorter now than it had been when he left. Her face was slightly more mature, but all in all she had not changed a bit.

She was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

"But that’s because she doesn’t know what you’ve done." Liz continued.

It was only then that he noticed - really noticed - the expression on her face.

Fury. Absolute, unadulterated fury.

And he couldn’t help it. He smiled.

Because fury was an emotion. And any emotion meant that Liz Parker was not ambivalent to him.

Which meant one thing to Max and one thing alone. He still had a chance to win her back.

Part 9

Liz really could not believe that he had the gall to smile at her.

The Max Evans that she had known had rarely smiled. When he had, it had usually been a half-smile, shy, uncomfortable, like he was unsure that he was really allowed to be happy.

This smile was flat out joyous.

It made her want to do one of two things.

The first was that she wanted to hit him - hard. She wanted to wipe that smirk off his face - the face that had not changed one damn bit.

Except he had changed she saw as she looked closer. He had lines on his face that had not been there before. There was also a new maturity in his hazel eyes, eyes that were exactly the haunted ones she had seen in her dream the night before.

She flashed momentarily to the first time she had laid eyes on Future Max - a Max this man would never be - her husband, her partner in bringing on the end of the world.

"Do you really see gray?" He had asked her, sounding non-plussed and a little put out. This Max’s hair was still as dark as ever, but there was no question that this Max had more in common with Future Max than he did with the Max he had been when he had left her eight years before.

Max Evans had left Earth a boy on a desperate mission. He had returned a man - a man who looked like he had been to hell and back, but he had survived it and had come out the other side stronger and more sure of exactly who he was.

And the smile on his face was telling her that the man wanted her as much as the boy had. Her anger seemed to be pleasing him rather than scaring him. It was disconcerting.

And it was also why the second thing she wanted to do was rush at him, wrap her arms around him and kiss him until she really believed he was back.

Damn him.

"What did he do?" Liz realized that Isabel was speaking. When Liz glanced at her, still standing on the stairs, clutching Lexi to her chest, she saw that Max’s sister was looking for any excuse to stay mad at Max. Because Isabel wanted to stay angry with her brother. If she was mad at him, he couldn’t hurt her again.

But Liz could see that forgiveness was winning out over rage. The breakdown in Lexi’s nursery the night before had been the first step towards achieving it. Actually laying eyes on Max, alive and well, had been the second. But she was hoping Liz would give her a reason to resist taking the third.

And Liz had to tell her. Isabel needed to know the truth.

"He’s been back for close to a month. And he didn’t call anyone except Michael. AND he made Michael promise that he wouldn’t tell us." Liz replied, turning back to stare at Max as she said it. She saw him flinch.

So he did feel guilty. Good.

"I’m sure that he had a good reason." Liz saw Max turn to stare at Jesse in surprise. Isabel’s husband was gazing at Isabel with concern. Liz could tell that he wanted Isabel to forgive Max. Because Jesse would know how much Isabel had missed him - how much losing him had devastated Isabel. How much having her brother back would add the missing piece to Isabel’s complete happiness.

"Max?" Isabel looked at her brother, clearly trying to mask the hope on her face.

"I…" Max was staring at Liz again, the smile on his face having disappeared. "I knew about Dan and I didn’t want to interrupt anything." He said it quietly, glancing to his right as he said it.

It was only then that Liz became aware of the fact that her fiancé was standing in the doorway leading to the living room. She felt her face fall in horror. She frantically searched her mind, wondering whether she had truly given him any reason to think that she was anything more than ambivalent about Max’s return.

She didn’t think she had done anything too incriminating. Other than display completely irrational rage that her ex-boyfriend hadn’t come to see her.

Not at all incriminating there Liz, she rolled her eyes mentally. She was dead.

"Honey!" She exclaimed, going over to hug him. "I didn’t even see you there! What are you doing here?"

She didn’t glance out of the corner of her eye to see how Max reacted to this. Really, she didn’t. It wasn’t her fault that she saw a scowl flash across his face momentarily. Really.

"I came to see you." Dan replied, his tone unreadable. "And was shocked to find Isabel’s brother instead."

"Dan, I swear I didn’t know he was here." Liz told him quietly, as she pushed him back into the living room so that they could have a little privacy. This was disastrous! She had admitted to herself that maybe she wasn’t quite as over Max Evans as she had thought she was, but she certainly did not want to give up Dan for him. She had never expected that Max would actually show up while she was exorcising him.

Isabel had been right in her earlier assessment. With Max, timing had always been everything. It was almost as if he had known that his hold on Liz’s soul was finally going to be broken and that was when he decided to come waltzing back into her life.

She could hear Max and Isabel and Jesse talking quietly in the hallway as she gazed up at her fiancé anxiously. She had absolutely no idea what Dan was thinking. Isabel had been right about one thing the night before when she had spoken about Dan. He was an awful lot like Max in the sense that he could so easily mask his real feelings.

Of course, Max had never been able to mask his feelings around her. At least not after he had healed her, after they had first connected. She had almost always known what he was thinking after that.

Liz shook her head, trying to forget that.

"I know it." Dan finally replied, pulling her against him. "I have to admit though Elizabeth, when I first saw him, I thought that you were lying to me - that you had let him worm his way back into your life."

Liz pulled back. "Dan, I would never lie to you! Have I ever?"

Except for not telling him about the fact that she hated her job, that the real reason she was working with Isabel was because she didn’t want to follow the dream they had shared anymore. Liz told the small voice in the back of her head that reminded her of this fact to shut up.

And just because she didn’t want to work at Harvard anymore, it didn’t mean she didn’t want to marry Dan. She loved Dan.

Which was why every fibre of her being was yearning to return to the front hallway, to talk to Max, to make sure that he was really okay, whole, safe.

Yes, she wanted to yell at him. But she also wanted to just stare at him, preferably for hours, convince herself that he was really back.

But she did not want to touch him. Really she didn’t.

Dan pulled her against him again. "No. You haven’t. And I’m sorry I ever doubted you Elizabeth." But Liz could feel that he was still tense. She didn’t blame him. She knew that she as likely as stiff as a board in his embrace.

Because they both knew what she was going to ask of him. And it was going to be the hardest thing he had ever done.

Dan knew better than anyone exactly what Max Evans had meant to her once upon a time. Because Elizabeth had never lied to him - about anything.

The fact that Liz had lied to him from the moment they had returned to New Mexico…well, he would never know that. Liz was not going to win. She was Dan’s Elizabeth now and she only needed to prove it.

"Dan, I need you to go home now honey." Liz whispered against his chest.

There was a long pause. "I know." He said quietly.

There was nothing else to say. Because they both knew that unless the ghost of Max Evans - who suddenly was no longer so ghostly - wasn’t dealt with, then their marriage was going to be a sham anyway.

Let the exorcism begin, Liz reflected grimly as she kissed her fiancé good-bye.

***********************************************************

"Are you going to tell me why you didn’t tell me you were back?" Isabel demanded. They had moved into the kitchen when Liz had taken her fiancé into the living room, in order to give them a little privacy.

Max had been relieved. He didn’t think he could watch them together anymore. To see Liz melt against him like that…He had felt a spasm of actual physical illness.

Besides, he couldn’t think about Liz right now, could not reflect on the way she had reacted to him before she had become aware of Dan’s presence. He owed his sister his full attention.

And he owed her a full on apology too.

"I told you why Iz." Max replied wearily, sinking into a chair at the kitchen table.

Jesse sat at the other end, Alexandra asleep against his shoulder, clearly there not to interfere in their conversation, but to support Isabel. It pleased Max. He was beginning to like Jesse more and more. It was ever more evident that Isabel was the most important thing in the world to her husband. His sister deserved that, had always craved it.

She had found security and happiness with Jesse Ramirez. Yes, she had missed her brother, but life had gone on for Isabel. The evidence of that presently slept soundly in her father’s arms.

Max really looked at the baby for the first time since he had arrived. His niece. Isabel’s daughter, named for their lost friend. Ben was absolutely going to love her. "She’s beautiful." He told his sister, not meaning to change the subject, but wanting to tell her that before she threw him out, which was still an entirely too likely scenario.

Isabel’s expression softened momentarily. "Liz told me yesterday that she thought she looked like you." His sister told him quietly.

Max felt his heart skip a beat at that, but he grimaced, joked. "Poor kid. I don’t see it. As I said, she’s gorgeous." But Max could see the resemblance, saw traces of himself in Alexandra’s little face. He wondered what it meant for the human genetic connection he and Isabel shared. They had learned all about Michael’s gene donor, but had never found out anything about where he and Isabel had come from.

All that seemed so long ago now Max reflected, finding out about Laurie Dupree’s grandfather. It was long before Ben was even born. And it was really beside the point anyway, the point being that he was half-human, that he had chosen to live out that part of his heritage by returning to Earth. He didn’t need to know where he had come from, but it was nice to know that he and Isabel were clearly linked through both their human DNA and their alien essences.

"Max, really…" Isabel said urgently. "I need to know. How could you call Michael? Why didn’t you call me?"

Max swallowed, saw the hurt on his sister’s face. He could see that this was the crux of the issue. He and Isabel had always been the closest. She had been devastated that he had left her behind, when he had always promised that he would never do such a thing. And then, when he had come back, he hadn’t even come to her for help.

"I don’t know Izzy. Really. You have to understand - it was a close thing when we got here. Not a crash exactly, but things were rough for the first couple of weeks. It took me that long to track down Michael." He paused. "I didn’t want you involved in that."

"Is it safe for you to be here?" Isabel demanded, glancing in concern at Jesse and her daughter. Max felt his heart go out to his sister. He understood the fear she felt. He had felt it every day for eight and a half years - ever since he had first known of Ben’s existence.

"Khivar is dead." Max said simply.

Isabel closed her eyes briefly. She sank into a chair beside Jesse, took her husband’s hand in her own and squeezed.

"He came to me once. Right before we got married." She whispered. "I knew it when he died too. It was recently, wasn’t it?"

Max stared at her, then at Jesse. Isabel’s husband looked tense, but not at all confused, or even upset. He obviously knew all about Khivar and Isabel’s relationship to him.

He felt a pang of jealousy. The way Isabel and Jesse were together - they were clearly a unit. Isabel’s husband knew everything about her, she knew everything about him… He could see it in the way they sat linked by their hands, linked through their daughter.

It was what he had always wanted with Liz. It was what he had had for such a very short time before Tess had entered their lives and had destroyed everything.

He was never going to have it now.

"He’s gone." Max told them firmly. "I killed him myself."

Isabel’s eyes flew to Max’s face. "And…what about your son?" She asked, taking Alexandra away from Jesse urgently. The child squawked in protest, stuck her thumb in her mouth but settled against her mother’s shoulder and went back to sleep.

"I have him." Max said, a small smile crossing his face. "And you’ve met him. Ben." He added simply.

Isabel’s eyes widened. "Oh my God!" Her expression melted into one of annoyance. "Trust Michael." She muttered.

"I swear I didn’t know you were going to be his teacher Iz. I wouldn’t have done that to you without warning you." Max insisted. "That was all Michael’s ludicrous idea."

She did not reply. "You still haven’t answered my question though Max." Isabel finally said. "Dan was the reason you didn’t tell Liz you were back. I’m your sister. It doesn’t explain why you didn’t see me until tonight."

Max knew that how he answered this question was going to determine how his relationship with Isabel played out from this moment on. "I was scared." He admitted quietly.

Isabel did not say anything for another long moment, and then, "Why?"

"Because I broke my promise to you." Max replied. "I promised you I’d never leave without you… and I did."

"Yes, you did."

"I know that you might never be able to forgive me for it - for not even saying goodbye. But you have to know that there was only ever one person who could make me do that to you - and it was my son. And I got him back." Max stood up. "I understand if you can’t get past it Izzy, but I want you to know that I am sorry." He paused, thrust his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. "And know that I thought about you every single day while I was gone. You and Michael and Mom and Dad…"

He didn’t add Liz. He knew that Isabel would already know that. Isabel had always understood about Liz, even if she had never approved precisely.

She had not approved, but she had understood. Because she had known that, to Max, Liz had represented being normal, had represented feeling human. And Isabel had always only ever wanted to be human.

And she had made that life for herself now. He, Max, might not fit in anymore - her alien king brother, who represented a past she wanted to forget.

"I’ll be waiting for you to call me Isabel." Max told her over his shoulder. "It’s your choice. I won’t bug you, I swear. And I’m sorry I burst in here like this." He glanced at Jesse. "It was selfish of me - I guess I did sort of play the king card." He added wryly.

He left. There was nothing else to do.

His sister did not stop him.

Max sighed heavily as he crossed the lawn. He had considered going through the front door, just to see Liz once more, but when she had not come into the kitchen, he had assumed she had left with her fiancé. He could see now that Dan’s car was gone.

He wasn’t surprised. There was really no need for her to talk to him. She was angry, yes, but, in the grand scheme of her life, he didn’t really matter. Dan was her future. He was the one she would make sure everything was okay with. He was the one she would want to be with.

And yet it still hurt like hell that she had not stayed, at least to yell at him if that had been her desire.

He had been wrong that her anger was a demonstration that she still cared about him. That was nothing new though. Max had been wrong about many, many things in his life.

He had been wrong to expect Liz Parker to wait for him - both tonight and for the eight long years he had been gone, possibly dead for all she knew.

He had been wrong to desert her in the first place. Oh, how wrong he had been! He would regret it for the rest of his life.

"Max."

He was almost at his car when he heard her voice. It stopped him dead in his tracks. He turned slowly, not quite ready to believe his ears.

But she was there, sitting on the front porch, eyeing him warily.

"Liz." He breathed her name, tried to control the emotion that he knew she would be able to hear in his voice.

She closed her eyes for a moment, seemed to shudder slightly. He bit his lip, waited for her to speak.

"Dan’s gone." She finally said, opening her eyes again and staring at him. Her expression was no longer blank. Now it was hard, like she was getting ready to do something unpleasant, something she was not looking forward to, but that she wanted over.

Max felt his heart sink. "Okay." It was all he could say. He didn’t know what she wanted from him.

"I need to talk to you."

"Okay." It sounded ridiculous the second time, but he felt ridiculous, like he had no right to be standing here talking to her.

She stood up, smoothed down her skirt. She carefully avoided touching him as she walked past him, towards his Jeep. "Let’s go somewhere else. I think Isabel needs to be alone for a while."

Max simply followed her. They were in the car before he spoke. "Do have somewhere in mind?" He asked tentatively.

"Yes." Liz replied. "The desert."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:38:39 PM
Part 10

The silence was uncomfortable. She could feel the tension coming off of him in waves but she refused to say anything until they had reached wherever it was he was taking her.

She wanted to see his face when she told him what needed to be said. She needed to know that he truly heard her. Because she refused to fall back into the cycle of pain and grief their entire relationship had entailed - from the very beginning.

Her life was not perfect by any means, but she was content. If she could marry Dan, find a job that completed her as teaching did Isabel or singing did Maria, well, then she would be happy.

But first she needed to end the dream that was Max Evans. Because the dream had never really been a dream at all, but a nightmare. And, yet, still she held onto it. And as long as she held onto it, happiness was impossible.

Hoping it would be different the next time, didn’t mean it ever would be. There were no more next times left. She had Dan now and she was not going to give him up.

Max finally pulled the Cherokee off the highway. It bumped over rocks and debris as they rolled to a stop. Liz realized that they were in the middle of nowhere, which was supremely ironic, because it represented exactly where the future of their relationship was headed.

She knew it, had known it from the moment she had first laid eyes on him. Too much time had passed, too much stood between them. Dan, Ben, even Tess still.

Her anger stood between them. Anger that she hadn’t even realized she felt. Because she had lied to Isabel when she had told Max’s sister that she had forgiven him. She had in no way forgiven him.

He had left her all alone, when all she had ever wanted was to be with him. After all that she had done for him. And that could never be taken back.

Max turned the key in the ignition, shutting off the engine. Without even that low noise, the silence became suffocating. Liz knew that she had to speak, and yet the words would not come.

It was Max who finally said, "I really missed the desert at night. You can actually see the sky. On Antar, there’s nowhere to escape, nowhere to just look at the stars," he commented quietly, looking out the front windshield at the star-pocked sky. He turned to look at her, his eyes unreadable in the darkened interior of the car. He hadn’t turned the headlights off, so they weren’t sitting in complete darkness, but it was close enough. "Do you want to get out?"

"Yes." Liz replied, quickly turning and opening the passenger door. It was entirely too small a space to do what had to be done. His close proximity was too distracting, the scent of him filling her with doubts about whether what she was about to do was the right thing. If his very smell made her want to forget everything, or at least kiss him until she did, then Dan had been a fool to let her do this.

But Dan trusted her. She would not disappoint the one person she had always been able to depend on. No, he was not exciting; yes, he could be a tad pompous, but he loved her. He loved her enough. Who cared if her entire soul screamed that she was making a mistake, that she knew that she was giving up the chance to fix everything that had been wrong in her life since the day Max had left?

He had never loved her enough. And they both had to pay the price of it.

They met at the front of the car. The headlights were still on, cutting through the black night, illuminating rocks and scrub, accentuating the dark emptiness that surrounded them.

"What did you want to say Liz?" Max finally asked, when the silence seemed to stretch on interminably. "I have things to say too, but I’m not going to say them until you say what you have to say."

"Very kind of you." She muttered, despite herself. He didn’t speak, just flinched and it annoyed her how she instantly felt bad. She forged ahead anyway. "I want to know why Max. Why you didn’t want me to know you were back? Didn’t I at least deserve to know that you were alive? Because I hadn’t stopped worrying about you, you know. " She didn’t confess that she had always known that he still lived - that their connection had never been broken on that level. He didn’t need to know it and it would only confuse matters.

There was a long pause. "I did want you to know." He sighed heavily, thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket, leaned back wearily against the hood of the car. "I was an idiot. But I didn’t want to disrupt your life - not if you had moved on."

Liz frowned at this. "Did you actually think I wouldn’t have moved on?" She felt a spurt of anger, let it run through her, nursed it in fact. It would give her the strength to do what had to be done. "How pathetic was I before you left anyway - that you would actually think that? It’s been eight years Max!"

"This is coming out all wrong." Max said quietly. "You weren’t pathetic Liz. It was just a hope of mine, that’s all." Liz could tell that he wanted to say something else, waited for it before replying. "You once told me that you knew what it was like to be without me and that you would do anything to be with me. I guess, I just thought that maybe…"

"I would wait for the rest of my life?" She laughed, a little annoyed at how bitter she sounded. "I was eighteen years old Max. I was naïve and stupid and I was willing to do anything, say anything, to hold onto you. And you were willing to let me."

"And it was unfair." Max added. "I know it. I knew it then even. But I was so out of control in those days - so desperate. I can’t even think of an excuse Liz, so I won’t even try. I want you to know how sorry I am and that I really regret ever getting you involved in that whole quest."

"It was my idea." Liz admitted, because it was only the truth. "But that isn’t the point. The point is that it was our quest and you abandoned me."

" Our quest? Liz, can you really tell me that you ever wanted me to find my son?" Max demanded. "Please be honest here. I know that you helped me, did your best, and I loved you for it, but he represented everything that went wrong in our relationship."

"And he doesn’t now?" Liz retorted, instantly regretting it. Ben’s face loomed in her mind. He was an innocent, did not deserve to have any of her anger at his father directed towards him. "I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that."

"It’s all right." Max replied. "You have every right to be angry. And things with Ben…they’re complicated."

"I’m glad you found him." Liz told him grudgingly. Because she was. "I think I recognized him the minute I saw him." She admitted. "He reminded me of you."

"Did he?" Max asked, sounding pleased. "I think he looks more like Tess."

"Well, of course he doesn’t look like you." Liz smiled despite herself, "But there was something really familiar about him."

There was a long moment of silence. "I’m not surprised you think so. Liz, there’s something I should…"

But she didn’t let him finish. Things were getting entirely too comfortable here. It was time to tell him what she had brought him out here to tell him. "Listen Max, I really am glad that you’re back, and that’s mainly why I wanted to talk to you alone. To tell you so. But I need you to understand, I have a life, one that doesn’t include you."

"I know Liz." Max told her patiently. "Which is why I didn’t tell you I was back."

Liz felt a flush beginning to climb her neck, onto her face. He was right of course. If she didn’t want him in her life, then why was she so mad that he hadn’t told her he was back? "That’s beside the point." She replied weakly. "The point is, I’m engaged, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not glad that you’re safe. I just needed to make clear to you that what we had is over."

"Okay."

He said it so easily, it made Liz frown despite herself. "That’s all you have to say?" She demanded. "Okay?" She could have kicked herself the minute the words came out of her mouth. Did she have no self-control where he was concerned? It was ludicrous. She had forgotten how easily he got to her, how she had the tendency to just blurt things out to him - it was one of the reasons she had originally loved him. After the first time they had connected, she had felt like she could say anything to him. It was why it had been so hard to keep the whole Future Max thing from him too. Lying to Max went completely against her nature.

But she had to learn how to control her tongue in his presence. Because if she kept saying exactly what was in her heart, he would know that maybe her decision to move on wasn’t quite as final as she wanted it to be.

"I told you. I’m not going to interfere in your life." Max shrugged now. "You know what I want, what I hoped for when I came back here, and if you don’t want it, well, I’m not going to force my attentions on you." He frowned slightly. "If Dan’s what you want, well, I’m not going to stop you."

Liz scowled at him. Had there been a veiled insult of her fiancé in that comment? And why did it make her heart beat faster. Damn him! Why did he always do this to her? She had forgotten how easily he could get under her skin with one cryptic comment. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice man." Max replied innocently. "And successful." He added. "That’s important." But the tone of his voice made it sound superficial. She heard disdain there.

"I’m so sure you think so, having met him for a grand total of two minutes." Liz snapped. "And I certainly don’t care what his job is! I would love him even if he was poor and a bum. I loved you didn’t I and you practically squatted at Michael’s in your last few months here!"

She regretted those words the minute they came out of her mouth too. How could he so easily make her be so mean to him and then feel bad about it? It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t seem to control her emotions where he was concerned. It was why she loved Dan so much. He never made her behave this way. She always knew where she stood with him, he never made her so mad, she practically wanted to punch him.

Of course, he had never made her love him so much she was willing to give up her entire planet for him either, nor would she have been willing to follow him to the ends of the universe. With Max, that had once been a distinct possibility.

Max did not reply, just looked away.

"I don’t want to talk about Dan." Liz finally said, breaking the gaping silence that had sprung up between them again. "You said that I knew what you wanted Max, but I really have no idea what you expect from me! I need us to be clear exactly where things stand."

Max continued to stare off across the desert, his expression now veiled. But she could still read his eyes as easily as she could the first time she had ever connected with him. He was sad.

"I want us to be friends I guess." Max sighed. "But I’ll understand if it’s impossible."

"Max, please. Do you really think we can ever be just friends?" Liz collapsed against the hood beside him. "There’s just no way. It was always a disaster."

"I know. But, if you’re moving back to Boston anyway, we’ll only see each other once a year, if that." Max shrugged. "But, as I said, I don’t want to interfere. Dan probably won’t like it if his reaction to seeing me tonight is any indication."

Liz looked at him in surprise. "What? What did he do?"

"If he could have murdered me with his bare hands Liz, I think he would have." Max half-grinned at her. "I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to risk losing you either…if I had you."

"Those words are pretty funny coming from you Max." Liz shook her head. "You gave me up. You’re the one who left me behind. I was willing to follow you anywhere."

"I know." He repeated. His next comment so shocked Liz, she stared at him in disbelief, hurt despite herself. "And I’ve never regretted leaving you behind."

"Oh." Could he be any more confusing? First he basically told her that he came back to Earth for her, and now he was telling her that he did not regret leaving her behind.

Max seemed to hear the shock in her voice, because he quickly added. "But not for the reason you think. I never would have put you in that much danger."

She felt her heart soften. How did he always know exactly what to say? He had the most silver tongue Liz had ever encountered. But she forced herself to ignore that, focused on the meaning of what he had said,

He had been in danger. She had known it, but had not wanted to really accept the miracle that he had survived whatever it was that he had survived on Antar. Because recognizing the miracle would make her question whether she even had the right to deny him.

He had come back to her after all. Despite everything, this she knew. And, she realized, she needed to know exactly what that meant.

Liz swallowed, unsure if she wanted to ask, but knowing that she had to know what he had been through - what he had suffered to get back the child who meant everything to him. The child that had come between them. Ben, who Liz already felt such a connection too, it was almost worth it to have given up Max to ensure his safety.

"Was it very bad then?" She whispered, reaching out despite herself and putting her hand on his arm. She felt the muscle of his forearm contract under her touch, quickly pulled back. Max seemed not to notice, but Liz saw his eyes follow her hand longingly.

Oh no. How could the atmosphere change between them that quickly? How did this always happen? The air was charged with something she didn’t even want to begin to analyze…

But Max seemed to know this because he spoke, broke the moment.

"It was hell." There was a long pause. "Antar is not a pleasant place Liz. It still isn’t, even though it’s ten million times better now than it was when I first got there."

"What happened?" He was so quiet, she added, "You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to."

"It’s not that I don’t want to Liz. I’ve always wanted to tell you everything. It’s just that…" He turned to look at her. "You have to promise me that you won’t tell Isabel and Michael. They can’t ever know what happened there."

Liz stared at him. The tone of his voice, it sent a shiver of dread down her spine. "I promise. But why?"

"Because they can’t know what we’re capable of. They just really can’t." Liz saw Max swallow, hard. "I had to do things there…things I never would have been able to even imagine doing when I was here - even in the worse days with the FBI and the Skins."

"Like what?" She let her hand return to his arm, wanting to comfort him, even though she knew she shouldn’t do it. The haunted look in his eyes, the fact that it was always there, that she had seen it, even in her dreams… She could not let him deal with whatever it was that was tormenting him alone. Not Max. "Tell me." She insisted.

His voice shook as he said, "I don’t want you to hate me."

"I don’t hate you Max. I’m mad as hell at you still, but you have to know that I don’t hate you." Liz knew it was true, couldn’t believe she was admitting it to him. It was dangerous to tell him this. It would give him hope, but something had irrevocably changed between them in the last few minutes, despite her best intentions.

She had told him that they could never be friends, but the irony was, they could never not be friends. They had always been friends - from before he had even saved her life. But when he had laid his hands on her that first time, disintegrating the bullet that had almost ended her life, patching a bullet hole that would have killed her, they had bonded in a way that could never be broken.

"I could never hate you." She whispered. And she couldn’t, just like he had never hated her, even after the Future Max fiasco, the Kyle debacle, after everything.

"Tell me." She repeated.

He sighed heavily, began. "You have to understand what it was like there Liz. It was complete anarchy. Khivar supposedly sat on the throne, but he had no power, other than what he managed to wrangle through terror."

"I remember you told me that after the New York summit." Liz told him. "It was the reason they wanted you back with the dupes - because he could not bring peace to the planet or the star system." She couldn’t believe she was talking about interstellar politics so casually. It was absurd, and yet, everything associated with Max had always been strange.

Strange, yes, but weirdly exhilarating as well. Max had once asked her "What was so great about normal?" and she could not deny that half of his appeal had always been that he was so exotic, so different, and, yet, he wanted her the most boring and ordinary of girls.

"Right. Well, surprisingly, that was true." Max paused. "Something else was true too. Larek told me at the summit that I was a dreamer when I was Zan, that I had tried to change things too quickly. Apparently, I had been in the process of dissolving the monarchy when Khivar killed us all the first time around. I was trying to found some kind of democratic system I guess. Most regular Antarians wanted it, except for the leaders of the other four planets, of course." He shook his head wryly. "It’s why they let Khivar usurp me in the first place. They didn’t want their planets to insist on democracy if Antar succeeded."

"Okay?" Liz frowned. "So, having you back, the process started again?"

"Not really. I wasn’t interested in the politics of Antar. I really did not care. All I wanted was to find my son and come home. Back to Earth." Max admitted. "I got pulled into it despite myself, because of what was going on with Ben."

"What?" Liz asked quietly.

"Khivar set him up as a puppet, hoping that the people would let him rule through Zan’s son. Tess even married Khivar."

"Did it work?" Liz grimaced to herself at the image of Tess sacrificing her own child because of her ambition.

"Not at all. In fact, unrest became even worse, because the planet could not tolerate that one of the Royal Four had turned. They wanted us all back and they wanted things back the way that had been before." Max shook his head. "The majority was not ready for democracy - then. They weren’t ready for the struggle that was necessary to make it happen. Zan was blind to what his people wanted though - it was why they originally didn’t really stop Khivar. It was only when things were a million times worse under him that they began to regret rejecting Zan’s ideals out of hand. Democracy was a lot more appealing than a government that was the equivalent of fascism on this planet. The democratic movement - under a different name of course, I’m just using Earth terms to make this easier to understand - was in full swing when I finally came out from underground. "

"What happened?" Liz licked her lips, her eyes wide.

"I was trying to get to Ben this whole time, because the rebels were winning, which put him in extreme danger, but I couldn’t get anywhere near him. Khivar’s people knew I was on the planet. Langley went over to their side the minute we landed." Max shook his head. "He hated me that much, for destroying his life here. I don’t blame him actually. I was an arrogant fool - in both lives apparently."

"But I don’t understand Max. If you were so arrogant, as Zan even, why did you want to give up your throne, bring democracy to the planet?"

Max quirked a grin at her. "You’re never going to believe this."

Liz stared at him. Why did he suddenly look so amused? She had thought that this was serious, horrible. And it sounded that way. But she recognized that his smile was not amused, so much as self-mocking. She frowned. "Why?"

"Because of a girl."

Part 11

Max watched Liz’s face as she absorbed this latest bombshell. She frowned slightly, as though she was trying to understand what this meant.

"Ava?" She finally whispered, sounding sad. "I guess your memories of her were right. You must have really loved her - to want to give up the throne."

Max smiled slightly. He couldn’t help it. The truth was so obvious to him, had been from the first time he had heard about Kadiya, but he was not surprised that Liz wouldn’t recognize it.

She didn’t know about Antar after all, did not know what he had learned about the way that Antarians mated, bonded. She was human.

In this life anyway.

"Not Ava." Max told her. She blinked.

"Really? Then who?" She sounded interested again, and slightly put out if Max was not mistaken. Ava she was willing to understand. Liz had always accepted that Tess/Ava was the one he was supposed to be with. But hearing that there was yet another…She was not happy about it. He felt another little flash of hope, like the ones that had been hitting him every so often whenever she slipped. Because she had slipped a lot during their conversation.

Liz was not ambivalent to him. And, if he was not mistaken, she was a little jealous now.

Well, she didn’t know. And he didn’t know if he should tell her. It might just upset her even more. He had promised her that he was not going to try and convince her to leave Dan, and he wouldn’t.

Because he knew that if he told her the truth - the truth about so many things - she would seriously feel compelled to rethink that decision. He didn’t know if he could ask her to do that, even though he wanted to more than he wanted anything in this or any other world.

Telling her…it would be the height of selfishness. He was good at being selfish, always had been, as Zan and as Max. But he couldn’t be selfish about this. Not when it meant disrupting her entire life.

Liz was still staring at him, her arms folded, clearly impatient to hear the rest of his story.

"Her name was Kadiya." He told her quietly. "He met her at a party. From the first moment he laid eyes on her he knew she was the one for him."

He had always known it - even in this life, before he remembered her.

Because when he had found out about her - about Kadi - he had remembered. He had remembered seeing her on Dimitras rock, standing with her mistress, Ava, noticing him at the exact same moment he had noticed her. He had remembered that everything Larek had told him about Ava at the Museum the night had had first remembered who he thought was Ava, had actually been about Kadiya - that Larek had made that same mistake that night, at the party.

Max had even remembered his horror when Larek had introduced him to Ava, as though it was she he had wanted to see, wanted to fall to his knees in front of, wanted to beg to marry him. Because the future king could not have fallen instantly in love with a servant girl. Not even a future king as peculiar and unhappy as Zan had been.

It just could not happen.

But it had. And he had been willing to change the entire governmental structure of his planet so that he could be with her.

Few on Antar had known about Kadiya, not even Larek, not after that original mistake had been made. They all just thought he was going crazy with all the talk of ending the monarchy, of bringing equality to the planet. And he had told almost no one - not even Vilandra. He had worried that if they knew, they would kill her, take her away, do something to her to stop him from doing what he knew had to be done to save his soul and, in the long run, his planet.

Max refocused on Liz, who was speaking. "But Zan ended up with Ava," she said. When Max nodded, she sighed heavily, sounding disappointed, like she wanted him to have been with the one he loved, even if only in that past life that she was positive she had not been a part of. "How?"

"It was a huge disaster. Kadi was not of the Blood, being a servant. The social hierarchy in the system was strict. He couldn’t be with her. And everyone seemed to think that it was Ava he wanted." Max shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Obedience to duty was demanded of everyone in Antarian society, even the king. Ava was suitable and so Zan was supposed to love her. But he didn’t."

"What happened?" Liz’s dark eyes were wide, pained, as though this was all bringing back memories she would rather forget. Memories like hearing in the pod chamber that he was destined for someone else, memories of finding out that being with him would end the world, memories of learning that he had impregnated someone else, that he had not saved himself for her.

"His sister, Vilandra, tried to stop him. Because she found out about Kadiya."

"Isabel?" Liz asked. "But why?"

Max shook his head ruefully. "Zan might have been willing to give up the throne, but he had a hard time with not playing king. It was the position he was raised for after all." When Liz shook her head, not understanding, he continued. "Vilandra was betrothed to Rath - Michael - one of Zan’s best friends and his most trusted general. It was an extremely important alliance for Zan - not only because of his love for Rath, but also because Rath was willing to support the abolishment of the monarchy - because he knew about Kadi, understood about her. Rath was in love with Vilandra, you see, but Lonnie didn’t love him. She was madly infatuated with Khivar, Rath’s brother. She begged Zan to break off the engagement, but Zan refused to hurt Rath that way, especially because he didn’t trust Khivar, rightly I might add. But, I’m ashamed to say though, it was mainly because he didn’t want to give up the alliance the marriage would bring about. Because it was one step closer to getting what he wanted."

"So she helped Khivar overthrow you?" Liz sounded incredulous. "I can’t imagine Isabel ever doing that!"

"She was driven to it Liz." Max explained. He searched for a way to make her understand what it had been like for his sister. Max was still trying to deal with it himself, what he had done to her in that past life of his, but he wanted Liz to know - needed for her to know. If only to absolve himself a little bit. "Do you remember the way Izzy and I were towards each other right after Alex died?" He saw Liz flinch at the mention of Alex, closed his eyes briefly as a spasm of guilt ran through him. The guilt about Alex was still as fresh as it had been the day he had first learned the truth about Tess.

"I remember." Liz finally managed to say. "She wanted to go away to school and you wouldn’t let her."

"You also remember the way I ordered you around then?" Max continued, not willing for her to forget it. He had been an ass, deserved every shred of guilt it still invoked in him. "Well, imagine that doubled, tripled. In his efforts to protect Rath, Zan drove Vilandra straight into the enemy camp. Khivar made sure she found out about Kadiya - he knew because Rath trusted his brother with the story, not knowing that he was a traitor. Lonnie found out that Zan was going to democratize the planet for his love - and she lost it. She literally went insane with rage that he would force her into a marriage against her will and yet betray everything they had been raised to be because of his love."

"Good Lord." Liz breathed. Max could see she was imagining what it must have been like. "And so she helped Khivar."

"She didn’t know what he was. Even Zan wasn’t sure until the very end or he might still have been able to stop him. But Khivar arranged it so Ava caught Zan and Kadiya together. He also leaked news of Zan’s intentions regarding the throne to the leaders of the other planets, which brought him their support, at least until he killed Zan."

"What happened to Vilandra and the others?" Max tried to ignore her hand, which had found it’s way onto his arm again. Liz had not changed at all it seemed. She was still tuned in to the pain of those around her, felt his over what had transpired in his family, his guilt that he had been responsible for it all. She wanted to comfort him, even if she knew it was dangerous.

And she had to know it was. If she was feeling even half what he was feeling in her presence, touching him was not safe.

His voice caught momentarily in his throat as he tried to speak. His entire attention was focused on her hand, reflecting on how annoying it was that he had not only his jacket between her fingers and his skin, but his damn shirt as well. He cleared it, felt heat beginning to rise into his face, not from embarrassment but, rather, from the attempt not to grab her hand and pull her into his arms.

How could one small hand do this? It was crazy.

It’s Liz, a small voice in the back of his mind reminded him. It’s not crazy. It’s only natural.

It was natural, but also dangerous. He might be willing to put her desires first, but he was not a machine. If there was one thing he had learned on Antar, it was that he was human, almost completely. He could only take so much.

Touching he could not take.

He tried to appear casual as he pulled away, walked towards the darkness on the edge of the light thrown by the headlights. He recited it stonily, as though it had happened to strangers, not to himself and his nearest and dearest. "They all died. Vilandra let Khivar into the Palace with his army, thinking that he only meant to force Zan to let them marry, not knowing that he had the authority of the Council of Planets to usurp the throne. When she realized that her lover intended to kill her brother, she threw herself in front of Zan, took the death blow meant for him. Rath killed himself when he realized the dishonour his brother had brought to their family. And Ava killed Zan for dishonouring her. Zan let her, having been told that Kadi had been killed too. It was Shakespearean in proportion. A literal blood bath." Max shook his head, not clearly remembering all of it, even after memory regression, but he did remember feelings: his horror at what he had brought his sister to with his stubbornness, his grief at the loss of his best friend and closest ally, and his absolute devastation at the thought that his Kadiya had suffered at the hands of Khivar.

Liz’s face was white. She had her hands clenched tightly at her sides. "That still doesn’t explain what happened to Ava."

Max sighed. "The irony of the whole thing was that because it was Ava who had technically killed Zan, they blamed the whole fiasco on her. She was executed for regicide, thus ending the saga of the Royal Four."

"But that wasn’t the end Max. Someone saved you. They sent you here." Liz prodded.

"Larek - and our mother. " Max shrugged. "Larek was the only one who had not supported the overthrow, mainly out of personal loyalty to Zan. I met him on Antar." Max elaborated. "He is extremely proper and traditional. He knew about Kadi when he cloned us, the Council having told him to get him to support the usurpation, but he sent Ava to Earth, because he didn’t believe it. He still believed that Zan had been madly in love with Ava. Because hadn’t he married her the exact day he had died?" Max whispered this last bit, felt the sadness he had known in that other life when all of his dreams had ended in that marriage.

But he had not been her mate. Not in the true sense. That honour had been solely reserved for Kadiya.

"God Max. It was just horrible." Liz’s arms were around her middle, as though she was cold. He longed more than anything to reach out, pull her into his arms.

"It was." Max acknowledged. "But we got a second chance. And I almost screwed it up royally again this time too. No pun intended." He added when Liz stared at him.

"But you didn’t." Liz replied. "Because you’re here. You’re still alive. And Khivar is dead."

"Yes, Khivar is dead." Max shuddered briefly, couldn’t help it. He knew Liz noticed. "I killed him."

"You’re safe here." Liz nodded resolutely. Max frowned slightly. It was almost as if she was trying to reassure herself of this fact.

"Yes. Is there a reason we might not be?" Max asked, reading something on Liz’s face that made his stomach clench suddenly.

Liz grimaced slightly. "Max, I don’t know whether I should tell you this or not…" She swallowed. "Okay, that’s wrong. I know I should, but I don’t want you to freak out or anything. Plus, I should have told you when I first saw you and now I just feel like a heel about that too."

Max’s feeling of unease increased. "Tell me. I trust your judgment Liz. If you think I should know, I probably should."

"Ben was almost hit by a car today." Liz blurted. Her expression was horribly guilty. Max barely registered this though. He felt like he had been punched in the solar plexus.

Ben. His son. The one person who would make him pull through, now that he knew for certain that Liz was lost to him for good.

His sole reason for living had almost been hit by a car.

"Get in." Max motioned towards the car. "We have to go home."

"If Khivar is dead, it has to have been an accident." Liz continued, once they were in the Cherokee and back on the highway. "Some drunk or something."

"Probably." Max agreed, still feeling tense. "You’re sure that he was all right?"

"Yeah. A little freaked out, but I don’t think he knew how close it was." Liz was staring out the front windshield, her expression blank. "Max, I am so sorry I didn’t tell you before this. I don’t know what I was thinking. But I was just so angry at you - and I knew he was safe with Michael - and it just slipped my mind." Her voice broke. Max glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. He realized that she was crying.

She was crying over his Ben. And she didn’t even know the truth about him.

She would, but not until after her wedding. It was another secret that he had to keep so as not to disrupt her life. Knowing after wouldn’t change anything after all.

"Liz, it’s okay. You told me now." He wasn’t angry at her. He was more angry at himself - that he had been so irresponsible earlier today by sneaking off to Roswell to get a glimpse of Dan, by forgetting to get Michael to pick Ben up on time. He was a father - by his own choice. He damn well had to start acting like one.

Max reached out, patted Liz’s knee awkwardly. He jerked his hand back when he felt her tense up instantly.

"Tell me about Dan." He said it to get her to stop crying, to take her mind off of her guilt, and also to try and ease his worry about Ben until he could actually see that his son was fine with his own eyes, but the minute the words came out of his mouth he could have kicked himself. What the hell was he thinking? The last thing he wanted to hear about was Dan!

Max knew Liz was staring at him. "You can’t be serious?" She finally managed to say.

"I am." Max gritted his teeth, forcing the words. "I need to know that he deserves you."

Although Max already knew that Dan didn’t. At all.

Liz was quiet for several more moments, as though trying to process the fact that he really expected her to talk about her fiancé. "Er, well, we met at Harvard." She started off slowly. "He was the TA in one of the classes I took."

"So he’s older then." Max narrowed his eyes.

"He’s thirty." Liz replied. "I wasn’t looking to date anyone when I went there. My entire life was focused on school, but we spent a lot of time together, and one thing led to another."

"You fell in love with him?" Max knew his nostrils were flaring and that he was clutching the steering wheel far too tightly. Why did he keep asking questions? Was he trying to torture himself?

But he knew the answer to that one. Of course he was. Better to torture himself about Liz than to worry about Ben. Not much better, but better.

"Yes." Liz answered simply. "I could talk to him about anything. I never expected to find that again. Not after what happened with you. Not after how badly it ended." She finished quietly. "He was extremely patient. I mourned you for a long time Max."

He closed his eyes briefly, pain shooting right to his heart. "I’m sorry about that Liz." He finally said. "I’m glad you found someone. You deserve to be happy."

He hated Dan, yes. But if he truly made Liz happy, well, he would try and like him. It would be the absolute hardest thing he ever did, but he would try.

"I didn’t think I ever could be again - not after you left. But I was." There was a long pause, and then, "Max?" He Her voice was small, wary.

"Yeah?"

"Can you tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

"How you could have left me - without even saying goodbye?"

Max’s breath caught in his lungs. He had never expected her to ask such a thing, didn’t think that she wanted to revisit the past at all - at least that’s the impression he had gotten, with her constant insistence that nothing in the past mattered anymore. "I don’t know how." He finally admitted.

Because, now, sitting here beside her again, as he had dreamt of doing from the moment he had blasted off in that spaceship, for the life of him, he had no idea how he could have done it.

"That’s not good enough." Liz sounded angry now. "I deserve to know what was going through your mind…how you could have done that. Because you had to have known that I wouldn’t have stopped you. You could have at least told me - told someone! We were so worried about you!"

Max tried to breathe deeply, in an attempt to reacquire some equilibrium. He was actually surprised that he was still managing to drive. He felt like his veins wanted to jump right out of his skin, the blood was rushing through them so quickly. "I think…I think I knew that if I called you, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I wouldn’t be able to go through with leaving. Because I knew that I might not come back, and I couldn’t bear talking to you even once more, because it might be the last time." He heard his voice crack, tried to hide it. He wanted her to know how much he had loved her, how much he still loved her, but he didn’t want her to know that giving her up now was tearing him up inside, despite the fact that he was doing a very good job of hiding it. "I just could not bear to actually have it be the last time. Because I had to go."

There was another long silence as Liz digested this. "Okay. I guess I understand that." She finally said. "And it all worked out for the best anyway. You found Ben. I met Dan. Michael and Isabel are safe."

Max did not reply. Because he couldn’t. Sure, a lot had gone right. He had saved Ben. Michael and Isabel had never had to make the choice about whether to go back with him, had built lives for themselves on Earth.

But one thing had turned out very, very wrong. He had lost her. And the worst part was that he had never in a million years expected that he would. Not after he had learned the truth about Kadiya.

Soulmates were supposed to be together. It was why he had been so sure through his entire time on Antar that she would be waiting for him when he returned to Earth. Not only because she was Liz and he was Max.

But because she was Kadi and he was Zan.

Because, in the end, it just wasn’t fair that he had had to lose her twice.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:40:16 PM
Part 12

"Are you sure you don’t mind coming?" Max asked quietly. "I just really needed to get back here. I’ll take you back to Izzy’s as soon as I check on Ben."

"Max, it’s okay." Liz replied. "I wouldn’t mind seeing him again myself." She flushed when Max looked surprised. "I wasn’t kidding when I told you that I felt something when I was with him Max. I think I just knew that he was yours. I know he’s okay, but it’ll make me feel better to see him again." She tried to ignore the pleased expression that crossed his face.

They had driven the rest of the way back to Michael and Max’s apartment in virtual silence, each lost in their own thoughts. The quiet had not been tense this time though. Instead, it had been comfortable, familiar.

It had been too comfortable. Comfortable enough that if Liz closed her eyes, she could pretend she was seventeen again, flying down the highway in Max’s old Chevelle, the wind blowing through her long hair. She could almost imagine breathlessly awaiting Max’s touch, because she knew it was coming sooner or later.

When they were seventeen they could barely keep their hands off of each other. It had sometimes seemed like she couldn’t breathe properly until she was in Max’s arms.

It was why she had been willing to forgive him for Tess, had been willing to let him back into her life. She had asked him if he thought she was so pathetic that she would wait for him for her entire life, but being in his company again… it reminded her of why she had been willing to take another chance on him after finding out about the baby and before he had left her.

Nothing was right when they were apart. She remembered his words to her on the rocks near the pod chamber, after Tess had left, taking Max’s son with her…

"I’ve been really wrong about a lot. But I was right about one thing: to get you into my life, to be around you, to love you."

He had been right. It was why she had let him back in. Loving each other had never been wrong. It had never been what had screwed up everything. It had been staying away from each other that had caused all the problems. And, so, she had been willing to do anything to make sure that they were never apart again, including helping him find his son.

Because they were meant to be together. Max and Liz. Not Max and Tess. Not Liz and anyone else.

But there had been someone else for him - someone else he had loved enough to give up a throne for.

His story - the one about Zan and Kadiya - it had disturbed her more than she had let him know. To know that he had been so attached to someone else - anyone else…Even in a past life…

It had hurt.

It was ridiculous and insane and silly. She was engaged to someone else - someone she loved. She had long accepted that Max&Liz were not[/] meant to be, and yet she was upset because he had been in love with someone else in a life.

It was insane but true. She had to admit it to herself.

She was used to Tess, could have accepted the great love story of Zan and Ava. In fact, it probably would have made her feel better about Ben - to have that acknowledgment that there was no way she could have stopped what had happened between Max and Tess, that it had been destined.

It was beginning to dawn on her that the idea that maybe Max and Tess had ended up together on Antar had always been a possibility in the back of her mind. She hadn’t liked it - because of what she had done to Alex and because of what Tess was - but she had accepted that maybe it had been best for Max to leave her when he had - when she still had the chance to make a new life for herself, while they were still young. Maybe he had found his destiny on Antar - with her. Because Liz didn’t doubt for a minute that Tess still wanted Max, even if she had betrayed him to their enemies.

Because who wouldn’t want Max? At least that’s what her eighteen year old heart had wondered.

Yes, it would be better if he was with Tess. He would be with his son and maybe he could fix whatever it was that was wrong with Tess.

Tess needed him.

Max and Liz were not meant to be after all. She had accepted it, moved on, found Dan.

Because what would she, Liz, have done if they had stayed together and married and committed to each other for life and he left her anyway?

And he would have left her. Ben would have been found, one way or another. Wasn’t it better that it had been sooner? And wasn’t it right that Max and Tess had been together so that Ben could exist?

All of this was going through Liz’s mind as she followed Max into the apartment, as she tried to sort out what she was feeling now. Now that he was back.

Because it changed everything again. She didn’t want it to, but if their conversation had told her one thing, if her feelings and her jealousy over Kadiya had told her anything, it was that she was not over him.

But all this seemed inconsequential a split second later when she ran right into Max’s back.

He had stopped abruptly. It was only when Liz peered around him that she saw that the main room of the apartment was in a complete shambles.

It looked like it had been torn apart by a hurricane. Or a wild animal.

Or something not of this Earth.

"Oh my God!" Liz gasped. "Max!"

But Max was already on the move, yelling as he ran into the bedroom. "Ben! Michael, where are you???"

Liz watched him for a moment, frozen. She could hear the panic in Max’s voice as he called out again. "BEN!"

She managed to croak Max’s son’s name. "Ben?" And then, more strongly. "BEN!" She hurried in the direction of the kitchen. "Michael! Are you here?"

Max joined her there a minute later. He was turning in circles, his hands up at his temples, his manner completely frantic. "Oh God. Liz! Where are they?"

She grabbed his arms, pulled them down from where they were running wildly through his short dark hair. "Max! Calm down! You need to calm down!" He was staring at her, his eyes wide with horror.

"Liz! Where is he???"

"Max, this looks really bad. I know it does. But we need to calm down." She could see him struggling to get a hold of himself. "We need to think. Could Michael and Ben have made this mess themselves?"

"Why the hell would they tear the entire apartment apart?" Max demanded, sounding angry.

"They wouldn’t." Liz agreed. She was searching her mind desperately for an answer. None presented itself. For the life of her, it looked like someone - or something - had invaded the apartment and had taken everyone in it away with them. And yet…She frowned slightly, deep in thought. "But maybe whoever did this didn’t find what they were looking for. Because, Max, think about it. Why would they destroy an apartment if they had what they had come for?"

She saw a flash of hope on Max’s face. "You’re right!" He was staring at the wall, his eyes darting around. She could practically hear the wheels turning in his head. "They didn’t find him. Obviously. Michael must have gotten him out in time."

Liz raised an eyebrow. " Who didn’t find him Max?" She asked suspiciously. "I thought you told me that you were perfectly safe here."

Max didn’t reply, just continued to stare at the wall, a slight frown appearing on his face. "What a minute…" He turned on his heel, hurried back into one of the bedrooms.

Liz hurried after him. "What? Max! I think we should call Kyle. He can put an APB for Michael and Ben. We should call Isabel. She needs to know about this. She might be in danger. She and Lexi and Jesse. Max!"

But Max didn’t answer. When she entered the bedroom, he was standing in the centre of the room, staring at the wall there. She looked around the room, searching for whatever it was that had brought him back in here. She felt her stomach turn over at the disaster that had been wreaked on Ben’s bedroom. Because there could be little doubt that it belonged to Max’s son. There were a few action figures from the final Star Wars movie on the bed, looking incongruous on a mattress that had been ripped to shreds. There was a poster for the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team on the wall and a picture of the Earth from space, very similar to the one that had hung on the wall in Max’s old bedroom in Roswell.

It was a simple room but it was also clear that Max had done his best to make it a place a little human boy would want to be, even in the short time they had been in Albuquerque.

Liz watched Max in consternation as he moved towards the white wall that had the Coyotes poster on it. He ripped it off the wall, began to run his hands over it.

"Max, what on Earth are you doing?" Liz demanded, seriously concerned about his mental state. Had he completely lost his mind? How had he managed to accomplish anything on Antar if this was how he reacted in an emergency?

But she should have known better. Max was at his best in a crisis, always had been. Flashes of the episode with Pierce and all the various Skin-related disasters passed through her memory. Max had never faltered when lives had been in danger.

At least when he had known about the danger. He had not been able to save Alex. But, then, none of them had known about the snake in their midst.

"Liz, there used to be a closet here." Max told her over his shoulder. "This is a mind-warp."

"A mind-warp?" Liz felt a frisson of fear descend her spine. "Max, is Tess…"

"Tess is dead." Max replied firmly. "It’s Ben. It’s his gift. He inherited it from her." He began to pound on the wall, which for all the world seemed like a solid mass to Liz. "Ben! Are you in there buddy? It’s Dad. Let me in!"

Liz watched him for a moment, still uncertain. But she suddenly remembered the time Tess had mindwarped an entire room out of existence in the Crashdown - the time Nicholas had been after them in Roswell, when he had made all the humans in town disappear. It was entirely possible that Max was right. She rushed over to Max, joined him in pounding on the wall. "Ben? Come on out Honey. It’s Liz. I’m here with your dad. You’re safe Sweetie."

Nothing happened.

Liz turned to Max. He rubbed his hand across his face wearily, continued to knock. "Ben, it’s Dad. I swear it is."

"Max, are you sure that you’re right about this?" Liz ventured carefully. "I mean, didn’t Tess have to know who she was mindwarping for it to work? Shouldn’t we be able to see the door? Ben wouldn’t know we’re here."

"Yes I’m sure." Max snapped. She jumped slightly, despite herself. She could tell that he noticed and that he instantly regretted his tone. She didn’t blame him though. He was freaking out with worry after all. "I’m sorry Liz." He said, his tone calmer. "I had to learn a lot about mindwarping when I found out it was Ben’s gift - so that I could help him develop it. Tess didn’t always have to know exactly who she was mindwarping." Max explained. "Remember that time when I had to change Pierce’s bones?" Liz nodded. "She only knew a number then - not who, but how many. Which means that there were two or more people here. And he doesn’t know they’re gone and so he’s still mindwarping two minds and we just stepped into it."

"I guess that makes sense." Liz shrugged. She gestured at the wall helplessly. "But he obviously doesn’t believe it’s us. What are we going to do?"

"I need to figure out a way for him to know it’s us." Max sighed heavily, ran a hand through his hair. Liz felt a pang when she saw how tired he looked. She realized that his entire being radiated weariness, had since she had first laid eyes on him. She had noticed, she reflected, but had chosen to ignore it because of how angry she was at him.

"Why don’t you try something that only the two of you would know?" Liz suggested, grasping at straws.

Max’s eyes lit up. "Good idea." He turned back towards the wall, brought his hands up and laid them flat against the hard surface. "Ben, it’s me buddy. I’m going to tell you something - something only you and I know. And then you’ll know that it’s really me and Liz out here. Okay? So just listen and when you know it’s us, you can stop mindwarping."

Liz couldn’t help herself. She brought her hand up, laid it on his arm, supporting him. He turned his head, his eyes meeting hers for a split second. Something flared there that made her heart skip a beat, but she refused to stop touching him.

He needed her. It would be the last time that she would be in a position to help him and she was going to do it.

They were friends. If nothing else, they always would be. And friends helped each other.

"Okay. Are you listening kiddo?" Max began to speak in a soothing voice. "Do you remember what I told you about on the ship when we were coming back here?" He paused, swallowed. "I told you all about all the people you were going to meet when we got here - I told you about Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Izzy and Michael…and even about Maria and Kyle and the Sheriff." Liz felt tears beginning to fill her eyes. She lowered her head, rested her forehead against Max’s arm. Because she knew what was coming next. She just . "And I told you about Liz. I didn’t tell you her name but I told you that she was my best friend and that she was going to love you. Do you remember I told you that? I told you that when she found out who you were, she was going to love you more than anyone in the world."

Liz frowned slightly. Her heart was beating a million miles a minute. There was something strange in the way he said that: when she found out who you were… Like she didn’t already know who Ben was.

But, he was right. Ben was Max’s son. And she did love him. Just because he was a part of Max.

Max, who until this minute, she had refused to recognize she still loved. In spite of everything, she still loved him.

Max was still speaking. "And she does Ben. Already. She told me."

"It’s true Ben." Liz interjected. "Your dad is right."

"She doesn’t even know yet Ben, but she loves you." Max continued. He had brought one of his arms down from the wall, used it now to pull Liz more closely against his side.

Liz raised her head, stared up at Max. "Know what Max?" She whispered.

But Max just smiled sadly, continued to speak to his son. "Because we’re the only two who know the truth, right Benny? No one else knows, but I told you because you deserved to know who you really are. And because I wanted you to know how special who you are makes you."

Liz lowered her eyes, just listened, knew that whatever Max was about to say was going to change everything.

But somehow she knew it would not be in a bad way. She waited breathlessly.

"I wanted you to know how special you were because you had a father who was good and brave and completely loved by all of his friends. You are so special because you are the gift he left behind when he left us. And so I told you that I wasn’t your real father, even though I am so lucky that I get to be your dad."

And Liz knew. The truth came to her so abruptly, she gasped, stumbled.

She felt Max tighten his arm around her, as though he knew her legs were about to give out on her. Liz’s throat was closing up as tears began to stream down her face.

"I told you something that no one else knows. I told you that a man named Alex Whitman was your real father and that he had died protecting his best friends."

Liz barely saw the mindwarp dissolve. She had fallen to her knees, despite Max’s best efforts to hold her upright. He was down beside her, not touching her any longer, because his arms were full of little boy.

Ben.

She felt Maria’s arms coming around her, heard her best friends sobs through her own daze of grief.

And yet…Liz knew that grief was not the reason she was crying.

Because her eyes were full of the child in Max’s arms, the child to whom she had felt an instant connection, just like she had felt one to his father all those years ago.

"Hi. I’m Alex Whitman." The ghost of the boy Liz had known stuck his hand in her face. "We met last year, but you forgot about me."

"Oh. Sorry." Liz stared at him. Who was this strange boy? She had wanted to sit beside Maria but Ms. Elmer had a seating plan. Who needed a seating plan in Grade Five anyway? Liz thought in annoyance. But her irritation did not last because he passed her a piece of gum.

"It’s okay." The brown-haired boy replied cheerfully. "We have the whole year to make up for lost time. We’re going to be best friends you know." He grinned at her.

And Liz smiled back.


"Alex." Liz felt a smile break across her face, through her tears.

And, as her eyes met Max’s dark ones over Ben’s head, she knew that she was in serious trouble.



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 18-Jun-2002 8:33:19 PM ]
posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:45:44 PM
Part 13

"…barely managed to get into the closet and get the mind-warp up before they were in here. I don’t know how the kid knew they were coming, but he did. He herded me and Maria in there. Max, he saved our lives." Michael shook his head in disbelief.

He was sitting on the couch, Maria beside him, his arm draped loosely around her shoulders. Whatever it had been that had made them so mad at each other apparently suddenly seemed insignificant because they had not let go of each other since following Ben out of the closet.

Max could see that Michael was still shaking slightly. Maria looked shell-shocked, stared at the floor as Michael explained what had happened. They were both acting like they had forgotten what it was like to have their lives threatened.

Which they had of course. They had lived for eight years in safety and security and now it had all come tumbling down again. Max felt a pang of guilt. He had done this to them. Coming back had made this happen.

He had truly thought they would be safe on Earth. He had been so sure that all the danger was gone.

Max was sitting in an arm-chair, Ben still clutched in his arms. His son had fallen asleep almost immediately after running to him, completely exhausted from having had to use his gift for so long.

Liz was standing against the wall, beside the television, staring at Ben, a half-smile on her face. She had not spoken a word since that first tortured, joyous "Alex." All she did was watch Ben, looking for all the world like she had entered a dream from which she hoped never to wake up.

Max tried not to think about what her reaction was going to be when she got past her first shock and exhilaration and remembered that Max had kept Ben’s true identity from her. It was not going to be pretty. Even the fact that he had tried to tell her in the desert was going to be overshadowed by the fact that he hadn’t tried very hard.

But he had other things to worry about right now.

Like the fact that a maniac was after his son and he had no idea how to stop him because he didn’t know what he wanted.

"I just don’t get it Maxwell. Why the hell would Nicholas want the kid?" Michael asked, running a shaky hand through his shaggy hair.

Nicholas.

Max had almost completely lost it when Michael had told him that it had been that little troll who had come to the apartment, who had threatened Ben’s life. Max didn’t understand how Nicholas still even existed. He should have died long ago, unable to go on in the Earth’s atmosphere after his skin died. They had destroyed the harvest in Copper Summit all those years ago. There should have been no way for Nicholas to survive.

"I have no idea." Max replied wearily. "He has to know that Khivar is dead, has to know that the war is over on Antar, that he has no place there anymore."

"Revenge?" Michael asked. " Maybe he wants to take your son out because you killed Khivar?" There was a pause and then Michael added, "Which brings up the idea that maybe you should give us a few more details about that Max. How exactly did you take out that bastard anyway?"

Liz finally spoke up, cutting off Michael’s question, much to Max’s relief. "If that’s what it is, the simple answer is to get the word out that Ben isn’t Max’s son." She swallowed, tears appearing in her eyes. "He’s Alex’s." She whispered. "God. Max, how can this be?"

Max rubbed his face wearily with one of his hands, shifting Ben on his shoulder. He saw Liz eyeing Ben longingly, like she wanted to offer to take him off Max’s hands for a while. She was so small though, and Ben was a lanky kid for his age. She wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Besides, Max couldn’t let go of him yet. Not yet.

"It’s not revenge." Max sighed heavily. "Nicholas should want to protect Ben because of who he is."

"Why on Earth would that little jerk want to protect Alex’s son?" Maria asked quietly. She shook her blonde head. "I just can’t believe it. Tess and Alex? It just doesn’t make any sense. Kyle I would buy, but Alex??? He hated that tramp."

Max sighed again. He was beginning to realize that he was not going to be able to keep his Antarian experiences a secret after all. Ben’s life being threatened had changed everything again. He needed his friends’ support. When there had been nothing to worry about, he had had the option of being able to protect them from the truth, but that luxury was gone. Ben’s safety, as well as the safety of the whole group meant that they all had to know.

"Listen, these are all valid questions guys." Max stood up slowly, balancing his sleeping son with difficulty. When had he gotten so big? It seemed like only yesterday that Max could swing him up over his head, throwing him onto his shoulders and keeping him up there for hours.

And he wasn’t only growing physically Max realized. The fact that Ben could maintain a mindwarp of the magnitude he had, under the stressful conditions he had been under… It was practically a miracle.

It was also a little scary. Because Max didn’t understand it. He and Michael and Isabel had barely had access to their powers until they were adolescents. But Ben… He was coming into his gift so much more quickly, it worried Max.

"We need to get out of here though." Max continued, pushing away his concerns about Ben’s changes for the moment. "They could come back at any time. And we need to warn Isabel. They might be after Lexi too."

"Are we even sure they were after Ben?" Maria asked, a slight hitch in her voice. "Maybe they wanted Michael? They might not even know you’re back Max."

"They know." Max told her. "The fact that I left Antar with Ben was all over the galaxy in a few hours." When Maria blinked, Max shrugged. "The interstellar media is pretty fierce. They haven’t managed to track us down here yet, but they will."

"Er, does anyone else think this is strange?" Maria looked at Michael and Liz for support. "Are you telling me that there are tabloids in space?"

Max grinned despite himself. "Not like our tabloids, but they have a pretty sophisticated media interchange between the more advanced civilizations." He paused. "They don’t usually cover Earth though. It’s considered something of a backwater in most other places. It’s why the jackals never managed to track me and Michael and Izzy down here. They thought they knew the Royal Four had been cloned and sent somewhere, but they never knew where exactly. The Skins kept it quiet once they had found us because they fully planned on exterminating us and didn’t want it reported on. Plus, letting the news leak would have let everyone know that we really had been cloned. It had been spun as a legend by Khivar."

"Okay, just stop." Maria held her hands up. "This is too much information. Tabloids are my enemies on Earth and now they’re my enemies on an universal scale?" She glowered. "I may be ill."

"Don’t worry about it." Max replied grimly, his smile fading. "They’re not going to find us. And neither is Nicholas - not again. Ben and I are leaving."

"What?? NO!" Liz jumped forward, a horrified expression on her face. She looked nonplused at her outburst when she realized what she had done, but she continued anyway, "Max, you can’t just take him away. He’s Alex’s son. Alex’s parents deserve to know him. Maria and I deserve to know him."

These were Liz’s words, but there was something else going on in Liz’s eyes as well. Like it wasn’t just Ben she didn’t want leaving. Max immediately quashed that thought. He was not going to go looking for signs from Liz that were not there. He had told her that he would not pursue her and he wouldn’t.

He realized he was frowning. All of this was reminding him that there had been one main reason he hadn’t wanted to tell Liz the truth about Ben’s origins right away - not after he had heard about Dan. Because the thing he most feared was that Liz would decide that she wanted to be with him, Max, because of Ben. Because she felt she owed it to Alex. Max could not bear that.

"Liz, I know." Max told her quietly. "But we have to protect him. I’ll get lost for a while. And if it seems like things have calmed down, maybe I can come back."

"No." Liz repeated firmly. "Running away is never the answer." Max opened his mouth to argue. "Listen Max, it’s not. We have to deal with this. We have to get rid of Nicholas once and for all. Ben and Lexi will never be safe if we don’t. These kids deserve to grow up happy and without having to be on the run." She paused, then smiled slightly. "Weren’t you the one who once said that taking our lives back was the only answer? When the whole thing went down with Pierce?" She moved forward, reached out and ran her hand down Ben’s blonde curls lovingly. "Max, you were right then. And I’m right now."

Max just stared at her. She didn’t understand what she was getting them into. She had lived through some of the times with Nicholas and the Skins, but she had not seen the worst. She had not been tortured at their hands, had not had her thoughts literally ripped out of her skull. She did not know that, strangely, Nicholas was even more dangerous with Khivar dead, because now he was a loose cannon.

And yet….

He was lying about coming back someday. If he left with Ben, it would be for good. He would never be able to be sure that Nicholas was really gone. He would never see any of these people again - the people he had struggled for eight long years to get back to.

Ben would never have a family.

But he couldn’t commit to anything. Not yet. Not until they all knew exactly what this might be like. Until they all knew exactly what war was like.

"I’ll think about it Liz." He finally said. "Let’s just go to Isabel and Jesse’s. We can’t make any real decisions until they’re informed about what’s going on."

Max laid Ben gently down on the couch, which had been vacated by Michael and Maria during the intense conversation between Max and Liz. "We need to pack up some stuff Michael. I don’t think we’ll be able to come back here. It’s unsafe."

Michael nodded his understanding, hurried out of the room. Max followed him, tried not to let his heart skip a beat as Liz sat down on the couch and gently lifted Ben’s head onto her lap. She continued to stroke his hair soothingly, the gesture entirely motherly.

It was a scene Max had often envisioned - Liz as the mother of his child. Even when he’d known the truth, that Ben wasn’t really his, he had still longed for it. Because Ben was his in every way that mattered. And Liz would always be the only one he would ever want in his life.

He was going to be alone now, but, at least, with Liz knowing the truth, one part of the dream would still come true. Ben would have her. Because Max knew without a shadow of a doubt that Liz was not going to let them leave, at least not without her.

How Dan worked into the scenario that Max knew Liz was already creating in her mind, about how she could be to Ben what Alex would have wanted her to be, Max had no idea, but he did know that everything had now changed. Liz knew the truth and she had already made it clear that she had no intention of letting Ben go.

If things had been complicated before, they were now ten times more so. And this wasn’t even bringing in the fact that their lives were all in danger again.

Max sighed heavily as he threw some of Ben’s clothes and toys into a duffel bag. He hadn’t managed to accumulate many possessions for his son during their short time back on the planet, but Max wanted wherever they ended up to be as familiar to Ben as possible. He even took the poster of the Earth from space off the wall and carefully folded it, placing it inside a book so that it wouldn’t get too crumpled.

"Let’s go Maxwell." Michael called from the living room. "I’m beginning to get a little creeped out here." He continued as Max rejoined the others. "I have a bad feeling they’re going to be back soon."

Michael had already picked the sleeping Ben up. Someone had put his jacket on him as well. Liz and Maria were hovering around them, both looking exhausted and emotionally drained. And there wasn’t going to be any rest for any of them yet. Max had already decided that it wasn’t enough to meet at Isabel and Jesse’s. They were going to have to go somewhere secure, at least for a little while, if even just overnight.

Max had somewhere very definite in mind. Somewhere Nicholas would never find them.

He tried to ignore the fact that it was also somewhere a fiancé would never find them either.

Max threw his bag and Michael’s over his shoulder and followed Liz and Maria out the door.

**********************************************************
"This isn’t the way to Isabel’s." Liz commented wearily. She was back in the Cherokee with Max, Ben still sound asleep on the back-seat. Liz was actually beginning to get a little worried about the boy. He had not stirred once since he had fallen asleep in Max’s arms right after coming out of the mindwarp. Max had reassured her though, just reminding her of how tired he used to get when he used his gift.

"I slept solid for sixteen straight hours after I healed you in the Crashdown." Max had told her.

"I never knew that." Liz had said, interested. "You seemed fine the next day."

"I was okay." Max had replied. "Well enough to come to school." He had quirked a grin. "Plus the adrenaline of fear, knowing that I had to tell you something about what I had done, helped keep me alert." He paused. "But I couldn’t use my gift for almost three days. Basic molecular manipulation, sure, but I just knew I wouldn’t be able to heal. The same thing happened when I healed the kids at the hospital that time, but I even shorted out my everyday powers then. Ben’s young still. Keeping the mindwarp up that long totally drained him. I’m amazed he could do it at all."

"He’s a pretty amazing kid, isn’t he." Liz had smiled softly, glancing over her shoulder at the little boy. Every time she looked at him, she noticed something else that reminded her of Alex - whether it was his lanky body or the shape of his hands or even the way his face reposed in sleep. Liz had had enough sleep-overs with Maria and Alex through the years to know both of their sleeping expressions intimately - and Ben looked exactly like Alex when he slept.

"We’re not going to Izzy’s." Max told Liz now. "Michael and Maria are heading over there and they’ll bring them to us."

Liz glanced at him. "Which would be where exactly?" She asked quietly. She tried not to think about the fact that every mile they drove took her a mile further away from her fiancé. Because she was also trying to ignore the fact that, at the moment, she didn’t particularly care, that it was actually somewhat of a relief to not have to feel guilty about being in Max’s presence, because this was about Ben now - about keeping the only part of Alex still with them alive and well.

"Somewhere no one will find us." Max answered grimly, interrupting Liz’s thoughts. He took his eyes off the road for a moment, met hers. When Liz raised an eyebrow at him, he continued. "We’re going to Marathon."

Liz stared at him. "Marathon?" She asked weakly. Max just nodded.

Marathon was in an entirely different state. They weren’t going to get there until morning, if then.

Dan was going to kill her.

And yet, Liz was completely not surprised when she opened her mouth and simply said, "Okay."

That was all. Okay. Because not going to Marathon with Max and Ben was completely out of the question. Because not being with them was completely out of the question.

Because of Ben. Because of who he was.

Not because of Max. Not because of the way he had held his son earlier. Not because he had literally traveled through outer space to retrieve a child that was not even his. Not because Liz knew that one of the reasons Max loved Ben the way he did - completely, even if Ben wasn’t who he was supposed to be - was because he knew it was how Liz would feel about the child.

Not because the way he still looked at her with those eyes of his, in the way that weakened her at the knees, told her that he would do it all again tomorrow. Because of her.

Not because a quest that had started out as a retrieval mission for a child no one had wanted, but one everyone had felt responsible for, had ended up a mission that was destined to bring Max and Liz back together.

She knew it, was still resisting it, but there was no escaping it.

Liz sighed, leaned her head against the cool glass of her window.

The alien abyss was opening beneath her again and was pulling her in so resolutely, resistance was a waste of time.

Hell, if she was completely honest with herself, she didn’t even want to resist. Not anymore.

She was fighting this side of herself, the side that longed to give in, but it was a battle she feared she was going to lose.

Because the enemy held all the weapons. He held her heart, still, after all these years. He held her soul too.

And the real question was whether she could trust him not to use them against her.

Because, the worst part - the absolute worst part - was that she wanted him to.

Part 14

"How did you find out?" Liz asked quietly after they had driven close to fifty miles in silence. It was so sudden, it made Max jump slightly. She had not spoken a word since agreeing that she would accompany he and Ben to Marathon. Max had even wondered at one point if she had fallen asleep. Her eyes were closed, it was past one A.M now after all, and it had been a long, emotionally draining day.

But Max should have known better. She had been thinking, forming questions in that razor sharp mind of hers, formalizing a plan of attack. And now it was time to face the music. He smiled slightly to himself, momentarily remembering another time when she had prepared herself for him in advance.

"I need to know the truth Max. I need to know…everything. Or I’ll - I’m just going to go to Valenti and tell him everything I know."

He had known even then that she would never do such a thing. He had trusted her with his secret because he had the utmost faith in her - it was only after the trip to Antar that he actually knew why he had so trusted her, but that did not negate the fact that he had always believed in her above all others, from the first moment he had laid eyes on her when he was eight years old.

And now it was time to trust her again - with the horrible truth of what he had done while he had been away from her.

"How did I find out what?" He asked, although he knew exactly what she wanted to know.

Liz sighed softly. "About Ben? That he’s Alex’s son." Her tone demonstrated that she was trying to mask her impatience.

"I didn’t know right away." Max admitted. "I only found out when Khivar bragged about it." He frowned slightly. "I had finally learned where he was keeping Ben hidden. The democratic rebellion was in full swing by this point. Ben was in extreme danger because he represented the future of the monarchy. If they had gotten their hands on him, they would have killed him, even though everyone thought he was my son."

"But weren’t you leading the rebellion?" Liz returned, logically. Unfortunately, very little of what had happened on Antar involved logic.

"Technically." Max shrugged. "I told you before. I didn’t really care about the planet’s future one way or the other. They knew it and knew that if Khivar could continue to use my son, he would. They wanted him dead. I just wanted my son and I wanted to get things settled well enough that I wouldn’t be needed there anymore…so that I could live my life out here. It annoyed them. They wanted me to stay around after they won, to help with the transition. It was another reason they wanted Ben dead. They thought that if they killed him, I’d have no reason to come back to Earth."

The Antarians had never understood that it was what he had wanted more than anything - to find his son and return to Earth - to return to Liz and his family and friends. They had not understood that he had never felt any attachment for Antar, even after returning there. Leaving Earth had only reinforced to Max that it was his home, at least in this life. Being on Antar, made it even clearer. He had longed for Earth, longed for all it represented to him - security, happiness, love. He swallowed, hard, remembering how that longing had sustained him. They had not understood anything about him in the end. Not his devotion to a child mothered by his traitorous bride, nor his love for his adopted planet.

It was why he had had to escape them in the end. Because they would have never let him leave. They needed Zan as the figurehead of the new government. What he had needed had not mattered one iota to any of them. It was this one fact that had helped Max to understand what his previous life had been like, what it must have been like to constantly feel as though others were controlling your destiny, that others were making your life for you.

Zan had needed an escape from the trap into which he had been born. He had found it in the arms of a serving girl named Kadiya. Zan had not been strong enough in the end though. He had let them win.

Max had not allowed it.

"Anyway," Max continued, pushing those memories aside for the moment, "Larek got some information that Ben was being kept in a secure holding of Khivar’s near Antar’s northern pole." He paused. "He got the information from Tess."

Max saw Liz flinch out of the corner of his eye. "Why would she help you?" Liz asked, clearly trying to ignore what even the mention of Tess did to her. Max could see that it still affected her, even after all this time.

Max wasn’t sure if he really wanted to answer her. Because Tess had been one of the least logical of all of the problems he had had to deal with on his home planet. Tess’s motivations were ones that still made little sense to him. And they would still hurt Liz.

But he had promised himself that he would tell her the whole truth if he ever got the chance. "Tess was married to Khivar, but she soon learned that she had absolutely no control over him." Max explained. He paused, searching for the right words. "I guess…She started to fantasize about what…well, what might have been…"

"If she had never betrayed you." Liz finished for him.

Max grimaced. "Right. I think she decided that if she could give me my son back, I would take her too. I think she thought that she could convince me to take back the throne, to give up the democracy, for Ben’s sake. She knew that he was the way to control me. He always has been. From the very beginning." Max shook his head in disgust. He still did not understand how her mind had worked. Because, even now, he didn’t think Tess had been evil. She had just been completely blind to anything but her own desires. She had even been willing to sacrifice her own son to achieve them.

"All she wanted was to be queen."

"Right." Max nodded. "It was what she was raised by Nasedo to want and she was never able to get past it. I think she did try, when she lived with the Valentis." Max added. "But when I started to have those memories of my past life on Antar, after the hostage-taking at the Museum, I guess it suddenly didn’t seem so hopeless anymore. And it was around this time that she found out that she was pregnant anyway and she decided to use that too."

There was a long silence as Liz absorbed this. "Which brings us back to what I really want to know." Liz finally said. "About Alex."

"Right. Alex." Max felt a pang of remorse as he reflected on what poor, innocent Alex had been subjected to, simply because he had been a part of their group - and because of his connection to Isabel. "I guess you’ve figured out that they were together while he was supposedly in Sweden?"

"I don’t know anything Max." Liz replied. "All I know is that the Alex I knew would never have been with Tess, of all people."

"He didn’t remember it as being Tess." Max told her. "He remembered her as Leanna. It was how Tess got close to him. He knew he had been with her, but he never knew it was really Tess. Just like he never knew that he was translating the book."

"Mindwarp." Liz breathed, as the realization hit her. "But how on Earth was she so strong that she was able to mindwarp Alex for that long? And if she was pregnant for that long too, shouldn’t she have been showing by the time she left in the granolith?"

"When I connected to the baby, when she first told me that it was dying, I envisioned an almost grown fetus." Max admitted, still feeling a little sheepish at how gullible he had been. If he and Tess had conceived Ben, the baby would have been little more than a tiny grain in her womb. And yet, he still had not questioned it, had simply accepted it. Because why would Tess lie? "She wasn’t working alone either. Nicholas was helping her. He hid her condition from all of us."

"But why was Tess with Alex anyway?" Liz asked, clearly slowly pulling together all the threads of the deception that had resulted in the little boy still fast asleep in the backseat of the car. "I thought she was beginning to accept life in Roswell."

"In the end, she wasn’t in control at all. Khivar was running the whole show. Alex seduced her."

"WHAT???" Liz gasped. She lowered her tone when Ben actually stirred in the backseat. "That’s impossible! Even if he thought she was Leanna….he would never! Not Alex!"

"No." Max agreed. "It wasn’t him. The Leanna ruse wasn’t enough. Just like Larek took over Brody’s body…"

"Oh my God." Max glanced at Liz out of the corner of his eye. She had her hands up at her temples, was rubbing, hard. "Are you telling me that Khivar…"

"Yes. Khivar considers himself to be Ben’s father." He closed his eyes, kept his voice at a flat monotone, as though it could somehow lessen the impact of what he was about to say. "Because he used Alex Whitman to make sure that he was born."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:47:32 PM
Part 15

Liz felt literally sick. She hit the button that controlled the window on her side of the car, took deep breaths, trying to control the bile that was rising in her throat at the thought of Alex taken over - possessed - by the evil alien who had killed Max, Isabel and Michael in their past lives through his traitorous actions.

"Liz, are you okay?" She could hear the concern in Max’s voice. His hand was on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. "Do you want me to stop?"

She closed her eyes, continued to breathe deeply. In, out, in, out.

"Liz?"

She swallowed, turned back to face Max. "I’m okay. It’s all right."

"Are you sure?" She could see the guilt on his face. "Maybe I shouldn’t have told you." There was a pause, then he asked tentatively, "Does this change things? About how you feel about Ben I mean?"

Liz glanced over her shoulder, at the small boy still asleep on the back-seat. His chest was rising and falling evenly. He was so innocent, and whatever Khivar might have thought, Ben was Alex’s. Her lost friend was reflected in the child. Alex lived on in Ben.

"No." Liz replied firmly. "I don’t care what happened. It was Alex who fathered him."

She saw Max nod in agreement. "It’s what I think too. The only good thing about Khivar being involved at all was that he protected Ben. In his mind, having Ben on the throne was like having his own heir on the throne. He didn’t care that everyone thought he was mine, that Ben wasn’t even really his. He liked being the only one who knew that what he considered to be his blood would rule Antar, even after he was gone."

Liz shook her head. "He was really sick, wasn’t he? Why did he hate you so much Max? Or I guess I should say why did he hate Zan so much?"

Max sighed heavily. "For many reasons I think. A lot of it was actually a private struggle, one that very few on the planet really understood. Khivar hated Zan because Zan had everything Khivar had always wanted, and, yet, he was willing to throw it all away by ending the monarchy. He resented that Zan and Rath were so close, that Rath considered Zan to be his brother, even more so than Khivar, who he had always brushed off as a spoiled brat. Because he was. Try and imagine one of those kids whose parents give them everything, but they never think it’s enough. They always want more, want what the other kids have. In the end, it really came down to that. Something as silly and stupid as jealousy."

"So it wasn’t really about Vilandra at all?" Liz hated to admit it, but she found the entire history of Antar fascinating. She knew that she shouldn’t, that they should be trying to figure out what the heck Nicholas wanted with Ben, but she couldn’t help but ask about what had come before.

The weirdest part was that all of it sounded strangely familiar to her - like she had heard it all before. She didn’t understand it, but none of this story was particularly surprising to her. Horrifying and tragic, yes. But surprising, no.

"Khivar wanted Vilandra because he knew that Rath wanted her. He enjoyed making her pine over him, reveled in turning her against Zan. I don’t think it will come as a big shock that Zan, Rath and Vilandra were all very close growing up. It was why she felt so betrayed when Zan refused to allow her to marry Khivar, using tradition and duty as excuses, but then when she found out about Kadi, she lost it. Khivar simply enjoyed creating chaos. And he was very good at it."

"Poor Isabel." Liz whispered. "Are you going to tell her any of this?" She looked at Max’s profile. She could see that his hands were clenching the steering wheel tightly.

For a moment she didn’t think he was going to answer her. He was quiet for that long. And then, "I wasn’t going to." He told her softly. "I wasn’t going to tell them anything about what happened in our past lives or what happened when I was back there getting Ben. I didn’t think they needed to know. They’re human now Liz. They’ve built lives for themselves here." He sighed again. "They both know Khivar is dead. I thought that would be enough, to make them feel secure." He shook his head. "I just don’t know anymore though." She saw him glance in the rear-view mirror at Ben. "Everything’s changed again. They may need to know now, especially if Izzy is going to protect Alexandra."

Liz bit her lip. She could understand why he wouldn’t want to tell them about their past lives, particularly Isabel. She had had a hard enough time dealing with the whole betrayal of Zan issue the first time around, when Congresswoman Whittaker had first told her about it. Isabel seemed to have moved beyond her guilt over that now. Dredging the whole thing up again might be a mistake.

Something else had claimed Liz’s attention though. "Why can’t they know what happened when you were getting Ben?" She asked him. It didn’t make any sense to her. He had been on a mission, one that had recovered an innocent boy from a murderous mother and a psychotic usurper. What shame was there that Max was hiding? He had already made it clear that he felt guilty over something that had happened when he had been on Antar.

"Max, what did you have to do?"

Asking him wasn’t a matter of curiosity this time. She could tell that he needed to tell someone, needed to get it off his chest. And even if they couldn’t be together, they had agreed they were still friends. She could be that person for him. He deserved that much at least.

There was another long silence. She could hear Max’s breathing becoming erratic, as he struggled with what he was about to tell her. "I’ve already told you that I killed Khivar." He finally managed to say.

Liz frowned slightly. "Yes. I’m guessing you had no choice Max. After all he had done to you and your family, he more than deserved it. And you had to make sure that he never came after any of you again."

"Liz, you don’t understand. You can’t understand what it’s like to take a life. Even an evil one." Max continued urgently. Liz felt her eyes widening. Of course she didn’t understand. She had never even thought about it actually. "But I didn’t just kill Khivar. You have no idea how many people I had to kill to get to Ben. How many people I had to send out to die to get to him. And most of those people were just doing their jobs, defending the one they considered to be their leader." Liz heard his voice crack slightly. "I understood so easily why Zan had hated being a king. It’s an awful position Liz, being responsible for all those people, for their lives, being able to throw away their lives so easily."

"Max…" Liz felt her heart going out to him. She understood, finally, where the haunted look that she had seen in his eyes came from. It was hidden well, but Max was being tortured internally for what he had had to do to assure the safety of one child. Because, at his core, Max Evans was a healer. Killing and sending others to their deaths must have gone absolutely against his nature.

She flashed back to the days leading up to when he had left her, when they had been 18. The Max who had robbed that convenience store, the Max who had gone to Los Angeles, he had been desperate, driven to do crazy things. In the end, he had had to do even more awful things to save the child he had thought was his son.

He was still speaking though, ignoring her attempt to comfort him. "Liz, I’ve ruined lives. So many of them. It all started with Langley. He hated my guts you know. He betrayed me the minute we got back to Antar because whatever control I had over him disappeared as soon as we landed. He despised me that much. I had taken that much away from him. But he was only the beginning." He paused, amended, "Well, it started before that actually. I hurt the people I loved the most, you, Isabel, my parents, and then I went off to another planet and hurt people I didn’t even know."

"Max, you didn’t ruin my life." Liz exclaimed, desperate to get him to stop. "You saved my life. You hurt me, yes, but I have a life because of you." He frowned slightly, took his eyes off the road to glance at her. "And don’t you think talking to Michael about this might help you? He’s experienced it before too. Killing someone I mean."

Max shook his head. "It’s different Liz. He was saving Valenti’s life. I deliberately sent people to their deaths, ordered their deaths. All because I was the king and I could."

"Max, that’s what leaders do! It’s what they have to do!"

"I know." Max replied simply. "But it’s not easy. And Michael and Isabel don’ t need to know about any of it. They aren’t leaders in this life and they don’ t need to know what they did before, when they were. It changes you, knowing what you can do when you’re in charge. Knowing sometimes that you have to do it, even if you’re a good leader."

Liz just stared at him. She had no idea what to say to him. She almost thought that he didn’t want her to say anything. The burden that he carried on his shoulders was not a light one, but she had the idea that he had no intention of ever letting go of it. It was like the one thing he could do to make up for all that he felt he had done to so many others, was to never let himself forget it.

"What are you thinking?" Max asked after another long silence. His voice sounded tentative, a little unsure, as though he thought that after she had had time to absorb all this, she would start to be disgusted by him, in the same way she just knew that he was disgusted by himself.

She couldn’t help it. She reached out and placed her hand on his knee, squeezed gently. "I’m thinking that you’ve changed Max. A lot. You’ve become the leader you were supposed to be, before Tess interfered that is."

Max snorted, but she could see the slight smile that appeared on his face. She felt a flash of pure pleasure that she had made him feel even slightly better.

But, what he did next, so surprised her, she didn’t know what to think. He took one hand off the steering wheel, picked up her hand and gently placed it back in her own lap.

Liz blinked, felt a momentary stab of embarrassment and pain. She had no time to reflect on what that could have possibly meant though, because she jumped about two feet when a piercing ringing suddenly filled the interior of the Jeep.

It took her a moment to realize it was her cell phone.

She could see that Max was frowning slightly now, but he didn’t say anything as she hurriedly opened her purse and pulled out the small communication device. "Hello?"

"Elizabeth! Where are you? I’m worried sick!"

Liz grimaced, brought a hand up to her temple. She suddenly had a splitting head-ache.

It was Dan and he sounded extremely irritated. And he was still talking. "I went back to Jesse and Isabel’s after a couple of hours, to make sure that you were all right after your conversation with Max, and found Maria and that annoying boyfriend of hers there. They were all running around frantically and refused to tell me anything about where you are! And then they just left! Has he kidnapped you or something?" Now the underlying note of panic in his voice was becoming more and more clear to Liz.

"Dan, of course Max hasn’t kidnapped me!" Liz exclaimed. She frowned when she saw a smirk appear on Max’s face out of the corner of her eye, turned towards the window, attempting to ignore the fact that he was listening to everything she was saying.

She wondered if she imagined hearing him mutter, "Not yet anyway." She whipped her head around to stare at him, but he was gazing innocently out the front windshield.

"Do you want to stop for something to eat?" Max asked suddenly, far louder than necessary. She couldn’t believe her eyes when he actually had the gall to turn his head and grin at her.

"Are you still with him?" Dan demanded in her ear. "It’s three o’clock in the morning!"

Liz scowled at Max. "Yes, I’m still with him." She had no idea what to say after that. She couldn’t tell Dan where they were going, nor that they weren’t going to be back at Isabel’s anytime in the near future. "His son is sick. I’m helping him." She closed her eyes, grimaced again, waiting for the reaction to that.

"Oh. I see. Well, I can understand why everyone was so upset then, I guess." Dan answered grudgingly. "But why wouldn’t they tell me that?"

"I don’t know." Liz replied, deciding that playing dumb was better than trying to come up with an excuse. "I’ll talk to Maria about it."

"I don’t think Maria likes me very much." Dan sighed heavily.

"Honey, she loves you! They all do. They were just worried." Liz told him helplessly. She so did not have time for this right now.

"Well, are you at a hospital?" Dan asked hopefully. "Can I come help too?"

He was so sweet. Liz knew that he was beginning to get freaked out about how strange she had been acting over the past couple of days, and still he wanted to help. Liz felt a stab of guilt as she piled another lie on top of the ones that had come before. "Thanks so much Honey. I’m sure Max would really appreciate that so much…" She ignored the snort that came from the seat next to her. "But it would just be too many people. It best to have the people he knows around him. Do you understand?"

"Of course. How long do you think you’ll be?"

"Oh, a couple of days…"

"A COUPLE OF DAYS?" Dan yelled. "Where is this hospital anyway? Outer space? Is the kid dying?"

Liz flinched, held the phone away from her ear. Those last two questions had been a little too close to the mark for comfort. She almost started to laugh hysterically. "Dan, calm down. Please. You promised that you would trust me."

"Elizabeth, I think that you’re asking me to be a little too trusting here." Dan retorted. "We’re getting married in four days. We have planning to do! I’m sorry the kid is sick, but can’t Max’s family deal with it?"

"Well…"

"Tell me where you are. I’m coming to get you!" Dan insisted. "This is craziness. Is he brainwashing you or something? Your dad was so right."

Liz frowned. "What did my dad say to you?"

"He told me that I could trust you but that I couldn’t trust Max Evans." Dan snapped back. "Just a few minutes ago as a matter of fact."

"Are you kidding me? My dad said that? It’s been eight years for God’s sake. You’d think he would have gotten over some of this by now!"

She looked at Max, who was now frowning again.

"Well, apparently he was right!" Dan retorted. "I just know that guy is up to something." She heard him mutter.

"Dan, do you or do you not trust me?" Liz demanded, getting angry despite herself. None of this was Dan’s fault, and yet she was furious at him. More than likely because he had every right not to trust her. He shouldn’t trust her. She was flat-out lying to him.

But she had no choice. She could not leave Ben - not when his life was in danger.

There was a long pause. "Yes." It sounded like he was forcing himself to say it.

Liz sighed. "I am really sorry about this. I swear I’ll explain everything when I see you."

"In two days?" He asked, sounding annoyed.

"In two days." She repeated. Or three, she added mentally to herself. She refused to think about what it would mean if she wasn’t sure that Ben was safe after three days. "I’ll call you in a few hours. Try and get some sleep. I swear to you that everything is fine."

There was another long pause. "Elizabeth, please remember that I love you."

"I know you do. I do too." Liz replied. She didn’t question why she couldn’t say the words themselves. She knew it was because Max was sitting right beside her, listening, not even trying to pretend that he wasn’t.

She just could not tell Dan that she loved him in front of Max.

It was a bad sign. She knew it was.

"Bye." She whispered, clicking off.

Liz swallowed, felt tears pricking her eyes. She blinked rapidly, refused to let them fall.

Max did not say anything. Neither did she. The tension in the air could be cut with a knife.

Had she really only found out that he was back on the planet twelve hours ago? If felt like twelve years. She was suddenly, inexplicably exhausted.

"How much further?" She finally asked, when she couldn’t take the uncomfortable silence any longer.

"Only a couple more hours." Max replied. And then, "Liz, you should go back. Once Michael and Isabel arrive, I want you to take Maria and I want you to go back to Roswell."

Liz turned her head, stared at him. She could tell by the look on his face that he meant it.

"Max, no." She shook her head. "I’m not leaving him."

I’m not leaving you.

The thought ran unbidden through her mind. She suppressed it ruthlessly. This was not about Max and her unresolved feelings for him.

This was entirely about Ben now.

"Liz, this is screwing up your life." Max told her gently. "It’s not fair. I promise you that I will keep Ben safe."

"By taking him away." Liz snapped, not really angry, but not able to help her tone.

Max just sighed, didn’t reply.

"No." She repeated. And she meant it. "I don’t want to discuss it anymore." She added. "You’re not going to get rid of me, so just drop it."

There was another long stretch of silence, and then Liz said, "Do you think that Alex knew that he was a father? That he knew what happened?"

She felt Max turn his head, felt his eyes on her questioningly. She ignored the fact that she had so completely changed the subject. "I don’t know." Max finally replied. "Do you?"

"He knew he was being mind-warped." Liz answered. "He came out of it right before Tess killed him. Kyle told us that." She added. "I wonder how much of what really happened, he remembered?"

"Do you think it would have been better if he had known?" Max asked.

"I don’t know." Liz felt extremely weary again. She leaned her head against the cool window, closed her eyes. "He didn’t love Tess."

"A lot of kids are wanted, even if they aren’t conceived in love." Max commented.

Liz opened her eyes, stared straight ahead. "You always loved him. Even though you didn’t love Tess." She paused. "It must have hurt to find out he wasn’t yours."

"It did at first." Max shrugged. "I felt like I had sacrificed so much for nothing. But then I met him. And I loved him for him."

"And because he was Alex’s."

"Right. And he is mine in every way that counts."

"Would you ever give him up?" Liz asked cautiously. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. But it was a question she had to know the answer to. She wasn’t sure why, but she needed to know. She wondered if a small part of her didn’t hope that he said yes, so that she could take Ben and she and Dan could raise him together.

Because that would be safe. She wouldn’t have to face Max Evans for the rest of her life. Because if she intended to play an important role in Ben’s life, and if Max was his father, she was going to have to.

Max seemed to understand though. He didn’t sound angry when he said quietly. "Never." There was another long silence and then Max added. "Liz, you don’t have to be with me to be a part of his life. I swear I will never keep him away from you."

Liz didn’t answer, just closed her eyes again.

Because that wasn’t what was scaring her. She knew that Max would never keep her away from Ben.

What frightened her was that she was beginning to think that someone was going to have to keep her away from Max.

Because with every mile they drove, she felt the distance between them disappearing, felt the desire to be with him returning more strongly.

He had been gone for eight years and in twelve hours he was undoing all the pain and heart-break and sorrow he had caused when he had left. How was it even possible? And she didn’t even think that he was trying. That was the worst part.

"Max?"

"Yeah?"

She couldn’t believe what she was about to ask him. She didn’t even know if he would be honest with her now, because she had made it more than clear to him that she was uninterested in any sort of future with him.

"Did you really think that I would be waiting for you when you got back?"

She heard him swallow. Finally, he whispered, "Yes."

Liz didn’t say anything else.

Because she wasn’t allowed to say what she wanted[/it] to say

Twelve hours ago she would have been angry at him for admitting it.

Now, all she wanted to say was: I wish I had been.
posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:50:17 PM
Part 16

The sky was beginning to brighten as Max pulled the Cherokee to a stop. He glanced at Liz, who had fallen asleep in the passenger seat an hour or so before. He knew that she had resisted it for as long as possible, clearly still not entirely comfortable letting go that much in his company, but her fatigue had finally taken over. It had been a long, emotional day for both of them. She had needed an escape and sleep had provided it - at least for the time being.

He smiled slightly to himself, took a moment just to enjoy looking at her. She was still so incredibly beautiful to him, it almost took his breath away. Her dark hair brushed the side of her neck, framing the soft skin of her face, slightly flushed in sleep, making his fingers ache to reach out and touch her. To him, she did not look a day older. Her being still called to him, sang to his soul in a way he could not ever get tired of.

Her perfection in his eyes was almost maddening because it was inescapable and now, again, unattainable.

It still felt weird to actually have her right in front of him. He had dreamt of it for so long, it almost felt unreal, as though he was soon going to wake up, going to have to return to the loneliness, the solitude of the past few years.

Just being with her filled the empty places in his heart, places he had known would not be complete again until he was with her. That there seemed to be no hope for their relationship in the future did not change this fact. It was the same as it had always been, even in the days before she had known the truth about him, before he had healed her, when he had sat in a booth at the Crashdown, content just to be in the same room as his dreamgirl. His soul ached to be with hers, if even only so simply.

He had never understood the obsession he had always harboured for Liz Parker, had always simply embraced it, had accepted it as a part of his make-up that made little sense and had less hope, perhaps merely an aching need to feel human, if only in that small way. When he had actually had the chance to be with her, it had turned out to be even more intense, more fulfilling, more right than he had ever even imagined in his wildest dreams.

And he had been the one to throw it all away. It was irretrievably lost, but it did not mean that he could not remember what it had been like, did not secretly hope that it could be regained. He knew it was unfair to her, knew that he had been wrong to tease her about Dan when her fiancé had called, but he had been unable to stop himself.

Because, even if they were never together again, he knew that they were supposed to be, and it made him unable to control himself sometimes. It was almost more than he could bear to know that Kadiya had made the ultimate sacrifice so that they could be together eventually, and now, it had gone all wrong again.

He was doing his best to keep his promise, the promise he had made to her that he would not interfere in her life, but it was a battle he was losing. All he wanted to do was kiss her and demand that she admit that they belonged together, that Dan had simply been a distraction, a place-holder for he, Max. He was actually longing for Michael to arrive with the others, so that a buffer zone could be established, so that he did not have to hold himself quite so rigidly, quite so distantly any more.

It was a relief to get out of the car. Max took several deep breaths, stretched his arms over his head and then rubbed his neck. He was exhausted, not only from the long car ride, but from the tumult of emotion that had been his constant companion since he had first heard that Liz was getting married to someone else.

The confined space had become almost too much, especially during some of the more intense moments of their conversation over the course of the night. It had taken all of his willpower to move her hand away from him when she had touched him at one point. He had wanted to bring her palm to his lips, had wanted to make love to that small hand, until she understood how much merely being in her presence meant to him, affected him.

He had known it had simply been her way of comforting him though, had not wanted to make her uncomfortable. Instead, he had spent the rest of the long ride to Marathon in a state of heightened arousal, beyond what he had become used to in her company. The spot where she had touched him still burned now, as though in a promise unfulfilled.

Max shook his head sharply, forced himself to focus on the problem at hand. Pining over Liz was a waste of time and it was also selfish, considering his son’s life was presently still in acute danger.

He was standing in front of William Atherton’s dome-shaped house, a place he had never expected to see again. Max wasn’t sure why he had thought of it when a place to hide had become necessary, but there was no question that it was secluded, as well as deserted, standing as it did in the middle of the desert, not another house around for miles.

And the memories associated with it had been poignant and tempting. He admitted to himself that he had liked the idea of driving 285 South with Liz again, had secretly harboured a hope that the return to a place where they had shared one of their first adventures might inspire her to re-embrace the magical feeling of being together at any cost, through any problem. It was immature and stupid, but it was true.

Now, looking at the dump that stood in front of him, Max grimaced to himself and shook his head in annoyance. Making this place livable, if even for 24 hours was going to take a lot of energy - energy he didn’t particularly have at the moment. He glanced back longingly at the Jeep, wondered if he could justify driving to a nearby motel, if even for a few hours of shut eye before the others arrived and they decided on a plan of action. He could see Ben still sprawled on the back-seat, sound asleep. Liz had not stirred either, even when the car had stopped.

Max sighed again, moved towards the door. He didn’t have the luxury of taking chances. He needed to be where he had told Michael he would be. It was what a leader did and he knew that better than anyone. Changing the plan half-way through was the way to get people killed. They had agreed that they would refrain from cell-phone calls for as long as possible after all, Max more than aware of the Skins technological capabilities after fighting them for so long on Antar. Patching themselves into communication frequencies was one of the easiest ways to get information.

As far as Nicholas knew right now, they were lost, which is what they needed to stay.

He pushed open the door after snapping the lock back with his powers.

The main dome area was still as bare as it had been over ten years ago. He made his way through to the living quarters at the back, found the bedroom easily. They had not been in it during their raid the first time and it looked like no one else had been since then either. The dust hung heavily in the air, made Max want to sneeze. It would not do.

He ran his hand lightly over the surface of the double bed, using his powers to clean the sheets and the mattress beneath. Liz and Ben could share it. He would bring in the sleeping bag he kept in the back of the Jeep to use for himself.

He had barely finished when the creak of the main door and movement in the outer room made him whip his head around.

"Dad?"

It was Ben, sounding half-asleep. "I’m in here kiddo," Max called out, standing up and going out to meet his son.

Ben stood in the middle of the dome, looking up, an awe-struck expression on his face. "What is this place? It looks just like Antar Dad!"

"Yeah. The guy who used to live here had a mild obsession with our culture." Max told him wryly.

"It’s kind of weird." Ben assessed, turning around and staring at all the corners. He grimaced. "I don’t like it."

"We won’t be here for long." Max replied. "I promise." He moved forward, reached out to ruffle Ben’s blond hair. "How’re you feeling? You used up a lot of energy last night."

"Tired." Ben admitted. "But I did it Dad! I saved Michael and Maria! I was really scared, but I still did it!"

Max felt his heart enter his throat. "I know you were Buddy. I’m really proud of you." He pulled Ben against him, hugging him tightly.

"Is he going to come back? That guy?" Ben asked, his voice trembling slightly.

"He won’t get anywhere near you again. I promise." Max said, meaning it.

"Good." Ben replied. "He was really creepy and scary. I could feel him coming from a really long way off. He just felt…bad." He frowned slightly, shaking his curly, blond head thoughtfully. And with that, he let it go. He wandered off to investigate their surroundings.

Max closed his eyes briefly, knew that his son was willing to forget about the incident because he trusted Max to keep him safe. He had no idea how much danger he was still in, that they still had no idea what the hell Nicholas wanted with the child. Max had already let him down once, by letting Nicholas near him. It was not going to happen again.

"Benno, I’m going to get your stuff out of the car and then you’re going to go back to bed for a while." Max called out to him. Ben had disappeared into the back living quarters, still looking around.

"Awww, Dad. It’s morning!" He poked his head out from the doorway that led to Atherton’s office. "Hey! I have to go to school! I promised Ray and Hunter that I would bring the hockey cards Michael gave me to show them."

Max grimaced. "No school for a few days." He sighed. "For you or Mrs. Ramirez."

Ben stared at him. "What do you mean?"

"Michael played a little trick on us." Max told him wryly. "It turns out that your teacher is your Aunt Isabel Ben."

"Weird." Ben shrugged. "And you know Liz too." He looked towards the door leading outside. "I really like Liz Dad. I’m glad she’s the one you told me about. Is that why she’s here?" He asked. "Because you were right? She loves me already?"

Max smiled sadly. "That’s why she’s here kiddo." Max felt a stab of guilt when the thought passed through his mind that he wished it wasn’t the only reason. Jealousy of his own child was not a good thing. Not a good thing at all.

He needed help. Serious help.

"Cool." Ben moved towards the door. "Do you want me to wake her up?"

"I guess you’d better." He immediately thrust several ideas of how he would like to wake up Liz from his thoughts, sighing as he turned and went back to the bedroom to continue his cleaning.

****************************************************************

"You came back." She stared at him, her heart in her throat. She had thought that she would never see him again, that their last night together had been something she was going to have to hold on to for the rest of her lonely existence. And, yet, here he stood, staring at her, his eyes shining with despair.

So it was done then. The look on his face told her everything she needed to know.

"I had to see you." He said, his voice husky with emotion.

"You didn’t even say good-bye." She told him quietly, inanely. How it could be important now, she didn’t know, but it was.

"I couldn’t. I would never have found the strength to go if I had." He swallowed. She could see that he was trying not to reach out for her, knew that he was aching to haul her against him, just as she was trying desperately to control the urge to throw herself into his arms.

But he was not hers. Not any longer.

"It’s too late." She whispered.

"I know." His face was telling her that, in his mind, it was not though. All she had to do was bend, if even a little, and they could still be together.

"It has to be my love. There was no other way." She repeated the words she had told him many times before, since the very first day. And, yet, she had given in every time.

This time she could not. She had to be strong.

"There is." He replied, shaking his head. "I know it. I am the king."

She smiled sadly, "But you would not be the king any longer. You would have to give up your throne and I cannot allow you to do it."

"It means nothing without you." He replied, turning away. "My life means nothing."

She moved up behind him, knowing it was a mistake, but unable to see him in such pain. She reached out a tentative hand, touched him on the shoulder. "Antar and your family must come first. I cannot ask you to throw them all away for me. It is not right."

He turned on her then, his expression one of tortured rage. But she knew that it was not truly directed at her but, rather, at the destiny he could not control, no matter how much he tried to. "It is not right that I should be trapped in a life I don’t want! This planet is decaying from the inside out and the monarchy is at the root of it. It is wrong that the fate of an entire system rests in the power of one man. I don’t want to be that man, and yet, I am, because of a twist of fate I did not ask for. All I want is you!" With that, he groaned in agony, pulled her against him, burying his face against her neck.

She knew that she should pull away, knew that it was wrong, that he was newly married, that he belonged to her mistress now, but she could not turn him away. Not when he was in such pain.

"Please Kadi. Please!" She felt his lips on her hair, on her cheek, on her eyelids. She felt her heart thundering in her chest as they finally came to rest where they belonged - on her own. "Please." He whispered between kisses. "I will leave her. I will announce it to the galaxy tonight. I will give it all up. All you must do is allow it." Her knees were giving out on her, his gentle assault on her senses too much. She felt him sweep her up in his arms as she stumbled. But she was too lost in him to stop him. She opened her mouth to him, pulled him closer.

He was hers. Zan. She could not turn him away. "Yes. Very well." She sobbed. "I cannot be strong any longer." And with that she allowed herself to let go.

"You are the strongest person I know." He whispered against her hair, much later, as she lay spent in his arms. "It is your strength that allows me to do what, I know in my heart, is right. We are meant to be together and I am meant to lead my planet to a new era of freedom. And it will start tonight."

"Yes. Yes! I know it will be." She murmured, drifting off, her head cradled against his chest, her hand locked in his. Her last conscious thought was of his kiss on her palm.


Until she felt someone shaking her. "Wake up! It’s time to wake up…Liz!"

And then, "DAD! I can’t get Liz to wake up! I think you’re going to have to carry her!"

Liz recognized the voice, felt as though she was swimming up through thick soup, as her eyes fluttered open. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to get her bearings as the world came into focus.

She blinked at Max, who was presently staring down at her, an amused expression on his face. "Did you have a nice nap?" He asked teasingly. She could see Ben trying to see around his father’s body, jumping around with far too much energy for the early hour. It was making her tired just looking at him.

Max pushed Ben gently away as he moved back to allow her to climb out of the car.

"Is she awake? I thought she might be dead." The boy was staring at her. Liz felt herself blushing. How long had they been trying to wake her up anyway? "Do you always sleep like that?" He asked, sounding suspicious. "You were talking in your sleep. Dad says we’re going to have to share the bed, but I don’t know if this is going to work."

Liz glanced at Max, who simply raised an eyebrow at her. She blushed for some reason she did not understand. "No." She replied nervously, running her hands through her hair. "I think I was having a weird dream." She told Ben, who suddenly looked interested.

"Really? What was it about?" He asked, taking her hand and pulling her towards the house.

Liz threw her head back, stared up at the dome, memories of the last time she had been there instantly filling her mind, making her shiver to herself. It was funny how truly frightening experiences could take on an almost unreal feeling over the years. But she still remembered her terror for Max and Isabel and Michael when they had realized that someone had followed them to Marathon.

She had never feared for herself here. Because what would anyone want with a small-town girl from Roswell? For her, it had always been about protecting Max and the others. And now it was about protecting Ben.

"I’m not sure." She told the boy now. "But it was very strange. I think your dad was in it." She added, without thinking.

Now where the heck had that come from? Liz frowned, annoyed at herself. But she knew it was true. Max had been in the dream. In what context, she didn’t have any idea, but the way her face was warming up at the moment, she was beginning to guess.

She glanced back at Max, who was following closely, obviously eavesdropping. His startled look was already transforming itself into a self-satisfied smile that made her want to punch him.

"It must have been a nightmare." She told Ben quickly. He laughed, clearly thinking she was teasing him.

But Max continued to smirk, moving past her on his way into the house, his hand accidentally brushing against her arm, sending a shiver down her spine. He grinned at her again as he picked Ben up and threw him over his shoulder, turning his back on her completely.

She stared after him as he carried the child through a doorway across the room. She was more confused than ever. Was he not the one who had not wanted her touching him, only a few short hours ago?

And then she understood. It came to her so suddenly, it took a moment for her to move past her astonishment and into full on rage.

But it did not take long.

It was all part of some devious plot he had cooked up. He was trying to drive her crazy by pretending that he wasn’t interested in her, in hopes that it would make her fall right into his arms. And it was working! Had she or had she not just had an incredibly, embarrassingly detailed dream about him making love to her? Because it was all coming back to her now in excruciating detail. She could still feel his hands on her body, touching her in ways he had never touched her, not even in their most intimate moments as teenagers.

Liz pursed her lips, crossed her arms and forced the thoughts out of her mind. A dream was simply a dream, nothing more. She was not going to let him get to her. She had to be stronger willed than this. She loved Dan.

And there was no way on God’s green Earth she was sharing a bedroom with him. He had to be crazy if he thought so. He could just bloody well sleep in the car.

Liz stomped over to the door where Max and Ben had disappeared, ready to toss Max out on his ear if need be.

When she entered, she was surprised to find a fairly clean and comfortable looking bedroom, where Max was already pulling the blankets up around his son.

"I still don’t get why I have to go back to sleep." Ben was muttering. "It’s light out and I’m not tired at all." Liz felt her anger draining out of her almost immediately. She couldn’t help but smile because this last bit was said through an almost side-splitting yawn.

"Just for a little while." Max replied, glancing up at Liz briefly and then back at his son. "You can get up when Michael and Auntie Izzy get here. You’re going to have to help look after Lexi after all. You need your sleep."

"Who’s Lexi?" Ben asked through another yawn. "I don’t like girls."

"She’s not just a girl." Max told him, sounding amused again. "She’s your cousin and she’s really only a baby."

"Well, that’s okay I guess." Ben grumbled, closing his eyes. But when Max moved to stand up, Ben’s hand snapped out and grabbed his arm. "Dad, don’t go."

"I’m going to be right here kiddo." Max replied softly, disentangling himself. "Just over there on the floor."

Ben’s eyes were open again. "Why can’t we all sleep together?" He demanded. "It’s a really big bed Dad." Liz could tell that he was trying to keep his voice steady. She could hear the tremor though. She felt her heart go out to him. He had had a major scare the night before, probably still had no idea why either. He needed to feel as secure as possible right now. He was looking at her now, his eyes bright. "It’s okay, right Liz?"

She glanced at Max, who looked upset. She could tell that he was trying not to look at her, trying not to pressure her to agree to this. Her heart was beating wildly, for no reason that made any sense. "You take the bed Max." She said. "I’ll sleep on the floor."

Ben frowned. "That’s dumb." He argued, with the logic of which only children were capable. "This is the biggest bed I’ve ever seen!" He exclaimed. "I bet we could fit fifty people in it."

"Well, maybe not that many." Liz laughed. She just shook her head. She could deal with this. They were just going to sleep after all, Ben was going to be between them, and Max was embarrassed enough now to not even want to look at her. He was staring at the wall, an unreadable expression on his face. "It’s okay." She decided. "It’s only a nap anyway." Max’s head whipped around. He stared at her, apparently shocked that she had agreed to it.

So maybe he didn’t have a plan after all.

"Right." Ben declared. "We need our sleep Dad. You said so yourself."

Max sighed heavily. "Fine." But Ben was already closing his eyes and drifting off. "Liz, you don’t have to do this." Max whispered after staring down at this son for a moment. "He won’t even notice the difference. He’s already asleep."

Liz shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. "I think he will Max. And he needs to feel safe right now."

Max ran a hand through his hair. "Well, okay. If you’re sure." He turned his back, sat down on the bed again and started to unlace his shoes. Liz watched him for a full minute before she jumped, realized what she was doing and gently sat down on the other side to do the same.

She settled back carefully against the pillow, closing her eyes. She felt the bed shift slightly as Max did the same on the other side. A feeling of peace so unexpectedly settled over her, her eyes snapped open again.

For one split second, the entire world had shifted, had felt supremely right in a way that she could not explain. In a way she had never thought to experience again. In a way she realized she had not experienced in a very long time.

She jumped slightly when the silence that had descended over the room was broken by Max, who whispered, "Liz?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you." It was simply stated but it made her heart beat a mile a minute.

She swallowed. "You’re welcome." She whispered back, turning onto other side so that she met his eyes over Ben, who was already sound asleep and snoring slightly.

His dark eyes were bright with a longing so intense, she felt her heart turn over in her chest. "Have a good sleep." She said lightly, trying to break the moment.

He broke eye contact with her, turned over onto his back, throwing his arm over his face. "Sweet dreams." He replied quietly. She felt her heart beating a mile a minute again, just looking at him.

Liz turned over again, knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was going to dream of him.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:51:23 PM
Part 17

"Dad? Dad, are you awake?"

The first thing of which he became aware as he drifted back to consciousness was that his entire body felt like it was on fire.

The second was that there was a small hand pushing against his back impatiently. But, for some reason, the absolute last thing he wanted to do at the present time was open his eyes.

He realized why a moment later.

He was rapidly becoming aware of a soft pressure against his neck, where the heat seemed to be centered, although he was becoming increasingly aware that it was ranged all the way down his right side.

His entire body tensed immediately.

He was not going to open his eyes. If he opened his eyes the dream would end and Liz Parker would no longer be curled up against him, her lips somehow, miraculously, pressed against his neck.

"Dad?" The whine came again, more insistent this time. "Dad, I’m hungry."

Max groaned, tried to ignore the fact that his son was still tapping him on the back in a steady rhythm.

Apparently Ben was no longer in the middle of the bed. He was no longer creating a physical barrier between Max and Liz and apparently his disappearance had been all it had taken for them to somehow end up in each other’s arms.

His right arm was completely numb, entirely due to the fact that Liz was lying on top of it. He felt goose-bumps rising along his neck. It felt like her arm, where it was flung across his chest, was scalding him right through his shirt.

Clothes. Was he actually wearing clothes? How could she be making him feel this way when they were both fully dressed?

"DAD!"

Max grimaced, let his eyes snap open. "Okay Ben! Be quiet! You’re going to wake Liz."

He could not move. If he moved, she was going to wake up and she was going to realize what had happened and she was going to flip out.

There were other reasons that he didn’t want to move, but he chose to ignore those at the moment.

Waking her - it was unacceptable. Especially considering the fact that she looked so peaceful.

He had managed to move his head so that he could look down at her. Her dark lashes teased her flushed cheeks, her breathing regular and even.

"I’m whispering!" Ben insisted from behind him. "But Dad, we missed breakfast! And lunch!" His voice was rising in outrage. "My stomach is growling! GROWLING!"

Max flinched as he felt Liz jump in her sleep, moan slightly. Her eyelashes began to flutter.

Oh hell.

And the next instant he was staring right into her dark eyes.

Damage control. He needed it - fast. He could see her eyes widening as she became aware of exactly where she was.

"Good morning." He said quietly.

"It’s afternoon Dad." Ben complained from nearby. Max realized that his son was back on the bed and was crawling up towards the head of the bed on Liz’s other side. "I checked my watch. I’ve been awake for a whole hour! I tried to be quiet, but I’m too hungry."

But Max was not listening to his son. He was watching helplessly as panic began to cross Liz’s expressive face.

And the next instant she was gone. He barely managed to control the shiver that ran down his frame at the sudden loss of her warmth. He sat up quickly, staring after her.

His entire body was screaming for her by now, was urging him to grab her by the hand as she threw herself off the bed, telling him to pull her back down beside him and give her a reason to stay.

A reason that preferably involved a lot of touching.

She stood at the end of the bed for one long, charged moment, her eyes locked with his. And then she turned - and ran.

"Is Liz okay?" Ben asked, apparently forgetting his stomach as Liz went stumbling out of the room. He sounded scared suddenly, as though he thought he might have done something wrong. "Is she mad because I woke you up?"

Max sighed heavily, ran his hands wearily through his hair as he swung his feet over the side of the bed and stood. "I’m sure she’s not mad at you kiddo. Just let me go talk to her for a sec okay?" He moved towards the door, turning before he got there, remembering something Michael had told him before he left the apartment. "There are some chips and sandwiches in my bag. We’ll get something better later."

"Okay." Ben still sounded unsure, but as Max left the room he could hear him begin to rummage around for the food.

Liz was not in the main dome area, nor was she in the office or the kitchen. He could see that the door leading to the small bathroom was closed and after standing there for a moment, he reached up and knocked softly. "Liz? Liz, are you okay?"

He frowned as he heard running water begin behind the door. He pounded a little harder. "Liz, please open the door."

There was a long pause. He heard the water shut off and then stepped back as she cracked open the door.
"I’m fine Max. Can I just have a second here?" Her voice sounded distinctly weird though.

"Liz, it was an accident." Max told her quietly. "It didn’t mean anything. You were asleep."

Of course the fact that he was hoping that it had meant something made his voice sound slightly less than convincing.

He heard Liz sigh. She opened the door wide, stood there staring at him. "I love my fiancé." She said.

"I know." He didn’t know what else to say, had no idea what to say to her to make her feel better.

Because after he had betrayed her by sleeping with Tess, nothing she could have said would have ever eased the guilt he had felt. Nothing anyone could have said would have helped.

Nothing would ever erase the way he had felt when he had seen the look on her face when she had understood what had happened between he and Ben’s mother. Or, at least, what he had thought had happened.

He knew that she was presently picturing Dan’s face as he found out about this.

Dan, who had trusted her. Dan, who she was supposed to spend the rest of her life with.

"Max…" She had closed her eyes, was leaning tiredly against the door-frame, looking for all the world like she was ready to give up.

But give up what?

"Yeah?"

And then she said something so completely off topic, he blinked.

"Can you even begin to understand how much I missed you when you were gone?" She whispered.

He didn’t know what to say, just stared at her. He wouldn’t have been capable of speech anyway. His heart was presently lodged in his throat.

"I don’t think you can." She continued, as though not really expecting an answer. "Because I, myself, wasn’t aware of how much until three minutes ago." She paused, opened her eyes and looked beyond him, unseeing. "Until I woke up in your arms and felt like I had come home, I had absolutely no idea."

"Liz…"

"No, just listen. Please." Liz cut him off urgently. "I know you’re about to say that you understand, that you missed me too." He swallowed, because that had been exactly what he was about to say. "But you can’t understand, because, tell me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you, in your heart, always know that if you stayed alive long enough, you would see me again?"

He had no idea what she was getting at, but nodded. "I knew."

"Which is why you expected me to wait for you," she added.

Max grimaced. It sounded bad, but it was true. He had expected it, because he knew that he would get back to Earth someday, that he would see her again. And somehow he had expected that she would know that too and that she would wait.

"But Max, the thing is, when you left, without even saying good-bye…" Her voice faltered. He could see tears beginning to form in her brown eyes. "I couldn’t know if you were ever coming back. I didn’t know. And so the way I missed you…It was like you had died. I had to let go. I had to, or I wouldn’t have survived it."

He felt his heart crack. Because he suddenly knew exactly what she was telling him. But he let her say it anyway. She had the right, after everything, to at least say it. "I can’t do it again Max. I let go of you once. I survived it. And, the thing is, I still love you. But we don’t belong together. I can’t let myself feel everything I know I would feel because I would not live through it a second time."

"I’m not going anywhere Liz." He told her, despite himself. He had promised her that he wouldn’t coerce her, wouldn’t try and convince her. But he had to. She was Liz. No matter how hard he told himself that he had to let her go, had to let her live her own life, she was Liz and they belonged together.

She smiled sadly. "Logically I know that Max. I understand that you’re here for good. But, I just can’t do it. Not again." Tears were gleaming unshed in her eyes. He could tell that she was only holding them back by the sheer force of her will, which was considerable. Had it not been she who had convinced him all those years ago that they owed it to themselves to try and be happy together, in those wonderful days before Tess had ever showed her face in Roswell? And had it not also been Liz who had willed herself to stay away from him, so that he could pursue his so-called destiny with Tess?

And now she was willing herself not to love him. Not to give in. Not to take another chance that he might somehow cause again the level of pain he was only now beginning to understand that she had experienced when he had left her.

"I’m sorry." She whispered. "I really am."

And with those words - those sad, unbending words - something within him snapped.

Because it wasn’t good enough. It was not a good enough reason.

"You do know that you’re always going to wonder if your life was just a little less extraordinary than it could have been?" He asked, knowing he sounded bitter and defeated, but unable to help himself.

Because, up until this moment, even with all of his protestations to the contrary, despite all of his conviction that he was going to leave her alone, allow her to live her life, inside, in his deepest heart, he had been sure that he was going to win her back. That it would only take some time and some patience and she would realize that they belonged together.

But that wasn’t the problem. She already knew it. She just wasn’t willing to allow it.

And, in that instant, when his fortunes seemed to be at their lowest ebb, something like a light suddenly blinked on somewhere inside him.

Because he realized that she was not the only one who was stubborn. She was not the only one who was going to live a life less extraordinary because of this.

He was too.

Everything that had come before was going to have been in vain. Even though they belonged together, they weren’t going to be. Because she was frightened. Simply because she was afraid.

She was as scared as he was.

It wasn’t good enough.

"Max?" Liz had reached out her hand as though to comfort him. He glared at it, then up at her, backed up a step.

"I don’t accept it."

She blinked. "What?"

"I said I don’t accept it. It’s not a good enough reason."

She shook her head slightly, as though she was convinced that she had misheard him. "I beg your pardon?"

"I refuse to allow this. You love me. You flat out just admitted it. You know I love you. And so, I will not allow you to just turn your back on that."

Apparently she was beginning to understand him, because her eyes flashed angrily as she snapped, "I don’t think you have much of a say in it Max."

"Yes I do." Max retorted. "Because we belong together. And so, if I have to convince you, I will. And I won’t stop until I convince you. I have waited two lifetimes to be with you and I’m not going to let a stupid thing like fear come between us now." He folded his arms across his front and stared at her, one eyebrow raised.

"Two lifetimes? What are you talking about?" She screeched at him. Max flinched but did not back down.

"I think that’s up to you to figure out on your own." He replied, bemused by the expression of outrage that crossed her face. "But just be aware Liz. This is war. I am going to get you to give in if it’s the last thing I do. I love you and I am not going to let you accept something less than what you deserve, which is to be loved down to the very furthest corner of your soul by the person you most love." He paused, then added, for good measure, because he just liked saying it, "Which is me. So you’re stuck with me."

She stared at him for another long moment, her mouth hanging open in shock, then screeched in outrage again, turned on her heel and marched back into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

"Come out when you get hungry." He called out cheerfully. "Ben and I’ll try and save you a sandwich."

Max made his way back out into the main dome area, jumped when he realized that Ben was standing just within, pressed up against the wall, a sandwich hanging forgotten in his hand. His blue eyes stared at Max accusingly. "You made Liz mad."

"Yup." Max replied. "I think she’s going to be a lot madder before I’m done with her," he added.

Ben looked perplexed for a moment and then he asked, "Are you supposed to make girls you like mad?"

"Not generally." Max answered, returning to the bedroom to get his cell phone, Ben trailing after him. "But this was a special case."

"But you do like Liz, don’t you Dad?"

"Yes Ben. I like her a lot." Max sighed patiently.

"I don’t think she likes you anymore." Ben shook his head.

"Not right now." Max agreed. "But that’s okay. She will."

He grabbed his phone and went outside. Ben drifted away, appeared to be creeping towards the bathroom, as though he was worried about Liz.

Max wasn’t worried. He could hear her crashing around in the other room, apparently trying to let him know just how angry she really was.

It wasn’t until he had stepped out of doors that Max realized just how late it was. He had left his watch sitting on the dashboard in the Cherokee, having removed it at some point during the long drive.

But when he saw how far the sun had already traveled in its trajectory across the sky, his heart started to thump unevenly.

Michael should have arrived with Isabel and the others long before now. Max glanced down at his phone, wondered if he should try contacting his friend.

But if they had been captured, calling them might lead their enemies right to Ben.

Something had obviously happened. His heart skipped a beat at the sudden flash of imagination that conjured up Isabel and Jesse’s house under attack, Nicholas with little Alexandra under his arm, preparing to blast the child, Michael and Izzy and Maria lying in pools of their own blood, dying.

He never should have left them alone.

Max was just making up his mind to go inside to tell Liz that something was wrong when the cell phone in his hand rang abruptly. He almost dropped it he was so surprised.

He took a deep breath, forcing himself to get it together. It had been a long time since he had felt this exposed, this threatened - in fact, not since he and Ben had managed to evade the Antarian fleet in their flight from the star system of his original birth.

But the adrenaline was beginning to pump through his veins just like in the old days as he hit the talk button on the phone and brought it up to his ear.

"Hello?" He almost expected to hear Nicholas’s grating little voice on the other end. Strange, that after all these years, he still remembered that voice.

But it was Michael. Max felt his heart start to return to its normal pace, along with a stab of healthy annoyance that Michael was clearly taking his sweet time arriving. But Michael’s opening words after replying to Max’s greeting, thrust his irritation out of his mind. "Maxwell, I know I’m not supposed to call, but I am slowly losing it man."

"Michael, where are you? What’s wrong?" He could hear a lot of noise in the background, including, he thought, a baby crying.

"I’m at a truck stop on 285 South." Michael replied wearily. "We’ve been here for close to three hours."

"Did the car break down?" Max demanded. "Who’s with you?"

"I have Maria and Izzy and the baby. Kyle’s on his way. I called him too. I think I need the law Max. I’m about ready to kill him and it’s going to take Deputy Dawg to stop me. I barely managed to escape him to come call you. I’m on a pay phone." He added unnecessarily as Max listened to the sound of a semi’s horn in the background.

"Who?" Max scowled, simply wanting confirmation that his worst fears had been realized, and inanely wondered why Nicholas was holding the others at a truck stop of all places.

"Liz’s idiot fiancé." Michael snapped back. "Did I ever tell you that he was nice guy?" He asked rhetorically. "Because I was so wrong."

"Dan?" Max was flabbergasted. It was the last thing he had expected. "Why is Dan there?"

"Because he thinks you kidnapped Liz and he followed us after we left Isabel’s." Michael sounded impatient. "Izzy noticed him and we stopped immediately. And now we’re stuck here because he won’t go home and I know that the last thing we need to do is lead him right to Liz. There is no way she’s going to be able to explain this to him. Did she give him some lame-o story about Ben being sick by the way?" Michael added. "Because he didn’t buy it."

Max rubbed his hand across his face. This was bad. Very bad. The last thing they needed right now was a jealous fiancé. Especially considering the fact that Max had just decided that he had every intention of stealing Liz back from said fiancé.

"Where’s Jesse?"

There was a pause. And then Michael replied quietly, obviously not wanting Isabel to overhear him. Max thought he could hear her voice and so she was apparently nearby. "He’s disappeared Maxwell."

"What?" Max yelled. "Did Nicholas get him?"

Oh God. Isabel’s husband. Max had come back and had thrown everyone back into danger and Isabel had lost her husband because of it. She was never going to forgive him!

He was never going to forgive himself.

"Calm down!" Michael ordered. "It wasn’t Nicholas. When we went to get Iz, he was already gone. She said that he got a phone call right after you left with Liz and he went out after that, saying that he had to go back to work for something important. She fell asleep on the couch waiting for him to get home. I woke her up when we got there and she found a note on the kitchen table telling her to take Lexi and leave - that he knew that either you or I was going to show up to take her away, and that she had to go."

Max frowned. "What the hell is going on here Michael?" He asked, not really expecting his friend to answer him. "That is the weirdest thing I have ever heard."

"I know." Michael sighed. "But that isn’t all Maximillian."

What else could have possibly gone wrong in the few short hours since Max and Liz had left Michael and Maria on their way to Isabel’s? Max grimaced, braced himself for the worst.

"What?" There was another long pause. "Michael, just tell me!" Max insisted.

And then Michael said the absolute last thing Max expected. "Maria and I are engaged."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:52:20 PM
Part 18

Liz was no longer seething ten minutes later. Instead, she was sitting on the dirty floor leaning up against the equally filthy bathtub, staring straight ahead, her mind whirling in a thousand different directions.

After slamming the bathroom door in Max’s face she had paced around the small room in a mindless fury, her one desire to break something. Unfortunately there had been nothing around that fit the bill. So she had continued to stalk about, feeling like a caged animal, thinking of numerous ways that she could go about removing that smug smirk from Max Evans’s face the next time she was forced to be in his presence.

It had only been when she had caught a glimpse of her flushed face and wild eyes in the dirty mirror over the sink that she had stopped, taking deep breaths in an attempt to control herself.

Because that one glance had instantly brought to mind the only other time she had so completely lost control of herself. Max had been responsible for that too. The circumstances had been far different, but he had been responsible. Maybe not directly, but in every way that counted.

Liz had not immediately left Roswell after her Senior year of high school. She had, to the horror of her parents, deferred her Harvard acceptance for a year and had continued to work in the Crashdown, convinced down to the very marrow of her bones that Max was about to return at any time. She refused to leave town, refused to take the chance that he might show up suddenly, that he might need her and she wouldn’t be there. It was what you did when you loved someone after all. She would not desert him.

It had taken an entirely stupid incident for her to realize that she was the one who had been deserted.

She had been driving back from Hondo, having gone to pick up something for the restaurant for her dad. She had been in her parent’s car, the radio blaring as she sang along to some song or another. She couldn’t remember now what song it had been, but she could still remember how light her heart had felt. She had actually been happy] for the first time in a long time.

At some point though, the sound on the radio had begun to fade in and out. The very innocent thought that she should get Max to take a look at it had crossed her mind. She had remembered what Maria had once told her about Isabel having been able to use her powers to fix the radio in the Jetta.

It had actually taken her thirty seconds to remember that Max couldn’t look at it - that Max couldn’t do anything for her anymore. Max was gone. Max had been gone for close to a year at that point and it had taken her almost half a minute to remember it.

It was in that moment that she had realized that she was slowly driving herself insane.

She had stopped the car on the side of the road, had buried her face in her hands and had screamed at the top of her lungs until her voice was hoarse.

When she had finally regained her composure, she had caught a glimpse of herself in the rear-view mirror of the car and her face had looked exactly like it did now - red and blotchy and completely out of control.

In that moment she had decided that he was never going to make her feel that way again.

She had left for Harvard a few months later and had not looked back. The Liz Parker who had loved Max Evans so much she had burned with it, had lost her mind over it, had been gone forever.

But, as she had stared at herself in the mirror moments ago, she had realized that that Liz had only been lying dormant while they had been separated, while she had shut her memories of him out of her life, had completely shut off the emotions he engendered. But now that Liz was back, with a vengeance. And the fact that something deep inside of her was pleased about it made the whole mess even sicker.

It was why she loved Dan now. He was safe, did not stir up these wild emotions, feelings that she did not enjoy, that she was too damn old for.

It was one thing to be a fool in love at seventeen. At twenty-six it was just kind of embarrassing… and it was most definitely crazy.

Which she apparently was, because, for one incredible, horrible moment, while Max had told her that he was not going to give up on her, that he did not accept her decision, all she had wanted to do was throw herself into his arms.

Crazy. Insane. No question about it.

The fact that being around Max recently had also resulted in the one truly calm, peaceful moment of her life during the past eight years did not mean anything. Besides, that could just as easily be attributed to Ben - to the fact that she had been blessed with the presence of the child of her best friend, one she had missed with every fibre of her being since his premature death.

No. It had not been Max, had not been about lying in a bed with him, knowing he was safe and here, for one perfect moment all right with the world. How could it have been when the mere thought of him now made her want to smash something - preferably his perfect face?

It could not have been him, even though in the instant when she had woken up in his arms, when her eyes had momentarily gazed into his, before she had realized where she was, she had felt like she had finally come home again, for the first time in so long, it had almost made her eyes well up with tears of contentment.

But it had been a mistake. She loved him, but he was not right for her. He was controlling and irresponsible and untrustworthy.

Well, maybe not irresponsible - not that any longer. The way he acted about Ben…There was no question in Liz’s mind that the child came first with Max, in every way.

It was an attractive quality, one that she knew he was using to seduce her. Just like he had seduced her the first time, with healing in his hands and stars in his eyes - stars that had shone only for her…until Tess.

The most horrible and confusing part of it all was that she did not doubt that he loved her, that he had always loved her, but, in the end, it had never been enough. He had turned from her in anger once and had slept with Tess, the person who had killed Liz’s best friend, and then he had left her, Liz, behind to follow that snake across the universe.

She could not trust her heart to him again. It was impossible.

How dare he proclaim that he wasn’t going to let her turn her back on him? She wasn’t turning her back on him! She was struggling to maintain her sanity. Giving into him, trusting him again, letting go of someone like Dan was just that after all. Crazy.

Liz could feel the rage beginning to run through her veins again. He was not King Zan anymore, had told her as much himself. If he thought that he could come back here and pick up where he had left off on Antar, ordering everyone around, ordering her around, he was the crazy one!

She could feel herself getting worked up again. Turning on the sink, she watched the water, rusty from years of disuse, rush down the drain. When it had finally cleared, she cupped her hands together, collected a handful and splashed it over her face, willing herself to calm down.

Because she knew that this was what he wanted. He wanted her worked up over him - even if it was in anger. Because anger was better than nothing.

She was not going to give him the satisfaction.

It was only after she turned off the sink that she became aware of the tentative tapping on the door.

"MAX! Go away!" She snapped, before she could control herself. She rolled her eyes in annoyance. She did not want him to know that she was still mad. She knew that he liked that he had been able to rile her up the way he had.

Even if he had not said it, his face had shown it. Does Dan ever make you feel this way? Does Dan make you want to kiss him and kill him in the same breath? She had almost been able to hear him asking the questions in her mind, had needed to slam the door to effectively shut them off.

Since the answer to both was an unqualified no, the whole thing had been even more maddening.

She hated him. She really did.

"Liz, it’s me." Ben’s small voice came through the door. "Are you okay?"

Liz blinked, then grimaced. Ben! What had she been thinking? He had to be absolutely terrified by her behavior. Getting the small boy to trust her now, after she had screamed like a banshee at the father he adored…She felt her heart fall at the thought of it.

She had to fix things with him. For Alex’s sake. For Ben’s sake. For her own sake.

Because nothing - not even anger at Max - was going to keep her from being a part of Alex’s son’s life.

Liz opened the door, smiled down at Ben, who was staring at her anxiously.

It had started out forced, the smile, but just seeing him, just seeing Alex reflected back at her in that small face, made it genuine before she even knew what was happening. He might have Tess’s hair and eye colour, might posses Tess’s amazing gift, but he was Alex’s son. And she loved him.

"Did my dad make you mad?" Ben asked, his expression worried. He reached out and took her hand, speaking so quickly, he stumbled over the words. "He said…he said he did, but he didn’t sound sorry about it. So I thought I would say sorry…for him. Because he told me that he really likes you and I don’t think he really meant it…" Ben trailed off, apparently losing his train of thought. He looked absolutely bewildered and desperate - like he could not understand any of this, but he knew that he didn’t like it.

She felt another flash of intense annoyance at Max. Liz pulled Ben towards her, hugged him lightly. "Whatever happens between me and your dad has nothing to do with you sweetie. Whether I’m mad at him or not, it does not mean that I’m mad at you." She stepped back, looked down at him. She could see a glimmer of relief in his blue eyes. "That’s what you thought huh?"

"No." Ben denied vehemently, shaking his head, but Liz could see that he had. "But I wish you guys would be friends." He paused, then asked carefully. "Don’t you like my dad Liz?"

She sighed, decided that she had no choice but to reassure him, even though, at the moment, she was practically lying to him. "I like him Ben. I promise. He’s my friend. But sometimes friends make each other pretty angry."

Ben frowned slightly, biting his lip. Then he blurted, "Did you ever get mad at my other dad too? He was your friend."

Liz felt her heart stop. "You mean my friend Alex?" She asked lightly, trying not to let her voice crack. "Hardly ever." She smiled sadly. No, she and Alex had rarely fought. They had only ever argued one time actually - over Max. When Liz had been keeping Max’s secret from him.

He nodded, as though not surprised. There was a pause, and then, "Did you like him better than my dad - this dad I mean? Is that why you’re so mad?"

"We were a different kind of friends." Liz explained gently. "How much do you know about your other father?" She was trying to keep her voice steady, reassuring, but her entire being was screaming for Alex, for what he had missed, that he was never going to get the chance to be to this child what he would have wanted to be.

"I know his name was Alex Whitman." Ben replied. "He liked computers."

He liked computers.

Liz felt tears welling in her eyes. Alex had been about so much more than that. But how could Max have told Ben anything else? He had barely known Alex. Yes, he had trusted him, had almost died with him on several occasions, but they had never been close. In fact, their only real connection had been Liz…and, later, Isabel of course.

That all Ben knew about Alex was that he had liked computers. It was just completely wrong.

Dealing with Max was going to have to wait. This was too important.

"And he was really brave." Ben continued, sounding proud, oblivious to Liz’s resolve. "My dad said so."

"Yes, he was." Liz agreed. She took Ben by the hand, led him out into the main dome area and back into the bedroom. They both flopped back onto the bed, lay staring up at the ceiling. "But that’s not all he was. He was also a real scaredy cat."

"What do you mean?" Ben asked. "How can someone be brave and scared at the same time?"

"Well, let me tell you about the time Maria and I snuck over to Alex’s house in the middle of the night…"

********************************************************

Max came back into the house after finally getting off the phone with Michael.

It had taken close to five minutes for Michael to finally stutter an explanation as to how he and Maria had gone from hating each other’s guts only yesterday to engagement today.

"Michael, you do realize that you just made getting engaged sound like a death sentence." Max had managed to ask wryly, after his shock had finally worn off.

Michael had sighed heavily. "It’s not that Max. It’s just that I wish that we could have made this decision under different circumstances. I think she would have appreciated a more romantic venue."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it happened like five minutes ago. We were having some sort of stupid argument, as usual. I think it was about what to order. I decided I wanted a hamburger instead of a grilled cheese. She got mad." Max had tried to suppress a snort, but had failed miserably. "Are you laughing at me Maxwell?" Michael had demanded, sounding annoyed.

"Er - no. I swear." But he had been having a hard time not laughing, it was true. The complete absurdity of Michael and Maria somehow, finally, getting engaged, in the middle of a crisis, was just so typical, it had made Max so suddenly giddy with happiness, all he had wanted to do was laugh.

He was home.

He was really back on Earth. He had been here for a month, but everything had been so far from typical, so far from usual, he had not really felt it until this moment. He had been in hiding, away from the people he really cared about, but now it was all falling back into place. Finally.

And it wasn’t just Michael and Maria.

It was the feeling of peace that had settled over him when he had finally acknowledged that he was going to be unable to let Liz go, that he was going to have to win her back.

Because, without her, there was no home.

"Anyway," Michael had continued. "Maria started screeching about how this was so typical of me. That I couldn’t make a commitment to anything, even a grilled cheese sandwich. She was holding Lexi at the time and the baby started wailing. Isabel got really pissed off. She started yelling about how we were just both too stubborn to admit that we wanted to get married, but that neither of us was willing to do the asking. I think Dan thought we were all complete psychos. No wonder he thinks you kidnapped Liz."

"And?" Max had asked, shaking his head at Isabel’s obviously correct assessment of the situation, and rolling his eyes at the Dan comment at the same time.

"She was right." Michael had admitted. "I already told you I wanted to get married. But I was sure she didn’t. Turns out she was constantly babbling about not wanting to get married because she didn’t want me to ask unless I really wanted to."

"Michael, you do know that you and Maria are going to have to figure out how to communicate without yelling at some point in your relationship, don’t you?" Max had asked, still smiling.

"Nah." Michael had replied. "It’s when we stop fighting that things get screwed up."

Max had genuinely laughed at that. "So, are you happy about this?"

"Yeah."

"Well then, congratulations."

"Whatever." Max had heard the pleasure in Michael’s voice however. "What I really want to know, is what we’re going to do about this Dan character."

Unfortunately, there was only one thing that could be done about Dan.

Liz was going to have to deal with him. There was no other choice. She had to leave.

Up until this point, she had refused to leave Ben. Even after her panic attack of a few minutes ago and her even more recent anger, she was not going to want to go.

And Max certainly did not want her to. But she had to. The others would not be safe until they arrived here, until they all figured out what they were going to do about Nicholas, and it was clear Dan was not going to let them come without him, which was just unacceptable. Kyle might be able to help, but he couldn’t arrest Dan for being in a public truck stop or on a public highway.

As he moved towards the sound of voices at the back of the dome, the less he wanted to let her go. He couldn’t imagine not being with her, even if she was still angry. Because being with her, in any state, was all he wanted.

It was all he wanted after making sure his son was safe. Which was why she had to go - for now. Whatever transpired after that was up to her. Dan was her fiancé after all. If she wanted to come back, she was going to have to do something about him.

Max had every intention of winning Liz back, but not if it meant putting his son in danger. If she chose Dan, he was going to have to let her go, even if it was going to kill him inside.

And, so, a loophole in his resolve to win her back had been found already. He hated it, but there was no alternative.

He paused outside the door to the bedroom. He could hear Ben and Liz talking, but their voices were so low, it was difficult to make out what they were saying at first. Gradually he began to understand though. When he realized that they were talking about Alex, he smiled slightly to himself.

"…think that maybe I could learn to play the guitar? Like Alex did?" Ben was asking.

"I don’t see why not." Liz replied. "I know Maria still has Alex’s old one. I bet she would let you have it." Max could tell that she was trying to keep her voice steady, but that her grief was beginning to get the better of her. He frowned slightly, wondered how long it had been since she had thought about Alex like this. It was clear that she had still not gotten over his death, even after all this time. Not that he had expected her to, but, he was ashamed to say, it gave him a spark of hope.

She had told him that she had mourned him too. That she had moved on. He was beginning to understand that it had been a lie. She had not moved beyond any of it. Not Alex, not him either.

And yet, the last thing he wanted their new relationship to be built on was pain and heart-ache from the past. What they had been to each other before - before he had left her - had been amazing and heart-rending and life-changing.

But it was over. It had to be. They could never go back. Not to that other lifetime and not to before Tess.

It would all shape where they ended up, but they had to start from scratch, had to make a new life together. They owed it to themselves. They deserved to be happy, together.

It was how he would convince her. It was how he would win her back.

But not now. Not when Ben’s life was in danger.

Soon though. Very soon.

With that thought, he knocked lightly on the half-closed bedroom door. "Hey guys. I really don’t want to interrupt. It sounds like you’re having a really important conversation, but something’s come up. Listen Liz…We have a bit of a problem."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:54:12 PM
Part 19

Liz stood near the open door, watching the road leading up to Atherton’s anxiously. She expected Kyle’s familiar tan all-terrain vehicle to appear at any moment. It had been close to an hour since they had last spoken to him and he had to be only minutes away by now.

When Max had first told her that Dan had followed the others, her first instinct had been to deny it. She had known that he was upset, but he had told her that he trusted her, that he would let her deal with the Max situation for a couple of days before he started to freak out.

She had believed him. Because she knew that he trusted her. It was the basis of their relationship. But his actions over the past few hours clearly demonstrated that he didn’t.

And the absolute worst part of it all was that he shouldn’t. She had done absolutely nothing over the past twenty-four hours that should prompt him to continue to trust her. But she was still hurt - and angry.

She was most angry because his behavior meant that she had to leave Ben. And she had every intention of figuring out a way to return to Alex’s son as quickly as possible.

None of this had anything to do with Max Evans at all. He was the furthest thing from her mind right now. His threats that he was going to find a way to win her back - they were just that. She was not going to give into him. He could watch her with those dark eyes of his as much as wanted to. The longing in them, the love, they did not appeal to her at all.

He made her lose control of herself. It was good that she was getting away from him for a while. She needed some air, some space to regroup.

She needed some time to try and get her emotions back under control. He had her in constant upheaval. She hated it.

She was still furious at Max, had actually refused to speak to him since he had told her about Dan. She had spent the last couple of hours with Ben, just hanging out, playing with the deck of cards the little boy had in his backpack and talking. Max had been around of course, but Liz had not exchanged two words with him. He had basically left them alone anyway, spending most of his time checking in with Michael on the phone, so it had been easy to ignore him.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He was certainly not easy to ignore. But she had done her best.

They had finally spoken while they had made plans for the exchange - Liz for Michael, Maria and Isabel. Dan had actually been pleased it seemed when Kyle had shown up at the truck stop. Michael had told them so the last time they had spoken to him. It was Dan, in fact, who had insisted that Kyle go get Liz. This had actually worked out well because Max and Ben could not be left without transportation until the others arrived. It was too dangerous. Kyle had agreed to come and get her and to then drive her back to the truck stop, which was only a couple of hour’s drive away it turned out - the others had been more than three quarters of the way to Marathon before they had noticed Dan. It must have been a miracle that they noticed him at all.

Liz wondered momentarily when her fiancé had turned into such a good spy.

And so, it was a convoluted plan, but it was the only way to accomplish this without bringing Dan to Atherton’s, as he still refused to let Michael, Maria and Isabel leave without him.

Liz was actually mildly grateful that Michael had not yet blasted him. She had known that her fiancé could be hard-nosed and tenacious - it was what had gotten him to the top of his field at such a young age - but it had been the first time that any of her friends had witnessed it. She knew that most of them had liked Dan before this whole fiasco had taken place, but she was fairly sure that their opinions were rapidly changing.

She had just sighed in exasperation when Max had told her that apparently Dan wanted Kyle to arrest Max too. The smirk on Max’s face when he mentioned it had annoyed her even more.

"You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?" She had snapped at Max, grabbing the phone from him, wanting to speak to Michael herself, but Max’s best friend had already hung up.

"Not especially." Max had replied, but he had still looked mildly amused. "I don’t like the fact that your fiancé is putting everyone in danger." Liz had glanced at him guiltily. "But, it is quite interesting to see you try and deal with him."

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" She had demanded, her back up instantly. She had not yet spoken directly to Dan after all. Max had no idea what he was talking about.

"It’s means whatever you want it to mean." He had returned, smiling innocently and disappearing into Atherton’s old office under the dome. Liz wasn’t really sure what he was doing down there, but as she moved back into the house now, she could still hear him rummaging around beneath her. Ben had joined him a few minutes ago and Liz could hear their voices rising and falling now as she glanced impatiently at her watch.

How could someone be so eager for something to happen and yet so completely not eager at the same time?

She wanted Kyle to arrive so that she could go and appease Dan, so that she could try and fix their relationship, which was very quickly falling apart, all due to her own actions.

But, on the other hand, she didn’t want to go anywhere. A small part of her just wanted to wash her hands of the whole thing, wanted to call Dan up and tell him to get lost.

And the scariest part of all was that, if she didn’t know for a fact that if she did so Dan would track her down, that he would be even more convinced that Max was holding her against her will somehow, she would have done it. Because, even though she loved him, she knew that the safety and security being with him offered was slowly becoming the least appealing of the options in front of her.

She had been bored with him even before Max had returned. It was only now - now that she had no choice but to face her real feelings - that she realized that a large part of her dissatisfaction with her job at Harvard had been dissatisfaction with life in general with Dan.

She had forgotten what it felt like to have your heart beat so fast in your chest in the company of another, that you almost felt high. She had forgotten the feeling of your blood rushing through your body at hyperspeed simply when another person’s hand brushed against you. She had forgotten that waking up in another person’s arms could feel like heaven and hell and home all at the same time.

It didn’t matter that she presently hated Max Evans’s guts. He still did that to her. She was twenty-six years old, no longer eighteen, and she wanted him as much now as she had then. Dan had never made her feel that way, not even in their most intimate moments.

Max had managed to do it in the space of twenty-four hours. With merely a look.

But desire was not enough. She could not risk her heart again. She had told Max that and she truly believed it. The pain the last time she had lost him had been so intense, the feeling of betrayal so bitter, the only way she had been able to survive it had been to shut out the way she felt about him completely. She had made herself forget what it was like to be with him.

She had made herself forget what it felt like to be alive.

When she had mused to herself a couple of days ago that she would be more concerned about her future marriage if she couldn’t think about Max, she had been lying.

Because she had not really been thinking about him at all - not about Max. She had been remembering him as a high school boyfriend, as someone who had been the be all and end of all of her life at the time, but who had faded from her heart, because he had not been anything truly special at all. He had been exciting and dangerous and it had seemed like there could be no one else in the universe to match him, but she had told herself that she was older now, too mature for stupid adolescent romanticism. Max was not the only one for her.

She had been kidding herself.

Being with him…Just being in his presence, she remembered now that it was so much more than that. She had shut it all out, but she could not deny it any longer.

The connection that existed between them… It was magical. It could not be replaced, could not be forgotten, could not be denied.

But it could be ignored. For self-preservation, it had to be ignored.

She would ignore it. And that was all there was to it.

Sighing wearily, she watched as Kyle’s vehicle finally appeared in the distance, the gravel it stirred up having long heralded his approach. The sun was low in the west. Liz felt a pang of guilt that by the time Michael, Isabel and Maria finally made it here, it would have been close to twenty-four hours since she and Max had left them.

Because of Dan, and as a consequence her, her friends had been in danger.

She heard Max and Ben approaching from behind her, Max obviously having heard Kyle’s police vehicle. She didn’t turn to look, simply went out the door and waited for Kyle to pull to a stop in front of her.

But she should have known that leaving would not be as easy as that.

As Kyle hopped out of the car, throwing his deputy’s hat onto his head as he did so, she glanced down as she felt a small hand slide into hers.

"You’re coming back - right?" Ben asked, his blue eyes staring up at her guilelessly. She glanced sharply at Max, whose expression was grim. She didn’t even know why she had done it. She knew that Max would never have used his son in this way. He didn’t have to anyway.

They all knew she was coming back.

"Definitely." Liz replied gently. She smiled slightly, raised a hand and brushed a cobweb out of Ben’s blond curls. "What the heck were you guys doing down there?"

"Dad was looking for something." Ben told her. "I don’t think he found it."

Liz frowned slightly in Max’s direction, but he was not even looking at her anymore, instead was speaking quietly to Kyle.

"Well, you sure made yourself dirty for nothing then." Liz teased. Ben just continued to stare at her, a confused and scared expression on his face. He didn’t understand any of what was going on - why she had to leave, why she and Max were so weird around each other.

All he knew was that someone who was supposed to care about him was leaving him when his life was in danger. It was breaking her heart.

She crouched down, until her eyes were level with his. "I will be back. I have a lot more stuff to tell you about Alex you know. It’s my job." She felt tears filling her eyes and, for the first time, she felt a stab of real hate for Dan - that he was making her leave Ben.

He couldn’t know what was going on, had no idea the pain he was causing her, was only doing what any man in his right mind would do if their fiancée started acting like a maniac. And yet, she could not forgive him for this.

"I believe you." Ben nodded. He hesitated for a moment and then threw himself against her, almost knocking them both over into the dust. "I love you Liz."

"I love you too." She whispered, stroking his head lovingly.

Over Ben’s shoulder, she could see both Max and Kyle watching them now, Kyle looking sad, Max expressionless.

"C’mon Benny." Max finally called out after Liz had clutched Ben to her heart for a period that seemed far too short. "The sooner Liz leaves, the sooner she’ll be back."

Liz slowly pulled away, stood up. Kyle was making his way back to his side of the sheriff’s department vehicle as Max came over and picked Ben up. The little boy threw his arms around his father’s neck, buried his head on his shoulder, but continued to watch Liz out of the corner of his eye.

"I will be back." She told Max calmly as their eyes met.

He didn’t say anything. She frowned slightly, turned, started to move towards the car. At the last moment, before she was beyond his reach, she felt something brush against her.

It was Max of course. Her entire body - her entire being - told her so.

She did not turn around.

If she turned around, it would be all over. She would throw herself into his arms, all her good intentions, all her resolutions to be strong, to preserve her heart, would be damned.

It was not until she was seated in the passenger seat beside Kyle, silence permeating the vehicle, not until the dome had completely disappeared from sight, that she reached into her pocket and pulled out what she knew Max had put there.

She held it up, saw Kyle glance sideways at it.

The setting sun poured through the front windshield as they drove west, back towards the highway, striking the object in her hand squarely and almost blinding them both.

But she knew exactly what it was. It was a ring.

Not just any ring. The symbol that graced it’s jewel, cool and blue, was a perfect replica of the symbol that had been carved into the pendant Max had given her so long ago - before he had almost left her the first time.

It was the whirlwind galaxy.

And suddenly, without any explanation, Max’s voice seemed to drift through her mind, through her very being. He was whispering in her ear, his breath warm against her neck, sending a chill down her spine. She could hear him as she stared at the jewel, tears in her eyes.

I give you my home in exchange for your heart.

Part 20

"So, that was kind of weird." Kyle finally broke the silence after they had been driving for a good half an hour. He had seemed to understand that Liz wasn’t in any sort of mood for conversation, but she had felt his increasing tension as the miles crept by. She knew that he wanted to talk to her about something.

"What was?" She asked wearily, fingering the ring which she still clutched in her hand. She didn’t know what to do with it, but putting it back in her pocket seemed wrong somehow. As she clenched her fist now she felt the otherworldly metal which formed it’s ring scrape against the platinum of her engagement ring.

She quickly opened her purse and thrust the Antarian jewel inside.

Kyle did not reply for a long moment, long enough that Liz glanced sharply to the left. She could see that his hands were clenched tightly on the steering wheel as he stared straight ahead out the front windshield.

Liz and Kyle had grown close over the years since Max had left. After graduation he had accepted a baseball scholarship to BU and so they had hung out often during their college days. Liz had actually been the person who had introduced Kyle to his wife Sarah, who had been her room-mate during her first year at Harvard. It did not surprise Liz that Dan trusted Kyle to intervene in the situation between she and her friends. They knew each other well and Dan was also aware of the history of antipathy between Max and Kyle, although he thought it was because of the fact that Liz had broken up with Kyle to be with Max in high school.

All of this meant that Liz was more than able to judge Kyle’s moods, and his present one was melancholy, to say the least. She could see the pain etched on his face, although he was trying to hide it.

And Liz suddenly understood.

"It’s because Ben looks so much like her, isn’t it?" Liz asked gently.

She saw him swallow, hard. "I haven’t thought about her in a long time Liz. But he looks exactly like her." He glanced at her quickly, then returned his eyes to the road. "I had forgotten…I mean, I had forgotten how much…"

"How much you loved her." Liz finished. And she knew he had - loved Tess. He had even admitted it flat-out to her once. He had shown up at her door in Boston, plastered out of his mind after a fraternity event during his sophomore year and had cried in Liz’s arms about her…a full two years after she had been gone from their lives. He had been wracked with guilt that he still missed her, even after they had known what she had done to Alex. But, she had been like a sister to him.

It was not easy to take back your heart after you had given it away. She knew that better than anyone.

I give you my home in exchange for your heart. Max’s voice filtered through her mind again. She frowned, crushed it ruthlessly. The last person she needed to be thinking about right now was Max. Kyle needed her.

Tess had been a different person when she had been with the Valentis. Even now, despising her as she did, Liz could recognize this. Max had even said as much - that Tess had tried to change for them. To Kyle, seeing Ben, seeing her reflected in his features, must have been something of a shock.

"Max told me that she missed you." Liz told him softly.

Kyle jerked around to stare at her. "She…she told him that?"

Well, Max hadn’t exactly told Liz that, but he had implied it, she thought, grimacing slightly. But she lied anyway. "Yes."

"My middle name is Benjamin." Kyle said, after a couple more minutes of silence.

Liz blinked, whipped her head around to stare at him. "It is? I’d forgotten that."

"Yeah."

They sat in silence for the rest of the trip to the truck stop, because there was really nothing else to say.

**************************************************

Liz could see Maria sitting on the hood of Isabel and Jesse’s car as she and Kyle pulled into the parking lot of the truck stop. She slid to the ground when she caught sight of the sheriff’s department vehicle, stood waiting for them, shifting impatiently from foot to foot.

It was close to ten o’clock at night. Liz knew that her best friend and the others had been stranded at the truck stop in the middle of nowhere for close to twelve hours now, but Maria appeared to be still completely energized. Frowning slightly, Liz climbed out of Kyle’s vehicle and right into Maria’s enthusiastic embrace.

"I’ll go find the others." Kyle called over the hood of the car, disappearing into the huge building that was made up of a 24 hour gas station, restaurant, and hotel.

"Lizzie! Thank God you’re here." Maria practically yelped, basically ignoring Kyle altogether. He just rolled his eyes and sauntered off. "This has been hell. I told Dan that he had to let me talk to you first. That he at least owed us all that." She finished disdainfully.

Liz pulled back, sighing heavily. "I am so sorry about this Maria. How are Michael and Izzy?"

"Well, I had to make Michael take a time-out a couple of hours ago." Maria wrinkled her nose at the memory. "I can’t remember exactly what Dan said that set him off, but since everything he has said over the past few hours has been somehow an insult of Max, it must have been something like that." Maria lowered her voice. "Liz, his hand was up and everything. He literally almost blasted him. In public."

Liz shook her head. She wasn’t at all surprised. In fact, she was almost shocked it hadn’t happened earlier. "I’m going to kill him." She muttered. Her annoyance and anger at Dan had faded during the drive, but it was now coming back full-force.

Isabel, Michael and Maria had absolutely nothing to do with any of this. It was completely ridiculous that they had been pulled into it at all.

"How are the others?" Liz asked as she and Maria moved towards the door leading into the restaurant attached to the gas station.

"Isabel and the baby are asleep in the car." Maria gestured behind her. "There’s still no word from Jesse, but Liz, the weird thing is…"

Liz stopped abruptly, holding her hand up. "What do you mean there’s been no word from Jesse? Isn’t he here?"

Maria stared at her. "What? Didn’t Max tell you?"

"Tell me what?" Liz demanded, her eyes narrowing. Although she knew that she hadn’t given Max much of an opportunity to tell her anything, being as she had refused to talk to him for almost the whole day, she still felt a flash of irritation.

"Jesse’s disappeared." Maria replied, frowning. "Why didn’t Max tell you this?" She asked suspiciously.

"Because we’re not presently speaking." Liz told her, sighing. "I don’t think we are anyway. I’m not speaking to him." She just shook her head, suddenly realized how childish the whole thing sounded. They were smack dab in the middle of danger and Max had not given her extremely important information because she had been pouting like a baby. "Maria, I think I’m losing my mind." She dropped her face into her hands, collapsed on the curb in front of the restaurant.

Maria sat down beside her, put her arm around her. "What’s wrong?"

"He’s driving me insane." Liz replied in a muffled voice. "I don’t know what to do." She leaned into her best friend, craving comfort. Only Maria could possibly understand her complete upheaval and confusion.

"You do still love him!" Maria breathed, unable to keep a note of victory from her voice. "I so knew it!"

Liz’s head shot up. She glared at her friend. "Of course I do. But it can’t matter Maria! I can’t take another chance on him. I barely survived the last one I gave him."

Maria was quite for a long time. "Liz, no one knows better than I do that it isn’t easy. It’s damn hard being in love with a Czechoslovakian. But you and Max…" She shook her head. "You know I like Dan…well, not at the moment obviously…" she amended wryly, "But what you and Max had…"

"Don’t you think I know that?" Liz demanded. "But I can’t live in the past. He’s got Ben to think about now and I have Dan."

Maria smiled slightly. "You do have Dan. I know it. That man is crazy about you Liz. He’s practically been climbing the walls with worry. You know I’ll support you no matter what you decide, but I have to say, it can work you know. With Max, I mean."

"Maria, he left me. I can’t trust him."

"Michael’s left me more times than I can count Liz." Maria replied, shrugging. "If not physically, then emotionally. But look where we are today."

Liz stared at her. "Are you back together again?" She demanded, felt pleasure at the thought of it. She had not fully understood why Michael and Maria had broken up in the first place, Maria had been so cryptic about it. But if any two people belonged together it was her best friend and Max’s almost brother. They fought, they made up, but, in the end, they completed each other.

Maria rolled her eyes. "Jeez! Max Evans is as close-mouthed with the gossip today as he was ten years ago! We’re engaged! Michael told Max when he spoke to him."

Liz felt her mouth fall open in shock. "Oh my God! Maria!" She reached out an hugged her friend tightly. "I’m so happy for you."

"Yeah, well…" When Liz pulled back again, she saw tears of joy in Maria’s eyes. "You know Liz, since I hit it big, I can have any guy I want, but he’s the only one I’ve ever loved. I don’t know what I would do without him."

Liz hugged her again. "You’d survive Maria, but you wouldn’t really live."

Just like me, Liz thought sadly. And yet, she could not give in. She could not trust him again. It was just impossible.

"Oh Liz…" Maria squeezed her sympathetically, seeming to understand. "We need to live. We have to. It’s the only fair thing."

Liz knew exactly what Maria was talking about. "Because of Alex."

"God, he never even got the chance to live Liz. But he hasn’t left us." Maria was really crying now. "We haven’t even talked about this you know. About Ben I mean." She paused, then whispered. "Did Max tell you how it happened? I just can’t believe that Alex would do that…with Tess I mean."

"He was mindwarped." Liz explained sadly, her arm through her friend’s. "Leanna…she didn’t exist. Well, she did, but the girl that Alex was with was Tess."

Maria closed her eyes in horror. "I think Michael and I were both in shock when we first found out. Plus, it was so weird to be back in danger like that…I didn’t even know how to deal with it. That little kid had to save us both. Neither of us knew what to do." She finally managed to croak. "We haven’t told Isabel yet. I think it’s best if Max does it." She smiled slightly through her still tear-stained face. "But Liz…can you believe it? It’s like we still have a piece of him!"

Liz felt tears filling her own eyes. "Maria, he’s so great. Ben, I mean. And Max is so good with him. You wouldn’t even believe it. He’s just a perfect little boy."

Maria frowned slightly. "But, if Ben is Alex’s, then what about Max and the skank?" She asked. "Did they even…"

"I don’t know." Liz replied evenly. "I don’t care. It doesn’t change anything anyway."

But Liz knew that that was not true. It was why she had not even allowed herself to contemplate the fact that if Ben was not Max’s son, she could not know for sure that Max had even been with Tess.

If she found out that Max had not, in fact, slept with Tess, it would change everything. She had forgiven him for it once, when they had gotten back together after Tess had taken off in the granolith, but she had never forgotten about it. It had gnawed at her constantly, had worried her when they had been together that she might not measure up in some way, not measure up to the girl that Max had been destined to be with - the girl he had been with.

Of course, he had never loved Tess. Not even in that other life. And yet, he had potentially slept with her anyway, which almost made it worse. Even though Liz knew intellectually that she had pushed him towards Tess time and again, she still felt hurt over the whole mess.

She had forgiven him long ago for it, but she had never forgotten.

But if he hadn’t slept with her at all…

Maria did not look convinced that it didn’t change things either, but she didn’t comment, linked her arm through Liz’s. "I so cannot wait to meet him again. We are going to be the best aunties in the whole world." They started to walk towards the restaurant again. "Is Max going to let the Whitmans see him?"

"We didn’t really talk about it." Liz grimaced. "I would guess yes, as long as he could be sure that they wouldn’t try and take him away from him. Ben is the centre of his life."

"I thought you guys didn’t talk much." Maria commented wickedly. "You seem to know an awful lot about what’s important to him Liz."

"It’s Max." Liz sighed. "I’ve always known."

And that was the biggest problem of all.

************************************************************

Liz’s eyes met Dan’s the instant she entered the greasy spoon. He was sitting in a booth, twirling a spoon between his immaculately manicured fingers. She couldn’t see that detail from where she stood, but she knew those hands almost as well as she knew her own.

He was her fiancé. She had loved him for close to four years. She was angry with him, yes, and she was beginning to recognize that perhaps he was not the one for her after all, but she did care about him.

And now she needed to figure out what the hell she was going to do about him.

Kyle and Michael were sitting at the counter, sipping coffee and talking quietly. Liz frowned slightly. She was shocked that Michael hadn’t bolted the instant she and Kyle had arrived. But he looked completely settled.

"What’s that about?" She whispered to Maria, who still stood beside her.

"I think he thinks he has to protect you." Maria sounded amused and affectionate. "For Max."

"Oh for God’s sake." Liz sighed.

"Max is his best friend Liz." Maria shrugged. "And he was never nearly as pissed at Max as both you and Isabel. He told me once he would have done exactly the same thing Max did. I didn’t speak to him for a week after that, but when I remembered that he had stayed for me…well, I sort of forgave him. See, the thing is, we all would have done it. If we’d thought it was our kid I mean. Hell, if we’d known Ben was Alex’s, I think we all would have been on that spaceship anyway."

Liz didn’t reply. She couldn’t. Because she knew that Maria was right. Because she had been planning to go with Max all along. Part of the reason she couldn’t trust him was because he had known it and he had left without her anyway. He had said that it had been to protect her, but it had not been his choice to make, to leave her like that.

"You need to leave Maria." She said instead, forcing her random thoughts about Max aside again. "Max needs you guys. He needs help protecting Ben."

"I know." Maria shook her head. "Just give me a minute with Spaceboy and we’ll be out of your hair." She started to move away, but then paused. "Are you going back to Roswell?" She asked suddenly, as though it had just occurred to her that Liz might in fact be leaving them all.

"No." Liz replied instantly. "I’ll get Kyle to take me back to Atherton’s as soon as I deal with Dan."

"Liz, he’s not going to let you go off again." Maria told her.

"Yes, he will, or I’ll end it." Liz said firmly.

"Liz…"

"Maria, I’m not trying to come up with excuses to break it off with Dan. I still fully intend to marry him." Liz continued stubbornly. "But Ben has to come first. He has to."

Maria just sighed, quickly hugged her again. "Okay. But be careful. He’s really hurt. If you do intend to marry him, I think you have some bridges to rebuild." When Liz gave her a strange look, she shrugged. "I told you I liked him Liz. I just know that he’s not who you really want. But I told you I’d support you no matter what, and I will."

Maria went over to Michael then, spoke quietly to him. He seemed to be about to argue, but then appeared to change his mind. He muttered something to Kyle, stood up and followed Maria out the door at the far end of the restaurant.

Liz exchanged a charged glance with Kyle, who raised an eyebrow at her as she passed him. "I’m staying right here Liz." He muttered.

"Kyle, it’s Dan. He’s not going to hurt me. You can go wait outside." Liz replied, exasperated. Kyle had already agreed that he would take her back to Atherton’s after her conversation with Dan, but Liz certainly didn’t need him hovering over her like some sort of protective older brother.

"Maybe not, but he was plenty steamed when I saw him earlier." Kyle shrugged. "I’m not taking any chances."

"Fine." Liz swallowed, squared her shoulders and marched towards her fiancé, who had set the spoon down with a click and was staring at her, his expression unreadable, his green eyes chilly.

She slid into the booth across from him, narrowed her eyes. "I hope you’re happy with yourself." She said quietly. "I told you I was perfectly safe. And now I’m sitting here with you when I should be with a very sick little boy."

She chose not to reflect on the fact that she didn’t even feel guilty lying to him anymore. It was not a good sign she knew. Their relationship was teetering on very shaky ground at the moment. And yet, now that she sat across from him, only moments after she had told Maria that she still intended to marry him, she couldn’t bring herself to care.

Because all she knew was that the last place on the face of the planet she wanted to be was in this booth. And that was not how one was supposed to feel about one’s fiancé, three days before the wedding, even if one was as furious as all get out at said fiancé.

She had to break up with him. It was as simple as that.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:55:29 PM
Part 21

"You’re angry with me?" Liz frowned when Dan stared at her in amazement, obviously completely shocked. "I was worried about you! Clearly something peculiar is going on around here Elizabeth and you won’t be open with me. I had little choice."

"You had a choice." Liz replied evenly. "You could have trusted me."

"I couldn’t. Because I knew you were lying to me." He exclaimed. "You have never lied to me - not once in our entire relationship. And because you’ve never lied to me I know how dangerous it is for you to be around that…that…"

"Max?" Liz sighed, laid her hands on the table. "Dan, you have to say his name. And I’m not the one creating Max into some monster. You are. He’s no threat to you - or he wasn’t until you started acting like a jealous maniac! This isn’t you Dan! What is this about?"

Dan just stared at her, appearing astounded that she didn’t understand why he was so upset. "He broke your heart. It took you almost five years to get over it. I waited patiently for you almost that whole time and I’m not going to let him waltz back into your life and do it again." Dan’s voice was low, urgent. "Elizabeth, he’s going to. Why can’t you see it?"

Liz swallowed, frowned again. His use of her full name struck her as absurd suddenly, for the first time ever. She wondered why it had never irritated her before now. Because it did - annoy her that was. Why had she ever let him call her that? She was not Elizabeth, had never been Elizabeth.

"Dan, I’ve told you. I was with him because Ben is sick." Liz explained patiently.

"But this child, he’s his son. He’s using him to get to you." Dan told her, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

She eyed him for a moment, unsure how to proceed. She had told Maria earlier that she still intended to marry Dan. And moments ago, she had decided that she had to break up with him. But, now, as he spoke to her, as he gave her all these logical arguments, as he explained why he was angry and jealous and upset - rightfully after all - she didn’t know what to do.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She knew what she wanted to do. She glanced towards Kyle, who was still seated at the counter, flipping through a magazine as he waited for her, apparently doing his best not to eavesdrop.

All she wanted to do was stand up and ask Kyle to take her back to Ben. And she owed it to Dan to explain why, to give him the chance to understand.

Because of who he was, of what he was to her. He had been the one secure person in her life since Max had left - the one person she could count on, even if he didn’t make her entire soul come alive when she was with him.

He was not her soulmate, but he was a good man, and he deserved and explanation.

Because he was right. He had waited a long time for her. She knew that he loved her.

The problem was, she didn’t know if he even really loved her, because she was beginning to understand that he didn’t really know her at all.

She had been open with him over the years, had explained all about Max, about how he had broken her heart, but Dan had never really understood - had never understood than it had been far more than just a break-up. Because she had never been fully able to understand it herself - until now that she had spent time with Max again.

Max Evans was her heart and soul. He always had been. The only reason that he had been able to so completely destroy her when he had gone was because, when he left, he had betrayed the fact that she was the same thing to him. His departure had ripped them apart, in a way that had never been supposed to happen. And they were suffering the consequences of it, even now.

He had had no right to do it. To either of them. He had betrayed the essence of what they were about, Max and Liz. They were supposed to be together through thick and thin, through danger and despair…and they never had been. Every time something bad had happened, it had torn them apart. Tess’s arrival, Future Max’s visit, Alex’s death…Every single time they should have been able to deal with these things, if they had stayed true to each other. But they never had.

And it was not entirely Max’s fault either. They had both done it. She was just as much to blame as he was. But his leaving without her for Antar, heading off into danger alone, when he known that she wanted to be with him, no matter what, it had been the final straw.

They were not strong enough to be together, to accept the gift that had been granted them in each other.

But she was also wrong to be trying to replace the gift with someone else. Dan felt that he knew her, that she had opened up to him, but she had never fully done so. It was impossible. Because no one could replace her soul.

Liz loved him, knew that he loved her, but she could not subject him to a life with someone who would never fully be his.

Even if she never got back together with Max, which she fully expected might not happen based on the way she felt right now, she had no right to stay with Dan. He was safe, she would be content with him, but he deserved more.

"Elizabeth?" Dan reached out, took her hand gently in his. "Please. I can feel you slipping away from me and I don’t understand it. We’re supposed to be getting married in two days! Why are you letting this happen?"

Liz closed her eyes briefly. "Dan, I’m sorry. I’m a horrible person." She heard her voice crack. He squeezed her hand. "You just don’t understand…about Ben, I mean." She could at least explain to him about that, tell him about Alex. "He’s so special to me because…"

Dan cut her off though, only having heard the first part. "You’re not! He’s doing something to you."

"No, you don’t understand. Max isn’t doing anything to me. It’s Ben. He’s not really…"

"Your dad told me that there was something not quite right about him and I understand what he meant now." Dan wasn’t even listening to her now. It took her a moment for his words to penetrate because she was trying to tell Dan that Ben was Alex’s son, but she stopped talking when she realized what he was saying.

Liz pulled her hand away abruptly. "What are you talking about?" She demanded. "What else did my father say to you?"

Dan narrowed his eyes. "He told me some interesting stuff when I was in Roswell while you were teaching with Isabel." He paused, seemed to be searching for the right words. "About there having been a shooting at your restaurant when you were a teenager…"

Liz blinked. "I told you about that. That was when Max saved my life. It was what brought us together." She could feel her heart beginning to beat irregularly. What on Earth had her father told Dan? What did her father think he knew?

"I’m going to ask you something Elizabeth, and I hope you’ll be honest with me." Dan swallowed, hard. "I know it’s impossible, but I heard something the night we were at Jesse and Isabel’s for dinner. I tried to put it out of my mind because I know it’s impossible. I’m a biologist for God’s sake! But I heard you say it and I have to know what you meant. Because what your dad said about Max made me wonder even more."

Liz could tell that this was going to be bad. And she had a feeling that it was also going to explain why Dan had suddenly turned into someone he had never been before - possessive, overbearing, difficult.

"What?" She whispered. "What do you know?"

He frowned again at the fear he must have picked up in her voice. "See! This is what I’m talking about. You are keeping something from me, and I know it has something to do with Max Evans!"

Liz reached out, grabbed his hand across the table. "Dan, just ask!" She insisted.

He bit out the words. "The other night, when we were at Jesse and Isabel’s, you totally lost it when you saw their baby. I didn’t understand it at first, but when I met Max, I knew why."

"I don’t understand." Liz shook her head. "I was surprised Lexi looked so much like Max, but what are you getting at?"

"I let you go off with Isabel upstairs, even though I could see that you were extremely upset." He continued. "Needless to say, I was upset too, because I didn’t know what was wrong with you. I went to speak with Jesse and Maria in the kitchen, maybe to send Maria up to see if you were okay, because obviously you didn’t want me then." He sounded bitter as he continued. "Well, they weren’t in the kitchen. I looked out the window and they were in the back yard doing something, taking out the garbage I think."

"Dan!" Liz exclaimed in frustration. "I don’t care what they were doing! What happened?"

"It doesn’t matter, you’re right. The point is, I was in the kitchen, by myself, and I realized that the baby monitor was sitting right there." He grimaced. "I can’t explain my actions to you Elizabeth, other than to say that I was worried about you." Dan swallowed, but Liz already knew what he was going to say. She was already trying to frantically remember her conversation with Isabel in Lexi’s bedroom. Her horror was mounting as she thought about all that they had said to each other. "I turned it on."

"Oh my God." Liz gasped. "Dan!"

He wasn’t even looking at her now, was gazing past her. "The first words I heard were something about it being impossible for Alexandra to look like Max."

"Dan…" Liz tried to break in. She already knew what he had overheard, didn’t want him to say it out loud.

But he continued anyway. "But then you started talking about cloning and human donors and some place called Antar…" He closed his eyes. "Elizabeth, it scared the hell out of me. I thought you had literally lost your mind."

"Dan!" He looked at her finally, his expression completely controlled now. Liz glanced around the restaurant, terrified that someone was overhearing their conversation. Fortunately it was virtually empty at this late hour. Kyle’s head had snapped up at her tone though. He whirled around and stared at her across the café.

"Liz?" He called out. "Are you okay?" But she couldn’t answer him. Her head was spinning in a million different directions.

Dan knew. He knew the truth about Max. No wonder he had been acting like a complete psycho.

"But Isabel didn’t seem to think so." Dan was saying, his eyes narrowing. Now that he was talking, he seemed unable to shut up. "And I knew that there was something more to this than you were letting on. I didn’t want you to go back to Isabel’s the next day, but I didn’t know how to stop you and it gave me a chance to do some investigating."

She brought her hands down off the table and clenched them in her lap and just waited. "Your dad told me about the shooting. I read about it in some old newspapers at the library too - about some unexplained aspects of it - how the bullet was never found for example. I also dug up an old story about some FBI agent named Pierce being reprimanded by the government for secret dealings in Roswell, having to do with aliens. I found the report and there was something in it about the shooting at the Crashdown."

Liz watched Kyle hurrying towards her, just let Dan talk though.

"I knew that there is something off with him Liz. I wanted to know the truth." Dan finished simply. "I know that there’s no such thing as aliens, but all evidence is pointing towards the fact that Max Evans is, in fact, something not quite human. Because the hold he has on you is…I don’t know… unnatural."

She didn’t have time to say anything though. Kyle was standing over them now, a fierce expression on his face.

"Liz, what’s wrong? Dan?"

"Kyle…" Liz swallowed. She had to fix this - immediately. "Everything’s fine. Dan’s just getting a little…paranoid."

"Paranoid?" Dan stared at her, dumbfounded. "I know what I heard you say Elizabeth."

"Liz?" Kyle’s eyes were wide, questioning.

She forced a laugh. "He thinks Max is an alien." She shook her head. "He thinks it’s why I can’t stay away from him. That’s he’s put some kind of force on me or something." She was now truly giggling, hysterically as a matter of fact, but it sounded like she was just amused by a good joke. Thank God.

"ELIZABETH!" She could see Dan’s face beginning to turn an interesting shade of scarlet.

Kyle’s mouth was hanging open in shock. "Liz?" He practically croaked. She could read his eyes perfectly. This was dangerous. Dan was angry, confused and jealous. If he went off spouting his theory to anyone with a half-knowledge of what had really transpired in Roswell ten years ago…

Ben and Max would never be able to live in their hometown in peace. Ever.

Not to mention, Dan had inadvertently stumbled upon the truth. He was right. He was a molecular biologist, a scientist. He would not just allow a discovery of this magnitude to go. It would make his career, to be the first to truly publish the truth about aliens on Earth, about cloning and what could be achieved through technology.

The last thing she could allow to happen was for him to believe it.

"Dan, I don’t know what you thought you overheard between Isabel and I, but I was just confused and upset. I always thought that Max and Isabel weren’t genetic siblings, so I didn’t understand why Lexi looked like him. Isabel told me that they found out that they were actually related after Lexi’s birth."

Kyle had collapsed into a nearby chair, a completely flabbergasted expression still on his face. He was beginning to listen with interest though, wondering how she was going to talk her way out of this one.

"I know that I’ve been acting really weird ever since Max showed up again." Liz continued quietly. She stood up, went around the table and joined him in his booth. Putting her arm around him, she smiled into his eyes. "But it really has nothing to do with Max Dan. You have to believe me. It’s Ben."

"Why?" Dan asked, still looking suspicious.

"Because he’s really my friend Alex’s son." Liz told him simply. "My friend who died. The one I told you so much about. Max found the girl that he thought he had gotten pregnant and it turned out that it wasn’t even him at all."

Dan looked like he had been punched in the stomach. He swallowed, shook his head. "Elizabeth, what kind of friends do you have? They didn’t even know who fathered the baby?"

Liz exchanged a glance with Kyle. "Well, Tess…" She paused.

"She had some problems." Kyle finished for her, looking sad.

"But…but what about the shooting?"

"It’s like I told you. I was shot at and Max pushed me out of the way." She shrugged. "You can talk to Kyle’s dad about it if you really want to. He was the sheriff then. The bullet hole never showed up, but it was just one of those things."

Dan still did not look convinced. "Elizabeth, I heard you. You said something about Max and Isabel not being human."

"I don’t know what you thought you heard Dan, but I don’t think I would have ever said that." She looked him right in the eye. "I was overwrought, but I’m not crazy. There are no such thing as aliens." She continued firmly.

Liz forced another giggle. "My God. Dan, you must have thought that youwere going crazy over the past few days." She kissed him lightly. "I am so sorry Honey! I should have just told you the truth about Ben, but it was still such a shock to me, I don’t think it had fully registered when I spoke to you on the phone last night."

She could feel Dan relaxing under her. She looked over at Kyle, who looked resigned, but unimpressed at the ease with which she lied.

But she had no choice. She had to protect Max, and Ben too.

Because she knew her fiancé. If she allowed him to know the truth, he would never let it go. He would feel compelled to pursue it, to investigate, to try and convince Max to come forward.

He would ruin their lives.

And the worst part of all of it was that she knew that there was only one way to make sure that that never happened.

She was going to have to marry him.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:56:52 PM
Part 22

Max sighed wearily, but felt a great wave of relief as he watched as Michael parked the Volvo that belonged to Isabel and Jesse close beside his Cherokee.

It was close to one in the morning. He had put Ben to bed long ago, although the little boy had wanted to stay up to wait for the others to arrive. Max had only managed to convince him to go to sleep when he had promised him that he would wake him if Liz got back before morning.

He had not expected Liz and Ben to bond as quickly and as completely as they had. He had known that Liz would care about his son, because of the connection to Alex, but it had always taken Ben a long time to trust anyone. He was a friendly, outgoing child, but he didn’t expect much from adults. Max knew that it had to do with some of the things he had experienced as a small child living with Khivar and Tess, basically having been raised by servants and left to fend for himself much of the time in the compound on the northern pole of Antar. They had not been cruel to him, thank God, but they had not given him the love that every child - Antarian or human - needed.

For Tess, Ben had been a bargaining chip, a means to an end. She had known all along that he was not Max’s, but she had also known that Max had wanted him, and so she had used the little boy to string Max along, to torture him, to keep him always on edge. She had let him get close to finding them many times during his early days on that far-off planet, but she had always slipped just out of his reach at the last minute. Max knew that she had cared about the child only so far as she could use him. But it wasn’t until she truly realized how much Ben meant to Max that she became a danger to him.

Because she didn’t particularly care about the child, she had not truly understood the way Max felt about him until they had finally come face to face.

It still brought a sick feeling to his stomach, reflecting on when he had finally found them, almost five full years after he had left Earth.

They had been sitting in the garden of the nursery in Khivar’s compound, under a star-pocked sky, one of Antar’s three moons shining down brightly upon them, turning their identical blond locks silver. She had been cradling the little boy in her arms, projecting the image of a mother comforting her son. But it had all been a farce. Tess had been stroking Ben’s small head, murmuring soothing words to him but her cold blue eyes had been on him, Max, as she had raised her other hand to the boy’s back and had allowed it to start to glow, smiling slightly because she knew that he knew what she was going to do.

Max had known exactly why she was doing it too. One look at him, when he had stepped into that garden, had been enough for Tess to know that he would never accept her back into his life, that he would take the son he had still thought then was his and he would leave her with Khivar, that he fully intended to never look upon her again.

She had seen the truth of it in his eyes and she had decided in a split second her course of action. If she was going to be alone, then so was he. She was going to kill the one thing on the entire planet he cared about. Just to punish him, she had been willing to kill her own son.

Max had wanted to kill her ever since he had found out what she had done to Alex. But he had allowed her to live in order that the baby that had been growing in her womb could live as well. He was not going to let her kill him now.

And so he had done it. It had been simple in the end, because his will had been greater, finally, than hers.

He had simply stared at her, into those eyes he had come to despise so much, connected with her instantly, and had fried her brain from the inside out.

He still remembered the momentary flash of shock that had crossed her face, that he had penetrated her shielded mind so easily. But she had had no idea how strong he had become over the years.

She had blinked once and then her essence had been completely gone, shutting off the connection as simply as turning off a light switch on Earth.

He had not felt even a single pang of remorse.

The first moments afterward had been strange. He had moved over to the two of them, still seated on the bench, had realized with relief that his son had slept through the entire thing. He had gently disentangled the little boy from his mother’s unnatural embrace and had just held him.

And the moment he had picked up the little boy in his arms, he had known the truth.

He had told Liz that it had been Khivar who had bragged about Ben being his child, that that had been how he had found out. But Max had never believed it, had refused to believe it. It was not until he actually held the child, that he knew that it was all true.

Ben was not his.

And it had taken one more second for him to realize that he didn’t care. Because he had fallen in love with him the instant his arms had come around his neck, the moment his small face had pressed itself against his neck.

It had only been reinforced when Ben had finally opened his eyes, had stared at him for a sleepy moment, and had murmured, "Who are you?"

"I’m your father." Max had whispered back. He had seen the instant flash of fear that had entered Ben’s blue eyes, had known with a sinking heart that Tess and Khivar had likely been feeding the child horrible lies about him.

It had been a surprise when the small voice had replied, "You’re going to leave me too. Mama always leaves." His fear had not been of Max at all, but of letting himself love someone else, and finding himself disappointed again.

"Never." Max had told him quietly. "I will never leave you."

But it had taken the almost three years it took them to get back to Earth to convince the child.

And, yet, Liz had somehow convinced Ben in less than forty-eight hours that he could trust her.

Apparently there was just something about Liz Parker that made people believe in her. Max had known that he could trust her from the first moment he had laid eyes on her in a school playground close to twenty years ago.

It wasn’t because of who she had been to him in a past life either. It was because of who she was today. The best person he had ever known.

The only woman he would ever love.

What Liz returning to Ben meant for his relationship with Liz, Max had no idea, but he had no doubt that she would be back.

The question was simply when.

Max could feel his heart beating unevenly as Michael climbed out of the driver’s seat after lightly poking Maria, who was half-asleep on the passenger side. Because he was about to get his answer.

"Hey." Max called out in a low tone. "Is everything okay?"

The back door of the Volvo opened and Isabel stepped out, her little girl clenched tightly in her arms. Lexi was fast asleep against her mother’s shoulder, a small thumb firmly between her lips.

"Just tired." Michael replied, running his hands through his hair, clearly exhausted. "But we need to talk Maxwell."

Max swallowed as his eyes met Isabel’s. Her expression was unreadable. He knew that it was not her choice to be back in his company so soon. He had agreed to give her the time she needed to decide what kind of relationship she wanted with him, but, as usual, circumstances had taken that choice away from her.

"I’m glad you’re okay." She said tightly, but Max could tell she meant it. His heart instantly felt lighter. "Is Ben…?"

"Asleep inside." Max responded. "Iz, I’m sorry about Jesse."

Isabel looked away for a moment. "He’s fine." She finally replied shortly. "I know far more than either of you think I do."

Michael’s head whipped around. "Are you telling me you know where he is?" He demanded. Max watched Maria step forward and place a hand lightly on his arm, trying to calm him down.

"I know." She sighed. "I didn’t tell you because I needed to talk to both of you. Michael, I knew you would freak out and I just couldn’t deal with you alone."

Max stared at her. "Isabel?"

"You don’t understand." Isabel shook her head. "He’s trying to save us. I know he is."

Max frowned, exchanged a glance with Michael, who looked about ready to explode. "What are you talking about?"

She moved past him and towards the door. "I never once thought I would see this place again." She muttered as she entered the darkened dome. "Just let me put Lexi down and we’ll talk."

"What the hell?" Michael almost yelled after the door shut behind her. "I’ve been worried about her all day! And she knew all along?"

"Michael, she obviously had a good reason." Maria reprimanded quietly.

Max rubbed a hand across his face wearily. He could tell that this was going to be a very long night.

"Well?" He blinked when he realized that Maria was standing right in front of him, eyeing him with annoyance.

"What?" Max asked, unsure what the expression on her face meant.

"What did you do to Liz?"

"What do you mean? I didn’t do anything to her."

"So you’re telling me that she’s not talking to you for no reason then?" Maria raised an eyebrow. Max took a step backward when she poked him in the chest.

Max grimaced. "Well, she wasn’t exactly happy that I told her that I wasn’t going to just give up on her." He admitted uncomfortably. He glanced at Michael, who looked interested, but mostly relieved that Maria’s ire was no longer directed at him. "I told her I still loved her and that I was going to fight for her."

"And why, pray tell, did you decide to inform her of this?" Maria asked, deceptively calm. "Do you think that Liz can’t make her own decisions?"

He didn’t know what to say. "She told me that she still loved me too." He protested lamely.

Maria rolled her eyes. "Of course she loves you, you idiot! You’re Max. But that doesn’t mean that you can just decide what’s going to happen in her life!" She poked him again. "You need to give her time Max. I mean it. If you want this to work, you have to let her realize that it’s what she wants. Because what you’re doing now is just driving her away."

Max stared at her. "Why are you telling me this?" He finally asked.

"Because I think you two belong together." Maria told him honestly. "But I won’t have Lizzie forced into anything. She has to come to it herself or it’s always going to be wrong. Do you understand?" She finished gently.

He frowned slightly. "I understand." He replied automatically.

And, suddenly, he did.

All the plans he had been formulating in the back of his mind to woo her and to win her back crumbled to dust. The idea of rebuilding their relationship from the ground up, of pretending that everything that had come before had never happened - it wasn’t going to work. Maria was more than right.

He realized that it was why he had slipped that ring into her pocket before she had left, even though it had not fit in with his plan of ignoring the past. He had brought the knowledge of it back from Antar, knew that it had fallen into the possession of William Atherton, just as the pendant had. They had both been presents to the writer, from Langley, in an attempt to keep him quiet about what he knew.

Max had learned a great deal about Langley on the trip back to Antar. Nasedo had been the cold-blooded killer of the pair of protectors that had been sent with the two sets of pods to Earth. Langley had not started out that way, had only become a murderer when his newfound life on Earth was threatened. Langley had wanted to appease Atherton, had tried with first the pendant, and then the ring.

But, of course, they had not been Langley’s to give to anyone. They had, in fact, been a gift to him, Max. From the one person who had given him everything in his past life. The one person who had, in fact, given him this life.

Kadiya.

The past could not be changed. Giving Liz the ring as he had, after he had torn apart Atherton’s office in search of it, had proven that his subconscious knew this. He wanted her to know - wanted her to remember.

Because their past was about so much more than him having slept with Tess, about more then him having deserted her, which he knew she still thought.

He had had to go back to Antar to get answers, so that they could create a new future. He had been compelled to leave her, not just in pursuit of his son, but also in search of the truth.

Because if he and Tess were meant to be together, then how could his heart have been so wrong all along?

He had needed those answers…and he had needed to find them alone.

He had been wrong to even allow Liz to get involved with the search for his son. But, in the end, it had been too hard for him to let her go, when she had wanted to help, when she had been holding on to him so tightly. Because he loved her so much and hurting her had been something he couldn’t even conceive of doing. Not when she wanted to be with him.

And so, in the end, he had taken the coward’s way out. He had left, without saying goodbye, and she was probably never going to forgive him for it because he had never given her the chance to understand.

He had not lied to her when he had told her that the reason that he hadn’t answered her phone call on the night he left was because he wouldn’t have been able to do it. He would not have been able to go if he had spoken to her.

And he had had to. Alone. He did not regret it. His only regret was that he had not trusted her enough to tell her so.

Max realized that he was still standing out in the cold, where Michael and Maria had left him almost ten minutes before. Perhaps they had recognized that he had needed a little time alone, to let Maria’s advice penetrate.

He was glad. Because he was going to take it. He was going to leave Liz alone, but first she had to know the truth. About everything.

"Max?" He heard Isabel’s voice calling him from inside. Frowning slightly, he thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket and put Liz from his mind for the moment.

His sister had something to tell him and he had a very good idea that he was not going to like it.

He found them all gathered around the scarred wooden table in the small kitchen attached to the bedroom. A bare bulb burned from the ceiling of the room, accentuating the cobwebs hanging from everything.

"I didn’t have time to clean this place." Max sighed, collapsing into a chair at the head of the table. "Sorry."

"I think we have other things to worry about besides your housekeeping skills Maxwell." Michael retorted tonelessly. He was staring at Isabel, his eyes flashing. "I want to know what the hell’s going on with your husband Isabel."

"Michael…" Maria frowned at him.

"It’s okay." Isabel interjected calmly. "He’s going to be a lot more ticked off once he finds out what I have to say."

Max narrowed his eyes. "Where is Jesse?" He asked, trying to keep his voice steady, trying to convey that he trusted her, no matter what she was about to say.

But the problem was, he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to say the same thing after he knew.

"Jesse knew that one of you would come for me tonight because he had a feeling that something was going to happen. As soon as he saw Max, he knew. He’s been protecting Michael and I for years, but when Max came back, everything changed. It’s out of his control now." She explained in a rush, clearly trying to get it all out before someone could interrupt. "You all know that Jesse knows the truth about us." She continued. "But what you don’t really know is how he found out."

Max could see Michael frowning in his direction. "Isabel, what?" Max asked gently, before Michael lost it, which he was clearly on the verge of doing.

Maria reached across the table and placed a reassuring hand on Isabel’s, which was clenched on the table-top. "Jesse’s FBI." She blurted finally. "And the only way he has been able to keep Michael and I safe is because he vowed that if Max ever came back, he would turn him in."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 10:58:38 PM
Part 23

"I’ll be up in a minute." Liz kissed Dan lightly on the cheek as he picked up the motel room key and headed for the elevator. "I just need to get something out of Kyle’s truck."

Dan frowned slightly but nodded. He had been unnaturally quiet since she had basically ridiculed him about his suspicions regarding Max. She could tell that the conversation was by no means over, but the fact that she had agreed to stay the night with him in the motel and that she had also decided to return to Roswell the next morning had quieted him on the subject of aliens for the moment.

Now she had to deal with the consequences of the fact that she was going to have to break her promise to Ben. She had told the little boy that she was coming back and now she couldn’t. And, somehow, she knew that an eight year old was not going to understand that she was doing it to protect him.

But she couldn’t go back. Not before the wedding anyway. Because if Max even caught a hint of the truth that she was now basically marrying Dan to protect him… Liz grimaced. It would not be pretty.

The fact that she was still furious at him - truly, gut-wrenchingly furious - because of the fact that he had basically ordered her to acknowledge that they belonged together, did not overshadow the fact that she would not allow him to be threatened by her fiancé.

Max had made his choice. By coming back to Earth, he had decided that he was human - that his son was human. And Liz was not going to let anyone take that away from them.

Deep down, she knew it was a bad plan. She knew that Dan was not just going to let this go. But she didn’t know what else to do. Telling Max was not even an option. Because what was he going to do - tell Dan the truth? No, Max had himself admitted that he had had to do many horrible things in order to protect his son. She did not want him to even have to face the reality that he might have to continue doing them.

Because, deep down, Liz knew the only way to truly protect Max and Ben from Dan was to kill him.

And, suddenly, she understood Nasedo - or at least understood him before it had become clear that he was in on the plan with Tess to have Max and Isabel and Michael killed as soon as they returned to Antar. The only real way to keep Max and the others safe was to decide that their lives were more important than those of the people who threatened them.

Once upon a time, back when she had first known him, Max had been willing to sacrifice himself to keep others safe. He had been ready to turn himself in after he had healed her at the Crashdown for example. But that had changed. He couldn’t just give himself up, because he was needed. Now the only person who mattered was Ben. He would be willing to do whatever it took to protect that little boy.

A child who wasn’t even really his.

Liz was not going to put him in the position where he had to decide. She would decide for him. If it meant that she had to spend every waking minute of the rest of her life with Dan, she would do it.

She was not surprised to find Kyle waiting for her in the motel’s parking lot. "Looking for this?" He asked, an eyebrow raised, as he held her purse up in the air. "Thought you might come looking for some fresh air." He added, explaining his presence. "We need to talk Liz."

"Did you call Sarah?" Liz asked wearily, leaning back against the hood of the sheriff’s department vehicle.

"Yeah, she hasn’t even missed me. Vick’s in town for the wedding. They’ve been gabbing it up all night." Kyle grimaced.

Liz smiled slightly. Victoria was Kyle’s sister-in-law. She was a journalist and drove Kyle absolutely batty because she never seemed to shut up. But Liz loved her. She and Sarah and Vick had been practically inseparable during her student days. Vick had left Boston for New York after graduation, but she and Liz were still close enough that Liz had invited her to the wedding.

She shivered slightly. Even the thought of the wedding sent a chill down Liz’s spine. There were barely thirty-six hours until she would be walking down the aisle.

All of her dreams had come true. She was a molecular biologist at Harvard, marrying someone normal, someone who had always been there for her, and somehow, some way it had all turned into a nightmare.

It would be easy to blame Max. But she had long ago acknowledged that she had not been happy, even before she knew he was back. And she had no intention of even being with him after all.

No, she was the one who had gotten herself into this mess. She was engaged to a man she could no longer trust and stuck in a job she hated. Life was grand.

"She’s pressuring me to get her an interview with Maria." Kyle was adding, rolling his eyes.

Liz laughed slightly. "Maria will give her a little something. She likes Vick. She might even let her break the story about Michael."

It felt good to discuss something so inane Liz realized. But she knew that they were avoiding the real subject. Even now Kyle was beginning to eye her with disapproval again. She sighed heavily. "Okay, out with it. I know it’s practically killing you."

"I think you should tell Evans what’s going on." Kyle replied without any ceremony. "While I am still not the guy’s biggest fan, he should know about this. It’s up to him to deal with Dan Liz."

"How?" Liz asked reasonably. "There is only one fool-proof way of doing so Kyle. Do you want Max to kill him? Doesn’t that go against your oath to protect people?" She added wryly, lightly patting the vehicle she was still leaning against.

Kyle’s eyes narrowed. "Do you really think Max would do that?"

"What else can he do Kyle?" Liz closed her eyes in frustration. "Dan is like a dog with a bone when it comes to his career. This would make him."

"Liz, I don’t think Dan’s particularly concerned about his career at the moment." Kyle shot back wryly. "I think he’s more than a little concerned that he’s losing you. Maybe knowing the truth would put his fears to rest. You know, he might find it reassuring that the reason you’ve been acting like you’re madly in love with Max is because you’re still trying to protect him - because he saved your life."

There was a long pause. Liz opened her eyes and stared at Kyle. She watched Kyle’s eyes widen as the truth hit him squarely. "Oh Jeez. Are you telling me that he has? Lost you I mean?" He sighed heavily. "Man, whatever alien force Evans does put on you…I gotta get me some of that."

Liz just smiled sadly. "It’s not about Max Kyle. I wasn’t ready for this long before I even knew Max was back. But Max has played a part. Because being with him has reminded me of what I want to feel like when I’m in love. And I just don’t. Not about Dan."

"How can you say that it’s not about Evans if he’s the one who reminds you of that?" Kyle asked logically. "Liz, why can’t you just admit you still love him? Despite everything?"

"I do love him Kyle. But I can’t be with him. I just can’t. I can’t trust him."

Kyle shrugged. "I’ve never trusted him Liz. But I know he trusts you. You have to tell him. You can’t deal with Dan by yourself. It will kill you. I cannot stand the idea of you married to someone you don’t love." He reached out, pulled her gently against him.

"What does it matter?" Liz whispered against her friend’s chest. "If I can’t be with the person I do love, what does it even matter? I’ll make the best of it."

They stood that way for a long time, Liz trying to gather the strength to return to Dan, to try and convince him that what he had heard with his own ears had been untrue.

"I guess I’ll head back there and tell them you’re not coming." Kyle finally broke the silence. "What do you want me to say?"

What could he say that would even make a difference? Liz swallowed, tried to stop the tears from coursing down her cheeks. Ben was never going to understand. It was absolutely breaking her heart to have to betray him like this. "Just tell Ben that I love him and that I’m sorry. Tell him that I’ll see him soon but that he can ask Maria any questions he has about Alex." But she knew it would not be the same. She was never going to have the relationship with Ben that she wanted now. He would never trust her after this.

"What about Max?"

"Don’t say anything. He’ll get the picture." Liz felt the lump in her throat expanding as she imagined how Max was going to react when he realized that she was not coming back. She had a feeling that he was going to be a little stunned that her will was so strong. She knew that he had thought that it was just a matter of time until she broke down and gave in. After all, when had her actions told him anything but that? She had run off into the night with him four days before her wedding, had slept in his arms, had flat-out told him that she still loved him.

She had told him that she would be back. And she could even admit to herself now that it was no longer an option that going back had not been just about Ben.

"Tell them to be careful." Liz choked out as she turned away from Kyle.

"This is a mistake." He called after her, sounding supremely frustrated.

She turned around. "Maybe." She nodded, the tears truly falling now. "But if so, it’s a mistake I have to make."

*******************************************
The stunned silence had yet to be broken.

Max had felt all the colour drain out of his face after Isabel’s bombshell, could not even begin to formulate a coherent sentence. He just stared across the table at Michael, who, for once, seemed incapable of even an explosion of outrage. This revelation was so clearly beyond anything he had been expecting, his mouth was hanging open, literally.

It was Maria who finally managed to find the use of her vocal cords. "Isabel, what does this mean? How can the FBI know about you and Michael…and not care?"

"Because they don’t think we’re aliens." Isabel replied simply, a slight crease of fear on her forehead. "They never knew for sure about us. They do know for sure about Max, because Nasedo wasn’t able to expunge all the records when he was impersonating Pierce. And when Jesse took over it was too late to do it. Too many agents already knew."

Max felt fear twist within his gut, flashes of Pierce and what had been done to him in the White Room filtering through his mind at lightening speed. Because it sounded like not only was Isabel’s husband FBI, but that he was, in fact, heading up the same unit that had tortured him.

The sheer irony was that he had experienced worse torture on Antar, but the difference had been that he had trusted humans, had believed inherently in their conscience to do what was right and so the betrayal in the White Room had been that much more horrifying. He had always been afraid of discovery on Earth, but after Liz had known the truth, and Maria and Alex, and even eventually Valenti and Kyle, who had both always seemed like his enemies, he realized that he had started to fear less, because they had accepted him. He had started to hope that if the truth had come out, maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as he had always envisioned. He had never recognized this feeling he had until long after he had left Earth. Because it had only existed for a very short time.

Pierce had changed it all.

What he had experienced on Antar had been different, because he had never trusted the Antarians, not for an instant.

But his fear now wasn’t even for himself. It was for Ben. Because if they knew about him, they had to know about Ben.

"But…but you just said that Jesse knows the truth." Maria replied. "About you I mean." Max felt grateful to her. Because he didn’t even know where to start with his sister.

Isabel had agreed to betray him. She had hated him so much after he left that she had been willing to turn him back over to the people who had tortured him - the people that had destroyed his faith in humanity.

"Jesse knows - knew before he even met me, although the FBI didn’t know that." Isabel told them. "He officially came to get close to me because they thought that they could get more information on Max from the inside. They had Max’s name and the suspicions and some of the tests from the White Room, but they had to be absolutely sure before they moved in again, because of how humiliated they had been during the Senate hearings."

"But why hasn’t he turned you in?" Maria asked. She had reached out to grasp Michael’s hand. Max could see that his best friend looked like he was about to pass out.

But Isabel ignored her for the moment. She was eyeing Michael worriedly. "Michael?" She glanced at Max, but quickly averted her eyes. She clearly didn’t want to see his reaction. He wondered inanely if she even felt at all guilty. "Are you even going to say anything?"

"You agreed to turn Max over to the FBI?" Michael finally ground out, appearing to finally break out of his stupor. "How could you do that? HOW???"

Isabel was twisting her hands in front of her. She swallowed convulsively. "You don’t understand. I never thought he would come back." She whispered finally. "I had to protect you Michael. You and me." Finally, she turned to look at Max, her eyes shining with tears. "Max, I never thought you would come back. I really didn’t. I thought it was what you would have wanted me to do." The tears began to spill down her cheeks. "It’s the only reason I let myself go enough to have Lexi. I really, truly believed that you were never coming back. And Jesse never meant it either. He’s not going to turn you in, just told them that he would. It was the only way he could stay married to me and still work there - they were willing to let him, in case Max came back."

"Where is Jesse now?" Max croaked, visions of a team of Special Unit agents gathering outside Atherton’s, making his blood run cold.

"He went in to do damage control." Isabel replied. "He has no intention of turning you in Max, never did. It’s why he told me to go with you - why he didn’t want me to tell him where we were going. In case he can’t fix this."

"How can you be sure Isabel?" Michael demanded. "And why would he send you off with us if Max is in such danger? With his own daughter yet?"

"It’s because of what almost happened to Ben the other day at school." Isabel sighed, closing her eyes and burying her face in her hands. "He must have known that that was Nicholas even before we did. He knows that the three of us have a better chance of protecting Lexi than he does, even though…" She cut herself off abruptly.

And the hits just kept on coming. "What? Even though what Isabel?" Max stood up so abruptly, the chair he had been sitting on fell over backwards.

"Jesse has been on to Nicholas for years." She replied wearily. "Guys, don’t you get it? Why Jesse is working for the FBI but hasn’t turned Michael or I in?"

"Clearly not." Michael replied suspiciously. "Tell us."

"I’m trying." She retorted. "It’s just that it’s all so complicated! Okay, think about it." She looked at Michael. "Remember when I married Jesse, you are were all concerned, because you thought he might be using me, or a bad guy, or something?"

Michael nodded, frowning.

"Well, I told you at the time that I had dreamwalked him and that he was perfectly normal." Isabel continued.

"He’s not?" Michael interrupted, although he sounded resigned now.

"He’s as normal as we are." Isabel replied, shaking her head. "And he’s a good person, just like we are."

And suddenly Max understood. It was so far-fetched as to be almost unbelievable and, yet, it made perfect sense.
"He’s one of us."

Isabel glanced at him gratefully. "Yes. Well, sort of." She amended. "It’s why I was so attracted to him, right from the beginning."

Maria had stood up by now too, was backed up against the wall of the room, just taking everything in. "Sort of? Either he is or he isn’t." She interjected.

"He’s half-alien." Isabel grimaced.

"How?" Max could feel his heart beating at about fifty times the normal speed.

Isabel sighed. "Nasedo."

"EWWWWWW!" Maria shrieked. Max, Michael and Isabel all whipped their heads around to stare at her. "Sorry," she muttered. "But, I mean, c’mon. That’s gross."

Isabel rolled her eyes. "His mother doesn’t even know," she continued. "But Nasedo came back after he was born, kept an eye on him, because he knew that he might develop some powers, wanted to make sure that he learned how to hide them." She frowned in Maria’s direction. "Nasedo wasn’t all bad you know. He had a job to do and he did it, and after he lost us he made a deal that he couldn’t get out of, even after he found us again and wanted to. Tess was wrong. He didn’t make it forty years ago. He made it only after he found the empty pods. Why do you think the Skins killed him if he was working for them? Tess knew he was waffling and she told Nicholas so." Isabel looked at Max. "You impressed him far more than he ever thought you would. I think he thought you were something of a moron on Antar, only came with us in the ship because he was loyal to our mother and the monarchy. He tried to get out of the deal, once he knew you, but it was too late. He had raised Tess to only want one thing. When she thought that you weren’t going to go back, because of Liz, she knew that the only way to make you was to follow the Skins’ plan to the letter. So she betrayed Nasedo."

Max remembered back to the last few times he had spoken to Nasedo, before he had been killed. The shapeshifter had pushed the idea that he was meant to be with Tess, although he must have known that Zan had never loved his wife. Because he had to have known about Kadiya, especially if he had been around when they had been cloned. He must have been or he never would have been sent with them.

Max wondered if Nasedo had even known how Liz was tied to Kadi. If he was such a monarchist, it had probably scared the hell out of him. It might have even been one of the reasons that he had kidnapped Liz, before Pierce had taken Max. If Liz had been killed in the crossfire then, the whole thing would have been over before it had even started. Because Kadi had been the one person who had compelled Zan to abandon his throne. Even though he had wanted to long before he had ever met her, it had been love for her that had finally made him actually do it. No wonder Nasedo had not been loyal to Zan first. If he had wanted a king and a monarchy, the fact that Zan had been willing to give up his throne must have been anathema to him. Pushing Max towards Tess had perhaps been Nasedo’s way to try and avert it from happening again in the present lifetime.

"So Jesse went to the Special Unit after Nasedo died?" Max asked, pushing those questions aside for the moment. Isabel wouldn’t have the answers for all of Nasedo’s motivations after all. But he felt like he was gradually putting the pieces together.

"Well, he already worked there, had since he left college. He had been undercover for a long time, on Nasedo’s orders. They were the ones who put him through law school actually. When Nasedo was impersonating Pierce, he set it up so that Jesse would take over for him when he left. Because, despite what we heard on C-SPAN, the government had no intention of completely ending the Unit. Not after all the proof they already had because of Max’s imprisonment."

"What about Nicholas?" It was the answer Max really wanted. Because if Jesse had any connection to that evil little troll, then there was no way he could ever trust him. "Do you know why he’s still alive?"

"I’m shocked he is, if he’s out in the open." Isabel admitted. "Jesse caught up with him after the summit in New York. Why do you think he completely disappeared? He was at the Special Unit. They figured out a way to keep him alive, in spite of the fact that his new skin was destroyed. But Jesse would have told me had he escaped. He knows he’s a danger to all of us."

"Did Nicholas talk?" Michael demanded. "Because he could have told them all about us."

"I don’t think so. I think he and Jesse understood each other. Jesse would keep him alive if he protected me. Plus, Khivar didn’t want me dead." Isabel glanced at Max guiltily. "Only Max."

"But that doesn’t answer the question of why Nicholas wants Ben dead." Max murmured, glancing at Michael, who shrugged.

"Because he’s your son of course." Isabel returned, sounding confused. "Max, he’s your heir. Of course he wants him dead."

Max blinked. He stared at Michael. "You didn’t tell her?"

"Er, no." Michael admitted. "It didn’t seem like the right time, being as we were fleeing for our lives and all. And then we had to deal with Liz’s crazy fiancé."

"Tell me what?" Isabel asked, annoyed. "If I’m being so honest with you, I expect the same courtesy Max."

"Chill Isabel." Michael snapped. "You don’t have the right to give anyone orders right now. In spite of the fact that you didn’t think Max was coming back, your husband is still the one who told his bosses that you would turn over your own brother."

"Michael." Max cut in gently. "It’s okay. I understand why she did it."

"Well, she should have told me about all this years ago Maxwell." Michael almost yelled. "I can’t believe that she kept a secret of this magnitude for so long. What am I anyway? I’m practically your brother Isabel!"

"I was trying to protect you." Isabel whispered, her eyes filling with tears again.

"Bull!" Michael flared. "You were trying to protect your pansy-ass husband. That and your pretty little house and picket fence. I know you Isabel."

"MICHAEL!" Maria gasped. "None of this is Jesse’s fault! He’s trying to help you."

"Well, then why doesn’t he really help us? If he’s half alien, then he should be with us. He’s got to have some sort of gift. And keeping Nicholas alive? Man, that’s just crazy."

"Jesse doesn’t have any gifts." Isabel shouted back. "And he’s been working his butt off for years trying to keep them away from us. You owe him your life Michael!"

Michael just snorted and turned to storm out of the room. Maria shook her head in despair. "He thought that all of this was over." She told Max and Isabel helplessly. "He doesn’t know how to deal with it."

"It’s my fault." Max shook his head. "I never should have come back here."

"This is your home Max. It’s where you belong." Maria smiled sadly at him. "You had every right to come back. Things might be a little tense right now, but we’d rather have you here than not." She turned and followed Michael.

There was a long silence after she was gone. The only sound was Isabel’s sniffing as she tried to control her tears of sorrow and outrage.

"I’m sorry about all of this Iz." Max finally turned, took in the shattered mess that his sister was slowly turning into. She had collapsed into a chair and looked absolutely devastated by Michael’s accusations.

"Why can’t he understand that I was trying to protect him?" She asked, tears welling up again.

Max sighed. "Do you understand that I was trying to protect you? By leaving you behind I mean?" He sat down across the table from her again.

Isabel blinked, but she replied honestly. "Intellectually, yes. But my heart still hurts."

"I know Iz." He reached out and squeezed her hand lightly, before standing up again. "Come with me."

"Where are we going?" She asked quietly, although she stood quite willingly.

"I’m going to make your heart feel a little better." He replied, quirking a grin in her direction.

Max led the way to the bedroom, where Ben and Lexi were both curled up, sound asleep. Isabel stood quietly beside him, gazing down at the two blissfully unaware children.

"They’re in danger." She whispered, a hitch in her voice. "How is this supposed to make me feel better?"

"They’re who we really need to protect." Max murmured back. "It’s why we have to stop lying to each other Isabel. Only telling half the truth means that the other half can be used as a weapon."

There was a long pause. "What do you need to tell me Max?" She finally asked. "I know there’s something."

Max swallowed. "There’s more than something. There are a lot of somethings, but I’m going to start with a good one. Or at least I think you’ll like it. "

"What?" Isabel brushed a strand of dark hair behind her ears, frowned slightly.

"Lexi isn’t Alex’s only legacy." Max replied. "We have more than just his name Isabel. Because Ben is not my son."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:02:00 PM
Part 24

"Is she okay?"

Max rubbed his eyes wearily as Maria came to join him on the roof of the secret exit from the dome. He eyed his sister, who stood about 100 yards away, under the star-studded sky, her arms wrapped around her middle, simply staring off into the desert. "I think she will be. She’s still a bit shocked."

"Who hasn’t been in the last twenty-four hours?" Maria asked wryly. "But I feel for Isabel. It can’t be easy to hear that your first love fathered a child with someone else. Even if it wasn’t Alex’s fault." There was a pause. "I know that from previous best friend experience." Max knew that it was beyond Maria’s loyalty to Liz for her not to get that little dig in.

"I know." It was all he could say. "Because, you know, even if it didn’t look like it often, Izzy did love Alex. She ran from it for a long time. I don’t think she could quite deal with the fact that he was so willing to accept her. And when she finally could, she lost him."

"I don’t know what it is with you Czechoslovakians, thinking you’re so unworthy of being loved." Maria sighed, throwing her arm around his shoulders, letting him know that she wasn’t really trying to guilt-trip him. "You have totally sabotaged any chance at happiness you’ve ever had Max. I’m just glad that Michael has finally accepted that he’s not going to escape me - ever."

"I’m really happy for you Maria." Max sighed.

"You sure sound it." She pinched him lightly.

"Sorry." He quirked a grin in her direction. "I really am. I guess I’m just tired." And he was. Exhausted - body and soul. He had felt this way ever since Liz had left to go meet Dan. He was jittery and nervous, but bone-tired as well.

The news that Isabel’s husband was a card-carrying member of the Special Unit had not helped matters. Alien or not, Jesse was Nasedo’s son, who had not exactly turned out to the most loyal of protectors. Could they really trust him? And he still didn’t understand exactly what it was that held his sister and Jesse together? How had they dealt with all the lies that existed between them?

Because they seemed happy. More than happy. Blissful. He wistfully wondered what their secret was.

"And worried." Maria was guessing. "She is going to come back you know Max."

"As soon as she works things out in her head." Max agreed. "Iz is strong. And she’s going to love Ben. He’s a lot like Alex. Or at least Liz thinks so. I never knew Alex as well as I should have." He admitted quietly.

"You’re right about that." Maria replied. "You didn’t. You guys might not have thought that you were worthy of love, but it really didn’t give you the right to throw it back in people’s faces, which you did - a lot." Max swallowed, knew that she was right. He opened his mouth to admit it, but Maria was still talking. "Because Alex didn’t just care about Isabel. He cared about all of you. But I wasn’t talking about Isabel. I was talking about Liz."

Max looked at her, surprised. "I know. She promised Ben." He told her. "She wouldn’t break a promise - especially not to him."

It was the one thing that Max knew above all others. That he could trust Liz Parker - with his life and with the life of his son. And not just because Ben was Alex’s. It was because of who she was. Her character would not allow it to happen.

"Max, what are you going to do if Liz decides that she’s marrying Dan?" Maria asked abruptly. "Because I really think that’s a possibility. She is totally freaked out. You make her feel totally out of control. And she’s gotten used to control again over the last few years."

Max was silent for a long time. When he spoke, it was tentatively.

He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to throw Liz over his shoulder and carry her off into the sunset. He was struggling against he urge to force her to accept what she already knew anyway. He was trying not to give in to the urge to kiss her, to make her see flashes, to make her remember why what they were together could not simply be ignored.

They belonged together. Neither of them would ever be as complete with anyone else as they would be with each other - as they were meant to be with each other.

But, the sheer irony of the whole situation was that, he had given up a throne for her in his last life. He was not a king, had to stop thinking like the worst medieval example of all he hated about the idea of monarchy.

It was supremely ironic that in both lifetimes he had not wanted to be a king, was against the principle of it, and, yet, he had never stopped acting like one. He could not seem to fix that aspect of his character, as much as he wanted to. Being treated as the be all and end all on Antar had not helped this side of his personality either. In fact, in some ways, it had made it worse.

He wondered if he would have been able to avoid this character flaw had he never known about his destiny. But he doubted it. He could remember instances long before Tess had come to town where he had tried to control events, had tried to make them turn out the way he wanted them to. The time that Isabel had wanted to tell their parents in their sophomore year sprang to mind. Liz had called him controlling then, and she had been right. Thinking that he could take a step back from Liz after their first date and, yet, somehow still bind her to him, that he should expect her to not move on, had been another example.

It had only been when he had completely lost control that he and Liz had reached the best moments of their relationship. When he had been drunk the night of the Blind Date concert. When he and Liz had been under the power of the orb a few weeks after that.

Was there no middle ground for them? Could they not build a healthy relationship, one that would flourish and nourish the souls of them both?

"I don’t know." He told Maria honestly. "At first, I just wanted to let her be with him, if that’s what she wanted. And then I told her that I wasn’t going to let her waste her life on someone she didn’t love." He raked his hands through his hair in frustration. "Everything I do is wrong. All I really want is for Liz to be happy." He shook his head. "And I just can’t let go of the fantasy that she can’t be happy unless we’re together."

"This is a veritable mess, isn’t it?" Maria sighed. "But I do think you have done one thing right Max. You have to know that you could have used Ben to get to Liz. But, as far as I can see, you haven’t done that."

"I would never do that!" Max exclaimed, truly horrified.

"I know you wouldn’t." Maria replied affectionately. "And Lizzie knows it too. I told you before and I’m going to repeat it. You need to give her time. It might be years Max. But you have to do it." She shrugged. "Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but I believe in happy endings, and I do agree with you. The only happy ending I can really see for Liz is with you."

Max grimaced. "It would be nice if she had her happy ending sometime," he muttered, thinking about Kadi and all she had sacrificed. He could see that Isabel was coming towards them, her arms still wrapped tightly around her middle, like she was desperately trying to hold in all the emotion that was longing to spill out of her.

"Do you want me to talk to her?" Maria asked. "You guys have probably had about enough of each other for the night. That was some heavy stuff she dumped on you in there."

Max frowned, watched his sister approach. "How’s Michael?" He asked, not denying what Maria had said. He didn’t blame Isabel for doing what she had done - agreeing to turn him in. She had had little choice, but he couldn’t help but wonder if her anger at him over his departure had not played a larger role in her decision than she was letting on. She said that hadn’t believed he was ever coming back…but, if that was true, why had she held on to her anger for so long? Why hadn’t she just let it go?

No. His sister had known that there was going to be a reckoning in their relationship at some point. It had been brewing ever since he had first healed Liz.

It had been brewing for two lifetimes.

But he did not have the strength to deal with it at three o’clock in the morning.

"He’s okay." Maria was saying. "He grabbed a sleeping bag and is trying to get some sleep. I think he’s just trying to avoid how mad he is at Isabel. He never gave up on you Max. He always knew deep down that you’d be back, wouldn’t listen to a single negative word about you. It was one of our major problems." She admitted with a grin, nudging him. "Because I can’t say that a few not-so-flattering mentions of your name didn’t pass these lips."

Max grinned despite himself. "I don’t blame you Maria. You’re a good friend. I was a screw up."

"That’s right buddy. I wasn’t just pissed off for Liz’s sake you know. I was mad at you for messing up your own life so completely." She shook her head. "What were you thinking? Tess? Why?"

Max looked away, could not meet her eyes. "You’d be surprised about that I think." He replied quietly.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Maria demanded.

Max just shrugged. Isabel had paused, seemed unsure how to approach them. "Go talk to Izzy." He suggested. "My past mistakes will be dragged out many more times in the coming days I’m sure."

Maria scowled at him. "I don’t think so bucko…" But she was cut off by the ringing of a cell phone. Or, rather, by the playing of the instrumental of one of Maria’s major hits that Michael had played for Max when he had first gotten back to Earth. "Saved by the annoying little ditty." She wagged her finger at him as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. "Don’t look at me like that!" She whispered, putting her hand over the mouthpiece. "It sucks. I know it! The price one pays for fame."

He rolled his eyes. It looked like he was going to have to be the one to speak to Isabel, although he couldn’t figure out who would be calling Maria in the middle of the night.

Unless it was Liz. He glanced at Maria expectantly, but she had started to wander away, was speaking in a low tone into her phone, making it impossible for him to figure out who she was talking to.

But Isabel did not seem to want to discuss Ben at all. When he moved over to join her, his sister spoke to him distantly, "I think someone’s coming Max."

His heart instantly skipped a beat. "Nicholas?" He demanded. Isabel had always had a strange connection to the little troll. Maybe she was feeling his presence in the near vicinity?

"No, it’s not an enemy." Isabel shrugged. "But, whoever it is, they’re not happy."

Max felt his pulse speed up in excitement. Could Liz be coming back so soon? If she was upset, was it because she had hurt Dan or because she was not pleased to be returning to anywhere near him, Max?

It seemed that his question was about to be answered though. He could see headlights bouncing across the desert far to the west, coming up to Atherton’s house from the direction of the highway.

As the vehicle drew closer, he could see that it was Kyle’s truck.

But he knew almost instantly that Liz wasn’t with him. If she had been, her presence would have called to him, as it had ever since he had first laid eyes on her again.

Something had gone wrong.

He knew it instinctively.

And so he almost attacked Kyle when the deputy finally pulled to a stop beside the other two cars. "What happened? Where’s Liz?" He demanded, barely refraining from grabbing Kyle by the lapels of his jacket in demand of an explanation of why he had returned without Liz.

Max could feel Isabel moving up behind him, could still hear Maria’s voice rising and falling softly off further away, as she continued to speak into her phone.

Kyle had pulled his hat off his head, was mangling it in his hands. He refused to meet Max’s eyes. "Listen Max…"

"Kyle, what’s wrong?" Max forced his voice to an even pitch, refused to reveal how worried he was.

Liz had promised that she would be back. If she wasn’t back with Kyle, then something had to have happened.

She had promised Ben. She would never break a promise to his son. He knew it.

Hell, even if she was still ticked off at him, she wouldn’t break a promise to him either. She never had.

And that’s what her words to him had been before she had left. A promise that she would return to finish whatever it was that had sprung up between them again, angry or not.

I will be back.

The words filtered through his brain, reinforcing the belief in the pit of his stomach.

"I don’ t know what to tell you." Kyle was shaking his head. "She’s going back to Roswell with Dan. She decided that all of this…" He waved his hand towards the dome, grimacing, "Was just too much for her. Her wedding is in just over a day. You’ve got to give her a break man."

Max exchanged a look with Isabel, looking for support that something was not right here.

His sister raised an eyebrow at him. "She loves him Max." She said simply, brutally. "You’ve got to accept that."

Maria had joined them, stood quietly to the side, her phone still clasped in her hand.

"Was that Liz?" He asked, almost desperately. He knew he sounded pretty pathetic actually. But he also knew that he was right.

Something was seriously off with this entire situation.

Maria smiled at him sympathetically. "Yeah. She’s just on her way to bed. She and Dan are heading back to Roswell in the morning. She was just checking in to make sure that Kyle made it back safely."

Her words hit him like a ton of bricks.

If she wasn’t coming back, then she had lied. She had not only lied to him, she had lied to Ben.

She had lied to his son.

A flash of rage wound through him. It was so intense, he had to clench his fists.

But within seconds, his certainty returned, more secure than ever.

Because Liz Parker did not lie. Not the Liz Parker he knew.

Well, that was not entirely true. She had lied. She had once told him that she didn’t want to die for him - and then she had thrown away their entire future to save his. All because he had asked her to.

She had lied then.

But only because she had had no choice.

And he knew that it had to be the case this time too. "Something’s happened." He told Kyle evenly. "Tell me."

Kyle scratched his chin, stared hard at Max, exchanged a look with Maria, then broke. "Jeez. I told her this wasn’t going to work."

"What isn’t going to work?" Max asked impatiently.

But Kyle shook his head. "I can’t tell you. I promised her. She’s my first priority."

Max swallowed, tried not to kick something in frustration. He scowled instead, held out his hand to Maria. "Maria, can I please have your phone?"

"Max…"

"Please."

"Why don’t you wait until morning?" Isabel suggested. "Maybe you’ll be a bit calmer then Max. I don’ t think it’s a good idea for you to talk to Liz right now."

"I know that she’s doing this for a reason." Max replied, trying to sound patient. "Liz would not lie to Ben." He raised an eyebrow at Maria. "She promised him she’d be back, so something has to have happened. Something that means that she has to break her promise. If you won’t tell me, then I’ll just ask her myself. "

"You might as well give it to him." Isabel rolled her eyes. "He’ll just go get his own phone."

Maria hesitated for one more second, then crumbled, handing him the phone.

Max hit the button which displayed the menu, found Liz’s name easily, and hit enter.

He started to pace impatiently, waiting for her to pick up.

It seemed to take forever. He heard at least seven rings, growled in annoyance when the voice-mail kicked in.

Max thrust the phone back at Maria. "She’s not answering. You just talked to her five minutes ago! Where is she?"

"Jeez Max. Calm down. She probably just turned her phone off for the night." Kyle interjected.

"Something’s wrong here." Max repeated, for what felt like the millionth time. "I need to know what it is."

"I can’t tell you." Kyle insisted.

"Maria?" Max turned to her again.

"Max, I really don’t know what it is." Maria admitted. "She just told me she wouldn’t be coming back and that I had to try and explain it to Ben."

With every instant though, Max could feel his anxiety rising. He clenched and unclenched his fists, briefly closed his eyes. His heart was racing now, but in a way that went beyond how worried and upset he was.

"Something’s not right. It’s all wrong." He muttered, pacing back and forth again.

"Max?" He could hear the concern in Isabel’s voice, could feel Maria grabbing his arm, trying to make him stop.

But they couldn’t stop him. He couldn’t stop himself. He could feel consciousness disappearing, felt himself drifting away from them.

His last coherent thought was a name.

Kadi.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:02:30 PM
Part 25

She was cold.

It was the reason that she knew he was gone when she awoke. Waking in Zan’s arms, she was never cold, always secure, always safe.

She opened her eyes slowly, hoping against hope that he would still be lying beside her, had simply rolled away for a moment, was perhaps standing by the window, looking out into the sky that covered
his planet.

The planet he was giving up for
her.

But he was gone. The curtains hanging around the bed were beginning to whip around her, the cross breeze from the open door of her chamber beginning to pick up.

Kadiya clambered off the bed, wrapped a robe around her slight body, shivered as she hurried to the door, slamming it shut.

Something was wrong. She knew it. Zan would never just leave, not after what they had decided together, only hours before.

And then she saw it. It sat right in the middle of where his head had been resting when she had gone to sleep in his arms.

It was the royal seal, the symbol of his family, the ring he used to mark all declarations and documents with his approval.

It was a ring that she had seen a thousand times, so often that she hardly noticed it on his hand anymore, such an integral part of who he was.

But, sitting there, waiting for her, it looked different somehow.

But he had
changed it. She didn’t even need to touch it to know it was true.

She managed to stumble back to the bed, picked up the ring, held it so that the moonlight shining through the open window struck it at such an angle that it set the jewel embedded deep within the seal shining with a light unlike any she had ever seen. The insignia of the whirlwind galaxy, the device of his House, seemed to come alive as her eyes lit upon it.

Where once it had been heavy, kingly, now it was small, delicate, meant for one hand alone.

Hers.

She slid it onto her finger, her heart beating so fast, she thought she might pass out from the intensity of it. She knew that by putting this ring onto her finger, she was taking the final, irrevocable step.

She was actually going to let him give up his throne for her.

She could almost hear him whispering in her ear as the thought crossed her mind.
I give up nothing. I am gaining everything and all I have ever wanted.

She smiled slightly, the love she felt for him swelling within her breast.

So lost in reverie was she, that the pounding on the door to her chamber made her jump. She almost dropped the ring. Swallowing in horror, she hurried to her dressing table, gently opened the secret compartment underneath. She placed the precious gift upon the secret journal she had kept since the day she had first met Zan.

She would not wear the ring permanently until he could place it on her finger.

She threw off her robe, quickly pulled on the closest garment she could find, the light coloured gown she had worn the day before at the wedding of Zan and Ava - the wedding she had been sure had ended all of her dreams.

How wrong she had been.

Composed, she moved to the door after the second impatient knock. "Open this door!" A deep voice commanded from the other side. "I know you are in there. The king has sent me to find you."

Kadi frowned. She recognized the voice, could not place it immediately.

It wasn’t until she opened the door, that she realized the true state of danger in which she found herself.

Khivar, Zan’s greatest enemy, stood upon the threshold staring in at her. His dark, cold eyes raked over her, instantly making her feel dirty, worse than her mistress ever had with all her evil, hateful words.

He was openly mocking when he grabbed her by the wrist, "So perhaps I was not sent." He grinned at her, his handsome face belying the malice she could see easily. "Well whore. You finally managed to be Zan’s undoing."

"What are you talking about?" She raised her chin, wrenched away from him. "Keep your hands off of me."

"He is dead you stupid girl." Khivar’s eyes glittered. "And I have come to thank you for bringing down his House more quickly than I ever could have."

Kadiya knew he was lying. She refused to let any momentary doubt even cross her face.

She knew that Zan lived with a certainty that appeared to unnerve Khivar. "I would feel it if he were dead." She knew that she looked haughty, didn’t care.

Khivar rolled his eyes. "Well, he will be dead soon enough," he amended testily, striding past her and into the chamber proper. "Where is it?" He demanded.

"Where is what?"

"The Royal Seal wench. It is no longer on his finger. He must have given it to you."

Kadiya felt her heart skip a beat. "You are mistaken." She replied. "Why would he give something of such importance to me?"

Khivar rounded upon her again, grabbed her roughly by the shoulders. "I want it Kadiya. Give it to me!"

"I will not play this game with you Khivar." Kadiya wrenched away from him again. She had known him since they were both children, knew that he was more of a bully than anything. He would never actually harm her, would never have the nerve to go quite so far. "Zan will kill you if he finds you here."

"Zan is dead." Khivar repeated, a half-smile appearing on his face. "He can not protect you anymore whore."

"I do not believe you." Kadi repeated, although she felt a tremor pass through her. Moments ago, she had been
certain , absolutely knew without question, that he was fine. But something had changed…something was different.

She could feel it in the air, in her heart, in her soul…

In the next instant, she was out the door of her chamber and running. She could hear Khivar on her heels, could not believe that she was outpacing him.

But she had to get to Zan. She knew that he was calling for her.

She paused in the central courtyard of the great palace, frantically looked around. Where was he? Where had they taken him?

It was then that she saw the body.

Her hands flew to her mouth, she felt her legs giving out on her as bile rose.

Princess Vilandra lay sprawled on the polished stones of the courtyard, her beautiful face a mask of grief and despair. There was no question that she had died a horrible and painful death.

No wonder she had felt the spasm of grief from Zan. His beloved sister had been cut down in a way that even common criminals did not suffer on Antar.

"It was a shame." Khivar’s voice was strained. He was still panting, having had to exert himself to catch up to her. "She could have been my queen, but she chose to defend her brother in the end, even though she hated him because of you."

Kadi whirled upon him. "What have you done?" She whispered, shaking her head in absolute horror. "Where is Zan?"

Khivar raised an eyebrow, turned his head, stared in the direction of the palace gardens.

And she was running again, determined to find him, comfort him, protect him from the evil that seemed to have come from nowhere to infect his House.

She heard Khivar calling after her. "Remember Kadiya! I have done nothing! He did it all…for the love of you."

Her heart screamed. Because she knew he was right.

And yet, she had to find him, had to help repair the damage their union had caused.

But as she entered the garden, called out his name desperately, she knew that it was too late.


********************************************

Liz awoke gasping.

She sat up, brought her face down into her hands as she took deep breaths, trying to get a grip on her racing heart.

The motel room was still completely dark. She could hear Dan snoring softly beside her.

Everything seemed perfectly normal. Too normal.

Because Liz knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that something was wrong with Max.

She had dreamt it. It was completely ridiculous but she knew it was true.

Liz switched on the lamp beside the bed, glanced sharply at Dan, but he only stirred slightly, turned over onto his side, away from the light.

It was only then that she realized that the ring Max had put in her pocket earlier that evening had somehow made its way from the bottom of her purse to, absurdly, her finger.

She stared at it, a frown creasing her forehead.

If she had only suspected that Max was driving her crazy before, she now knew it for certain. Not only was she having dreams about him constantly, she was apparently sleepwalking as well.

And, yet, she knew that her dream had not been lying to her. There was something wrong with Max - or at least there had been moments ago.

She picked up her watch, which sat on the bedside table, blinked in disbelief.

How could it have only been fifteen minutes since she had spoken to Maria on the phone?

Her heart began thumping irregularly again, her breathing becoming more shallow.

For the first time, she was truly frightened. Maybe she was really losing it. Had her torn feelings about Max and her worries over Dan finally pushed her over the edge?

Liz stumbled off the bed, grabbed the cell phone that still sat on the bedside table, and locked herself in the bathroom, all without waking Dan, although with the graceless way she managed the feat, stubbing her toe twice and almost completely bailing on her own purse at one point, she wasn’t quite sure why he hadn’t woken.

With shaking hands, Liz managed to call Maria’s cell phone, only having to redial twice.

Her best friend picked up on the second ring.

Feeling that this was no time for pleasantries, Liz practically screeched into the phone. "What happened? Is he all right?"

"Liz?" Maria sounded amused. "Is that you?"

"Maria!!!"

"Sorry, sorry." Maria soothed, still clearly not at all upset. "It appears that his Highness has been expecting your call." And then Liz could hear fumbling in the background. She jumped slightly at a loud crash and then Maria was yelling, "MAX! Okay! I’ll give you the phone, but sit down you big alien dummy! I really don’t feel like picking you up again. You might be skinny but you weigh about a ton."

Liz shook her head in befuddlement, but actually felt her heart begin to beat normally the minute she heard Max’s voice. "Liz?"

"Max, what happened?"

"Did you see it too?" Max sounded excited.

"See what? Max, I know something happened to you. What was it? Is Nicholas there?"

"No, no." There was a long pause. "Er - it’s a little embarrassing Liz."

"Max!"

"Okay." He paused again. "I passed out."

"What? Why?"

"Well, it seems, what with everything that’s been going on…"

"HE FORGOT TO EAT, THE BIG MORON!" Maria’s voice filtered past Max’s and straight into Liz’s ear. She held the phone away, blinked.

"Thank you Maria." Liz could almost hear Max rolling his eyes. "I haven’t eaten in a while." Max explained, sounding completely humiliated again. "Well, until Maria practically force-fed me a few minutes ago." He added wryly. "Forgot how much energy this atmosphere eats up. I got my nutrients other ways on Antar."

Liz just shook her head. "What? You passed out because you haven’t eaten?" There was no way that that was all there was to it. "Max, I dreamt that you were dying!"

"So you did see it." Max replied, sounding pleased.

Liz frowned again. "Max, I didn’t see anything! I just woke up completely sure that there was something wrong with you."

"There is something wrong with me." Max retorted. "But that’s not what I’m talking about. Are you sure you don’t remember anything else? From the dream I mean?"

"Max." Liz was trying for patience, but she was exhausted and was nearing the end of her rope. It was almost absurdly irritating to know that she was still so attached to Max, she dreamt he was dying when he simply wasn’t eating three square meals a day.

He sighed. "Okay, I give up. Never mind." There was a long, awkward pause. "Liz, Kyle said you aren’t coming back."

She felt her heart climbing into her throat. She hadn’t realized that she was going to have to try and explain herself to him so soon, had been sure that she wouldn’t see him again until she and Dan were safely married.

But she had had no control over her actions when she had awoken. She had been completely panicked, sure that Max was dead, or was close to it at least. She had acted without thinking by calling them - and now she had to deal with her lie straight up.

"No." She managed to choke out. "I’m sorry Max, but being back with Dan…"

"Liz, don’t try that bull with me." Max snapped. "I know that something’s wrong. What is it?"

"What do you mean?" She asked evasively, wrinkling her nose, annoyed that Max apparently didn’t buy her story.

"Liz, I know that you don’t lie, unless there is a really good reason." Max replied simply. "You told Ben that you’d be back. You changed your mind, which means that something made you change it. And I want to know what it is."

"What if I told you that you don’t know me at all anymore?" Liz could feel anger beginning to run through her veins. "I’ve decided that I love my fiancé and I don’t want to be around you anymore. Why is that so hard for you to accept?"

She couldn’t even protect him without him trying to interfere. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone, let her do this? Why couldn’t he just let her be miserable in peace?

There was another long pause. "Liz, I have to know what to tell Ben." Max finally told her quietly. She could hear the hurt in his voice, refused to allow it to affect her.

So if it wasn’t affecting her, then why were tears threatening to spill at any moment? "Max…"

"Liz, please just tell me."

And suddenly she just couldn’t take it anymore. "He knows Max. He knows that truth about you." The words were out before she could even comprehend what she was doing. She gasped in horror, brought her face down into her knees, the phone still clutched tightly against her ear.

When had she ended up on the bathroom floor? She wondered inanely. There was nothing between the cold tile floor and her bottom except for a thin pair of panties.

She blushed scarlet when she realized that she wanted to know what Max would think if he had that piece of information.

What kind of crazy person was she, thinking things like this when she had just told her soulmate that her fiancé knew that he was an alien?

"Max?" She whispered into the dead silence to which she had been treated since she had made her pronouncement.

"It’s okay Liz." Max finally managed to say. He sounded incredibly weary to Liz’s knowing ears.

Had she forgotten any of the nuances of his voice while he had been gone? She didn’t think so. Each one was as familiar to her as any of her own.

"Max, what are you going to do?" She asked, unsure what to even say to him.

"I’m not going to do anything." Max told her. "Bring him here Liz."

"What? Max…"

"Liz, do you trust him? You’re engaged to marry the guy, so I assume you trust him?"

Three days ago she would have replied yes without hesitation. Now she just sighed, "I don’ t know."

But her heart was screaming. No! I don’t trust him with you Max! Not with Ben! I can’t risk it!

"Well, I guess we’re about to find out if Dan Riley really deserves you Liz." Max replied firmly. "Bring him here."



posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:03:59 PM
Part 26

"Please tell me that I am hearing things." Michael’s voice was too quiet. It made Max grimace. He saw Maria flinch at it too.

"I can’t." Max replied, shrugging. "Liz is on her way here with Dan. I just spoke to her a few minutes ago."

It was a lie of course. He had spoken to Liz a few hours ago now. After finally convincing her that he was serious that she should bring Dan to Atherton’s, she had agreed that they would drive out first thing in the morning with Kyle. By that time, everyone else had managed to find somewhere to pass out in exhaustion - Michael in his sleeping bag on the floor, Isabel and Maria in the bed with the two kids.

Max had been exhausted - too tired to deal with the repercussions of what was about to happen at three thirty in the morning. And so, he simply hadn’t. He had crashed on the other sleeping bag, having absolutely no trouble falling asleep.

Because he wasn’t worried. Not at all. It had to be done. Dan had to be dealt with. There was no choice now. And he was happy about it. Really and truly happy.

He had been more than aware that Michael and Isabel were going to be the complete opposite of happy and so he had simply chosen not to tell them right away.

No good in them worrying about what couldn’t be helped. There was no point in that at all.

"And why did you decide that it was a good idea to bring Liz’s psycho fiancé back into the picture?" Michael was asking now, so clearly trying to hold onto his temper, Ben, who was sitting on a blanket on the floor playing with Lexi, looked up at him with interest.

"Michael, did you know your face is turning all red?"

"Maria, do you think…" Max gestured in the direction of the two kids, indicating that she should take them outside. Maria frowned slightly, but nodded, went to pick up Lexi and grabbed Ben by the hand, hauling him to his feet.

Ben’s face fell in annoyance. "I always have to leave just when things start to get interesting!" He complained. "And I don’t get why everyone yells at my dad here. First Liz…and now Michael. Because you’re about to start yelling, aren’t you?"

Isabel, who was leaning against the wall, her arms folded in front of her, managed to unbend slightly in order to smile at her nephew. "It’s not you Honey. We need you to help Maria look after Lexi. And no one’s going to yell at your dad." The look she was sending in Max’s direction told him that this last statement was not true though.

Ben sighed. "Okay." He followed Maria out of the room, looking more glum than Max had seen him. Max frowned slightly, shook his head in concern. His son had still not bounced back from Liz’s departure. He missed her and Max had not failed to notice the fact that Ben had been holding back tears when he had woken up this morning to discover that she still wasn’t back.

It was another reason why Dan had to be dealt with. Liz was going to be a part of Ben’s life if it was the last thing Max ever did. Both Ben and Liz wanted it and Max was going to make it happen, come hell or high water.

"Okay, are you going to try and explain this Max?" Isabel asked wearily. His sister appeared to have woken up even more tired than she had gone to sleep. Max knew that she was beginning to worry about her husband now. The fact that they hadn’t heard one word from Jesse did not bode well that he was managing to straighten things out at the Special Unit.

"Of course." Max replied, smiling slightly at his sister. She didn’t smile back. He sighed. Apparently for every step forward he seemed to make with Isabel, he took two back. He was trying not to be impatient with her anger at him, but he had left her only because he wanted to protect her.

She might not believe it, but it was the truth. And after all he had learned about Vilandra, about how she had been bewitched by Khivar, and about how she had died, he would never regret it.

"Listen to me you guys. This is going to be hard for you to hear, but you have to know."

"Maxwell, just tell us." Michael ran his hands through his hair in frustration.

"Okay, Dan knows the truth."

There was a long moment of silence. And then pandemonium broke.

"WHAT!" Michael yelled. "Liz told him?"

"Oh my God…Oh my God…" Isabel began to murmur. She backed up against the wall again, slid down it until she was sitting on the floor, a shell-shocked expression on her face.

"Liz didn’t tell him." Max interjected.

But neither of them appeared to hear this.

Michael had crossed his arms over his chest. "Okay, so you’re bringing him here so that we can kill him. Good plan Maxwell." He sounded resigned, but perfectly willing to do it.

Isabel looked sad, but she nodded. "I guess we have no choice." An expression of anger crossed her face. "I am not going to let anyone put my daughter in danger. If it means we have to kill him, we do it."

"We’re not going to kill him." Max exclaimed. "We’re going to tell him the truth."

This managed to shock them both into silence again.

"Max, you don’t have the right to make this decision." Isabel finally managed to screech, sounding like she was about to lose control. "We all have to agree!"

Michael, surprisingly didn’t erupt this time. Instead he was staring at Max, a puzzled expression on his face, like Max was some gigantic enigma he didn’t understand. "Can I please just ask why you think telling Dan the truth is the answer?"

Max looked at him gratefully, because he actually sounded like he was willing to listen. Isabel was glaring, but she suddenly appeared willing to hear his explanation as well, even if only to shoot it down.

So some things had changed while he’d been gone. It used to be the other way around. He hid a smile with little success.

"It’s really very simple." Max told them quietly. "I trust Liz."

"Er - we know that Max. That doesn’t answer the question though." Michael rolled his eyes. "Trusting Liz has nothing to do with trusting Dan."

"Yes, it does." Max argued. "Can you honestly tell me that Liz would ever agree to marry someone that, deep down, she didn’t completely trust? In my opinion, Liz’s judgment is dead on target. She told Maria, she told Valenti. And you can’t tell me that our lives weren’t made better because she did." He looked at Isabel pointedly. "She told Alex."

"And he died because he knew." Isabel shot back.

Max felt a lump enter his throat. "Yes, but I don’t think he would have chosen not to know either." Max smiled sadly at his sister. "Izzy, he loved you. And if Alex never found out, we wouldn’t have Ben."

"But he’d still be alive!" Isabel’s dark eyes were shining with unshed tears. "Max, please don’t try and take away my guilt about that. It’s all I have left of him."

"It’s not all you have left." Max moved forward, gently pulled his sister to her feet and into his arms. He was actually a little shocked that she allowed it, but she was slowly crumbling right before his eyes. He had to help her. "His son is right here. You can make it up to Ben. It would be what Alex wanted."

He wasn’t even sure if Isabel heard him though. She was sobbing against his chest, as though her heart was breaking. "God…how can he be his son? It just makes it worse Max! What Tess did to him…"

"Ben is nothing like Tess Isabel." Max told her firmly. "He is all Alex’s. And it’s our job to make sure that he stays that way."

Michael cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I’m sorry guys." And he truly sounded it. "But we don’t really have time for this right now. Because how Ben turns out isn’t exactly going to be an issue if Dan Riley manages to get him killed."

Isabel stepped away from Max, her expression stony again. "I know. I’m sorry."

Max felt a pang of disappointment. He had obviously not convinced his sister at all. He managed to focus on Michael though as his friend continued, "Trusting Liz really doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to me Maxwell."

Max narrowed his eyes. "Let me just ask you something. Both of you." He looked at Isabel as well. "Before you knew I was back, before whatever sense of loyalty you still have to me made you change your minds…" He grimaced. "Well, and Dan’s actions over the past twenty-four hours haven’t really helped his case much either." He admitted, "But that doesn’t really matter. My point is this… Before you knew that I was back, you were willing to accept Dan. You even liked him."

"I liked him Max, but I wasn’t about to go broadcasting my secret to him!" Isabel exclaimed.

"I never liked him." Michael added militantly.

"Michael!" Max shook his head in exasperation. "You told me you liked him!"

Michael scowled. "I lied."

"Fine." Max rolled his eyes. "You lied. But the point is, Liz has never steered us wrong. I trust her completely. And if she trusts Dan enough to marry him, then he deserves to know the truth. Because Liz is going to be a part of Ben’s life, and I don’t think that’s even possible unless we let Dan in on the secret."

"Why have you suddenly accepted the idea that Liz is going to marry Dan?" Isabel asked suspiciously. "I was getting the impression from Maria in the car that you weren’t exactly making Liz’s life easy over that."

Max looked away for a moment. It was going to be difficult trying to put his muddled thoughts on this subject in order, because he wasn’t even too sure himself, but he had to do it.

He spoke seriously. "Here’s the thing. I love Liz. We all know it. I’m never going to want to be with anyone else. But I also love my son. And he needs her." He paused. Isabel and Michael were both listening closely to what he was saying, like suddenly they wanted to be convinced. "If I don’t leave her alone, she’s going to shut herself off from me, and I cannot do that to my son. Because I know Liz. She would never try and take Ben away from me and so if she shuts me out, she’s going to be shutting him out too. She wouldn’t want to, but she’d have to."

"Why Max?" Isabel asked, shaking her head, clearly not understanding.

"She doesn’t trust me Isabel." Max smiled sadly. "I understand that now. I can’t force her to either. She either does or she doesn’t. So I don’t have any chance at all. But she did trust Dan before I came back and screwed everything up for her."

Michael was still frowning. "But Maxwell, telling him our secret….?"

"Liz wants Dan. And no relationship can truly work if there are secrets." Max shrugged. "I owe it to Liz to let her have a completely honest relationship with her husband. It’s the least I can do. Because I’m the only secret she has."

Of course, he was basically shooting himself in the foot here, because if he started added up all the secrets he was keeping from Isabel and Michael, not to mention Liz, his head would start spinning. And if they knew, they would kill him.

It wasn’t as though he wanted to keep them though. He was protecting Isabel and Michael from what had happened to them on Antar. Knowing would not serve any purpose for them.

And, as for Liz, she had made her choice. Whatever he told her now about Kadi wasn’t going to change things. In fact, it would be unfair, because he would be using what they had once been to each other to try and bind her to him. If she didn’t trust him without knowing, it wasn’t fair to use their past lives as a way to hold on to her.

Because, in the end, if Liz didn’t trust him, then he didn’t want to be with her. Any sort of relationship between them, without trust, would simply be a shadow of what he really wanted.

"But Max, what about us?" Isabel whispered.

"I’m not planning to tell him about you guys." Max told her.

"I’m your sister! He’ll suspect me for sure!" Isabel retorted. "I don’t even understand how he found out anyway. You said Liz didn’t tell him?"

"Apparently he listened in on a baby monitor or something?" Max sighed, remembering what Liz had told him before they had hung up.

"And this is the guy you’re willing to trust?" Michael demanded, his spine straightening again. "He’s a spy!"

"People do crazy things when they think they’re losing someone." Max replied wryly. "You can’t tell me that either of you wouldn’t have done the same, if you thought there was something weird going on with Jesse or Maria?"

"I just don’t know if this is a good idea Max." Isabel shook her head. "Maybe Jesse could do something about him…" She trailed off as her husband crossed her mind. She looked worried again, but quickly tried to suppress it.

"Well, I actually thought that might be a good idea." Max agreed. "He is a molecular biologist. Maybe Jesse can find something for him to do at the Special Unit. That way Dan and Liz could stay in New Mexico. And it wouldn’t hurt for us to have someone else in there on our side."

"You’re that convinced that Dan’s okay?" Michael sounded amazed. He was peering at Max suspiciously. "Who are you? You hate him!"

Max grinned, despite himself. "Of course I hate him. He’s marrying LIZ. I used to hate Kyle too. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think we can trust him." He sighed. "He’s made Liz happy. He can’t be all bad."

"This is all just too weird for me." Michael threw his hands up in the air. "I give up! Do whatever you want. But if he even shows any little sign of screwing us over, he’s dead." He glared at Max. "Do you understand me Maxwell?"

Max frowned at him. "Michael, I am telling you, don’t throw that threat around lightly."

"I’ve killed before." Michael shot back. "I will do it again. If it’s between him and us, I choose us." He looked at Isabel for approval, but she turned away, clearly still undecided.

"Michael, you killed an evil person in circumstances where you had no choice. Dan is not evil." Max explained patiently. "There is a very large difference."

"I don’t see one." Michael retorted.

"Please just trust me on this." Max pleaded.

It was only then that he realized that Isabel was staring at him. "Max, what did you do on Antar?" She whispered, sounding scared.

"A lot of things I’m not proud of." Max replied shortly. "But I never did any of them without thinking about the consequences first."

It was true. He had killed Tess and Khivar without remorse, but he had understood beforehand that he had had no choice. He knew that he was taking away Ben’s mother and the only person he had had ever known as a father, but he had had to believe that it was truly the best thing for the child. Being with them would have been worse than being without them.

He could not deny that old-fashioned revenge had played a large part in it as well. And it was only because he could recognize this fact, that he had wanted to kill them, that he was able to forgive himself at all for doing it.

He could not say the same for all the hundreds of other beings that had perished because of him.

He did not want Isabel and Michael ever to have to bear that burden. Ever.

Michael and Isabel were looking at each other. They seemed to come to some sort of silent agreement, because Isabel appeared to speak for them both when she finally nodded. "Fine. We’ll play this your way. But we can’t tell you that we’re not going to step in if we have to."

It was the best he was going to get. "Thank you."

"So what do we do in the meantime?" Michael asked.

"I think you should go tell Maria what’s going on." Max suggested. "And, as for me, I’m going to spend some time with my son."

Because, as much as Max truly believed that telling Dan the truth was the only way to save this situation, he still was not going to waste a moment with Ben. Dan wasn’t the only threat after all and he certainly wasn’t the most dangerous. He was only the most immediate one.

Nicholas was still out there. And Max still had no idea what he wanted.

*********************************************

"We’re almost there now." Liz spoke cheerfully, but her heart was thundering in her chest as Dan pulled his rental car off the highway and onto the long gravel road that led to Atherton’s dome. "Thanks again for agreeing to do this Honey."

"I know how much Alex meant to you." Dan grumbled from beside her. "And I can’t have you worrying during the wedding. If seeing Ben again is going to make you happy, then that’s what we’re going to do."

Liz reached out, picked up his hand and squeezed it. "I am so sorry about all of this." And she was, although she was not as sorry as she was worried.

She knew that Max had absolutely no intention of killing Dan. He had told her as much on the phone, and even if he hadn’t, despite what he had told her about what he had done on Antar, she had somehow known that Max would never do such a thing.

And so, the only logical reason Max could have for wanting to see Dan was to tell him the truth.

Liz had not been able to understand what Max’s reasoning was for doing so, but she knew that she had not been happy about it. She truly had not believed that Dan was going to be able to handle it.

But Liz had awoken that morning with a new clarity.

Dan had not seemed as shocked as he should have been when he told you what he suspected, a small voice in the back of her head had reminded her. Your fiancé is a scientist. He will accept what can be proven to him. And Max will be able to more than do so.

No, she had realized that she had been afraid of telling him the truth for another reason entirely.

What Liz was more afraid of was that he wasn’t going to be able to accept Max. Because, the more she thought about it, the reason Dan had been so upset about his suspicions regarding Max’s otherworldly origins had not been because Max was an alien. In fact, he had been pretty straightforward about that.

No, what Dan had been worried about was that he had felt that what Max was put Liz in danger.

It did not bode well. Because Dan had no loyalty to Max or Ben. She was the only person he cared about. She was the only one he wanted to keep safe. And if keeping her safe meant turning Max and Ben in, Liz did not doubt that he would do it. Her dad egging him on behind the scenes had not helped matters either, because her dad had always felt exactly the same way.

She came first with them. Because her own safety did not come first with herself, she appeared to have a little difficulty accepting it from anyone else. But she knew it was true, felt horrible that she had tried to convince herself otherwise.

She was more than a little ashamed of herself that she had originally tried to convince herself that Dan would betray them because of his career. She knew that his career was important to him, but she also knew that she was even more important to him. She had tried to deny it for the last few days, because of the upheaval Max’s return had inspired within her, but she could not ignore it any longer.

She had been looking for an excuse to make Dan less worthy of her love, to make Max more so. Because it was Max she wanted to be with, deep down, and if Dan was a jerk, well, then she had every right to turn away from him.

But, the thing was, he wasn’t a jerk. He was a great guy. She had been very happy with him.

She knew though that it had never been the same as it had been with Max. She had felt safe and secure, but she had never felt alive.

Dan loved her though. She knew it. And if she followed her heart in the direction she was beginning to suspect she was going to be unable to resist doing, she was going to break his heart.

She didn’t trust Max, had no intention of giving in and being with him. But, because he was Max, and she hadn’t changed that much from the girl who had robbed stores for him after all, he would always come first with her.

If she had to choose between Dan and protecting Max, the decision was already made for her.

It was sad, she didn’t understand it, she didn’t like it, but it was true.

She had come to this realization before all Dan’s suspicions had come to light, and it was only fair to tell him so. He might choose not to be with her because of it. He deserved to be loved entirely, with her whole soul after all.

Unfortunately for them both, her soul was not hers to give. It had been claimed a long time ago by someone else, when she had been lying in a pool of her own blood, dying on a cold floor in her parent’s restaurant.

He had to be told the truth. All of it. The rest would play out from there.

Liz knew that Max was right, knew that this was the only way to fix this situation, and yet, she was still terrified.

She could feel icy fear in her veins as they pulled the car to a stop behind Kyle’s all-terrain vehicle. Her friend was standing beside it, waiting for them, a slight frown of concern on his face.

The sun was high in the sky, striking the dome directly and almost blinding them as they joined Kyle to climb the slight incline to the door.

"What is this place?" Dan asked, taking her by the hand. "It doesn’t look like a hospital Elizabeth."

Kyle looked back at them both, shook his head. "Liz…" He trailed off in disapproval that she still hadn’t told Dan that Ben wasn’t really sick. Kyle had been thrilled to accompany them back to Atherton’s, had been ecstatic that Max had wanted to clear the air with Liz’s fiancé. Because all Kyle wanted was for Liz to be happy.

But that didn’t mean that Kyle didn’t want her to behave like the Liz he knew and loved. And she had not been behaving like herself at all. She had been behaving like a complete maniac. She could try and blame Max, she could try and blame Dan, but, really, she was the one to blame.

It was time to take responsibility for her own feelings. Because as much as she didn’t want to have them, they were there and she had to start accepting them.

"Ben’s not really sick." Liz explained carefully. "I mean, he’s part of the reason that I brought you here." Dan had stopped walking, dropped her hand, was staring at her in surprise. "But Max really wanted to talk to you too."

Dan narrowed his eyes. "Why? What could we possibly have to say to each other?"

Liz moved forward, picked up his hand again. "Please just listen. I swear you’ll understand everything when we’re done here." She smiled sadly at him. "I don’t want to lie to you anymore Dan. I can’t guarantee that you’re going to like everything you hear, but Max is putting a lot of faith in you by letting you come here." She took a deep breath. "I am too. Because I’m about to let Max put the two most important people in the world to me in danger."

"I’m in danger?" He asked, not sounding afraid, more angry than anything.

Liz felt a pang of sadness. He truly did not understand. Could not understand. Because it made no sense to her either that her fiancé was not the most important person in the world to her.

She had to warn him ahead of time, had to tell him that what he was about to hear was not going to be easy for him. Because he was about to be hit over the head with exactly what Max meant to her. There was going to be no way to avoid it.

She had tried putting off telling him, had thought that seeing his reaction to the alien reveal before she told him her real feelings would make it easier, but it just wasn’t fair. He deserved to at least be warned.

Liz looked at Kyle. "Can you give us a minute? Let them know we’re here?"

"I’m guessing they know." Kyle quirked a grin at her. "They always know. Or he does anyway."

Dan watched him go. "What is that supposed to mean? Elizabeth, we’ve just had a two hour car ride. What do you have to tell me now that you couldn’t tell me then?"

"Dan, this is so hard for me to say to you…" Liz trailed off. "It really has nothing to do with what Max is going to tell you. But, you need to know. Because you’re not going to understand otherwise. And we’re putting a lot of faith in you by even allowing you to be here."

"What?" Dan whispered, now truly sounding frightened.

"You’ve always understood about Max, or at least said that you did." Liz began, moving away from him and staring up at the dome, a slight smile on her face. "You know that he saved my life and that he broke my heart. But, it was so much more than that. The connection we had… have," she amended firmly, "It’s something I can’t even describe to you. I’ve tried to let go of it, but I just can’t seem to, no matter what I do. I love you Dan, and I still can’t let go of it."

"What are you saying?"

"It sounds insane, crazy, but it is completely true. I love you…but I am still in love with him too. And I always will be."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:05:25 PM
Part 27

Max stood near the door, waited for Liz and Dan to climb the slight incline that lead up to Atherton’s front door. He was trying not to stare at Liz, but this was made more difficult by the fact that she looked like she wanted to be sick. Max could almost feel her nervousness, her fear that she was doing the wrong thing by allowing Dan to join them here.

For one brief moment Max felt doubt. Maybe this was a mistake. They could still change the plan, could still construct some elaborate tale to spin for Dan, could still keep the secret. If Liz was so concerned that Dan was not going to be able to handle the truth…

And, yet, Max knew they were doing the right thing. Even if Liz didn’t trust her own instincts, Max did. Because he knew her. He knew that she would not be engaged to someone that she didn’t trust. She might not know that she trusted him anymore, but Max knew that, deep down, she did.

It was convoluted logic, but in Max’s mind, made perfect sense. He was never going to doubt Liz again. He had made that mistake once in his life and he had paid for it every day since. His instincts where she was concerned - about trusting her, about believing in her - had always been right.

One look at Dan’s expression and Max knew it was far too late to back away now anyway. He looked like he had been kicked in the stomach - hard…several times. Max frowned slightly. What the heck was going on?

Liz turned to Dan, spoke quietly to him. He nodded, turned away and stared out across the desert, his back tense.

And then she was standing right in front of him, her expression unreadable. "Hi."

"Hi." Max replied, looking towards Dan. "What’s going on? I thought that he would have been chomping at the bit for answers by now."

"I told him the truth Max."

Max blinked, swallowed. "Oh." He frowned again, glanced behind him. He knew that Michael and Isabel were both lurking near the doorway, listening, ready to take Dan down at his slightest word. It was making him supremely uncomfortable. "How did he take it?"

"I don’t think it was quite what he was expecting to hear." Liz admitted, shaking her head, a guilty expression on her face. "But I had to tell him. He needed to know. It was the only way he was going to understand."

The way Liz said that, Max knew that they weren’t talking about the same thing at all. "Liz, what did you tell him?" He asked, confused.

"That I’m still love you." Liz replied simply. "He had to know."

Max stared at her. "You told him that?" He managed to croak, almost unbelieving. His heart was beginning to beat erratically, and for the first time since he had made his decision about Dan, he was terrified. "Why?"

Because, the worst part of it was, even though those words coming from her lips were what he had most wanted to hear since he had first laid eyes on her a couple of days before, he knew that everything had just become extraordinarily more complicated.

"Because it’s true Max." Liz sighed. "He needs to know, deserves to know. I love him and you were the one who said that I shouldn’t be keeping secrets from him."

"I just don’t get what good it was telling him that." Max shook his head, in total confusion. "Liz, he’s going to freak out."

"Probably." Liz agreed. "But he needs to know the whole truth Max. He needs to get why he can’t turn you in. He needs to understand why I would never forgive him, but also why I know that you’re not dangerous. Because I’m beginning to think that’s his biggest issue with you."

Max just stared at her helplessly. "Liz, are you still planning to marry him?" He demanded finally.

Liz looked away for a long moment. "I don’t know anything anymore Max." She swallowed, sighed. "I was going to you know. To protect you. To protect your secret."

"WHAT?"

"I would have stayed with him for the rest of my life to protect you." Liz smiled sadly. "In spite of everything, I can’t let anything happen to you." Her voice lowered. "Max, that dream I had last night…" He saw a shudder pass through her slender frame. It took all of his control not to reach out, not to pull her into his arms comfortingly. "I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to you…or Ben," she added unnecessarily. He knew that the two of them were becoming interlinked in her mind.

It was what he had been afraid of - that she was going to be drawn to him because of her desire to be close to his son. And, yet, it was not nearly as horrible as he had imagined it might be. Ben was a part of him now. Even if he wasn’ t his biological child, the bond they had formed, the desire he had to protect the child…he was glad that Liz trusted him enough to want him to do it.

Because that trust was the first step towards being able to trust him with her heart again. Ben was important to her and it had never even occurred to her that Max shouldn’t raise him.

And the love he had for Ben was closely tied to the love he had for Liz, for how important he knew that he would be to her. He understood suddenly that the boy did not detract from the way they felt about each other - would always feel about each other. He just added to it. That they felt exactly the same way about the child, the miracle that was Ben, was a gift.

He realized that Liz was still speaking, was beginning to look at him strangely. "…tell him."

He shook his head, focused on what she was saying. "I’m sorry. What?"

"I think you’re right that we can tell him." Liz repeated, frowning slightly. "I haven’t been fair to Dan at all over the past couple of days. I’ve been so desperate to protect you both, I’d forgotten that he is trustworthy. When I think about all he’s done for me…" She trailed off. She bit her lip. "But it still doesn’t explain why you trust him."

Max smiled slightly. "Liz, you just answered your own question." He reached out, gently brushed aside a piece of hair that was teasing her face in the warm mid-afternoon breeze. "He helped heal you too. And you let him in. That’s good enough for me. After what I did to you, that you were still able to open up, even at all, to anyone…" He shrugged. "He’s a good man. He has to be."

Max glanced over her shoulder, saw Dan had turned back around, was staring at them now, his expression unreadable. "It’s time Liz. Tell him. He can speak to me after if he has any questions."

She shuddered slightly, but moved back towards Dan. She spoke to him quietly for several minutes. Dan listened to her intently, glancing up once, to stare right at Max, his gaze piercing. Max stared right back, not challenging, not threatening, simply trying to convey that he was not afraid of the other man, but that he was also taking a big chance on him.

Because, he was, quite literally, placing his life - and the life of his son - in Dan Riley’s hands.

****************************************************************

Liz approached Dan, her hands clenched tightly at her sides. "Dan? Are you okay?" She began tentatively.

He had not said a word to her since she had dropped her bombshell upon him - that she still loved Max, but that she loved him too, still wanted to marry him if he wanted her.

"Am I supposed to be?" He asked, causing her to flinch. The bitterness in his tone…It was not a good sign. She looked back towards Max, who was watching them, looking so calm, it made Liz’s breath catch.

He really trusted her judgment so completely, he was willing to have her tell her fiancé the truth, was willing to put his entire existence, the existence of his son at risk because he believed in her.

"I really don’t understand how you expect me to react to the news that you are still in love with another man Elizabeth." Dan continued. "And I also don’t understand why you think I would even consider still marrying you."

Liz blinked, felt her heart drop. "What?"

"I will not share you." Dan told her seriously. "I love you but I will not be second best."

"Dan, you’re not!" Liz exclaimed. "You just don’t understand!"

Dan pressed his lips together, looked past her and up at Max. "Why is he standing there so smugly?" He demanded. "What does he expect you to be telling me?"

Liz closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, Dan was focused on her again. "I have to tell you what really happened between Max and I Dan. If you’re going to understand at all how I can still love Max, feel connected to him, but still love you too, then you’re going to have to hear it all."

His eyes narrowed slightly. "I don’t understand what you think you can tell me that is going to change anything." But his tone had softened slightly. He appeared ready to listen.

Liz swallowed, felt like she literally had to force the words out. "I told you that Max saved my life. I told you just last night that he was in my father’s restaurant when someone shot off a gun, that he pushed me out of the way. I told you that I would have been shot if he hadn’t."

Dan nodded impatiently. "Fine. I understand that you had a major life experience with him. But he hurt you Elizabeth. How can you still love him?"

"Dan, I was shot that day." Liz blurted. She stared at him, hard. "What you suspected, what you overheard…you were right. Max isn’t…he’s not like…he’s not human."

She saw Dan take a deep breath. He wasn’t looking at her at all. He looked like he had seen a ghost.

"Dan?" Liz tried tentatively, after what felt like hours. "Say something!"

"He healed you." Dan finally said quietly, like the whole story was finally coming together in his mind. "He’s an alien and he healed you."

"Yes."

"Why? Why are you telling me this now?" Dan asked. "I wouldn’t have asked again Elizabeth. It was enough for me that you stayed with me last night. You wanted to come back here, desperately, and you chose me. That was enough."

Liz stared at him. Because, somehow, she knew that he was telling her the truth - that he would have let it drop. But she couldn’t. Not now. "Dan, I lied to you. I couldn’t have a lie of that magnitude standing between us."

He shook his head, his expression angry. "No, I don’t think that’s it at all. I don’t think you would have ever told me." He looked over her head, stared up at Max for a long moment. "I think he wanted you to tell me the truth. Why? What does he want from me? Does he want me to give you up? He wants me to be scared of him, because of what he is?"

"NO!" Liz grabbed his arm as he made to move past her, as though he wanted to go pound Max into the ground. Max had turned away to give them some privacy, was sitting on a rock near the open door, his head back against the wall as he gazed up at the sky. She felt desperation to get Dan to believe her, to get him to trust Max. "He trusts me. He wants me to tell you because he wants me to be happy and he knows that I won’t be happy unless I’m with you! That I can’t be happy unless you know that truth about me!"

Dan paused, looked back at her. "He told you that? That he knows that you won’t be happy unless you’re with me?"

"Well, not in so many words…" Liz admitted. "Listen, I haven’t told you everything. About why I think I’m still in love with Max." She paused, searching for words, intimidated by the unreceptive look on Dan’s face. "When he healed me…we made…a connection. Something beyond this world. He had to see my soul in order to save my life. And I saw his. It was beautiful Dan! He is such a good person!"

"This is supposed to make me feel better?" Dan demanded incredulously. "How do you know he wasn’t doing some weird alien mind trick?"

Liz just closed her eyes in frustration. As she had suspected, the whole alien issue did not seem to be the problem here. Dan appeared perfectly willing to accept that Max was not of this Earth. What he was not willing to deal with was the fact that she could not get Max out of her heart. "Dan, he wasn’t. He could do a connection with you too even! To show you."

"I think not." Dan snapped back. "If you made this wonderful connection as you call it, how could he have betrayed you with that other girl…that Tess? I don’t understand how him being an alien excuses that!"

Liz brought her hands up to both sides of her neck, rubbed, trying to focus. "I told you that I couldn’t lie to you anymore. Well, there’s a reason for that too. Because I once lied to Max. And it destroyed us. Completely. I drove him to Tess."

"What?" Dan whispered, sounding amazed. "What did you tell him?"

"I told him that I didn’t want to die for him." Liz replied softly, tears filling her eyes. "It was the biggest lie I had ever told - is still the biggest. I drove him away by pretending to sleep with Kyle and it almost killed him."

"Why would you do such a thing Elizabeth?" He looked up at Max, who was now standing talking to Michael, who had come out of the house and was glaring down at them, his arms crossed over his chest. Dan’s voice was almost sympathetic, like he could understand how devastated Max must have been, especially after what he had done for her.

Liz glared back at Michael. She could see Dan tensing up nervously at the sight of him. "What is that guy’s problem?" He asked, his voice shaking slightly.

"He’s protective of Max." Liz told him simply. She and Max had agreed that telling him the truth about Michael and Isabel really wasn’t necessary after all.

More lies.

"So…you all know the truth?" Dan asked, turning away. "Even your parents?"

"My parents don’t know." Liz told him. "And they can’t. They don’t need to and it would put them in danger." She placed a hand on his arm. "And I’ll tell you why I drove Max away. Because it’s important, will just go to show you even more why you can’t tell anyone about him."

And she proceeded to tell her fiancé all about Future Max, about the end of the world, about Max being a king, about Tess and Ben and Alex and Khivar and the cloning and everything, only leaving out details that involved Michael and Isabel. She even told him about her summer of crime in Max’s company before he had returned to his home planet in search of his son. Dan’s expression became increasingly dumbfounded as she continued. She knew that it all sounded like some crazy science fiction television show spun out of control, but it had been her life.

Until Max had left her. It was only then that everything had returned to normal, that her life had become safe and steady and planned.

And that it had become completely, totally unfulfilling.

Not that danger was particularly fulfilling either, she reflected wryly. But at least having her life in danger again was helping her to realize what was really important: the people she loved and possibly looking for a job she enjoyed and living each day to the fullest.

The only problem was, the person she loved most in the world, she couldn’t trust. In spite of it all, she could not trust that Max was not going to break her heart again, and so she would never be completely fulfilled.

But as she managed to catch his eye, even from across the distance that separated them, she knew that these were all just becoming words. That the more time she spent in his company, the more she wanted to take the chance on him again.

He was her soulmate. He had returned to her from across galaxies. He had come back for her. Wasn’t it enough?

There was a long silence after she finished talking. She could see Isabel had joined the two guys up near the door.

Liz wondered briefly where Ben was, felt disappointed that he hadn’t rushed out to see her when she’d arrived. Maybe having Maria around to fulfill his Alex curiosity had been enough for the little boy. After all, just because she felt close to him, already loved him like he was her own child, it didn’t mean that he felt the same way. He was just a kid - one who had had very few people to believe in over his short life. What had seemed like a significant connection to her might have just been another example of an adult making promises she wouldn’t keep to him. Because maybe he had found out that she hadn’t been planning to come back. She cursed herself mentally for the stupidity of that decision. It had made no sense at all.

"Elizabeth?" She blinked, refocused on Dan. He didn’t look nearly as upset as he had before she had started her story. In fact, he looked shell-shocked, as though he was incapable of emotion.

"Dan, are you okay?" Liz asked sympathetically.

"I’d like to speak to him." Dan told her quietly.

"Okay. I know he wants to talk to you." Liz replied. "I know I’ve given you a lot to digest. I don’t expect you to make any decisions right now - about me I mean - but I can’t stress to you enough how important it is that you keep this a secret. I’ve trusted you more than I’ve ever trusted anyone today Dan. Because it’s not just Max who’s in danger. Ben is too. And he is more precious to me than anyone."

Dan didn’t answer, just looked away, a strange expression appearing on his face. "I understand." He looked up the hill at the three Czechs standing there waiting for him, unaware that two of them were even aliens and Liz felt a pang of guilt.

They climbed the hill together, Liz slightly ahead of him. Her eyes met Max’s immediately. "He knows now." She tried to tell him with her eyes that she still wasn’t sure what his ultimate reaction was going to be.

Max nodded. "Good." He looked beyond her at Dan. "I’m sorry that you had to be brought into this Dan. I really am."

Dan didn’t say anything for a long moment. He just stared at Max. Liz could almost hear the wheels spinning in his head. "Thank you for letting Elizabeth tell me the truth." He finally said, sounding a little uncertain. He glanced over at Liz, who could feel her heart pounding anxiously. "I don’t quite know what to say to you. It’s not every day that one finds out that aliens really exist."

Max smiled slightly. "I know it’s strange. But I’m more human than anything else. And like any human, I just want to live in peace. All I want is to keep my son safe and lead a normal life."

Dan tilted his head slightly, studying Max. He glanced warily at Michael and Isabel, then said, "You appear to have inspired loyalty in a lot of people. That has to mean something." Liz frowned slightly. She could see a faint flush rising on Dan’s neck. "I didn’t expect that you would ever let her tell me the truth," he admitted.

"I trust Liz’s judgment." Max replied simply. Liz felt her heart beating a little faster at the way he said it - as though it was a given, that there would never be any question that it should be that way. She swallowed, tried not to show how moved she was by his words.

Dan’s hands were in his pockets. He glanced up when Kyle emerged from the dome, looking around curiously. "So, is it resolved then?" Liz frowned at him slightly, a little annoyed at the cavalier way he said it, as though he had always expected that it would work out. But then, Kyle was a firm believer in the truth. He liked Dan, had felt that he would do the right thing. And he was going to be smug if he was proven right too. Which it appeared he was.

"How many people know about this?" Dan asked suddenly, as though seeing Kyle had prompted the question.

"Not many." Michael spoke up gruffly, sounding slightly threatening to Liz’s ears. "And no more after today," he added.

"What about your wife Kyle?" Dan asked, sounding a little strange. Liz looked at him curiously.

"Nah. Never saw any need to tell her. My association with aliens has always been a little…different." Kyle shrugged. "I was never truly in the inner circle, you might say." Liz glanced at him sharply, saw Max do the same. It was a half-truth, of course. While Max and Kyle had never really bonded on any deep level, Isabel and Kyle had been close ever since high school and there had been Tess…

And Liz understood. Kyle had not wanted to explain to Sarah about Tess. He had wanted to forget. She could understand that. Because hadn’t she tried desperately to forget Max? Hadn’t Dan been a way to help her to do so?

Of course, it had not worked. Not really.

"Why do you ask?" Kyle continued.

Dan closed his eyes briefly, as though contemplating Kyle’s question. When he opened them, he put out his hand to Max. "I want to thank you for saving Elizabeth’s life. Truly. Without you, I never would have even met her. And she has made me so happy. Thank you for that. We both thank you." He put his arm around Liz, pulling her against his side.

She knew that she was supposed to be happy to hear his words. They were exactly what they had all hoped he would say.

But Liz felt her heart stop. Max was staring down at Dan’s hand in shock. Because the way Dan had said that…it had almost undermined the healing - made it seem like it had been something simple, something uncomplicated.

It implied that Max would have done it for anyone. It acknowledged Max as a good person, but it did not establish that Dan believed that it created any sort of special bond between Max and Liz. It told them that Dan was not going to turn him in, was not going to create problems for Max or Ben.

But he was not going to give Liz up either. Nor was he going to accept that Max had any sort of connection to her at all.

Max appeared to force himself to shake Dan’s hand, but he did not look at him. He stared right at Liz, his eyes dark with pain.

Because she knew exactly what Dan was doing. He was making it seem like that was what Liz had told him, that she had downplayed the seriousness of what Max had done for her, what he had given up to save her.

And she could not say a word. Not in front of Dan. She could not hurt him like that, could not tell them all that she was torn about her fiancé, that it was really Max she wanted, but that she could not trust Max and so was sticking with Dan, who she did love, just not quite as much or in quite the same way.

Not in the way that she would throw away her entire life to keep him safe. Not in the way that she would willingly give up her life for him.

Even if she didn’t trust him, she would still do it.

Max would not believe it anyway, would not believe that she had told Dan the truth in such a way. He could not think that she would actually tell Dan such a thing, that she would downplay their connection. She had just told him a few minutes ago that she had admitted to Dan that she still loved Max after all.

"I’m glad too." Max managed to mutter. Liz ached to reach out to him, to scream that it wasn’t true, that she had tried to explain to Dan…Because, apparently he did believe it. How could he? He knew the truth!

"You should go in to see Ben Liz." Max looked directly at her then, his eyes cold. "He missed you. Dan should meet him too." He turned away. "I’m going for a walk." He told Michael curtly. "Watch over things."

"Wait!" Dan intervened, placed his hand on Liz’s shoulder, as though knowing that she was going after Max, even though she hadn’t taken a single step.

Max paused halfway down the slope, didn’t turn around.

"I was trying to tell you. I’m afraid…well, I did something that I don’t think is going to be easy to repair." He turned Liz around, looked guilty. And Liz truly believed that he was. He might be trying to break the connection between Max and Liz, but Liz truly did not think that he had it in for Max anymore. "Kyle, you might have to tell your wife the truth too." He continued.

"Why?" Kyle’s face blanched as Liz watched. Everything was moving in slow motion suddenly.

"Because…" Dan paused, grimaced. "She’s on her way here. And she’s bringing Vick with her."

"Vick?" Michael stepped forward menacingly. "As in Victoria the reporter?"

"Dan!" Liz rubbed her temples in horror. Max had turned around, was staring right at her, his face an emotionless mask. "Why would you do such a thing?"

"I felt that I needed support." He looked at Liz guiltily. "I knew you were lying to me about Max. I knew that I was right. And I thought that if I confronted you all about it in front of Vick…well, she would expose him and this would all be over."

"Who cares?" Max said quietly. "It’s not like we’ll tell them. They don’t have to know anything. We’ll just send them home. Kyle can take them. We’re leaving later today anyway."

"We are?" Liz glanced at Isabel and Michael, who both looked as surprised as she felt.

Max didn’t look at her when he replied, "You have a wedding tomorrow Liz. I think you need to go back to Roswell. You should all go back. I’ll take Ben somewhere safe until it’s over. Nicholas doesn’t care about any of you. I’ll deal with him and then come home."

"Max! That’s crazy!" Isabel exclaimed. "We’re not just going to leave you! And Jesse wants me to stay with you too!"

"I don’t particularly care what Jesse wants." Max snapped back. "I’ve told you what’s happening and that’s it."

"Nicholas is out there Maxwell! He’s not just going to let us go back to our lives." Michael spoke softly, as though understanding that Max’s stubbornness was stemming from anger at Liz, rather than because he truly meant what he was saying.

But Max was already walking away. "I’ll be back in a few minutes," he called over his shoulder.

"Liz!" Isabel’s voice penetrated the fog surrounding her. How had everything spun so completely out of control? How could she actually be marrying Dan in less than twenty-four hours? Wasn’t it exactly what she wanted? And was Max really losing it so completely that he was going to send everyone he cared about back to the one place Nicholas would be able to find them with ease? "Go after him!" Max’s sister ordered, as though not understanding why she was still standing there.

"Elizabeth, he clearly wants to be alone." Dan spoke softly to her. "I don’t blame him. He must understand now that we’re still going to be married. I would be hurt too, if I lost you."

Liz wrenched away from him. "I have to go after him. He’s not behaving rationally." She looked at Dan, could feel tears filling her eyes. "How could you do that to him? I told you what it was like between us!"

Dan stared at her, as though he truly did not understand. "What are you talking about?"

But Liz was already racing down the slope after Max, unable to resist what she really wanted to do a moment longer.


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:07:34 PM
Part 28

There was a small wind-break of trees at the bottom of the slope on the far side of Atherton’s dome. Max stopped there, not wanting to be out of shouting range should anything go awry back up at the house.

For the moment though, he really needed to be alone.

He knew that Liz had not down-played what had happened between them after he had healed her. He also knew that that was what Liz thought had upset him. He had seen the expression of dismay that had crossed her face when Dan had tried to deny the connection that existed between them. She had been upset that he, Max, had been hurt and that she couldn’t comfort him, that she could not make her fiancé understand why they would always be important to each other.

It had been in that instant that Max had recognized a very basic fact - one that had totally shocked and, very quickly, horrified, him.

Watching Dan deny the connection, even though Max could see plainly in his rival’s eyes that he knew that he was making a fool of himself, had been more than painful, because the realization that had hit Max like a flash of lightening had terrified him.

Because of the connection that existed between them - the unnatural bond that he now knew stemmed from far more than just the fact that he had saved her life that day - Liz was never going to be able to be truly happy with anyone else.

He would always be holding her back. She was never going to be happy. Because what other man would ever accept a woman who’s soul already belonged to someone else?

Max had accepted that she did not trust him, that they could not be together, but if they couldn’t be, then he at least wanted her to find contentment, joy and a full connection with someone else. But as long as both of them lived, it was going to be impossible. She would always be tied to him, because of Kadiya’s sacrifice, and so, would never be able to fully move on.

They were going to torture each other through eternity.

He could bear it for himself - he would bear any burden to be able to continue to love her - but he did not want it for her. Not for Liz. Because he loved her, he did not want her trapped.

Dan might not have been the man that Max would have chosen for her - Max still basically thought he was a pompous ass - but his reaction to the news of Max’s otherworldly heritage had been surprisingly open and accepting. He was not a bad man. But he was also a man who loved his fiancée and was not going to be able to deal with the fact that she would always be connected to Max on a level that he could not understand, could not share.

No it was the bond between Max and Liz that Dan could not accept, would never be able to accept. Max certainly did not blame him. He wouldn’t want to share her either.

The sheer irony was that Max knew deep in his heart that Dan Riley was absolutely not a threat to the connection he shared with Liz. Because it had been predetermined long before she had even been born.

Destiny could not be fought. He had learned that lesson the hard way one time too many.

And so, Dan and Liz’s relationship was doomed. They would try, but it would never work. Especially since Max and Liz were going to constantly see each other because of Ben. Dan was going to slowly be eaten away by jealousy, not really understanding the hold that Max had on his wife’s heart.

Max was the only one who really understood. He knew that it was not real and that it was not fair. Liz was living a new life on Earth. She should have the right to love where she wanted and where she chose. But it was impossible.

He had not wanted to tell her about Kadi - about what she had done - because he had not wanted her to feel compelled to be with him. It was only now that he was beginning to understand that Liz did not need to know the truth for the sacrifice to affect her.

It was binding her to him anyway, destroying the life she was trying to make for herself. Even if he had never come back, it would have slowly eaten away at Dan and Liz’s relationship - maybe not as quickly as Max’s presence was doing, but eventually.

She was trapped.

Someday she was going to start to hate him because of the connection, because of the fact that she was never going to be entirely free. Because she couldn’t be with him, but she also couldn’t fully be with anyone else.

He couldn’t bear it - could not bear the thought that she was going to hate him. But he knew that he was going to have to. She had the right. And it was going to happen.

It just seemed so damned unfair that Kadi had sacrificed herself so that they could be together, and yet, in the end, Liz was as doomed as Kadiya had been.

"Max."

He had been aware of her for a while, standing quietly nearby, waiting for him to speak first. He knew that she still thought that he was upset because she had supposedly denied their connection to Dan. He hadn’t spoken immediately though, had continued to stare across the desert, continued to watch the sun begin to set in the western sky, had just enjoyed the feeling of her being close.

She was always with him, but might not be physically with him for long. Not after he told her the truth. She was going to run from it. He knew her. She could not be with him, because she did not trust him, but the news that she was never going to be allowed to move on from him…It was going to devastate her.

Liz would not be Liz without her hope. He thought that she was beginning to recognize that perhaps Dan was not the one to help her get over Max, but he also thought that maybe she believed him to be the first step - that maybe the next man would be able to heal her heart, remind her what it was supposed to feel like, what it was like to truly give yourself to another person.

His mind flashed instantly to Liz’s comment to him so long ago, when her journal had disappeared and they hadn’t known where it was. After it had turned up safe and sound, but not before they had both almost completely panicked, she had needed to tell him why she had written down all the dangerous secrets about him and Michael and Isabel.

"I felt something that I just had to put into words...so years from now, if anyone ever...if anyone ever touches me the way that you did, I'll know what it's supposed to feel like."

She was never going to have that. With anyone. Because she could not trust him and, yet, no one else could break their bond.

"Max…" Liz spoke again, softly. "I don’t know what to say. I am so…"

"Liz, please don’t say you’re sorry." Max cut her off abruptly, turning around. He could not bear to have her apologize to him - not when he was about to shatter all her dreams. He forced himself to smile at her. "You have absolutely nothing to be sorry about."

Her brow wrinkled in that way it did when she was concerned about something, or someone. She didn’t believe him. Of course she didn’t. She was Liz. "Max, I just want you to know, I don’t know why Dan did that…why he tried to make it seem that I had somehow downplayed what you did for me…I would never do that. Whatever issues we might have between us now, I will never stop being grateful to you that you risked your life for me like that…" She paused, tears shining in her dark eyes. "That you showed me your heart by doing it."

Max swallowed, looked away. "Liz…"

"Max, why does this have to be so complicated?" Liz sighed heavily.

Max just stared at her. Finally he just decided to lay it all out on the table. Better for her to hate him now, right away. He could not bear for it to be slowly, for him to have to watch her gradually come to the realization of what their connection was doing to her, for despair to take over.

"Liz, I need to tell you something." Max began, grimacing. She looked at him in surprise. He could see that she was startled that he didn’t sound particularly upset at the moment.

He was hiding it of course. He was more than upset. He was beyond it, into that state of being where you realize that if you let any emotion through, the tidal wave will destroy you.

"Max, what?" She moved closer. "You can tell me anything. I’ve told Dan that we’re always going to be connected. We’ll always be friends."

"Do you still have the ring I gave you yesterday?" He asked quietly, trying to decide where to begin his story.

He saw her eyes widen, saw a flash of fear cross her face. He frowned. "Yes." She finally choked out.

And then he watched in amazement as she reached for the chain around her neck and pulled it out from under her shirt. The ring glinted on the necklace, the blue jewel catching the light of the setting sun.

"You’re wearing it?" He whispered, his heart starting to thunder despite himself.

She didn’t look at him for a moment, then slowly said, "When I called you last night…when I knew that something had happened to you…" She paused, searching for the words. "It was because I had a dream." Liz looked directly at him, sighing. "Which you obviously already knew from what you said on the phone."

Max nodded. "I had it too. When I was unconscious." He still felt a flash of embarrassment at the stupidity of the fact that he had passed out at all. But getting back into the swing of humanity had been less natural than he had imagined.

"Max, when I woke up, the ring was on my finger." Liz told him bluntly. "Which was a little odd, because of the fact that I had left it buried in the bottom of my purse when I went to bed."

He shook his head. "I’m not surprised Liz. I never should have given that to you." He continued quietly. "It wasn’t fair."

"Why?"

"You don’t remember the details of the dream…" He paused. "Dream doesn’t even seem like the right word Liz."

"What do you mean?" She demanded.

"It was a memory." Max admitted. "Liz, giving you that ring…I was playing a game that I had no right to play."

She was truly frowning now, trying to understand what he was saying to her. "Max, can you stop playing games now?" She finally queried, beginning to sound a little testy. "Because I don’t understand what you’re saying."

"Liz, that ring belonged to Kadiya." Max told her bluntly. He watched her eyes widen, saw her finger it slowly, wonder slowly appearing on her face. "It made you able to access Kadi’s memories."

There was a long moment of silence. "That doesn’t make any sense Max." Liz finally told him, sounding disbelieving.

"It might not Liz, but it’s the truth." Max sighed. "You had that dream last night - I had it too. You dreamt about my death on Antar, as Zan, because you lived it. You were there."

She didn’t say anything, just continued to finger the ring, a completely blank expression on her face. And so he continued, "When Zan died, Kadiya helped to clone him. She put the ring in his pod and sent it with the ship to Earth. And then she did something that Zan never would have wanted. She took her own life. You took your own life." He said this last part as gently as he could, but he saw her flinch at it anyway.

Liz’s eyes were empty, as though she was looking back, trying to remember something that could not be remembered. Because while her soul was Kadiya’s, she was not the same person - not in the way he was.

"If Larek let her help with the cloning, why didn’t they just clone her too? Send her instead of Ava?" Liz finally asked, after the silence had stretched out for what felt like an eternity.

"The monarchists, the ones who cloned us because they wanted the Royal Four to come back, would not allow it." Max shook his head. "They were not allowed to be together. Larek accepted that Kadiya loved Zan, felt sorry for her - he is not a hard man after all - but she could not be the one. She knew it, did not even fight it. Because she knew that we would be together one day anyway."

Liz brought a hand up to her forehead, looked like she was about to pass out. "Max, what are you talking about?"

"Liz, you are Kadiya."

She started to laugh, sounding a little hysterical. "Max, are you insane? That’s impossible!"

"No Liz. It’s the truth. I’m sorry." He continued urgently. "Liz, when I first found out, I was just overjoyed about it. Finally I understood where the love I had had for you from the first moment I laid eyes on you came from. We were meant to be! I had been right all along." He paused, scrubbed a hand across his face. "But, I’m only beginning to get that there is a dark side to this whole thing. You’re trapped. What we did in that past life bonded us in a way that means that we’re never going to be able to move on. Either of us."

"I don’t understand." Liz shook her head. "Trapped how? We’re connected because I know you Max. You showed me your soul and it was beautiful and I fell in love with you because of it. But I’m not Kadiya. I’m Liz Parker. I am fully human."

"Yes, you are human." Max acknowledged. "But your soul is hers. She killed herself so that it would find me, so that she could be reborn and become a part of my life here."

"Max, that’s absurd. How could she know that she would be reborn as me? Here on Earth with you? Are you telling me that not only is reincarnation possible, but that someone can decide when and where they are going to be reborn?"

He was forced to smile slightly. Of course Liz would have knife sharp questions for him. Her scientific mind was already telling her that none of this was possible, that he was clearly spinning some sort of strange fairy tale in order to try and convince her that they belonged together.

"Not everyone Liz." He shrugged. "It’s complicated, but on Antar, there’s a bonding ceremony called the Rashna. It’s basically a recognition of a connection like the one shared by Kadi and Zan. They couldn’t live without each other. And so they made sure they would never have to. Their souls were linked, for eternity."

Liz put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "That is impossible Max!" But he could see the interested gleam in her eyes. This was capturing her imagination, just as he had known it would. It was why he hadn’t wanted to tell her, had wanted her to figure out who she was on her own, so that when the bond was acknowledged, it would be by her own choice.

"Liz, it is possible and it happened."

Her eyes were narrowed thoughtfully. "I don’t understand why I can’t remember the dreams when I wake up then. If I’m really Kadiya…shouldn’t I be able to remember them? You remember your past life!"

"But there’s a difference." Max explained. "My soul, essence, whatever the hell you want to call it, was cloned. I am still Zan - exactly the same person, only in a different body. You aren’t. Your soul is the same as Kadi’s, but you’re also Liz, an entirely new person." He grimaced. It sounded ludicrous. But he knew it was true. Larek had confirmed that the Rashna had taken place. "You had the dream because the ring connected you to Kadi…but they’re not really your memories."

Liz rubbed her temples in frustration. "This doesn’t make any sense. Max, I know that I fell in love with you - with you! Because you healed me, because you let me see your soul. It’s not because of some weird ceremony two other people went through on another planet." She paused. "And none of this even begins to explain why you’re so upset. You told me yourself a few minutes ago that you thought this was a good thing - that it gave you the answers about why you have always felt connected to me, even before the healing."

"Liz, I wasn’t upset because Dan was trying to act like the connection doesn’t exist. I know it does and I also know that you would never deny it." Max told her. "I was upset because I finally fully realized what the connection means."

"What does it mean?"

He moved away from her again, leaned against one of the trees that had been planted as a wind-break. He stared up at the sky, could not look at her. "Do you know how much it hurts to know that you don’t trust me?" He finally asked, knowing that she was going to think that he was completely changing the subject, although he wasn’t.

There was a long pause. When it went on for close to a minute, he looked over at her. She was standing there staring at him with a strange look on her face.

"Liz, what’s wrong?" Max pushed himself forward, concern making his heart stop.

"You once told me you didn’t trust me." Liz finally whispered. "After Kyle. Before you went to New York. I know. And I’m sorry."

Max sighed. "Liz, I don’t want you to apologize. The point is, I know what it feels like not to trust the one person you thought you knew better than anyone. I know how you feel. And I know that we can’t be together because you don’t trust me. I brought it on myself by leaving without saying goodbye to you. But that’s not even the point anymore."

"Max, what is the point?" Her voice sounded frail, like she was on the verge of breaking down.

"Liz, you don’t trust me, but you still love me." Max replied sadly. "Don’t you think there’s something wrong with that? Something unnatural?"

"I…I don’t…" She had tears in her eyes now, was stumbling over her words.

"It’s because of this bond, this unnatural connection that Zan and Kadiya created. I once told you that I couldn’t bear to ever hurt you. But I’ve done it again and again. And yet you still love me. You are a very smart person Liz. I know that you want to be happy, that you think that I could never make you happy, and yet you still love me." He smiled sadly. "And I love you. I always have. We’re trapped Liz. And while I don’t mind for myself…I would not be the same person if I didn’t love you…I can’t bear that you’re never going to be able to have this connection with someone else. I feel like I’ve robbed you."

"Max…" Her eyes were bright again, tears apparently never far from the surface whenever she was with him. All he ever did was make her cry. It was all he had ever done.

"All I know Liz is that I want you to be happy. You can’t be happy with me, you can’t be happy with anyone else. It’s the worst possible thing I can think of." He could feel tears filling his own eyes.

Their gazes met. His heart skipped a beat. He could see that she had a look of astonished amazement on her face, like she was truly seeing him for the first time in practically forever.

It reminded him of the expression that had been on her face after the first time he had connected with her…completely flabbergasted and, yet, enchanted at the same time.

"It’s not the worst possible thing." Liz told him, shaking her head. "Losing you was worse. And I’m only now beginning to realize it." She was moving towards him. "And I haven’t even told you how glad I am that you’re safe and that you’re home."

"Liz, you’ve told me. And thank you. But I’m only beginning to realize how much it’s screwed up your life. And I don’t even know if it’s worth it."

"Max, it’s worth it." Liz insisted. "You brought Ben back to us. You brought us all back together. We missed you. The real you. And if going halfway across the universe was what it took for you to come back to us, well, I’m beginning to realize that maybe the fact that you left how you did…Maybe I can get past it."

"Liz…"

She cut him off. "You have to let me finish. This has to be said. Max, the person that you were before you left…It wasn’t you. She destroyed you. You were not the same person you were when I first fell in love with you."

"And you got back together with me anyway Liz. Because of the connection, because you had no choice." Max replied, what she was saying only reinforcing to him that he was right - that their connection was not a positive force in her life - that it had not been for a long time.

He had allowed their relationship to erode to such a degree before he left that the gift that Kadiya had given them, this amazing bond that brought them together across the universe, was a curse instead.

"Max, I had a choice." Liz replied wryly. "I was an eighteen year old girl desperately trying to hold on to the only person I thought I was ever going to love. Dan showed me that wasn’t true though. Because I do love him Max." He tried not to show that it was painful to hear that - he knew it after all - but he flinched slightly. Liz saw, but continued anyway. "Max, I love Dan, but I’ll never love him how I loved you…the you that saved my life I mean. It’s why I couldn’t bear it when you left without saying goodbye. If you had done that when we were sophomores, I would have known that it had been because you had had no choice. But I just didn’t really know you anymore. You were this person who told me one week that you wanted to make my dreams come true, and then the next week you let me rob stores with you. The real you would never have done that. It took me a long time to accept that you just weren’t him anymore. I think maybe that’s why I couldn’t accept that you weren’t coming back for so long. I could not believe that you weren’t. The Max that I loved…he just would have. He would have come back." She paused, seemed to be watching him to see how he was taking this.

He didn’t know how he was taking it. It hurt to hear her say these things to him - that he had no longer been the person that she had fallen in love with - but he knew that she was right. The whole Tess thing…it had changed him. And not because he had chosen for it to happen.

But telling her the truth about that…She was going to think that he was making excuses, that he didn’t deserve everything she was saying to him, that it wasn’t all true.

Because, the sheer irony of the whole thing was, he had been an entirely different person.

And yet…

He had promised himself that he was going to tell her the whole truth. She deserved to know, needed to understand that she had not been a fool, that the real Max had still existed, but had been unable to fight back any longer…that seeing her in bed with Kyle had weakened him, undermined his belief in himself, so that he had been susceptible to Tess and to all the others who used his own weaknesses against him.

When he just continued to stand there, not saying anything, Liz moved forward, placed a comforting hand on his arm. "Max, I’m not trying to hurt you. The point I’m trying to make here…What you’ve told me tonight…Seeing you with Ben…" She was searching for words. "I think that you are my Max again." He blinked, surprised, felt his heart beginning to beat erratically, suddenly so full of hope, he didn’t quite know how to deal with it.

How had this happened? He had been apologizing to her for the fact that she was never going to be able to move on, that he was going to make her miserable for the rest of her life, and suddenly…suddenly it seemed like maybe she was willing to give him another chance.

And he hadn’t even told her the whole truth.

She smiled up at him gently. "Max, I can see you struggling with these decisions you have to make, with the desire to protect the people you love, and I know that they’re the same feelings you had before Tess. I know what you were like then. But what you became after Alex died…even after Tess left, you were just never the same. You talk about me being trapped…but it was you Max. You were the one trapped in someone I didn’t even recognize."

He knew that he had to speak, that she must be waiting for him to say something. "Liz…"

Liz brought her hand up and gently laid her fingertips against his lips. "Max, don’t say anything. I know already. You weren’t yourself, were you? Even after she was gone? There’s more to the fact that Ben isn’t your son than you’ve told me. Isn’t there?"

He swallowed, closed his eyes for a moment. He knew it was time to tell her everything. She wanted to know and he couldn’t not tell her just because it might affect her decision about whether she wanted to marry Dan or not. He couldn’t make those choices for her, even if he thought he was protecting her.

Enough had already been decided for her in another lifetime. He couldn’t do it for her any longer.

"You’re right. About everything. The person I was when I left…it wasn’t me. She…she changed me. And she wasn’t the only one. By the time I knew about it, by the time I was strong enough to fight back…there was only one thing left to do to completely free myself." He stared right into her eyes as he told her the whole truth. "I had to kill them all."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:11:26 PM
Part 29

Liz felt a chill descend her spine at the expression on Max’s face.

I had to kill them all.

He was not sorry. The guilt that he was carrying, the sorrow that he had told her about on the car ride to Marathon, that he had been responsible for the deaths of so many people - it did not extend to whoever he was talking about now. She could almost read the shame of it in his eyes.

He was not guilty that he had killed them, but he was guilty that he didn’t feel the horror that he knew he should.

"Tell me," she whispered.

It was time for it all to come out in the open. He had been confessing little pieces of it since she had first seen him again. But she could see that he was finally going to tell her everything.

It was frightening - and yet strangely comforting. No more secrets.

And maybe, finally, there would be some answers.

She saw his jaw clench. He closed his eyes briefly, then turned away.

"You know that I killed Khivar and Tess?" He began quietly, so softly she had to strain her ears to hear him.

"Yes." She wanted to move closer to him, wanted to take his hand, but she knew that it would not help him now. It would simply distract him, upset him, because he truly seemed to believe that the connection that existed between them - that made her need to comfort him because she could feel the pain coming off of him in waves - was a curse, that she was destined never to be happy because of it.

She didn’t buy it. Not at all. Whoever he seemed to think she had been in a past life, she knew who she was now. She was Liz Parker and she knew that she felt this way about Max Evans, not about some alien king he had once been. The flashes they had shared, the many times she had seen into his soul - that had been all Max.

It was Max she loved, felt bonded to.

It reminded her that she was beginning to realize that she didn’t really care how she was supposed to feel, that she supposedly didn’t trust him. Right now he needed her and she was going to be there for him.

Liz moved forward, gently took Max’s hand. He turned in surprise, but didn’t pull away. He just looked resigned, as though he thought she didn’t have any choice in the matter, that the connection was making her do things she didn’t necessarily want to.

"I killed Tess first. She was going to kill Ben, I had no choice." His voice was distant again, as he remembered the circumstances of his son’s mother’s death. "It was about five years after I left here."

That would have been three years ago - in fact the year that she, Liz, had officially started dating Dan. They had been friends for much longer of course, but it was only three years ago that Liz had allowed herself to actually start to feel something for someone again. She had been ready to move on while Max had been taking the first step towards finally being able to come home. Ironic that.

"After Tess died, after Ben was safe - or at least as safe as he was ever going to be on Antar - it was only then that I began to understand what was going on. Because when she died…I can’t really explain what it felt like Liz. It felt like something opened up inside me. Something I hadn’t really missed until it was back."

"What do you mean?" Liz asked.

"It was me. Or at least my control over who I was, how I acted." Max shrugged, meeting her eyes again. "I don’t know how to say it except to say that. It was like a window opened. Something that had been missing just came back. I guess you could call it self-awareness."

"Are you saying that Tess was controlling you somehow? That her death ended it?"

"That’s exactly what I mean. Although not quite either. It was like everything I felt, believed was muted. Not necessarily non-existent. Just not quite as important as it had once been." Max replied. "And after she died, that part of me was freed - the part that felt. And it was only then that I was able to understand that she wasn’t the only one doing it either." He continued grimly. "Because I began to feel them - the others. The death of Tess made it so the rest of them couldn’t hide. With one of them gone, the intricate web they had woven in my mind began to crumble. I just suddenly understood that my mind was not my own and had not been for a very long time."

"How long?"

"Since the summit in New York. I don’t know if I ever told you this Liz, but when I was there, Rath took me to meet this guy named the Emissary. It was so that I could be certified as the rightful king, which I supposedly was - or at least that’s what they told me." His tone was angry, self-berating. "I was so stupid to have trusted any of them - especially Tess, because I knew what she was, had known since she first came to Roswell - but my only excuse was that my whole world was a mess. I felt so lost. Not feeling like I could trust you, or Isabel or Michael…everyone important to me was just gone. So I let them do what they wanted to me. And nothing that had happened in Roswell seemed quite as important after it was done. All of my feelings about Antar and being an alien changed. At the time I just thought that it was being face to face with who I really was made me see everything differently. It wasn’t until Tess died that I knew that they had actually done some physical to my mind."

"What happened? How did they do it?" Liz squeezed his hand, trying to convey to him that she understood how events could swing completely out of one’s control very easily. Hadn’t the same thing been happening to her ever since he had returned?

"Rath and I went to see the Emissary and he did something to me. He supposedly revealed the royal seal or some such nonsense." Max rolled his eyes. "I bought it all because I saw it and they talked about it at the summit. It was only on Antar that I began to understand that everyone at that table in New York knew exactly what it meant. It meant that they had branded me, could manipulate me through the seal. Every person sitting at that table now had control of me. One representative from each planet had a stake in the scheme, although one of the planet’s - Kathanna’s - let Tess hold its reins. Ava was Kathanna’s sister it turns out."

"But you didn’t take the deal Max. You told me that at the time. If they controlled you, shouldn’t you have agreed to go home with the granolith?" Liz felt a little confused. Max had told her the basic gist about the summit in New York after he had returned to Roswell at the time, but not everything. She knew that it had not been a pleasant experience for him, and, upon returning, he had been much more focused on the fact that Liz had been able to save his life.

"There were a couple of factors working against them." Max replied wryly. "First of all, they all hated each other and didn’t trust what anyone else wanted to make me do, so even though they had the power, they couldn’t figure out how to use it. Not to mention, Khivar was really the one in control and he didn’t want me back. He just wanted me dead. The only reason any of the rest of them wanted me back at all was because their planets were all about to overthrow them. It turns out that Zan was pretty much the most popular of any of them and they felt that if he returned to the high kingship, the populace would settle and they could regain control of their thrones."

"But if what you’re saying is true, then Larek was working against you too!" Liz exclaimed.

"Well, technically. He was my friend and he only took a place in the whole thing because he was hoping to be able to counteract a lot of the stuff the rest of them wanted to make me do. But, in a way, I think he wanted to be able to control me too." Max shook his head sadly. "Larek was a good man, but he really did not get Zan at all. They grew up together so they were close that way, but it was not a relationship of what you might call understanding, but more one of shared history. It wasn’t like Zan’s relationship with Rath for example - the first Rath I mean. They agreed on everything."

"I guess the whole Kadiya thing supports that." Liz agreed. She looked at Max closely. "You used the past tense when referring to Larek. You’ve never done that before Max." She paused, watched a vein in his neck spasm slightly as he swallowed and looked away. "Was he someone you had to kill too?" She whispered, her heart going out to him. Because, even though, in many ways, Larek had screwed up Zan’s life considerably by doing what he had thought was right for the monarchy, they had still been friends.

"I didn’t have to kill Larek. I would have left him alone. I trusted him not to mess with me. It was only the other four I needed dead." Max replied distantly, as though remembering. "When I confronted Larek about the whole thing after Tess died, he admitted it openly, apologized for having concealed it at all. I accepted his apology, told him we could move forward. But only on one condition. He had to help me get Ben off the planet." Max closed his eyes.

Liz realized almost immediately what had happened. "He couldn’t agree to that."

"No." Max sighed. "His entire life had revolved around the restoration of the monarchy. It was why he had helped to clone me in the first place. If he just let me go…"

"His life’s work would have been worthless." Liz shook her head sympathetically, sorry for what Larek’s beliefs had forced Max to do.

"I couldn’t do it though Liz." Max whispered. "I just couldn’t. He had been so good to me. So I let him go. He went and joined Khivar, even though it was against everything he believed in. Khivar was a usurper…but at least he wanted to be king, which was better than nothing."

"What happened then?"

"I went after Sero and Hanar, the leaders of two of the other planets." Max told her grimly. "They knew I was coming. They had felt Tess’s death, knew what it was going to mean for them. Sero tried to hide from me, but I found him fairly easily. Turns out the connection went both ways. Once I was aware of him, he couldn’t keep me out of his mind either. Hanar was different. He met me honorably, knew that he had lost, knew that I was stronger than he was. I killed them both easily." The way Max said that, it made Liz’s heart go out to him again. Because, despite the fact that he was not sorry he had done it, she could tell from the flat way he said all of this that it had not been easy to take the lives of Sero and Hanar, especially because with each of their deaths he was returning more fully to being who had had been on Earth.

And Max Evans would have cared, as much as he tried to deny it. He did care.

"And then only Khivar and Larek were left," he continued. "Once I got rid of them, my mind would be my own again. Not to mention, the five planets would be able to align themselves to move towards democracy. The deaths of Sero and Hanar liberated their people to move in that direction. They all wanted it by then. After the original deaths of the Royal Four, their rulers had basically turned into tyrants, trying to put down the democratic movement that Zan had started. With them gone, there was nothing holding them back any longer."

Liz frowned slightly. "Max, I believe you about all of this. But what does it have to do with the stuff that happened here on Earth after the summit in New York? You were definitely yourself most of the time after that." She blinked at the intense way he was looking at her. He was smiling slightly. It made her heart start to thump in her chest.

She could see how much he loved her in his eyes. Something about what she had said had made him look that way.

"It’s not hard for me to believe that you don’t understand that Liz." Max finally said, reaching up and pushing a strand of hair that was blowing across her face behind her ear. "You never did totally understand how much my well-being was linked to you. I told you that there were a couple of reasons that the seal was not entirely successful. The second was you."

"What do you mean?" She could feel herself falling under the spell of his eyes, the way the shone only for her when he looked at her.

"Seeing you in New York brought me back from the place of self-pity I had been inhabiting since I saw you in bed with Kyle." Max replied. "Any time I had any positive interactions with you after the summit - it lessened their hold on me. I told you once that loving you made me human. Well, it’s true Liz. When I had hope that we might find our way back to each other, my human side won out over the alien. And it was the alien side that was branded, controlled." He looked away. "It was only when I had absolutely no hope that we were ever going to get back together that I let that side take over. After Alex’s death."

Liz felt her eyes widen in horror. "Because I blamed you for it."

He looked at her sharply. "No Liz. I knew right from the beginning that you didn’t blame me. And I knew that you were right. Deep down I knew it and I just couldn’t accept it. It wasn’t your fault. As always, you were just trying to make me see what was right in front of my face. But I just couldn’t deal with the fact that someone I actually cared about had been killed because of who - of what - I was." Max ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "It was all Tess needed to activate the seal. Because I was so angry at you, she was finally able to break through the connection. It was the only thing still protecting me, and with it gone, I was gone. My alien side fully emerged."

"Oh Max." Liz whispered, felt tears filling her eyes. "You did sleep with her then." It was only then that Liz understood how much she had hoped that this was where he had been leading - to telling her that it had all been a lie, that none of it had ever happened. That Tess had only pretended, had changed his memories so that he would think that he had.

It hurt - a lot - that it had all been true. That Max’s first time had been with someone he didn’t even love.

But when she finally met his eyes, she could see that he was still smiling slightly. "No Liz."

"What?" Liz demanded, more rudely than she intended.

"I didn’t sleep with her."

"I don’t understand!" She stared at him. "Why wouldn’t she have wanted that to happen?"

"It didn’t have to." Max replied. "She was already pregnant. She hated me Liz. The last thing she wanted was to sleep with me." He shuddered at the thought. "See, the thing was, Tess remembered being Ava. She had always remembered. She knew how it had been between Zan and Kadi and she hated me because of it. Before she left in the granolith, she screamed at me about being my wife, that I had always put you ahead of her. I didn’t get then that she wasn’t just talking about in this life. Because, obviously, she wasn’t my wife on Earth. Not in any way that I would recognize, being so attached to my humanity - and she knew it. She knew me better than I knew myself it turns out. And she despised me. She was only using me to get home. Because Khivar didn’t really need her without me."

"Okay, so she did mindwarp you?"

"Sort of. The seal had the added bonus for those who had access to it that it hid when mind-based powers were being used on someone. Anyone with a drop of Antarian blood in their veins would have known if they were being mindwarped. The seal blocked me from being able to do that. Nasedo told Michael that our gifts were human, but he was not entirely truthful about that. It’s unlikely that regular humans will ever be able to access them. It’s our Antarian blood that makes it possible for us to use them. My Antarian blood is also the reason that I was so suspicious of Tess when she first came to Roswell. I knew that those thoughts I was having about her were not mine." Max paused, then looked right at her. "I didn’t sleep with Tess."

"Oh." It was all Liz could think of to say. Her mind was whirling in about a million different directions.

"Liz, whether I did or didn’t - it doesn’t matter." Max told her quietly. "I don’t expect it to change things. I know that you want to be with Dan and I’m really hoping that it works out for you." He didn’t sound very convinced that it was going to though. Liz felt a flash of anger run through her. She knew exactly what he was thinking - that the connection that Zan and Kadiya had created was dooming her relationship with Dan, whether she wanted it to end or not.

"Max, you don’t know anything." Liz told him evenly. "How can you? I don’t even know what I want anymore."

"I’m sorry Liz."

"Don’t apologize." Liz replied calmly. "None of this is either of our fault. It’s just a gigantic mess is what it is. We need to finish this Max. Once and for all. My trust issues are not because of Tess and what supposedly did or did not happen with her anyway. They’re with the fact that you left with even saying goodbye. But if that wasn’t even really you than how can I even justify having them?"

"Liz, you’re allowed to feel however you want. Just because my behavior after New York does have some basis in things beyond my control, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t still a Max that you had to deal with - one that hurt you. I never doubted that I loved you, you know." He sighed. "I knew I did. And that I loved Michael and Isabel and Maria too. But I just couldn’t feel it. I could not get a grip on how I was supposed to behave to show it. I hurt all of you - constantly. First Izzy with the whole school thing and then by telling her that she couldn’t marry Jesse. You with so many insensitive comments, I can’t even remember them all, which makes it ten times worse. Even things I said to Michael…" Max closed his eyes, shook his head. "I was an ass. And while the seal was partly to blame, none of you knew that. You were hurt and you have every right not to trust me. Because it’s not really an excuse anyway. I don’t want to use it as one. I’m only telling you about it because I made a vow to myself recently that I’m not going to lie to you any longer. I just refuse to do it."

Liz listened to him, even heard him, although the temptation to just kiss him and end all of these doubts was beginning to take over as he spoke. Couldn’t things just be uncomplicated for once? Couldn’t she just take what she wanted? Because what she really wanted to do was tell him that it was going to be all right. That the truth made her want to give their relationship a second chance.

But she couldn’t tell him that. Not right now. Her emotions were in complete turmoil. She could not tell him anything of the sort until she was absolutely sure, until everything else in her life had been straightened out.

Because they still had to deal with Dan, with Vick, with the FBI and with Nicholas. Their future was going to have to wait.

She also didn’t think that Max would accept that she might want to be with him again anyway. He had completely convinced himself that the only reason she was giving him the time of day right now was because of Ben, and also because of the connection that Zan and Kadi had supposedly cursed them with.

But she knew it wasn’t true. She had been on the verge of taking the leap with him again even before she had known all of these things. The connection she had with him had nothing to do with Zan and Kadiya. It was only about Max and Liz. She did not remember being Kadiya, knew that she likely wouldn’t. And, as far as she was concerned, none of it was really important anyway.

Liz shook her head. She needed to think about something else! She couldn’t think about any of this while he was so close, watching her with those eyes of his - the eyes that had always seen right through her, even during that time when he hadn’t been himself. Liz believed him when he said that he had been in there, aware and trapped, because she had seen his desperation, had seen how he had focused on the search for his son in order to try to give his life some meaning again.

The fact that this had been going on when he couldn’t even feel anything - it made it even sadder. Because he had obviously been fighting the seal, had been trying to get back who he was, to behave like he was supposed to. But it had all come out wrong. He had only ended up hurting everyone even more.

Liz frowned slightly. "Let’s talk about the seal a little bit more," she said abruptly. Max looked at her in surprise. "I don’t understand exactly how it worked. What could they make you do with it?"

"Well, it wasn’t that they could make me do anything specific," Max replied. "It was more like a clamp on my behavior - on my humanity. It didn’t let me do what I really wanted to do. I didn’t really know how to behave anymore. And it was generated by the minds of the five whom I’ve named." His eyes lit up as he remembered something else. "It wasn’t the first time they had tried to do it to me either. When Nicholas used his mindraping powers on me when all the humans disappeared from Roswell, that was the first attempt. But I was still too wrapped up in you for it to work properly. I also still trusted Isabel and Michael. But it did weaken me, made it easier in New York. It wasn’t until the dupes screwed with my mind where Michael and Izzy were concerned that things changed. Being in Roswell, where I was comfortable, my home, was also making it difficult. Nicholas told the others that they had to get me out of Roswell, so it was why the summit was set up in the first place."

"Couldn’t they have just used Zan if they wanted you so badly but you were proving so difficult?" Liz asked logically. "Why didn’t they seal him?"

"They were duplicates of us Liz. We were the original clones. It’s why we had the granolith and also why Kadi’s ring was in my pod." Max replied.

"But they were willing to take Lonnie and Rath?" None of this made any sense. It annoyed Liz’s logical mind when things didn’t add up.

"Nicholas had a thing for Vilandra." Max rolled his eyes. "He knew that Izzy was too much like what Vilandra had been before Khivar had played with her mind on Antar. She wouldn’t have given either he or Khivar the time of day. Lonnie was Izzy’s extreme opposite. Nicholas liked that and thought that Khivar would like it too. As for Rath, I don’t think that there was ever any plan to bring him. Khivar hated him, but he was still his brother. He would have let Michael and Rath live, as long as they stayed on Earth where they couldn’t mess with him."

Liz nodded. "Okay, so the seal didn’t make you do things, it just made you unsure of everything you did?"

Max frowned, "I guess that’s as close an explanation as I can give you. I still don’t understand exactly what the point of it was either. I do know that I was highly emotional as Zan in my past life. They remembered and wanted a way to make sure they knew how I was going to behave. Because throwing in a bit of humanity had likely made me even more of a loose cannon." Max added wryly. "I think it might have been a way for the other rulers to assure that I wouldn’t go right back to promoting democracy upon my return. Because if someone isn’t really passionate about something, they’re not going to fight for it. And I didn’t really feel passionate about anything. Everything I did was mechanical, what I felt had to be done." He paused, lowered his voice. "Including looking for Ben, when I thought he was mine. Holding him, after Tess died, it was the first flash of real emotion I had felt in years." His voice cracked slightly as he remembered.

Liz stared at him. Something he had said to her the day before, when they had had their argument in the bathroom came rushing back in a flash so intense, it made her heart start to beat faster.

This is war. I am going to get you to give in if it’s the last thing I do.

He had said it in the heat of the moment, but she did not doubt that he had meant it at the time. When he had had time to calm down, to realize that maybe giving her ultimatums was not the way to go, he had backtracked, but there was no question that he had passionately believed it then.

There was no question that he felt now. None at all. The seal had been broken. And there was also no question that he was still in love with her. He was willing to fight for her, but only if it was what she wanted. He had even changed from the Max he had been before she had pretended to sleep with Kyle, the Max who had told her that he was coming for her, even though she couldn’t believe that it was the right thing at the time.

That Max still existed within him, obvious in the argument they had had. But he was more in control of that Max than he ever had been before. He would not pressure her into anything.

She had all the time in the world to decide to be with him. Although she didn’t think it was going to take that long.

For once, the ball was entirely in her court. Her life was in her control. And she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

"Liz?" It was only then that Liz realized that she had been quiet for several minutes, mulling over all of this. "What are you thinking?"

"I’m thinking that we need to figure out what to do about Dan," she admitted. She was looking down as she said it, but before she continued, she made herself look right at Max. "Because I’m not getting married tomorrow."






posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:12:50 PM
Part 30

His heart stopped. Literally.

They were, of course, exactly the words that he had been hoping to hear from her since the moment he had learned that Dan existed. But the circumstances, the timing - it was all wrong.

He had known, deep in his heart, that telling Liz everything that had happened on Antar would change how she viewed him. But he had never wanted it to affect her decisions. He had vowed that he wouldn’t lie to her again, that he wouldn’t keep things from her - but he didn’t want her choices to be dependent on the truth either.

Maybe he had just wanted her to choose him without knowing any of it. Which she had been incapable of doing, because she didn’t trust him. Which he fully deserved and still couldn’t forgive himself for.

Max knew it was stupid. He truly did. But he couldn’t stop the way he felt. And now that he had had such painful insight into what their connection truly meant - he couldn’t help but feel that Liz was making a decision that she was going to regret.

She was watching him closely. He wondered how she wanted him to react. He didn’t know how to react. Did she mean that she wasn’t getting married tomorrow - that the wedding would be rescheduled? Or did she mean that she wasn’t going to be marrying Dan Riley ever?

"What are you thinking?" Liz finally asked, sounding concerned.

"I don’t know." Max replied, shaking his head. "I don’t know what to think. Liz, I didn’t tell you all of this stuff to make you break it off with Dan."

"I know you didn’t." Liz told him. "But it’s what I have to do. These feelings…this connection…whatever you want to call it…it’s just really not fair to him." She sighed. "You know, I had already decided this before I found out that he knew the truth about you. That it wasn’t fair to marry him when I was in so much emotional upheaval where you were concerned."

"You did?" He frowned slightly. "Why did you change your mind again?" But he thought he already knew, because it would be just like her. "Liz, you weren’t going to marry him because you thought that you could protect me that way?" The horror of it was enough to actually make him feel nauseous. "Is that what Kyle wouldn’t tell me when he got here?"

"It was dumb. I admit it." Liz laughed slightly, shaking her head. "Max, I never think clearly when it comes to you. Don’t you know that by now?" Her voice dropped. "It’s what scares me so much. When I was a teenager, it was romantic and exciting to feel that my happiness was linked so closely to being with you. But now it’s just really frightening."

"Because you don’t trust me." Max finished sadly.

"Max, no." Liz smiled again. "I do trust you. That’s the scariest part. I really don’t know how it happened, but I do." He opened his mouth to insist that he hadn’t wanted to convince her of anything by telling her the truth, but she cut him off. "And I know exactly what you’re going to say. That it’s the connection that’s making me feel this way." He closed his mouth with a snap. "But Max, it’s not."

"How can you be so sure Liz?"

"Max, there has never even been any question in my mind that you are the right person to raise Ben. Do you understand what that means - that it has never even crossed my mind that I couldn’t trust you to do it? Sure I asked you if you would give him up, but I knew you wouldn’t, and I never would have asked you to anyway." She shook her head. "You never got what Alex meant to me if you don’t know how important Ben is to me. Alex was like my brother Max. You might never have understood that because things were so bad between us when you and I were first together and then once he did know, everything just went back to normal. I don’t think you ever got that I was making a huge sacrifice by not telling Alex the truth about you. But I loved you. I chose you over him, which just goes to show how much I already felt for you. How I knew I couldn’t be complete without you."

A flash of guilt ran through him. "Because of the damn connection!"

"No Max!" Liz exclaimed, sounding frustrated. "I don’t know why you suddenly think the connection is a bad thing. It’s always been something special about us! When it was gone…" She paused, her voice breaking a little before she managed to continue, "After what you thought I had done with Kyle…"

Max interrupted her there. "Liz, it wasn’t gone then. Why do you think that I kept harassing you to admit that nothing had happened between you two? I knew you were lying." He paused, grimaced slightly. "When I told you before going to New York that I didn’t trust you, it wasn’t because I believed it had happened by then. I really still just didn’t. But the fact that you wouldn’t tell me…It was what was driving me insane. But after I was sealed…"

"The connection was cut off." Liz blinked, as though understanding. "So that’s why you asked me again when you got back. Because whatever certainty you had had was gone."

"I guess so. And everything went downhill from there." Max sighed heavily.

Their eyes met for a long moment. "Do you ever wish that you could go back?" Liz whispered suddenly. "That we could just go back to the place where everything went to hell and change it?"

"All the time," Max told her, smiling slightly. "And it doesn’t help matters that I know that technically I could. If we still had the granolith that is. But changing the past certainly didn’t help us the first time you and I decided it should be done."

"Everyone’s still alive," Liz argued quietly. "If we hadn’t done it, Michael and Isabel would be dead soon. Ben wouldn’t exist. Neither would Lexi."

"But Alex would be alive. Changing the past is just not a good idea," Max replied. "Besides where would we go? To before Tess? I think she would have come anyway. To before I healed you? So I could prevent if from ever happening?"

Liz’s eyes widened in horror. "God! No!"

"No, of course not," Max agreed. "But we don’t know what other people are thinking Liz, what their destinies are. We changed a future where we would have been together and happy, at least for a little while. Tess stayed, but things just got worse. We didn’t know that she was evil. How could we? Sure, we knew she was annoying, but we didn’t know that she hated me so much because of what I had done to her in a past life that she was determined to bring me down at any cost. But it wasn’t right of us to mess with what was meant to be anyway. Because maybe she was responsible for what had happened in that original timeline and we just didn’t know because we weren’t around her." He paused, frowned slightly. "While that was clearly the most confusing thing I have ever tried to say, did it make some modicum of sense?"

Liz laughed. "I think you were trying to say that changing the past is never a good idea." She raised an eyebrow. "So why are you so upset about what Zan and Kadiya did then? You can’t change it, I don’t find it particularly important either, so why can’t you just let go of it Max?"

"Because they took away your free will Liz," Max replied evenly. "It’s not fair."

"They took away yours too Max!" Liz retorted, smiling at him saucily. "Why isn’t that important?"

Max blinked, momentarily unable to think of a response to that. "I am still Zan. I did it to myself."

"That makes absolutely no sense!" Liz shook her head. "It makes even less sense than what you said before!"

"It makes sense to me!"

"Well, you are determined to feel guilty about something, so I’m guessing that’s why." Liz told him. "But I want you to stop. I am telling you that I do not have any conscious memories of Kadiya and Zan. The connection I feel to you has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us. Max it was you I saw when you first connected with me. It was your soul that made me fall in love with you."

"Liz, my soul is his!"

"So I fell in love with you all over again then," Liz shrugged. "Who cares? I wasn’t in love with you before we connected after the shooting. I thought you were cute, sure, who wouldn’t…" She paused, tilted her head. "Are you blushing?"

"No!"

"Anyway," she smiled at him knowingly. "As I was saying, I wasn’t in love with you before that. Maybe the Rashna only meant that we would end up in the same vicinity so that we would fall in love if the chance presented itself. And fate made it so that you were in the Crashdown that day. Whether we were connected or not, if you hadn’t been there that day, I would have died and we never would have fallen in love at all. You’ve told me that enough times yourself. Doesn’t this make a tiny bit of sense Max?"

"But, Liz I did love you!" Max was not going to let her talk him out of feeling guilty about this. He was not going to allow it.

"And as you yourself just said, you are Zan. You probably just recognized Kadi’s soul more quickly because you were cloned directly and not reborn. Who knows? Who cares?" Liz dismissed his last argument with a wave of her hand. "Sorry! You have nothing left to say about it Max. I’m not going to let you feel bad about this, so just forget it."

"Liz…" He was trying to come up with a valid argument, but she has quashed them all.

"Yes Max?" She was watching him, an amused expression on her face.

"I am at a loss," he finally muttered.

"Because you know I’m right," Liz returned. Her expression sobered. "And now that that’s dealt with, we need to discuss Dan…"

"Liz, I don’t want you making any hasty decisions…" Max began.

"Max! You call this hasty? I’ve been freaking out about this for almost a week!" Liz replied. "Don’t mess with me when I’ve finally made some head-way."

"Liz…"

"Max, just be quiet and listen to me." She looked exasperated as she scowled at him. "And I thought you were annoying when you told me that you weren’t going to give up on me," he heard her mutter quietly to herself.

He just stared at her. But he didn’t open his mouth again.

"Thank you. As I was saying, I never said that just because I wasn’t marrying Dan tomorrow, that it necessarily means that we’re getting back together." He was about to say that he knew that, when she looked at him sharply, which made him clamp his jaw shut again. "I do love Dan. He is a wonderful man. You were right to trust him Max. I kept telling myself that he was going to betray you, but I was just trying to give myself an excuse for why I just didn’t feel right about our relationship anymore. But the thing is, I didn’t feel right about things even before I knew you were back."

"Not right how?" Max asked quietly.

"I just wasn’t happy." Liz shrugged. "I really don’t understand it. I have everything I have ever wanted. My dream job at Harvard, a great guy, a bright future. But it felt wrong. It wasn’t until I saw Isabel again, saw how happy she was, that I realized that something wasn’t right." She paused, then smiled slightly. "And then you came back. And I remembered that one part of my dream life was missing. Because even though I love Dan, he’s just not you Max. He doesn’t make me feel like you did when things were good between us. Having you back has reminded me of that. So, even if we aren’t meant to be anymore, neither are Dan and I."

"I’m sorry Liz." He sighed, thinking about the connection again. But, of course, she knew that and looked at him in annoyance.

"Max, would you stop apologizing?" Liz ordered. "You aren’t even listening to me. It wasn’t just Dan. It was everything. It was the fact that I couldn’t talk to him like I can talk to you. I can say anything to you - as this conversation is quickly proving. He doesn’t even know how I feel about my job." She shook her head slightly. "Boston just isn’t home either. Because I miss everything about Roswell too. I miss feeling like my life actually has meaning. It just doesn’t there. But here, it could."

"Because of Ben."

"Yes."

"Well, I’m glad then." And he was. His son was going to benefit from having Liz in his life, without question.

There was a long silence. The sun was beginning to set on the horizon. Max watched Liz quietly as she stared off into the distance, a serene expression on her face.

"It’s just so nice to have made some decisions," she whispered.

"I know."

She turned her head to look at him, measuring. "Don’t you want anything for yourself Max?" She finally asked. "I can’t expect you to wait around for me to get my own life in order. I can’t guarantee you that we’re going to be able to move ahead together."

"I’ll never stop wanting you Liz," he replied simply. "But there will be absolutely no pressure from me. You have to make your own decision."

There was another long pause. "Okay then." He wondered if he imagined the slight disappointment he heard in her voice. "Do you think maybe we should head back?"

"I know Ben is probably dying to see you." Max smiled. "I don’t actually know how Maria managed to keep him in the house when you first got here." He paused. "And there’s Dan."

"Yes. Dan." She closed her eyes briefly. "Thank you for listening to this Max. I know it can’t be easy for you."

"I will always be here for you Liz."

"I know it." She moved towards him, hugged him tightly. "You are my best friend. I think I almost missed you more because of that than anything. I don’t think I’ve ever told you that."

He breathed in her clean scent, closed his eyes as he let his arms come around her small frame. His heart was beating quickly, unused to being in such close proximity to the one it most loved, but he didn’t feel any urge to kiss her. This embrace was not about being lovers, either in the past or the future, but about being with the only other person who truly understood him.

She was his soulmate, whether they were together or not, whatever that even meant. They were the same, despite their different heritage they just understood each other. And he could not regret it. Not anymore.



posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:14:04 PM
Part 31

Liz finally pulled back, smiled up at Max. He looked slightly dazed, like he couldn’t quite believe that things were this good between them again. His eyes drifted momentarily to her lips, but then quickly looked away.

She felt her heart fall slightly. She knew it was too soon for anything beyond friends with them, but it didn’t mean that being in such close proximity to him wasn’t making her heart beat faster, wasn’t making her remember when he used to be able to make her see stars - and then only with a simple kiss.

It was unfair, she knew, that the fact that he hadn’t slept with Tess was so important to her. She had not been alone since he had been gone, something he was going to have to deal with. But the whole Tess thing…it had made her feel like she had never even known Max at all. That everything he had ever said to her over their short time together - every You’re the one Liz, the only one, every whether I die tomorrow or fifty years from now, my destiny is the same…it’s you Liz had been a lie. Now that she understood what had happened with Tess - really nothing at all - everything was different, just as she had known it would be.

He was suddenly Max again - Max with no baggage whatsoever. Max, completely clean and innocent and only hers, but also mature and sexy and still hers…and, oh God, just Max.

"So that’s where we stand then," he was saying quietly, having taken a step back and still not looking at her. "Friends."

Liz smiled slightly to herself at the uncertain way he said it. It reminded her of that time in the Crashdown, when the whole friends conversation had been merely a cover for what they both really wanted to admit - that the idea of not touching each other was probably the worst they had ever been forced to contemplate.

"For now," Liz replied. "At least until I work things out with Dan."

"Right." He looked at her again, no longer the seventeen year old boy she remembered, but the mature and capable man he had become. "Which you’re going to do how?"

Liz sighed. "I wish I knew. He’s not going to take this easily." She saw Max frown slightly, knew what he was worrying about. "But he won’t betray you Max. I know he won’t. You were right about him. He’ll be hurt, but he’s not the kind of guy to lash out that way."

"He really took it well." Max shook his head in wonder. "I mean, it’s not every day someone learns that aliens are real."

Liz looked at him closely, "Max, you do trust Dan, don’t you?" The way he had said that…it was like he had still been a bit uncertain about her fiancé.

"I trust you," he replied simply. "It’s all I need to know."

She felt her heart begin to beat more quickly again. She had forgotten that tendency he had - had always had, even sometimes during the time that he had been sealed by his enemies - to be able to say exactly the right thing at the right time. She wondered if it was a remnant of being a king - that ability to warm people all over with only a simple stringing together of words. She loved it about him.

Liz realized that she was now staring at his lips - and he certainly noticed, because when she raised her gaze to meet his, she saw that they had darkened slightly, that he was breathing a bit more quickly.

"Okay, Dan!" She almost exclaimed it, trying to break the tension that had sprung up so suddenly again. "I guess I better head up there then."

"Right."

"Well, I’m going then." She blinked when she realized that she had taken a step closer to Max rather than away.

"I can see that." He sounded amused, but very serious at the same time.

You’re the one who wants to be friends you idiot! She could hear the voice screaming at her in her head. If you do this…it’s going to change everything …It’s too soon!

"I’m already gone." She knew that she was blushing as she turned away. When she realized that he wasn’t following her, she turned slightly though. "Aren’t you coming?"

"In a minute. I don’t think Dan’s going to be particularly happy to see me at the moment," he replied wryly.

"No," Liz agreed, sighing. "But it’ll be okay."

"I know it will."

They stared at each other for a moment longer, in complete sync.

She barely managed to turn away.

She was halfway up the slope when she noticed him. She was amazed that she had caught sight of him at all. It was almost dark, but she caught a glimpse of the silvery colour of his hair against the darkened foliage, which made her turn her head just in time to see him disappear behind some bushes again.

"Ben?" She whispered his name, looking back to where she had left Max moments ago. He still hadn’t emerged from the copse of trees, was obviously staying true to his word to give her and Dan a little time without him as part of the audience.

There was no movement.

She frowned slightly, picked her way gingerly across the slope. "Ben, it’s me Liz. It’s okay honey."

There was a long pause and then a sob, heavy with relief. "Liz?"

"What are you doing in here?" Liz dropped to her knees, poked her head into the bushes, her heart almost breaking at the sight of the little boy. She felt her eyes widen when she caught sight of Lexi, who was sitting behind Ben, talking quietly to herself in typical baby fashion.

Ben was sitting almost buried in the foliage, his knees up to his chest, his arms wrapped around them, trying to make himself as small as possible. "Maria sent me out to find you and Dad." He said, his voice trembling. "We were in the basement, looking for some stuff…Lexi too." He cut himself off, began to cry in earnest.

"We were just down the hill honey." Liz crawled in towards him, flinching as a sharp twig scraped across her arm. She ignored it, did not pause until she had reached his side, could pull the boy awkwardly into her arms. "What’s wrong?" Her heart was already beginning to beat double-time. She could see Lexi watching them now, her big eyes, the exact same colour as Max’s Liz knew, glinting slightly in the approaching twilight.

Something was obviously very wrong. Maria would never have sent Ben out on his own, especially with the baby - not when it was almost dark and not when there was a psycho alien after him.

"I couldn’t find you." He was sniffling against her, obviously calming down slightly now that he had an adult to take on his problems again. "Maria gave me her watch." He lifted his small arm, showed Liz, although it was too dark for her really see it. "She told me that if I didn’t find you in exactly five minutes, I had to hide - me and Lexi."

Liz briefly closed her eyes. It was bad. She knew it. She managed to keep her voice steady as she asked, "Why sweetie?"

"I don’t know!" He almost wailed it, but then quickly dropped his voice. "She told me to whisper when I found you," he confided, sounding guilty.

"Okay, what exactly happened when you were with Maria in the basement?" Liz tried another tack.

"We were just messing around with some stuff. There’s junk everywhere down there. I told her before you got back that Dad had been looking for something, so she said that maybe we should go look for it again. We were down there and we heard some cars come up. It was you and Kyle and that other man. I heard you talking to my dad and then you and Dad left and Michael and the other man had a fight." He looked at her guiltily. "I know I wasn’t supposed to be listening, but Maria was too and she said it was for a good reason."

Liz rolled her eyes slightly, grimaced but focused on the important part of what Max’s son had just said. "What kind of fight?" She had visions of Dan saying something insulting about Max, of Michael finally reaching the end of his tether, of actually blasting her erstwhile fiancé into the stratosphere.

"Just yelling," Ben replied. "He was saying mean things about my dad." The outrage was clear in his voice. "But they both stopped because another car came and Aunt Isabel was happy because it was her husband."

"Jesse?"

"Yeah. But Maria said that we had to still stay in the basement. She was really scared suddenly."

"She was?" Liz was a little confused by that. Wasn’t Jesse’s arrival a good thing?

"There was a lot of yelling and then Aunt Izzy was screaming about someone named Nicholas."

Liz closed her eyes, clutched Ben closer to her. She reached out with the other hand, beckoned to Lexi. The little girl crawled towards her, gurgling happily.

"Then what happened?" She whispered.

"Maria pushed a big sheet aside and showed me a tunnel," Ben continued, taking Liz’s cue and speaking in a low voice. "She told me to take Lexi out to find you. I could hear someone coming down the stairs already."

"Why didn’t she come with you?" Liz demanded, angry at her best friend for making the two children stumble out the secret tunnel alone.

"She told me that she needed to stay. To make the people coming think that Lexi and I hadn’t been down there." Liz understood. Maria was going to play it that Max and Ben weren’t even there at all anymore - that they were long gone, which Ben reinforced when he said, "That we were with Dad."

Max.

Liz turned her head, took in the trees about a hundred yards below them. She hadn’t seen him come out yet. He had to still be there, completely unaware of what was going on up at the house. From Ben’s explanation it sounded like Nicholas had somehow forced Jesse to bring him to them. And Max had absolutely no idea. He was staying where he was, waiting for some indication that Dan was not going to freak out completely, oblivious to the fact that everything had changed - that their enemies had arrived and they were unprepared…all because of Liz’s stupid life.

She felt her heart thundering in her chest as she tried to gauge how quickly she could make it down that slope with Ben and Lexi.

Not fast enough. They were going to have to go around the long way if she took them with her.

She could leave the children here, relatively safe, and make a run for it herself, and then come back for them after she had told Max what was going on. But one glance at Ben’s terrified expression and she knew that she couldn’t do that either.

The long way it was then.

"Okay, listen to me sweetie. This is what we’re going to do…"

**************************************************************
Max had folded his arms across his chest, was leaning back against a tree, reflecting on his lengthy conversation with Liz, wondering how long he should stay away from the house. He was trying to put himself in Dan’s shoes, felt a pang of sympathy for the other man, but couldn’t quite wipe the silly grin off his face as he remembered how truly close Liz had been to kissing him, when he suddenly just knew that something was wrong. A chill ran down the length of his spine, making him jump immediately to attention.

Ben. He could almost feel the little boy’s terror crashing down on him in waves. He had turned and was out of the trees before the feeling completely passed. He could still see Liz making her way up the slope, it was that soon after she had left. As he watched, she paused, turned her head and then made a direct bee-line for a stand of brush on the left-hand side of the slope.

Max frowned, wondered what the hell she was doing. He started after her, when his attention was suddenly caught by noise from up at the house. He could hear a car pulling away, obviously at a high rate of speed.

And he knew. They had been found.

He melted back into the trees, his heart pounding a mile a minute, guilt descending on him so quickly, it literally took his breath away. He had left Ben up there and his son’s enemies had found them. How could he have been so careless?

Unless it was Max’s enemies of course - his good old brother-in-law and his friends at the Special Unit.

Max forced himself to push the guilt aside. Now wasn’t the time for it. He needed to focus on what exactly he was going to do to fix this. And the first thing he needed to do was to get to Liz, who, thankfully, had not made it all the way back up to the house.

He stood just within the wind-break of trees, stared over at the bushes where Liz was still out of sight. He measured the distance with his eyes, could see that it was too far to make a break for it. But, as he watched, he caught a hint of movement. He saw a form that could only be Liz emerge and head off in the opposite direction.

And she wasn’t alone. His relief was so great, he actually felt his knees weaken. She had Ben’s hand firmly in hers and was clutching Lexi against her chest as she darted away from Max and into another clump of brush.

Max hurried to the far side of the windbreak. He knew exactly what she was doing. She was taking the long way around to bring the kids to him. Well, he was going to meet her half-way.

The next five minutes were the longest of Max’s life. He didn’t make it far before he realized that there wasn’t much cover between the bushes Liz was now hiding in with his son and niece and the grouping of trees. The distance wasn’t nearly as great as it had been on the slope, but it was still a good fifty yards.

He had missed the desert when he had been on Antar, had felt closed in by the lack of wide, empty spaces on his native planet, but at the moment he longed for the claustrophobia of it all. There just weren’t enough damn hiding places when wide open spaces were involved.

Max wished that he could somehow get in touch with Liz, let her know that he knew where she was, that he was trying to get to her, but he couldn’t take the risk of calling her on her cell. He didn’t even know if she had it with her. He had his. He could feel it in the pocket of his jacket, taunting him because it was completely useless.

He felt helplessness forcing panic within him. He had not felt this afraid since his worst moments on Antar - not since the day he had finally come face to face with Khivar, the enemy that had been faceless for so long, but was suddenly just there.

Every single person he cared about was in danger. All because he had come back to them. Michael and Isabel and Maria and Kyle were up at the house, likely either in the control of Nicholas or the Special Unit. Liz and Ben and Lexi were so close, safe for the moment, and yet so far, they might as well have been on Antar.

He was going to have to make a break for it. He just couldn’t leave them alone there any longer.

And it was in that instant that he heard her.

*~Max?*~

He blinked, then closed his eyes. Her voice was tentative, unsure, but it was definitely her.

She was in his head.

**Liz?** He knew that he probably sounded incredibly incredulous to her, but he couldn’t help it. He knew that the connection was strong, was growing stronger now that they both knew the truth about their history, but he had never in a million years imagined that it would be this powerful.

*~It’s me.*~ He could almost hear her straining. *~Ben is helping me. This is all he can do. He tried mindwarping, but he’s still too weak from a couple of nights ago.*~

Max just shook his head, forced his shock aside. **Are you all right?**

*~We’re all fine. Max, Nicholas is up there. And Jesse. Ben hasn’t been able to give me too many details, but Max…it sounds like they’re working together!*~ Her shock was apparent.

Max grimaced slightly. Of course Liz didn’t know anything about Jesse. He had never had the chance to tell her. But the confirmation that his brother-in-law could not be trusted hit him like a truck. Isabel was going to be devastated.

**Hell.** It was a ridiculously simplistic response, but seemed to sum up the entire situation quite nicely.

*~Max, what are we going to do? I can’t stay here with them forever. Ben is practically on the verge of a breakdown and Lexi is getting fussy. She’s asking for Isabel.*~

**What else did Ben tell you?** Max asked quickly. He could almost feel Liz’s fear now, coming through the connection. He tried to keep her focused on what they could do, needed to keep her calm. She was all that was standing between his son and disaster. He knew he could trust her, but it had been so long since she had dealt with anything like this. He had brought this down on her head again. Her life was in danger because of him.

Stop it! He ordered himself to forget the guilt for the moment. It was his constant companion, but it could not be allowed to distract him. Not right now. It was his guilt over this connection with Liz, this bond that was turning out to be even more extraordinary than even he had been able to understand, that had put them all in this position in the first place. If he had been up at the house instead of pouting over his guilt about the connection, none of this would have happened.

They would have found who they were really looking for. He could have traded himself for his son’s life. For the lives of all of his friends. It would have been so easy…

There had been a pause while Liz had spoken to Ben, perhaps clarifying some details about exactly what he knew was going on. *~It sounds like Maria might have been trying to convince them that you and I had already left with Ben and Lexi. Ben says that’s what her plan was. I don’t know what Michael or Isabel or…*~ There was a pause. *~Dan might have said upstairs.*~

Dan. God, he was up there too. And he was in no way connected to any of them besides Liz. He might talk just to protect Liz. She was the only one he cared about after all.

And Max knew exactly what he had to do. **Liz, there’s only one thing to do.**

*~What Max?*~ He could hear the hope in her voice, her certainty that he would know how to fix this, that all of his years fighting a war on Antar could not have been in vain.

But all of his years on Antar had not involved everyone he loved. He had been incapable of remembering what love felt like through most of it, had only done what he knew he was supposed to do.

None of those rules applied anymore.

**I’m going to give myself up.**



posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:19:46 PM
Part 32

Liz stopped breathing. She closed her eyes, convulsively pulled Ben more tightly against her side. She could feel the tension in the little boy’s frame, felt the connection flicker as she distracted him from the help he was giving her to connect with Max over the distance between them. Liz squeezed him lightly, apologetically, felt the energy he was transmitting to her increase again.

She then scowled, her shock quickly igniting into an anger so intense, it surprised her. She could feel it affecting Ben as well.

Liz? She heard his voice, small uncertain in her head, where only moments before Max had informed her of his plan - hands down the stupidest one she had ever heard.

Liz took a deep breath, tried to control her rage. *~It’s okay Sweetie.~* She soothed.

Her next thought was that she was astounded that she was even surprised that Max would decide that this was the best course of action. This was just like him. Taking everything onto his own shoulders, never letting anyone else make a decision, refusing to allow anyone else to risk themselves.

And suddenly she understood exactly why she had remained so unable to cope with the fact that he had left her eight years ago without even saying goodbye.

He never let her in. He told her he loved her, but he refused to allow her to give as much of herself as she truly wanted to. He arbitrarily decided that he was the only one who had the right to risk anything for the people he loved.

He had left without her, throwing the love and acceptance and forgiveness she had given him over the baby they had still thought was his at the time back in her face by doing so. Yes, there had been extenuating circumstances because of the seal, but it did not negate the fact that he had always done it, stretching all the way back to the time he had told her that they could only ever be friends after he had first healed her.

He had said then that it was because they were different, but she had always understood that that was not the real reason. He had not felt deserving of the risks that she was willing to take for him, and so had rejected her time and again. When he had finally been willing to take the chance, to truly believe that they were meant to be together, along had come Tess to screw everything up again.

He had never been able to stop hurting her since. And every time he did it, he felt less deserving of her love and so rejected her even more. The seal had only made it worse.

He could not accept her unconditional love and, so, had several times almost destroyed it.

It was not going to happen again.

*~That is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.*~ She heard the coldness of her tone, was satisfied.

**Liz, there’s no other way.** He didn’t sound surprised that she was arguing with him. It appeared that he had been expecting it, but it also sounded like he thought he was going to win in the end.

He was not going to win this time.

*~Max, we’re in this together. If you’re going up there, I’m going with you.*~

**Liz…**

*~NO! You are not going up there alone. It’s a stupid plan Max! You have no way of guaranteeing that they won’t just kill everyone anyway when they get their hands on you. And it’s not even you they want! It’s Ben. Right now no one up there knows exactly where Ben and Lexi are. Nicholas can’t get any worthwhile information out of them. But you know Max. He could use you.*~

There. That was an argument he wouldn’t be able to deny.

**Nicholas can’t mindrape me again Liz. I’m too strong.** There was a slight pause. **I am stronger than he can ever hope to be. If I give myself up, I will be in complete control of the situation.**

Liz felt a shiver descend her spine. His tone had been a little scary there. Almost merciless. *~What do you mean?*~ But she knew exactly what he had meant.

If he confronted Nicholas, only one of them would survive it. And Max was positive that it would be him.

What exactly had he managed to learn about his powers on Antar?

*~If this is so true, then why didn’t you just deal with Nicholas back in Albuquerque?*~ Liz demanded. *~Why the wild goose chase?*~

**Liz, I was trying to get my son out of the way.** Max replied patiently. **Why do you think I wanted all of you out here with me? I was going to leave him with you all - the only people I can trust - and then I was going after him.** There was a beat of silence. **Things got a little messed up unfortunately.**

Because of Dan. Liz felt a pang of guilt. *~Max, how can you be so sure?*~

**I know everything there is to know about Nicholas Liz. I know his weaknesses, I know his strengths. I learned it all on Antar. He doesn’t know anything about me. Not anymore. I’m not the stupid kid I was the first time we met.** He finished grimly.

She could feel the situation slipping away from her. She couldn’t argue with him when he kept saying things that she didn’t understand.

And she had thought that he had told her everything.

*~Max, what are you talking about?*~

**Liz, Nicholas completely screwed with my mind the first time I met him. That is not going to happen this time. I have a secret weapon. One that he won’t be able to understand and, so, won’t expect.** He paused yet another time, as though unsure how to phrase what he wanted to tell her next.

*~What Max?*~

**I have a life I actually want to live this time.** Liz’s heart skipped a beat. **And if that evil little troll thinks that he’s going to come between me and my future, he’s got another thing coming. I am going to raise my son and I am going to hold onto my dream that we’re going to end up together Liz.**

She closed her eyes. *~Max…*~

**Liz, please. You need to let me do this. I need you to look after Ben and Lexi. Please trust that I will not let anything happen to me or anyone else. Liz, I want my life. I want to be Max Evans, but in order to be him, I have to kill all of Zan’s enemies once and for all. And I will do it.**

Liz felt Ben’s fear through the connection, knew that he understood what she and Max were saying to each other. It twined with her own fright, creating an almost overwhelming sense of panic within her.

*~But Max, you don’t even know what he wants.*~ Liz tried once more, desperately, but she knew that he was right.

As much as she wanted to help him, she couldn’t - not up the dome.

But down here she could - by protecting the person most important to him in the world.

**The two most important people.** It was a whisper, but she felt a lump in her throat that he had heard her private thought. That was how the sensitive the connection was becoming. **Liz, you are the bravest person I know. I know you think that I didn’t accept your love because I wouldn’t let you risk yourself for me, so many times, but I just could not put you in danger like that. If it was selfish, then I’m sorry, but it’s a part of my make-up that I will never regret.**

*~Max…*~

**Liz, I couldn’t take you with me to Antar. I know you wanted to go, but I just couldn’t. There is no excuse for me having left without saying goodbye, but if I hadn’t, I would not have gone. Even with the seal - I know that I wouldn’t have. And I think that I knew that the only way to fix things between us was for me to go there, find Ben, and figure out exactly what the hell was the matter with me. I was a shell Liz. I was not the Max Evans I wanted to be…**

She cut him off. *~Max!*~

**What?** He sounded surprised and a little hurt that she hadn’t let him finish.

*~Go.*~ She felt tears beginning to form under her lashes. *~End this. Please. Once and for all. I just want you to be safe. Finally. And if I have to let you go once more time for it to happen, then I can do it.*~

For an instant, the connection weakened again. She thought that he was gone, that she was actually going to have to sit here with two small, terrified children and wait for him to come back.

He was back abruptly, his tone suddenly even, as though he was trying to hide something. He sounded too normal.

**Liz, you need to get them out of here. No matter what. As soon as I go up there, they’ll be distracted and you have to go.**

*~Max, what about the Special Unit? Won’t they be waiting for us?*~ But she knew already that there was no choice. He was right. They were going to have to risk it. They could not just sit here as darkness continued to fall on the desert, waiting like sitting ducks for this to be resolved one way or the other.

**I have a feeling the Special Unit has absolutely nothing to do with this at all.** Max answered grimly.

*~What?*~

**Liz, I have to break this off. Someone else is here. You need to leave - now.** There was a slight change in the feel of his mind in hers, a minor shifting. His next words told her why. He was now addressing Ben. **Benno, I’m going to have to ask you to do something important.**

Okay Dad.

**I need you to use as much strength as you have left kiddo. You’re going to need to build a mind shield around you and Liz and Lexi until you get away from here. Do you think you have enough power left?**

Yeah! Ben sounded insulted that Max would even question it.

Max sounded slightly amused, and yet even more determined in his reply. **Okay then. You have to do it until Liz tells you it’s okay to stop.**

Liz missed most of this though. She was still reflecting on the Max’s comment that someone else was here. *~Max, is there something you’re not telling me?*~

**Yes.**

And she understood. He couldn’t tell her. Not with Ben so intimately connected to them.

She knew it was bad, whatever it was, but she was going to have to trust him. Trust Max. Trust him in a way she hadn’t since the whole Tess debacle had originally gone down.

She was going to have to trust that he would come back to her.

There was absolutely no hesitation. Not anymore.

He had come back to her once before - and not even just physically in a spaceship from Antar. Her Max - the brave, innocent boy she had fallen in love with - had returned to her in the form of the mature, loving man she now knew. He had fought through hell to do so - physically and mentally.

Somehow she knew that he always would.

And she was no longer afraid.

*~I love you Max.*~

But he was already gone.

The connection had broken, so abruptly, it was though it had never existed.

Liz fought momentarily against the panic that threatened to rise within her again. She had to be strong. For Ben, for Lexi. And, yes, even for herself.

She did not want to die. Not when she was just starting to really live again.

"Liz?" Ben was whispering into her ear. She could feel him slumping against her, exhausted. "Is my dad going to be all right?"

"Of course he is Sweetie!" She could tell by the way that he relaxed against her that he believed her.

She was amazed that she even believed herself. "What’s a mind shield Ben? Your dad asked you to do one."

Ben sighed heavily. "It’s a really little mind-warp. Instead of warping the people to not see us, I mindwarp us so that we think that we can’t be seen. And we can’t." He finished simply.

"Does it really work?" Liz asked, amazed. Would the extent of the alien’s abilities to control minds ever fail to astound her?

"Yeah." There was a pause. "I used to do it to myself when I was really little when Mommy was looking for me."

Liz felt a lump rise in her throat. "You didn’t want your mom to find you?"

"Not all the time. But she hardly ever tried to find me anyway." He did not elaborate and Liz did not want to push him, but she felt a flash of such rage at Tess, it was almost more than she could bear. How that evil girl could have produced Ben, Liz would never understand, but it made her even more fiercely determined that he was going to know nothing but security and love for the rest of his life.

She tightened her arm around him, pulled Lexi more tightly against her side and went to the far side of the small clump of bushes to stare up the hill in the direction of the vehicles.

It took her another moment to realize that she had absolutely no way to start any of the cars up there. She looked down at Ben, who was pressed against her side, smiled slightly to herself as an idea came to her. "Benjamin Evans, this is absolutely the only time that you are ever going to hear these words from me. I guarantee it." She made her voice sound light, trying to reassure the little boy. "But I don’t suppose you know how to hotwire a car?"

He just looked at her, perplexed. Liz gave him a squeeze, turned her attention to watching the hill Max should be climbing any moment. A slight tremor ran through her body, but she steeled herself to be ready to make a break for it as soon as Max went in.

*****************************************

Max felt the lack of the connection like a physical blow. He knew exactly what it meant and for a moment he was sure that he had held onto it for too long. He had betrayed Liz and Ben and Lexi by not being able to let them go soon enough.

But the entrance of his enemy into his mind had cut it off, not the fact that anything had happened to them. Max’s own mind had been protecting them it seemed, managing to hold him off long enough after the original shock of his presence had almost made Max weaken enough to allow him entrance while Liz and his son had still been present. But he had remained strong, his mind a virtual fortress, his will to protect them greater than his enemy’s desire to get at him.

Max was in control. He knew that he was the one who had let him in.

*~I’m growing tired of waiting Zan.*~ The voice was impatient, angry. *~Are you going to come out and face me like a man, or do I have to come and get you myself? Still a lover and not a fighter I see.*~

**I’m surprised you’re actually willing to fight your own battles this time.** Max returned sharply. **It’s not something you do regularly after all. The fact that you’re even here more than proves it.**

Max felt the flash of anger that ran through his enemy, narrowed his eyes, not caring in the least. ~*You’re going to pay for that you damn bastard!*~

**Unfortunately for you usurper, I’m the farthest thing from a bastard there is.** Max replied wearily. **I am the legitimate king of Antar and there is nothing you can do about it. Even killing me last time didn’t make the throne yours.**

*~You gave up the throne! You don’t deserve it - you never did!*~

**I was willing to give up the throne because I care about my people. The monarchy it rotten, a relic. A free system is what the people want.**

*~They don’t want it! You decided for them because you wanted that insipid girl. You weren’t strong enough to hold it.*~

**Funny.** Max bit back. **I’m not the one who needs to come after little boys to reinforce my claim.**

*~What are you talking about?*~ The voice was fierce, suspicious.

**Oh, didn’t Nicholas tell you? He tried to kill my son.**

There was a long pause. *~What happened to Ben?*~

Max did not reply, simply returned, **I’m coming up there. You’re going to let the others go.**

He could almost hear the glee in his enemy’s voice. *~If you think I’m letting Vilandra go now, you’re crazy. She is my wife. The mother of my daughter.*~

**She is not your wife. She is married to a perfectly nice man, one that you are violating by being here.**

*~So you figured it out then did you Zan?*~ The voice sounded amused now.

**I’ve had you figured out for a long time Khivar.** Max sighed. **For two lifetimes in fact. But I’m tired of it. It’s over.**

*~You thought it was over on Antar Zan. Seems I’m still here.*~

But not for long, Max thought grimly. **I’m coming up there.** He repeated.

*~I’ll be waiting.*~

Max took a deep breath. Khivar would be waiting all right. But this time it would really be for the last time.

It was going to end once and for all. And not on a distant battlefield in a galaxy far away, but right in the desert of Max’s home - with the lives of everyone he held most dear at stake.





posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:20:30 PM

Part 33

Max didn’t even bother to try and hide his approach to the dome. There was no point. Khivar knew he was out here. The faster he got into the dome, the faster Liz would be able to get Ben and Lexi away safely.

And so, he simply walked back up the slope, walked through the door and confronted what was close to his worst nightmare - all of his friends in danger at one time.

His worst nightmare would have been Liz and Ben in Khivar’s clutches. At least that had not yet happened. And it wasn’t going to.

No one stopped him. He had been right about the Special Unit. They were not a factor in this at all it seemed.

Only Khivar.

Khivar whom he had been sure was dead. But, looking back on their one and only confrontation, in this lifetime anyway, Max understood perfectly what had happened.

He was furious at himself that he had made the mistake. He had known that Khivar had dupes of himself for security reasons, had had since Larek had turned traitor. It was amongst the first technology that Larek had turned over to Max’s enemy after he had changed sides. And the clones that Larek had been capable of creating by then had been far superior to even the hybrids he had engineered that had been Max and Isabel and Michael and Tess. He had had fifty years to perfect the technique after all.

But Max had been informed by all of his advisors that no more than two clones could be created from the same essence. He had made sure that both of Khivar’s were dead before he had taken on the original.

Apparently someone had misinformed him about Larek’s cloning capabilities. Because if Khivar was still alive, then it had to have been a clone that he killed.

How could he have not been more careful, have not made sure?

And, yet, Max knew that it had been the real Khivar that he had fought on Antar, at least part of the time. The connection from the seal had been too strong for it to have been a clone. The mind he had battled had been the mind of his captor.

Khivar must have done then what he was doing to Jesse now, Max reflected, what Larek had done to Brody all those years ago. He had inhabited his own clone, had made Max think that he had conquered him. And he had slipped away at the last moment, sacrificing the duplicated version of himself to advance his plot.

He had slipped away to inhabit Isabel’s husband, like the parasite that he was.

Isabel was going to be devastated, not only by the fact that Jesse had been violated so completely, but also by the fact that Khivar had obviously been around long enough to have had a hand in Lexi’s conception. The thought was too revolting to even contemplate. How could he have let this happen to his sister?

All of this was on Max’s mind as he paused at the door to the dome. He stared at it for a moment, his eyes narrowed.

He realized that he could feel his nerves tingling. His stomach was clenching in the way it always did before he had to face a battle of this magnitude, his heart pounding - but he was not really nervous. In fact, he was almost looking forward to this final confrontation.

When this was finally over, his real life could begin.

Max pushed open the door.

There was no one in the main dome. It was completely dark and empty, the sun having set and so no light filtered in through the holes in the roof.

Max scowled. **Where are you?**

*~Dealing with Nikkol.*~ Max could hear the disdain in Khivar’s voice, even in his head. *~He tried to kill my heir. He has paid.*~

Max felt a twinge of satisfaction. Truly, he had known when he had accused his arch-enemy of attempting to hurt Ben that Khivar had had nothing to do with it. Ben was the one thing on which Max and Khivar were in complete agreement. Although Khivar wanted to use the boy as a pawn, he did care about him, about his survival, considered Ben to be his son. It was twisted and sick, but it was also slightly reassuring that his son would survive this, especially with Nicholas dealt with.

**What did he want? What did he hope to gain?**

*~Much.*~ Khivar replied, sounding like he didn’t want to discuss it further. *~Sometimes Nikkol’s ambition has become a little less subtle than I would like. He has been punished, will learn.*~

**What are you talking about?** Max frowned. There was no answer.

"MAX!"

The sudden yell caused Max to cut off the connection abruptly. He whirled, threw his shield up just in time to stop the bullet that had been headed straight for his back.

He stared at his assailant through the green haze, felt his heart drop into his knees.

"Dan! What the hell are you doing?" It was Kyle who had yelled, Kyle who had warned him, Kyle who was presently wrestling the gun away from Liz’s fiancé.

Max dropped his shield, went to help Kyle.

"What the hell is going on here?" Max demanded as Kyle pulled a set of hand-cuffs off his belt and pulled Dan’s hands behind his back, made to restrain him. He was no longer struggling though, was staring straight ahead, his eyes blank. Max and Kyle both started in astonishment as Dan’s knees suddenly buckled and he collapsed in a heap at their feet.

Max crouched, quickly felt for a pulse.

Nothing. He closed his eyes, brought his hand to Dan’s chest, concentrated on starting his heart.

He was not going to let this man die. Liz would never forgive herself if it happened - if Dan should be killed because of her involvement with aliens. Max would not let her suffer that.

Max sent a pulse of energy into Dan’s chest, sighed in relief as he felt it jump and then start beating again.

"You’re all right now," Max said quietly, glancing up at Kyle and shaking his head when his old friend appeared about to say something. He helped Dan to sit up. Liz’s fiancé was blinking rapidly, a dazed expression on his face.

Dan stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. Max watched calmly as Dan’s face reflected his displeasure at recognizing Max. "What the hell? What am I doing here?" He looked around the dome, clearly confused, but more annoyed than anything. "Where’s Elizabeth?" He finally noticed Kyle. "Kyle, what’s going on? Why is he here? Where am I?"

"Er…" Kyle looked at Max desperately.

"You fainted," Max told him. "Are you okay?"

Dan’s expression was fierce. "I fainted? Why?"

"You passed out," Max modified quickly. "Don’t you remember anything?"

Dan shook off Max, stood up without help, stumbling slightly. "The last thing I remember is having dinner at Isabel and Jesse’s." He looked closely at Max. "You’re Max Evans, aren’t you? I’ve seen pictures of you." He did not look pleased. In fact, his expression was pretty much exactly the same as it had been on Isabel’s front lawn four days ago - when they had first met.

Because, Max was quickly beginning to realize, to Dan, this was their first meeting. "What have you done with Elizabeth?" Dan was snarling now.

"I haven’t done anything with her," Max replied quietly. "She’s at home, in Roswell." He looked at Kyle, trying to tell him with his eyes that he should play along. "We met at my sister’s. Don’t you remember? You invited me to your bachelor party. Kyle organized it. You got wasted and disappeared on us. We finally found you here."

Dan stared at him for a long moment, then looked at Kyle for confirmation. Kyle nodded. "I’m sorry Dan. We turned our back for one minute at the bar and you disappeared."

"What the hell did I drink?" Dan muttered, shaking his head and clearly trying to remember. He looked at Max again. "Why would I invite you to my bachelor party? That doesn’t make any sense."

Max shrugged. "I don’t know what to tell you," he replied, non-committal. "You did."

"And you wanted to come?"

Max simply shrugged again.

Kyle cut in here. "It’s a good thing we found you man. It’s Friday night. You’ve been missing for three days. Liz is absolutely frantic."

"WHAT?" Dan practically yelled. He glanced at his watch. "It’s nine o’clock! I’m getting married in fourteen hours!" He appeared to forget all about Max and why on Earth he would have invited his fiancée’s ex-boyfriend to his stag party.

"And it’s a six hour drive back to Roswell," Kyle told him. "So we better get a move on. My car’s out there." He pointed towards the front of the dome. Dan just continued to sputter in disbelief as he started towards the door. "I’ll be right out." He called after him.

They waited for him to exit the dome before Max turned to Kyle, his voice reflecting his urgency. "What happened?"

"To Dan? I have no clue," Kyle shook his head. "I was hoping you could tell me."

Max pressed his lips together. "Possessed apparently."

"Possessed?" Kyle’s eyes widened. "Like what used to happen to Brody?"

"Exactly." Max closed his eyes.

"By who?"

"Khivar."

"Jesus. For how long?" Kyle demanded. "Isn’t he supposed to be dead?"

"He is - supposed to be dead that is." Max replied grimly. "I don’t think he’s possessed Dan for long though - a few days at most. He’s had other irons in the fire." When Kyle looked perplexed, Max just sighed. "It doesn’t matter." He shook his head. "Kyle, what the hell happened here? Where are the others?"

Kyle glanced towards the door of the dome. "Listen Max, I really think you better let Maria tell you that. I need to get Dan out of here. It looks like he doesn’t remember anything - and I’m not just talking about the Khivar thing. It’ll make life easier on everyone if we keep it that way."

Max knew exactly what he was talking about. Not only did Dan not remember his experience of being invaded by an alien essence, he apparently didn’t remember any of the revelations he had been party to over the last week either. "Maria’s here still?" At Kyle’s nod, Max sighed with relief. "Okay. But first I need to go get Liz. She’s still got the kids down in the trees. I just hope she hasn’t left yet." He began to follow Kyle towards the door. "Where’s Maria?"

Kyle smacked his hand against his forehead. "She’s still in the closet in the bedroom," he grimaced. "It’s where Jesse tied her up and put her before he left with Michael and Isabel."

Max stared at him. "You left her there?" And then, "Wait a minute! Why didn’t he tie you up?"

"Because I was willing to stay here because I knew someone had to tell you what was going on," Kyle replied. "He didn’t want us. Maria wanted to go though. Michael told him to do it."

Max frowned. Michael was going to pay for that one later. "So you have no idea where Jesse took them? Why did they go with him anyway? Ben said something about Nicholas. Was he here too?"

Kyle rubbed his eyes wearily. "I’ve got some bad news for you Evans - Nicholas was here, but not in the way you might have been expecting."

"What do you mean?"

"Jesse is Nicholas. All that Special Unit stuff - Maria told me about that last night - all the stuff he’s told Isabel over the years, none of it’s true. He is Khivar’s right-hand man. When Jesse got here, he got out of the car and just told her. Spilled it right outside, the minute he pulled up."

Max felt his heart stop. "How is this possible? Is Isabel okay?"

Kyle shrugged, "I don’t know. At least she has Michael with her." He glanced uneasily towards the door. "Listen, I need to get Dan out of here. Where do you want to meet up so that we can go after them?" He stared at Max seriously, clearly having no intention of not returning.

"I’ll be in touch by cell." He didn’t quite know what else to say. He didn’t want Kyle involved in this, but he couldn’t help the warm feeling that entered his heart when the help was offered.

He had had no one on his side on Antar, when he had gone into battle there - at least no one who wasn’t obligated to help him because he was the king. He had almost forgotten what it felt like to be able to depend on others.

Kyle nodded, turned to go. He paused after a couple steps, turned back to look at Max. "Listen Evans, I don’t think Nicholas is all bad. I really think he’s in love with Isabel. I know he loves their daughter."

"He tried to kill Ben," Max replied evenly. "There will never be any excuse for that."

Kyle sighed. "I know." He turned to leave again.

"Kyle," Max called after him. Kyle turned again, raised an eyebrow. "Thank you for saving my life."

There was an awkward pause. "I guess we’re even now," Kyle finally told him. He disappeared outside.

Max waited a moment, then followed. He would go let Maria out as soon as he made sure Liz was still here.

*Procrastinating again are we Zan?*~

Max jerked to a halt at the voice in his head. He scowled. **What have you done? Where are you?**

*~Where I’ve been all along.*~ Khivar replied, sounding amused. *~In the body Nikkol has been keeping warm for me.*~

Max felt momentarily nauseous at the thought of Isabel married for years not to one monster, but two on occasion. **How?**

*~All in good time Zan.*~

**Where are you?**

*~Waiting for you to find me.*~

Max grit his teeth. **Stop playing games with me. Where the hell are you?**

*~Not far.*~ There was a pause. *~Let’s just say that I am where you least want me.*~

Max frowned, realized that the connection had been severed suddenly. He frantically tried to re-enter Khivar’s mind, wherever he was, but something was blocking him.

It took him less than two seconds to realize what it was. Or rather, who it was.

It was Liz. Something had happened to her.

And, because it had, whatever it was, was happening to him too.

It was his last thought before he slipped into unconsciousness.








posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:21:49 PM
Part 34

Liz watched Max make his way up the slope, waited until he disappeared from view before she turned again to Ben. The little boy was staring up at her, his blue eyes almost silver in the shadows, obviously still scared, but also determined now that his father had given him a very specific goal to accomplish.

She refused to think about how much danger Max had just placed himself in. She had a very specific job too. He had asked her to save his son and his niece. She would not let anything happen to them.

She would not allow Alex’s legacy to be hurt in any way. Ever. Her determination sent strength running through her veins, made her feel strong.

Because it was in that instant that she finally understood exactly why it was that she had forgiven Max in the end. For the first time since they had ever heard the name Tess Harding, they were in perfect sync, their lives dedicated to the same goal.

Before Tess, their common goal had been a simple one - finding happiness together. In the end, their new dream was just as simple, but so much more important. It was to live every minute to the fullest and in doing so, raise and protect the future in the form of Ben - because he was the only link they had left to the one person who still represented the innocence of the early days of the six friends who had been willing to die for each other.

The destiny message they had heard in the pod chamber that day had destroyed the strength that bound the six of them together, had divided them into camps that could not be reunited, no matter how much they loved each other.

Ben was the bridge between the two sides. And through their love for him, Max and Liz had found their way back to each other.

Liz felt peace settle over her. Through all of Max’s talk about the connection that bound them she had known that she was not compelled to be with him because of it. He still did not understand. Their bond was so much simpler than that, and yet so much stronger too.

They were bound by how deeply they both loved, by how truly optimistic they were at heart that there was one person meant for everyone. They had found it in each other, not once, but twice.

It was a gift, not a curse. As soon as they got themselves out of this mess, she was going to spend the rest of her life convincing him of it.

She loved him. It was as simple as that. And because she did, she forgave him.

"Are you ready Sweetie?" Liz whispered now, taking Ben by the hand and clutching Lexi close to her chest. The baby was restless, whimpering, obviously exhausted, but also just as clearly aware that something was wrong.

"Ready."

Liz felt a slight tugging at her mind, could feel Ben inching his way in. She felt the certainty that they were alone, that no one was chasing them, that no one could see them, begin to come over her…

They began the long climb up the hill. Liz felt Ben trip against her at one point, but he held the warp. In fact, it seemed to become even stronger after that. She was absolutely positive that they were going to make it. She knew intellectually that it was the warp making her feel this way, but she could not care, trusted that Max knew what he about having Ben do this.

Her only moment of uncertainty came at the top of the hill. Just as they crested movement near the door of the dome, about a hundred yards from the vehicle, caused her to take her focus off of getting away.

She watched in dismay as Dan Riley came stumbling out of the house, something obviously awry. He looked right at her for an instant, bringing her heart into her throat. But then he blinked and looked away.

"He can’t see us Liz." Ben’s voice was strained, he was obviously tired, and yet he still took the time to try and reassure her. A pang of love for the child made her squeeze his hand.

"I know." She ignored Dan, tried not to question why he was collapsing on the hood of Kyle’s SUV. "Let’s go start your Auntie Isabel’s car."

She had Lexi in the child seat in the back and Ben strapped in beside his cousin before she told Ben to drop the warp. She knew it was too soon, that she should wait until they were well away from the dome, but she was growing concerned by the pasty colour of Ben’s skin, the blankness in his eyes. He was clearly exhausted.

The minute they hit the highway, she spoke over her shoulder, "We’re safe now Honey. You can end the mindwarp."

She was already beginning to reflect on where she could take them that they would be assured of safety, was not focusing on the disappearance of the illusion.

And so, when the warp ended, she was completely unprepared for the fact that she was no longer alone in the car with two children.

She caught sight of Isabel first. She was in the back seat, beside Ben, staring straight ahead, unseeing. Liz gasped, swerved the car.

"Please don’t kill us." The voice was pleasant, came from beside her. She recognized it immediately as Jesse Ramirez’s, but the tone was so different from that of Isabel’s husband - arrogant and amused where Jesse’s was friendly and warm - that it made her blood run cold. "Keep driving Elizabeth. Don’t worry about Vilandra. She has had quite a shock. She’ll be fine."

Liz swallowed, felt her insides freezing up in terror.
She focused on the road, refused to look to her right. If she didn’t look, this wouldn’t be happening.

But she knew it was. "Where do you want me to go?" She finally asked. She glanced back at Ben. He had fallen instantly asleep, like the last time he had held a mind-warp too long.

At least he was asleep. The last thing she wanted was for Ben to remember any of this.

"I don’t know," Jesse replied pleasantly. Liz finally forced herself to glance in his direction. He was staring straight ahead, a placid expression on his face. "I’ll think about it. For now, just drive."

"What’s wrong with Isabel?" Liz demanded. "What are you doing here? How could we not have seen you?"

"I was giving Ben’s mindwarp a little boost of my own," Jesse told her.

Liz gasped despite herself, "You’re…"

"Alien? Certainly." Jesse turned to look at her, surprised. "Didn’t you know? Everyone else does."

"No," Liz searched her mind. "Isabel knows about this?"

"She’s known for a long while, has reveled in it. Vilandra has always loved people she isn’t supposed to." Jesse stretched lazily, cupped his hands together and rested them behind his dark head.

"Who are you?"

"I am many people, the least of whom is Jesse Ramirez, hotshot young attorney. I am Zan’s destroyer, Vilandra’s lover, Rath’s brother, Ava’s creator. I am the rightful King of Antar."

And Liz understood. "You’re Khivar." She swallowed again, resisted the urge to scream. There was no point.

"I am. I’m pleased to meet you officially Elizabeth."

"You’re supposed to be dead," Liz told him, knowing she sounded ridiculous, but her shock was deep. Max had been so sure, had proclaimed that Khivar had died by his own hand.

"Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Zan may have killed my body on Antar, but my mind has always been my most important weapon. With the aid of the turncoat Larek I have finally turned my essence into an entity that Zan cannot destroy, no matter how hard he tries," Khivar’s glee was barely controlled. He sounded like a spoiled child with a new toy.

Liz frowned. His tone indicated that he felt in complete control of this situation, was enjoying himself immensely. "Does Max know about this?"

"Oh, he knows," Khivar snorted. "He is berating me mentally as we speak."

Liz glanced at him, her heart starting to beat erratically. "You’re talking to him right now?"

"Gotta love that seal," Khivar shrugged. "I can have a chat with Zan whenever I feel like it. We are connected - eternally. Needless to say, he is somewhat disconcerted by the fact that I have you in my possession. He feels the same for you as he felt for that slut Kadiya. It’s really quite nauseating, but it makes him so easy to control. He is so predictable."

Max! Her heart screamed for him. He had to be going insane with worry, would surely be drowning in guilt that he had let Khivar get near Ben, her, Isabel.

And Khivar was tormenting him mentally right at this moment, weakening him with his own guilt, his own fear. He was using the seal as it was meant to be used, to control Max through his own human emotions.

His emotions were at once Max Evans’s greatest strength and his greatest weakness. His love for her and all the others had driven him to extremes, good and bad, on so many occasions, she had almost lost count.

She had to free him. Once and for all. And, suddenly, without a doubt, she knew that she was the only one who could do it.

Max had told her himself that it was only his love for her that had kept him from going off the precipice immediately after the summit in New York. Anytime he felt hope that they would find their way back to each other, the seal weakened. When he felt closer to losing her for good, it strengthened, turned him into someone unrecognizable.

His connection to her was stronger than the seal. She had to break it - had to save him, once and for all.
Liz felt her heart pounding as she formulated a plan. The first thing she needed to do was get this car stopped. She could not do anything while they were speeding down 285 North at 70 miles an hour.

She blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "I need to go to the bathroom."

There was a long pause. Khivar finally chuckled. "Very well. Stop the car. We’re not really in any hurry."

Liz slowed down the Volvo, carefully drove onto the shoulder. "I won’t be long."

"There’s a flashlight in the trunk," Khivar told her, sounding bored. When Liz looked at him strangely, he smiled slightly. "Hey, it’s my car. When I’m around that is."

Liz frowned slightly. "Aren’t you always?"

"No." He smirked at her. "When I am, Nikkol goes…elsewhere."

"Nikkol?"

"Oh, I apologize, you know him by his Earthly moniker. That would be Nicholas to you. He kept this body ready for me, ready for when I could finally leave my Antarian shell behind."

"Jesse is Nicholas?" Liz demanded in horror. "I don’t understand."

"It’s really not very complicated Elizabeth," Khivar rolled his dark eyes. Liz felt her own widen at the way he said that. It sounded strangely familiar, and not just because Dan was the only one who called her by her first name. "This body contained Nicholas’s essence when I was not in it. His skin died long ago because Vilandra destroyed the Harvest. We had Larek’s technology - he was a traitor long before Zan ever suspected by the way, long before Zan even came back to Antar. Nicholas allowed himself to pass on so that his essence could be transferred."

"Does Jesse Ramirez even exist?" Liz asked quietly, glanced back worriedly at Isabel. No wonder Max’s sister was practically catatonic.

"He did, long ago. We had to clone his body from somewhere." Khivar scowled in Isabel’s direction as well. "I wish he still did though. He would have been a simpler being to control. Nikkol has been fighting me recently." He transferred his gaze to Lexi. The baby was sound asleep, her small hand entwined in her mother’s dark hair. Isabel’s head was leaning against her child’s, seemingly in an attempt to draw strength from her. Lexi had calmed down the instant she had laid eyes on Isabel, after the warp had broken. "Ever since that one was born as a matter of fact," Khivar continued.

"Lexi? Why?"

Khivar shook his head. "She is in line to the throne you understand. Nikkol had visions of ruling Antar in his daughter’s name. Vilandra is Zan’s only blood relative after all. Her offspring are his heirs."

Liz felt a pang. Isabel was going to be devastated by all of this. Her life had appeared so perfect, had been one of the reasons that Liz had begun to recognize the depth of her discontent with Dan. But it had all been an illusion, none of it real. At least with Max, their problems were up-front, out in the open.

And, yet, she could not forget the way Jesse had looked at his wife. He had loved Isabel. Nicholas or not, evil or not, he had loved her.

She realized that she was thinking in the past tense. Khivar had spoken of Nicholas that way after all. "Is he dead?"

"Yes," Khivar replied, sounding unconcerned. "He threatened Ben. He paid the price. This body is mine alone now. I don’t need him anymore anyway."

"So you can’t leave it again?"

"There is no need. Zan is in my clutches, under my control again. I cannot return to Antar - the rebellion has completely destroyed the monarchy, thanks to that idiot. I will be content to rule Earth. I am human now after all."

Liz stared at him. "Max will stop you."

"If you say so," Khivar chuckled again. When Liz continued to sit staring at him, he finally turned to look at her. "Don’t you understand little one? As long as I have you, Zan will be preoccupied with finding you. He will not be able to stop me. You are his weakness. He knows I will not harm Ben. He is mine. But you…" He reached out a hand, gently tucked a strand of Liz’s hair behind her ear. It was so close to the gesture Max often employed, it made her shudder. "You he will fear for. I am in complete control of him now."

"Because of the seal?" Liz asked quietly.

"Indeed." Khivar turned away again. "Now go and relieve yourself. We must depart quickly."

"I’ve changed my mind. I’m fine."

"Very well. Drive then."

"What would happen if I just killed myself? Then you wouldn’t have any more control over him."

Khivar turned back, his eyes surprised. "You would do that?"

"To free Max from you, from your control over him, I would," Liz replied simply.

"It would devastate him." Khivar raised an eyebrow at her, not sounding concerned, merely interested in her reasoning.

"But he would be free."

"Zan does not want to be free," Khivar smiled, amused. "Don’t you know what happened to him on Antar when he lost his love?" He paused. "You do know about Kadiya, do you not?"

Liz could feel the ring Max had given her practically burning against her skin. It still hung on the chain around her neck. It was all she could do not to touch it. But Khivar did not know who she was, could not know. It was the only power she held here - the knowledge that her connection to Max was stronger than his. If he knew…

He would kill her and end it all immediately. Because Liz did not doubt that he was right, that her fate was irrevocably linked to Max’s, that he would die if she did. But it wasn’t simply because of the rashna, nor because they were bonded soulmates.

It was because they loved each other - as Max and Liz, Zan and Kadiya, it didn’t matter. Living alone would be intolerable.

"I know."

"He allowed himself to be killed because he believed that she was dead." Khivar shook his head. "He is such a fool. He allows his heart to rule him."

"It is why he is a great king," Liz returned hotly.

"He deserted his throne for a woman!" Khivar returned, sounding disbelieving still. Even over the years that had passed since the death of Zan on Antar, Khivar still could not understand it.

"His love for Kadiya showed him the path to take that was best for his people," Liz argued. "He rid them of you in the end, didn’t he? You’re stuck here."

Khivar’s eyes narrowed. Liz could see that she was finally making him angry. "I choose to be here."

"Right," Liz made a great show of rolling her eyes, turning away.

There was a long pause. She could feel the fury coming off of Khivar in waves. She held her breath, hoped that she had pushed him enough…She needed him distracted, angry, unfocused…

He started to laugh. Liz felt her heart drop.

"Well, I can certainly see what Zan sees in you. You’re exactly like Kadiya. So spirited! You haven’t shown me this side of yourself before Elizabeth."

Liz frowned, refused to turn around. She stared out the driver’s side window, her arms crossed over her chest. "What are you talking about? We’ve never met before today."

"I’ve told you that Jesse Ramirez was not my only host - Elizabeth."

It took a moment for her to understand what he meant. She whirled, stared at him in horror. "You were…You were Dan?" She felt bile rise in her throat, quickly rolled down the window, breathed in great gulps of night air. "For how long?" She finally managed to ask, knew that her voice sounded weak, hated herself for it.

Images of all of the intimacies she had shared with Dan were tumbling through her mind, horrifying her more with each one.

"Oh relax," Khivar replied. "It was only this week that I understood how important you were to Zan. I had to find out why. But until this moment I couldn’t figure it out. You were not like this with your fiancé."

"Does Dan remember any of this?" Liz asked, finally turning around, relief sweeping through her. She remembered that Brody had never recalled anything from during the time that he had been possessed. It would be a supreme irony if Liz had confessed Max’s heritage to Dan, only for it to have been Khivar, who had certainly known better than anyone who Max was.

"I would doubt it. Not that it matters. He is dead anyway. The instant I left his body, he passed on."

Liz felt her heart stop. Guilt came crashing down on her so intensely, she had to grip the steering wheel for support. Tears of horror were welling in her eyes. She fought them desperately. He could not know how this was affecting her. “You are a monster,” she finally whispered.

“No,” Khivar replied. “I am merely human.” He started to laugh again. She turned her head, glared at him. “Forgive my giddiness,” he said. “It’s just that I have waited so long to finally have Zan in my clutches. I am quite losing my head.”

“You killed him in his last life!” Liz exclaimed. “Wasn’t that enough for you?”

“But he came back.” Khivar’s lip curled. “That slut made sure of it. But there is no Kadiya to save him this time.” He picked up a lock of her hair, rubbed it between his fingers. “There is only you little human. And that isn’t enough, is it? It is enough to destroy him, but not enough to save him.”

Liz swallowed, resisted the urge to spit in his face. It was time. He was totally engrossed in his own triumph, totally sure that he knew everything, that he could not be outplayed this time.

“You’re wrong,” she whispered.

“Pardon me?” Khivar sounded amused, like he couldn’t wait to hear how she was going to tell him how mistaken he was and why. So that he could laugh again at her naiveté.

“I am the only one who can stop you.”

“I think not,” Khivar replied. He stroked her face gently. “Give in to me Elizabeth. Accept what must be. You are mine to do with as I will – my instrument.”

“Like Kadiya was? Did you not use Zan’s love for her to bring down his family?”

His face hardened. “I tried. But she evaded me, cloned him, sent him off here to live on without her.”

“Not without her,” Liz replied, smiling slightly. “I’m surprised you haven’t guessed by now Khivar – that you haven’t guessed why Max came back to me, why he didn’t just stay on Antar to raise his son. You were finished there anyway.”

Khivar frowned. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I am the only one who can stop you because I am the only one whose bond to Max is stronger than yours. He is mine – has been for two lifetimes. You have tried to take him away from me twice, but it ends here.”

She saw the look of astonishment appear on his face as she pulled the ring out from under her shirt. “Do you know this?”

His jaw clenched. She felt a flash of joy when she saw fear flare in his eyes before he could hide it. “It is the Royal Seal,” he finally managed to mutter. “I have been searching for that for years.”

She didn’t know how she knew what to do. It was as though her past self, as though Kadiya, was working in the present, guiding her, sending her on the right path. She felt the power of Kadi’s knowledge in her veins like some sort of drug, pushing her on.

“Because it is the only seal that really counts,” Liz replied. “Zan gave this to Kadi with his own free will. He gave himself over to her by choice. He did the same for me. It is why our bond will always be stronger. As long as he has me, you will never win.”

With that, she placed her hands on both sides of his face, stared right into his eyes and said, “It ends now.”

And she kissed him.



posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:23:13 PM
Part 35

"ZAN!" She screamed his name, yet knew it was too late. She was never going to reach him in time. His despair was crushing her, making her stumble.

Their connection had never been so strong - not even in the first moments after they had bonded themselves eternally through the
Rashna . She was actually seeing through his eyes, was listening through his ears…

But he could not hear her, could not
feel her. They had shut him off from her somehow. He was all alone.

"Just do it. Kill me." His voice was cracking with grief. He was standing near the main fountain of the palace gardens, staring down in horror. Kadiya felt the hard stone under his knees as he fell to the ground, his face in his hands to block out the sight of Rath floating lifelessly in the still water.

She was aware of hands under her elbows, hauling her to her feet, knew it was Khivar. "Come along little whore. Let us go and witness the destruction of the king. The destruction you have brought about." He sounded gleeful. She struggled against him but was pulled along against her will, distracted by what she was seeing in her mind’s eye - what she was going to be unable to stop.

He thought she was dead. She knew it as certainly as she knew that she loved him.

"You betrayed me!" It was Ava, shrieking at him. "I am your wife and you were going to set me aside for a
servant - a whore!. She died because of it and now you will as well."

"I died the moment you sent Khivar to kill her," Zan replied tonelessly. "Just do it. I will do nothing to stop you." He could not see Ava, was forcing himself to stare down at the body of his best friend, to reflect on the death of his sister in defense of his life.

She could feel him trying not to think of her, Kadi. He was desperately trying to erase his horrified imaginings of what Khivar had done to her before he had killed her.

**ZAN! It is not true my love! I still live!** She sent the frantic message through their connection, felt the block instantly. Khivar’s hold on her elbow tightened. She knew that it was he invading their bond, cutting it off somehow.

She could not feel him at all anymore. He was gone.

"ZAN!"

Kadiya wrenched away from Khivar, desperation giving her wings. She flew through the maze of garden paths but was forced to an abrupt halt as she ran head-on into someone fleeing in the opposite direction.

She tumbled to her knees, managed to stare up at the other woman, who was also on the ground, gasping with horror.

Ava - her eyes wide with guilt and fear. As she recognized Kadi, her face hardened into a mask of hatred. "YOU! You still live!"

"What have you done?" Kadiya whispered, sympathy for the other girl running through her despite herself.

Ava’s fate was sealed after all. She had killed the king. She would die for it. Already Kadiya could hear the marching steps of the palace guard as they descended on the fountain court.

Too late.

And Ava knew it. Kadi could see it in her eyes.

But Kadiya did not have time to waste with Ava. She had to get to Zan, had to see for herself that there was no way left to save him.

She stumbled to her feet, pushed past the new queen.

The scene near the fountain was exactly as she had envisioned it through the connection. Rath in the water, Zan on his knees, his head lowered in defeat.

"ZAN!"

She saw him start. Her heart soared with disbelief, with hope. He lived! She was not too late.

The world seemed to move in slow motion as he fell to his side, collapsing right in front of her.

She was at his side in a moment, falling to her knees, sobbing as she pulled him into her arms.

Blood everywhere. It drenched her light-coloured dress instantly. He was gasping for breath.

"Zan! What have they done to you?" She lowered her head over him, ran her hands down his body, trying to determine how he had been hurt. Why was she so useless? She could feel his life draining away as she held him.

"Kay…" He panted, trying to speak.

"My love, stay still. The guards are on their way. You will live. Stay still!" She gently pressed her lips to his cheek, felt it growing cold under her kiss.

His dark eyes widened as a spasm of pain ran through him. "Kadiya." She jumped at the clarity with which he said her name. "They….they lied to me. How…how could…"

"Be quiet. Zan, do not speak. Concentrate on staying with me…" Her voice was breaking. She could not control the tears that were coursing down her face, falling onto his.

"They…broke…

"They broke the connection somehow. I know it Zan. All will be well my love. We will regain it. But you must live."

"I am glad." His words were so quiet, she had to strain to hear them. "Glad…that you will be free." He closed his eyes, shuddered against her.

"No. Zan! NO!" She grasped at him desperately. "I do not want this! Zan!"

"You… are free… my love." She felt his head move, felt his lips brush against her palm. He gently kissed the small scar that still marked the spot where they had mingled their blood during the
Rashna .

He sighed once. And all was still.

"I am sorry."

Kadiya almost snapped her neck her head came up so quickly. Khivar stood on the other side of the court, a mocking expression on his face.

"What did you do? How did you do this?" She asked quietly, her hands still stroking down Zan’s body, unwilling to believe that he was really gone - that his soul had left her.

"I did nothing," Khivar smiled. "His own grief did it - his own fear. He cut himself off from you the instant he thought you were dead."

"That’s impossible. I was still connected to him. It makes no sense."

"You knew he lived! Don’t you understand what the
Rashna is my sweet?" Khivar eyed her, looking momentarily disbelieving. "Were you really so innocent and stupid?"

She closed her eyes, remembering the ceremony they had performed alone in her chamber one night, the exchange of blood through their palms, the kiss of commitment after the words of bonding.

She had known - had tried to forget after she had understood that he was to marry Ava, that none of it mattered any longer.

"If your souls are to meet in the next life Kadiya then you must die together." He shook his head, amused. "How could you not have known this? Your time left is disappearing as we speak. Fate will intervene at any moment, will take you to join him. Zan’s own subconscious cut off the connection as soon as he believed you dead. It started to prepare him to follow you. He
wanted to follow you." Khivar snorted with laughter. "It is the best joke I have ever heard that you do not feel the same."

But, of course, Khivar could not understand. She was not sorry that she would be joining Zan. She was grieving because she would not.

Kadiya stared at Khivar, unseeing. Because she had understood exactly what Zan’s kiss against her palm had meant.

He had left her, did not want her to join him. He wanted her to
live . He had broken the connection himself.

He was lost to her forever.

She would not allow it. She would see him again. The iron entered her soul as she glared at Khivar, who was still snorting in amusement.

She would see Zan again and she would destroy Khivar - even if it was the last thing she ever did.

*********************************************

Kadiya watched from within the massive throng in the Great Square as Queen Ava was executed for the assassination of her husband, King Zan. She slid away as the crowd surged forward with a great gasp as Ava breathed her last.

All the pieces were now in place. Larek would now help her.

She refused to look up at the Palace where she knew Khivar, the newly crowned king, was watching it all unfold, likely barely containing his glee.

She had not set eyes on him since the day of Zan, Rath and Vilandra’s deaths. Amazingly, he had simply let her go, absolutely positive that it was only a matter of hours before she died anyway. She would not look upon him now.

She would not look upon him again until she took her revenge.

Larek was waiting for her in the small house she had moved to after Zan’s death. The Queen Mother had arranged for him to be absent from the execution. Normally, Larek, ruler of one of the five planets under the high kingship of Antar, should have been there representing his people. But the Queen Mother had sowed the seeds of a story that Larek’s guilt over arranging the marriage of his beloved friend and king, Zan, to the murderess Ava had rendered him unable to witness the ending to the tragedy.

Kadiya knew that Larek despised her, blamed her for the failure of the marriage of Zan and Ava. But he would help her because the Queen Mother had ordered him to and because he wanted his friend back on the throne. His only condition was that Ava should be sent to Earth as well, she having been an innocent victim in all of this. Kadi had begun to suspect long ago that his complete faith in Zan’s love for Ava stemmed from an obsession of Larek’s own…One he had attributed to his friend.

Because Zan had been his king, had he not deserved the best and brightest woman in the system? Which Kadiya now understood Larek had perceived Ava to be.

Larek’s loyalty to the monarchy was almost an absurd irony because of his scientific genius. That he could clone the very soul of the dead and blend it with the DNA of another species…it was almost god-like.

Of course, he also blamed Kadi for the fact that Zan had wanted to dissolve the monarchy, a rumour that was beginning to circulate through the population now that he was dead. And what would not have been accepted during Zan’s lifetime was beginning to be perceived as something worth examining now that he was gone. Because their king had been beloved, destroyed in the prime of his life, he had become a martyr. Whatever his goals had been, they had to have been in the best interest of his people. Or so it was whispered.

Kadiya’s satisfaction that Khivar’s reign would likely not be long was not enough. He would die for what he had done.

But she was in no rush. She would wait for the moment when he least expected it. She would wait a lifetime if necessary.

She descended the darkened staircase into the cellar of the house, followed the long tunnel that led to Larek’s laboratory, the tunnel the Queen Mother had had built in the night during the months following the deaths of her children. It had taken almost a full year for Ava to stand trial and for her execution to be arranged. Justice moved slowly on Antar.

Not that it had been justice. Kadiya could not blame Ava for what had happened after all. She had not been a pleasant girl, but she had not been evil.

Khivar was to blame. He would pay the final price.

In the months they had waited, Zan and Vilandra and Rath were cloned, the small human fetuses, which looked nothing like Antarians except for their shape, placed within organic pods for incubation. They were already beginning to develop distinct differences. Kadiya had spent hours watching Zan’s pod for any change. It was entirely fascinating.

Earth had been chosen as the site of Zan’s rebirth for many reasons, but the main being that it was still under-developed enough that a ship could be landed there without too much notice, and yet advanced enough to allow the royal children to develop intellectually - perhaps not to Antarian standards, but far enough that they would be possible to integrate.

Her beloved would return to his throne in triumph in Kadiya’s lifetime, different and, yet, still
Zan . And then he would bring about the changes he had never managed to complete during his far too short first life.

She would be at his side - no longer as a lover, it having destroyed him once, but, rather, as a guide, as a protector.

He would not remember her after all.

Kadiya smiled slightly to herself as she ran her hand down the pod in which he grew, innocent and helpless, but soon to be safely away from the planet that had doomed him.

"Are you sure that the delay in cloning Ava won’t cause difficulties?" Kadiya asked Larek softly.

Zan’s friend glared at her. "For the one hundredth time Kadiya - no. Do you not believe that I know what I’m about?"

"I believe it Larek." She traced the face of the small human infant that housed the soul of her beloved. "All is arranged for the transport. The protectors have been chosen?"

"Yes. Two shapeshifters loyal to the Queen Mother," Larek replied grudgingly. "One for each set of clones."

Kadiya had argued against the duplicates at first, telling Larek that dividing the essences of the Royal Four could potentially dilute their personalities, but he had insisted, admonishing that if something should happen to one set of pods, at least the other set would survive and the whole mission would not have been in vain.

But Kadiya had already chosen which was the
real king. He floated in the pod on which she presently rested her hand. It was the pod in which she had enclosed the royal seal in the form of the ring that Zan had given her what felt like yesterday.

The day that they had decided that they would be together forever. And the day he had left her.

Alone. It was almost unbearable the loneliness. But she did not blame him, knew why he had done it. He had
lived her death before finding out that he had been lied to. He could not bear to reflect on it a second time and so he had broken their bond so that she would live. He had broken her heart in the process, but she could not blame him. He had done it because he had loved her.

"I can’t believe it is almost time," Kadiya sighed now.

Larek finally softened slightly. "Yes. The legitimate royal house of Antar will rise again."

Zan will rise again, Kadiya thought with satisfaction. And Khivar will fall.

"And you are no longer needed."

Kadiya whirled, felt her eyes widen. Larek was staring at her, unmoving, his disintegrator pointed directly at her heart.

"I would have done this long since Kadiya. But the Queen Mother would not allow it, insisted that it would not be what Zan wanted." He shook his head in disgust. "But I know better. You destroyed him as surely as I stand here. And now you will pay."

"Why now?" She asked quietly, closing her eyes, accepting it. She had wanted to see him return, but perhaps this was better anyway. Her only regret was that Khivar had not suffered at her hand.

If she ceased to exit, she would no longer be alone.

"Because now is the only time that the Queen Mother will accept that you took your own life. She will understand that once the goal of assuring the rebirth of Zan was complete, you were ready to meet your end, unable to exist any longer without him." He was sneering at her, his hatred a palatable force.

She simply bowed her head in acceptance. "Know that I forgive you for this Larek. You are trapped in your own guilt. If you must place the blame on me to survive so that you can be of use to Zan when he returns, then I will die without regret."

There was a long pause. She wondered briefly if he was going to be unable to do it after all…if he would be unable to commit this act of treason, this act that would have been the last thing his king would have wanted.

But she knew better. Larek only knew what he knew. He did not understand true love.

When the end came, her last thought was of Zan’s smile.


**********************************************
The connection was so easy to make, it made Liz gasp in astonishment. She had chosen to use her lips to do it, knew that whenever she had received flashes from Max, they had always been the most intense when they had kissed. It had stood to reason that it would be the same with Khivar - although she could already feel nausea rising within her.

The first emotion she felt from him was fear.

He knew who she was and he knew that she could kill him.

The next emotion was not from him at all.

She felt a flash of determination and knew it to be Max. She had found him in the one place Khivar had never dreamed that she would look.

She had found her love in Khivar’s own mind.

She would not do this alone. Unlike Kadiya, she was not alone.

*~Max!*~

There was a long silence…and then, as though from a great distance…

**I’m here Liz!**

*~Show me what to do!*~

She could feel his essence wrapping itself around her as they connected on a level beyond anything she had ever experienced before. It was exhilarating, brought such a sense of completion, it was actually weakening her physically.

**Combine your strength with mine.** Max told her calmly. **I know exactly what to do.**

This is pointless Zan. Khivar broke in. She is not Kadiya. Did you not see what I saw? You broke the bond on Antar. She is merely human.

Liz almost burst into joyous giggles that he still did not understand. **Khivar, I am Kadiya. Zan broke the connection, but I never did. My soul found his anyway because we are meant to be. It has always been so.**

*~We chose it Khivar,*~ Max continued grimly. *~I never chose this disgusting bond to you. And it is going to end. Now.*~

Liz felt Max gathering her energy - the very substance of her mind - and she gave it over to him without reservation.

She was human, but she was his - at heart she was still Kadiya. They were one. Together they were strong.

**I love you Max!**

*~I love you too.*~

Her last thought before she lost consciousness was that she had had her revenge. Khivar had finally paid.

Kadiya could rest in peace.





posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:24:07 PM
Part 36

"Max!" He jerked his head away from the hard slap to his face, resisted the voice calling his name. He had to find Liz! His connection to her had been cut off with a resounding snap when he had felt Khivar’s essence burn itself out in his consciousness. His desperate calls for her in his mind were met only with silence.

"Zan, will you bloody well snap out of it?" He was hit again, this time much harder than was really necessary since he was conscious again, despite all of his efforts to remain within the connection.

Max’s eyes flew open. He sat up gasping, rubbing his face, reorienting himself.

It took him a moment to realize where he was. He was still on the ground in the main dome area of Atherton’s house. He blinked, looked up at Michael, who was standing over him, his arms crossed, a supremely irritated expression on his face. "It’s about time! What the hell happened to you?"

It was taking Max longer than he liked to get his bearings. He shook his head, hard, trying to clear it.

The first coherent thought that he could grasp was Liz’s name. "Liz…" He muttered as Michael helped him to his feet. A feeling of emptiness was coming over him as he tried desperately to get any sense of her at all. With the intensity of the connection they had made to fry Khivar’s essence, he should be able to find her easily.

But there was nothing.

"Isabel is who you should be worried about!" Michael snapped. "Khivar has her! We need to go after them."

Max blinked again, stared at Michael. "Aren’t you supposed to be with them?" He asked, beginning to frown. It was all coming back to him now. Kyle had said that Khivar had taken both Isabel and Michael.

Michael looked away for a moment. "He knocked me out as soon as we got in the car. I woke up in the dust a few minutes ago," he finally said slowly.

Max narrowed his eyes. There had been something evasive in that answer…and it didn’t make sense with what Max knew about Khivar. Khivar had wanted all three of them dead. Michael was the reborn version of his brother Rath, but Max knew that would have meant nothing to Khivar. If he didn’t want Michael with him, he would have just killed him.

With all the essence hopping that had been going on over the past week, he needed to be sure this was really Michael.

"Tell me how you proposed to Maria," he ordered abruptly.

Michael’s head whipped around. "What? Why?"

And Max knew immediately. He had seen the panic that had flashed through the eyes of the monster impersonating his best friend.

"Humour me," he replied grimly.

"It’s private Max."

"It wasn’t so private when you told me all about it yesterday."

There was a long pause and then he broke, "Okay, fine. I have no idea." He looked resigned, rubbed his face wearily. "How did you know?"

Max felt his nostrils flare. It was taking all of his strength not to beat the living crap out of the body in front of him. But he would be hurting Michael too - if his best friend still existed in there. "Michael would never have called me Zan. What is it going to take to get you out of there… Nicholas."

"I want my body back. Plain and simple."

Max clenched his fists at his side. The bastard who had tried to kill his son was staring at him through his brother’s face. "And then everything can go back to the way it was - right Jesse? Or are you even bothering to go by that name now?"

"I am in love with your sister Zan." He sounded exhausted, defeated.

"You’re obsessed with my sister you little weasel. You have been for two lifetimes. If you think Isabel will take you back after what you’ve done…"

"What have I done other than to love her?" Nicholas demanded. "I am the father of her child. I would die for her."

"You tried to murder my son!" Max bellowed. Nicholas flinched. "And you tortured all of us when we were teenagers - including Isabel. Do you think I would just forget that? That she will?"

"At this point, I don’t really care," Nicholas snapped. "I just want her safe. Can you understand that?"

Max clenched his jaw. "Of course I can. But I don’t want anything to do with you. I want you gone. If you think I’ll trust you to help me, then you must be even crazier than I thought."

Max could feel himself slowly but surely losing control. He took a few deep, calming breathes.

They were in a stand off and it was getting them nowhere. The longer he argued with this bastard, the more panicked he was becoming about Liz. He still could not feel her at all.

Max saw a vein pulsing on Michael’s neck, could almost see Nicholas’ brain working in his best friend’s head. "I’ll let Michael emerge if you’ll go after them," he finally ground out. "Michael can be the one who helps you. Just go after them Zan!"

"And you’ll be where?" Max demanded. "Just lurking?"

He looked at the ground. "I won’t interfere - won’t hurt Michael." He raised his head, his eyes meeting Max’s squarely. "Because I can Zan. I can extinguish him right now if I want to."

"Oh, that’s making me want to trust you," Max shook his head, disbelieving. "You’ll never change Nicholas. You are evil, treating lives you don’t care about like pawns."

"I’m trying here!" Nicholas yelled. "Which is more than I can say for you! We’re just wasting time. Khivar has Isabel and Liz!"

"Khivar is dead," Max told him quietly.

"What?" Nicholas’ eyes widened in shock. "How?"

"Liz." Max felt a rush of pride and love, mixed with dread. He still could not feel her at all. It was beginning to become real to him that while Liz had been so brave and strong, she may have sacrificed herself completely. She may have relived Kadiya’s life - and death - in more than just a vision.

He couldn’t think that way. Not now. He had to find her.

He would make a deal with the devil himself if he had to. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, Nicholas was right. They didn’t have time to argue right now. He didn’t have time to make Nicholas pay.

There would be plenty of time later.

He took a deep, steadying breath then growled, "Give me Michael and I’ll let Isabel decide what’s to become of you when this is over."

He owed that much to his sister. She at least deserved the right to decide what grisly death this bastard had earned with his deceit.

Nicholas appeared satisfied. "Fine." He closed his eyes briefly.

Max watched in fascination as a grimace passed over Michael’s face. His eyes snapped open again a moment later. He stared at Max in horror. "Jesus Christ Maxwell!"

"I take it I don’t have to fill you in on what’s going on?" Max demanded, bringing a hand down affectionately on his best friend’s shoulder. The relief that rushed through him, because somehow he just knew that this was Michael again, made him weak.

"No." Max could see fury beginning to claim Michael. "That little bastard…I was aware the whole time. I just didn’t have any control of my body. We need to get him out of my head. It’s bloody humiliating." He glanced toward the bedroom. "Jesus Max. I need to get Maria out of the closet."

"Hurry."

Max trailed after Michael as he bolted for the bedroom. "How did he do it?" Max asked quietly.

"He just took over." Michael replied. He changed the subject abruptly. "I’m guessing you know that Dan is Khivar?" He asked as he opened the closet door, scowled at the sight of Maria bound hand and foot. She was glaring up at him, her eyes wide, her face tear-streaked. "Oh hell. Maria, please just don’t freak on me. I had no choice."

"MICHAEL!" She shrieked, the minute he removed the gag from her mouth. "I hate, hate, hate you! The wedding is off!"

"Maria, if I had let you come with me and Isabel, there would have been no wedding," he replied, pulling her into his arms. "He would have killed you." Max watched her melt against Michael, unresisting. Max breathed a sigh of relief. She would forgive him.

"I wanted to be with you!" Maria exclaimed through her tears. "You can’t just arbitrarily make decisions for me Michael! It’s not fair!"

"It is fair when it’s the difference between you getting killed or not," Michael returned sternly.

"Guys, there’s no time for this," Max interrupted reluctantly. "I’m sorry, but we have to find Liz and Izzy."

"I thought you said Khivar was dead," Michael turned his head, Maria still pressed against him. He narrowed his eyes. "Again," He added. "How exactly is it that he came back anyway?"

"It’s a long story. The short version is that Larek helped him to possess Dan and then Jesse immediately after I killed his body on Antar." Max glanced at Maria. "Which is why Nicholas was bumped into you Michael."

"What?" Maria shrieked, wrenching away from Michael. She was behind Max an instant later, clutching at him. "Michael?"

"It’s me Maria," Michael sighed impatiently. "The troll has let me have control back."

Max brought his arm around Maria to support her. "It’s true Maria. Nicholas is in there, but Michael’s in charge. We need to get him back into Jesse’s body as soon as possible though. Now that Khivar’s essence is gone, the body is going to be useless really quickly."

"Are Liz and Isabel and the kids okay?" Maria asked, still apparently unable to go anywhere near Michael now that she knew that Nicholas was in there as well.

"I don’t know," Max replied, trying not to allow his fear to reflect in his voice. "I hope so."

They had better be, he thought grimly as he led the way out to the Cherokee. Because if they weren’t, then Nicholas was going to pay the price. There would be no mercy at all if either his sister or Liz were hurt.

They were on 285 North moments later.

"Are you sure they went this way?" Maria asked from the back seat.

"Yes," Max told her. The instant he had turned the car onto the highway, he had had a flash of emotion from Liz. It was almost like an echo of exactly what she had been feeling when her car had passed over the spot.

She had been scared - terrified. But not for herself. For Ben, for Isabel, for Lexi - for him. Trust Liz not to worry about herself.

The flash gave him a jolt of adrenaline, a rush of hope. Was the connection kicking back in, was that why he had had that flash? Because if so, then Liz was alive. Despite the amount of energy he had drained out of her to destroy Khivar, she lived.

Now he just had to find her.

**LIZ?** He called out with his mind, could hear Michael and Maria talking quietly, tried to ignore them.

Still nothing. But the emptiness in his heart was not as complete as it had been a few minutes before.

"Max!"

He jumped, focused on the road. It was Michael yelling at him. "There’s a car up there - on the side of the road. It looks like a Volvo."

Liz!

He slowed the Cherokee, drove off the road, pulling to a stop behind the Volvo. Max was out of the car instantly, forgetting to even turn off the engine. "Liz! Ben!"

His cries were met with nothing but silence.

Max wrenched open the driver’s side door. Liz, who had been leaning against the window, tumbled out into his arms, her dark hair falling over her face.

"She’s breathing!" He reported to Maria, who was hovering behind him.

"Thank God!" Maria exclaimed. Max’s voice caused Lexi, who had been sound asleep in her car-seat to jerk awake. The baby started to cry. Maria hurriedly opened the rear passenger door, reached over a sleeping Ben, but not before running an affectionate hand down his exhausted face.

"Ben’s fine too Max. Just totally konked out," Maria told him as she lifted the baby out into her arms.

Max sighed with relief. He pulled Liz more fully into his arms, began to speak quietly in her ear. "Liz, wake up sweetheart. It’s time to wake up." Now that he knew she was alive, another more poignant fear was beginning to take hold.

What had happened in her mind during the final confrontation with Khivar had been intense - maybe too intense for a human brain to be able to absorb undamaged. Because while Max knew in his heart that the essence that graced this beautiful body was that of his soulmate of two lifetimes, she was still human. There might have been brain trauma, irreparable harm done to the brilliant mind he had fallen in love with…

"Liz, please wake up." He could feel the panic again, the desperation that he had relived as Zan during the connection that had ultimately killed Khivar. He had felt everything that Zan had been feeling through Kadiya’s memories - everything that he had felt during that past life.

He could not live without her anymore now than he had been able to then. He just could not do it. If it made him the weak one, well, that was just the way it was.

She had always been his strength, had always been the one with the will to survive, to fight for them. He would be nothing without her. He closed his eyes, felt tears beginning to form behind the lids as she continued to lie lifelessly in his arms, breathing, but not living.

"Liz, please. I can’t do this alone."

"I will never leave you." The voice was weak, but entirely music to his ears. His eyes snapped open.

She was gazing up at him, tears shining in her dark, beloved eyes. "You left me once, but I will never leave you," she repeated, smiling slightly.

He crushed her against him, knowing, once again, that he did not, in any way, deserve her.



posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:25:40 PM
Part 37

Liz pressed her lips lightly against Max’s neck, sighing happily. He had gently helped her to her feet, but was still holding her tightly against him, apparently as unwilling to let go of her as she was to be let go of. She allowed herself to keep her eyes closed for a moment longer, to gather strength from the force of his love. It was almost as if she could feel the connection between them regenerating, filling her with peace and energy at the same time.

But it was all an illusion - this sense that all was finally right with their world. She knew that it was headed that way, that happiness was within their grasp, but they still had a lot to deal with before they could even begin to rebuild a life together.

The longer they put if off, the longer it would be until they could put it all behind them. She became aware of their surroundings, understood that they were standing near Isabel and Jesse’s Volvo in the middle of the night, at the side of 285 North. The world apart from Max was slowly returning. She could hear Maria nearby, speaking quietly to a baby, obviously Lexi, who was fussing slightly.

"Ben?" Liz whispered, her first concern, as always, for him - for the little boy who had stolen her heart even more quickly than his adoptive father had when they were teenagers

"He’s fine," Max replied. "Still sound asleep."

"He was so brave Max. How can a little boy be that strong?" Liz felt her heart expanding at the thought of Ben. It was still a little surprising to her that she had known him for less than a week. He had so quickly become such an important part of her life, she couldn’t quite remember what it had been like not to love him, not to worry about him, not to be proud of him. She knew that most of it stemmed from the fact that he was Alex’s son, but it was more than that too. Ben was just as equally Tess’s child and that did nothing to taint him in her estimation.

Ben was Ben and she loved him for his own sake.

"He’s amazing," Max agreed, his voice cracking slightly with emotion. "But he’s finally safe now. Or at least he will be as soon as we take care of Nicholas once and for all."

"Nicholas?" Liz started, the name of Khivar’s right-hand man being the last she had expected to hear. Max’s voice had lowered in anger as he had said the last and she felt the tremor that ran through him as he tried to control it. "Max, he’s dead! Khivar told me!"

"Apparently not." Max sighed heavily. "Khivar wasn’t the only one with the ability to essence-hop. He survived Khivar’s take-over of his body."

Liz pulled back slightly, her strength slowly returning. "Survived? How?"

"In my body." It was Michael, coming up behind them. Liz turned her head, stared at Max’s best friend. Michael rolled his eyes. "Please don’t even ask. I may be sick just thinking about it." He reached out and gently tugged on a lock of Liz’s hair. "I’m glad you’re okay Liz." He grimaced apologetically. "I’m sorry to interrupt here, but Maxwell we need to do this now. I don’t think I can stand him in here much longer. I feel polluted."

Liz’s eyes widened in horror as she began to understand what Michael was talking about. "He’s in you? Right now?" At Michael’s grim nod, Liz closed her eyes. "Oh Michael."

"Not for long." Max’s voice was hard, sent a shiver down Liz’s spine. "Is the body ready?" At Michael’s nod, a satisfied expression crossed his face. "Is Isabel okay?"

"She’s still totally out of it," Michael replied. "I’ve been trying to snap her out of it for the last five minutes, but nothing."

Liz felt Max sigh. "Well, we’ll just have to do it without her then." She glanced up at him. He was staring at Michael, concern evident on his face. "Are you ready?"

Michael set his jaw. "I’ll do anything to get him out of here - even let him take over again if I have to. I’ll let him emerge so that he can do whatever it is he has to do." He paused, his eyes flashing. "And then I’ll kill him. Slowly."

"No," Max replied quietly. "It’s up to Izzy what happens to him."

Liz’s head was spinning as she began to understand the seriousness of what was going on. Nicholas was still alive and lurking in Michael’s body. Isabel was catatonic with shock. And Max was going to put himself and Ben back in danger by allowing Nicholas to return to Jesse’s body.

Maria had moved closer. Her blue eyes met Liz’s. "I’m glad you’re okay chica," she said quietly, still holding Lexi, who had fallen asleep against her shoulder. But Liz could see the terror in Maria’s eyes - the fear that she was trying desperately to hide from both Michael and Max.

Liz understood completely. Maria had finally made a commitment to Michael and now she was in serious danger of losing him. It wasn’t fair. Liz felt anger run through her veins at the injustice.

"Are you okay?" She realized that Max was speaking to her quietly again. "Do you need to sit? You’re really pale Liz."

"No, I’m fine." Liz squeezed his hand. Her eyes raised, met his. "Get this over with Max."

He nodded, followed Michael around the car where apparently Jesse’s body, now devoid of Khivar’s essence, was lying. For an instant Liz felt an urge to go look, to see what she had done when she had killed him, but, in the end, she knew that she couldn’t. Killing Khivar in a connection with Max had been powerful, difficult and, yes, life-altering. She understood that she had taken a life, even if it was an evil one, and it would have to be dealt with psychologically. But, for now, she could not face the physical evidence of it. It was just too much.

He had deserved it more than anyone had ever deserved to be destroyed. And, for now, it was enough. Any examination of her feelings on the matter, apart from the genuine joy she had experienced in the connection with Max, would force her to also begin to deal with the fact that one of the reasons she had hated him was because of what he had done to Dan.

For now, she could not accept Dan’s death and her part in it. The problem of Nicholas was too immediate, needed their focus.

And so, Liz and Maria stayed where they were, Liz bringing her arm up around her best friend in support.

Michael and Max were speaking quietly, Michael’s back to them. Michael knelt abruptly, disappearing behind the car.

The bright burst of light forced Liz to turn her face away, her heart beating so quickly, she felt momentarily light-headed, as though she might pass out. She reached up, felt for Lexi’s eyes, made sure that they were still closed, placed her hand firmly against the baby’s face to assure that they stayed that way.

She turned back when the light disappeared. Max already had the revived Jesse pinned face down on the hood of the Volvo, but Isabel’s husband was not fighting him. Liz shivered at the resigned expression on his face. Here was a man who knew that he was not long for this world.

Michael appeared at bit disoriented, but was obviously in complete control of his own body as he bent down and picked up a length of rope that he had obviously had ready and handed it to Max, who quickly secured his brother-in-law’s hands behind his back, none too gently Liz noticed, causing her to frown slightly.

She understood though. This man had tried to kill Ben. And Liz still really didn’t understand why. She remembered what Khivar had told her about Lexi being Max’s heir, since technically Ben was not his son. Liz could believe that Nicholas would stoop as low as to murder a child to place his own daughter on the throne of Antar, but something in that explanation did not ring true.

There had to have been another reason.

But, whatever the reason, he had done it. He was their enemy.

"What are we going to do with him?" Michael was saying to Max. Jesse was standing up now, staring in the passenger side of the Volvo, no expression on his face. Liz realized that he was looking at Isabel, who still sat unmoving in the back seat, apparently refusing to return to them even now.

Max’s sister was going to need serious, professional help when all of this was over.

Max’s expression was hard as he straightened, glanced at Liz. She met his gaze steadily, told him without words that she would support him, whatever had to be done. She finally understood what Max had meant about awful acts being necessary to protect the innocent, the guilt he must have felt over having to commit them in order to bring Ben safely back to Earth. He had tried to shield them all from the darkness of it, but it had been beyond him to do so.

They were all bound by their love for each other and the lengths they would go to in order to protect each other. All of them.

Guilt was an emotion that she was just going to have to get used to. Because she was not strong enough to sacrifice Ben’s safety with mercy. And she knew Max felt the same.

And, so, she was surprised when all Max said was, "I’m going to call Kyle. He can throw him in jail for a while."

"Maxwell, he’ll just break out," Michael protested as he none too gently pushed Jesse in the direction of the Cherokee, which was still parked directly behind the Volvo.

"I won’t." His voice was grainy, slightly rusty, as though the body he was in was becoming used to animation again. "I will do anything to make you trust me."

"It’ll be a cold day in hell before any of us trust you," Michael flared hotly, shoving him into the back seat, a little more roughly than was really necessary.

The four of them stood staring at each other in silence after Nicholas was contained. Liz could feel the tension like a living force.

Finally, Liz gently took Lexi from Maria, sure that her best friend would want to at least touch Michael, to assure herself that he was really all right. But Maria did not move, stood frozen.

Liz’s eyes met Max’s again. And, suddenly, she understood. He lowered his eyes, brought a weary hand to his temple. "We can’t do it." He swallowed, looked at Michael. "Even if Isabel agrees, we can’t do it. It’s not what we’re about. We can’t just kill him in cold blood. It will destroy us."

Liz let her breath go in a rush. She had not even realized that she’d been holding it. Some invisible barrier had apparently come down between them all, because the instant Max stopped speaking, Liz felt herself pulled irrevocably to his side. He put his arm around her, careful of the sleeping baby. Maria was in Michael’s arms now too. Liz could see the relief on her best friend’s face, knew that it matched her own. Even Michael appeared to accept Max’s words, his face having relaxed.

"I’ve done it," Max continued quietly. "I have killed, but only when there was no choice." Liz knew that he was speaking of Tess and Larek and Hanar and Sero and especially Khivar. "I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. This would be different you guys. He is my enemy, our lives are potentially in jeopardy if he stays alive, but I cannot do it." He was saying this, not because he didn’t think his friends agreed with him, but because he needed to get this out, needed to let Michael and Maria know some of what he had done on Antar.

He was ready to exorcise the guilt. Liz wondered if she would ever be able to do the same.

Dan’s face flashed through her mind. "We know Max. We’ve been responsible for so many deaths against our will, in the past, but recently too." She lowered her head in grief for her fiancé - the man she would not have married in the end, but a wonderful, brilliant person who had not deserved to die. "We can’t add one on purpose. We can’t be like them. I could not bear it."

"Liz, you’re not feeling guilty about Khivar, are you?" Max asked quietly. "You had no choice. It was in self-defense. You were protecting the kids and Isabel."

"No," Liz shook her head, her eyes still closed. "I will never regret that. I’m talking about Dan."

She felt Max start against her. "Dan’s not dead."

Her eyes snapped open. "What?" She exclaimed in disbelief, clutching at Lexi so abruptly that the sleeping baby murmured against her in protest. "Khivar said he was! That he had died when he had left his body!" She looked up at Max, her hope that he was right bringing her heart to her throat.

"His heart did stop Liz, but I revived him," Max informed her. "Just like I did that time with Larek. He doesn’t remember anything from the last week."

"Oh, thank God." She collapsed against him, happiness and relief making her weak.

She felt him tense slightly against her. Looking at him in surprise, Liz frowned. "What’s wrong Max?"

"Nothing," he replied quietly, taking Lexi gently from her arms and moving away slightly. "I’m just sorry that I didn’t tell you that right away." He looked away. "I never want you to grieve Liz, or feel guilty. I’ve put you through enough of that for one lifetime. There was no way that I would let you lose Dan."

Liz stared after him in confusion. There was something else wrong. She could just tell. She glanced at Michael and Maria, neither of whom appeared to think there was anything amiss. In fact, Michael stepped forward, Maria’s hand in his and said, "So, Maria and I will drive the car with the troll in the back Max?"

Max turned, his hand gently stroking his niece’s dark curls, apparently comforting her, but Liz frowned, getting the distinct impression that he was taking more strength from the baby than she needed from her uncle. "No. I think Liz and Maria should drive together in the Volvo with Izzy and the kids. I don’t want them anywhere near Nicholas. We might not be able to kill him in cold blood, but if he tries anything, it’ll be an entirely different story."

"And you don’t quite believe that he won’t," Maria guessed.

"He’s evil," Max replied shortly. But Liz was not listening to any of this. She did not understand what was going on here. She could see the distance that had appeared abruptly on Max’s face. He was drifting away from her as she watched.

Maria was glancing up affectionately at Michael, oblivious to the tension that was again in the air, but this time for a different reason. "I guess we can stand to be separated for a few hours Spaceboy." Michael gave her a quick squeeze, but Liz could see the beginning of suspicion appearing on his face as he continued to watch Max.

"Well, let’s go then." Maria moved forward, took Lexi from Max and grabbed Liz’s arm, hauling her after her towards the Volvo. "The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll get there."

Liz considered wrenching away from Maria, forcing Max to tell her what was wrong. She was furious that he would dare do this to her - shut her out again - after everything that had happened between them over the past twenty-four hours.

She knew that now was not the time though. They needed to get Ben and Lexi to safety and had to get some help for Isabel. Nicholas needed to be dealt with more completely too.

But the instant she got him alone, he was going to tell her everything. She would not have it any other way. He was going to have to accept that if they were going to take another chance on each other, there could be no more secrets.

She knew that he was hiding something, but it was only a matter of time until she found out what.

She would not lose him again - not after only just finding him. And that was all there was to it.

********************************************************

"…glad you found them." Max said into his cell phone. "Can you get them all back to Roswell? We’ll meet you there in a few hours."

"Sure Evans, but I don’t know quite how I’m going to explain all of this to Sarah and Vick. Vick is like a dog with a bone." Kyle sighed heavily. Max had dialed up his friend the minute he had settled into the passenger seat of the Cherokee. Michael was driving, following the Volvo closely, obviously still a little paranoid for the safety of the women and children, although the only threat against them was currently sitting quietly in the back seat behind him, staring out the window at the slowly rising sun.

The first thing Kyle had informed him of was that he had run into his wife and her sister, Victoria the reporter, at the same 24-hour rest-stop where Dan had held Michael, Isabel and Maria captive two nights before, it being where Dan had told Vick he’d meet her. It was what they were presently discussing, Kyle in his truck making ready to continue the trip to Roswell. It was hard for Max to believe that he and the others were only about three hours behind them, but it was true. Everything that had happened - the death of Khivar and the transfer of Nicholas’s essence back into Jesse’s body - had taken that little time.

"Dan told her when he invited her after us that he had something substantial to tell her and now she won’t leave him alone." Kyle continued. "Since he has absolutely no idea what the hell happened to him, or any memory of the truth about you, she’s driving him absolutely crazy." He paused. "But there’s something a little strange going on between those two anyway." Kyle confided.

"What do you mean?" Max asked, frowning.

"I don’t know. It’s weird. Vick keeps berating him about how awful he is that he did this to Liz, that he’s been missing for three days, that he’s so inconsiderate…I had no idea that she and Dan were so close that she feels she can act like his mother. But he was the one who told them what happened to him." Kyle sounded exasperated. "Or what he thinks happened to him anyway."

"Are Victoria and Sarah aware that Liz has been gone for the whole week too?" Max asked, confused, but a slight twinge of unease making him feel uncomfortable.

"Yeah, but they think she’s still in Albuquerque with Isabel, although I’m not sure why, since you’d think she’d be in Roswell, since she’s supposed to get married in about six hours." The lunacy of this entire situation was apparently not lost on Kyle Valenti. Max grinned despite himself.

"Okay, well thanks Kyle. We’ll meet you at the station in Roswell so that you can lock Jesse up." Max had decided that he would refer to his brother-in-law by the name he had used for the last few years. It was just easier because of the fact that it was the name by which everyone else knew him and Max didn’t want to accidentally call him Nicholas in front of someone.

"I still don’t know what charges I’m going to trump up," Kyle grumbled.

"I know it’s a pain, but we don’t know what else to do with him. Until we figure it out, it’s the only solution," Max told him.

"I guess kidnapping would work," Kyle was obviously thinking aloud. "You said he’d cooperate?"

Max glanced over his shoulder at Isabel’s husband. "I think so. He doesn’t seem to have much fight left in him."

"Okay then." There was a pause. "I’m glad everyone’s okay Evans. Give my love to Liz. I’ll see you in a few hours." He hung up before Max had a chance to reply.

Liz. The mention of her name sent guilt running through him. He knew that he had hurt her with his behavior before they had split up for the drive back to Roswell, but he had not known what else to do. The grief he had witnessed from her when she had confessed that she thought Dan was dead had shaken him.

Because he had finally truly understood that she did love Dan. That if they were going to be together, she was going to have to hurt someone that she cared about. He knew Liz. It was going to break her heart to hurt Dan.

In a split second decision he had decided that it was best that he distance himself from her until she had figured out exactly what she wanted to do. But it had obviously been a mistake. He had hurt her again, but he couldn’t exactly talk to her about the situation in front of Michael and Maria and there had been no time for a private conversation.

He wondered if she thought that he was avoiding her by wanting to drive with Michael. He wasn’t, truly believed that this was safer, his mistrust of Nicholas/Jesse still strong and necessary. But it might have been the final straw for Liz, might have shattered the fragile relationship that they had started to rebuild through the final comprehension of the bond between them and the rebirth of the connection.

But, he had to admit to himself, that he was still not completely at ease. Liz had told him that she would never leave him, but her grief for Dan had shown him once and for all that she did love the other man. Maybe once she was back with him she would remember it, decide that life would be easier with him, less intense, safer.

He did not deserve her, and because of it, he was desperately afraid that she would realize it too and would leave him. He knew that he could survive without her - raising Ben would give his life purpose and maybe even joy - but he didn’t want to. He wanted her so badly, in every way, it burned within him.

But he wanted her happy above all. If she decided that she would be better off without him, he would let her go. It would be the hardest thing he would ever do, but he would do it.

Max sighed heavily, leaned his head back against the seat.

"What the hell’s the matter with you?" Michael demanded. "You’re acting weird Maxwell. I don’t like it, what with all the essence-hopping going on around here." He glared quickly over his shoulder at Jesse, who had turned his head at the sound of Michael’s voice.

"I’m fine," Max snapped. "Just drive."

"He’s going over in his head how many different ways he’s unworthy of the woman he loves." It was Jesse who spoke, causing Max to whip his head around and scowl at him.

"You don’t know the first thing about me," he told him, annoyed. "Don’t try and psycho-analyze me."

Jesse shrugged, turned his head to look out the window again. "I just call them as I see them," he replied quietly. "I heard you talking to her. Just because I was tied up, doesn’t mean I was deaf. I recognized the tone of your voice. You were trying to hide your jealousy and fear. Plain and simple. You don’t think you’re worthy of her and you’re afraid that she’s going to pick him."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Max growled.

"I’ve lived the exact same feelings everyday for the last eight years," Jesse sighed, leaning his head against the window. "Don’t you think I worried about how Isabel would react if she knew the truth? That she would remember how she felt about Khivar when she was Vilandra, that she would hate me?"

Max stared at him. He glanced in disbelief at Michael. "Are you trying to get us to feel sorry for you? Don’t you understand that my sister is nothing like Vilandra, that Vilandra was seduced anyway? She never loved Khivar."

"Isabel could never love evil. He was evil. You’re evil," Michael snapped in agreement. "Your weeping and wailing isn’t going to change our minds about that. Your days as her husband are numbered."

"You’re probably right," Jesse shrugged. "But it doesn’t mean I don’t understand."

Max continued to stare at him, still disgusted, but curiosity to finally understand this psycho beginning to strengthen. "How could you have tortured my sister and yet, you say you love her?" He asked despite himself.

"I was only obeying my master," Jesse replied. "Khivar was the be all and end all to me. Like an older brother. I hated you all. You were a threat to his throne." He looked back at Max, the weak light of the rising sun, causing shadows to hide his eyes. "I was always attracted to Vilandra…" Max felt his lip curl. The thought of this monster touching his sister was making him sick to his stomach. "But she betrayed Khivar in the end. I hated her."

"Why did you marry her then?" This was from Michael. Max glanced at his best friend, saw that his hands were clenched tightly on the steering wheel, as though it was all he could do not to pull over and pound the life out of the man in the back seat.

"To stay close to her, to prepare this body for when Khivar might need it. He still wanted her. I wanted my king to have whatever he wanted, even if I thought he was crazy." Max frowned at the expression he saw on the other man’s face. It was guilt - and it actually looked real.

"You fell in love with her," he finished for Jesse quietly. "Living with her as Jesse, without the fear and suspicion between you, you saw who she really was."

"Yes." Jesse turned away again. "But I loved her long before that. I only accepted it after we were married. I loved her the first time I met her again in this life. In Copper Summit. She was so kind to me before she knew who I really was, when she thought I was just a grieving little brother."

Max almost felt sorry for him. He couldn’t believe it. This man had tried to kill his son, had lied to his sister for years, had idolized a monster. "Whether you love her or not, it doesn’t matter. You tried to kill my son. There will never be an explanation for that."

Max turned around, faced the front, still angry. Silence fell over the vehicle.

"I know you won’t believe it," Jesse finally said into the quiet. "But that was Khivar. He was in control then."

"Khivar loved Ben," Max snapped. "I know he did. He would not have hurt him. He tried to kill you, his most loyal lieutenant, because you hurt him."

There was another pause, then Jesse sighed. "You really don’t get it Zan, do you? Even after everything that’s happened."

"Get what?" Max demanded.

"Khivar cared about Ben, sure. But he hated you more. Anything he could have done to hurt you, he would have. Including kill his own son."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:27:22 PM
Part 38

As Maria pulled the Volvo into the driveway of the Evans house on Murray Lane, Liz stared out the windshield, a half-smile on her face. There was a light on in the window of Max’s bedroom, bringing back so many memories, it was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes.

She had had many hours to reflect on Max’s strange behavior during the drive back to Roswell. After she and Maria had decided that it would be best to bring Isabel to her parents and Maria had told Michael and Max so via cell-phone, there had been very little conversation, other than a few comments from Maria about the fact that she couldn’t quite believe that the disaster that had become their lives over the past week was finally almost over.

Liz was not stupid. It had not taken her long to understand what had happened to Max, why he had pulled away from her. It was the whole Dan situation of course. It had yet to be completely resolved. She had told him herself several times that she was planning to call off the wedding, but she didn’t really blame him for not quite believing it. The whole process that had brought them back together had been so extreme and intense, it was only natural that he would think she might have doubts after everything had settled down again - especially after how many times she had told him that she could never be happy with him because she didn’t trust him. He had told her a few times that he was not going to pressure her into anything. She had told him herself that all she wanted was a normal, happy life.

She had accepted that for her to be happy, normal was something entirely different from what it might be for someone else. Normal was loving him. But he still did not completely understand that. They needed to talk, clearly, but she needed to break things off with Dan first. They both needed to be on a level playing field when next they spoke about the future.

She was angry at him for being afraid. There was no doubt that it was frustrating to always have to be the strong one when it came to their relationship. But he had been hiding from his emotions for his entire life. It was not a surprise that he might still do so on occasion, even after all they had been through together.

Khivar had told her that Zan’s emotions had been what had destroyed him in his last life. But Liz had recognized long ago that it was Max’s emotions that made him strong. He had just not quite accepted that himself yet.

He brought strength to their bond in other ways after all. If she was the backbone, he was the heart, so deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of all those he cared about, that it had even been used against him by his enemies. But it was not a bad thing - he just needed to learn to let go a little bit, to let those he loved make their own decisions, and yes, sometimes their own mistakes. He was beginning to do so, one example being his willingness to have Isabel decide Nicholas’s fate. He had also been willing to let her, Liz, go if that’s what she wanted, even though his gut instinct had been to hold on to her with every ounce of his strength.

He believed in her. Completely, implicitly. She knew it. That was not the problem. The issue was that he did not believe in himself. Even after all that he had done, all that he had accomplished, he still felt unworthy. And unless he could get over it, they were never going to be happy.

Maria turned off the ignition, let her head fall back against the seat. "The one thing we haven’t discussed is how we’re going to explain Ben to the Evans," she reminded Liz. "Max is going to be tied up at the police station with Kyle for a while. Should we tell them the truth?"

Liz was quiet for a moment. "Well, they already know the truth about Max and Isabel’s origins. Isabel had to tell them after Max disappeared, remember? I think it might be easier on them to hear that Max is back from us before he shows up here."

"I know Max will be happy with whatever you decide Liz." There was a pause. "Are things going to work out between you two?" Maria finally asked.

"I think so," Liz sighed. "We still have a lot to work out, but I know that I want to try."

"Liz, are you sure that your decision isn’t just because of Ben?" Maria frowned slightly. "Are you sure this is what you really want?"

"I want to be happy Maria," Liz replied quietly. "He makes me happy. In spite of it all, he does. When he’s not being a stubborn mule that is," she added wryly. "Ben is just a bonus." She glanced over the backseat at the still snoring Ben. She would have to ask Mr. Evans to come out and carry the little boy in. He really was too big for her to manage.

Maria had turned her head too. "Isabel? We’re here."

Max’s sister continued to stare straight ahead, no expression on her face. Liz and Maria exchanged a concerned look, Liz shaking her head as she opened her door. "Maybe her mother will be able to get through to her."

"I’ll be right behind you Liz," Maria told her over the car. "I’ll just get Lexi out of her car-seat."

Liz nodded, went to ring the doorbell. It was still early, eight o’clock in the morning. The Evans should be up though. Liz remembered, even after all this time, that they had always been early risers.

Diane Evans opened the door after a couple of minutes, surprise on her kind face when she recognized Liz. "Liz Parker! I haven’t seen you in ages Sweetie!" Her expression changed completely though a moment later. "What’s wrong? Something is wrong isn’t it? You’re supposed to be getting married this morning. I’ve been trying to call Isabel all night, but she hasn’t answered the phone. She and Alexandra were supposed to be here last night to stay over for the wedding."

Liz reached out and took Mrs. Evans’s hand. "They’re both fine - well, mostly. Please don’t worry." She nodded in the direction of the Volvo, where Maria was straightening with Lexi in her arms. "Isabel’s in the car. There’s something else…"

"What?" Diane’s eyes widened with fear, slightly haunted as they had been every time Liz had run into her in the grocery store or at the Crashdown over the past eight years. As they had been ever since her son had disappeared.

"I have some good news and some bad news," Liz replied. "But first the good. Max is home."

Max’s mother’s eyes filled with tears of disbelief. "Liz…"

"It’s true Mrs. Evans. He came back…to all of us."

Diane’s smile was so brilliant as she pulled Liz against her for a hug, it was almost heartbreaking to have to tell her about Isabel and Jesse. But Liz did it. There was no choice. Isabel needed her parents.

Yes, Max’s return was good news. But it had unearthed painful truths about the lives of those he had left behind that some might have thought better left alone. Isabel’s marriage had been a sham and the consequences were going to have to be dealt with. Liz’s relationship with Dan had also been less than she had pretended it was. She had had everything she had always wanted, but it had not brought the complete happiness she had envisioned.

But they all had a chance to rebuild now. It was going to take time and patience, but it would be worth it in the end.

Everyone was safe and alive. It was a start.

*************************************************************

Liz glanced at her watch. Nine o’clock. She was supposed to be walking down the aisle in exactly two hours. She knew, without question, that her parents and Dan were freaking out by now. She sighed heavily as she pulled the Volvo to a halt outside the Crashdown.

She sat staring at the restaurant that had been the center of her life during the years she had grown up in this town. She had learned to walk by clinging to it’s tables, had done her homework at it’s counter. She had earned the money to support herself during her years at Harvard serving it’s customers.

She had come alive here on a September day in 1999 when Max Evans had patched a hole in her stomach that should have killed her. She should have been dead for the past ten years. But because of the brave act of one amazing boy, she had lived. Yes, she had suffered, mourned, hated and had regrets during those ten years and, yet, the living had been worth it.

She was finally beginning to realize that pain was a part of life. And she was truly blessed because while she had had more than her fair share of grief, she had also experienced love on a level beyond what few could even imagine. As she sat staring at the doors she would pass through in order to completely change the direction of her life, she did not feel a single moment of doubt.

Doubts were over. She had made her choice. To her, Max was worth it. And soon enough he would begin to recognize it too.

She had left Maria behind at the Evans’ after they had explained everything. Isabel had finally cracked slightly at the sight of her mother. She had climbed out of the car, walked into the house and had promptly fallen apart. The deep, wrenching sobs that had brought the poor young woman to her knees had only abated after Diane had rocked her like a baby for a long time. When Liz had left, mother and daughter had still been on the floor of the living room, Isabel’s tears finally halted as they spoke quietly together, Diane attempting to help her child put her life back together.

Mr. Evans had helped Liz put Ben to bed in Max’s old room. Liz had not been surprised to see that it had changed very little, that it had been maintained as something of a shrine to the Evans’ lost son. She had seen the excitement in the eyes of the father as he had sat at the bedside of his new grandson, just staring down at him in amazement, glancing at his watch every few minutes, clearly willing the minutes by so that the little boy’s father - his son - would walk through the door and fulfill the wish of his heart for the past eight years. Liz had understood from Isabel that in some ways Phillip Evans had blamed himself for Max’s departure, convinced that if he hadn’t given his son the ultimatum about telling him the truth, if Max hadn’t taken him at his word and moved out, none of it would have happened. Liz had stood with him for several minutes, her hand on his shoulder in comfort, but she had been acutely aware of the digital clock on Max’s bedside table.

She had kissed Ben on the forehead, sweeping a loving hand through his blond curls before she left. He had stirred, opened his eyes, gazing up at her sleepily. "Liz?"

"Hi Sweetie. Go back to sleep. You’re safe at your grandma and grandpa’s. Maria’s just outside. Your dad and I will be back very soon. We’ll be here when you wake up again."

She had seen the flash of fear in his blue eyes, but it had almost instantly been replaced by a tentative trust. "Okay." He had closed his eyes again. She had been able to see him almost willing himself to fall asleep so that very soon would come more quickly. It had almost broken her heart, but she knew that she had no choice but to leave him.

She had to get to Dan, had to tell him the truth. It was bad enough that she was doing this two hours before the wedding. Every minute she waited only made it worse.

And so she had left the Evans family in the care of Maria, who had agreed to wait for Max and Michael to return. She had been worried about Liz though. "Are you sure you don’t need me to come with you chica?" She had asked with concern at the door as Liz had been leaving.

"Thank you," Liz had smiled affectionately at her best friend. "But this is something I need to do alone."

"Okay." Her blue eyes had met Liz’s seriously. "What do you want me to tell Max when he gets here?"

Liz had sighed. "Don’t tell him anything. He’ll know where I am, and if he doesn’t, well, then he can just wonder for a while." She might understand Max’s fear, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t still peeved at him. He did deserve to suffer a little for doubting her. She was not a vindictive person, but, really, there was only so much angst one person could take.

And so now she sat trying to work up the nerve to break the heart of a man who had only ever been good to her. He was not the one for her, in the end, but she knew that he loved her. She was not looking forward to this.

"Get a grip Parker. You just killed an evil alien with your mind. You can do this." But Liz knew that, in some ways, this was going to be worse. Khivar had been evil. Dan was not. He did not deserve any of this.

Taking a deep breath, she climbed slowly from behind the wheel of Isabel and Jesse’s car, walked steadily towards the double-doors leading into her parents’ restaurant, and pushed her way through.

The bell above the door rang through the empty restaurant.

Well, not entirely empty. Dan Riley sat at the counter, his back to the entrance, nursing a chocolate milkshake. She knew that he had likely only been back for a couple of hours - Michael had reported in their cell-phone conversation that Kyle and the others had only been a hundred or so miles ahead of them. He had not even changed his clothes.

Here was a man caught in abject misery. She had never had a chance to ask Max exactly what it was Dan thought had happened to him over the past week. All she knew was that he remembered nothing of what had really happened. She was going to have to tread lightly, which really did not seem fair since she was about to break his heart.

"Dan?" She kept her voice quiet, willing him to explode on her if he wanted to. He had more than earned the right to do so after all.

"Where have you been?" His voice was weary, soft. "Your parents told me that they’ve been trying you at Isabel’s for the past two days and all they’ve gotten was an answering machine."

"I wasn’t there." Liz walked towards him, slowly sat down on the stool beside him. "I was with Max." She could not lie to him about that. It wouldn’t be fair.

"I thought so. When I saw him in Texas, I just knew that something weird was going on. I didn’t think the love of your life would just accidentally show up a couple of days before our wedding." He stirred his straw in his milkshake, still did not look at her. "So, I guess there won’t be a wedding now." He turned his head, his green eyes piercing on her face. "You still love him?"

"Yes." She wanted to take his hand in hers, comfort him somehow, but she knew that she didn’t have the right. "I’m so sorry Dan."

He eyed her for a moment, then sighed heavily. "Please don’t apologize Elizabeth. I think I’ve always known that I was really just a way to try and forget him." When Liz opened her mouth to protest, he held up a hand. "It’s okay Elizabeth! Really. I’m glad that I could be that person for you. I knew what I was getting into when we started dating. You tried to tell me so many times before you finally gave in and said yes. I always hoped that you could feel for me what I knew you still felt for him, but I knew even when I proposed that it hadn’t happened."

Liz frowned slightly. "Dan, why would you ask me to marry you then? You deserve so much more than half of someone’s heart."

He crooked a smile at her. "I know it Elizabeth. But I think I was scared that I was never going to find that someone. I did love you - I do…" he amended. "I really though that me loving you could be enough. I never expected that I would let it go as far as I did, especially after what’s happened in the last six months. But I just couldn’t bear to hurt you again - not after what you had been through."

Now Liz was genuinely confused. "Dan, what are you talking about?"

"I’ve been so guilty for so long. I was willing to go through with it. I couldn’t hurt you by calling it off. But fate stepped in, didn’t it? He came back to you."

And suddenly Liz understood. She stared at him in complete horror. "You’re in love with someone else too! Aren’t you?" She could not believe that she had been about to marry someone who loved someone else. How could she have been so self-absorbed that she never even noticed? That he had cared about her enough to do it was even more amazing.

She reflected on all his manic behavior over the past week. All of his jealousy, his paranoia had been completely out of character. She had known it, but had attributed it all to Max’s return and Dan’s inability to accept that Max was going to be a part of her life, if only because of Ben. But it had all been an act, a performance played out by Khivar in possession of his body - Khivar pretending to act in the way he would have expected Dan to act in the situation he had been presented with.

Because Khivar had not known Dan, had not known that craziness and jealousy had never been Dan at all. And now Liz finally understood why. Dan had never been jealous because he had not been in love with her - at least not for a while. She still believed that he had loved her at one time. She did not doubt that. He was a good man. He never would have pursued her the way he did if he had not.

But her inability to truly let go with him had finally killed his love for her. She could not blame him, and yet she still felt sorry. He had not deserved to be hurt in that way.
And, in spite of it all, he had found someone else to love. Someone who could maybe love him back.

"Elizabeth, you have to understand, I do love you. I never expected it to happen. I don’t think I ever really accepted that it was true - that I loved her. But when Kyle and I ran into her on the highway, when she told me that I had called her, had told her that I had something important to tell her, I realized that in my drunken stupor I must have finally realized the truth. It was the only logical explanation that I could come up with for why I would go on such a bender three days before our wedding." Liz grimaced slightly at that, sad that she had to allow him to believe the lie that he had been so irresponsible.

And as she thought about what he had said, suddenly it was all crystal-clear. "Vick! It’s Victoria, isn’t it?" He looked uncomfortable, but he nodded.

Liz frowned, slightly confused. She still wasn’t really sure why Khivar, in control of Dan’s body, would have called Vick. Maybe somehow, accessing Dan’s mind as he had been, he had found out the truth, had figured that he would just cause more trouble for Max by bringing Victoria into the picture. But it was probably a question that she was never going to have an answer for so there was really no point in thinking about it.

The important thing was that, despite himself, Khivar had actually done a good thing in calling her. It had apparently forced Dan to confront his real feelings.

Somehow Liz wasn’t surprised that it was Vick. They had all known each other forever after all - she and Dan, Kyle and Sarah…and Vick. Dan and Vick had never been inordinately close, but on further reflection, Liz could see how they might have seriously tried to make it look that way so that no one would recognize how they really felt about each other. She still shook her head in amazement though. "Does she feel the same way?"

"I think she might Elizabeth. She just never even thought it was a possibility though - because of us. She loves you. There is no way that she ever would have interfered in our relationship."

Liz felt her heart lighten. Could the problem of Dan really be resolving itself so easily? It almost seemed unfair that she wasn’t going to have to endure immense guilt over this. But she could not regret that her former fiancé was going to be able to move on quite nicely without her. She could only be happy for him.

Nothing was certain in life. Dan and Victoria might not end up together, but at least there was the potential. In the end, this break-up was the best thing for both of them.

"Oh Dan, I’m so sorry that I let it go this far. It wasn’t fair to you at all." She allowed herself to take his hand in hers now, now that she knew that he would survive this, that she had not broken his heart.

Dan frowned slightly. "Elizabeth, I’m still worried about you though. How can you be sure that Max Evans won’t hurt you again?" He shook his head. "I don’t know him from a hole in the head, but I know that it almost killed you to lose him last time. How can you be sure that this time will be different?"

Liz sighed. "You know what Dan, I can’t really be sure. Max and I have been backwards and forwards for the past week - ever since seeing each other again. I do know he loves me and I know he came back because he loves me. I have never doubted that. But he left me once and so I told him that I couldn’t trust him and we couldn’t be together. In the end though, I realized something. Giving our heart to anyone is never a certain thing. Anyone can throw our trust back in our face. Max did it to me once, but I know, in my heart, that he’ll never do it again. And I love him. I’m willing to take the chance with him. To me, it’s just worth it."

Dan smiled at her, leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "You are a very brave woman Elizabeth Parker."

Liz shrugged. "Anyone who takes a chance on love is brave Dan. But thank you." She stood up, hugged him close. "I never would have made it through the last few years without you. I will always love you for that and I will always be grateful. I hope that we can still be friends."

"Forever."

Liz stepped back, smiled at him again. "Well then Dan Riley, I have only one more thing to say to you." She held out her hand. He looked at her, a slightly befuddled expression on his face, but he took hers in his, shook it slowly. She grinned teasingly at him.

"My friends call me Liz."


posted on 18-Apr-2002 11:28:31 PM
Part 39
"Are you sure that he’s not going to break out of there?" Kyle asked suspiciously as he walked Max and Michael back into the house he shared with his wife, Sarah. He had agreed to take the first watch on Jesse after they had locked him up in a shed in Kyle’s backyard. Jesse had remained resigned, telling Max that he had absolutely no intention of running from them.
They were going to have to decide what to do with him at some point because he would not leave his wife or his daughter he had told them flatly, making Max just shake his head. It was apparently too much to ask for Nicholas to just try something so that they could kill him in peace. Michael had looked equally as irritated.

But he had promised himself that Isabel was going to be the one to decide her traitorous husband’s fate. He would stick to that as long as Jesse remained cooperative.

Max sighed now. "I don’t know Kyle. But it’s all I can think of for now. He seems to really want to try and work things out with Isabel. I’m hoping he’s not just messing with us about that. We thought about it on the way back. It would be just too complicated to actually involve the legal system, which we would have to if you arrested him." He shrugged. "And there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t break out of there anyway." He ran a hand through his hair wearily, still trying to figure out how they could possibly keep Isabel’s husband secure until they could figure out exactly how trustworthy he was.

Kyle just shook his head. "Jeez Evans. Even if he does want to work things out with Isabel, I can’t believe you’re just going to let him." He glanced at Michael for support. "I mean, he tortured you. She’s your sister. How can you let her stay married to a monster like that?"

Max closed his eyes. "I know Kyle, but we can’t just kill him. Whatever else he might be, he is Lexi’s father."
"Okay, but let me be the first to say I think this is a really bad idea." Kyle glanced at Michael. "I can’t believe you’re going along with this."

Michael looked away, an unreadable expression on his face. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "I’m not the leader." Max frowned at him, opened his mouth to say that he wasn’t anymore either, but Michael met his eyes. "Puh-lease. You know we all still listen to you, abdication or not." He rolled his eyes. "Fine Maxwell. Don’t get your pants in a twist. I agree with him Kyle. We’re just not killers."

"So, I guess we’re off to see my parents," Max continued, nodding at Michael in satisfaction.

"And Liz?" Kyle grinned at him slyly, allowing the topic to change if it meant that he was going to be allowed to needle Max. Some things would never change.

"I don’t know. I’m guessing that she went to see Dan." Max refused to discuss the state of his relationship with Liz with Kyle Valenti. He trusted him, considered him a friend, but he had not consumed copious - or even small - amounts of alcohol after all. Kyle did not need to know.

"Kyle, is that you?" A woman’s voice drifted down the stairs.
Kyle glanced at the clock, grimaced. "She’s going to wonder why I’m home. I’m supposed to work today." He stared out the window at the shed, sitting innocuously at the back of the yard. "I also haven’t figured out what to tell her to keep her out of the shed..." He cut himself off abruptly as a slender blonde came bouncing into the kitchen.

"What are you doing home honey?" She stared curiously at Max and Michael. "Hi Michael.Hi! I’m Sarah!" She continued, holding her hand out to Max.

"I’m Max," he replied.

"Not the Max. Not Max Evans," Sarah’s mouth fell open. A mischievous expression crossed her delicately- featured face. "And suddenly it all makes sense. Why Kyle’s been so uptight the last few days I mean." She grinned lovingly at her husband. "It’s your nemesis honey!"

Kyle looked uncomfortable, his face reddening. Max and Michael just exchanged a glance, Michael struggling to contain a grin at Kyle’s mortification. "Sarah..."

"Well, I have news boys," Sarah continued, smiling at Max. "And from what I’ve heard about you Mr. Evans, I think you’re going to like it." Kyle just tightened his jaw as though he knew he had absolutely no control over his wife and was just going to have to accept whatever it was she was going to say.
"Know what?" Max smiled back. He couldn’t help it. Her grin lit up her face in a way that was infectious. He could see very easily what it was about Sarah that appealed to Kyle. He felt like he had known her for years already.

"Liz’s mom just called me," Sarah continued. "The wedding’s off. Well, sort of." She glanced at Michael, but then looked away again. Max saw suspicion on Michael’s face, but he didn’t pursue that comment. He was obviously used to Sarah’s ability to speak cryptically. "Kyle’s told me all about you and Liz. From before I mean. If you’re back in town..."

And suddenly what she had just said penetrated. The wedding’s off. Liz had really done it. She wasn’t going to marry Dan.

Kyle was staring at him. "Wow. You really do know how to smile." He snorted. "Amazing."

"Only when it has anything to do with Liz Parker," Michael confided. "Ow," he continued mildly when Max punched him lightly on the shoulder.

Max rolled his eyes. "We need to go Michael," he said, already hurrying towards the front door. "I need to see Liz. It was nice to meet you Sarah," he called back over his shoulder.

Liz. She was finally free. And now he could tell her exactly what he had wanted to tell her since he had first laid eyes on her again a few days before. He had told her truth after truth over the past week, but it was the first time that they would truly be able to talk without the shadow of guilt about her fiancé dangling over them.

Kyle was right. He was grinning like a fool, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t expect that everything was going to be perfect right away, simply because Dan was gone, but at least they could try now. They could finally really try.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Not right away anyway. Because when Max opened the door to leave, standing on the front porch, her hand raised to ring the bell was Isabel. Max’s eyes met his sister’s questioningly, relief flooding him that she seemed in complete control of her faculties again.

In fact, she seemed a little too calm

"What are you doing here Iz?" He could feel Michael tensing behind him. He realized why a moment later.

Looking past his sister, his eyes met his father’s for the first time in eight years. He gasped in surprise. "Max?" Phillip Evans’s voice broke. "I can’t believe it’s really you son."

Max forced himself to breathe. "Hi Dad." He smiled at his mother, who was already sobbing openly. "Hi Mom."
The next thing he knew he was hugging his mother, his father’s arms around them both. And for the next several minutes, all else flew out of his mind.

One more step climbed. He was closer to truly being home then he ever had been.

And yet, he knew that something still wasn’t right. There was one person he could not forget, even in his joy at being reunited with the people who had raised him, the kind family that had made him who he was, all strife and grief they had caused each other before he had left long forgotten.

Liz.

She should be here, he thought regretfully. He knew how happy she would be for him - for them all.

Nothing would ever be complete without her.

He had argued with himself that he could make a life for Ben and himself without her, had told himself that he would be able to accept it if she chose Dan. But he understood now that he had been lying to himself. None of it would mean anything without her.

He had to tell her. And until he did, home would remain just slightly beyond his reach.
*********************************************

"I want to see my husband." Isabel’s tone brooked no argument. Max could see clearly that she expected one. She stared both he and Michael down, daring them to naysay her.

"Okay," Max replied simply. "But we need to talk first." He was seated on the couch in Kyle and Sarah’s living room, Isabel seated across from him, rigid in an armchair. Michael stood stiffly near the doorway to the kitchen to make sure that Sarah wasn’t listening, although she had readily agreed to leave the Evans family in peace when she had understood that Max's parents hadn’t seen him in years. "Are you okay Isabel? You were totally out of it. Are you sure you’re ready for this?" Max’s mother was seated beside him on the couch, seemingly unable to let go of his hand, while his father stood behind Isabel, his hand on her shoulder in support.

"I’ll never be ready," Isabel said, her voice weakening slightly. She had obviously been surprised by Max's quick capitulation. "But it needs to be now. I have to break it off now, before he can mess with my head again." She lifted her chin, looked away. "I know it’s what you all want."

Max and Michael exchanged glances. The way Isabel had said that..."Isabel, it has to be what you want," Max told her quietly.

"Needless to say Isabel, we’re not thrilled by this, but we’ll go with what you decide." Michael agreed. "We won’t kill him - we’ve already decided that. Not unless he makes us."

Max recognized the shock on his sister’s face. "Who are you guys?" She demanded after a moment of silence. "My brothers would never let me stay married to Nicholas of all people!" She sounded hurt.

And suddenly Max understood. Despite all her grand posturing of moments before, she wanted them to tell her what to do - wanted them to make the decision for her - so that she wouldn’t have to do it.

It told him more about what she wanted to do than anything else ever could have.

"You want to stay married to him - don’t you?" He asked gently, grief for his sister’s guilt making is heart almost break. "Oh Iz."

Isabel started, stared straight at him. As he watched, her face crumbled with despair. She lifted her hands, buried her face. She began to cry, great sobs of confusion wracking her slender frame. Max’s mother jumped to her feet, went to perch on the arm of the chair in which Isabel sat, her arm going around her daughter in comfort.

"Max, does she really need to talk about this now?" Diane asked tearfully. "She needs to get away for a while - needs time to think."

Max shrugged. "I don’t disagree Mom, but I think Izzy’s already made her decision," he continued grimly. "Haven’t you Isabel?"

Isabel dropped her hands, sniffled. "Do you know why I went into that weird catatonia after I found out?" She asked abruptly, her voice cracking slightly. She cleared it, continued. "Since you’ve guessed already Max, do you know why I did that?"

Max sighed. "I don’t Iz."

"I was trying to figure out how I couldn’t have known. I went through absolutely every memory I have of my husband - of Jesse Ramirez - trying to remember even one incident that I ignored, or that I should have been able to guess from. I couldn’t. Not during the entire eight years I’ve known him." She shook her dark head sadly. "I really wanted to find one Max. I wanted a reason to run away from him - wanted a reason to leave him, even to kill him…" Max saw his mother flinch at that one. "But there was nothing."

"Isabel, if you need reasons, I can tell you one," Michael spoke up quietly. "What about before he was Jesse. What about when he was the troll? He tortured us Isabel! All of us! How’s that for a reason?" Max could hear the anger in Michael’s voice, understood how his best friend felt.
He did not want his sister to stay with Jesse. He wanted her to be in a relationship that was safe and secure and that wasn’t built on lies.

Isabel met his eyes. "Max, that’s what I have." He blinked. Had he said that out loud? But he knew he hadn’t. Isabel was anticipating his thoughts before he even had them it seemed. "He is not the same. Not anymore. He is not Nicholas. He is Jesse Ramirez, my husband. More than anything I want to be able to walk away from him, but I just can’t. And that’s why I escaped from this world for a while. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t care who he was. He was my husband and I loved him. He was Nicholas and I still loved him. I know it’s wrong, and yet it’s still the most right thing I have ever felt. I cannot walk away from him - when I knew it, I came back."

"Why not?" Michael flared. "Why the hell not? Just do it Isabel! If he’s the great guy now that you seem to think, he’ll let you. He’ll leave you alone."

"She loves him." Max closed his eyes. "And he loves her." He looked at Michael. "Michael, we know it. We believed him in the car. You can’t deny it. I know you believed him." He looked down again. "And, in the end, he’s really not so different from me. In some ways, we’re both monsters."

"Max!" His mother exclaimed. "Don’t say things like that!"

"Maxwell, comparing yourself to Nicholas is like comparing apples and oranges. You’re nothing like him!" Michael snapped. "Stop being ridiculous. If the troll was right about one thing, he was right that your guilt complex is going to do nothing but get you into trouble."

Max raised his eyebrows wryly. "I appreciate the support you guys, but you don’t really know me - not completely. Some of the stuff I’ve done…it’s pretty horrible. You don’t need to know about all of it, but I like to think that for most of it I had some pretty valid reasons. I think that Nicholas truly believed that a lot of what he did to us was justified. He loved Khivar - thought he was the rightful king. When I think about what I would do to protect the people I love - what I have done, he really doesn’t seem quite as horrible. And he knows what Khivar was now. He won’t make the same mistakes again." He looked directly at Isabel. "We can’t ever truly know another person Isabel, but if we trust that we know them well enough, sometimes that’s enough." He reached across and took her hand. "I trust you to make the right decision Izzy. If you accept Jesse, then I do too."

Isabel’s eyes filled with tears again. She smiled though. "In some ways, I wish you’d pull that king crap and tell me to stay away from him, but here…" She placed a hand firmly over her heart, "I know that he’s changed. I know that we can trust him."

"Then it’s enough," Max replied. "I’m not saying that I won’t be keeping a very close eye on your husband for a very long time…"

"Me too," Michael growled.

"But I am willing to let him earn my trust as he regains yours." Max looked warningly at Michael. Michael scowled back at him. Max could almost hear him mentally complaining You said you weren’t the king anymore.

"Do you want to see him now?" Max asked, getting to his feet. "If so, I hope you don’t mind taking Michael with you. Because, for now, I think it’s a good idea."

"Where are you going?" Isabel asked, clearly understanding that the only reason that he wasn’t accompanying her was that he had something else on his mind.

"I have to go see Liz," Max admitted. "Because I’m beginning to realize that I haven’t been fair to her. She’s told me she forgives me, that she’s willing to give me another chance, but I think I finally understand that I haven’t been ready to forgive myself. For all I’ve put her through…" He sighed heavily. "I don’t deserve her, I know it. But she thinks I do. And second guessing her all the time isn’t fair. For her, I’m willing to forgive anyone - even myself."

Isabel smiled at him. "Good luck then." She stood, hugged him tightly. "Max, I’m glad you’re home. I haven’t told you so yet, but I am so happy. I have my brother back." She reached out, wrapped a hand around Michael’s neck, pulling him against her as well. "Both of my brothers. My life would not be complete without you guys. You are the only two who really understand me. Because, in the end, we’re the same and we need each other." She placed a gentle kiss on first Max’s cheek and then Michael’s. "Thank you for trusting me. I swear he won’t disappoint you."

Max met Michael’s gaze across their sister. His best friend still looked somewhat unconvinced. Max could not deny that was still a little wary too, but they would be careful. They would not be caught off guard again.

"If he has any intention of being for you what I intend to be for Liz, then I don’t think we’re going to have a problem," Max grinned. "And on that note, I’m out of here." He hugged his mother and father. "I’ll see you guys at home later. Thank you for allowing it to still be my home."

"You’re our son Max," his father replied emotionally. "You always will be and you will always be welcome in our house. You and your son."

Max was whistling to himself as he climbed into the Cherokee and drove towards the centre of town. He knew that he really should not be in such a good mood - he still didn’t know if Liz was going to forgive him for his latest freak-out. He understood that he should be more worried about Jesse and Isabel.

And, yet, he still had a gut instinct that their troubled times were over. For the first time in his entire life, optimism was practically making him giddy.

He pulled up in front of the Crashdown several minutes later, virtually leapt from the car and hurried towards the familiar doors - the doors that he had dreamt of going through to tell Liz how much he loved her for so long, it was pretty much a permanent part of his imagination.

He pushed them open, his heart pounding in anticipation. The bell over the door tinkled it’s familiar tone, bringing a half-smile to his face. He stepped into the empty restaurant, his breath catching.

Because suddenly, there she was. She was just coming through the swinging door from the back, throwing a bag over her shoulder, obviously on her way out. She came to abrupt halt at the sight of him.

They stared at each other for what felt like forever before she finally broke the silence.

"Hi." Her voice was soft, barely audible.

"Hi," he replied tentatively, unsure how she was going to greet him.

"You came back." A small half-smile made his heart thunder.

"I had to see you."

She tilted her dark head to the side, continued to stare at him, her large brown eyes shining. "Why?"

"You’re not engaged anymore."

Liz frowned. "Is that all?"

"Because I love you." He took a careful step towards her. "I know that you’ve been waiting. I’m sorry."

She didn’t reply immediately, just watched him. "Am I going to have to wait much longer Max?"

"You are never going to have to wait for me again."

It felt as though they were both holding their breath, unsure how to proceed. "We still need to talk," Liz told him quietly.

"I know."

"Things can’t go back to the way they were. Not ever."

"I know that too. I want to start over with you Liz. I want you to fall all over again."

She smiled slightly again. "I don’t think that’s going to be hard." There was a pause. "I was on my way to see Ben."

"Good idea. We should check on him." Max felt a twinge of guilt that Ben had actually not been on his mind at all for the past few minutes. His son was always on his mind, always came first. For just one instant, he had wanted it to be Liz who did.

But she would not allow it.

Liz brushed past him, headed for the door. He felt his heart fall slightly. She was pushing her way through, the bell already ringing, when she suddenly whirled and threw her arms around his neck. He stumbled backwards slightly, barely managed to grab her by the waist before her lips were on his.

"Liz?" He exclaimed, pushing her hair away from her face, unable to pull his own lips away from hers, despite the fact that he was so shocked, it took him a moment to start responding.

He had been waiting for this for so long, he had almost forgotten how to do it. But their lips were made for each other after all. It didn’t take him long.

She wound her hands through his hair, pulled back slightly. They were both gasping for air. She smiled at him, a sexy little grin that curled his toes. "I’ve fallen. It’s too late."

"But we need to talk," Max told her, leaning his forehead against hers, trying desperately to get a hold of himself. It was hard, considering the fact that all he wanted to do was to drag her down onto the floor of the Crashdown and make love to her.

He was a virgin, yes, but this was Liz and he didn’t think he was going to have much trouble figuring out what to do.

"We will." She continued to smile. "Just not now."

And with that, she kissed him again.





posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:19:02 PM
Part 40

A ringing cell phone was what it finally took for Liz to snap out of the lust-induced haze in which she currently found herself. Max’s lips were on her neck, doing things to her body that she had forgotten were possible. After his first tentativeness, his uncertainty clear because of her abrupt change of mood, he had more than made up for it. His kisses were those of a man who had been crawling through the desert for weeks in search of a little bit of relief, when he suddenly stumbled across an oasis beyond his wildest dreams.

It was enough to make her dizzy in anticipation for what actually making love would be like.

She was no innocent - she had been living with Dan for almost a year after all - but, even in their most intimate moments, her former fiancé had never made her feel the way Max did with a simple brush of his hand against her skin. She had never forgotten the exhilarating experience of literally falling apart in someone’s arm but was only admitting to herself now that she had never had that with Dan. She had done her best to downplay the memory over the years of the rush that accompanied physical closeness with the person you felt most connected to in the world, but it was certainly all coming back to her now.

When it had came to their bodies, Max and Liz had always been on the same wavelength, the chemistry between them more than enough to help them to ignore some of their bigger issues. It had been one of the reasons she had found it so difficult to say no to him when he had originally wanted to get back together after Tess had left in the granolith. Deep inside she had known that something was still wrong - that this boy who told her that he had had to explore his attraction to Tess was not her Max - but the way he was able to make her feel when he touched her had almost convinced her otherwise. The physical connection they shared was almost enough to sometimes overshadow the spiritual bond.

But not quite. She had known on some deeper level that, in the end, the physical would not have been enough. Now, it was almost a relief to know that what had been blocking the spiritual connection for so long - the seal - was finally gone. If he had not left her, he could not have come back to her wholly hers again. And it seemed fully fitting that the true healing of his soul had only taken place after he had returned to her - after they had defeated Khivar together.

Because they were fully open to each other again, the physical was even more amazing - on a whole different level. All they had done was kiss after all and she felt more exposed and, yet more, satisfied than after any of her times with Dan.

It was almost frightening - the intensity of it, especially after so long. It was enough that she was relieved when that cell phone rang, allowing her to pull away slightly, wrench around in Max’s arms to reach for her bag, which had fallen to the floor. Since they had also ended up on their knees somehow - she wasn’t sure when - it was not far away.

"Liz!" Max was moaning in frustration, but then he started to laugh, his happiness utterly contagious, making her giggle despite herself.

"What’s so funny?" Liz demanded, turning her head to smile at him. She had answered the phone, told whoever was on the other end to hang on a minute.

"Look where we are!" He shook his head, his expression still amused, but his eyes…They were shining with some emotion she didn’t immediately recognize.

It was in that instant that she realized that they had been about to make love on the floor of the Crashdown in the exact same spot where he had saved her life ten years before. She smiled at him again, gently pressed a kiss to his lips. "We may be able to start over Max, but there are some parts of our past that I don’t ever want to forget," she whispered lovingly.

When he gazed down at her, his eyes still dark with desire, she realized what it was that she had seen in them moments before. It had been joy. She had never seen it there before, and it was enough to make her heart skip a beat.

She did that to him. Simple small-town girl Liz Parker, who had become a world-class biologist at Harvard, who had become the fiancée of a brilliant man because she had never felt like enough for the person she truly wanted, especially after they knew who he really was, was the only one who made him truly happy. And she knew, once and for all, that he would never take her for granted again. He knew what he had in her, had always known it, even through the dark days when he couldn’t show it because of what they had done to him.

And, finally, just being Liz Parker was enough.

She let herself remain pressed against Max as she smiled apologetically at him and spoke into the phone. She realized again that she was glad that they had been interrupted - and not only because the intensity of her feeling for him was somewhat scary. While making love for the first time on the exact same spot they had first connected would have been romantic, the thought that her parents or her former fiancé with whom she was still on good terms, but who was still upstairs packing, might have walked in…It was enough to seriously dampen the moment.

"Hello?" She realized that she still sounded breathless, swatted at Max playfully as he rained gentle kisses down the back of her neck.

"Liz? Are you okay?" It was Maria and she sounded concerned. "What the heck’s going on over there? Ben is awake and he’s asking for you and Max. You told me that you were coming right over!"

"Er…" Liz felt a pang of guilt. Poor Ben! He had to be pretty terrified by now. He hadn’t physically laid eyes on Max since the day before after all - not since Dan had first arrived at the dome actually. "We’re on our way."

"We?" And suddenly Maria seemed to understand. "Is Max there?"

"Yes."

"Liz," Maria sighed in exasperation. "I hope you’re just talking - but from the sound of your voice I can tell you’re not. What did I say about taking things slowly?"

"You’re one to talk Maria, especially after the hare-brained idea you came up with an hour ago!" Liz exclaimed. "And don’t worry about it. I am perfectly in control here." Of course the way Max’s hands were sending shivers down her spine said otherwise, but she chose to ignore that for the moment.

"Sure Liz," Maria was snorting. "I know how easy it is to maintain control in the presence of a horny Czechoslovakian. Anyway, get over here. We have planning to do. You and Max can play kissy-face later. Besides, your dad is going to have a coronary if he catches you and I don’t personally plan on spending my wedding night in a hospital waiting room."

Liz felt another pang at the mention of her father. Her parents still had absolutely no idea about Max’s return. She and Dan had simply told them that their break-up was mutual and for the best. Eight years had passed since the whole hold-up in Utah fiasco, yes, but Liz’s dad had a long memory and very little tolerance when the subject of Max Evans came up, even now. In a twist on what had always been the case where her parents were concerned, her mother was the one who would be willing to let her make her own decisions now, if only about Max.

Her mother had told her once, about three years after Max had disappeared, when Liz had been on the verge of going out with Dan, that she hated to admit it, but that Liz had never been happy since Max had gone. She had told Liz that she liked Dan and that she hoped he would be able to make Liz smile again. But Liz knew, deep down, even after all this time, that Nancy Parker had never been convinced.

Yes, her mother would not be difficult about it. But her father…Her easy-going, laid-back father….Well, it wasn’t going to be pretty. But, he would get over it - eventually. And it wasn’t like he could send her to boarding school anymore. Liz snorted at the thought.

"Okay, okay! We’re coming," Liz laughed into the phone. "Tell Ben we’re on our way."

Max’s hands had stilled on her body as soon as his son’s name had passed her lips. As she turned of her phone, he asked. "Is Ben all right?" His voice reflected his concern, reminding Liz that one of the reasons that she and Max had to rebuild their relationship from the ground up was because it wasn’t just the two of them anymore.

They were a trio now, she, Max and Ben. It would take some time to figure out exactly what that meant, to figure out exactly how this was going to come together, but she knew that they could work it out.

They loved each other. It was enough.

"He’s awake," Liz replied, climbing unsteadily to her feet. "We’d better get over there. I think he needs to know exactly what’s going on Max. Kids feel better when they don’t feel like adults are hiding things from them." She grabbed him by the hand, pulling him up after her, although he did most of the work.

"I agree." Max continued to hold her hand, clearly unwilling to forgo all physical contact now that he was allowed to touch her again. Even now the air between them was charged by something unfinished, something intoxicating in it’s intensity. "But, the question is Liz, what exactly is going on." He smiled at her wryly. "Because, despite our failed attempt at it several minutes ago, we still need to talk and decide how this is going to work."

"Well…" Liz trailed off as she climbed into the passenger seat of the Cherokee, waited for him to walk around the car and join her inside. "I guess we’re going to have to figure that out Max," she continued quietly. "This isn’t ever going to be normal. We both know that. We make our own rules."

"We start slowly?" Max sounded unsure as he said it. He wasn’t looking at her, shoulder-checking as he backed out of the parking spot in front of the Crashdown.

Liz smiled slightly. "Well, we found out how hard that’s going to be today." She shook her head. "I don’t think slow has to mean the same thing for us that it means for other people. I mean, obviously we shouldn’t run off and get married tomorrow, but I don’t think I can pretend that we’re just friends Max. It’s never worked for us before and we know it’s not going to be that way forever anyway, so what’s the point?"

"Okay…" She glanced at him, could see that he was even more confused. "Liz, I have to admit, I don’t exactly know what that means," he finally admitted, laughing slightly. He didn’t sound upset though, just curious, and certainly willing to go along with whatever she decided.

"I know that I want to play a big role in Ben’s life Max," Liz elaborated. "Right away. But we don’t want to confuse him either." She had thought about this long and hard, knew there was only one answer. "We can’t dance around this. I think we either need to commit big right away or not do it at all. It’s the only thing that’s fair to him."

"And that means what?" Max asked. He sounded tentative, like he couldn’t quite believe he was hearing the words coming from her mouth.

"I think we should live together."

He almost swerved off the road. "What?" He managed to choke out after he had himself under control again.

Liz eyed him guiltily. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to freak you out. I didn’t just mean us. I meant all of us. Me, you, Ben, Isabel and Lexi. She’s going to need someone after all." She grinned at him, knew that she was teasing him now, but couldn’t help it. "And separate bedrooms - for now."

There was a long pause. "Liz, I never got a chance to tell you what happened with Isabel…" He trailed off, sighing heavily. Liz frowned. This did not sound good at all. She waited for him to continue. "She and Jesse are staying together."

It was enough of a shock that she felt it physically. She could not speak for several moments, her fear for her friend running through her, her fear for Ben even greater. But she knew inherently that Max would never allow something that he felt was dangerous to either his son or his sister. "Max, is this a good idea?" She asked anyway, needing to know his reasoning.

"I don’t know." She could hear the frustration in his voice. "All I know is that I believed him when he told me that he loves her Liz. And I also believed him when he told me that he had nothing to do with trying to kill Ben - that Khivar was in control then."

Liz didn’t speak for several more seconds as she processed this. "But you’re not completely sure, are you?" She guessed.

"No." He shook his dark head. "And I can’t figure out if my sister’s happiness outweighs my concerns about him. I want to let her make her own decisions, even told her I would, but I still can’t decide if I can actually do it."

"Well, then why don’t we ask Isabel if she wants to live with us on a trial basis?" Liz asked. "Because I’m guessing that if you’re having these doubts, she’s having them too. Max, I know how she feels. It’s what I’ve been going through over the past week after all. I knew I loved you still, but wasn’t sure if I could trust you. We decided that the only way for this to work between us was to start over - to a certain degree anyway. I think maybe Isabel and Jesse might find that they can rebuild on a firmer foundation if they spend some time apart too."

Max was quiet for a while as he processed this. "Well, it’s an idea anyway. What if she says no?"

"Then we’ll figure something else out." Liz leaned her head against the window. "It will always be complicated, won’t it?" She sighed, a little sadly.

"I’m sorry Liz." He reached over, gently squeezed her hand where it lay in her lap.

Liz laughed quietly. "I’m not upset Max." She sat up, squeezed back. "I was just remembering what my grandma once told me. If it’s not complicated, he’s probably not a soulmate. I am only now beginning to realize that she’s right. You’re worth any trouble Max, and I’m betting that Isabel and Jesse will decide the same. And we’ll figure things out too. I know we will."

They were just pulling into the Evans’ driveway.

He looked at her one last time, as though to say something else, but his attention was caught by something just beyond her. He smiled.

She turned her heads as the front door of his parents’ house burst open. Ben came running out, still in his pajamas, Maria on his heels.

Max and Liz both started to laugh.

"Dad! Liz!" He was practically jumping up and down in his excitement as he came to a screeching halt beside Liz’s door. She quickly rolled down the window, kissing him lightly as his face thrust in towards them. "Michael and Maria are getting married today and I get to be in the wedding! Isn’t that great?"

Liz smiled at Maria, who was hovering behind the little boy. "It certainly is," she agreed, although Ben wasn’t listening to her but was telling Max that Michael and Maria were getting married today.

"Does Michael know about this?" Max was asking as he climbed out of the Jeep. Ben careened around the car and Max swung him up, carrying him upside down over his shoulder into the house, making him scream with laughter. Whatever demons Ben was still running from, they were obviously far from his mind when his father was around. Liz felt tears welling in her eyes again as she linked arms with Maria and followed them.

"Oh, he won’t mind," Maria called after him. "It just seemed like such a stupid idea to waste a perfectly well-planned wedding. Plus, we get the added bonus of it being such a surprise, the tabloids will have absolutely no way of knowing about it!"

Max turned his head, his eyes meeting Liz’s. He appeared to be extremely amused. "Was this your idea?"

"Well…not exactly." Liz shrugged. "But everything is ready…" She smiled. "Plus, what a beautiful new beginning for us all." This made Max’s eyes soften immediately. She grinned more fully. "Plus, a party seemed like a great way to celebrate that new beginning."

"Just remind me to be elsewhere when Michael is told." Max shook his head. He set Ben on his feet, ran an affectionate hand over his blond head. "How’re you feeling kiddo?"

But Maria was not to be so easily swayed. "Max, you need to get him to the church!"

"What?" Liz struggled to hide her grin at Max’s sudden outrage. "You expect me to be a party to this?"

"Max!" Maria advanced on him. "Please! I have to go to the hairdresser and I promised Vick an exclusive interview before and after. I don’t have time to tell him."

Max held up his hands. "Fine. I’ll tell him. But Maria, I refuse to be held responsible if he doesn’t show."

"Oh, he’ll show," Maria replied smugly. "He’s got me exactly where he wants me now. He won’t screw things up again."

Max and Liz exchanged amused glances. "Well, I guess that sounds about right," Max finally admitted. "Fine, I’ll go get him. He’s still at Kyle’s with Iz and Jesse." He glanced down at Ben. "Go get changed Benny. You can come with me."

"Isabel and Jesse?" Maria watched Ben shoot off towards Max’s former bedroom. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"I’ll tell you the way to the hairdresser," Liz replied. "I assume you want me to come with you?" She looked at Max, who still looked perplexed by the utter haste with which this whole operation was being carried out. "We’ll see you at the church."

"Er - okay." His brows were knit together in consternation. She just knew he was contemplating Michael’s reaction to the wedding. But Liz knew it wouldn’t be a problem.

Michael loved Maria. He would do this if it made her happy. And it was a typical Maria reaction that as soon as she figured out in which direction she wanted her life to go, she wanted it to go there at one hundred miles an hour, rather than at the speed limit.

It was one of the things Liz admired about her best friend, one of her qualities that Liz wished she could call her own. She went after what she wanted - and that’s what Liz was finally trying to do by taking her destiny into her own hands and admitting that she wanted to be with Max, the past be damned.

"Liz?" Maria had already gone through the door when Max called after her. "Do you want me to talk to Isabel? See about getting things rolling?" His eyes were bright, as though he still couldn’t quite believe that she actually wanted to be with him, that they were making plans to move forward with their lives - plans to move forward together. And, if those plans, were tentative and on a trial-basis, he didn’t care. Because at least they knew it was what they both wanted. Half the battle was already won.

But there was still one other person they had to make sure was going to be okay with all of this. Ben.

"Talk to Ben Max, and then talk to Isabel," Liz suggested. She smiled at him again, saw his eyes darken as they lingered on her lips. "I love you." She couldn’t help herself. Now that she had said it once, she constantly wanted to say it.

And not just because of the way it made his entire face light up - although it did. Every single time. "I love you too."

With that, she turned and followed her best friend out the door.

****************************************************************

Max was still smiling to himself as he followed the familiar hallway to his boyhood bedroom, knowing that Liz was right about talking to Ben. It made more sense for him to broach the subject of the role Liz was going to play in their lives alone.

It had been just he and Ben for so long. Just the two of them. He knew that his son loved Liz, was likely going to be thrilled about the idea of living with her, but he still needed to ask him about it.

Because he knew that neither he nor Liz would ever want to do something that made Ben uneasy. He had had enough of that in his short life. And, so, if he didn’t like it, they would slow the whole thing down, figure something else out. Max still had every intention of being with Liz, but not at the expense of his son’s happiness. He knew that Liz felt exactly the same way.

He knocked lightly on the door to the room he had first moved into when he had been just a bit younger than Ben. "How’s it going in there?"

"I can’t find my other sock." The complaint was so normal, it was a relief. His son had been through a lot of scary stuff over the past few days - new people thrust into his life, old enemies returning to try and kill him. That he accepted it all and still managed to somehow stay a kid - it was a blessing Max could not ever stop giving thanks for.

Max pushed the door open and laughed at the sight of his son sitting on the bed, his back to Max, a sock stuck to the back of his shirt.

"What’s so funny?" Ben demanded, turning his head.

"Did Grandma wash your clothes?" Max asked innocently, sitting down on the bed beside the little boy, peeling the sock off his back and passing it to him. Ben stared at it, then shrugged, putting it on.

"I guess so. I was really tired. I don’t even remember putting my pajamas on."

"I can understand why," Max replied, knowing his voice was breaking slightly with emotion. "You were really brave last night Benny."

"Liz was with me." Ben looked at him in surprise. "And Lexi. I didn’t need to be brave. I wasn’t scared." He looked away slightly, his blue eyes shadowing. "I was scared at first though Dad. Before Liz found me."

"That’s okay. I was scared too," Max told him, putting an arm around his shoulders.

"You were?" Ben stared at him. "Really?"

"Really. Because the two people I love the most were in danger."

Ben didn’t speak for a moment. "Me and Liz?" He finally asked, sounding pleased.

"You and Liz. And Lexi and Auntie Isabel and Michael and everyone," Max continued. "But mostly you and Liz." He paused, searching for words. "Things have been really weird the last few days, huh?"

"Yeah." Ben stood up, went towards his sneakers, which were sitting on the desk, Max’s mother’s obsession with neatness obviously still one of her personality quirks. "But it’s been my best week too."

"It has?" Max watched him carefully.

Ben looked up. "Yeah Dad! I mean, I got to meet Liz and Maria promised to teach me to play the guitar…Oh! And Michael gave me those hockey cards. I still have to take that one to school to trade with Hunter."

Max stared at him, dumbfounded. "What?"

"You know Dad!" Ben exclaimed, sounding irritated. "I told you that I was going to trade a card with that kid I met at school."

"Er - okay." He narrowed his eyes. His son was resilient Max knew, but this seemed a bit ridiculous. "Is there anything else you want to talk about?"

Ben stopped tying his shoelace and looked up at him. "Like what?"

"I don’t know. About being scared and stuff?"

"I told you I was scared Dad, but I was with Liz. I knew that nothing would happen to me when I was with her. I had to look after her. Just like you do. Because you look after people you love. Don’t your remember telling me that on Antar?" Ben asked, perplexed.

"Okay…" Max trailed off, uncertain how to proceed. "So, what do you want to happen now?"

Ben cocked his head, interested. "I want to get a penguin suit to wear to Maria and Michael’s wedding." He stood up. "Come on Dad! That’s what Maria told me I’d get to wear!" He started out the door.

"Ben!" Max called after him.

"What?" He shifted impatiently from foot to foot.

"Do you think it would be okay if we lived with Liz now?" Max asked in a rush, grimacing, knew that it was not the way he wanted this conversation to go, but knowing that he was losing his son’s interest quickly.

Ben’s face lit up. "Live with Liz? Awesome!" He frowned slightly. "Does this mean we won’t get to live with Michael anymore?" His disappointment was so complete, it was almost comical.

"Well…" Max struggled to hide his grin. "Michael’s going to live with Maria now."

"Why can’t we all live together?" Ben demanded, crossing his arms in consternation. "Maria can teach me to play the guitar like my other dad. She promised!"

"She’ll still teach you Benno. I don’t think Michael and Maria will be going far." Max stood, so relieved that Ben had no problem with living with Liz, it almost made him weak in the knees. He hadn’t imagined that there really would be, but knowing their long run of bad luck until fairly recently, having Ben become an obstacle rather than a unifier had become a very real, if brief, fear.

But, in the end, his son’s only issue was that he wasn’t going to get to hang out with Michael as much anymore. As long as he knew that Michael wasn’t going to disappear from his life, he would likely be okay with everything.

"Well, I guess that’s okay." Ben still sounded slightly put out. "Now, let’s go get my penguin suit!" He turned and marched out of the room.

Max sighed. "Ben, I hate to be the one who has to break the news to you about the penguin suit…" He began as he followed his son.

**********************************************

"I hate these damn monkey suits," Michael groaned. He stuck a finger into his collar and pulled. "I’m choking to death here."

Ben, who was sitting on the counter in his own little tuxedo, grimaced in agreement. "I saw a picture of a penguin in Aunt Isabel’s classroom," he told Michael confidentially. "And a monkey. They don’t look like these stupid things at all."

"Okay!" Max held up his hands in frustration. "Enough with the complaints. It’ll all be over soon enough and then you can run around in your underwear for all I care. But I have a job here - which is to get you to the altar decently attired - and I am going to do it if it kills me because you didn’t hear Maria on the phone Michael. She was scary."

Max had been surprised by how easy it had been to convince Michael that his wedding day was today. In fact, it hadn’t taken any convincing at all. He had just rolled his eyes. "Whatever she wants."

However, Max had not been pleased by his new assignment after he had called Liz to tell her what had transpired. "Take them both to the tuxedo shop." She had sounded distracted. "Yes Maria! I’m telling him!"

"What’s wrong?" Max demanded, could tell by her voice that she was just about at the end of her rope.

"Maria is having one of her diva days I’m afraid," Liz replied, sounding aggrieved and, yet, affectionate.

And suddenly he was listening to Maria’s voice, as she had clearly wrenched the phone out of Liz’s hands. "I deserve it. I made five million dollars last year Max. I think at least on my wedding day I can forgo my eternal good nature and demand a little action from you people. I refuse to have my husband look like a shlub in the wedding pictures. They’ll be published you know!"

"Maria…"

"Get him to the church Max and I want him in a tux. You have an hour. The end." She had hung up on him.

So he had complied, shaking his head in disbelief that twenty-four hours ago they had all been running for their lives and now their biggest concern was whether Michael looked like a shlub or not in the wedding photos.

He had never been more happy.

"Really?" Ben sounded interested. "I can wear my underwear later?"

"No, you may not," Max replied sternly. "I was joking."

Michael grinned at Max in the mirror. "But I can."

Max rolled his eyes. The only thing that was getting him through this was the fact that he would get to share a dance with Liz at the reception later - that and the fact that his son was practically jumping up and down on the counter he was so excited and so happy.

He knew that Ben felt completely secure for the first time in his young life and it was because of the people currently in this building. The people Max loved more than any others in the world - in the universe. He would not trade an instant of the craziness.

Meanwhile, across the church in the bride’s room, Maria was hugging Liz, who was trying desperately to hold back tears of love for her best friend. Because, even on her wedding day, Maria was more concerned about her best friend than herself.

Some things would never change. Liz was overcome again by how lucky she was. If this kept up, she was going to be a weeping mess long before the day was over.

"I mean it Chica. I want you to be happy. And if that means that I have to whip Max into shape for you, I will."

"I think he’s managed to do a pretty nice job of that himself," Liz replied wryly, wiping at her eyes. Isabel, who was standing nearby, gently pulled her towards the mirror, ran her hand across Liz’s face, fixing the damage to her make-up. Max’s sister had joined them, unwilling to miss her almost-brother’s wedding. She had told Liz upon arriving that she thought she liked the idea of living with she and Max for a while - at least until she and Jesse worked out exactly how they were going to move forward.

She had confided to Liz that the conversation had been difficult, especially with Michael hovering as he had been, but that she was still sure that she had made the right decision. "I love him," she finally told Liz. "And because I do, I can forgive him."

And Liz had understood perfectly.

"He has," Isabel agreed now. Her face was still lined with sadness and fear, but she was doing her best to get into the spirit of the event. "He’s really grown up. And it’s because he loves you Liz. I think he wants to be worthy of you more than he’s ever wanted anything."

"He’s always been worthy," Liz argued. "He’s only finally accepted it, which means that I can trust him again. It was his self-hatred that made him do all of those horrible things you know. He won’t sabotage himself again. And now that the seal is broken - now that Khivar is really gone - they won’t make him sabotage himself either."

"Now you just have to worry about general male stupidity," Maria agreed, laughing. "Not that they aren’t darn cute in spite of it."

Maria’s mother poked her head through the door. "It’s almost time Honey." She sighed heavily. "I still can’t believe that this is happening today! You can’t give a mother the time to get used to the idea that Michael Guerin is really going to become part of her family?" Liz and Isabel laughed. They knew that Amy was joking, that Michael had won her over long ago, way back in high school even. The fact that her husband of several years now, Jim Valenti, liked Michael so much too had finally convinced her.

"Sorry Mom," Maria grinned. "It’s the price you pay for having a superstar daughter."

Amy grinned back. "Smartass. I’ll see you in a minute Sweetie." She reappeared a moment later. "Oh Vick is here. She wants some last minute quotes."

"Let her in," Maria grinned wider, her eyes twinkling wickedly. "I have some great stuff for her…including the little story about how Michael and I first fell in lust."

Liz exchanged a look with Isabel. They both burst out laughing. Maria was having too much fun with being in complete control of the media coverage of her wedding. It was a nice change to see her enjoying her celebrity rather than being oppressed by it.

The head-line in the Boston Globe the next day read Pop Star Weds Man who Abducted her Heart Twelve Years Ago.

****************************************

"What’s wrong Liz?" Max asked as he pulled Liz into his arms on the dance floor at the reception several hours later. He had not failed to notice the tears that had been threatening from her all evening. The first time had been when their eyes had met across Michael and Maria at the altar. She had smiled at him, but then had turned away, her eyes gleaming strangely.

The moment had been broken when they had all realized that Michael’s vows had included the vow to obey Maria. He had scowled at her but had very deliberately enunciated the words. She had beamed back at him. Max and Liz had both burst out laughing.

"I would have added ‘and not lock her in closets,’ but I was a little worried how that might have sounded, especially with a reporter present," Maria later told both Max and Liz, making them laugh again.

It was a day for laughter, not tears, and yet, Liz seemed constantly on the verge of them. He was not stupid enough anymore to think that she was having second thoughts about him - he knew she wasn’t - but he was still concerned about her.

And now it was happening again as they danced surrounded by all the people they most loved in the world, including Liz’s parents, who had been surprisingly civil to Max. But if they saw their daughter burst into tears right in front of them while she was dancing with him… It did not bode well for the future.

She met his gaze, her dark eyes brimming, but he could see that she wasn’t really upset. "Do you hear the song?" Liz asked quietly.

Max listened. "It’s nice. What is it?"

"It’s called I Shall Believe," Liz replied. "It’s our wedding song."

Max frowned slightly, stared down at her. "What do you mean?"

"We danced to it in the desert when we were nineteen on the night we were married," Liz elaborated. "When you came back from the future, you told me that."

Max closed his eyes briefly, bringing his hand up to cradle her head against his chest. Liz had told him long ago about the visit she had received from that future version of himself. It had been her explanation for why she had pretended to sleep with Kyle. But, until this moment, he had not truly understood that he had had a whole life with her in that other time. He had understood the other life they had shared as Zan and Kadi, but not the way that whole timelines could be changed by just one action.

He was being given a second chance with the love of his life. He would never take that for granted. Not like that other Max had seemed to. "We’ll dance to it at our wedding someday Liz," he finally whispered against her hair. "I promise."

"I know. In some ways, I can’t wait. We’ve waited so long. But then, I know there’s no rush." She pulled back, smiling up at him. "We’ll just take this one day at a time Max, loving each other and making each moment better than the last."

He swallowed, suddenly very close to losing it himself. Would he ever get used to the way he felt about her? Would it ever be less intense, less magical? He certainly hoped not.

He brought her hand to his lips and gently kissed her palm. "I love you." He felt a shiver descend his spine, a flash of Zan doing the same to Kadiya as he lay dying momentarily making him flinch. He felt her tremble against him, knew that she had shared the flash.

But while that kiss had been about breaking apart, about despair and loss, this kiss was one of hope, about bringing what was lost back together with a strong promise for the future.

He knew that as long as they shared that promise, nothing would tear them apart again.

Her smile told him that she felt exactly the same way. She brought her hand up, wrapped it around his neck and kissed him gently.

"Welcome home Max."

The End


posted on 26-Apr-2002 10:11:18 PM
Epilogue

Roswell, New Mexico - May 2019

"Is everything okay?" Max asked, taking his wife’s hand as she sat down in her seat next to him. She had been mildly panicked when the usher had come to tell her that she had a phone call in the office - first worried that she was going to miss her son’s name being called, next concerned that something was really wrong at home. Max had wanted to go with her but she had insisted that he stay where he was, unwilling for them both to miss Ben’s big moment.

"Oh, it’s fine," Liz laughed, her relief now making her feel a little foolish over how she had practically freaked out a few minutes before. But it was the first time she had left the girls alone with their cousin and they could be holy terrors on occasion. The only person they ever behaved for was Ben. "Lexi couldn’t find Cady’s bottle and she was totally flipping out. Charlotte finally found it under the crib."

Isabel, who was sitting on Max’s other side, leaned over her brother and sighed. "I’m never going to hear the end of that. Lex was so worried that she wasn’t going to do well at her first baby-sitting job."

"It wasn’t her fault." Liz shrugged. "I should have warned her that our daughter has the potential to be a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox." She laughed again, turned to face the front. "Did I miss anything?"

She scanned the faces of the graduates sitting on the stage, felt her heart lighten as it found the one for which she was searching. He was talking quietly to the girl seated beside him, no indication of any nervousness on his face. Well, she was scared enough for the both of them.

She flashed back momentarily to her own graduation, so many years ago now. It had not been a happy occasion, mainly because the person sitting beside her had not been there. It had been during the time when she still had not accepted that Max was not coming back for a long time - if ever - and it had been even sadder because she had been reflecting on the fact that he was missing so much.

"No," Max was replying, rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand lightly, as though he knew exactly what she was thinking, as always, sending a shiver down her spine. Sometimes she swore he had no idea what he did to her when he did that, and others, such as now, when he was sending her a lazy half-grin, she was sure he knew exactly. "Just the choir singing. He’s up next."

That he had made her so happy over the past few years had been no surprise. It had taken them a long time to get to the point they were at now and nothing was going to darken this day - not even thoughts of how much pain there had been to reach it. She pushed her memories of her loneliness away, focused back on the stage, on her son.

He had first called her "Mom" when he was ten years old. He had entered a sullen stage then, Maria jokingly dubbing it alien puberty, as the Czechs had always developed physically before their human counterparts. But there had been something deeper troubling Ben, Liz knew now, although she hadn’t then.

She and Max had been careful during those early months after moving in together, both sure that they wanted to be together, but not positive exactly how it was going to play out. They had moved into a house in Albuquerque so that Isabel could return to her teaching position and so that Liz could enroll at UNM in the College of Education to get her teaching license. Max had rapidly completely his GED and then had joined Liz there, taking liberal arts, still unsure what career path he wanted to take. She had never gone back to Harvard, had resigned her position there for personal reasons, the main one being that she hated it, and had looked forward to a bright future.

But then things had taken a difficult turn. Having Isabel and Lexi around for the first year or so had made it easier for Max and Liz to take things slowly, to go out on dates, to play at happy family - all five of them. Of course, Isabel had not been truly happy. That had only come after she had finally decided that she was ready to move back in with Jesse, everyone finally convinced by his patience and his ardent courting of his wife that Nicholas had really changed.

But, this had, of course, changed everything.

With Isabel gone, suddenly there was no buffer zone any longer. It was only the three of them in the house, Max, Liz and Ben and the tension had become palatable. Both Max and Liz had been so careful not to push the other to a step they weren’t ready for, their relationship had reached a virtual stand-still. Ben had known that there was something wrong, as kids usually do, but couldn’t figure out what. He knew his father and Liz loved each other, but he didn’t understand why they weren’t married like Michael and Maria or like Aunt Isabel and Uncle Jesse.

The day it had all come to a head, Liz had been on her way out to meet a friend from school for dinner. Max and Ben had been sitting at the table in the kitchen eating tomato soup with Tabasco. Liz still remembered it because when Ben had thrown his bowl across the kitchen, it had left a permanent stain on the wallpaper - at least until he had been willing to clean it up with his powers, which had been weeks later. Max and Liz had left it there as a reminder of what they had almost let slip away because they had let fear return to their relationship.

"Why can’t you have dinner with us Liz?" Ben was whining as he watched Liz whirl around the kitchen, pulling her coat on and trying to brush her hair at the same time.

"Because I have to meet Peter Honey," Liz had explained in a rush, glancing at Max, who was watching her, his eyes slightly narrowed. She knew that he wasn’t happy that she had agreed to eat out again, but he was the one who had been studying late the past three nights. It wasn’t her fault that they never had any time together.

"Why?"

"For school."

And that’s when the soup had gone flying across the room, barely missing Liz, and smashing against the wall with a resounding crash. She had gasped, stopped abruptly and stared at the little boy, who had never, in the entire time she had known him, thrown a temper tantrum. "BEN!" Both she and Max had yelled it at the same time, completely shocked. Her eyes had met Max’s.

"You don’t love my dad anymore!" He had screamed. "You’re never here! And when you are, he isn’t!" He turned and glared at Max. "Why aren’t you married? Why?"

She had seen the strange expression that had crossed Max’s face at that. She knew exactly what he was thinking. They were nowhere near marriage after all. They hadn’t even made love yet. After those first heady days of reunion, they had slowed things down, had hoped to make it even more special by waiting. But with every passing day, rather than growing closer, they had been falling apart, too afraid to rush the other, but destroying things because of it. Even Ben had noticed, which had been the last thing they had wanted.

After all, they had been taking things slowly for him, wanting to be sure that it was going to work so that there would be no break-up later, no separation that would hurt him.

Ben was still yelling. "I want to call you Mom Liz. I want to, but I can’t because you might leave. Just like my real mom did. Why can’t you just get married so that I can call you that? Why?" He had started sobbing, literally breaking her heart.

Max had stood up, stared right at her. "Liz, I am a complete idiot. I am so sorry." He had his arm around his son. "We need to get this resolved once and for all."

She had smiled at him, looked at Ben. "It’s not your fault Max, it was both of us. You’re totally right Honey. We’re so sorry."

Michael and Maria had come to stay with Ben for the month that she and Max had gone away together to get their relationship back on track. Their best friends had moved back to Los Angeles a few months after the wedding, but their schedules were such that where they lived wasn’t really an issue. Ben had been thrilled by Michael’s presence, but, in the end, even more happy that the two people he loved the most in the world were finally getting their acts together. Because as long as they were miserable, which both Max and Liz only began to realize they had been after Ben had thrown his fit, he was too.

They had made love for the first time under the desert sky near Albuquerque, all doubt finally gone after this last test. When they returned, they were already married and no one minded that they hadn’t been invited. It seemed somehow fitting that Max and Liz had done it alone, in Las Vegas, almost ten years after they had been meant to, finally making things right.

They danced under the stars to I Shall Believe and then returned to their son, who started calling Liz "Mom" the very next day.

And now he was graduating from high school - in fact from West Roswell High, where Liz had been teaching biology for the past five years. She almost couldn’t believe how quickly the time had flown by. They had been happy years, full of laughter and love.

Their first baby had arrived on a spring day in 2013. They had named her Charlotte, for Alex.

It had pleased Ben, who was getting to know his Whitman grandparents and liked any reference to his dearly missed real father. Liz had taken him to meet them when he was ten and the resemblance to Alex could no longer be denied. They had been unable to accept him for the first couple of years, unbelieving that they could have known so little about what their son’s life had become before his death. It had upset Liz that she had been unable to tell them more - to tell them that Alex had loved Leanna, even though she had really been Tess, that he had been happy, even if it had all been an illusion - to tell them the reality of how brave he had been and how much he had sacrificed to protect his friends. But when the Whitmans had finally agreed to meet Ben, they had fallen instantly in love. Their son was reflected in every gesture he made - in the fact that he had a wicked sense of humor and a love for music and a gangly awkwardness that only endeared him to those around him more. They were presently seated on the other side of Isabel, beaming proudly down at their grandson.

Claudia had been born the year they had taken over the Crashdown, in the fall of 2014. Liz’s father passed away that winter, having grudgingly accepted Max into the family, mainly because he could see on his son-in-law’s face how much he truly loved his daughter. He died too young, of a heart attack, but not before falling in love with his grandson (Liz had officially adopted Ben on his eleventh birthday) and his two granddaughters. Max had considered going on in school, medicine still of keen interest to him, but had decided to run the restaurant for his wife’s family instead, his deep affection for it making it impossible to sell it or close it down after Jeff Parker’s death. Liz had found a job at the high school and they had settled back in Roswell, their young family the center of their universe.

They had named Cady for the girl who had so loved Zan, she had given up her life for him. Both Max and Liz were still convinced that Kadiya’s soul lived on in some form in Liz, but they wanted to do her some honor anyway. And it was this baby who had the most spirit. She was barely one, but she already demonstrated a stubborn streak that could only come from her Aunt Isabel - or so Max argued. Liz merely nodded in agreement, secretly smiling that Cady was suspiciously like her father on occasion too. The other two girls were quiet and generally well-behaved, their intelligence and thoughtfulness even at six and four evident in their shining dark eyes. Claudia’s shy nature worried Liz on occasion, but her older sister was fiercely protective of her. They would all grow up happy and well-loved.

All three girls adored their older brother of course. Charlotte had almost thrown a temper tantrum that she wasn’t going to be allowed to come listen to Ben sing at his graduation, but when he had promised she and Claudy their own private concert that night, she had finally settled down and agreed to help her cousin Lexi look after her sisters.

The principal was moving to the microphone, clapping with the audience as the choir returned to their seats. He looked out across the assembled families of the graduates, waiting for quiet. "And now, just before the distribution of the diplomas, I would like to present valedictorian Benjamin Whitman Evans. He has chosen to sing a song instead of the traditional speech, which will be a treat for us all, I am sure."

Liz felt Max’s hand tighten around hers. They were both nervous for him, but Liz knew that Ben wasn’t the least bit concerned. He loved having an audience. His need to keep some of his more amazing abilities a secret had in no way dampened his outgoing nature, nor his pursuit of the more public of his talents. Liz knew that Max admired that about his son, wished that he could have been the same way in high school.

Liz felt tears filling her eyes now as the tall youth with shining golden hair moved to the front of the stage, a guitar over his shoulder. He spoke very briefly before he started to strum on his acoustic guitar. "My Aunt Isabel helped me to pick this song. It means much more than I can ever tell any of you, but I think you’ll all find something from it to take with you as we close this chapter of our lives."

Remember how they always seemed to know?
We had the forest for our eyes
But the earth was in our clothes
And they spilled out from under the stars
And these blankets and these robes of ours
And they thought we'd fall
Not at all.

So look back on those treasured days,
We were young in a world that was so tired.
Though it's not what we wanted before
Even the saints had to crawl from the floor.
Summers when the money was gone you'd sing
All your little songs that meant everything to me.

And I'll remember you
And the things that we used to do
And the things that we used to say
I'll remember you that way.

I remember how they tried to hold you down
And we climbed those towers and looked down upon our town
And everything we hoped would last
Just always becomes the past,
Summers when the money was gone you'd sing
All your little songs that meant everything to me.

But then this world slipped through my fingers
And even the sun seemed tired…
I still cared.
As I lowered you down my heart just jaded
In that moment the earth made no sound,
But you were there…
You helped me lift my pain into the air.

I’ll remember you. I’ll remember you…
And the things that we used to do.
And the things we used to say
If it don’t hurt you it won’t hurt me
If it don’t hurt me, it won’t hurt you, I know.


The last gentle chords faded into the silence of the auditorium. Liz could see Ben looking up at she and Max. She met his bright eyes through her tears, clapped for him until her hands hurt.

She could hear Maria talking to her on her right. "I knew that kid had talent, but I’m getting him a recording contract Lizzie." But she could not tear her eyes off her son’s shining face - the boy she and Max had sacrificed so much to save. And she knew in her heart that it had all been worth it.

And she just knew that, somewhere, Alex Whitman was smiling.