posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:25:50 AM
Epiphanies 2: The Anasazi Road
Author:
Carol000
E-mail: mschanche⊕aol.com
Category: M/L but all are included
Setting: This is a sequel to EPIPHANIES 1: The Ties that Bind. It's the end of the summer after Destiny. Put your Grandma Claudia and your Native American hats on!
Rating: PG-13/R (plus NC-17 epilog)
Disclaimer: They're not mine. You already knew that.

AUTHOR NOTE: When I went to repost this, I realized with horror that I no longer had an ezcodes version. I'd converted to Word for Crashdown and not saved the original. At some point, I will come back and reinsert italics (I use them a LOT), but I want to get the whole series up, so I'm posting without italic today. Sorry.


Part 1

Diane Evans sat on the porch swing pondering the unexpected turn her life had taken ever since she had accidentally witnessed Max healing Isabel's wound. At that moment, all of the questions she had ever had about her two adopted children, all the suppressed doubts about the unexplained incidents surrounding her guarded, mysterious son, had surfaced, and she had insisted on the truth.

That truth had opened the door to a world she could never have imagined. In one way, it hurt to know that Max and Isabel had felt they couldn't trust her. She understood the fear, of course. It was hard enough being different from other children in an earthbound sense. But the secrets they had harbored for so long boggled the mind. What she desperately wanted them to understand was that this had made her love them more than ever. Every motherly, protective instinct had been heightened, and she vowed to help them as much as "humanly" possible.

Diane rose from the swing. It was late. The kids' movie was probably over and she wanted to say goodbye. She looked through the doorway of the family room and smiled. Eight sleeping forms had long since abandoned the movie. Her eyes fell on Max and Liz, curled up together on the floor. As she watched, Liz shifted, pressing her back into Max's chest. He automatically molded to her form, "spoons" she and her husband called it, and he nuzzled her hair, kissing her lightly in his sleep, one arm draped protectively over her.

He wasn't a boy any longer. He was a man, a man who at the age of only 17 was juggling responsibilities and problems that would overwhelm most people. And this girl, this woman who had claimed his heart and chosen to face the unknown with him, had kept his secrets and already paid a price for that loyalty. Where did she find the courage? How had such a love grown in one so young?

Diane had observed them together often. Lately, she had been watching with new eyes. She saw their unspoken communication, their intense looks, their silent need to be together, to touch. They moved and thought in concert, and the strength of their bond at once awed and frightened her. But without this young woman, Diane may have lived in ignorance forever, and she wouldn't have traded this new understanding for anything in the world.

Isabel and Alex were wedged into a large, leather recliner. Isabel stirred as she realized her arm was asleep and her eyes fluttered open. She saw her mother gazing at Max and Liz, an unreadable expression on her face.

"Mom?"

Diane started. "Isabel! I came to see if your movie was over. I think it's time everyone went home."

Isabel yawned and stretched as Alex, too, began to wake up. As if on cue, the others began to rouse. Maria sat up from her cozy position on the couch, where she had been using Michael's lap for a pillow. Michael picked his head up from its awkward angle against the back of the couch, rubbing his neck. Tess and Kyle had been playing cards, but had fallen asleep right in their seats, heads resting on the table. As Kyle sat up, Tess giggled.

"You have the queen of hearts stuck to your forehead," she laughed.

"Must be a sign," Kyle joked back, winking at her.

That relationship had gotten off to a very rocky start. When Tess was holding fast to her belief in a preordained destiny and was reluctant to help rescue Liz from the rogue FBI agents, Kyle had felt any attraction for her turn to disdain. He had seen a different side to her, though, when Max found a way to forgive her, and her fear and vulnerability surfaced. Since then, they had talked–long conversations about loneliness and fear. These were emotions Kyle knew something about. He had long felt alone, living with a father who loved him, but who didn't have time for him. A father whose top priority was not his son, but unseen aliens. And when Kyle thought his father had been captured or killed, he had been driven by fear to steal a gun from his father's gun case and was prepared to kill. Yes, loneliness and fear could drive a person to become someone else, and he understood that this is what had happened to Tess. Now they had a very tentative friendship, but one worth exploring, they thought.

Gradually, Max and Liz came to life as well. Temporarily unaware of their surroundings, they were functioning instinctively. All Max could feel in his dreamlike state was Liz wrapped in his arms.

"Liz," he mumbled into her hair.

She sighed and turned in his arms, kissing him hungrily. Diane opened her mouth to speak, but the intimacy of the moment kept her riveted.

"Max!" hissed Isabel.

"Hmmm?" Suddenly Max's eyes flew open and he looked around, startled and embarrassed. The awkwardness was short-lived as everyone burst out laughing at the expression on his face.

It had been a good night. A normal night.

It wouldn't last.


Part 2

"We should go camping again before the summer gets away from us," suggested Maria.

Alex nodded. "We always wind up at the reservation. Why don't we go out to Bottomless Lakes instead. It's not far and they have lots to do."

Isabel rolled her eyes and looked at her friends through half-closed lids. "Bugs. Snakes. Heat. Primitive plumbing. Sounds like heaven."

"Come on, Isabel," pleaded Alex. "Who knows when the eight of us will get another chance to be together?" He nudged her playfully, coaxing a half-smile from her reluctant lips.

Max pulled Liz close and smiled. "Sounds good to me. Michael?"

"Whatever," Michael said under his breath, eyebrows raised. He knew he would enjoy it, but he wasn’t about to give the others the satisfaction of knowing that.

"It's settled, then!" proclaimed Maria. "Tess, are you comfortable with Kyle coming along?"

Tess nodded hesitantly. "I'll ask him. I mean, if he wants to go, I'll go, too."

"Great! When should we go?" And the group began to make plans.

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

A full moon hung in a clear August sky as the friends reached their campsite. There was almost a sense of relief in heading east out of Roswell instead of west toward the reservation. The cave where River Dog had shown them the symbols left by another crash survivor so long ago had offered a frustrating key to the puzzle of their past, but they needed a break. This was a time for fun and laughter and ghost stories. A carefree time for pretending their lives were normal and for enjoying each other's company.

After building a fire, they roasted hot dogs and told stories. Michael attempted to tell a joke, but when their serious, intense friend got confused and bungled the punch line, they laughed 'til they cried. Then Isabel hauled out the fixings for s'mores. They speared their marshmallows and held them over the fire, a companionable silence settling over them. Suddenly Isabel took a finger full of melted marshmallow and started drawing on Alex's startled face. "Food fight!" yelled Kyle, and the campsite was up for grabs. Even Tess joined in, tackling Michael from behind only to find herself clinging to him and screaming as he spun around. They chased each other around the fire, laughing and squealing until they collapsed, panting and exhausted, onto their sleeping bags.

Max looked over at Liz's sticky face, dotted with chocolate and marshmallow. He grinned at her wickedly and leaned close.

"Let me help you get that off," he offered, licking at the sweet streaks on her face. Liz grinned back. "Only if you let me return the favor," she teased.

The mood around the campfire quickly changed. Max looked at Liz with thinly disguised desire. "Let's walk down to the lake and rinse off."

"Good idea," agreed Michael, until Maria swatted him in the arm. "What?" he complained.

"Perhaps they'd like some privacy, Michael," muttered Maria under her breath.

"I need to rinse off, too," Michael pouted.

"You know, spaceboy? Sometimes I think the only reason you survived that crash is because your head is so thick. Here." Maria handed him a towelette packet and shrugged helplessly at Liz. "Go on. We're fine here." Liz smiled gratefully.

When Max and Liz reached the lake, they knelt by the gently lapping water and splashed their faces and arms.

"You look pretty weird, Liz," teased Max. "It's like two-tone chicken pox."

"Oh really?" replied Liz haughtily. "Brave words from a guy who looks like a refugee from an acne treatment test facility."

They glared at each other in mock hostility until Max couldn't hold it any longer. His eyes grew tender as he reached down and pulled his t-shirt off over his head. Liz stared appreciatively as the moonlight illuminated his taut, muscular chest. She could feel her pulse race as he dipped the hem of his shirt into the water, turned to her, and gently began to wipe her face clean. When he had finished, she carefully washed his face as well, drawn ever closer by those eyes that would not release her own. In seconds, his arms were around her, holding her tightly to him, seeking out her lips. Her hair brushed lightly against his bare skin and sent chills down his spine.

"Liz. I love you." It was such a joy to tell her that, out loud, after years of fearing he would never be able to share his love with her.

Liz's hands were running up and down his back, setting him on fire. He urgently needed to feel her skin against his, and he slid his hands under her short tank top. She was made of silk, scented silk, and it was all for him, soft and warm and eager. He started to shake, a terrible need taking over his senses and his control. He pulled away with a groan.

"Max, don't stop," moaned Liz, still holding on to him for balance. He realized she was shaking, too.

"Liz, we can't. Not here. Not now. I want you more than anything, but we can't do this. We still don't know if this could hurt you, and nothing is worth the price of endangering you."

"Max, this is us you're talking about. Don't you see? We are each other's strength. We're connected. I can't explain it, but I know we are meant to be together–in every way."

Max looked at the beautiful girl standing before him, loving him, ready to give herself to him, ready to accept the unknown just to be with him. "I feel it, too, Liz. But know this. I love you, cherish you beyond anything in this world or any other. I will not take a chance with you. Don't ask me to."

Liz looked at his determined, loving face and knew there was no arguing. Besides, she reasoned, the rocky bank of the lake looked none too comfortable. There was plenty of time. She just needed to stop shaking!

"Come on," she said, reaching for his hand. "Let's get back to the camp. I'll wrap myself in your arms all night and dream of how it will be . . . someday."

Max smiled, sighing heavily, and squeezed her hand. When they returned to the campsite, Michael and Maria had taken their sleeping bags and zipped them into one large one. Alex and Isabel were in the process of doing the same thing.

"That's a good idea," whispered Liz, her eyes sparkling. They reach for their sleeping bags and began to unzip them. Off to her left, she noticed Kyle and Tess standing awkwardly near their own sleeping bags.

"What do you want to do, Tess?" asked Kyle.

"I don't know. How cold does it get up here at night?"

"Pretty cold," several people chimed in.

"Well, if it's going to keep us warmer, then maybe . . . ," she looked at Kyle questioningly. He smiled at her and started unzipping his sleeping bag.

When everyone was settled in, there was a chorus of goodnights. Liz snuggled close to Max and kissed his neck playfully. "Behave yourself, young lady," he chided.

"Or what?" she challenged back.

Max growled softly and pulled her tightly to him. They settled into a peaceful sleep.

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

"Honeybear."

Liz looked around, unsure of where she was.

"Honeybear, I've been waiting for you."

"Grandma?"

"Yes, dear. I've been waiting for you and Max."

"Max? Why? Where are we?"

"It's time, dear. Time for me to tell you who you really are."


Part 3

Liz blinked, trying to see her grandmother's face. I'm dreaming, Liz thought to herself.

"No you're not, sweetie. And neither is Max. I'm really here."

"Grandma, how did you hear me? I didn't say anything out loud. And why do you keep mentioning Max?"

"I'm here."

Liz turned in the direction of the voice, amazed to see Max just behind her.

"Max?" She looked from one to the other. "This is definitely a dream."

"Well, if it is, we're dreaming the same dream," uttered Max, clearly confused and suspicious.

"Children, just be patient. I will explain everything eventually, but I need you to help me. Let's get comfortable, and I'll begin."

Grandma Claudia spread her hands, palms up, and transformed their surroundings to a grassy glen. They seemed to be at the base of a mountain, and the air smelled of pine. They could hear water running in the distance and Liz noticed a deer watching them from the woods. "We might as well enjoy this natural beauty while we talk, don't you think?" She spread a blanket on the ground, and the three settled down.

"Grandma, I don't understand. This dream feels so real. Why have you come?"

"First, little one, while it is true you are sleeping, this is not a dream. But this is the time you will be most receptive to what I have to say. And it's no accident that Max is here. This affects him as much as it does you. In fact, it is your being together tonight and your commitment to each other that has even made this possible."

"Grandma, this doesn't make any sense. What are you talking about?"

Max reached over slowly and took Liz's hand. His eyes had not left Liz's grandmother for an instant, and something about the look in his eye and the deliberate movement of his hand toward hers silenced Liz's questions. "I think we're here for a reason, Liz. Let's just listen."

Grandma Claudia smiled at them. "I would like to say, Liz, that I am very proud of you. Not only did you follow my advice to follow your heart, but you embraced these most unexpected and yes, frightening, events in your life without hesitating. I told you once that I saw myself when I looked at you. That was true in so many ways.

"Well, I should begin. We are about to embark on a journey together, an adventure. I know that it will be difficult at times, but I ask you to trust me, and each other. In the end, you will understand everything, I promise."

"I trust you, Grandma," said Liz, her eyes filling with tears. She bit her lip. "Can I hug you?"

"I'm afraid I'm not in a very huggable form these days, Honeybear. But we will be spending a lot of time together, and I will cherish every minute of it."

Max leaned against a tree, pulling Liz to sit between his legs against his chest. Liz could tell he was completely focused on her grandmother, but he did not seem afraid, and that calmed her. "Mrs. Parker, please tell us why we're here."

"Oh, Max!" laughed Grandma Claudia. "Please call me Grandma, just as Liz does. I consider you family. You have won my granddaughter's heart, and even if there were no other reasons, that would be enough."

Grandma Claudia turned serious. "Liz, Max, you have a great deal to learn about your past and where you came from. Much will surprise and, I dare say, alarm you along the way, but there is nothing to fear. I can't stay to explain everything tonight, but I can promise to guide you. Once again, I will ask you to follow your hearts, and follow the signs I will give you. You must be willing to see this through, though. You must be as committed to this as you are to one another.

"I have watched you. I know what you are to each other, and I couldn't be more pleased. I knew that night in the hospital when Max tried to help us say goodbye, Liz, that you had come to terms with his secret. And I knew you would be strong."

"You knew?" exclaimed Liz. "You knew about Max?"

Max was staring, mouth open, at Claudia Parker, or whatever image it was that claimed to be Claudia Parker.

"Of course, my dear. I knew about Max long before you did. But I had to be sure you were committed to each other, that your love was strong and lasting before I came to you. This journey requires that you combine your strengths and your gifts. There is no time for doubt."

Max's eyes opened wide. He remembered saying those very words to Sheriff Valenti at a point when he had to be believed; he had to trust. Is that what Liz's grandmother was telling them? Was this another crossroads for them?

"Now, whenever you are together like this," Grandma Claudia continued, "I will come to you and guide you in the next step of this journey."

"Together like what?" Liz was puzzled. "If you mean we have to be sleeping together, well, that will hardly every happen, Grandma. We're only 17. Our parents aren't going to let us sleep together. You know that!"

"I realize it's a difficult situation. Your mother would be horrified to know I was advising you this way, but you may just have to get creative. I'm not advocating your hurrying anything. We aren't talking about sex here. But we are talking about the combined force you create when you are together. And although it exists when you are together and awake, there are too many distractions and too little focus.

"Do the best you can. I know it won't be easy. For now, I must go. But before I see you again, I suggest you do a little research on the Anasazi."

"The Anasazi? The Native American tribe?" asked Max.

"They're the ones who disappeared like a thousand years ago and nobody knows why, right?" Liz asked excitedly.

Grandma Claudia chuckled. "Well, it wasn't quite a thousand years, and somebody does know why, but all in good time, my little ones. Meanwhile, do your reading, be aware of your opportunities, and wait for me to come again. I love you–both."

Grandma Claudia's image faded, leaving Liz and Max staring at the base of a mountain. Gradually, that scene faded, too, and they found themselves back in the darkness of their dreamworld.

"Max?" yelled Liz nervously. "Max?"

He was gone and Liz sat bolt upright in their sleeping bag. She scanned her surroundings and realized she was still in the campsite. Turning quickly, she checked on Max. He was staring at her, eyes wide.

"Liz, what just happened?"

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:28:47 AM
Part 4

Liz returned Max's wide-eyed stare. "Why? What just happened to you?" she asked cautiously.

"Liz, weren't you just with me and your grandmother? We were sitting on a blanket near a stream and a mountain. You saw that . . . didn't you?"

Liz nodded and lay down next to Max. "Max. We both had the same dream. What does it mean?"

"Maybe it wasn't a dream," Max reasoned. "Maybe your grandmother was telling the truth. We were really there with her and she wants us to take some journey."

"But Max, a journey alone? And how did she know about you? That had to be our subconscious surfacing. And the sleeping together thing. Not that I'd mind, of course, but really. How are we supposed to manage that?"

"Okay, how about this? We'll figure out a way to try this one more time. If she comes, we'll know it's for real. If she doesn't, then we'll just have to figure this for one more unexplained experience. But Liz . . . ." Max propped himself up on one elbow and looked at her. "We keep this to ourselves for now, okay?"

Liz nodded. She didn't need any encouragement to do that.

Later that morning, the campers began to wake up and prepare for the day. The sun was bright, the breeze was soft. The perfect summer day. Everyone cleaned up around the site while Maria and Michael started breakfast--sausages and English muffins over the fire. The smells made them all realize how hungry they were. After all, last night's dessert had turned into the evening's entertainment! Now they were ravenous.

"What do you want to do today?" Alex asked, his words garbled through a full mouth. "They've got paddle boats and hydro bikes and rafts. Or we could go hiking."

"I vote for rafting," answered Kyle. "It's gonna get hot and the water will feel great."

"Rafting and swimming," chimed in Tess, getting into the mood. "Sounds perfect."

Everyone joined in enthusiastically except Max and Liz. They had been quiet all morning, and Isabel's mental warning light started flashing.

"What's up with you two?" she asked. "Didn't you sleep well?"

Michael started to laugh, realizing too late that Isabel hadn't been making a joke.

Liz shrugged. "We're fine. Right, Max?"

"Yeah, fine," Max mumbled.

Isabel frowned and cast a quick glance at Michael. He was frowning now, too.

"Come on, everybody!" shouted Kyle, and they began their short trek to the lake.

The sun and fun and camaraderie soon had everyone in a great mood. They swam and harassed each other in the water, dunking and racing and chicken fighting. Once, when Michael was floating on his raft, almost asleep, Maria and Max swam silently up under him, tossing his warm, sun-drenched body into the cool water. He sputtered and fumed and came after them with a vengeance, barely concealing his laughter. It was relaxing and real. They seemed to be getting the hang of these normal outings. And for some of them, these close friendships and good times were a first. They could almost believe . . . .

By late afternoon, they were tired and ready to head home. As they packed up their gear, Max took a long look around. They hadn't even talked about the strange nature of their lives this time, as if they had an unspoken agreement to keep the alien side of things at bay for a while. He knew he hadn't succeeded, though. And this time, Liz was the one who'd been sucked in with him. "Into the alien abyss," Maria had once called it. He hoped that was a poor analogy.

With eight of them and their gear, they had brought two cars, Max's Jeep and Tess's Explorer. Michael and Maria had hopped into Tess's car with Kyle, while Iz and Alex took the back seat of the Jeep. Conversation lagged as Max and Liz were lost in thought. Once again, Isabel tried to probe for the reason.

"Is something wrong, Max?" Isabel asked. "You're awfully quiet."

There was no answer for a moment. "Iz, I'm not sure what's going on. I'm only telling you this because I might need your help covering for me in the next day or two. Liz and I shared a dream last night. I mean we had the exact same dream. We talked to each other in it, and to her grandmother, who told us some strange things."

"Max, are you saying Liz's grandmother dreamwalked you?"

"It wasn't like that," Liz explained. "I mean, we knew right away that she had brought us to her. She was trying to explain something about a journey, but it didn't make much sense."

"So what are you supposed to do?" Alex wondered.

"Look, she said something about how we have to be sleeping together to see her, so . . . ."

"What?" Alex and Isabel gasped together.

"No, no," blurted Max. "Not like that. Just be together, sleeping. Something about our combined force . . . I don't know. We want to try it one more time to see if this was for real or not. That's why I might need you, Iz."

Alex shot Isabel a skeptical look, but kept quiet. He'd been skeptical before. He'd been wrong every time.

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

Max dropped Alex off at his house and headed toward home.

"Why are we going home first, Max?" asked a puzzled Isabel. "Shouldn't we drop Liz off next?"

"Liz and I have a few things to talk about," Max said quietly.

Isabel opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. Whatever had happened to Max and Liz, it had shaken them up. Perhaps they really did need to talk.

When they pulled up in front of their home, Isabel hopped out and reached for her gear. Philip Evans stood in the doorway. "Max! Where are you going? I need to talk to you."

"Gotta take Liz home. Back soon." He waved and backed out of the driveway, leaving his frowning father watching after them. They drove in silence to the Crashdown and Max parked the car. They sat for a minute, neither one making a move to get out of the car.

"Max, what are you thinking?" asked Liz quietly.

Max thought for a moment and turned to her. "I don't know. I really don't. But I do know that two people don't have the exact same dream like that. It wasn't just a coincidence. Something did happen last night. We just have to find out if it's going to lead to something more."

Liz's eyes held his, offering reassurance. "Max, if there is anything to what my grandmother said last night, we need to be prepared. She said it would be difficult, and that everything depended on our commitment to each other." She hesitated as she planned her words carefully. "Nothing in this world is more important to me than you are. I could no more be without you now than I could separate from my own body. We are one, Max, and I will love you and support you always. If this turns out to be real, I'm ready. But if you have any doubts, I'll understand."

Max gazed at Liz, mesmerized by the depth of feeling he could read there, stunned once again that he had somehow inspired this devotion from the person he loved more than anything, more than himself. He reached up and let his fingers comb through her curtain of hair, bringing his hand to rest along her jaw line. "Liz, I have always wanted the truth. I have always wanted you. If this is a way I can have both, nothing can stop me."

He raised her face to his and kissed her, their lips and hearts melting together, a promise spoken as clearly as any words, and more binding, for words are often without substance, but the bond exchanged between the two at this moment was undeniable truth.

The two young lovers held each other for a long time, cherishing this peaceful time together. When they pulled apart at last, Max helped Liz with her gear and walked her to the door. "I'll do everything I can to get back over here later tonight. If I can't, we'll try again tomorrow night, okay?"

Liz nodded. "But either way, Max, let's spend some time at the library tomorrow. You know, researching."

Max gave Liz one more quick kiss, hating to leave her. He looked back at her from the car one last time and sped away. His mind was working out ways to get away from home tonight so he and Liz could find out if Grandma Claudia would contact them again. He was still working on the problem when he entered the kitchen.

"There you are! Where have you been all this time? I told you I wanted to talk to you." Max's father was obviously annoyed. Max felt annoyed, too, his train of thought suddenly disrupted.

"I told you. I took Liz home. What's so important?"

Philip Evans let that one pass. They both knew that Liz Parker lived fairly close by, but he didn't want to embarrass Max by pressing the point.

"I got a call today from Greg Austin over near Chaco Canyon. It turns out that Liz's grandmother, Claudia Parker, had a codicil to her will that was somehow overlooked at the original reading. Greg was her lawyer and is feeling pretty embarrassed about the mix-up."

Max stiffened. This was the second major encounter with the memory of Liz's grandmother in 24 hours. This, too, was not likely to be a coincidence. "Why would he call you about that?"

Philip Evans took a long look at his son. "Apparently, you're in it."


Part 5

Liz dragged her camping gear awkwardly through the back door and shut it behind her. She could hear the buzz of customers out front in the restaurant and didn't want to get sucked into working tonight. She was tired and had too much to think about. She stowed her sleeping bag in the storage room and began climbing the stairs with her duffle bag. With the radar of a practiced parent, Jeff Parker appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Here, let me help you with that." He ran down the steps and took the heavy bag from Liz.

"Thanks, Dad."

"Liz, I need to talk to you about something, if you have some time." Liz noticed that her father looked faintly nervous, so she shrugged off her tiredness.

"Sure. What's up?"

Mr. Parker set the bag down in the hallway and turned toward Liz. "Let's sit down, honey."

"What's wrong, Dad?"

"Nothing, really, but . . . . Do you ever remember meeting Greg Austin? Your grandmother's lawyer? He stopped by our table once when we were out to dinner with your grandmother over in Chaco Canyon a couple of years back."

"Vaguely," Liz replied, wondering what this had to do with her and why it made her father nervous.

"Well, he called today. Evidently, there was a codicil to your grandmother's will that somehow was not dealt with at the reading of the will. He really doesn't even remember drawing it up for her, so he's quite embarrassed, but a law clerk in his firm found it sealed in her file and brought it to Greg's attention. We're going to have to go to Chaco Canyon again."

"We?" asked Liz. "I wouldn't mind the trip, but why do I have to go?"

"That's the strange part about it, Liz. You are mentioned in that codicil." He paused, and Liz could tell something else was coming. "And so is Max."

"Max! Grandma didn't even know Max!" Liz was stunned. There were too many odd things going on that had to do with her grandmother.

"That's what I thought." Mr. Parker fidgeted for a moment and then looked hard at Liz. "I know you are very big on privacy, Liz, but I think it's time you told me everything you know about Max."

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

Max's phone rang. "Hello?"

"Max, it's Liz, " Liz whispered into her receiver. "Something really strange is going on."

"If you're talking about your grandmother's will, that lawyer called my dad today. Why would I be in her will? She didn't even know me."

"Remember what she told us, Max? She said she knew about you before I did. She also said to follow the signs she would leave for us. This has got to be one of those signs. But Max, now my dad wants to know all about you. He's acting really weird. Almost nervous."

"What did you tell him?"

"Just the usual stuff, Max, but it obviously didn't satisfy him. Something is really bugging him."

"Liz, we're supposed to meet with this guy on Monday. As minors, we need an adult with us. My dad's tied up in court, so either I have to go with you, or my mom has to come."

"My dad's talking about taking us over there. Not even my mom is going."

"Everyone here is pretty keyed up. I don't think there is any way for me to get out of here tonight. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, I know. Here, too. But we'll meet at the library tomorrow, right? About 2:00?"

"Okay. And Liz?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you. I wish we could be together tonight."

"Me, too. It'll be hard to sleep without you." There was a long silence. Neither had anything more to say but they didn't want to hang up either.

"Max!" yelled Mr. Evans. "Come in here a minute."

"Gotta go, Liz"

"Okay, bye. Love you."

The connection was broken, and Max felt an emptiness inside. Damn being 17 and having so little control over your life!

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

An hour and three phone calls later, the Evanses and Parkers had agreed that Jeff Parker would take Liz and Max to Chaco Canyon on Monday, leaving in the wee hours in order to arrive in time for their 2:00 p.m. meeting. They would meet with the lawyer, camp in the Chaco Canyon National Park for the night, and do some exploring the next day. They'd return on Wednesday.

Instead of being angry about Max missing work, Milton was enthused. "Chaco Canyon is a great place to visit, Max," he beamed. "There are lots of Anasazi relics there, and you know, there are several mysteries surrounding that tribe. Many people believe it has to do with alien visitation. You should look into that before you go."

Max was stunned. Another Anasazi reference--and an alien connection? This was all getting too weird. "Well, actually, I was thinking of doing some reading at the library."

"Excellent! Have a great time. Come tell me what you thought about it when you get back."

Max left and went to meet Liz at the library. She was sitting on the front steps when he pulled up. She jumped up and ran to greet him. Before a word could be spoken, she had her arms around his neck and pulled him into her embrace.

"I missed you last night," she said softly. "I didn't sleep well at all."

"Neither did I," said Max, resting his forehead against hers. "There are so many questions in my mind. I needed you there. You make me feel at peace."

She smiled up at him and lifted her lips to his, drawing him into a tender kiss. "At least we get to take a trip together!"

"Yeah. You, me, and your dad. Very romantic."

"At least we'll be together," she chided him. They linked hands and walked into the library.

The reference librarian was pleased to see two young people so motivated about their research. She gladly found books and maps for them, offering suggestions for the best sources. They read voraciously. Sitting on opposite sides of a reading table, they sorted through descriptions of Anasazi life, pictures of the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde in Colorado and of the ruins at Chaco Canyon, and maps of the villages. As Liz leafed through a book about their rituals and mythology, she gasped. Max looked up and was chilled by her frozen stare. He rose and walked around the table, unnerved by the look on Liz's face. As he approached her, his eyes dropped to the page in front of her.

There was the spiral symbol from the cave, from Isabel's necklace, and, evidently, from an Anasazi rock painting.


Part 6

"Liz, it's the symbol from the cave and the pendant! What do they say the symbol means?"

"They aren't really sure. They think it might be linked to the passage of time or a ritual calendar based on the sun and solstices. They're just guessing, though. Max, what if your people were there, even back 800 years!"

"Let's copy some of these pages and get out of here. I need some air," suggested Max. They selected some pictures and historical timelines to copy and thanked the librarian.

Max drove out on the old highway, his mind spinning with the possibilities connected with that symbol's existence 800 years ago. He pulled up under some trees, killed the engine, and sighed. Liz touched his arm lightly.

"We'll figure this out, Max. Remember, we have help."

He turned toward Liz. "Liz, we don't know where this will lead. Are you sure you want to go through with this? We may learn things we didn't want to know. Sometimes I can't believe I've gotten you into all this."

"Don't sell me short, Max," Liz warned. Then she brightened. "Let's make a pact. You quit asking me if I'm sure about seeing this through with you, and I'll make sure you're "at peace" whenever possible. Deal?"

Max gave her one of his half-smiles. "That's a deal."

"Well, then, we'd better head back. We've got to pack up our stuff. You know, we're leaving around 4:00 a.m."

"Terrific," groaned Max, and they headed back to the Crashdown.

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

As Liz hopped out of the Jeep, she came around to give Max a kiss. At first, she leaned in to kiss him gently, but as soon as Max responded, they found themselves clinging to each other. They were about to embark on a journey to the unknown, literally, and all they were sure of was each other. Their kiss turned urgent and Max turned in his seat to pull Liz closer.

"Liz!" yelled Jeff Parker from the restaurant doorway. Max and Liz jumped apart, breathing heavily and embarrassed by Mr. Parker's unceremonious interruption. "Kids, sorry to break up the fun." He looked at Max pointedly, causing Max to turn a vibrant shade of pink. Liz bit her lip to keep from giggling. "But we need to get our plan straight. I've talked to your dad, Max, and since we are leaving so early, we thought it would be easier for you to bunk here tonight. In the guest room." Another pointed look. "That way, we won't disturb so many people getting out in the morning. That okay with you?"

"Uh, sure, Mr. Parker. I'll just go pack up my gear and be back later."

"Good. See you then. Liz, let's go." He steered Liz toward the door. She turned and gave Max a small wave. Dads are so unsubtle, she thought.

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

Late that night, Max heard someone open the door to the Parker's guest room. He pretended to be asleep. He didn't want to talk to either of Liz's parents right now. He'd been thinking of Liz and since he couldn't have the real thing, at the very least he didn't want his daydreaming disturbed.

"Max," came Liz's whisper.

"Liz!" came Max's stage-whispered retort. "Are you crazy? Get out of here! Do you want to get busted for good?"

"My folks are sound asleep, and this room is as far from theirs as you can get on this floor. I just wanted to spend a little time alone with you before I tried to sleep. I'm excited and nervous all at the same time." Liz lifted the corner of Max's covers and slid in easily, cuddling up to Max as closely as she could.

Having Liz in his arms was always salve for Max's soul. The way she felt, the way she smelled, the way he could feel the love radiate off of her. She was perfect. Perfect for him, at least, and holding her truly did give his soul peace. It had quite a different effect on his body, however. There was nothing peaceful about the way his body reacted to her closeness. He pulled her tightly to him and searched for her mouth. She opened it to him immediately, and he eagerly entered, tasting her, exploring her, losing himself in her. Soon his hands began to explore, sliding up under her short-cropped PJs to stroke the milky smooth skin underneath. He pressed her to him, letting his hips move against hers.

Liz was receptive to his every touch. She moved against him, bringing her hands up between them to lift his t-shirt and caress his powerful chest.

"God, Liz. I love you so much! This is heaven and hell all at once."

"This is not hell. Trust me," Liz breathed in his ear.

"It is when I have to send you away. Which I do." He pushed her firmly from him, a harsh growl escaping his lips.

"Why must you always push me away?" complained Liz. "This is what we want. What we need. I wish you would accept it."

"We've had this conversation before, Liz. Don't do this to me." His eyes and voice were pleading with her now. "One of these times, I won't be able to stop and I will hate myself for the rest of my life if it turns out badly. This will happen when I know you are safe." He kissed her gently. "There's no way we will just sleep together tonight. Besides, this is your parents' house and I think we've created enough distraction to discourage your grandmother from coming, so you'd better get back to your room."

"You're frustrating me, Evans. You know that, don't you?"

"I define frustration, Parker. You'll find no sympathy here."

Liz pouted as she moved reluctantly out of the room. "You'll be sorry, Max Evans."

He grimaced. "I already am."

****************
Over the course of the nine-hour drive from Roswell to Chaco Canyon, they speculated about what could be in this will that included Max and Liz. The two teens avoided any mention of the Anasazi, knowing that Liz's dad had no reason to think there was a link with the ancient tribe. However, he looked uncomfortable, anxious, and he found it hard to act natural around Max. He wished they could have made this trip without him. There were some things that were just meant for family.

They took two-hour shifts driving. As they crossed from Roswell, in the southeastern part of New Mexico, and proceeded toward Chaco Canyon in the northwestern part of the state, the topography changed from flat to rolling. However, it was still a desert environment, with few trees and plenty of rock. It didn't look like a place where a relatively advanced and sophisticated culture had thrived.

It was Liz who was at the wheel as they pulled up in front of Greg Austin's law office. "Max, Dad, we're here." Liz nudged the two sleeping men, her dad snoozing against the passenger window, Max sprawled on the back seat. As they awoke, Mr. Austin emerged from his office to greet them.

"Right on time. Come on in!" He showed them into a modest but beautifully appointed office with leather furniture, plush carpeting, and tasteful artwork. They moved through the waiting area to his private office. Bookshelves lined the walls and green plants gave it a feeling of warmth. It was the quintessential office for a successful lawyer.

Jeff introduced Liz and Max and noticed Greg studying both of them.

"I must apologize again, Jeff. I can't understand how I could forget about a thing like this. I swear, when that law student brought me this file and asked why a sealed document was still in it, I felt like a damn fool."

He offered them seats and drinks, and then began. "Claudia Parker was one of the most interesting women I've ever known. There wasn't a time when she wasn't tackling some new adventure or excited about a new find. She was always grabbing life by the tail. You must have had an interesting childhood, Jeff," laughed Mr. Austin.

Jeff Parker was looking pale.

"Are you okay, Dad?"

"Sure, sure. I'm fine. Just tired from the drive. Could we just read the codicil?"

"Well, of course," apologized Mr. Austin. "Let's get to it."

Greg Austin began to read and the three faces in front of him turned from curious to amazed and confused. They left the office somewhat dazed.

"I don't understand," muttered Jeff. "She leaves the contents of a safe-deposit box to Liz, and the key to the box to Max? I just don't understand."

Liz and Max held hands tightly as they climbed into the back seat together. Jeff Parker didn't even notice. He prayed that they weren't going to find in that box what he feared might be hidden there.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:37:31 AM
Part 7

It was only 3:30 p.m. and the bank was open until 5:00. Jeff couldn't decide whether he wanted to find out what was in that box now, or put it off until tomorrow.

"Can we go now, Dad?" Liz asked eagerly.

Jeff looked at her. "Liz, can I talk to you--privately? I'm sorry, Max. Family business."

Max nodded as Liz climbed out of the car. "Dad, what is it?" Jeff led Liz a short distance from the car.

"Liz, I'm not sure Max should be coming along. This is a family matter, and although I don't know what's in the box, I have an uncomfortable feeling it might be something we want to keep in the family."

"Dad, what do you think is in there, anyway? You've looked nervous ever since you told me about this codicil. Something about this is upsetting you."

"Trust me, Liz. For just a while. This is family business."

"I don't want to get into this now, Dad, or shock you or anything, but you may as well know that I consider Max family. Don't give me that patronizing look, Dad! I mean it. He is not just a boyfriend. We have a bond that even I can't explain. Believe me, he's not going away. There won't be another boyfriend next year. He's the one."

"Liz, you're only 17. Besides, what if there is something in there that will make him change his mind about you?"

Liz softened. She knew it was unreasonable to think her dad could understand this relationship. She barely understood it. She gave him a hug.

"It's a chance I'm willing to take, Dad. I think that's my decision, don't you?"

Jeff shrugged. He'd seen them together enough to know that Liz believed what she said. He doubted it was true, but there would be no convincing her.

"Okay, honey. I just don't want you to get hurt."

"It'll be okay, Dad. Have some faith in me."

"It's not you I'm worried about."

They walked back toward the car. Liz could see Max searching her face for clues. She knew he already felt like a fifth wheel; this little scene didn't help. Liz flashed him a reassuring smile and saw him relax . . . a little.

"It's off to the bank," said Mr. Parker, false confidence undermining his attempt at casualness. He backed the car out and headed toward the bank.

When they arrived, the vault guard asked for identification. Jeff's name was also on the safe-deposit box with just these circumstances in mind. His mother had told him she didn't want the contents tied up in court if anything happened to her. He never asked her what was in it; he just didn't think it was any of his business. Since then, he'd even forgotten it existed.

He signed in and they entered the vault. When they approached the wall of boxes, the guard turned to Jeff with the bank's key in hand and waited expectantly. Jeff looked over at Max and stepped aside. Max was the one with the key, much as that confused him. Max understood how awkward this was for Liz's father, but they were obliged to fulfill the stipulations of the codicil, so he stepped forward and he and the guard unlocked the box from its slot. The guard then led them to a small room and set the box on the ledge.
"Just come out whenever you're ready," he said, and closed the door as he left.

Jeff, Liz, and Max stared at the box, each lost in thought. Max was nervous and wary, finding it hard to imagine what it was that Claudia Parker had left for them. Liz was eager; there was a journey to begin--one that might bring her even closer to Max. She didn't dare contemplate any other outcome. Jeff was scared. He prayed this would not change what he had so jealously preserved all these years.

"The key is mine, but the contents are yours," Max told Liz, pushing the box toward her.
Liz's eyes were wide and her breath was shallow. She could feel the butterflies in her stomach. She reached for the lid and opened the box. Three pairs of eyes stared down.

"Son of a BITCH," muttered Jeff under his breath. He grabbed the contents and fled the room.


Part 8

Liz and Max stared at each other, shocked at Jeff Parker's reaction. In Liz's whole life, she had never heard her father come close to swearing, even once. Max was just confused. He didn't even understand what had been in the box.

"Liz, what happened? It just looked like some books. Why is your father so upset?"

"Those were journals, Max. My grandmother's journals. But what could be in them that Dad not only knows about, but doesn't want us to know?"

They replaced the box with the guard, who gave them a strange look. Obviously, he had seen someone running from the vault. When they stepped from the vestibule and onto the sidewalk, they looked toward the car. They could see a figure bent over the steering wheel, gripping it tightly, head bent.

Liz ran to the car. "Dad! Dad! What's wrong? Are you okay?" Max stood back, ready to jump in, if needed.

Jeff was shaking and wouldn't release the steering wheel. Liz was beginning to get scared. "Max, help me." She gave him a desperate look.

"I want to help, Liz, but I'm not sure what's wrong. What can I do?"

Liz was frantic for an answer to that question, but she didn't have one. "Dad! Can you hear me?"

Jeff looked up from the steering wheel, his face full of pain. "Lizzie. Oh, Lizzie. Why did she do this?"

"Do what, Dad? What's in the books?"

"The end of our lives as we know them."

"Mr. Parker, please. Let me drive. You sit with Liz."

Like a child following a parent's instructions, Jeff meekly moved from the driver's seat and climbed in the back. Liz followed, reaching for his hand as soon as she sat down. The books lay on the front seat. Max looked at them curiously, but didn't dare open one. He headed the car in the direction of the campgrounds, more puzzled than ever about what lay ahead.

Mr. Parker roused himself enough at the entrance to the park to pay for a site. Max took the map from the attendant and nosed the car toward their assigned spot. By the time they reached their site, Jeff was coming out of his shock. "I'm sorry, Lizzie. I didn't mean to scare you. We have some talking to do."

Liz looked at him worriedly, but let it go. They still had to set up the tent, and she figured that probably shouldn't wait until after the talk. From the looks of things, it would be a long one.

An hour later, the Parker's large tent was erected, and they were unpacking the car. Liz had gone to the bathrooms down the path. Max set his gear near the fire pit. Jeff watched him for a moment and walked over.

"Max, I have to ask you something straight out, and I'm afraid I can't be subtle."

Max braced himself. He had no idea what was coming, but returned Mr. Parker's gaze steadily.

"I'll be honest. I told Liz that I thought this was family business. That perhaps you wouldn't be comfortable being a part of it. Frankly, I told her I wasn't comfortable with you being a part of it. You know what she told me? She said you were her family. That you shared a bond. That you were the one."

Max hadn't flinched. He had to give him credit for that.

"I would never approach a boyfriend of Liz's with a speech like this unless it were absolutely necessary, but it is. I need to know, Max, up front, is that how you see it? Because after tonight, I'm afraid your feelings for Liz could change, and I'd like to spare her that, if I could."

Max looked at Mr. Parker. This must be bad. But there was nothing in the universe that could change what Liz and he had. He knew her better than anyone in the world and there were no secrets in her soul, except the ones he'd put there. "Mr. Parker, I'm in love with Liz. I have loved her my whole life. I thank God that she has chosen to return that love. She's right. We do have a bond, so strong that we don't even understand it. Nothing I could learn about Liz now would ever change that. She was telling you the truth. We are forever."

Jeff looked at Max's sincere face. He knew it had cost the boy to be that open. That was probably more words than he'd ever known Max Evans to string together at one time. There was something else, too, for although the words were those of any lovesick boy, there was an intensity, a confidence in the words that made Jeff believe him.

"In that case, Max, get ready for one of the strangest nights of your life. And since we'll be talking most of it, you might as well bring your gear into the tent. I don't suppose I need to worry since I'm sleeping in there with you." He smiled at Max, who, after his brave speech, was feeling suddenly shy and looked down at the ground.

"Yes, sir."

"Max, just call me Jeff. It'll be easier on all of us."

When Liz returned, she watched wide-eyed as her father and Max carried his gear into the tent. When Max emerged, he walked straight for her, took her in his arms and kissed her. "Max! My dad is right inside!"

"I think he'd be alright with it, Liz. We had a talk."

"Oh really? About you and me? Like what?"

"No need to repeat it. Let's just say, I think he's starting to believe we're for real." With that, he kissed her again, tenderly, longingly. A forever kiss.


Part 9

They were all seated cross-legged in the tent, a lantern in the center. Max and Liz waited for Jeff to speak.

"I don't even know how to begin. I'm afraid you will never believe me, but your grandmother's journals will explain in agonizing detail, I'm sure, so you'll know I'm not just ranting.

"Liz, how much do you know about the Anasazi. Ever studied them in school or anything?"

Liz looked startled. "Uh, yeah, just recently, actually."

"Well then, you know that they originally lived in Colorado and built a great civilization from even before A.D. 500 to around A.D. 1300, when they mysteriously abandoned their homes and for all intents and purposes disappeared."

Max and Liz nodded, encouraging him to continue.

"They were developing at a similar pace to parallel tribes for centuries. However, history books tell us that around A.D. 800, their technology and culture spurted ahead of everyone else. They thrived in every way until their disappearance. Historians have been baffled about that ever since, and there are a couple of hypotheses about what really happened."

He paused, afraid to continue. Max and Liz were listening intently to his every word.

"The fact is, your grandmother knew what really happened. She knew because . . . ."

He searched their faces. How could he say this without sounding like a raving lunatic?

"Your grandmother and I, and you, Liz, are descended from the Anasazi. At least from the ones who had control after A.D. 800. They were in control because they possessed advanced technology, some of which was eventually shared with the original natives. The technology originated with another people, people who came as visitors and stayed to blend with the original population. What I'm having great difficulty telling you, though, is the nature of these visitors." He braced for the reaction. "They were . . . extraterrestrial."

He watched the emotions flitting across their faces. Confusion, shock, surprise. But he could never have been prepared for what he saw next. Liz's face didn't show revulsion or disbelief. She had the same expression on her face as the day she got a kitten for her birthday. She looked pleased. Amazed, but pleased. Max looked incredulous, a hint of a smile tugging at his mouth.

"You are telling me," Liz stuttered, "that we are descended from aliens? And you've known this all your life? And Grandma knew it? And you never said anything?"

"You mean you believe me?" He was shocked. How could she accept this so easily?

Liz started to laugh. She looked at Max, who was smiling broadly. "Oh my God, Max. Are you hearing this? Can you believe this?"

For a moment, the thought crossed Jeff's mind that they were mocking him, but there was genuine delight on Liz's face, and he was extremely confused.

"I don't understand your reaction. Why does this please you? I have spent my life keeping this from you, Liz. I never wanted you to know, and you act as if I've given you a gift."

"Dad, you have. This is the most wonderful thing you could have ever told me! But why did you want to keep it a secret?"

"For so many reasons, Liz. First, I never noticed you exhibiting any special powers, so I didn't think you had been affected by it. Second, I didn't want you to think I was crazy. And finally, I didn't want to burden you with this secret. You may not realize it, but there are those who would want to harm you, if they knew."

He saw the meaningful look exchanged between Max and Liz

"Your grandmother and I argued about this more than once. She wanted you to know. She embraced this heritage, but I just wanted you to have a normal life."

Max reached for Liz's hand and they smiled at each other.

"Maybe it's time for you to explain your reaction to this news. I expected Max to take off running and you to be in tears all night."

Liz looked at Max. He nodded slightly, giving her permission to tell her father the truth. What was the point of keeping this secret from someone who was sharing the same one?
He had as much to lose as Max did.

"Dad, I actually believe in aliens. And a few things have happened to me that I didn't understand. This helps explain some of these unusual experiences, so I feel better about them."

This did not explain her reaction, and he knew there was a lot more to this story.

"And?" he prompted. "Does this have something to do with Max?"

Liz looked up quickly, startled by the directness of the question from her usually roundabout father.

"Yes. It has everything to do with Max." She smiled, looking down at her hand tucked safely in Max's.

"Max was in the crash, Dad. The '47 crash."

Jeff stared at the two teens skeptically. "Liz, come on. Max, you're 17. I trust you've done the subtraction on that."

Max smiled. He was having déjà vue. "Of course, sir, I mean, Jeff." Liz brought her head up. Since when did Max call her dad "Jeff"? Must have been part of that talk Max mentioned.

"We were in incubation pods that were hidden in the desert, emerging in 1989 as 6-year-olds. You've known my folks a long time. At least, known who they were. Well, if you recall, they adopted two children who were found in the desert in 1989. That was Isabel and me."

"Your sister, Isabel, was also in this crash?"

"Yes. And our friend Michael."

"My cook?" Jeff asked incredulously.

"Yes, but he wasn’t as lucky, getting pushed into the foster system. He's had a much rougher time."

"Liz, how did you find out about this?"

Liz bit her lip. Her father would be upset when he found out she'd been shot that day.

"Dad, don't freak out, but remember that day when there was a shooting at the Crashdown? People thought I'd been shot?"

Jeff nodded, frowning.

"Well, I was."

"What!?" gasped Jeff. "Liz, you didn't tell me? Why didn't we see it?"

Even as he asked, he knew the answer. He looked at Max, tears threatening to fall. "You saved her, didn't you? You saved my little girl."

Max looked at his lap, then straightened. "Yes. I couldn't let her die. I just couldn't stand by and watch Liz die." He squeezed her hand, looking at her with undisguised love.

"And that's when you learned his secret," Jeff whispered, turning his attention back to Liz.

Liz smiled. "Our bond, our connection, was instantaneous. I think there was always something there, but Max was so cautious, always blending into the background for survival, that I didn't let myself notice for a long time. Once we connected, there was no denying it, even though he tried." She grinned at Max, playfully slapping at his arm.

"Why?" asked Jeff.

So they began to explain. For hours, they talked about what had happened to Max, Isabel, and Michael in the last year. They told her dad about their "powers," about Tess and her mind games, about Isabel and the dreamwalking, about Pierce and how he had tortured Max and how Michael had killed him without realizing what he was doing. They told him about the orbs (finally explaining what really happened the night they spent in the desert, but leaving out some of the details!), Topolsky, and how Valenti protected them in the end. They described Maria's initial reaction with laughter, and gave Alex his due, explaining how he had helped from the beginning on blind faith until the truth came out. Then they told how Kyle had been shot and how Max had healed him, earning the sheriff's unquestioning loyalty. They told of the hologram in the pod chamber and how it took another alien, Josh, dreamwalking Isabel, to resolve their conflicts between what they interpreted as their mandatory destiny versus what their hearts were telling them. Finally, they shared the nightmare of Liz's kidnapping and rescue, and how that led to Max's mom learning the truth about her children.

They felt drained when they had finished, and Jeff looked as though he'd been lobotomized. He was swimming in horrifying images and unending questions. He couldn't comprehend what these kids had been through, the danger they had faced, and how alone they must have felt. He felt angry that they hadn't come to him, terrified at the harm they had suffered or barely escaped, and grateful for his daughter's life and the love he could now see clearly between his daughter and her devoted boyfriend.

"What you've done tonight, Dad, is remove the last barrier for Max and me. Wondering if we are compatible as human and alien. Now we know we can have a life together."

A still-stunned Jeff looked at them, trying to sort out everything he'd been told and everything he was feeling. "But how do you know you are from the same alien race?"

Silence filled the tent.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:38:46 AM
Part 10

Liz looked stricken. This was not a possibility that had even crossed their minds. The irony! Could she finally have evidence that humans and the descendants of the alien-Anasazi were compatible, only to learn that she and Max might be different in still another way? Instead of her being part alien solving their problems, it had only complicated them.

Max, too, looked shocked. Hadn't they been through enough? What would it take to finally have the confidence to begin their life together? This was more than he could cope with right now. Suddenly, he was exhausted.

Jeff was struck by the anguish he read on their faces. Their feelings for each other were extraordinarily deep and strong. Here was yet more evidence that this was not a teen romance. This was a binding love that had already weathered terrible adversity, obstacles unheard of to any ordinary couple. He was moved as he saw Max reach for Liz and Liz fall into his arms with a wrenching sob.

"Max!" she cried into his shoulder.

"Liz, we don't know the truth yet. But we'll find it. I swear to you, we'll find it."

As they held each other, Jeff rose, surprising himself with his willingness to give them this time alone together. The rules were going to have to be a little different for them, he realized. Not acknowledging that would be hiding his head in the sand.

He took a long walk, marveling at how his mother had gotten her way after all. Somehow she knew, even before she died, that Max and Liz needed these answers. How did she see that when he didn't, even being with them every day? She was always very intuitive, he remembered. She always knew when there was something he wasn't telling her, something bothering him. And she had respected his wishes regarding telling Liz the truth, at least in life. I guess she knew they were out of time, he thought. Where were they supposed to go from here?

When he returned to the tent, he opened the flap tentatively, not wanting to intrude on a private moment. What he saw just brought home again all that he had been feeling. There in front of him were the sleeping forms of Liz and Max, still holding each other as if afraid to ever let go. Both of Max's arms were wrapped around Liz, who was snuggled close, her head nestled under his chin, one leg bent on top of his. Jeff would have found this sight disturbing yesterday. Now it seemed perfectly natural. He couldn't deny them this comfort.

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

"Honeybear, Max, Jeffrey, it's time for us to talk."

Max and Liz responded immediately. They had almost expected this visit. Jeff was confused. "What's happening? I must be dreaming."

Liz smiled at him. "You're not dreaming, Dad. Grandma is really here. With everything we told you tonight, I guess we left out the most recent development. Grandma has come to us once before and told us that she would come to guide us on a journey. We weren't sure what she meant, though. Max and I didn't even know if we had just somehow had the same dream, for some strange reason. But she's come again, so it must be real!"

"Who's us? I don't remember this."

Liz hesitated. She wasn't sure how her Dad would take this. "She came to Max and me on the campout last weekend. She told us our combined force when we are together makes this possible, but there are too many distractions when we're awake, so we must be sleeping."

"You were sleeping together last weekend?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"Nothing bad, Dad, just sleeping, like now."

"I guess that explains why you look so comfortable like that." He threw a pointed look at Max, but said nothing more.

"Loosen up, Jeff," interjected his mother. "I'm sure you've figured out this is much bigger than teen hormones. You all had a very emotional evening. I knew it would be hard. For all of you. I need to know if you are ready to proceed now. Max, Liz, I know you want answers, and I'll help you find them, but I told you this wouldn't be easy. This is only the beginning. You have to be sure. And Jeff, are you willing to help them? You know you'll have to make decisions that Nancy won't like, but I don't think she's ready to hear the truth. This could be hard for you, too."

Max finally spoke. "Mrs. Parker . . . ."

"Grandma," she reminded him.

Max felt awkward, but started again. "Grandma, why will this be so difficult? Why can't you just tell us the answers?"

"Because you are not just finding out about your and Liz's past. There is a conflict on Voya, Max, and it is spilling over to this world. It revolves around a revered symbol of power that was hidden here hundreds of years ago so that it would not fall into enemy hands. Now the enemy is here, looking for it as well. They are bringing the conflict to Earth and there is no one to stop it but you and Liz. I've done as much research as I could, but I wasn't done yet when I had my stroke. My journals will guide you through what I have learned, but you need to pick it up from there. I don't know if you and Liz finding each other was predestined or the greatest stroke of luck imaginable, but you two have created a force unlike any that has been felt here. It has given us hope that you are the ones to resolve this. I think I know where to find the artifact, but until it is retrieved and restored to your family, Max, peace cannot come to your planet."

"So you are saying Max and I are the same?" Liz asked hopefully. "That we can be together?"

Grandma Claudia smiled sadly. "I'm not sure, Liz. I think so. But I already know what your roots are. Max, Isabel, Michael, and Tess are something of an unknown. Latecomers, if you will. I suspect there is a strong connection because of what I feel from you both. Your alien ancestors, Liz, are from Voya, as are Max's. But as Max has already learned, he was engineered. He is not the natural product of alien-human contact. The truth is, I don't know if you are compatible or not."

Her heart broke at the disappointment on their faces. They were so young to have to deal with this. She wished she could have prepared them better. If only Jeff had let her work with Liz before this.

"You have a lot of tools at your disposal: My journals, your flashes, and a colleague of mine, Paul Hernandez, who has agreed to help you. And I will visit as much as I can." She winked at Liz, knowing that her son still didn't fully understand the circumstances under which these visits were possible.

"What are 'flashes'?" asked Jeff.

Max looked up quickly and turned to Liz, hoping she would handle that question.

"Dad, remember my saying I'd had experiences I couldn't explain? You said you'd never seen me exhibit any powers, and I sure don't know which ones I might have, but one thing has happened." Liz hesitated. Her poor father! How many more surprises could he absorb?

"Well, when Max and I . . . kiss . . . ." She swallowed nervously. The expression on her father's face told her he wasn't sure he wanted to hear this. "When Max and I kiss, images come into our minds. They could be about the other's emotions or memories or experiences. Once, I actually think I saw the crash. We can't control them very well, but we've learned to block them occasionally. They're so intense that they can be very disruptive if we're not alone or . . . um . . . ."

She looked at Max for help. This was not going well. Her father must think they made out all the time and "intense" had probably been a bad word to use.

Max looked cornered, but gave it a try. "We've learned a lot from the flashes. It helped us find the orbs in the desert that night." That had been one detail they'd left out the first time. "They helped Liz learn to trust me after I saved her at the Crashdown, too. She could see that I would never hurt her." Liz reached for his hand and smiled at him. "We never understood why it was happening to us but not to Michael and Maria or to Isabel and Alex. Michael and Isabel can get the flashes, but not the humans." He looked at Liz. "I guess now we know why."

Jeff shook his head. There was no end to what he was learning tonight. And to think, his daughter had been living with this for a year! How had she functioned? Working at the Crashdown, going to school, and dealing with four aliens in a world of trouble all the time. He looked at Liz with a new respect. He'd always thought she was wonderful, but now he knew how strong she was, too.

"Well?" asked Grandma Claudia. "Are you ready to press on or not?"

Max deferred to Liz. This was really her decision. His search had been ongoing for years. She didn't disappoint him. "I'm ready, Grandma," she said quietly. "Whatever it takes."

"Jeffrey?"

"Well, Mom, I don't see how I can say no this time. You always get your way, don't you?" He shook his head and smiled in resignation.

"I can be a very stubborn woman, Jeffrey. You should know that by now," she smiled back. Her image faded.

"Tomorrow, Chaco Canyon," said Jeff, and the three campers settled back into a deep sleep.


Part 11

The next morning, Max opened his eyes to feel something in his hair. He smiled. It was Liz, running her fingers through his hair. Then he heard paper rustling. He turned over to see Liz thumbing though one of her grandmother's journals. One hand had been idly playing with his hair until he turned to look at her.

"Morning, sleepyhead," she teased him.

Max scanned the tent. "Where's your dad?"

"He went to take a shower. He wants to go check out the ruins in the canyon, and you know, Max? Reading through some of these journal entries, I think there is a link between our finding that relic and this place. You won't believe what my grandmother found out!"

"I want to hear all about it . . . in a few minutes." He pulled a laughing Liz into his arms. "Aren't you going to give me a proper good morning?" he pouted.

"And what do you consider proper?"

"Anything IMproper," he teased back, pulling her on top of him.

"Why, Mr. Evans. What kind of a girl do you think I am?"

"The perfect kind," he answered, and eased her head down toward him. They shared a warm, lingering kiss, enjoying waking up together and knowing they would be together all day.

They heard a rustling in front of the tent, and Liz rolled quickly off of Max. "You two better get dressed. We have a lot to see today," Jeff reminded them as he entered the tent.

Liz grabbed her backpack and turned to Max. "Last one to the bathroom's a rotten egg!" she challenged, as she flew out of the tent.

Max sprang to his feet, swooped up his small bag, and raced down the path after Liz. Jeff stared after them. The weight of the world on their shoulders, but they haven't forgotten how to be kids, he thought. He was glad they could relax a little, but he wasn't very comfortable with the intimacy they shared. He was caught between his acknowledgment of the very unusual situation that had spawned this unique relationship and his natural instincts as a father to keep Liz a child as long as he could. He couldn't protect her forever, and he could tell Max loved her. They were just so young. It kept coming back to that.

After breakfast, they walked toward the Visitors Center. Once inside they glanced through the exhibits, bought a guidebook, and planned what to see. Liz had tucked one of Grandma Claudia's journals in her backpack. "There's a ton of stuff in here about this place. I haven't read it all, but I saw enough to know we might want to refer to it," she explained.

They decided the best way to see the area was to drive the loop, a one-way dirt road around the canyon, off of which were several interesting archaeological sites. At the first stop, Hungo Pavi, a relatively unexcavated site, you could see some of the extraordinary masonry work for which the Anasazi were known. They moved on to the famous Chetro Ketl, a Great House of the Anasazi that covered almost two city blocks. They were impressed with the complexity of the site, with its two parallel walls, sometimes called the "moat," although there was never any water in it. At one time, one side had even boasted a long balcony, commanding an awesome view.

"Just think, Max," Liz mused, leaning back against Max's chest, "my ancestors stood here, looking out over this magnificent view. Grandma's journal says they had 'skywatchers,' people whose job it was just to watch the skies. The brochure says they were watching the movement of the sun and stars to keep track of time, the seasons, and weather. That was true, I'm sure, but I'm betting they were watching the skies for the ships, too. Don't you think?"

"It's possible, I guess. I mean, I always assumed our ship was the first and only one until we met Josh. After that, I assumed our people hadn't visited Earth until 150 years ago. I can't believe it dates back 1000 years."

In the distance was one of the Great Kivas, built atop an underground room and extending several stories high. "Max! Liz! Let's take a look at the kiva. Come on!" shouted Jeff, already heading out across the distance to the huge ceremonial enclosure. They entered the lowest level of the kiva through a large antechamber followed by a small entryway. They saw a large circular room, a stone ledge lining its interior like a continuous shelf. Four seating pits, one in each quadrant, served as foundations for enormous wooden beams that supported the floors above, and between them were raised floor vaults. Other than a raised firebox and the impressive masonry walls, there was nothing else in the room, although they could look up and see that this structure had once gone at least three stories high.

"How in the world did they do this?" marveled Jeff. "It says in the book that they had to haul these massive pieces of wood from up to 50 miles away! And they didn't even use beasts of burden, as far as they can tell."

"Maybe they had a little help," ventured Max. Liz and her father looked at him. They, too, were wondering if this was evidence that the Anasazi's extraterrestrial visitors had improved the local technology.

They got back in the car and moved further around the loop to Pueblo Bonito, another massive, multi-tiered structure, this one with 600 rooms! Once again, they were amazed and impressed by the sheer magnitude of the structures these people were capable of building. They explored, fascinated, until the heat and their grumbling stomachs dictated a break. They decided this was a good time for lunch, so they pulled the cooler out of the trunk and unpacked its contents near the canyon's edge. Liz pulled out Grandma Claudia's journal.

"Dad, Grandma devotes a couple of pages to the Crab Nebula Supernova Petroglyph up at Penasco Blanco. Maybe we should hike over there." She flipped a page. "Max, look!" She held the book up for him to see. There was a sketch of the petroglyph, showing what looked like a sketch of the crab nebula, a semicircle, and . . . a handprint. Max looked up at her, wide-eyed.

"It might not mean anything," he began. "I mean, a handprint isn't that unusual."

"Why are you so interested in a handprint?" asked Jeff.

Max glanced at Liz. He was still not comfortable talking about these things with anyone but the small group he had learned to trust. Accepting Liz as part alien had seemed easy, natural. But somehow it wasn't the same with Jeff. There was no harm in telling him, Max reasoned to himself. He had questions, too.

"It's been important in a few ways, really. First, I saw Tess pass her hand over a spot in the library one night until a glowing handprint appeared on the wall. It allowed her access into the wall, and she pulled that book from our home out of it." Max shuddered at the memory. In a way, that had been the beginning of their worst experiences. "Besides that, we never knew where the chamber was that held the pods until we met Tess," he explained. "But suddenly clues and pieces started to fit, and we just knew where to go. When we got there, I instinctively passed my hand over what looked like solid rock. When I did, a handprint appeared and when I put my hand over it, the rock wall slid open."

He stopped and looked at Liz.

"You should tell him the rest, Max. He should know."

He nodded, looking up at Jeff's bewildered face. "There's one more thing, an unpleasant thing. Nasedo has killed several people in the name of protecting us. He kills by raising the victim's body temperature until they die. It leaves a handprint. A silver handprint."

Max looked down at the ground. It made him feel ashamed, even though he had never done such a thing. "But it can do good, too. When I healed Liz, it left a handprint like that."

"What? Liz, I never noticed that. Where?"

"It's gone now, Dad. It fades with time."

Jeff shook his head once again. "Is there anything else I should know?"

"We're not hiding things, Dad. It's just hard to remember everything."

Jeff nodded, resigned to the fact that he would probably never know everything these two had been through, right under his nose for the last year, and bearing it all alone. It made him sad and proud all at the same time. He raised his eyes, noticing Max reaching for Liz's hand and the way she laced her fingers with his, looking happily into his eyes. You could see something, feel something flow between them whenever they touched. It almost made him jealous, yet it comforted him at the same time. At least they had this to see them through.

He busied himself with the guidebook. "Lizzie, that semicircle on the petroglyph is supposed to be the moon, but I don't think we're gonna see it today. It looks like a 3-hour hike to the north, there and back. We just don't have the time. Besides, it's hotter than blue blazes out here."

The teens nodded in agreement, disappointed, but hot enough not to argue. They gathered their things and headed for the car. Jeff handed Liz the guidebook. "See what else we should be watching for," he suggested.

"Looks like we should stop at Del Arroyo next," she said, and started reading.

As they neared the next stop, Liz looked up from her book. "This is weird," she frowned. You know how the roads around here are all curvy and winding, you know, to get around all the awkward terrain? Well, NASA invented this thing that uses infrared light to see where the original roads were. What they found is incredible!"

"What is it?" asked Jeff, trying to drive and look over at the book at the same time.

"There were four roads, almost 400 miles of roads, that started here at Chaco Canyon and fanned out in different directions. What's amazing is they are perfectly straight. They pay no attention to difficult terrain; they just move like arrows out from here. Do you realize that would have been practically impossible with their technology? Not only that, but they were like 20 to 30 feet wide, with borders and everything! How did they do that?"

Max reached for the book and looked at the picture. It looked impossible, like you would have had to engineer it from the air--not something the Anasazi would have known how to do.

"What if there is something to this, Liz? What if it was our people who brought this technology and helped the Anasazi completely dominate this part of the country?" The thought was at once exciting and unsettling.

The threesome wandered through Del Arroyo, with its unusual T-shaped doors and three-walled kiva, and stopped by Casa Rinconada to complete their circle around the canyon. They were amazed by the scope and intricacy of the buildings they had seen. Evidently, no other tribe had come close to duplicating this engineering. Their thoughts kept returning to what Grandma Claudia had told them. This had been a blended community, a blend of Native Americans and Voyans--Liz's ancestors and keepers of an eternal secret.

As they headed back to the campgrounds, Liz watched out the window. "There!" she pointed. That's about where those roads would have converged. Strange, isn't it?" Max reached over Liz's shoulder from the back seat and took her hand. They both felt it, the pull from this place, as if it were calling out to them.

"What are we feeling, Max?" Liz asked nervously.

"I don't know, Liz. But I think we will be here again."

Jeff listened, his stomach tightening at what might lie ahead for the two of them. He could feel their lives spinning out of his control, and he silently cursed his mother for sharing their mysterious legacy.


Part 12

It was a quiet group sitting around the campfire that night. They'd made supper and cleaned up, and the night had descended quickly, cooling the air to the point where they actually needed jackets.

"Dad, does this symbol mean anything to you?" Liz showed her dad the spiral symbol from the library photocopies.

Jeff stared at the symbol. "It looks familiar, but I can't say why. What is it?"

"We found this in a book about Anasazi mythology, but it matches one on the cave wall at the reservation. Isabel found it on a pendant, too." She avoided mentioning how and where they had come across that pendant.

"Seems to me that when mom doodled, you know, talking on the phone or concentrating on problem, that's what she'd draw. I never asked her what it meant. I thought it was just doodling."

Liz nodded. That's probably what she would have thought, too. She yawned. "I'm tired. I'm gonna turn in. You coming, Max?"

Max glanced in Jeff's direction. "I think I'll watch the stars for a while. You go on."

Liz looked disappointed. She followed Max's eyes and realized Max was trying to make her dad comfortable by keeping some distance between them. "Okay then." She bent toward him. His automatic response was to turn to her, kissing her gently. As always, his body responded immediately, but as his fingers slid around the back of her head to pull her closer, he remembered their audience and pulled back. Liz smiled knowingly. "I love you," she whispered, and turned to walk to the tent.

The two most important men in Liz Parker's life sat in a tense silence. Finally, Max spoke.

"I don't know what to say to convince you that I'm not going to hurt Liz, but I promise you, I would do anything for her, and I'll do my best to keep her safe."

Jeff nodded, touched by Max's sincere words. "I believe you mean that, Max, but I'm wondering if anything can keep either of you safe now. You've been through a lot, I know, and I'm grateful for your intentions, but if you two pursue this, you have no idea what will happen. You're teenagers, barely able to know your own minds, let alone make decisions that will affect you and countless others."

"I can agree with your facts, but not your conclusions. Yes, we're teenagers, but we have seen and experienced and coped with more in the last year than most people do in a lifetime. I finally understand this connection I have always felt with Liz. After spending my life feeling as if I didn't belong anywhere, I've found my home--in Liz. And as for our decisions affecting others, that's exactly why we have to do this. There's a planet self-destructing out there from civil war, and that conflict is spreading to Earth. And somehow, I'm supposed to be responsible for stopping it. If we don't do anything, we let it happen. I'm not afraid of this journey affecting others, I'm counting on it. Liz and I have to do this . . . together.

"Please, Mr. Parker, . . . Jeff, you are the only one who can understand this. We need your help."

Max looked intently at Liz's father. There was a plea in his eyes as he willed Jeff Parker to become their ally.

"You're asking a lot, Max. That's my little girl in there. She means the world to me."

"Me, too," said Max simply.

Inside the tent, Liz smiled happily.

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


"Jeffrey, Liz, Max? We need to talk." Grandma Claudia waited as the three sleeping campers roused themselves.

"Grandma!" exclaimed Liz excitedly. "You're back already!"

"I told you we'd be spending time together, didn't I, little one? We need to talk about what happens next."

"Mom, this is too dangerous for them. You've accomplished your goal. Liz knows the truth. Can't we just leave it at that?"

He already knew the answer, but he couldn't stop trying to protect Liz from . . . from whatever it was that she needed protection from. Not knowing that made this all the more terrifying.

"Jeffrey, like it or not, these two are special. Together they have created a strong force, one that actually has a chance of settling this long conflict and bringing peace to Voya and preventing an escalation here. But I wasn't able to finish solving this puzzle. All I can do is offer clues and guidance along the way. They have a place in history and it can't be denied."

She turned to Max and Liz, who had moved closer together as she talked. Max now sat with his arm wrapped protectively around Liz, and they listened intently to what she was saying. It really did seem intimidating when she talked about them this way.

"You must delve further into the journals, Liz. There's a description of the artifact you two must find. You'll need to go to Mesa Verde in Colorado to find it, though. That's where our people first made contact with the Anasazi, and I'm sure that's where it's hidden. I also think you'll find clues to what happened in the more recent research about the Anasazi's disappearance. It wasn't drought that drove them away; it had to do with our enemies trying to steal the artifact away, knowing it would persuade the population on Voya to support them. They were trying to buy friends among the Anasazi with technology. What they accomplished was to set the Anasazi against each other. Two factions became so ideologically opposed that many fled to start life fresh somewhere else, abandoning much of what they had believed in for centuries. Some died, and some just gave up hope." She shook her head sadly. "I was so close," she gestured with frustration. "Why couldn't I have just finished what I started?"

"How am I supposed to explain sending these two to Colorado to Nancy and the Evanses?" asked Jeff, just picturing Nancy's face at the suggestion.

"You have camping buddies all over this part of the country, Jeffrey. Couldn't you convince one of them to host them for a little while? My colleague, Paul Hernandez, can look after them once they're there. Perhaps one of those Sierra Club excursions to the Cliff Palace would be a good cover."

"Cover? You make it sound like they're spies or cops! Besides, alone? It will still never fly. And I can't go. The restaurant won't run itself."

"Tess." Max spoke quietly, taking them all by surprise. "Tess can make them believe we're going with a group. All she needs is to create a scene for our departure and one for the return."

Three sets of eyes stared at him. This was a totally new concept to both Jeff and Grandma Claudia. Liz nodded. "It'll work. I've seen her do it."

Grandma Claudia smiled. "Well, there you have it. Tess will take care of it."

With that, Grandma Claudia wished them a goodnight and faded away. Without giving it a thought, Max lay down and Liz immediately curled up beside him. Jeff watched the scene and sighed. He didn't know what stand to take on this, but he wasn't going to get into it now. He, too, lay down, and the campers were asleep again within seconds.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:39:36 AM
Part 13

Liz and Max sat in the back seat as Jeff pointed the car toward Roswell. In each lap was one of Grandma Claudia's journals, and they scanned the pages, marveling over the detail that she had pieced together about the Anasazi, the Voyans, the strides they had taken together, and the turmoil that tore them apart.

"Here it is!" Max shifted the journal toward Liz. "There's the description of the artifact."

Liz began to read. "Paul and I have finally finished interviewing the elderly storytellers from the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo tribes. The oral history they retain is remarkable. What is most exciting is that their descriptions of this 'sacred halo' are almost identical. Each tribe has stories about the 'visitors,' but one of the common elements is a shiny headpiece of some kind. As best we can tell, there was an escalating conflict among the visitors, and the 'first ones,' presumably the first of the Voyans, who respected the Anasazi and did their best to blend into their culture, hid the headpiece--perhaps a visor--and when the later arrivals could not find it, they started a bidding war. They offered technology to the more greedy and ambitious of the Anasazi population in exchange for information about where such an item might be found. Their searches became more and more blatant and destructive, until the Anasazi lost hope of maintaining their lives in Colorado and began to move into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.

"The 'halo' is described as a shiny headdress with eyes of a monster and stars shining out from its rim. The best we can make of that is that this was a visor that fit down over the head, probably covered the eyes with lenses of some kind, and had twinkling lights around it. We assume that its function was communication and/or information storage, like a small virtual reality computer. We think it must still be in Mesa Verde at the Cliff Palace, judging from the description of the haste with which it had to be hidden. There was probably no time to take it very far."

Liz looked up at Max. "Well, at least we know what we're looking for now."

Max nodded. So many different emotions were battling for his attention: excitement at the possibility of finding more answers about his past--correction, their past; nervousness at telling the others that he and Liz had to do this alone; fear that this might somehow hurt Liz, something he knew he would give his life to prevent; and love, always love for this brave, beautiful girl who was facing this with him. He reached over and squeezed her hand.

"Any clues as to where we begin? I mean, more specific than the Cliff Palace?"

"Let's keep looking," urged Liz.

Jeff Parker looked in the rearview mirror at the two faces studying his mother's journals. All these years of living with his secret, and now he was terrified he would sacrifice his daughter to it. He had never used any of his powers; he didn't even know if he still could. And Nancy. How would she react if she knew? He felt her out on it one time on a star-gazing campout. He'd asked her if she thought there could be other life out there. She'd said something about maybe at the cellular level or something. She clearly did not embrace the idea that intelligent life existed elsewhere in the universe, let alone in her bed.

Now he was faced with perpetuating a lie, participating in the sham of a hallucinatory school trip, sending his daughter to another state virtually unchaperoned with her boyfriend, and convincing unsuspecting friends in Colorado to help out. All because his dead mother said so. It was ludicrous. Nothing could be more absurd. He laughed.

"What's so funny, Dad?" asked Liz.

"Nothing." How could he even say such a thing out loud?

They pulled into Roswell in the late afternoon. Could it really have been only a couple of days since they left to see Greg Austin? It may as well have been a lifetime ago. They dropped Max off at home, agreeing to meet with the others that evening at the quarry to explain what was happening and what he and Liz needed to do. Liz raised her face to Max and kissed him lightly. It was becoming harder and harder to be apart. It wasn't just the way Liz always felt when she left Max--empty and aching. This was more pressing, more urgent. It was as if she were fighting a strong pull when she left his side, like prying two magnets apart. This was a new sensation. She didn't understand it. Was this a good feeling? A sign of their love growing stronger? Or was it something dangerous?

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

The quarry had become the open-air safe house for the gang's most private conversations. It would be almost impossible for anyone to hear them talking or to get close to them without being seen. It seemed the best place for Max and Liz to describe the details of their trip to their friends.

"So, what's the big news?" asked Maria. She hated when someone had a secret, and she was anxious to have it revealed.

Liz glanced at Max. "You start," she said nervously.

Max took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Give, Maxwell," ordered Michael impatiently. "You got us all out here. What's so important?"

"It turns out that Liz's grandmother left us her journals. Although her published book was about the Navajo, that was just a sidelight compared to what she learned about the Anasazi."

"This is what you wanted to tell us? You're giving us a history lesson on people that don't even exist anymore?" Michael erupted. "I thought this had something to do with us--our past."

"It does, Michael," Max explained, a certain note of condescension in his voice. "We learned that our people, Voyans, actually made contact with the Anasazi almost 1000 years ago. They actually blended the two cultures to a certain extent, the Voyans giving the Anasazi a little leg up in the technology department, but pretty much just learning to live as the Native Americans did."

"Max," cried Isabel. "Are you saying that there have been descendants of a hybrid race for centuries?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying," said Max. "And what's really incredible is . . . Liz is one of them."

There was not a sound. Not from the teens, not from the birds, not so much as a pebble rolled underfoot. There was absolute, terrifying silence.


Part 14

Once the shocked teens shook off their inability to move or speak, they pelted Max and Liz with questions. How did they know this was true? Did this mean Liz suddenly had powers? Did that mean she and Max were compatible? Is Mr. Parker an alien? What are his powers? How come Josh didn't tell them this? Was there any translation for the cave symbols?

Alex let loose with one of his piercing whistles to stop the barrage. "They can't even understand what we're saying! Let's slow down."

One by one, they asked their questions, and Max and Liz fielded them as best they could.

"We don’t have all the answers yet," Liz insisted. She and Max explained everything they had learned, including their conversations with Grandma Claudia. They tried to play down their "special place in history" and their "combined force." They instinctively knew this would infuriate Michael, hurt Tess, and annoy Isabel. But that made it harder to broach the subject of their next step.

"My dad is arranging for us to go to Mesa Verde this weekend. We'll explore the Cliff Palace, search for the sacred artifact, and try to put the last pieces of Grandma's puzzle into place," explained Liz.

"Alone." Kyle's voice dripped with sarcasm. "Your parents are letting you go to Colorado with Max alone. Give me a break, Liz. When we were dating, I wasn't even allowed to visit you in your room."

"Yeah, well . . . " Liz began. "My dad is sending us to stay with camping friends of his, and then a friend of Grandma's will be with us at the Cliff Palace."

"I'm coming with you," announced Michael.

"No, Michael. Not this time." Max's voice was calm, but confident. He was the leader now.

"Look, Maxwell, we have been in this together since we were little. You're always on my case for going off alone, and now you're planning to do exactly the same thing!" His eyes moved to Liz and his voice became low and intense with barely disguised resentment. "Except you won't be alone, will you, Max?"

His unspoken accusation weighed heavily in the air. The others shifted uncomfortably. Maria took Michael's hand, but he pulled away from her. He didn't want to be comforted or appeased. He wanted to search for his past.

"We're not doing this lightly, Michael. We've thought this through, and we've been advised by Liz's grandmother. She's made it clear that this is our journey. This connection we have has always been strong. Now we finally know why. We must do this together, just us."

"Max, this affects us all." Isabel appealed to her brother's sense of fairness. No one knew better than he did how much Michael wanted answers. "If there are answers out there, they belong to all four of us. We should be a part of it."

"If it were up to me," Liz spoke up, "we would all go together. We don't really know what we're doing, and it could get scary. But my grandmother somehow knows that this is something Max and I have to do. We felt such a strong pull in Chaco Canyon . . . as if something were calling to us." She sighed in frustration. How could she explain this so it made sense to the others?

"So we're supposed to sit here in Roswell and just wait. Is that it? Do nothing?" Michael was the world's worst at doing nothing, and he knew it.

"Just this once, Michael. I promise we will tell you every detail of what we learn or find. We don't want to leave anyone out. And I will need your help on Friday. We still haven't told my dad or Liz's mom what's going on. Since we have no idea what will happen once we get there, we're going to keep the secret a little while longer.

"Tess, we sort of need your help with this one. Can you make them see us leaving on an astronomy club trip from school on Friday? I think they had one last year right before school started, so it should seem very believable."

"I guess so." Tess knew better than to argue with Max. She had less influence on him than anyone. It was ironic, in her view, since she had expected to have considerable influence on him. Now she just had to continue to earn his trust. "You want them to see maybe 15 kids and a bus? I guess a couple of teachers, too. Will all four parents be there?"

"My dad knows already, of course," said Liz. "Max? You're telling your mom everything?"

Max nodded. "Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I think it would be best. Then we have one parent from each household covering for us."

"Yeah, okay," agreed Tess. "Just let me know when."

"Michael, we'll need a ride to the airport."

Michael was quiet, weighing his position on this whole thing. "You know, Max? I'm beginning to think this whole 'leader' thing has gone to your head. Where do you get off making decisions for all of us? This isn't just about you . . . or Liz. It's about us. All of us. So if you think you don't need us, then you can figure out how to get yourself to the airport." He grabbed Maria's hand and pulled her toward Maria's car. Maria looked back apologetically.

"I'll take you," Isabel said quietly, taking hold of the hand Alex had slipped around her waist. "I don't agree with your going alone, but I'll help if you need me."

Max threw her a grateful look, but his eyes turned sad as he watched Maria's car speed off, Michael behind the wheel.

Abruptly, the questions started up again. Were they really going to tell Philip and Nancy when they got back? How long would they be gone? What else was in the journals?

Max squeezed Liz's hand, and once again, the two tried to field the barrage of questions, attempting to satisfy their friends' curiosity and assuage their fears. An onlooker would have immediately sensed that the couple holding hands stood apart from the rest, even though they were physically standing among them. There was a sense of purpose, of unity, a oneness that was unsupported in any tangible detail. It was a state of being that would be noticed by many before their journey was through.

***********

It was the middle of the night and Max was in a deep sleep, enjoying a dream of Liz that he hoped one day would be reality. When a hand touched his shoulder, he came up out of the bed with a shout.

"Isabel! What are you doing? I was sound asleep!"

"I'm sorry, Max, but I have to talk to you."

Max sank back onto the bed and pulled a pillow over his face. In a very muffled and irritated voice, he complained to his sister. "Isabel, why do you always want to talk to me in the middle of the night? Why does everyone always want to talk to me in the middle of the night?"

"I'm sorry, Max, but I just came from a Star Chamber meeting."

At least now she had Max's attention. Much to Alex's chagrin, Josh had spent a great deal of time with Isabel teaching her the intricacies of interacting with the other visitors from around the world in the sleep-state Star Chamber meetings.

"I thought I'd better tell them what you've learned, Max. It affects all of us, you know. And I wasn't even sure if it was true. I mean, Josh never mentioned anything about it. He said Voyans had been visiting here for 150 years, not a thousand and fifty."

"I wish you'd let us finish this first, Iz. Well, what did he say?"

"He was as confused as I was at first. Then some of the older members of the group, not from the hybrid generation, told the whole story. I guess it's something they don't like to talk about because it's not a very flattering part of their history, but they said yes, that there had been contact that long ago. Once things turned sour here with the factions fighting and destroying the Anasazi civilization, the ruling government banned travel to Earth and destroyed launch bays and communications satellites to ensure no one would be tempted to try it again."

Isabel sat down on the edge of Max's bed. Her original adrenalin-induced enthusiasm was wearing off. "It was only 150 years ago that a secret government agency rebuilt those facilities with cutting edge technology. I guess they feared they might have to send their leaders away for safety someday and they wanted to be prepared."

Max sat up. "Thanks, Iz. I guess I'm sort of glad to hear confirmation of all this. It's not that I didn't believe it. It's just that all this has come up so fast and it's all so weird. I felt like I was being pushed along by a tide I couldn't control."

"Yeah, Max, we all know how much you love being out of control," Isabel snickered.

He threw her a brotherly glare. "How do you feel about all this, Iz?"

"I'm okay with it, I think. In a way, it explains a lot. Like why you and Liz are so deeply connected. You know, before, I sort of wondered if there was something wrong with Alex and me because we didn't have the same soulmate thing that you and Liz have, but now I realize it's because we're an alien/human couple, and you're an alien/alien couple. You must be so happy that you and Liz are completely compatible."

Max looked down at the floor. "Maybe not," he whispered sadly.

"What? Why?" asked Isabel, frowning.

"Because Liz is the natural product of humans and aliens. I'm an engineered hybrid. There's no precedent for our particular combination."

Isabel reached over and stroked her brother's back. "How will you ever know then?" she asked softly.

Max looked at her with a sense of despair in his eyes. "I have no idea."

Isabel looked stricken. She knew that Liz was a part of Max now, and that all this alien leader really wanted was a nice, normal, Earthbound life behind a picket fence raising a family with Liz. Her heart went out to him.

"There's something else, Iz."

"What?"

"Ever since we found out about this on Monday, I've felt something pulling me to Liz. I mean almost physically pulling me to her--like magnets. And when we passed this one spot up at Chaco Canyon? We both felt drawn to it. As we passed it, we could actually feel ourselves wanting to stop there. But there was nothing there! Just desert vegetation.

"That must mean something, Max. But what?"

Max fell back against his pillow again. "I don't know, Iz. But I'll tell you one thing. We won't stop until we have answers. I'm tired of not knowing what my role is as a Voyan, not knowing how to help my people, not knowing if I can live my life with Liz."

He pounded his fist into his pillow. "I will find answers, Iz. And when I do, I swear, they will include Liz."

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

A pale moon, ribboned with clouds, adorned the night sky, offering little light along the base of the Cliff Palace. In spite of the deep darkness, two figures made their way toward one of the hundreds of stone rooms carved in the face of the rock.

"I can feel them now. They will be here soon."

"Good," replied the companion. "It's time to have this done."


Part 15

"Mom?" Max scuffed into the kitchen wearing the South Park boxers Isabel had given him for his birthday, telling him those guys were having alien problems, too. "Where's Dad?"

"He just left, honey. He has court again today and needed to do some prep. You didn't say much about your trip, but I noticed you all headed out together last night. Something going on?"

"Yeah, actually, there is." Max poured himself a glass of juice and sat down at the table. "Can you sit for a minute?"

Diane Evans turned to look at her son, a serious expression clouding his face. Was this a Liz problem, a Michael problem, or an alien problem? She wasn’t sure she was prepared to deal with any of them. Still, he didn't look panicked, so that was a good sign.

"What's up?" she asked, joining him at the table.

Max felt drained from all the talking they had done about this last night, but he pushed himself through another litany of what had happened in Chaco Canyon, and what they planned to do next.

"No, Max! Liz? Part alien? And her father? This is unbelievable! We keep wading in deeper and deeper. Is this all real? I mean, how do you know?"

"Believe me, Mom, there is overwhelming evidence. Besides, I feel it. I realize now that this is the bond we have shared. We just never understood it before."

"This sounds dangerous, Max. How can Jeff Parker allow Liz to venture out there like this? That doesn't sound like the father you've described."

"Mom, we have it worked out, but we really need your help here. Mr. Parker is going to arrange for some camping friends of theirs to be our hosts. It's all quite respectable. I think we'll be joining one of those Sierra Club campouts in Mesa Verde, too, with a guide Liz's grandmother worked with. The thing is, for the sake of appearances, Tess is going to make Dad and Mrs. Parker 'see' us going off on an astronomy club outing. There won't be so many questions that way."

Mrs. Evans shook her head. "Max, I hate this lying to your father. Why can't we just tell him? Do you know how hard it is to keep something like this from someone you love and trust?"

Max looked directly at her, conveying the utter absurdity of what she had just said. Did he know what it was like to keep a secret from loved ones, like his mother? Like Liz? How could she even ask him that?

"I'm sorry, Max. Of course you do. I can't believe I said that. I just hate it. I feel like I can't be completely open with him for fear of what might come out."

"Welcome to my world, Mom."

In that instant, Diane Evans understood her son more clearly than she had ever thought possible. Even more than the day she discovered his darkest secret. Suddenly she saw the little boy, wandering naked in the desert with his sister. Even then, from the apparent brink of his existence, he had harbored his secrets. Clinging for support only to Isabel and Michael, never trusting completely in his parents, who showered him with love and attention, he had spent his days learning how not to be noticed, how to blend into the background; fear was his constant companion. How lonely an existence he had led. And what awesome responsibilities he had carried. He had always seemed older than his years, and now that she thought about it, she realized he had always played the role of leader within his tiny family.

Her heart broke for what he had suffered in the last 10 years. Isabel had managed to adjust, to at least participate in the human race. But Max had always held himself apart. Until that day. The day he made a choice to save Liz Parker, the girl of his childhood dreams, his adolescent dreams, and now his almost-adult dreams. She had turned his life around, given him understanding, acceptance, love, and joy. But with all that, she had inadvertently given him even more responsibility. Diane knew her son valued Liz even above himself, and this new discovery about her only added a new and more complicated dimension to their relationship. When would he find peace?

"You know I'll help you however I can, Max. Thank you for trusting me with this."

She stood and leaned over to him, kissing him on the forehead. "I love you, Max Evans. Don't ever forget that."

Max gave her a small smile, and for the first time she could ever remember, he swept her into a strong embrace and said the words, "I love you, too, Mom."

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

The next morning, Philip and Diane Evans and Jeff and Nancy Parker left for the school to see the astronomy club off on their weekend trip. They waved as the dozen or so students climbed aboard a school bus, accompanied by two teacher chaperones. In another part of town, Isabel was driving Max and Liz to the airport where they would board a plane for Durango, Colorado.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:40:29 AM
Part 16

"Well, here we go," smiled Liz, holding tight to Max's hand. The Southwest Airlines puddle-jumper was the smallest plane Liz had ever been on.

"I just hope Tess is convincing at her end," worried Max. The arrangements had gone more smoothly than he had dared hope. Jeff and Diane had worked together to arrange for the flight. The Holbrooks, the Parkers' camping friends, were going to meet them at the airport and take them out to Mesa Verde, where Paul Hernandez was acting as a guide to this weekend's Sierra Club exploration of the Cliff Palace. It was all coming together. Max just hoped they'd find what they were looking for.

Two hours later, they came down the steps of the airplane to hear, "There they are. That must be them. Liz! Liz! Over here!"

They looked around to find a smiling couple approaching them. They were already dressed for a camping expedition themselves. Liz felt a pang of worry.

"Liz, right? And this must be Max." Max and Liz nodded. "How was your flight?"

"Fine, Mrs. Holbrook. Thank you for meeting us. We just have to grab our bags."

"Of course, dear. Mr. Holbrook will show you where and I'll bring the car around. We'll have to squeeze them in. I'm afraid our truck is loaded with our gear at the moment."

"Oh," Liz commented, trying not to look concerned. "Are you coming with us?"

"Oh, I really wish we could, dear, but frankly, we've been over there about a hundred times, and we already had plans to head to the Rockies this weekend, but don't worry. We'll be back Monday to pick you up and take you back to the airport."

Liz and Max smiled in relief and followed Mr. Holbrook to the baggage claim. They stuffed their bags into the truck and started out for Mesa Verde, an hour and a half's drive. They managed to keep the conversation light, talking about the Parkers' most recent expeditions, school, what they would see at the Cliff Palace. They pulled into Mesa Verde National Park just before noon. As they got out of the pickup, a short, wiry man got out of his 4-wheeler and walked toward them.

"John, good to see you. Hello, Josie. Thanks for bringing them. Max? Liz? I'm Paul Hernandez. I was a friend of your grandmother's, Liz. We did quite a bit of work together. She always talked about you so fondly. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Liz liked the man instantly. He had a weathered but kind face and welcoming eyes. She could sense much of her grandmother's enthusiasm for life in his speech and body language. She glanced up at Max and they shook hands. He seemed comfortable with him, too. That would make things easier.

They said their thanks and goodbyes to the Holbrooks and climbed into the car with Mr. Hernandez.

"I'm glad you two came. I have been able to keep up with your situation through your grandmother, Liz."

Both teens jerked their heads toward him in surprise. He chuckled, amused at the effect of his words.

"Yes, I am like you, part Voyan. Also part Hopi and part Mexican. I did research with your grandmother for years, and I miss her very much. I can hear her sometimes at night. We talk about things, sometimes about you."

"You hear her? You don’t see her?" asked Liz, confused.

"Just hear her. Why? Do you see her?"

Liz nodded. "And so does Max. But we have to be together."

"I guess that's what she meant about your combined energy. Perhaps that's why I only hear her. There is still so much we don't know. We learned a lot about what happened to the Anasazi, but our theories are not completely proven, since some of what we've learned is through means we can't share. We weren't sure if we would ever solve the puzzle completely."

He looked at his two fresh-faced passengers. "You must feel a little overwhelmed right now. I'm sorry this has been thrust on you so suddenly. But imagine our surprise when we felt your energy. Claudia was sure something had happened to awaken your Voyan side, Liz, and that's why she hurried to Roswell early that last time. She wanted to find out what was going on with you and see if she could figure out what had changed."

Paul smiled. "Apparently, this young man came into your life."

Max and Liz looked at each other and blushed. Max was not used to people knowing so much about him, and Liz was very private about her love life. The conversation made them both uncomfortable. Paul, however, chose not to notice.

"Before we get to camp, I have to warn you. Having you two join this group is just a little awkward. Most of these people know each other and have had this trip planned for a while. Fortunately, several of them also knew Claudia, so I've told them that you are her granddaughter, Liz, and that you wanted to come see where she had done so much of her work. That will give you immediate acceptance."

"What did you tell them about Max?" Liz asked.

For the first time, she could tell Paul was uncomfortable. "Well, I couldn't very well tell them Claudia's teenaged granddaughter was out here camping alone with her boyfriend. That wouldn't have set well. So, . . . I aged you two a little and told them . . . you were newlyweds."

For the second time, Paul had two sets of startled eyes riveted to his face.

"What?" gasped Max.

"Settle down, now," Paul hastened to explain. "Let me explain why. As I said, this is a very close, you might say interactive crowd. On the one hand, you needed some connection for them to accept you right away. On the other hand, you don't want them spending every minute with you. This way, they'll feel comfortable with you but they'll give you some space, which you'll need if you are going to do any exploring on your own."

It made perfect sense, but married! Liz liked the sound of it, but it took some getting used to. She looked at Max. He was still in shock.

"I've got your tent set up already. The others arrived last night and are already down at the Cliff Palace looking around. This way, we can just drop off your gear, and I'll drive you down there."

"Drive? How far are we from the ruins?" asked Max.

"Morefield is the only campground in the park. Unfortunately for us, it's at the northern edge of the park and the Cliff Palace is at the southern edge. Most folks have their cars here, but I'll be your wheels. Just let me know what you need."

"Where should we start looking?" asked Max. "I mean, are we supposed to just start looking around or what?"

"You may not be able to appreciate this yet, but you two are very special . . . as a couple, I mean. The fact that we even picked up on your energy, force, whatever you want to call it, is remarkable. We aren't aware of anyone else who has generated this level of energy. I don't know if this is because Max is so much more recently from Voya, and the rest of us are very watered down, genetically speaking, but somehow the two of you have combined to create something new. We're hoping that your instincts or combined powers will somehow lead you to the crown."

"Crown? I thought it was a visor." Max didn't much like the word "crown."

"We're not really sure. It seems likely that it's both. As a crown, it would be the symbol for ruling power. As a visor, it may communicate with Voya or it may contain high-level information. We won't know for sure until we find it."

Max turned quickly to look outside. His eyes narrowed. "What was that?" he asked sharply.

Paul eyed him curiously. "Why? What is it, Max?'

"Didn't you feel that?" Max asked. "Something is wrong out there. I feel it."

Paul nodded. "I wondered if you would pick up on it. I noticed it as soon as we arrived last night. I'm afraid . . . ."

"What," Liz prodded, suddenly troubled by an unsettled feeling herself.

"I'm afraid your grandmother and I weren't the only ones to feel you. They know you are here. They've come to stop you."


Part 17

"Who is they?" asked Max and Liz at once.

"Your grandmother has told you a great deal about what we know of the two factions of Anasazi resulting from the Voyan visitors. And I know you have her journals. You're also aware that the conflict is still being fought here, on Earth. If those trying to overthrow the Voyan government get their hands on this thing--a powerful symbol to your people, Max--they may have access to highly sensitive information, not to mention it will give them an emotional, but persuasive argument that they are meant to take over.

"They may or may not know that you are the Voyan leader, Max, but I didn't expect them to find you so soon. This may not be a good idea. I think maybe I should take you back."

"No!" Max looked as though he had even startled himself with the passion of his answer. He lowered his voice. "I can't go back. I finally have a chance to resolve this thing and get some answers about my own life. I have to do this. But take Liz back. She shouldn't be here."

"Max, no!" protested Liz. "I stay with you. Period."

"I'm afraid Liz is right, Max. It has to be both of you. We never detected you alone. It was only when you let Liz in and formed a bond that this became a substantive force to be dealt with. I feel sure it is only together that you can do this."

Max looked into Liz's eyes, searching for any sign of doubt or fear. There was only what he always saw there, mirroring what her soul had always held for him--love, loyalty, commitment. He turned in his seat and cupped her face in his hands. He kissed her gently, and knew. They were in this--together--all the way.



Part 18

Paul showed Max and Liz to their tent, the furthest from the center of camp, no doubt in deference to their "newlywed" status. He gave them an overview of the layout of the area and offered to run them down to the Cliff Palace so they could just look around and get their bearings. They knew there were plenty of people wandering around there, and the troubling feeling they had experienced in the car was gone for the moment.

"I think you'll be safe for now," cautioned Paul as they drove, "but be watchful. I'll be keeping an eye on you, too."

When they arrived, they began to roam in the direction of the large cliff face, a monument to a mysterious civilization from the ancient past. The foreground was dotted with kivas of varying sizes, and the cliff itself was a honeycomb of rooms carved from its face. As they climbed, they were rewarded with a magnificent view of pine-covered hills and gleaming white rock.

Liz turned in a 360-degree circle, arms held wide. "Isn't it magnificent, Max?" She breathed deeply and turned her face to the sun. "Can't you almost feel them here, like in another dimension? Making their tools, raising their kids. This was home to them. Imagine!"

Max was watching her. She was so enthused, so curious. He loved that about her–the way she wanted to know everything, experience everything. She approached the world with the awe of a child and the mind of a scientist. His mouth broke into a half-smile as he watched her taking it all in. When she finally turned to look at him, her face turned wary.

"What are you staring at?"

Max walked toward her, feeling completely happy, sharing her light mood. "The love of my life," he answered, drawing her into his arms. The warmth of their kiss matched the warmth of the bright Colorado sun. In this isolated spot, it was easy to feel the balance of nature, to be a part of it. In this small moment in time, life was good.

The campers reassembled at dinner time around what Liz remembered as a "chuck wagon" from the old TV westerns. Everyone was hungry and the food tasted wonderful. Lots of people congratulated Max and Liz on their marriage, throwing knowing little smiles at them through dinner. It wasn't as odd as Liz expected, being treated as Max's wife. As a matter of fact, it felt completely natural. She beamed up at him, and she could tell he was enjoying it, too. Several people who had known Claudia Parker offered Liz their sympathies and told her stories about her grandmother's escapades over the years. Liz found herself laughing and crying, and Max kept his arm around her, feeling the roller coaster of emotion Liz was experiencing.

After the meal, three men brought out a harmonica, a fiddle, and a guitar. They began playing some hoe-down style music and Max and Liz laughed and clapped to the music as they watched the square dancers in the group swing and turn and shuffle around the camp. Later, the music turned more mellow, and the teens even recognized some fairly recent songs. Soon, just the guitar was playing, and the fiddler began to sing "Amazed."

"Every time our eyes meet
This feeling inside me
Is almost more than I can take."

"Hey, you lovebirds! Get out there and dance!" shouted one of the campers.

Max looked shyly at Liz, but she nodded, and they stood up, turning to hold each other.

"Every time you touch me,
I can feel how much you love me
And it just blows me away."

Soon other couples joined the young "newlyweds" and the cool night was filled with stars and smiles and mellow music.

"I've never been this close to anyone or anything.
I can hear your thoughts, I can see your dreams."

So true, Max thought, as he held Liz in his arms. He really hadn't been this close to anyone before in his life. Their connection was a constant source of surprise and joy to him. He loved the feel of Liz in his arms, her hair swinging over his hands, her arms snaked around his neck as she stroked his hair. He could spend a lifetime absorbing all the love she felt for him. He tightened his arms around her.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked her.

She smiled up at him. "Sometimes I don't think at all when you hold me, Max. I just feel. I wish I could stay in your arms all the time. I feel safe and loved here. I never want to leave."

Max locked eyes with her. "If I had a choice, you never would." He bent to brush his lips against hers, concentrating on every nerve ending, enjoying every electrical jolt that exploded in his body when they kissed. This was what made his life bearable. They sank into a deep, longing kiss.

The song was ending.

"I don't know how you do what you do.
I'm so in love with you.
It just keeps getting better.

"I wanna spend the rest of my life
With you by my side.
Forever and ever.

"Every little thing that you do,
Baby, I'm amazed by you."

As the last notes faded away, Max and Liz became aware of clapping. They looked up to find themselves in the middle of a circle of clapping campers, all smiling at them. They blushed, and Max pulled Liz close, wishing they would all go away.

Paul was among the smiling onlookers, but knew they'd had enough.

"Listen up, folks. Time to call it a night. We'll gather back here at 7:00 a.m.!"

The group began to break up and Paul approached the young couple. "Pretty convincing, I must say," he teased. "But listen, seriously, I know I've put a lot of pressure on you two--about finding the artifact and by putting you in a tent alone." He looked at them meaningfully. "I don't know how to say this to two young people I hardly know, but I had the highest respect for your grandmother, Liz, and she thought the world of you. If you two feel you can't handle this, Max can bunk in with me after everybody settles in. I realize I have put you in an awkward situation, and I don't want to make you uncomfortable. Or, maybe closer to the truth, put you in a position where you'll make a decision you'll regret later."

Liz bit her lip. She wanted Max to stay with her, but she knew exactly what this man was saying.

Max turned to Liz. "I don't like the idea of your being alone, Liz, but I don't want to push you into anything either. This is your decision."

Liz looked at Paul. "I understand what you're saying, Mr. Hernandez, but Max and I really need to be together. For one thing, that's the only way my grandmother can come. For another thing, we've been camping before. We don't . . . we're not . . . what I mean is, we can handle it."

Liz heard Max release a small sigh of relief.

"Okay, kids. I'm in the closest tent, in case you need anything. At the slightest concern, you come get me or just give a holler."

They nodded in agreement and made their way back to the tent.

"Liz, are you sure you're okay with this?" Max asked.

"Max, I thought we had a deal where you were going to quit asking me if I was sure about my decisions. Right?"

He relaxed and smiled. "Oh, yeah. And what did I get in return?"

Liz laid down and opened her arms to him. "I think it was something about keeping you at peace," she grinned.

Max laid down on his side next to Liz, propping his head on his hand. "I love you so much, Liz Parker. I wish you were my wife."

"Max!" Liz breathed. "Oh, Max, I love you, more than I ever thought I could love anyone. You've changed my whole life, you've changed me."

"I wish I could be sure they were changes for the better," Max frowned, not meeting her eyes. "I'm always wondering if I did the right thing."

"Saving me?" Liz asked, surprised.

"No! No, I would do that again in a second. No, what I mean is, letting you in, making you a part of all this."

"Well, as it turns out, I was already a part of it, wasn't I?" Max's eyes lit up. That was true. She had been a part of it all along! And maybe that's why he had felt so close to her all those years. He suddenly felt much better.

"So, what about making me at peace, then?" he asked innocently. Liz pushed him backwards and shifted so she was gazing down at him.

"Well, let's see what we can do about that," she said seriously. She lowered her face to his, keeping contact with his eyes as she hovered right above him, their faces hidden in a curtain of hair. Then, ever so lightly, she began to kiss him, teasing him with her lips and tongue as she left whispers of kisses over his face and lips. She left a trail down his neck and into the V of his shirt, taking pleasure in his barely audible groans. Her hand moved under his shirt to trace the well-defined muscles of his chest and stomach. Max's breathing became ragged as he fought off his inevitable reaction to her touch. He could feel himself losing the battle, and with a growl, he pulled her full on top of him and brought her lips to his, kissing her fiercely, possessively, urgently.

When he had pulled her up, her tank top had ridden up, causing her stomach to come into direct contact with his. He swam in the sensation, her heated skin against his own, making his blood boil. His hands rode up under her top, reveling in the silkiness of her skin and the scent of her all over him.

Tearing himself from her kiss, he grabbed her sides and rolled them over so Liz was looking up at him, flushed and beautiful in the lantern light. His hand shifted as they rolled, sliding up and over her breast. They both gasped, lying perfectly still, eyes locked, shocked into motionlessness by the electricity that shot through them. Once Max could focus again, he looked deeply into the eyes of the love of his life.

"I'm sorry."

Liz was breathless, her eyes blazing with desire. As Max finally began to withdraw his hand, Liz stopped it with her own. "Don't be sorry, Max. Why would you be sorry? You are the best thing that ever happened to me."

Max knew he was almost over the edge. They had to stop this now. They had told Paul they could handle this. Max didn't think this is what Paul meant by handling it.

Max threw himself backwards against the sleeping bag.

"Max?" Liz asked, suddenly self-conscious. "Did I do something wrong?"

Max pulled Liz into his arms and held her tightly, trying to slow his breathing. "No! Liz, no!" How could they keep on like this? "Liz, we have to stop doing this. I don't know how many more times I can back off. I just want to . . . it gets harder and harder."

As his body calmed and his mind cleared, Max pulled them both to their feet. "I want to say something to you, Liz, but I'm not quite sure how to do it, so just let me get through it, okay?"

Liz nodded. She looked up at Max, worry creasing her forehead. Had Max suddenly decided the only way to control this was to be apart? Because Liz couldn't stand that. She would fight him.

"Liz, I've never been sure what my life would bring. I only knew I had to keep a low profile, and trust no one but Michael and Isabel. But you were always out there in the world, enjoying friends, just living life in a way I thought I never could. And I was always there watching you, knowing somehow I wanted you to be a part of my life.

"From the day I first saw you, you've been in my heart. And when you were shot, I couldn't think, I couldn't breathe, I could only react. Losing you was not an option. Since then, you have amazed me every day. No matter what my life has thrown at you, you have been there with me, helping me, loving me."

Liz watched his eyes overflowing with emotion, his face reflecting his struggle to get all of this out. He had always kept these thoughts bottled inside. It was his way. But now the intensity of their feelings had uncorked the bottle; it was erupting like champagne, and was just as intoxicating. Liz stood mesmerized.

"I don't know if you can ever understand what you have done to me, for me, Liz. You have become the best part of me. You have opened up a world I never thought I could belong to. You've shown me more courage and love than I ever thought possible. I need you, Liz. And I want you. I want you in every way it is possible to want another person."

Max knelt, looking up at Liz with so much love and emotion she could barely breathe.

"I pledge to you right here, right now, Liz Parker, that I will love you, take care of you, be everything to you for the rest of my life. As far as I am concerned, you are my wife. The world isn't ready to understand us, I know, but as long as I have you, and as long as you love me, I will be the happiest being in the universe."

He stopped, suddenly spent by his long outburst and the shot of adrenalin from the powerful emotions coursing through him.

"Are you asking me to marry you?" Liz whispered, moved to tears by his declaration. She knelt to face him.

Max cupped her face and looked into her eyes, opening a connection that threatened to overwhelm Liz. So much raw emotion kept in check for so long. His words had only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. But she was aware of his worries, too.

He let go of her face and they sat facing each other. "Yes . . . and no." Liz nodded. She already understood. "Liz, there are about a hundred reasons why we can't be married, or even pretend we are. We still don't know for sure what could happen to you if we made love, and we are still 17. No matter how we feel about each other or what precautions we might take . . . I mean, what if we had a baby?" At this, Liz smiled, knowing he was right, but elated at the very thought of having Max's baby.

"I know, Max," she said softly, taking his hands in hers.

"Liz, we have no way of maintaining a family the way things are. And we know that the alien side of our lives is far from resolved. Right now, we need our parents, the sheriff, the protection that leading our normal lives brings. We will have time, Liz. I promise. And I meant every word I said tonight. But we can't let this happen. Not yet."

Max watched Liz closely, wondering how she would react to what he had said.

Liz looked at him, feigning annoyance, "Didn't I tell you once before that I hate it when you're right?"

He smiled at her, grateful that she understood. Yes, she never ceased to amaze him.

"Then let's go to bed . . . I mean, sleep," he suggested. Liz gave him a reassuring smile and snuggled close to him.

"I love you, Max. No matter what happens, we'll be together."

Now, Max thought to himself, now we can handle it.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:41:36 AM
Part 19

Diane Evans felt restless. There was so much about this she didn't like. She had let her son traipse into the wilderness with his girlfriend and a complete stranger to look for an alien artifact. She had helped deceive her husband into thinking Max and Liz were on an astronomy club trip. And she was only just now beginning to realize the broad implications of what her children really were.

At first, she had dealt with things rather well, she thought. Knowing the truth didn't affect how much she loved her children, and she had been willing to accept what used to sound like science fiction. But now the reality was sinking in. She could no longer protect her children. There were obligations, responsibilities, and dangers associated with this that she hadn't considered. And now, for the first time, she felt fear.

She needed to talk. But to whom?

She picked up the phone. "Crashdown. This is Jeff."

"Jeff, it's Diane Evans. I've been thinking . . . maybe too much." She laughed nervously. "I could use someone to talk to. Do you have any time?"

"Of course, Diane. I guess you sort of got lost in the shuffle. Want to come by the restaurant? The crowd's thinning out and I'm not too busy."

"Thanks. Half an hour?

"Perfect."

Diane felt better just hearing another rational voice. She tried to repair her haggard appearance and headed out the door. When she arrived at the restaurant, Maria was clearing off some tables. "Hi, Mrs. Evans. Isabel with you?"

"No, she's with Alex this evening, Maria. I just came to get some coffee and shake off a little restlessness. Is Jeff here?"

"In the back. I'll get him for you."

Maria told Mr. Parker that Max's mother was out front and went to find Michael. "Mrs. Evans looks like hell, Michael. I think maybe she's starting to crack."

"What do you mean?" Michael frowned. "I thought she was fine with all this."

"Well you should see her now. She looks like she's having a nervous breakdown."

Michael peered out from behind the pass window. Mr. Parker was sitting across from Mrs. Evans in the back booth. They were talking seriously.

"Jeff, I'm sorry. I'm just a little shaken up by all this. I was doing well until I realized that I can't keep Max and Isabel in Roswell, in the house, where they'll be safe. I don't think I fully understand what they are facing, feeling. You've been living with this for a long time. I thought you could give me some advice."

"I haven't really faced this side of myself for a very long time, Diane. I just wanted to live a normal life and provide the same thing for my wife and daughter."

"Nancy doesn't know, does she?"

"No, and I never intended to tell her . . . or Liz. But Liz and Max falling in love . . . well, that changed everything."

Diane smiled at him. "That's the one good thing I see here, Jeff. They're both wonderful kids, but I don't think you can understand what Liz has done for Max. He has always been so guarded, so unwilling to open himself up to anyone, including me. From what Isabel tells me, he's been in love with Liz since the third grade, but the shooting forced his hand, and now that Liz knows and returns his feelings, he has let more people into his life, and I can see him growing into his role as leader."

"Yeah, I'm a little unclear about that leader thing, actually. But I know what you mean about Max. I've seen changes in him. In Liz, too. What they have been through this last year, without any help from us, it scares me to death. But they seem so strong and confident together." Jeff shook his head. "What are we going to do about them, Diane? I mean, they aren't an average teen couple, are they? Do you realize how committed they are to each other? If you could have seen what I saw on that campout . . . I don't know how to describe it."

"You don't have to. I've seen it. They're like two halves of a whole. Sometimes they don't even say anything. I swear, I've seen entire conversations that involved no words at all. But I don't know how they've coped. They've been threatened, drugged, tortured . . . ." Her voice broke as her eyes teared up. "What they did . . . to . . . Max!" A sob escaped her lips. Jeff reached over and took her hand in both of his and leaned forward.

"Diane, it's over. They're alright. They've come through it. Don't get upset about what's past." Easier said than done, he thought to himself. He hadn't slept well since Liz told him the story in the tent the other night.

"You're right, Jeff." She took a deep breath. "About the past and about Max and Liz, too. There is something older, wiser, deeper about their relationship that I don't even understand. They don't ever want to be apart. And a piece of me doesn’t think they should have to be. Then the rational, mother part of me screams, 'What are you saying? Have you lost your mind?!'"

Jeff chuckled. "I've had that exact same conversation with myself."

They sat quietly for a moment. Diane gave him a grateful smile and rose to leave. "Thank you, Jeff. I feel a little better just getting this off my chest. I appreciate your time." She reached up to hug him, and turned to leave.

Michael and Maria had been observing this from the kitchen. "That was interesting," muttered Maria.

"What the hell was that? I didn't even think they knew each other that well," Michael whispered warily.

As Mrs. Evans left, Maria turned to get back to work. There, standing right behind her, was Mrs. Parker, looking like someone had just slapped her. "I can't believe it!" she whispered. "And right here, in the restaurant!"


Part 20

Max and Liz had been exploring the Cliff Palace for a couple of hours. They were a little discouraged, but didn't know how else to go about their search other than this trial and error approach.

"I thought Grandma would come last night," mused Liz. "Why do you suppose she didn't?"

"I guess there's nothing more to tell us right now. The ball is sort of in our court. She's only guessing this thing is hidden here, so she can't very well give us clues to its location."

"I guess. You know, Max, maybe we should be spending more time looking at the kivas. They are underground, after all, so it might make a good hiding place."

"That's as good a reason as any, I guess," shrugged Max. They stood from a raised vantage point and surveyed the pattern of kivas below. With perfectly synchronous movements, they both turned and pointed at a large kiva to the west. They looked at each other with surprise.

"I just felt it," said Liz, amazed.

"So did I," confirmed Max. As they approached the kiva, Max took Liz's hand. Immediately, they stopped in their tracks, sensing something.

"Max?" Liz whispered nervously. "I feel something."

"Yeah. Me, too."

"Coming from the kiva," she whispered, holding Max's hand tighter.

"Well? I guess we should check it out, right?"

They slowly resumed their walk toward the kiva. Max climbed down the ladder and then watched as Liz followed him down. The feeling was growing stronger. Having just descended from the bright Colorado sunshine, the partial roof remaining from the original structure and the shadow cast by the walls themselves made details of the room hard to see at first. As their eyes adjusted, they peered around the circular room.

"Let's walk around the room in opposite directions and see if we can tell where it's coming from," suggested Max.

He released Liz's hand and they felt an immediate drop in the intensity of the sensation they'd had. Max reached for Liz's hand again. The intensity jumped. Their connection was clearly a key to sensing this thing--whatever it was.

"Okay, let's walk together." Liz and Max made their way slowly around the room. At the far end, opposite the ladder they had used, they both stopped. "Here," Max said. They each began to pass their free hands over the surface of the wall in long, sweeping arcs. Suddenly Max felt Liz jump and inhale sharply.

"What? Liz, what is it?" Liz was wide-eyed, her mouth still forming the "oh" that had escaped her lips.

"Max, look." She slowly passed her hand over a spot in the wall and a glowing handprint appeared. Max found himself gaping at her. He never really doubted Grandma Claudia's vision, but this was the first overt proof he'd seen that Liz had really awakened certain powers. He nodded slightly, encouraging her to put her hand against it.

Liz was shaking as her hand moved toward the glowing rock. "Will it hurt?" she asked timidly.

"No, it's a warm, tingly sensation, that's all," assured Max.

Liz brought her hand against the handprint and pressed. She felt a slight tingling, but nothing happened. She looked at Max questioningly. He wasn't sure what to do. It had never failed to work before. "Try again," he suggested. She moved her hand back and started over, but the rock was still resistant.

"They said we had to do this together, right?" Liz reminded him. Max took his free hand and placed it over Liz's. Immediately, their hands began to disappear through an opening that seemed to bend around their forms. Keeping hold of Liz's hand, Max stepped through the rock. It seemed to expand to accommodate his form and he pulled Liz through after him.

"Oh my God, Max," gasped Liz as they looked around the large chamber. "What is this?"

Max was speechless. His eyes wandered over the array of control panels, monitors, and high-tech equipment. Clearly, this had served as a command center at one time, and not for the Anasazi. They had obviously just stumbled across the most clear-cut proof in history that aliens were present on Earth 1000 years ago.

"Take a look, Liz. We are seeing part of our history. This must be where the original visitors kept contact with other ships or each other or even Voya. Look at this stuff! It would be cutting edge today!"

Their eyes met, asking the same questions. Liz finally verbalized what was on both their minds. "Max! Do you think the visor is in here?"

"Probably. We may as well start looking."

They began to open compartments and look inside crates, but there didn't seem to be many hiding places.

"Maybe there is another compartment hidden in the rock face somewhere, you know, like the doorway into this room," Max suggested. Holding hands to maximize their chances of discovering another handprint, they painstakingly made their way around the room. Nothing.

"Paul will be looking for us to go back to camp for lunch," Liz reminded Max. "We should get back. We can come back later."

Max reluctantly agreed, and together they found the opening once again. Max stepped through, holding on to Liz's hand. In the next instant, he heard Liz scream and he lost his hold on her hand. His own momentum carried him through into the kiva.

"Liz! Liz!" Max pounded against the rock. Think logically, Evans, he told himself. He passed his hand over the wall and found the glowing handprint, but like Liz, he could not seem to open it alone. A panic more terrible than anything he had ever felt in his life overtook him. He felt no connection with her, no sense of her at all. Tears welled up in his eyes.

"Liiiiiizzzzzz!" he cried out, fear blocking out all thought. The only response was a deafening silence.


Part 21

Liz had felt rather than seen the hands that grabbed her and pulled her forcefully from Max's grasp. Then he was gone and she felt terrified. She struggled against her unseen captor until she was thrown into a seat and instantly held there by a force she couldn't see or explain. All she knew was she couldn't move.

"You have come to us. We've been waiting."

Liz tried to turn her head to find out who was speaking, but she couldn't even do that.

"Who are you?" she demanded, trying to sound braver than she felt.

"We are your future, Liz. We will hold you only until our purpose is clear to you. Then we know you will see what must be done."

"Let me see you," she demanded.

Her peripheral vision picked up a form coming from her right. "Dad!" gasped Liz, incredulously.

Her mind was spinning. "You're not my father," shouted Liz to the imposter before her. "Change yourself! That's what you do, isn't it? You're a shapeshifter."

"I intended only to make you comfortable," crooned her captor in cruelly velvet tones. Soon Liz was looking at a blond woman with piercing green eyes. "This is better?"

"I don't care what you look like, as long as you aren't pretending to be someone I know. Were you already in here when we came in? Did you shapeshift into some piece of equipment or something?"

The woman cast steely eyes on Liz. "We have been watching you since you arrived in the park. As soon as we realized you sensed us, we blocked ourselves from your minds. We've been observing your search. When we saw you discover the portal, we followed you in and became part of the rock walls. You made it quite easy."

"You keep saying 'we.' Who else is here?" Liz struggled to look around but could still not move her head.

"My partner is here, don't worry. He is keeping you restrained at the moment. Perhaps we could let her move a bit, Katar?" Liz felt the release of her head and neck, so she was able to look at the woman directly.

"What do you want with me?"

"Ah, but you know, Liz, do you not? You are one of us. You've come in search of the sacred Criston, and we wish to help you find it."

Liz examined her. "What should I call you?"

"Call me Seranna."

"Well, Seranna, what exactly is a 'criston'?"

"I have no patience with questions for which you know the answers," Seranna snapped. Then she composed her face. "Liz, the Criston is that which you seek. It is the purpose of your journey, and the sacred symbol of our people. It holds great power. That is why you are here, is it not?"

"I'm on a camping expedition with my boyfriend . . . I mean, husband. That's all."

Seranna smiled a cold, artificial smile. "Do not waste our time with fiction. Max is also here to find the Criston. He has been told he is the leader of our people. He is not. He comes from a ruling family that is weak and ineffective. They do not understand how to use their power. They retreat from opportunity and recoil from domination. He is so like them," she sneered.

"We are here to help you take your place among us, to right a terrible wrong, and return power to those who would assure our people dominance."

Liz's mind was working hard to make sense of Seranna's tirade. Somehow, Seranna thought she could bribe Liz with promises of power and undermine Max's people's ability to rule Voya. Being a shapeshifter, this was obviously not one of the hybrid Voyans, and clearly she had no concept of the love Liz shared with Max or the bond that connected them so deeply. But was it to Liz's advantage to fight or pretend to cooperate?

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

Max was trembling as he scrambled out of the kiva in search of Paul Hernandez. He tore past the ruins toward the parking lot, hoping to find him waiting near his car. His heart leapt when he saw Paul leaning against the trunk talking with another member of the group. Paul looked up, seeing Max flying toward him, and excused himself. He jogged toward Max, recognizing the sheer terror on his face.

"Max! What is it?"

Max could hardly speak, but he fought desperately to make himself understood through his gulps for air. "Liz . . . we found a hidden room . . . she didn't make it out . . . Can't get in." Suddenly, he realized he had another option. He held Paul's face in his hands and made eye contact. Immediately, Paul could see what had happened. His own face reflected Max's fear as they began to run back toward the kiva.

They practically leapt down into the kiva and Max showed Paul where the handprint glowed, but didn't open. "Let's try together," panted Max. They joined hands and pressed together on the handprint. At first, they thought they were getting through, but the little indentation they made bounced back immediately.

"Mr. Hernandez! There must be another way in! What do you know about these kivas?" pressed Max.

"We never knew this was here, Max. I have no knowledge of any way out of here other than the ladder."

"Think!" Max was suddenly in leader mode. "There must be something. That room has been there since before the Anasazi left. There must be some clue, some unexplained reference."

As the two men's eyes met, they shouted in unison, "The journals!"


Part 22

Liz knew her best chance to escape was to pretend to cooperate with her captors, but they weren't stupid. She would have to resist a while longer to convince them they had won her.

"Why would the promise of power on a planet I've never seen make me want to help you? And how will this 'Criston' help you gain power anyway? What makes it so important?"

"Its power is both symbolic and practical." As Seranna spoke of the Criston, her face became animated; she began to pace. "Two thousand years ago, the Criston was created by the builders, those who shaped our civilization. It was a miracle of technology, offering the ability to access our data banks and communicate with our ships and colonies throughout the galaxy. But most important, it represented power, because the family that possessed it could rule unchallenged." Her face returned to its cold, immobile expression. "Max's ancestors thought they could maintain control of the planet by hiding the Criston here. We have searched for a millenium to no avail." She stared intently at Liz. "Now, with you to help us, we will succeed."

"What makes you think I can help?"

"We felt the energy force when you bonded with Max. He is only an inferior, engineered Voyan. If you can create that force with him, think how powerful it will be with one of us, a true Voyan."

Liz was alarmed. What if that were true? What if the bond with Max hadn't been the sole reason for their additional powers? What if she really could do it with someone else? She would be working against Max!

Seranna saw the fear in Liz's eyes. "You are right to be afraid. If you do not help us, we will destroy Max."

Terror seized Liz's heart with a stabbing jolt.

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

Paul's car flew down the gravel road toward the campsite. When they pulled up, members of the group were eating lunch. A cloud of dust flew as Paul screeched to a stop in front of Max's tent. Protests quieted quickly as the campers picked up on the urgency evident in the two men.

"Is something wrong?" yelled one of the women.

"Uh, Max's wife took a fall. Just getting some first-aid supplies. Please enjoy your lunch and follow the afternoon itinerary. I'll rejoin you as soon as I can."

By the time Paul entered the tent, Max had pulled the journals from Liz's backpack. They raced back to the car and took off down the road.

"We've read most of the first two," he told Paul. "They were mostly about Chaco Canyon. Let's start with the third one."

He began to scan the pages. "I wish I knew what I was looking for!" he cried in desperation.

"We're almost there," Paul assured him. "I'll help you look as soon as we stop."

By the time they had returned to the kiva, Max was halfway through the third journal. Paul grabbed the fourth one and started reading. Suddenly, a wrenching cry escaped Max's throat. Paul looked up in alarm.

"Max! What's happened?"

"It's Liz! I've finally felt her! She's in terrible danger and so scared!" Max looked panicked. Paul grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him to make eye contact.

"Max! That just means we have to work harder and faster. Do you understand me? Max!"

Max focused on Paul and let his words sink in. "Yes, I understand." He swallowed hard and forced his panic down. That wasn't going to help Liz, he told himself. They resumed their study of the journals, desperately hoping for a clue to the mysterious room. They had been intensely focused on their reading for about 20 minutes when Paul reached for Max's arm. "Max! The Sipapu!"

"What?" Max hadn't heard that word before and had no idea what Paul was talking about.

"Sipapu, Max! It was the mythological passageway between the Anasazi underworld and this one. Not a purgatory, but just another plane of existence. The 'first ones' came from there, and the Anasazi believed that when someone died, their soul returned through there and was reborn later in a baby. Claudia and I often wondered if this wasn't actually a reference to a wormhole or other alien passageway through which the visitors arrived."

"How does this help Liz?!" Max almost shouted, angry that Paul was wasting his time with this history lesson.

"Because, Max, in every kiva there was a small hole in the floor that symbolized the Sipapu. We haven't looked there. It would be a perfect hiding place for a tunnel . . . to another room!"

Max leapt to his feet. "Let's go!" Then just as quickly he stopped and looked at Paul, who already knew what he was going to say. "If there is someone in there with her, we may do more harm than good just busting in."

Paul nodded. "Let's see if there's even anything to this theory first."

They descended into the kiva again and approached the hole in the floor. It was about the size of a manhole. Max knelt by the hole and began to lower his upper body into the space. Paul held his ankles to stabilize him. "It's too dark," Max whispered loudly. He held his hand in front of him, and it began to glow.

"You're right! There's a tunnel here!" Max pulled himself back out of the hole and turned to Paul excitedly. "But how do we figure out when to go through?"

Paul frowned. How would they detect another alien presence inside the room? "I'm not sure, Max. If these are true Voyans, they can appear as anything they like."

Max thought for a moment. "Then I guess I'll have to see for myself," he said, a look of determination on his face that allowed no challenge. He walked back to the Sipapu hole and began to lower himself down.


Part 23

"I'll help you, Seranna. Just don't hurt Max," Liz pleaded. Seranna looked pleased. The promise of power hadn't had much effect, but threats to Max Evans certainly had. Just as well. That would be a card they could play again and again.

"Katar, release her." Instantly, Liz felt control of her body return. She rubbed her arms and looked at Seranna. "What now?"

"I have observed that your search of this room was unsuccessful. I think it is best that we do a similar search in the other kivas, but we cannot let you be seen. We will remain here until the park closes. Then we will continue."

"And until then?"

"You will tell us everything you know about Max and Isabel Evans and Michael Guerin."

Liz was confused. "What is there to tell that you don't already know?"

"Start with how you discovered their secret, and how you formed the bond. It may be something we can reproduce."

"I will help you look for this Criston, Seranna, but I will tell you nothing that will endanger Max or the others." Liz's look was one of confident challenge. They needed her and she knew it. For this moment, at least, she had leverage.

Liz swung her head toward the center of the room. She sensed something. Max! She returned her gaze quickly to Seranna. She didn't want to give away anything if Max was near. Immediately her eye was drawn in the other direction. A tall, pale man with sunken eyes was standing immobile behind her.

"Katar."

"Yes, Liz. It is I who will bond with you for the search."

Liz's stomach lurched. Bond with Katar? Liz would "bond" with no one but Max. She would go through the motions of helping him, but that was all. She sensed Max again, as if he were trying to break through to her mind, but she couldn't get any meaning from it, just a sense of him, and it calmed her.

Information. That's what would help him most.

"Katar? How will we bond? I mean, what should I do to search for the Criston?"

"When it is dark and the visitors have left, you and I will make a connection. It should be very powerful with a true Voyan. That should get us through the rock portal and lead us to the Criston. I look forward to it." His smile chilled Liz and she felt fear again.

"Seranna, what will you do?"

"I will be with Max. Perhaps I will be you, Liz. That should keep me close to him. If Katar tells me you are not cooperating, I will make sure Max knows you are betraying him."

Liz's anger erupted through her fear. "He knows I would never do that," Liz shouted.

Liz! Liz straightened. She had heard Max! We''ll be ready. I love you.

Liz suppressed a smile.

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

Max was dirty and tired when he emerged from the tunnel. The fit had been extremely tight. Obviously, Max was much larger than the average Anasazi or alien or whomever had wriggled their way through that tunnel 1000 years ago.

"Well?" Paul asked nervously. "Anything?"

"Yes!" Max nodded. "She's in there with two aliens. I'm pretty sure she was aware of me, but I don't know if she was able to understand my thoughts. She's smart, though. She asked them several questions once she knew I was there. I know they think she can help them search for the crown--they used the word Criston. Does that mean anything to you?"

Paul shook his head. "No, I don't know that word."

"Anyway, they think she can bond with one of them even more powerfully than with me and that she will help them find the artifact. They're shapeshifters, too." Max shuddered at the memory of the female saying she could pass herself off as Liz. As if he wouldn't know the difference instantly!

"I guess we hide out in the Cliff Palace until the park closes and wait until they emerge."

"Okay Max, but I'm going to have to get back to camp and reassure the other campers. Otherwise, they'll report us missing and send out security guards."

Max nodded in agreement. They chose a meeting place, and Paul headed back to the parking lot. Max made himself as comfortable as he could tucked into a small room in the face of the cliff and watched the kiva. The urgent activity had given way to quiet contemplation, and for the hundredth time, Max agonized over what his relationship with Liz had done to her. It seemed that time after time, their love wound up hurting her, endangering her, costing her in so many ways. In the quiet of the ancient ruins, Max Evans began to cry.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:42:37 AM
Part 24

"It's time," said Seranna. "Let us begin."

Katar stepped toward Liz and extended his hand. She stood without accepting it and began walking toward the portal. When Katar reached the wall, he bent over and took her hand. Liz recoiled imperceptibly, reacting to his cold, lifeless touch. She waved her free hand in front of the wall until the glowing handprint appeared. Then she placed her hand over it and looked up at Katar. He covered her hand with his own and they pressed into the rock.

Nothing happened. They looked at each other in surprise and then back at Seranna. "Again," she spat.

They repeated the process with the same lack of results. "Again!" Seranna insisted, her voice rising. The final attempt was no different.

"What are you doing differently?" she shouted at Liz.

"Nothing! This is exactly how Max and I did it!" Liz cried defensively. This was her only value to them. If she couldn’t do this, then her life was over.

"Perhaps this is the wrong portal," suggested Seranna, a superficial calm taking over her speech and actions. "We'll simply find the right one."

She ordered Liz and Katar to search for a new portal, but as they moved further and further from the original spot, they knew they would not find one. Seranna became increasingly agitated, targeting Liz with her venomous mood.

"I warned you, Liz Parker. I warned you what would happen if you did not cooperate. You have signed Max's death warrant!"

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

Paul and Max were starting to shiver as the desert gave up all its heat to the night. It was almost dark, and the men had expected to see some activity around the kiva. Max was worried. Once again, they were blocking his connection with Liz, but he felt something was terribly wrong.

"Something's not right. We need to go down there."

"How will that help, Max? We'll just be visible to them when they come out."

"They would be out if they could get out." Max's eyes lit up. "They can’t get out! It didn't work!" In spite of the additional danger this presented, Max couldn't help but be pleased at the knowledge that the bond he and Liz shared was somehow special, different from what she could form with one of "them." He should have known that. In his heart, he did know it, but his mind often fought with his heart. It was an old battle.

"We have to go in and get her," Max stated calmly. Paul looked at him in surprise.

"You have a plan?"

Max thought quickly. "If we can somehow divert their attention or trick their minds somehow. Oh, Tess, I could use you now," he muttered. He turned to Paul. "You've never said if you have any powers. Now would be a good time to mention them, if there are any."

Paul looked at Max, a pained expression on his face. "I'm sorry, Max. I've never pursued that aspect of my life before. I was never sure I really wanted to know. I wish now that I had. What can you do?"

"Well, I can connect with people, but I have to be touching them. I'll never get close enough for that. Besides, I don't know how that would help." He paused, his eyes darting as if he might spot something that would give him an idea. "I can manipulate molecular structure." He was suddenly still, his eyes wide. "I can manipulate molecular structure! That's it! What have you got in your backpack?"

Paul watched in confusion as Max began to empty the contents of his backpack on the ground. He picked up several items and discarded them. Then his hands grabbed Paul's mess kit and a smile crossed Max's face. He knelt down and concentrated on the mess kit passing his hand over it. He shook his head, dissatisfied. Again he brought his hand over the face of the metal. Then he looked at Paul, his face expectant.

Max set his finished product down in front of Paul. "What do you think?" he asked anxiously.

Paul began to smile. In front of him was a metal headpiece, encircled with what could have been lights, had it been real. "I'll be damned," he muttered. "How'd you know what it should look like?"

"I don't," shrugged Max. "But neither do they."

The men stood, looking again toward the kiva. There was no activity.

"I'll take this into the tunnel and try to communicate with Liz. If she can pretend to find it, they should be distracted enough to give her time to climb into the tunnel. Then I'll seal the floor and hope that slows them down enough to get us out."

Paul nodded. "I wish I could be more help."

"I'm grateful for everything you've done, Mr. Hernandez. But I got Liz into this. I want to get her out."

Paul nodded. "I carry a gun, Max. Never used it on a person, but it might slow them down if it comes to that."

The men locked eyes, understanding the danger they were about to face. Max turned toward the kiva. "Let's go."

The two silent figures stole down the rocky grade, illuminated only by a waning moon. Max motioned to Paul to follow him down into the kiva. Paul stationed himself near the opening in the floor and pulled out the gun. He nodded a go-ahead to Max, who lowered himself into the tunnel, tucking the fake Criston under his arm. He moved along faster this time, more familiar with what was ahead, and more motivated to go quickly. If anything happened to Liz, he couldn't face her family, her friends . . . he couldn't face himself again.

As he neared the other end, he concentrated on Liz, willing her to detect his presence. She knew he was there immediately, but forced herself not to look toward the center of the room. She reached out to him with her mind, felt the connection. It steeled her nerves just knowing he was only a few feet away.

She continued her pacing, casting a sidelong gaze toward the hole she had seen in the floor. Her mouth opened as she saw a hand quietly set a metal object on the edge of the opening. The hand disappeared immediately. She could feel Max working to communicate with her. Open your mind, Liz, she coached herself. You did it before.

She remembered the last connection with Max had only been clear when she was feeling great anger. Perhaps strong emotion was the key. She focused her thoughts on Max and was instantly filled with an overpowering sense of him. She opened her mind to the love she felt. It wasn't hard to let it take over. Liz! Pretend that's the Criston, he was urging. Distract them!

Liz slowly worked her way toward the console that hid the hole from view. She bent quickly to open a compartment and swept up the Criston at the same time. "What are you doing over there?" shouted Seranna.

"I thought we might as well look some more. Max and I meant to come back later. We hadn't really finished searching." She bent once again to reopen the compartment. "What's this?" she asked as she straightened.

"What? What did you find?" Seranna and Katar began to come toward Liz.

"Here!" she yelled, tossing the object over their heads. They immediately turned to retrieve it and Liz darted into the hole. Blind faith in Max, she reminded herself. It had brought her through crises before.

Max was instantly pulling at her, fighting the urge to pull her to him and never let go. There was no time now. Max extended his arm past Liz's head as he heard the cries from within the chamber. "She's gone! Over there!"

He sent a beam toward the opening, bringing rock from the side walls tumbling into the tunnel. The dust was making them cough, but he needed to be sure the blockage was substantial enough to slow the two aliens down. "Cover your face!" he shouted to Liz. After a few seconds, the small rock slide stilled, and the two began to work their way backwards through the tunnel. They could hear faint shouting from beyond the rubble.

As they struggled toward the kiva, Max kept contact with Liz, his hand on her ankle. It was dark and he couldn't spare a hand to produce any light. Without warning, they felt a strong tingling sensation, as if the tunnel had begun to vibrate.

"Max!" cried Liz. "What is that? Do you feel it?"

"Yeah, but I don't know what it is. Hurry! The tunnel may collapse!" Liz raised her hand to the side of the tunnel so she could push off and speed their retreat. She caught a ray of light out of the corner of her eye and turned toward it. "Max! Look!"

He peered up toward Liz and saw it. Another glowing handprint. "I don't understand, Max. You don't think there's another room, do you?"

Max stopped. Could it be? Was it possible they could get this lucky?

Max inched forward again, pressing tight against Liz in the narrow tunnel. He placed his hand on hers and a panel slid open. Liz reached her hand in, pulling out something cool and hard. "I've got something, Max, but I can't tell what it is."

"Just hang on to it. Let's get out of here."

They continued the tortuous route back to the kiva. When they reached the opening, Max called for Paul. He was there immediately, pulling Max up from the Sipapu hole. Max handed him the object they had found and turned to lift Liz up to the floor. As soon as she had cleared the opening, Max's arms were around her. "Liz! I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Max, I'm okay. It's okay." She lost herself in his arms and felt again that no matter what happened to her, she was always safe there. Max began to shower kisses on her hair, her eyes, her lips, her neck. "Liz, I just couldn't lose you. Couldn't . . . ." He grabbed her tightly to him again.

Paul had wanted to give them a moment, but it was time to go.

"Max! Liz! We're not home yet. Come on!"

Max and Liz knew their reunion had to wait. They sprinted across the Cliff Palace ruins toward the parking lot. There had been no sign of the aliens yet, but that was little reassurance. They reached the car, breathless and impatient to get away. They clambered in and squealed out of the lot.

When they reached the campgrounds, Paul ignored the turnoff and headed toward the highway. "Where are we going?" yelled Liz over the din of the car engine and the gravel flying.

"As far away from here as we can get on a tank of gas!" Paul yelled back.

"But the journals! My grandmother's journals!" Liz was panicked. They couldn't leave those behind.

"We've got 'em," Max said in her ear. "They're in Paul's backpack." Liz smiled gratefully at Max and leaned her head on his shoulder. She was exhausted. Too exhausted to care that they were barreling down a highway headed who knew where with an alien artifact that had almost cost them their lives.


Part 25

Paul Hernandez had to admit, this was more than he bargained for. In all the years he had been researching the Anasazi and his own roots, he had seen and heard some remarkable things, but he never could have anticipated where it was all leading.

Meeting Claudia Parker had been a stroke of luck, and their friendship had been one of the highlights of his life. They had become partners, friends, almost family. It had been so important to her that her granddaughter know the truth about her alien heritage, and she had fought stubbornly with her son about it for years. Then she had felt something, a change in her sense of Liz. She had always been so intuitive; that had been her gift. She had been sure something had changed with Liz, and as soon as she could, she went to her. She had known about the crash survivors living in Roswell. What she didn't know until she got there was that somehow they and Liz had found each other.

When Claudia died, he had felt lost. Then one night, she had come to him in his sleep, excited about Liz and her young boyfriend, her young alien boyfriend. She had felt the power they created when they were together, and she saw that it was not only possible to tell Liz about her ancestors, it was necessary. These two young people were the Voyans' greatest hope of resolving an ancient conflict, and Earth's best chance of avoiding it.

Paul looked in the rearview mirror at the two exhausted teens. It looked as though Liz was asleep, but Max was watchful, his eyes peering into the night as if he expected to see danger coming. All the while, one arm cradled the young woman against his shoulder while his other hand idly stroked her hair. Paul had seen young love, experienced it in his day. What he was observing was something else. Since yesterday, he had watched them with fascination, observing their total devotion to each other, their complete selflessness when it came to the safety of the other, the quiet strength that exuded from them when they were together, and their baffling ability to communicate with a look or a touch. Claudia had been right. This pair was very special indeed.

Max caught Paul's eye in the mirror. "Where are you taking us?"

"I'm headed in the general direction of Roswell, but we're all too tired to drive straight through. I figure we'll go until we need gas, find a place to rest, and call the Holbrooks and your folks in the morning. That okay with you?"

"Don't call my folks just yet. Let Mr. Parker explain what's happening to my mom. We haven't quite gotten around to telling my dad yet."

Paul smiled sympathetically. These kids had so much to deal with. "I think we can make Chaco Canyon; it's only about 3 more hours from here and they have an inn where we can get some rest."

Max nodded his gratitude.

"Max? What did you hand me back there in the kiva?"

Max looked startled. "You still have it, don't you?"

"Yeah, it's on the floor over here. What is it?"

"I'm not sure yet, but it might be what we were looking for."

Paul's eyes flew to the rearview mirror and locked with Max's. The car began to accelerate.

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

After a very short debate with himself, Paul rented two rooms at the inn. One for him, one for Max and Liz. It seemed foolish to give any nod to propriety after all they had been through. They were exhausted, they clearly needed to be together, and Paul had no interest in being the one to tell them differently. He saw them into their room and made sure they got something to eat. As he turned to leave, Max stopped him.

"Mr. Hernandez, I can't thank you enough for all you've done for us. I . . . don't know . . . How can I ever repay you?"

"No need. I just wish Claudia could be here. She'd be chompin' at the bit to get this mystery solved."

At that, Liz came rushing into his arms and hugged him. "I wish she could be here, too," she said tearfully.

Paul looked flustered, but pleased. He patted Liz on the back and turned her around into Max's willing arms. They exchanged smiles and Paul quietly closed the door. Max led Liz toward the bed. "You need to eat something, Liz. You haven't eaten since breakfast."

"Neither have you," Liz pointed out. "What have we got?"

"Sandwiches, apples, and sodas," Max said, poking through the bag Paul had brought in from the general store outside of the park. Then he began to laugh.

"What are you laughing at?"

"And Tabasco sauce!"

Liz's face broke into a smile. It was good to smile, to laugh. It felt just a little bit normal.

Once they began to eat, they wolfed down everything Paul had brought them. They hadn't had time to think about how hungry they were.

"Next order of business, a shower," yawned Liz. "I can not go to bed like this." She knelt behind Max on the bed, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Care to join me?" she teased.

Max turned his head slowly around to look at Liz. "You're tired, you're dirty, you were captured by evil aliens and almost killed, you may have discovered an ancient alien artifact, and now you are trying to seduce me? Haven't you had enough for one day?"

"I haven't had nearly enough of this," she purred and brought her lips to his, teasing him with her tongue, circling her hands across his chest. Max reacted immediately, turning to meet her mouth and pulling her around to his lap. The kiss escalated as Max silently asked her to open her mouth to him. She did so willingly, eager to taste him, to pull him into her. Liz shifted so that she could straddle him, wanting as little space between them as possible. Sometimes she wanted him with such intensity that she would have crawled inside him if she could. Her body started to move against him and he groaned, his hands beginning an exploration of their own.

Max's head was spinning. He had almost lost her today! His Liz! The thought shot daggers through his insides and he wanted nothing more than to envelop her and keep her protected in him forever. If he pressed her to him hard enough, wouldn't she just slip inside where he could keep her safe? His arms tightened around her and he heard her gasp. He realized how hard he had gotten and she was starting to rock against him, arching her back, grasping his shoulders.

"Liz!" He didn't know if he was asking her to stop or go on. There was nothing in his world at this moment but Liz, and he wanted her. Heaven knew how he wanted her! He took one hand and lifted Liz's top above her breast, suddenly hypnotized by the milk-white mound, her pink nipple standing taut, reaching for him. Liz had stopped moving and was watching his awestruck face as he reverently touched it. She sucked her breath in sharply as his fingers brushed lightly across her nipple, causing a deep ache within her.

"Max," she barely whispered. To her surprise, she found herself lifting her torso ever so slightly, guiding it toward his barely opened mouth. Sheer instinct took over as his lips opened to take this gift of gifts into his mouth, suckling, kissing, dancing across it with his tongue. He loved the feel of it. He loved what it was doing to her, as he heard a primal sound rise from her throat. This was heaven. Nothing else in this world or any other could ever feel so right.

"Liz, I love you!" he whispered hoarsely, reaching for the button on her shorts.

It took three rings before either of them realized the phone was ringing. They pulled back from each other, panting, flushed, disoriented. On the fifth ring, Max slipped Liz off his lap and reached for the phone. He worked valiantly to keep his tone regulated.

"Hello?"

"Max, this is Paul. I'm turning in and just wanted to make sure there was nothing more you needed."

Max worked his jaw, waiting for words to come that would form some sort of response. "Uh, yeah . . . no . . . I think we're fine."

"Max, are you okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Fine."

There was a silence on the other end.

"Paul?"

"Yeah."

"Thanks for calling."

"No problem." The line went dead.

Max and Liz looked at each other sheepishly. "I know we talked about this. I'm sorry, Liz."

"No, Max. I'm sorry. Everything you've said makes sense. I just can't seem to keep my hands off you, that's all." She looked at Max guiltily.

He looked at her beautiful face, still flushed and radiant. "I hope that never changes."

Liz felt shivers when he looked at her like that, or talked to her in those deep velvet tones. She smiled at him, eyes sparkling with love, visible even from across the room. "Guess I'll go take that shower . . . alone."

Liz stood in the shower, letting the temperature cool her still-heated body and clear her head. She loved him so for trying to protect her, and she had to try to respect that. She had no doubt their time would come, it just seemed to be taking so long!

Stepping from the shower, Liz realized she had no clean clothes! Everything had been left back at camp. She wasn't about to put the filthy clothes on that she had stripped off moments ago, so she wrapped herself in a towel. Max would think she was making another attempt to seduce him. She would just have to explain; certainly he wouldn't expect her to put those clothes back on.

She filled the tub with warm water and threw her clothes in, swirling them around as best she could to get the worst of the grime off. She could do Max's, too, she thought. She grabbed another clean towel for him and went to suggest that he change out of his dirty clothes. She opened the bathroom door, ready to defend herself.

"Max, our clothes are filthy, and . . . ." She stopped as she took in the scene before her. There was Max, grubby and disheveled, sprawled on the bed, sound asleep. On her pillow was a little note scribbled on Chaco Canyon Inn notepaper: "Liz, I will always love you. Your Max."

She leaned over, touched by how adorable and young he looked. She whispered in his ear, "I'll always love you, too."


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 20-Apr-2002 10:44:06 AM ]
posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:45:20 AM
Part 26

"What's wrong, Isabel?" asked Alex, worried over Isabel's quiet brooding.

"I can't shake the feeling, Alex. All day, I've had this feeling that Max is in trouble. I haven't been able to get into his head, though. It always works best if he's sleeping. I can't stand it that I don't know what's happening."

"Maybe if you wait a little while, he'll fall asleep and you can try again."

"Yeah. Let's get out of here. Maybe over to Michael's. I can try again from there."

Alex gave her a hug. "It'll be okay, Isabel. They've got help up there." She nodded. Alex always made her feel better.

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

"Michael," Maria whispered into his ear. "Oh, Michael, this feels really good."

Michael covered her mouth with his, relishing the warmth of her body and her heart. Never in his wildest dreams had he ever thought someone could love him, knowing who he really was. The sense of acceptance and freedom that Maria had given him had finally broken down those mile-high walls of his, and he had let himself love for the very first time. He didn't know if she would ever understand what she meant to him, but he would spend a lifetime trying to tell her.

"Maria. Maria, I love you." She smiled into his neck, the words thrilling her as if she'd never heard them before.

"And don't you forget it, spaceboy," she teased. "Because nobody else would put up with you. I would say your alternatives are limited."

"Is that right?" he objected. "It so happens that Jessica Crawford slipped me a note on a napkin today at the Crashdown."

"What?" gaped Maria. "What did it say? That little hussy better keep her distance or I'll cram that napkin right down her throat!"

She heard Michael chuckling. "It doesn't look like I need alternatives," he laughed.

Maria slapped his shoulder and then threw her arms around his neck. "I hate you."

"Me, too," he mumbled as he rained kisses down her neck and toward her collarbone.

"Michael, maybe I should stay over tonight." She bit her lip as he drew back, surprised.

"What are you saying, Maria?"

"Well, it's just that . . . ."

At that moment, Isabel and Alex walked in.

"Whoa, sorry man," Alex apologized, beginning a hasty retreat.

"Isabel, what about knocking once in a while!" yelled Michael, but he got up off the couch and pulled them into the apartment. "What's so important you had to barge in here unannounced!"

"Something's wrong with Max, Michael. I've felt it all day. I need . . . we need someplace to hang out for a while, until Max goes to sleep, so I can try to get in."

"I'm flattered you thought to come here," sneered Michael.

Isabel gave him her haughtiest look. "It's not like you can't make out with Maria another time, Michael."

Maria switched on another light and sat up, curling up by Michael as he sat.

"Any idea what kind of trouble, Isabel? Or how bad?" asked Maria, frowning. "Liz is with him. If he's in trouble, so is she."

"No, just a bad feeling. Actually, I don't feel it anymore, but I did all day. I just want to make sure he's okay."

"Something interesting happened at the Crashdown tonight," Maria said, jumping as Michael gave her a jab in the ribs. "Isabel, I didn't know your mom and Mr. Parker were good friends."

"They're not. Why?"

"Well tonight . . . ."

"Maria! Do we have to talk about this now?" Michael interjected.

"Wait! What is it?" Isabel was curious now, and a little worried at Michael's resistance to telling her what happened.

"Your mom came in the Crashdown tonight. She and Liz's dad were in the back booth for like half an hour, holding hands and talking. Then she hugged him when she left. What was that all about, anyway?"

"My mom? I didn't even know they knew each other that well." Isabel looked confused, bordering on alarmed. "I'm sure it's nothing. Probably just talking about Max and Liz."

"That's gotta be it," Alex said confidently. No more was said on the subject, but Isabel continued to frown.

They watched the end of an old movie on television. Isabel yawned. "Maybe it'll work now. Come on, Alex." She stood, pulling Alex up behind her, and walked toward the bedroom.

Michael watched them, indignation on his face. "Excuse me? Where am I supposed to sleep?"

"You looked pretty comfy on the sofa when we came in." She smiled sarcastically and closed the bedroom door.

It didn't take long to fall asleep and she was in Max's mind instantly. It was dark, but she could hear sounds. She wandered forward, feeling her way. Then she saw it. Max and Liz, in his bed, making love. Damn him! That was not something she wanted to watch, and she was furious that she had been worrying for nothing. Well, she would get her revenge.

"Max!"

His head swung around as the image of Liz disappeared. "Isabel, what are you doing here!"

"Max, I've been worrying about you all day! I had a terrible feeling. I thought you were in trouble! I've been waiting until you fell asleep to find out what was wrong, and this is what I get for my trouble?"

"This is what you get for poking around uninvited," Max snapped, upset at having been caught in his favorite dream. He looked up at Isabel's troubled face and relaxed, remembering that her feeling had been warranted. "Actually, we were in trouble today. And I don't know if we're out of the woods yet, but we're okay for now. We're at Chaco Canyon with Mr. Hernandez, Liz's grandma's friend. We'll talk about it when we get home, okay?"

"You're sure you're okay? I've been upset all day."

"It was bad, Iz. But it's over. I'll tell everyone later."

"Okay." She was about to leave when she turned back around to her brother. "I'm probably scarred for life, now, Max. I'll need therapy to erase that image."

He rolled his eyes at her and fell back into a deep sleep. Isabel came awake in Alex's arms. "Everything okay?' he asked quietly.

"Kiss me," she said, and wrapped her arms around a surprised Alex.



Part 27

"Liz, honey. Max. I need to talk to you."

Liz and Max had become familiar with this ritual by now, though Max was beginning to resent the fact that his sleep was every bit as crowded as his waking hours. They sat up and Liz noticed that for whatever reason, she was covered in a nightgown. Was that Grandma Claudia's doing, she wondered? She looked up to see her grandmother sitting at the foot of the bed.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what to say to you. I'm so sorry. I told you there was nothing to fear because I thought I could protect you . . . guide you away from any danger. I didn't think they would find you so soon. You're okay?"

"We're fine, Grandma. It's okay," Liz assured her. "And we may have found the visor. Paul has it. But what happens now?"

"Well, I've let it be known where Seranna and Katar are. I'm sure they've been captured by now. Questioning them should go a long way to clamping down on their organization. But you can be sure there will be repercussions. I just don't know if you should go on with this, Liz. Maybe you and Max should just let Paul take you home."

"Grandma!" Liz exclaimed. "You are the one who told us we had to be committed, had to see it through. We've already learned so much, but we're not done yet. We can't stop now."

Max looked at Liz with wonder. After the trauma she had survived today, she was still willing to pursue the answers. Baby, I'm amazed by you, he thought.

"Max, is that how you feel?" asked Grandma Claudia.

"Yes. If Liz is willing, then we're going to keep going. But what comes next?"

"I know you have felt the pull in Chaco Canyon. I know there is something here we need, but I don't know what."

This was a familiar and frustrating position. The Cliff Palace all over again. Max hoped there were no other similarities.

"I know that I was drawn over and over to the Supernova Petroglyph. That's all I can tell you."

"And Max and I were drawn to the place where the original Anasazi roads converged," added Liz. "We should try to go both places tomorrow, Max."

"What about the Criston?" asked Max.

"The what?" Grandma Claudia was confused.

"That's what the other aliens called the visor or crown or whatever--a Criston."

"I see." She thought for a moment. "I will talk to Paul, but if that is, indeed, what you found, then you should have it with you. It may be the key to something or . . . I don't know, but it has to be important, so keep it with you."

"Grandma?" Liz hesitated.

"Yes, Honeybear."

"Are you watching us all the time?"

Grandma Claudia smiled. "I know when to keep an eye on you and when not to, little one. I was young once, too, you know." She winked at them and disappeared.

Liz gave Max an embarrassed smile. "Well, that gives us something to think about, doesn't it?" Max chuckled and pulled Liz close. "Thank you for the note, by the way," Liz whispered into his chest.

"Thank you for your answer," he grinned.


Part 28

As Liz's eyes fluttered open, she was immediately aware of Max's soft breathing above her head. During the night, she had managed to crawl practically on top of him as they slept, and she decided she didn't want to wake up any other way for the rest of her life. She lifted her head and drank in the sight of him, his face totally at peace, his breathing regular, his bangs fringing his beautiful eyes.

She nudged him gently. "Hey."

His eyes remained closed, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Hey," he mumbled. He had no desire to move. Ever. He would just stay in this room with Liz and let the world, the universe, be damned.

"I'm not moving," he informed her.

Liz had no intention of arguing with that, so she snuggled closer.

There was a knock at the door. "Liz! Max! Uh, time to get up!" Paul Hernandez stood at the door to Max and Liz's room, awkwardly waiting for someone to answer the door. Somehow, he always felt like an intruder around them, like the world they lived in was just a bit apart from his, and he needed permission to enter it.

Liz sat up quickly. "Just a minute!" She scrambled out of the bed.

"What are you wearing?" Max asked, giving her a lingering once-over, eyebrows raised. Liz looked down, absorbing with some confusion that the nightgown from their conversation with her grandmother had mysteriously disappeared and she was back in the towel she had worn to bed.

"I had no clean clothes, Max. I rinsed mine out in the tub, but you were already asleep when I came out to see if you wanted to do the same with yours."

"I was asleep all night next to you in nothing but a towel? What a waste!" He looked amused, but Liz was all too aware of Paul Hernandez waiting at the door.

"I've gotta get dressed!" she stage-whispered to him, irritated at his grin. She ran into the bathroom to retrieve her clothes, which, to her dismay, were nowhere near dry.

"Max! Help!"

Max was at her side in an instant. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean 'I'm in trouble' help. It's just my clothes are still wet. Could you . . . ?"

Max sighed with relief, and in a few seconds her clothes were dry.

"Thank you!" She went up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "You'd better get cleaned up. You're disgusting!" she giggled and closed the door, leaving Max to face his dirty body, hair, and clothes.

After giving Liz a moment to change, he walked back into the bedroom, his body and his clothes completely clean. "No fair," pouted Liz, as she opened the door to Paul.

"Good morning. I hope you had a good night." He was sorry he said that as soon as it was out of his mouth, but Max and Liz were completely at ease, apparently happy to see him. "We've got to make some phone calls. First, I'll leave a message for the Holbrooks that we decided to drive back to Roswell so they won't come meet you tomorrow. Then, Liz, I'll call your dad?"

Liz nodded. "Yeah, I know he's a little worried, so let's not make it sound too bad. Not much detail, okay?"

"Agreed. Max? You just want Jeff to talk to your mom?"

"Yeah. I'm afraid if my dad hears about this before I can tell him myself, it'll be rough."

"Fine. Claudia came to talk last night. Said she'd been in to see you. We looked at the artifact you found in the tunnel. I think it could be the Criston. I really do."

Max and Liz knew this was a possibility, but to hear Paul say it out loud struck them both. What would it mean if it were the Criston? What were they supposed to do with it?

"Mr. Hernandez, Grandma told us last night that she had been drawn to the Supernova Petroglyph up at Penasco Blanco. And when Max and I were here last week, we felt a strong pull to the area where the Anasazi roads converged. We'd really like to stay here today and check those two places out . . . if you don't mind."

"I remember her talking about that feeling. We must have hiked up to that site at least three times. Whatever it was, she felt it was important. But we never saw anything except the imprints of a crescent moon, the supernova, and a hand."

"One other thing." Max spoke hesitantly. "I know this sounds odd, but I have felt an unnatural pull toward Liz recently, too." He looked at Paul to see if he believed him, or was chalking it up to an infatuated boy.

Liz glanced sharply at Max. "Really, Max? Because I've felt that, too. Whenever I've had to leave you, it's almost like two magnets pulling apart. It only started since our first visit here."

Max, too, looked surprised. "I didn't know you were feeling it, too," he smiled, reaching for her hand.

Paul studied them for a moment. "I have no reason to doubt you. We have seen and felt enough unbelievable things, I guess this is just one more." He smiled at them reassuringly. "I'll make those calls and we'll meet in the restaurant in 20 minutes, okay?"

"Bring the Criston, please, Mr. Hernandez. We may need it," Max reminded him.

Paul left, and Liz immediately reached for her grandmother's journals. "Let's go back and reread the parts about the petroglyph and the roads." She handed one book to Max and lay face down on the bed with another. Max stretched out next to her and started to leaf through the journal.

"Liz, you feel it, too, don't you? The pull, I mean? You didn’t just say that to persuade Mr. Hernandez? You know, backing me up?"

"I felt it when we came home from here last week, when we had to leave each other at the Jeep behind the Crashdown. I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not."

Max nodded. "That's exactly when I noticed it, too. I guess we'll learn eventually what it's about," he sighed.

They began to peruse the journals again. Liz found nothing new regarding the petroglyph, only that her grandmother had felt strongly that it was important in some way. She jumped when Max reached over to get her attention. "Liz! Look at this! It says that the Navajo were afraid of the Anasazi roads--something about it being the home of the Big Monster. But the Anasazi claimed the roads were a path to knowledge and enlightenment."

Liz looked over his shoulder at the notes her grandmother had written. "Big Monster. What could have scared off the Navajo but not the Anasazi? What's that newspaper clipping?"

Max reached over and unfolded the yellowing paper and began to scan it. "It's from 1990. Some archeology student, Carla Van West, says it couldn't have been drought that drove the Anasazi from Colorado; they'd survived those several times before. She says, 'The peculiar character of the abandonment is its completeness, its rapidity. This suggests some kind of pull was operating as well--or an ideology favoring migration.' Liz! You know what this could mean? Your grandmother told us that they left because the conflict between the two groups of aliens had dragged the Anasazi down, making them turn their backs on everything they had built. This fits right in! What if they were 'pulled' here by the same feeling we're having. What if there was something here? What if it's still here?"

Liz's eyes grew wide as Max speculated. They jumped off the bed and began to pace. The pieces were beginning to fit.

"Max, what if whatever that thing is that was pulling them is the 'Big Monster'? The hybrid Anasazi felt drawn toward it because of their alien side. And they would have brought others with them--they would have felt it was a good thing. But if the Navajo saw it, they might have been afraid. They had no connection with it!"

Max gave Liz a quick hug. Could they really be getting close to figuring this out? he wondered.

"Let's get to the restaurant. We're late to meet Paul. I wonder what he'll think of all this."

When they arrived at the inn's restaurant, Paul was waiting. He could see the two teens were excited about something. They swooped into the booth and rushed into their theory. Once they had finished, they watched him expectantly.

Paul ran through their hypothesis in his mind, trying to find a flaw, an inconsistency. With what they had to go on, it made more sense than anything he and Claudia had come up with. "You might be on to something," he commented cautiously. "I'm not sure how we prove it, though."

Max and Liz beamed at him. "First, we go up to the petroglyph and see if we can figure out what it was that made Grandma so interested in it," announced Max, clearly ready to take control of the situation. Liz smiled to herself. That was the first time Max had let himself call her "Grandma."

"It's quite a hike," Paul warned them. "We'd better get breakfast over with and get going. I'll grab us some stuff for lunch."

For the first time since this whole journey had begun, they felt they had a plan, a chance to finally learn the truth.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:46:32 AM
Part 29

"Diane, this is Jeff. I need to talk to you. I've heard from Paul Hernandez."

"Are they okay?"

"They're okay, but there was some trouble. He seems to think they're close to something. Can we meet?"

"Name the place."

"How about in the park over by the courthouse. We should be able to talk there. In an hour?"

"An hour."

Diane was already sitting on a bench near the fountain when Jeff arrived.

"I thought the noise of the water would make it hard to be overheard," she explained. "I feel like a character in a spy novel. What did Paul say?"

"They aren't in Mesa Verde anymore. They're back at Chaco Canyon. He was very tight with the specifics, but he said there was some sort of trouble at the Cliff Palace and that he and Max and Liz decided not to stick around."

Diane put her hand on his arm, alarmed. "Jeff, you're sure they're okay? Everything they've been through that we never knew about! I don't trust them to tell us everything."

"I know. I'm sure we don't have nearly the whole story, but he assured me they were fine. They spent the night at the inn, and they want to do some investigating in Chaco Canyon today. He said he'd get them home tomorrow, and promised to call if plans changed."

"I wonder what happened. Now I'm just nervous all the time because I'm beginning to realize all the different things that could happen. No wonder you turned away from all this."

"If Max had turned away from it, Liz would be dead." Jeff's voice broke, trying not to let the magnitude of that statement overwhelm him. "Your son saved my daughter's life. Thank heaven he didn't turn away from it."

Tears spilled onto Diane's cheeks. She reached for Jeff and they held each other, each thinking of all that had brought them to this place and all they could be facing now, taking comfort in the sharing of their mutual fear. When they pulled away, Jeff offered Diane his handkerchief. "Why is it men always carry these things, but it's the women who always need them?" she laughed through her tears.

He finished drying her face and replaced his handkerchief. "Always happy to serve," he smiled. "Paul also said that they were very special young people, and we should be proud. I guess when he got them up this morning, they were rested and eager to keep going."

Diane looked at Jeff sharply, and it struck him what he'd just said. When he got them up this morning? "Jeff, what are you saying? Max and Liz spent the night together?"

Jeff groped for an answer. "I . . . I don't know. It never even occurred me when he said it. Surely, he wouldn't have let them . . . I mean, he's a responsible adult. He couldn't . . . maybe they were in separate rooms."

Diane had recovered somewhat, recalling her own feelings that night she had watched them sleeping. "You know, Jeff, there is something different about their relationship. They are much closer than boyfriend/girlfriend. There is something electric between them, an almost visible bond. They have something special, something I don't know if you or I will ever understand." She took his hand, forcing him to look at her. "Jeff, we are going to have to talk more about this. We may have to be more . . . flexible . . . in dealing with them. And we're going to have to tell Philip and Nancy at some point."

Jeff nodded. "I know." Jeff dreaded that conversation with Nancy. What kind of reaction should he expect when his wife of 20 years finds out that she's been married to an alien all that time. He shook it off. One crisis at a time.

"I had those same feelings watching Max and Liz on the campout. When Liz told me Max was her family, that he was "the one," I confronted him with it. I was so nervous about his finding out about the alien ancestry . . . how's that for irony? . . . that I told him what Liz said. I expected him to run like a rabbit in the other direction. He never batted an eye, Diane. He just told me everything she'd said was true. That they were forever. After that, I tried to keep to the usual rules, but they just didn’t seem to apply. They're just . . . different."

"If their parents feel that way, think how Paul Hernandez must feel. I guess that's one more thing we'll have to talk about with them when they get home."

"Well, I'd better get back to the Crashdown. I'm a little shorthanded this weekend," Jeff joked.

Diane stood. "I understand. Thank you, Jeff. It really does help to be able to talk this through with someone."

He gave her a quick hug and turned toward the center of town. Across the park, Philip Evans stood rooted by the courthouse steps. He had finished some paperwork inside and had come out to see his wife greeting Jeff Parker. As he watched, he saw them speaking earnestly, embracing, he could even swear Jeff Parker was wiping away his wife's tears.

What the hell was going on!


Part 30

A sense of anticipation hovered over the three hikers as they pulled into the Pueblo del Arroyo parking lot. This was as close as they were going to get to Penasco Blanco by car. Max double-checked that the Criston was in his backpack. Liz had the journals, and Paul carried a light lunch. They followed the path toward Penasco Blanco and its famous petroglyph, maintaining a moderate pace so that the sun and distance wouldn't tire them too soon. Each was lost in private thoughts.

Max led the way, conflicting emotions doing battle in his mind. On the one hand, he was excited and hopeful. This was the most concrete lead they had ever had. There was a chance they would unravel the riddle of their past, of Liz's and his past. The thought that they shared a past had a calming affect on his nerves. Whatever they found out would affect them both. On the other hand, what if they found nothing except another dead end? Or what if they did discover something, something that meant he and Liz couldn't be together? That turned his blood to ice water. He turned to look behind him.

Liz was walking head down, concentrating on the rocky path. She felt his eyes on her and looked up, favoring him with a happy smile. She was in her element. She was investigating a mystery, gathering evidence, forming hypotheses, and testing them. She had no doubt in her heart that this would bring her and Max closer to finding out what they needed to know in order to start their life together confidently. She had complete faith in her grandmother's intuition, and she couldn't wait to get there.

Paul kept an eye on the two young figures in front of him. He knew how heavily invested they were in what they discovered today. He hoped they would find what they wanted. He knew that if they found nothing here, or if they found evidence that would keep them apart, it would break their hearts, and he didn't think he could bear to watch. But he knew Claudia felt they were on the right track, and that was pretty convincing, as far as he was concerned.

After an hour and a half, they finally reached their destination. No one else had braved the long distance in the hot sun, so they were completely alone. Max knelt in front of the petroglyph and traced the paintings with his hands. The three symbols could have been points on an isosceles triangle. What historians had concluded was a representation of the Crab Nebula Supernova was at the lower left-hand point, looking almost like a starfish. The handprint was at the top with the crescent moon shape almost directly underneath.

See Photo

Max looked back at Liz. She nodded encouragingly.

"Go ahead, son," Paul murmured.

Max placed his hand on the handprint. There was no glowing, no movement. Just a hand pressing on solid rock. Max turned around, stunned. They had built this moment up to be so important. Now they had nothing to show for it.

"Wait." Liz came and knelt beside Max. "Together, right?" He nodded. Maybe this was the secret.

He laid his hand over hers against the rock. Again, nothing happened. "Maybe if your hand is on the bottom," she suggested. Max laid his hand on the rock, and Liz placed hers on top of it. Nothing.

They slumped back, staring at the rock wall in frustration. "It's just a painting," said Max, feeling like all his energy, all his hope had drained from his hand. He looked at Liz with such pain in his eyes, she leaned toward him and kissed his cheek.

"That only means we haven't found the right clue yet, Max. It's just a setback. That's all." She reached her arm around his shoulder to give him a reassuring hug, brushing against his backpack. The angular edge of the Criston pushed the fabric of the backpack out at an odd angle, and Liz stopped, momentarily lost in thought.

"Max, get the Criston out."

Max shed his backpack and opened it, pulling out the metal band. It looked much as Grandma Claudia's storytellers had described it. The front was smooth, curved metal about 4 inches deep, with thick eyepieces inset on either side. Over the nosepiece, it dipped, and a deep slot was cut into it. The metal narrowed as it bent around, where it would fit against the head. The sides were adorned with small circles of what appeared to be glass or jewels.

Liz fingered the Criston for a moment, and scooted forward toward the wall. "You know, Max?" she said thoughtfully, and she held it up against the crescent shape. It fit perfectly. Max and Liz locked eyes, and he reached for her hand. Paul watched the change come over them; they were suddenly thinking and working in unison, as if they knew exactly what to do now. As they each held the Criston in place with one of their hands, Max laid his other hand over the handprint and Liz placed hers on top. The Criston came to life; the jeweled stones on each side began to glow and they could hear a soft hum. The handprint also began to glow, and Paul watched in amazement as a 3-inch-thick stone panel began to rise from the desert floor.

It stopped about 8 inches off the ground. The hum and glowing also stopped, and Max and Liz released their hold on the wall. They both put their faces to the ground to peer inside the opening. The drastic difference between the bright light in their eyes and the darkness within the small vault made it impossible to see inside it. Paul knelt down next to them. "I have a flashlight," he offered.

"No need," replied Max. He reached his hand inside the opening and it gave off a soft light.

"There's a pouch in there, Max!" cried Liz excitedly.

Max reached in and pulled the pouch out. The drawstring top was tightly secured, and it took Liz's tiny fingers to untie the knot. When she had it open, Max tilted the pouch over her waiting palm and out slipped a round metal disk. On its face was the spiral symbol.

Liz picked up the Criston in her other hand, and easily slipped the disk into the indentation on its nose bridge. It clicked into place and the Criston began its now familiar hum.


Part 31

Liz threw herself into Max's arms. "Oh, Max! We've done it! We've found another concrete clue. We needed this piece to make the Criston work. The handprint wasn't hidden because no one could get into this vault without having the Criston." Her eyes sparkled as more pieces fell into place.

"I don't think it's just about having the Criston," Paul said quietly. Liz had almost forgotten he was there. "I think it's about being the leader."

Max had been watching Liz, enjoying her enthusiasm and the small victory they had shared. At Paul's words, he turned, his expression serious. "What are you saying? That only the leader could open this?"

"It makes sense, doesn't it?" Paul asked. "This has been hidden for centuries. Possession of it seems to be critical to holding power on Voya--so critical that your enemies came to Earth looking for it. Your ancestors buried part of it in a tunnel at the Cliff Palace and hid the other part here at Penasco Blanco. This was the largest non-community structure in the settlement; most probably this is where the leader lived. I'm betting only the leader knew where both pieces were and only the leader could open this vault to get the piece that activates the Criston." He paused, afraid of overwhelming his young, reluctant leader. "That's you, Max."

Max stood rigid, trying to process these newest implications of their quest. The pressure was starting to get to him. What if somehow finding the Criston and activating it was going to take him away from Earth, from Liz? "Then why did I need Liz?"

"I'm not sure. But you both said you've been feeling a strong pull to be together. And Claudia certainly sets great store by the energy you create as a couple. There has to be a key in there somewhere."

Liz turned her face up toward Max. "Guess you'll have to keep me around now, huh?"

He knew she was trying to lighten this burden of leadership that was constantly being thrust upon him, but he wasn't feeling lighthearted. He was feeling as if his whole future was out of his control.

"Let's take a break and have some lunch," suggested Paul. They sat in the shade of one of the partial walls of the ruins and ate their sandwiches. The initial rush of adrenaline from their discovery had diminished, and they were all wondering what should happen next.

"I would suggest we get back to the inn and freshen up, maybe get a little rest before we decide on our next move," advised Paul.

"We still want to see the convergence of the Anasazi roads," Liz insisted. "I just know that's part of it, somehow."

"I agree," Max chimed in. "Liz and I both felt it."

After a brief rest, they packed and trudged back down the long trail to the car. They were physically and emotionally drained. They threw their backpacks into the car and climbed in. It was the hottest part of the day now, and Paul insisted everyone get a little air-conditioned down time. They drove back to the inn in silence. Liz nestled close to Max, trying to relieve some of his tension.

When they reached the lobby, Paul left them. "Just relax a bit, you two. I'll come get you a little later and we'll talk about what comes next."

When they got back to the room, the weary hikers breathed the cool air in deeply and fell in a heap on the bed. Liz reached over and turned the radio on softly. Sarah McLachlan's "I Love You" wafted through the room.

"Hmm. I love that song," Liz murmured as she rested her head on Max's shoulder. Max caressed her cheek, evoking a little smile from the girl he adored. She was obviously more than willing to doze off, but Max had too much running through his mind. He wasn't sure they were going to be happy with the outcome of all this. Didn't he have any say in his own life? Didn't he have the right to make Liz a part of it … if she were willing?

Watching Liz sleep, he listened to Ricky Martin sing his latest release, and for the first time, he really heard the words. They were him; they were how he felt about Liz.

"She's all, she's all I ever had.
It's the way she makes me feel.
It's the only thing that's real.
It's the way she understands,
She's my lover, she's my friend.

When I look into her eyes
It's the way I feel inside--
Like the man I want to be.
She's all I'll ever need."

A strong sense of determination started to grow in Max's mind. This was his life, his future at stake. He couldn't imagine it without Liz. He couldn't even imagine returning to Roswell and going back to separate homes, separate lives . . . separate nights. He gazed down at the beautiful girl in his arms and wished they could begin their lives together somewhere, anywhere. But he knew his ties to Isabel, Michael, even his parents were too strong to abandon. They had to make this work within the world of Roswell. He had to make them understand what he and Liz needed. He would do it. There just weren't options.

Eventually, Max, too, dozed off, so when the phone rang, he awoke with a start. It was Paul, suggesting they meet for dinner and talk about the next step. By the time Max hung up, Liz had opened her eyes and was smiling lovingly at her favorite face. He obviously felt a little better, but she could still see the strain and uncertainty in his eyes. Nothing should make those gorgeous eyes look like that.

"Was that Mr. Hernandez?" she asked.

"Yeah, he wants us to meet him for dinner in half an hour and talk about our next move."

"I had an idea, Max." There was a glint in her eye that caught Max's attention immediately. Liz rose from the bed and walked toward him, looking sexy and impish at the same time.

"If your idea is what I think it is, we've been over this already," Max warned, afraid he would buckle too easily in his current state of mind. "You're killing me."

"Relax, Max, I'm willing to wait on the making love . . . for a little while. No, what I was thinking is, we've become way too good at blocking those flashes. We've gotten so used to doing it that it comes naturally now. But maybe, if we let them flow, we can learn something, get a clue about the next step. What do you think?"

Max's eyes widened. She was right. They just blocked those automatically now. They knew how much trouble they could get in by going with that flow! But that was how they found the orb, and Liz had seen the crash through the flashes. It might help.
He began to smile and turned to her with an impish expression of his own. "The problem with that idea is, I'd have to kiss you." He frowned, pretending to ponder the unpleasantness of that proposal.

"It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it," Liz quipped back. Their verbal game was quickly forgotten, though, as Liz slid her arms up his broad chest and over his powerful shoulders to curl her fingers through his hair. He was instantly drawn into her huge dark eyes and felt himself falling headlong into them. That's where he wanted to be, inside those eyes where he would feel safe and loved. Max tightened his grip around Liz, holding her eyes with his own until he couldn't resist looking at her lips, full and open and ready to accept the love he was so eager to share.

Abandoning the mental controls that had become a part of their lives was not so easy. They had trained themselves not to let the flashes come, knowing how it removed them from any sense of reality and fired up the passion between them. But this time, they had given each other permission, trusting fully that no matter what happened, they were facing it together. As they kissed, they had to consciously drop that guard and let their feelings flow.

All of the pressure, the responsibility, the pent-up emotions found release in those first few moments. They kissed hungrily, offering each other all of the comfort, love, and healing that they kept in their hearts. Max felt awash in Liz's feelings for him, experiencing her total commitment to their love, her complete acceptance of who and what he was, what they were. Max hadn't had any doubts about them for a long time, but if he had, they would have been swept away with a single moment inside her mind.

Max's emotions were threatening to overwhelm Liz. She felt his urgent need for her, both physically and emotionally. She was painfully aware of the heavy responsibility he felt and the frustration of trying to satisfy everyone's needs at the expense of his own. She could feel him reaching out for her, wanting nothing more than to climb inside her soul and share a place where they could be themselves, away from threats, rules, reality.

Max felt the danger as Liz's hands crept under his shirt, leaving a heated trail on his back and sides. His own hands followed suit, sliding over her soft back. The sensations ran rampant and he tore his mouth from hers, breathing hard. His face was in her hair, the silky strands slipping over his lips. He reached down and effortlessly pulled her up around him. As her lips sought his, she moved her hips forward to meet him, and she cried out as the images bombarded her.

She saw them in a field, standing on a large version of the spiral symbol etched in the ground. There was a bright light and people and the impression of something large looming over them. She and Max were holding tight to each other, but there was no fear.

Liz gasped and pulled back from Max, her face frozen in an awestruck expression. They were both still breathing hard, holding on to each other while they regained their equilibrium.

"You had a flash?" panted Max.

Liz nodded and pulled him with her to sit on the bed. She described everything she could remember about the scene. "I think it was good, Max. I didn't feel fear. But I don't understand it."

Max put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him, kissing her softly on the head. "That's good. Maybe it will be okay. I wonder where that was, though."

"Did you see anything?" asked Liz.

Max grinned at her. "I'm afraid all I saw was another of your fantasies. You are a wicked one, aren't you?"

Liz's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "Max! Now I remember why we started blocking those out!"

"Too bad we have to go meet Paul. That might have been interesting," he baited her.

Liz decided to fight fire with fire. "Paul can wait." She pushed Max back on the bed and straddled him, reaching for his belt. She couldn't suppress a laugh when she saw his completely frantic expression. He grabbed her roughly, set her up on her feet, and announced, a little too loudly, "I'm hungry."

Liz laughed all the way to the restaurant.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:48:10 AM
Part 32

As before, Paul was waiting for them when they arrived. He looked at their flushed faces and bright eyes and felt once again as if he didn't belong there. They were an enigma: a couple of fresh-faced kids from New Mexico who just happened to be aliens and who somehow managed to create a world of their own wherever they were. He could see flashes of the leader in Max, moments when he was thoroughly in command, yet still attuned to the needs of others, especially the woman he loved. And Liz. She was a tiny slip of a thing, and yet she had exhibited such strength of character and will that he could easily see her standing beside this leader to whom she was obviously devoted. In many ways, Paul felt he was just along for the ride.

"I hope you got some rest," he said as they slid into the booth.

"Yeah, we took a nap," said Max. His meaningful glance at Liz was not lost on Paul. It made Paul wonder all over again if he had made the right decision about the sleeping arrangements, but he didn't see how he could have separated them. It would have been unnatural somehow--another part of their puzzle.

The waitress took their orders and Max began. "Mr. Hernandez, we've been talking about what to do now. Liz had a . . . some insights while we were resting, and we know there is another step, something else we need to learn or find. Since we don't have any other ideas at the moment, we thought we'd stick with the plan to go over to where the original Anasazi roads supposedly converged at one time. We'd have to drive the loop again; it's all the way around past Casa Rinconada."

"They close the park at dusk, Max. This may have to wait until tomorrow, but I told your folks I'd drive you home tomorrow."

"We should do it tonight," Liz stated firmly. "There won't be anyone around and besides, we've waited long enough. There's only a gate. Max can get us through that, can't you, Max?"

A smile tugged at the corners of Max's mouth. She hadn't exactly asked that as a question. It was more of a statement, allowing for no contradiction. She never ceased to amaze him. Here she was, ready to take on the world, not having an idea in the universe what they would find. "Yeah, I can get us past that."

"Do you know exactly where this place is?" Paul wondered, trying to imagine how they would search for anything in the dark.

"We'll feel it," Max assured him.

During dinner, they discussed some of Paul's adventures with Claudia and explained some of their own from the past year. They came away from the meal with a greater respect for each other and a clearer understanding of all that had brought them to this place. After dinner, they walked out to the car. Max checked that they had both pieces of the Criston with them and they headed toward the gate to the canyon loop road.

It was dusk, and the gate at the entrance to the road was deserted. The gate was really nothing more than a long security arm that had been lowered for the night. It was an easy task for Max to cause it to rise up and let them pass. It lowered immediately behind them. Max and Liz concentrated on their surroundings as they passed the ruins, now cast in purple and blue hues as what was left of the sunset threw shadows among the crumbling walls and deserted kivas.

At the far end of the loop, they looked toward the direction of Penasco Blanco where they had spent their morning. Was something as dramatic waiting for them tonight? Max reached for Liz's hand. Everything had worked better when they were together; they were stronger, more attuned, more balanced as a team. It was what Max had always felt but never been able to verbalize. Now he knew it wasn't a cliché: she was his other half.

Paul steered the car down the other side of the loop toward the park entrance again, this time more slowly, knowing that this was the side that seemed to exert a pull over Max and Liz. They sat quietly, alert and focused. As they passed Casa Rinconada, he slowed even further, waiting to react. He didn't have to wait for long.

"Here!" they shouted in unison. Paul pulled over to the side of the road and looked out at the large, empty expanse. There was nothing but rock and scruffy vegetation, but he didn't doubt their instincts. The past few days had cured him of that.

Liz got out of the car first, peering into the deepening darkness for the source of the pull she felt here. Max climbed out right behind her, clenching the Criston in his hand. Paul came around the front of the car and looked at them questioningly. He didn't want to disturb their concentration, so he waited patiently for them to make the first move.

Their eyes seemed to lock on the same location in the distance. Hand in hand, they walked toward it, Paul following a few steps behind. They never wavered in their path, but walked a line as straight as the roads that had once been built there. Not a word was spoken, nor did they look at each other. It was as if they had given up control and were allowing whatever force existed there to lead them.

About half a mile off the road, they stopped. From Paul's vantage point a few paces back, he detected a familiar pattern. Anxious to confirm what his mind told him was doubtful, he retreated to a boulder projecting from the rocky ground. He pulled himself up with difficulty, but when he was able to stand atop the boulder, he saw it. There below him, where Max and Liz stood transfixed, was the spiral symbol. It was crudely shaped from crevices in the rock floor and desert vegetation, but it was unmistakable.

Without a word, Max and Liz finally looked at each other. Max took the Criston from his backpack and inserted the disk. Immediately, Paul could hear the faint hum and see the lights begin to blink. As Max raised his arms to place it on his head, Paul felt the urge to scream, "No!" But no words came. This was going to happen, for better or for worse, and he would record every detail in his mind.

The Criston fit around Max's head and over his eyes. Instinctively, he drew Liz to him, and the humming grew louder. Soon the pair was turning in a tight circle, their faces reflecting amazement, but not fear. Paul could see nothing, but it was clear that Liz and Max were seeing something. He detected no fear on their part, only surprise, curiosity, perhaps even happiness. He thought about rushing down to where they stood, but as always, he knew that was not his place. This was something meant for them.

"Look, Paul. This is what we worked all those years to find."

Paul didn't even look around. He knew he wouldn't be able to see Claudia, but he had become accustomed to hearing her voice. "The irony is, Claudia, I can't see a damn thing."

"I know, but I may be able to change that, at least for a while." Paul felt a warmth on his shoulder, almost as if Claudia was resting her hand there. Within seconds, Paul was looking at the most astonishing sight of his life.


Part 33

Max couldn't explain how, but he could feel the pull; he and Liz seemed to know exactly what direction to take, exactly where to stop. He just knew to put the Criston on, and he just knew that Liz had to be holding on to him. It was scripted, inevitable.

As soon as the humming increased, they began to see a powerfully bright light illuminating a huge circle around them. Looking up toward the light, they saw the source: a huge disk hovering, as if suspended from the sky. "Big Monster," Max murmured, and Liz nodded.

Max became aware that the Criston was no longer on his head, at least not while he stood in this unknown place. One by one, the images of people took up positions around the circumference; they were smiling, even joyful. As Max and Liz turned in the spot at the center, Max realized he knew these people! These were his people: his family, his friends, his advisors. They appeared older than Max, of course; after all, he had been "reborn" as a human, but that didn't diminish his happiness at seeing them. Here in front of him was the past he had been seeking.

The communication was silent, telepathic, but it came easily to Max, and to his great surprise and pleasure, it came easily to Liz as well. They were able to ask and answer questions amidst the glow of celebration.

"Son, you have come, as I knew you would!" beamed his mother, a different image from the one they had seen in the pod chamber, but one familiar to Max. "You have made us proud. Finding the Criston and restoring it to us will finally bring peace to Voya. And thanks to you, Seranna and Katar have been captured. The tide is already turning in our favor. You have done well."

"Where is my father?" asked Max.

A look of regret came over his mother's face. "He is gone, lost to the conflict a long time ago, but I have no doubt he is aware of what you have accomplished and is every bit as proud as I am. His after-spirit, which stayed with us for longer than most–almost two years, was confident you would succeed."

"What do you mean by 'after-spirit'?" Max realized there would always be much he didn't know of his former life.

"That essence of a loved one that comes to guide and comfort us after death. His was very strong, very vital for a long time." She paused. "You have brought your chosen one, my son. We knew you would. We felt the energy you created together and knew you had chosen well. She has proved most worthy. We are pleased with her and happy for you."

Max held tightly to Liz. "We need to know something. When the fourth of the engineered humans finally found us, she claimed we had a destiny–together. A message from a hologram claiming to be my mother called her my bride, and it said my sister and my lieutenant were also meant to be together. I . . . we . . . Liz and I need to know if this is true, because with everything in my heart, I feel I should be with Liz."

His mother smiled and raised her arms, palms up, toward the couple. "Your destiny is yours to choose, my son. The ties that you had on Voya are not binding on you here. The hologram, an image chosen by the computer, was only meant to reassure and guide you. Your marriage was arranged right before you left so that you would not be alone in this strange place. You were sent in pairs to give you a mate to help and comfort you in your new life. But if you did not choose each other as mates here, then you must follow your own path."

"Liz has descended from the Anasazi Voyans. I was engineered." Max's mouth was dry as he projected his next question. Everything depended on this--his life, his love. He tried to pull Liz even closer, but his vice-like hold on her couldn't be tightened. "Are we compatible? Can we make a life together?"

"This has been troubling you, my son. I feel the heaviness in your heart, and I see your love for this girl. Do you think we could be so cruel as to send our children to Earth and make it impossible for them to find happiness in this life? Of course, you are compatible. And it is all the more true because of whom you have chosen."

The relief that flooded through Max and Liz at that moment was felt by all who watched the touching scene. As Max turned to Liz, they expressed their joy and love through their thoughts, their eyes, and an achingly tender kiss. There were tears in their eyes as Max released Liz's lips, but he held her face, speaking silent volumes to her of the life they would share.

Liz responded with a brilliant smile. "I never doubted, Max. Never."

"This is a joyous day for Voya," Max's mother proclaimed. "Our people will once again achieve peace, now that we have you, Max. And the Criston." Max suddenly realized that his mother was now holding the sacred artifact. She frowned slightly. "I fear for what will happen here on Earth, however. It would be safest if you returned to Voya."

Max's heart lurched. "Leave? Leave Earth? Do I have to? What about Liz?" His questions and his fear were pouring out from him.

"The choice is yours, Max. Liz can come, of course. Your forms will remain human, but they can be accommodated."

"We can stay here, can't we?" Liz asked. She would follow Max anywhere, but the thought of leaving her family, her friends, all she knew was overwhelming.

"You may find more danger here than on Voya now, but you two must decide. You are still our leader, Max. There is much to be done here. And now that the Criston has been restored to us, we can communicate with you again."

"How? If you have the Criston, how will I communicate with you?"

"Why, the orbs, of course, Max. You have them, don't you?"

More of the pieces fell into place. Max nodded, an understanding taking form in his mind. "Yes, we have them. Now I understand. We needed to return the Criston in order for the orbs to communicate with Voya. Michael, Isabel, Tess, Josh . . . everyone will be so happy to know we've reestablished contact."

"Do you choose to serve us from Earth, then, Max?"

Max looked to Liz, certain he knew what he would find there. "Max," Liz said softly, "you know I love you. You do what you think is best. I will support you and stay with you no matter what. But if you're asking me what I want, I want to stay here."

"So do I." He held her gaze for a moment, still reeling from the long-awaited confirmation that they could be together. His heart was singing, and he wanted desperately to be alone with her now. But there were still issues to resolve. Max turned to his mother. "We'll stay here, but I have so many questions and so much to learn. And the others will want to see you. When do you have to go back?"

The amused glances exchanged among those gathered for the occasion confused Max and Liz until his mother's light laughter died down. "We're not here, Max. We are still on Voya. You see only projections, made possible by the Criston and the transmitter above you. You can't imagine how long we have waited to hear from you, to find out what became of you. Please, son, tell us of your life here. Tell us everything about the others."

Questions were asked and answered, old friendships renewed, new family members introduced. Max and Liz asked a thousand questions, but it was never enough to fully understand all that had happened. Then they explained as much as they could of their lives in Roswell. The horrors of the last year brought looks of shock, anger, and sympathy. But there were good stories, too, of friendship and laughter and love.

The group grew quiet as Max's mother turned her attention to Liz. "You have clearly won my son's heart, but I have not asked what it is you feel, what you want."

Liz gathered her courage and faced her straight on. "I love Max with all my heart. We are a part of each other--the better, stronger part. Learning the truth about him changed my life, changed me. And learning the truth about me has changed us. What I want is a life with Max. I want to share the joys and dangers. I want to live in his soul. I want to have his children." Liz paused for one last wish. "And I want your blessing."

The world stilled as they all watched Max's mother study the small woman standing determinedly before her. Max stepped forward, a look of astonished adoration on his face; he reached for Liz's hand.

"I cannot imagine a more perfect answer," she said quietly, her face relaxing into a beautiful smile. "We have all been blessed this night."

A cheer went up until one by one, the images faded, and soon Max and Liz found themselves standing in the middle of a barren landscape. The sun was just coming up.


Part 34

"Max! Liz!" They turned to see Paul clambering down from a large boulder. They had been here all night! Where had Paul been? They hadn't they seen him at all.

"Mr. Hernandez! Were we really here all night? Where have you been?"

They hurried toward each other full of questions and news. "I saw it!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Claudia came and helped me to see what was happening. I'm so happy for you, for us, for everyone involved. This is momentous!"

Paul gave them each quick hugs, exuberant that he and Claudia had seen their dream come to fruition. Max and Liz were equally enthusiastic, stunned by all they had seen and learned.

"Grandma was here?" Liz smiled, ecstatic that her grandmother had shared this magical experience.

Paul grinned back. "Saw the whole thing. It was the thrill of our lives, so to speak."

As if of one mind, Liz and Max both remembered with a jolt the one piece of news that had made their world shine–they could have a life together! There were no barriers to their love, their union, their plans for a life together. Without a word, they flew into each other's arms. Liz was crying again through her laughter. Max lifted her up, squeezing her to him with a strength he never knew he had. Their individual emotions were indistinguishable; they felt only a mutual joy, an everlasting promise.

Paul stood by, having nowhere else to go, but experiencing the familiar awkwardness of being an intruder in their world. His own eyes teared up as Max set Liz down tenderly and kissed her. Paul's eyes grew wide as he became aware of the glow that began to surround them, a halo effect that radiated and intensified. As the kiss lingered, the light slowly started to swirl around them like a warm blanket. Paul tried to turn away, but he couldn't take his eyes off of them.

After several minutes, the young couple pulled apart, delighted as they watched the light diminish. Liz giggled happily, "There we go again."

Max broke out in a wide smile. "Guess that makes you the light of my life, doesn't it?"

Liz groaned at his silly pun and wrapped her arms around one of his. "What now?" she sighed contentedly, although she didn't really care. Max didn't even respond. He couldn't seem to function on a practical level just yet.

Paul took the lead. "I promised to get you home today. Let's go check out of the hotel, get some breakfast, and hit the road. There is a lot to talk about with the folks back in Roswell."

That statement brought a dose of reality back to the conversation. Where would they begin? Their friends? Their parents? How could they go back to being regular high school students in small-town Roswell?


Isabel awoke feeling as calm, as peaceful, as happy as she ever remembered being. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but she knew it meant good things were happening for Max and Liz. Her mom had been so restless all weekend, finding a million things to do just to pass the time and keep her mind off what could be happening to her son and his girlfriend. Isabel was glad for a chance to ease her mind.

"Mom, I think I may have some good news for you," Isabel announced, walking into the den where her mother was downloading a recipe for spicy chili, her kids' favorite. She looked at Isabel hopefully.

"It's nothing concrete, Mom, but you know I've had a bad feeling the past couple of days, and Max did say they'd had some trouble but were okay. Well, this morning, I have a really good feeling, like they are peaceful and happy. I think things must have gone well last night." She wanted to bite her tongue. Her mother was looking at her with a startled expression, obviously imagining Max and Liz in the throes of passion.

"Mom! That's not what I meant. I meant I don't feel the fear anymore. I think they're okay."

Diane smiled weakly, trying to get the images out of her mind. "Thanks, honey. I hope that means they're coming home today."

Isabel was anxious to get out of the room. Picturing her mother picturing Max and Liz together was more than she could take. "I have to take a shower. I'll talk to you later, mom."

Diane nodded and sat quietly, staring at a recipe but seeing nothing. She shook herself and headed for the phone.

"Hello?"

"Jeff, it's Diane Evans. I may have a bit of news, and . . . something I want to discuss with you. Would you have time for a chat?"

"Of course, Diane. Are you okay? You sound strained."

"I'm fine. I think it's good news, but . . . I'll be over in 15 minutes. Thanks."

She grabbed her keys and headed out. Philip came through the doorway from the other room. He was sure she had said "Jeff" on the phone. Why would she be rushing over to see Jeff Parker at this hour of the morning? At any hour, for that matter. He couldn't believe what he was thinking, but he told himself that if he went to see what she was up to, he could confirm that he had been mistaken, and they could avoid an awkward confrontation. He pulled his own keys from his pocket and left.

Nancy Parker had been on the stairs when the phone rang. She heard Jeff pick it up, and she heard the name "Diane." This was too much. She had tried to dismiss what she'd seen in the restaurant the other night, but now this woman was calling her husband at home? He sounded worried about her. She didn't want to jump to conclusions. She loved her husband, and he'd never given her any reason to doubt his fidelity, but she just couldn't explain what she'd seen and heard. She climbed the stairs and walked into the bedroom. What should she do?

Minutes later, there was a tapping at their back door, and she heard Jeff run down the stairs to open it. She followed to the top of the stairs and saw him slip out the back door, looking surreptitiously behind him. She couldn't help herself. She followed him down the stairs and cracked the doorway. She saw Jeff and Diane leaning against the wall across the alley, talking seriously.

"Jeff, thanks for talking to me again. I know I must be driving you crazy, but when I'm nervous, I need to talk."

"It's okay, Diane. What's up?"

"Well, the good news is, Isabel woke up this morning with a good feeling about Max and Liz. She thinks they're going to be fine. I hope that means they're on their way home."

Jeff let out a long sigh. "Imagine us feeling so relieved because of how Isabel feels when she wakes up!" he joked.

"Her exact words were, 'I have a really good feeling, like they are peaceful and happy. I think things must have gone well last night.'" Diane watched Jeff's face, waiting for a reaction. He concentrated for a minute, as if trying to grasp her point. Then the light went on. "You don't think . . . ."

"Whether it's true or not, Jeff, this is something we are going to have to deal with when they come back. You've seen them together. You and I have talked about how they are. There's something strong there, special. But that doesn't mean we can condone their having sex . . . does it?"

Jeff shook his head. "We're probably overreacting," he assured her. "They're out of danger. That's all it means. We'll have to talk to them when they get home, though. You're right about that."

"And we have to tell Philip and Nancy, Jeff. Keeping this secret is putting a distance between Philip and me that I don't like. He's their father and he has a right to know. What about Nancy?"

"I know I'm going to have to tell her. I'm just not sure what will happen when I do."

Jeff looked so uncertain. He was facing a more daunting task than Diane was. His marriage was at stake. Diane reached up to give Jeff a comforting hug. "She'll understand, Jeff. They both will."

"What exactly will we understand?" Jeff and Diane turned shocked faces toward the voice. There was Philip Evans, a cloud of hurt and anger crossing his face. Behind him in the doorway to the Crashdown, stood Nancy Parker with tears in her eyes.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:54:12 AM
Part 35

It was about 5:00 p.m. when Paul Hernandez pulled into a parking space in front of the Crashdown Café. Although Max and Liz had each taken a turn driving, he had done most of it, and his body ached from being in one position so long. He looked at his two young passengers. They had held each other at every opportunity. When Max was driving, he kept one arm around Liz. When she wasn't dozing on his shoulder, they were talking in low tones, every conversation punctuated by loving glances and feathery kisses on his cheek or the top of her head. During her shift, Max had kept one hand on her leg and the other was making a list of things they had to tell everyone, decisions they had to make. Paul could only observe and wonder at what lay ahead for them.

They stretched their legs as they emerged from the cramped vehicle and peered through the window of the Crashdown. Business was light and Liz didn't see her parents anywhere.

"Come up with me, Max. My dad will have a million questions and I don't want to face it alone. Besides, it'll be good practice for your house." A weak argument, but Max could be persuaded to do almost anything when Liz turned those doe eyes on him. He took her hand and nodded.

"Mr. Hernandez?" Liz turned around to find Paul unloading what little was left of their possessions from the car. "Please come up and meet my parents. Dad knows you were close to Grandma, and I know he'd love to meet you. Besides, we owe you so much, they'll want to thank you."

"I'd like that, Liz," he answered. They gathered their scant belongings, walked through the restaurant, and climbed the back stairs. When they reached the top, Liz turned toward the living room. A small noise caught in her throat. Max was behind her immediately, looking over her head at the unnerving scene. There in the living room were their parents, all four of them. There were coffee cups and tissues and a bottle of aspirin, and four of the most haggard looking faces Liz had ever seen.

This could not be good.

Paul had stopped short at the scene, as well, wondering what he had walked in on. Then it hit him. They were having "the talk." Jeff and Diane were telling Philip and Nancy the truth. He sighed. He wasn't really a part of this, but he hoped he could help.

Nancy Parker rose, and everyone held their breath, not knowing if they would witness a tantrum, a fainting spell, or an act of violence. She walked shakily toward Liz, staring with large red eyes at her daughter who she had thought she knew. Before Liz could react, Nancy reached for her, pulling her into a tight hug. "Oh, Liz! Thank God you're safe." She pulled back and held Liz's face in her hands, trying to reassure herself that Liz was truly all right. "I can't believe . . . ." She just shook her head and started to cry again.

Her attention turned to Max. Liz tensed and reached back for him, shifting to stand between her mother and Max. Max stepped out from behind her, ready to meet what was coming his way. To his astonishment, Nancy threw her arms around him as well. "Thank you, Max. Thank you for saving my daughter's life. I owe you so much!" The tears returned full force. Jeff walked to her side and gently took her by the shoulders, guiding her back to a chair.

Max was so surprised by the show of gratitude that at first he hadn't noticed his father standing to face him. Max's face began to crumble. This was his childhood fear--that his father would find out his secret and reject him. Max, who had looked confident and prepared when Mrs. Parker approached him, looked like a small child as he faced his father. This time he accepted Liz's hand, his only anchor in a sea of uncertainty. His eyes were full of pain and fear, but he stood perfectly still, waiting for his father to speak.

"Max, I wish you could have trusted me."

The two men battled their impulses for only a few seconds. Then they stepped toward each other at once and embraced. Max shuddered with relief, his demon fear faced and conquered. Everyone in the room was touched beyond words at this first honest meeting between father and son. They would have to start over from here, but it would be a happy road to a new relationship.

With the initial awkward moments out of the way, Liz remembered Mr. Hernandez standing off to the side.

"Everyone, this is Paul Hernandez, a very close friend of Grandma's. They did their Native American research together and he's been helping us all weekend. We couldn't have survived without him."

That alarming announcement prompted a battery of questions and renewed concern for everyone's safety. They settled into the now-crowded living room and began to listen to the story of the last few days. Liz and Max sat on the floor, never letting go of the other's hand, taking turns relating what happened, filling in each other's details. They realized they hadn't even had a chance to compare notes on most of it. Paul helped by making the completely unbelievable story sound rational, and he took every opportunity to emphasize the courage and ingenuity exhibited by Max and Liz. The parents sat spellbound. No matter how ready Jeff and Diane thought they were to hear this, they were shocked at every turn. Nancy and Philip were barely absorbing it at all, having exceeded their capacity to comprehend long before their children came home.

Their heads did jerk up when Paul tried to explain that Max was the leader of his people and that he would be having contact with them regularly now. Even Jeff, who knew of Max's status, hadn't realized it would be an active role, now that contact had been reestablished. It was even harder trying to explain Liz's place in all this. The fact that they were compatible and planned on a life together, having received the blessing of Max's Voyan mother, was way beyond what Nancy and Philip could cope with. Jeff and Diane, however, looked at each other knowingly. They had expected this to come up soon. Today seemed a little too soon.

When the highlights had been covered--no one thought this audience was ready to hear the details--Max turned a questioning eye to his mother. "Why did you tell Dad before I got home?"

It was like someone had pressed the mute button on the remote control. All sound evaporated, replaced by almost desperate looks from one parent to the other.

"Mom?" Liz frowned. "What's wrong?"

Surprisingly, it was Philip who spoke first. "Nancy and I let our imaginations get the best of us, that's all. The private conversations this week between Jeff and Diane began to look like . . . like something was going on between them. It just came to a head this morning." He looked embarrassed. Even ashamed. He knew better, but that was 20/20 hindsight talking.

Max was incredulous. "You thought Mom . . . and Jeff . . . ?"

"Mr. Parker, Max," his mother corrected automatically.

"No, Diane. I asked Max to call me Jeff while we were camping. It seemed a little silly to be so formal considering the circumstances."

Diane nodded. There were a lot of adjustments they were going to need to make.

"We should get home," Philip said. "Come on, Max."

"Wait, one more thing," Max interrupted. There was a tone of command in his voice now and everyone turned their attention to him.

"Liz and I . . . ." This was going to be hard. Liz squeezed his hand and nodded her encouragement. "Liz and I will need some . . . space," Max announced. Immediately, two of the faces looked horrified and two looked resigned. Paul just looked slightly amused. Max pushed on. "Liz and I are perfectly aware that we're 17 years old, but what you've just heard today should make you realize that we aren't typical. We've had to grow up fast, and we have no idea what our future holds. We do know one thing, though. The bond that we share, the love we have for each other is forever. I know how that sounds. Every teenager has said that about someone they thought they loved. Please trust me when I tell you, this is different."

"Mom, when Max saved my life, we formed a connection. We've seen so deeply into each other's hearts and minds and souls that there are no secrets left. I can tell you without hesitation that I will never love anyone in my life as I love Max. We are a part of each other; we belong together."

There was a stunned silence in the room. Finally, Diane, the least surprised of the parents, asked, "What do you mean by 'space'?"

"I mean," Max answered, "that we know we still need you. We have so much to learn. We still need to go to school, we need the normalcy that living with our parents will provide for the benefit of the outside world, and we need the love and support of our whole family. But what we need most is each other."

There was no response.

"Liz and I have fought our feelings for the past year, each for different reasons at different times. Now we have our answers. Whatever the future looks like, we are facing it together. My Voyan family has accepted this. We hope you will, too."

Paul couldn't keep silent any longer.

"I know I'm not a member of this family, but I have been close to Claudia for years, and she talked of this family constantly. I've spent the last few days sharing the most extraordinary experience of any of our lives with your children. I have observed them closely, watched them together in the most harrowing circumstances. I can tell you, I was struck by the unique nature of this relationship. It transcends anything in my experience, personal or otherwise. I hope you will believe me when I say, this is special. And for what it's worth, Claudia thinks so, too."

Nancy Parker was at the end of her rope. No one should have to process this much shocking information in one day, she thought. Then she looked up at Max and Liz and caught one of those moments in time that you usually just read about--a slow-motion moment when time gives you a chance to study every detail. Liz was giving Max a reassuring smile, their fingers were laced, their eyes locked. She could have sworn there was a faint glow around them. She watched what was happening between them. It was alive. Just that simple. It was a living, breathing, tangible energy that encircled them.

She stood and walked toward her daughter. Liz and Max both rose to face her. "I don't understand any of this, but I know what I feel, what I see. I pray that whatever this is is strong enough to keep you safe, and strong, and together." She opened her arms to embrace them both, and the three shared a moment that Max and Liz thought would never come. One by one, the others joined their tight circle, and new relationships were born.

Eventually, it was time to go. Jeff asked Paul to spend the night and he gratefully accepted. The Parkers showed their guests out and helped Paul to the guest room, leaving Liz and Max alone for a few moments to say their goodbyes.

"You were magnificent tonight," Liz whispered against Max's chest. "I'm so proud of you." She lifted her face to his. "I love you so much."

"Liz," Max choked, feeling the emotion so common after a trauma, and this had been traumatic. "I couldn't live if they tried to keep us apart." He bent his head to kiss her. It was gentle and sweet. The urgency was gone for the moment; they knew they would have their time together. Parting now was hard, but it was temporary, and tomorrow, they could start living their lives with a little less deception, a little less fear, and a lot more honesty. If felt good.

"I guess I can't call you Mrs. Evans yet," Max said softly, "but that's who you are to me from this point on. Liz Parker Evans, the first lady of Voya."

Liz sighed and kissed the man of her dreams.


Scene 36

Isabel stood at the back door, arms around Alex's neck, enjoying the soft, loving kisses only Alex could give her. She marveled once again at how slowly and quietly Alex had chipped away at the wall she had built, and no one had been more surprised than she was when it came tumbling down.

"Goodnight, Isabel," he murmured into her hair. He gave her forehead one last kiss.

"'Night, Alex," she smiled, relishing the warm, relaxed feeling that had settled over her during the evening. Things felt right, balanced, and she hummed softly as she passed through the kitchen. When she walked by the living room, though, her alarms went off. There on the sofa were her parents, holding each other, looking . . . well, stunned.

"What's wrong? Where's Max?" Isabel asked, shedding her feeling of well-being in an instant.

Both heads turned in unison. Her mother smiled weakly. "Max is upstairs, asleep by now, I'm sure. He was exhausted."

Philip Evans rose from the sofa and approached his daughter. She couldn't read what was on his face. He came to stand directly in front of her, searching her eyes. "How could you think I would love you any less?" He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. Isabel gave her mother a wary, questioning look over his shoulder.

"It's okay, Isabel. When Max and Liz came home today, we were already at the Parkers. We all had a very long talk. Your dad and Nancy Parker know the whole story now."

Isabel had to let this sink in a minute. Then it hit her--how could you think I would love you any less? This was her father's reaction! He was hugging her, loving her anyway! Isabel tightened her grip on her father and started to cry. Finally, they could be a family without secrets. Bless you, Max!

They pulled away and laughed at each other's tears. "Dad," Isabel whispered. Philip pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to her.

"That's exactly what I am," he told her, and they hugged again.

"I need to talk to Max," Isabel sniffed, starting for the stairs.

"Please, Isabel," urged her mother, "let him sleep. It's been a grueling weekend for him, and we're planning to have everyone over tomorrow to talk and get used to this new . . . reality."

"Who's everyone?" Isabel asked, not sure how "whole" the "whole story" had been.

"Well, the four of you--I mean, you, Max, Michael, and Tess--plus the Parkers, the Valentis, and Maria and Alex, of course. Oh, and Paul Hernandez. He was a friend of Liz's grandmother's, and helped Liz and Max in Colorado. Even brought them home."

"Home? From the Astronomy Club trip?" Isabel asked cautiously.

Diane chuckled. "Give it up, Isabel. There was no trip, and you know it. You'll hear the whole story tomorrow. Meanwhile, I think we all need some sleep."

They turned out the lights and headed upstairs. At the top, Isabel turned toward her room and stopped, looking back at her parents. "Mom, Dad, I love you."

This time Diane got the hug. "We love you, too, honey. Goodnight."

***********

Liz's phone rang. She had just been waking from a Max-filled sleep and noticed it was already 11:00.

"Hello?"

"Liz." Max's voice brought an immediate smile to her face.

"Hey, how'd you sleep?"

"Like a rock. But it would have been better if you'd been with me."

"Same here."

"My folks are expecting everyone at 2:00, okay?"

"Yeah, I'll tell my folks."

"And Liz? Maybe we can get some time alone tonight? There's something I want to talk to you about."

"Is everything okay? I mean, with your folks and all?"

"Yeah, fine. I just want to talk about where we go from here . . . you and me."

Liz smiled to herself. "As long as it's together, I don't care."

She heard Max's grin in his voice. "Well, that's a good start. We'll see you in a couple of hours."

"Max?"

"Yeah."

"I love you."

"You'd better," he teased, and was gone.

Max hung up the phone, grinning from ear to ear.

"Oh, brother." Isabel rolled her eyes but couldn't help smiling herself. It was good to see him safe and happy and home.

"You can't get to me today, Izzie," Max smiled happily, giving her a hug. "Life is good!"

"You must have had quite a trip. When I came home last night, Dad gave me a hug, Mom told me he and Mrs. Parker know everything now, and they both looked a little overwhelmed. Want to fill me in?"

Max inhaled deeply as if he were about to embark on a long story, but let his breath out with a sigh. "It's a really long story, Iz. I don't want to tell it twice, so let's save the details for this afternoon. What I can tell you, though, is we found the Criston--that's the artifact we were looking for--and . . . I talked to our mother."

"What?!! Max! You have to tell me! What was she like? What did she say? Please, Max, don't make me wait!"

Max knew he couldn't make Isabel wait for the rest of the group for this news. It was too close to her, too emotional to take in with a crowd of people watching. Besides, he was afraid their mother--their Earth mother--would be a little hurt to see Isabel's joy, even though he knew she would understand.

"Let's go for a walk," he suggested. "Meet you downstairs in 15 minutes."

They walked for an hour as Max detailed his experience with their Voyan family. The story was greeted with joy and tears and laughter and astonishment as he related the different stories and introductions of his night in the desert. When he got to the part where he'd been assured that he and Liz were compatible, Isabel threw her arms around him.

"Max, I'm so happy for you." She eyed him slyly. "I'm sure you are ecstatic." Max couldn't help but grin.

"Still, Max," Isabel said thoughtfully, "you and Liz will have to live as normal high school kids, won't you? I mean, Mom and Dad and Liz's parents aren't going to understand what's between you two."

"Well, we're working that out, Iz," Max replied. "We talked yesterday. All of us. I think they're accepting the . . . uniqueness of our relationship. They agreed to give us some space."

"Space? What does that mean . . . in their world, that is?" Isabel asked skeptically.

Max shrugged. "I guess we'll find out as we go along."

"What were they doing at the Parkers, anyway?"

Max opened his mouth to speak and shut it quickly. Isabel could see him trying to form a response, but he was struggling.

"Max?"

"They were straightening out a simple misunderstanding." Max hoped that would take care of it, but Isabel's expectant expression made it clear he wasn't done yet.

"Mom and Jeff . . . Mr. Parker . . . had been talking all week, just giving each other moral support. I guess both Dad and Mrs. Parker had seen or heard things that made them . . . suspect . . . ."

"Max! You can't be serious. They thought something was going on between them?"

Max nodded. To his surprise, Isabel started to laugh. "Oh, Max, please! Mom having an affair?"

It wasn't something Max even wanted to imagine, so he changed the subject.

"How's Michael doing?"

"He's been pretty upset, Max. First you go off on this crusade without him, then he sees Mrs. Evans look like she's about to crack. Frankly, I think he's been wondering about how he fits in to all this. Suddenly, you're the leader. Where does that leave him? What does a second in command do? It's not easy for Michael to do nothing, Max."

Max understood how Michael felt. He had to make things right with him, and he would begin this afternoon.

posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:55:34 AM
Part 37

There was a certain awkwardness in the air as those who had been drawn into this bizarre world of aliens began to assemble at the Evans's home. The Parkers and Mr. Hernandez arrived first. Both sets of parents tried to act casual as Max enfolded Liz in his arms and kissed her, briefly but deeply. This was going to take some getting used to. Paul, on the other hand, continued to marvel at their relationship, feeling more comfortable about it all the time. He knew the parents would come around when they had seen these two together as much as he had.

When Sheriff Valenti arrived with Kyle, Philip Evans shook his hand heartily, thanking him for all he had done to help Max and Isabel and the others. The Sheriff reacted modestly, obviously not used to talking about this with anyone yet. Kyle hung back. He'd only been to Max's house once, and that was only to lure him out to watch Liz and her blind date. That had been a strange night, although certain things about it were much clearer now that he had the facts. He looked around for Tess, but didn't see her.

It wasn't long before Alex, Tess, Michael, and Maria joined the party. Everyone made polite conversation while keeping an eye on Max and Michael. Their last meeting had not ended well.

"Michael, can we talk . . . outside?"

"Sure, Maxwell. Whatever you say." With lips pursed and eyes squinted, Michael was clearly ready for a battle. They walked out back.

"Michael, I know you're still upset about our leaving on this trip without you. I don't blame you. If I were in your shoes, I'd have felt the exact same way. As it turns out, it really did have to be Liz and me, and I can't apologize for that because I can't change it. But I will make you a promise. What we learned convinced me more than ever that we are a team, just like Josh called us. I need you. We need each other. I promise that I won't keep anything from you, and that I'll try to understand when and if the time comes that it's you who needs to handle something without me."

Michael absorbed his words. He had actually come to terms with some of this while Max was gone, knowing they each had a role in this unscripted life they were leading. But the threat of Max's mom spilling the beans in her emotional state, and the constant uncertainly about what lay in store for them while he just watched kept his nerves simmering just beneath his surface. The result was a sullen, irritable Michael.

"Max, ever since we learned you are our leader, I feel like you've taken all this on yourself. If we're a team, then why don't you trust me? I can't just sit and do nothing. You know that. You have to make me a part of this."

"I know, Michael. I realize I have trouble with delegating, but I promise to work on it." He sat down on the picnic bench. "Besides, Liz and I learned that we're compatible after all, so I'm liable to be . . . occupied elsewhere more often now. I'll need you to pick up the slack." He threw Michael a self-conscious smile and waited for his reaction.

"If you're telling me my role is to cover for your sex life, Maxwell, think again. That's not how I see it," Michael replied gruffly. He joined Max on the picnic bench and cast a sidelong glance his way. "Congratulations, by the way."

Max was grinning now. "Thanks. That's really not how I meant it, though." Max sobered. "I just meant that we all have to live our lives in two worlds, and none of us can keep up with both all the time. We have to share whatever comes our way with our Voyan side and make a life within our human side, too. We'll need each other."

They sat silently for a few minutes. "Michael. I do trust you. And when you hear our story, you'll learn that you may have a choice about where to live your life. You may be able to go home--to Voya--if that's what you want. It's your call." Max waited for Michael to erupt at this news, and was confused by his quiet acceptance of this statement.

"Yeah, Isabel called a little while ago. I think she thought it would be best if I weren't completely surprised by your news."

"Guys, we're waiting!" yelled Maria from the back door. "Everybody's on pins and noodles in here."

Michael turned toward Maria as she bounced off and then back to Max. "Maybe I'll just see what develops here first," he said, trying very hard to be casual. "Meanwhile, we're a team, right? No secrets, no pain-in-the-ass leader crap, okay?"

"Deal." Max shook Michael's hand and they headed into the house.

As soon as Michael and Max reappeared acting at ease with each other, the mood of the gathering shifted. Soon everyone was chatting and snacking and exchanging stories. Max stood back relishing this family atmosphere, thankful that with this group, at least, there was no more need for deception, partial truths, and fear. Liz slid into his arms and enjoyed the scene with him. He gave her a little squeeze.

"May I have your attention?" Every face turned toward Max. "As promised, Liz and I are ready to give you the details of our trip. Mr. Hernandez here was a friend of Liz's grandmother's and an enormous help to us." He turned to Paul. "I hope you'll stop us if we skip anything."

Paul nodded. "I'll try," he promised.

"I, for one, am glad to hear this again today," Nancy Parker volunteered. "I was only able to digest part of it yesterday and I know I missed a lot." Jeff reached for her and pulled her down next to him on the sofa, wrapping her in a warm embrace.

"I could use a recap myself," added Philip.

Everyone settled comfortably around the big living room and prepared to hear the wild tale.

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

Max and Liz gave a fairly detailed description of their adventure, leaving out some of the more extreme aspects, such as Paul's decision to introduce them as newlyweds, the sleeping arrangements, and how harrowing Liz's rescue had really been. Even without these elements, faces reflected shock at what the two had been through and what they had learned.

Occasionally during the long explanation, Max's eyes wandered toward Tess. He was trying to gauge her reaction to this news. He didn't want to hurt her, but he also knew he couldn't love her, and this story only served to underscore that point. She sat with her eyes downcast most of the time, but he could tell she wasn't crying. What was she thinking?

Nancy Parker was crying softly as they finished, and the others were wrestling with the horror of the experience in Mesa Verde versus the wonder of the answers they found in Chaco Canyon. Max made a point of describing how happy his Voyan family had been to accept Liz as his mate, hoping it would set some sort of precedent for their families. The parents still looked uncomfortable with these references, wondering how to treat this relationship in the context of normal teen parameters. Finally, Diane Evans spoke up.

"Who wouldn't be happy to accept Liz as a daughter?"

Max smiled at her gratefully. Liz's startled expression quickly turned to a warm smile, too, as she acknowledged Diane's meaningful message. That's one for us, Liz thought happily.

Paul, who had been quiet during most of the story, felt compelled to throw in his two cents worth. "Claudia has been with us during this journey, as you know. I can tell you that she is feeling great happiness at all that these two have learned. And she has the greatest confidence in the bond they share. She and I both hope you give them a chance."

Liz beamed at him gratefully and was struck hard with an idea, as if it had been forced into her mind. "Dad? Max? Mr. Hernandez? I think I feel Grandma. I think she's here now! Maybe with all of us concentrating together, we can bring her to us. What do you think?"

Paul looked at her and nodded slowly. "Maybe. What do we have to lose? Jeff?" Liz's father looked with concern at his wife. She'd had so many shocks in the last 24 hours; he wasn't sure she was up to this.

To his surprise, she turned her face toward him, her eyes still wet with tears. "Jeff, if there's a chance you could see your mother, I wouldn't dream of stopping you. Go ahead, if you want."

Jeff looked over at Max, who nodded his assent. "Well, then, let's give it a try!" All of the Voyans sat cross-legged in the center of the room as the humans watched from the perimeter. "Let's just close our eyes and concentrate," Liz suggested. "She told us once that we had to be sleeping because otherwise there are too many distractions. But if we all sit quietly and concentrate, maybe the additional strength of our group will be enough to bring her to us."

The room was hushed as they reached for each other's hands, closed their eyes, and focused their thoughts on Claudia Parker.

"Grandma?" Liz whispered. They waited in silence.


Part 38

"Mom? Are you there?" asked Jeff, feeling foolish and excited all at once.

Smiles lit the faces of each member of the circle as the form of Claudia Parker materialized in the center. The humans were astonished, not daring to move a muscle.

"Grandma!" Liz greeted her happily. "Grandma, we did it! Thank you for everything you've done for us."

"That goes for me, too," added Max, feeling now as if they, too, shared a connection.

Claudia's face radiated happiness at the gathering of her dearest friends and family. "Liz, Jeffrey, Max, Paul . . . this is my dream, right here in this room. Seeing all of you, gathered together in love, with no secrets." She turned to face Nancy. "Nancy, Jeffrey is still Jeffrey. He loves you. Prove to him that his fear of telling you the truth was unfounded." A stunned Nancy nodded mutely.

"Paul, my dearest friend, you have always had my heart. Now you have my sincerest gratitude as well. Thank you for helping me, for helping them. Look around you at the lives you've helped change for the better. These people are your family now." Paul looked embarrassed but immensely pleased at her short speech. He opened his mouth to speak, but seemed to change his mind. All he did was wink at her and she chuckled.

"Isabel, Michael, Tess, I have never really known you, but I have known of you for quite some time. I feel sure that you possess the same depth of character, the same high intelligence, and the same moral stamina that Max has exhibited these last two weeks. You are a team, and I'm proud of all of you. Be good to each other, and take my advice. Follow your hearts, wherever they may lead you. Right, Liz?" Liz bit her lip, remembering those words from her grandmother just before her death. She nodded vigorously.

"And you two," she sighed, turning her fond gaze to the two young Voyans who had gone through so much. "You take my breath away. The night I died and we said our goodbyes, Liz, I felt so strongly that the young man sitting in that room with us was your lifemate. There is something so special about your bond. It is strong and vital. Cherish it. Nurture it. Never let go of it, because your strength is each other."

Claudia looked around the room, slowly studying each face in turn. When she had completed the circle, she spoke one last time. "My time as an after-spirit is almost done, but don't grieve. Now you know there is so much more beyond this life. I have no doubt we will see each other again."

Liz almost leapt to her feet, but Max's tug on her hand reminded her she had better not break the linked hands of the circle. "Grandma, aren't you coming back?"

"My time on Earth was done last year. My time in this plane is almost over. I'm just moving on to my next adventure, little one. You still have plenty left to experience here, so don't disappoint me!" She blew Liz a kiss and her image faded.

The group sat in stunned silence for several moments. Then Liz burst into tears and threw herself into Max's arms. "Max, she's gone! How will I get along without her?" She wept into his shoulder. Jeff rose and pulled Liz up, wrapping her in his arms.

"Liz, we thought we'd lost her once before, and look what happened. I believe her. I think we'll see her again. Meanwhile, can you imagine anyone who would be more insistent that you go on living as fully as possible?"

She pulled her head back and looked into her father's face, shaking her head. "No. No, I can't." She smiled up at him and then turned to Max, extending her hand to help him up. He glanced briefly at Tess, who just nodded her head slightly. She was letting him go, giving up her empty claim to him. Although he knew he didn't need her permission, it lightened his load to know that she had come to terms with the life he had chosen. He rose to join Liz, putting his arm around her and kissing her on the forehead. They all turned in surprise as Nancy joined them. "Can an ordinary human get in on this?" she smiled through a fresh stream of tears.

Max turned to see the rest of his family and friends watching the scene, obviously moved by the love that held this unlikely group together. Each had gravitated to someone they loved in instinctive reaction to the strong emotions that hung in the air. Michael had moved behind Maria and encircled her in his arms. Isabel had scooted back on the floor to sit between Alex's knees, reaching up for his hand, which slid willingly over her shoulder. Philip Evans had his arm around his wife, taking in yet another unbelievable experience. Something told him he didn't have to worry about life getting dull! Jim Valenti grasped his son's shoulder and patted it strongly, fighting the tears springing up in his eyes, and noting Kyle's eyes on a quiet Tess.

Paul enjoyed the moment, but he felt like he'd lost his best friend, again. Believing they would see each other again . . . someday . . . was small consolation for the immediate future. Not wishing to intrude further on this intimate scene, he began to edge quietly out of the room. Jeff noticed the movement and called to him.

"Paul, please don't go. You are a part of this family now, and I hope you'll stay with us a while longer."

Paul hesitated and then let a small smile brighten his face. "I'd be honored," he said.

"Who's hungry?" asked Philip in a we-need-something-normal-to-do voice. "How about pizza!" There were shouts of approval from the general crowd and they began to negotiate with each other about quantity and toppings.

Max squeezed Liz's hand and she looked up at him. He nodded his head in the direction of the back of the house and they headed toward the kitchen.

"Where are you two going?" asked Michael. "You're not ditchin' us."

Max laughed. "We'll be back by the time the pizza comes," he assured the roomful of people who were now watching them. "Promise."

He and Liz made a quick escape into the cool night. Max pulled her into the back corner of the yard where a wide hammock was barely swinging in the slight breeze.

"Feel like a little stargazing?" he asked her, a gleam in his eye.

"I could be persuaded," she smiled back at him.

They began to lie down in the hammock, collapsing into laughter as they came perilously close to flipping entirely over and falling on their faces. "I don't usually have company out here," Max teased her.

"I should hope not!" Liz responded indignantly.

Once they were settled in the hammock, Max gave in to the impulse he'd been fighting all night. Liz could feel his intent and turned her face to him. Immediately, his mouth was over hers, an edge of urgency in the long-awaited contact. But gradually, the long kiss evolved into an act of pure love and an exchange of unspoken promises for the future. When they finally parted, Max gazed deeply into Liz's eyes. He could see the stars above them reflected there, and he smiled at how fitting it was that he would see stars in Liz's eyes.

"Liz, we should talk about what happens now. With us, I mean."

Liz could hear a certain nervousness in his voice. She found it completely adorable and couldn’t resist having a little fun with him. "What do you mean, Max? What do you think should happen?"

Max squirmed uncomfortably. "Well, I mean, we've been driving each other crazy, you know, getting into all those situations where . . . you know, we have to stop . . . and well, now, we know it's okay . . . you know . . . ."

"But Max. You're the one who reminded me we're just 17 and we can't have a family and we have to act like normal teenagers, and . . . ."

"Liz!" Max erupted.

"Hmmmm?" Liz smiled coyly, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

"You're doing this to me on purpose!" he cried, finally catching on to her game. "What a mean streak!" He began to tickle her and she laughed uncontrollably.

"Stop!" she squealed, helpless in his grasp.

"Make me," he challenged.

Liz reached her hand up to cradle Max's head and pulled him toward her. The game was instantly forgotten as Max melted into her mouth, her body, her heart, her soul. Their kisses heated up as they began to explore each other, a sense of freedom and abandon destroying any rational thought.

"Liz, I want you," Max breathed between the fiery kisses he was planting on every inch of exposed skin.

"Then take me," Liz whispered breathlessly.

Max pulled his head back and studied Liz's face. "Are you sure?" he asked. He never wanted Liz to regret this decision, but his body was screaming to make love to hers.

"It's what I've wanted for a long time, Max. You're the one . . . for always."

Suddenly they found themselves swinging high in the hammock, almost overturning once again. Liz screamed.

"I think you said something about coming back in the house for pizza?" Michael stated sarcastically.

"Michael!" Max steadied the hammock and glared at Michael and Maria, who were hovering over them with sanctimonious expressions on their faces. Within seconds, they all burst out laughing.

"I believe your presence is expected in the house," Maria giggled. "You'd better save this for later." Michael and Maria turned to walk back in the house.

"Soon, Liz. Very soon."

He swung out of the hammock and helped Liz to her feet, unable to resist one last kiss. As they turned to walk toward the house again, they could see Jeff Parker and Diane Evans framed in the doorway. The young lovers approached the door, a hint of worry on their minds about their parents' reaction to what they had just seen. As they met in the doorway, there was a long, silent exchange. No words were spoken, but Liz and Max sensed a resigned acceptance of their relationship. Liz gave her dad a hug. Max kissed his mother's cheek.

"Let's eat," said Diane, and they joined the crowd in the kitchen, a crowd that shared more honesty, more happiness, and more hope than any of them had experienced in quite some time. Max hung back, almost overwhelmed by the changes the last year had brought. He'd gone from isolation to family, from loneliness to friendship, from hopelessness to love. His gaze fell on Liz, arm in arm with Alex, laughing happily. Miracles really did come in small packages, didn't they?

It wouldn't be easy. Their lives just weren't meant to be easy, he supposed. But all in all, he felt lucky, blessed. Liz turned to him and he met her eyes. That was it, he decided. He felt loved. He crossed the room and wrapped her in his arms. Yes, indeed, thought Max, life is good.


EPILOG

Liz was as excited and nervous as she had ever been in her life. She and Max finally had an evening alone planned, and she had been a bundle of happy nerves all day. Since Max and Michael had worked things out between them, Michael had offered to give them his apartment for the night--a "wedding" present, of sorts--his own private acknowledgment of their evolved relationship. She had agonized over what to wear, not knowing if Max wanted this to be a fancy or casual occasion. She finally settled on the deep red knit top that criss-crossed around her neck in the front and left her back bare. He loved that top. It went perfectly with her white silky skirt with the subtle floral print. Just the right balance of dressy and casual.

It had been a little awkward at home. Both sets of parents were probably aware of what would happen tonight, but they chose to ignore it. They seemed to think ignoring it would be easier than facing it, and they had lost the will to fight it. They had accepted Max and Liz as a permanent couple, but couldn't quite get over treating them as children. Both Liz and Max understood that; they decided if their parents could accept their relationship, they could deal with some of their parents' struggles to cope with it.

After Liz and Max's experience in the desert the night they found the orbs, Liz had gone to her doctor and started on the pill. She didn't know then what would happen between them, but she couldn't rule out making love to Max; it was on her mind all the time. He lived inside her heart and mind, and she secretly hoped there would come a time when she would share her body with him as well. Her mother, still struggling with her internal tug-of-war over this unique and intense relationship, had awkwardly broached the subject the day after the party at the Evans's. "Liz, if you and Max decide . . . I mean, you need to be careful, you know, about . . . ." Liz had hurried to stop her; she would never be comfortable talking about this with her. She had just taken her mother's hand and said, "Mom, we'll be careful. I promise. It's taken care of." Her mom had just nodded. She trusted Liz, and that was really as much detail as she wanted to know.

Liz had felt confident then, but as she approached Michael's apartment, she was seized by self-doubt. She had no idea what she was doing. What if he was disappointed in her? What if she did something wrong? What if this turned out to be a disaster? She was standing at Michael's door wondering if she should bolt when it swung open. There stood Max with his beautiful smile that was meant for her alone, and love shining in his eyes. Her nervousness evaporated the instant she saw him. He held out his hand for her and pulled her inside.

"Don't be nervous, Liz. It's just us." He looked so beautiful in his white button down shirt, open at the collar, sleeves rolled up, and khakis. She loved the bangs that fringed his eyes, and the way his hand always reached up to cup her face with such tenderness.

She gave him a sidelong look and blushed. "It's not always a good thing that you know what I'm feeling," she said softly.

"Says you," he grinned.

Liz lifted her head and sniffed the wonderful smells in the apartment. Max had cooked! Then she began to notice the rest of the room. Candles were burning everywhere. There were flowers on the card table set up in the living room, and music was playing softly on the stereo. "Max," she breathed happily. "This is so beautiful! I can't believe you did all this."

"Nothing's too good for you, Liz," he smiled. "Which is why," he said with a guilty look, "I bought dinner from the restaurant around the corner."

Liz giggled. "That's a relief!" she teased him.

Max laughed with her, and they began to talk easily as he served their meal. They wound up talking for a long time about their bumpy history--from the healing to the first kiss, from the orbs to Max's torture, from learning the aliens' "destiny" to Liz's kidnapping, from the revelation of Liz's family secret to finding the Criston and Max's Voyan family. They could only marvel at the astonishing turns their lives had taken.

"I wouldn't change a thing if it all led to our being here, together," Max told her, taking her hand.

"Neither would I," whispered Liz.

"Dance with me." Max moved the card table aside and turned to Liz, wrapping her in his arms, pressing his face into her scented hair and breathing deeply. Liz couldn't think of anywhere on Earth (or anywhere else, for that matter) that she would rather spend the rest of her life than in Max's arms. She melted into his chest and let the music float over them. They weren't thinking, only feeling and moving, giving themselves up to a world of heightened senses.

Max moved his hand up under Liz's hair, caressing her head, letting the silky strands sift through his fingers. She lifted her face to him and he bent to brush her lips with his, barely touching them, teasing them. She went up on tiptoe, insisting on more, pressing against him and sweeping his lips with her tongue. He reacted immediately, intensifying their kiss and plunging into her, wanting to taste her sweet mouth, wanting to feel what she was feeling, wanting . . . her.

When he pulled away, he looked deeply into her beautiful eyes. "There's something I want to give you." He led her to a chair and gently pushed her to sit. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a box. Then he knelt in front of her. Liz was amazed. This couldn't be what it looked like. They had agreed to try to be as "normal" as possible for the next couple of years.

"Liz, I know we can't be legally married yet, and I know we have to keep a low profile. But I wanted you to have something special to wear. Something that says we are together in every way that counts. So River Dog helped me have this made for you."

Liz opened the box and gasped. Inside was perched a beautiful silver ring with the spiral symbol engraved on its broad flat face. In the center was one of the loveliest turquoise stones Liz had ever seen. "Max! It's beautiful!" Liz eyes started to fill with tears. Her mouth opened to say more but no words would come. Max lifted the ring from the box and slid it onto Liz's ring finger. "I'll replace this one day with the real thing," he promised.

Liz threw her arms around his neck and began to cry. "But I will always wear this Max, even then."

Max held her close to him and let her cry. He felt like crying, too, just to release the pressure of his heart bursting with happiness. For one of the first times in his life, he felt blessed for being who he was. As they embraced, Max became more and more aware of her body next to his. At long last, tonight, they could abandon themselves to their love. He had thought about this, dreamed about this a thousand times.

After Liz's tears started to subside, she pulled back from him, wiping her face. "You're all wet," she sniffed.

"Then let's get these wet clothes off." His voice was low and husky and she looked into his eyes, breathing in sharply at the desire she saw burning there. But she wasn't scared this time, only in love, and nothing could be more natural. He lifted her from the chair, carried her into the bedroom, and stretched out beside her.

Propping himself up on one hand, he willed her to see inside him. "Liz, I don't want to hurt you or scare you in any way. This will go just as you want it to go. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Liz nodded. She trusted him so completely, she couldn't imagine telling him to stop. But it seemed important to him that she be in control here, so she eased his mind. "You'll be the first to know," she assured him with a whisper. "Now kiss me."

That was all Max needed. At first, he felt such intensity between them that he was afraid to let himself go, but he was quickly aware that Liz's need matched his own and he gave himself up to it. As their kisses deepened, their connection formed, but this time, there were no images, only a mosaic of color and feeling, and they could see the familiar glow brightening around them. Max released Liz's mouth and began to leave a trail with his tongue down her neck and collarbone as his hand slipped under her top and inched toward her breasts. The second his hand brushed her nipple, Liz let out a small moan and brought her hand around his back, urging him closer.

He was merciless, playing lightly with her sensitive nipples, twirling them between his fingers, cupping her breasts and rubbing his thumb over the tips, all the while kissing her neck, her ears, her lips. Soon he had pushed the top up over her breasts and was nipping at them--warm, moist kisses around and around until he took the taut tips into his mouth and began to suck, his tongue never stopping its swirling motion against her skin. He had her writhing beneath him when she took him by surprise. Suddenly the idea of control very much appealed to Liz. She pushed Max backward on the bed and held his legs down with one knee as she focused intently on his eyes and unbuttoned his shirt. She spread the shirt open and gazed down at his muscular chest, his firm abdomen. She shifted to straddle him and slowly, provocatively pulled her top off over her head.

She heard Max suck his breath in as he gazed at her, so beautiful, so warm, so eager. He began to reach for her to pull her down, but she stopped his hands, pressing them back against the bed. "Stay," she ordered.

"Staying," he promised, echoing their exchange from the night of Liz's blind date. She splayed her hands against his chest and began to rub, up and over his spectacular pecs, down over his stomach where her fingers toyed with his waistband, making Max squeeze his eyes shut as he fought for the control not to reach out and grab her. Then her hands pushed upwards to his shoulders where she started to tug at the sleeves. Max lifted his torso slightly and helped her slide his shirt off, but she laid him back down and began a torture of her own.

As she leaned down toward him, he closed his eyes for her kiss, but it was not his lips that were electrified by her touch. She was touching her breasts to his, sweeping them across his chest, pulling a moan from deep within him. He snapped. His arms came up and around her like a vice and he pulled her tightly to him, ravaging her mouth. He reached for her hips, rocking her back and forth against him, trying to assuage his building need to take her.

No! He had promised himself that this would be as incredible for her as for him. He clamped down on his own urges for a moment, and took control back from her as quickly as she had taken it from him. He flipped her easily to her back and began to run his hand over her hips and thighs. He got the reaction he was looking for. She couldn't lay still, moving under his hand almost immediately. Max slipped his hand under her skirt and slid up her smooth legs toward her center. His fingertips touched between her legs, causing her to jerk in reaction. She was so wet. Max felt weak as he touched her, knowing all this was borne of her love for him.

Moving his hands to the waistband of the skirt, he hooked his fingers under the elastic and pulled down either side, catching her underwear in the same stroke. He moved backwards and stood at the end of the bed to slide them all the way off, pausing for an adoring look at the gorgeous woman he loved. Knowing they were finally going to express their love in the only way that had been out of their reach helped him calm down a little. This would be his gift to her.

As he moved back onto the bed, he came up between her legs, parting them gently. Waiting for him, begging for him was her most sensitive spot. He looked at Liz's face, waiting for any objection, but he found her looking at him with trust, love, anticipation. He lowered his head, nuzzling her dark curls and inducing yet another small moan. Quickly, gently, his tongue darted over her nub and a longer, deeper moan escaped her. He spread her lips and took her center into his mouth, laving her, sucking her, driving her insane. She was moving against him, pressing into him as she spoke his name over and over again. Finally, Max slid his hand up to her breast and brushed her nipple as his tongue darted more quickly.

"Max!" He could feel her muscles clenching and unclenching against him and he smiled to himself. This is just what he wanted her to feel. He stayed still as she rode out the waves, breathing in ragged gasps until her body began to regain its balance. When she opened her eyes, they were wide with amazement.

"Max! Max, did you feel what happened to me?"

He smiled at her adoringly. "I hoped that would happen for you," he murmured. "I want this to be special for you."

"Special doesn't begin to describe it," she panted. "Will it be that way for you?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"What if I can't do that for you."

He almost laughed out loud. She was so open, so concerned that he would not share the pleasure. He kept his laughter inside, but couldn't suppress a smile. "I wouldn't worry about that if I were you," he assured her. But Liz was not convinced, still worried that she was somehow being selfish.

"But Max, how do you know? We've never done this before."

Max looked at her, guilt clouding his face briefly. Liz frowned, a thought entering her mind that she would never have believed before. "Max, this isn't your first time, is it?"

He looked at her face. She was crushed. His words rushed out, "No, Liz! I mean yes. I mean . . . ." How could he explain this without horrifying her. "Liz, I have loved you for so long. You've been in my heart, my dreams. Sometimes it's too much, too real maybe, but I get so I have to . . . I can't . . . ." He looked at her helplessly, then he saw the light go on in her head.

"Max, you've done this alone? Thinking of me?" He nodded, feeling like an adolescent getting caught in the bathroom.

Once again, she amazed him. She pulled him back up toward her and said in an unexpectedly sultry voice, "Well, let's see if we can't do it the right way this time."

He sank into her, more than ready to try this as a duet. His mouth came down on hers, sharing her own taste from his lips, pulling her against him, skin against skin. His fantasies were coming true one by one. He felt Liz working with his pants zipper, hesitating as she felt the hardness that lay just beneath. She recovered quickly, though, stopping to rub him, instinctively picking up a rhythm that made him groan into her mouth. He pulled away, breathing hard.

Liz concentrated on the button and zipper long enough to pull the pants out of the way. When she reached for the boxers, she gave him a sidelong look and smiled. He looked at her curiously through the wild sensations coursing through his body. She pulled the boxers back slowly and gazed in amazement at the powerful erection in front of her. She'd read about it, but never seen it. It was something to behold. She wrapped her hand around it and felt its heat; Max's eyes were blazing at her. She smiled again and lowered her head to lick playfully at his tip.

"Liz!" Max breathed between gasps. Liz was enjoying her impact on Max. She'd never seen him give over control like this before. She got a little braver and took him into her mouth. His reaction was strong as she felt him push up into her. She took him in . . . and out until he pleaded with her. "Liz! Please!"

He sat up and pulled her next to him, climbing on top of her, asking silent permission one more time. Her eyes, playful just a moment before, turned dark and urgent. He felt himself at her entrance--the final fantasy being played out with the one he loved, had always loved. He pushed ever so gently in between the folds, watching her face as he filled her. He saw no fear, only love and passion--for him. Every glistening inch of him, every sensitive nerve was electrified at the feeling of Liz's walls around him. He couldn't think. All he could do was feel. He wanted her so badly. But when he reached the barrier, he stopped, remembering this would not be so easy for her the first time.

"I can do this for you, Liz. You know, so it won't hurt."

She shook her head. "This is one thing I want to experience in a completely human way, Max." His eyes told her he understood; they lifted together and pushed through. Liz's eyes grew wide and Max stopped, holding her while she adjusted to having him fully inside her. Then, whispered so quietly in his ear, he barely heard her. "Make love to me, Max."

They began to move together, feeling a union of body, mind, and soul. Once again, they became aware of the golden light that surrounded them when they were in perfect harmony with each other. Their need for each other reached a fever pitch, and then Max felt the pressure begin to build. Liz wrapped her legs around Max's hips and came explosively, grasping him to her with all her strength. As soon as Max felt her milking him, he poured himself into her, the final step in their total bonding.

It took several minutes for them to breathe normally again. Finally, they were able to focus on each other, basking in the glow of lovemaking in its truest sense. They had totally given themselves to each other long before this, but everything that had happened had deepened that connection, strengthened that bond, and now their bodies were one as well.

Liz held her left hand up in the air and admired the ring Max had given her. She turned back toward him to find him looking at her with unabashed love.

"I don't know if you can ever imagine how much I love you," he said softly. "I have dreamed of us like this ever since I knew what "this" was," he smiled. "Iz even caught me dreaming this once."

Liz's eyes flew open. "Max, you're kidding. She dreamwalked one of these dreams?" Liz looked completely embarrassed.

Max chuckled. "Really didn't matter what dream she walked into. They were pretty much the same."

Liz couldn't help but laugh, and she leaned over to kiss him gently. "How does the real thing compare?"

Max rolled his eyes. "There is no comparison. Besides, I wake up from dreams." He pulled her close and curled his body around her. "Well, Mrs. Evans, today is the first day of the rest of our lives."

Liz leaned back against him. She had no idea what those lives would be like, but she knew they would face it together, because "together" was their strength, their secret weapon. She closed her eyes and sighed.

This was Destiny.

posted on 11-Jul-2002 2:09:54 PM
It's me, bumping because people are saying they can't find this.

Sorry.

Carol