|posted on 27-Aug-2002 1:57:27 PM|
|End of the World–Dreamer Style!|
Authors: Carol000 and LivE
Disclaimer: We don’t own these characters, although we feel like they might be in better hands with us. If you wish to lay blame, please see Jason Katims, Kevin Kelly Brown, the WB, and anyone else who will admit to being around when the demise of love’s ideal was being planned.
Setting: This takes the “End of the World” episode and puts the brakes on the disastrous events it set in motion. In this story, love and faith and trust live, and in so doing, they prevent the ultimate disaster.
When his face appeared at her window, she was startled. Not because Max was there; she imagined him there all the time. He was in her dreams, whether she was awake or asleep, and she saw him everywhere, because when someone has been absorbed into the very fiber of your being, you carry them with you wherever you go.
A poem she'd read somewhere popped into her head:
You've gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Now everything I do
Is stitched with your color.
Max was the thread that held her together, and her life would be forever colored by her love for him.
All this passed through her mind in an instant and she wondered why she saw him differently tonight. Her eyes moved back toward the window and locked with his. She shuddered. This was eerie. It was him. But it wasn't. He reached to move aside the curtains and she gasped.
"Max? Is that you?" The thought that he might really be there, climbing into her room like the last four months had never happened, was a shock. And why did he look like that?
"Liz," he spoke softly, afraid he might frighten her.
She backed away, confused by the stubble-darkened skin, long hair, and haunted look superimposed on the young, loving face she knew so well. "Max . . . what . . . ?"
"Liz, it's me. It is. But I've come from our future to talk to you. Please, don't be frightened. It's really me, Liz. I wouldn't hurt you." He reached his hand out slowly, his eyes asking her to trust him . . . again. She took his hand and immediately felt at ease. It was Max, and he was here with her. She wanted to throw her arms around him, but something stopped her. What had he said? The future?
"Max, what are you talking about? The future? How?"
"The granolith, Liz. It's helped me come back to ask you for help. I need you to do something for me."
"I didn't even know that's what the granolith was for, Max. How did it bring you here? What do you need from me? Where is my Max?"
He smiled. My Max. After all they had been through, that was still how she thought of him. And the curiosity. Adversity and heartbreak hadn't dampened that any.
"I can't explain about the granolith now, Liz. But I do need you to do something, something that might be very hard." His eyes looked so pained, it took Liz's breath away. Her only thought was to take that pain away.
"Anything, Max. You know that."
Still holding her hand, he led her to the window and they climbed out to the roof. Leaning against the wall, he took hold of her other hand as well, and gazed upon the face he had loved for so many years.
"Liz, I need you to help me fall out of love with you."
She stared at him, confusion and disbelief making rational thought impossible.
"Max, why? Why would you ask me to do that? How could I ever stop loving you?"
Max closed his eyes, his chest so tight he couldn't breathe. He knew this would be hard, but he hadn't counted on her young, trusting, innocent face to bring back the memories this strongly, this painfully. He made a conscious effort to fill his lungs and opened his eyes.
"I'm not asking you to stop loving me," he said softly. "I'm counting on your loving me to get you through this. Liz, our being together will lead to terrible tragedy, for our friends and for my people. It can't be, Liz. We can't be." His eyes filled with tears and he gritted his teeth as he pushed them back. "Liz, you have to make me fall out of love with you. It's the only thing that will save us. Our lives depend on it."
Liz's eyes were wide with horror, but the rest of her face was strangely blank, as if no thought of any kind had ever been reflected there. She was motionless, totally unable to process what Max had just said. He led her to the chaise and helped her to sit. Then he knelt down in front of her, frightened by her lack of response.
Her eyes slowly focused on his face. With a barely audible whisper, she breathed, "How?"
A pain shot through him. This was the hardest thing he had ever done. "You have to make me believe you don't love me anymore." A simple declarative sentence that surpassed Liz's ability to comprehend. What he was saying made no sense. It was impossible. She began to shake her head imperceptibly from side to side. This was too much. She couldn't do this.
"Liz, you have to do this. Otherwise, Isabel and Michael will die. Tess never accepted you and me together. She finally went a little mad, I guess. She started making speeches and whipping people into a frenzy, saying I wasn't a fit leader if I put my personal feelings before their well-being. I can't explain why, but people actually began to believe it. It created major factions in our population, so instead of concentrating on our mutual enemies, they started to fight amongst themselves, leaving us vulnerable to attack from outside. Now we are fighting for our lives, and Isabel and Michael are dead." He cupped her face and held her eyes with his. "This isn't how I want it, Liz, but it's the only thing we could think of that would make things right. Liz, this is your idea."
Liz's face reflected her shock at his final words. Her idea? She fell forward into Max's arms and began to shake violently. He held her, letting himself pretend for one short moment that this had nothing to do with tragedy or destiny or life and death. For just this snapshot in time, it was about love.
His warmth surrounded her. But it didn’t seep into her bones, heating her from the inside like it always did. This time it only created a stark contrast with the ice around her heart. The ice his words had put there. “I need you to help me fall out of love with you.” She was afraid that if she opened her eyes she would see the broken pieces of her heart lying on the floor at her feet. At his feet. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. The refrain rolled around her mind endlessly, and she couldn’t pull herself out of his arms to save her life. What if this were the last time he ever held her? Her mind backed away from the thought. It was too painful.
“Liz?” His voice was soft, echoing her pain.
She couldn’t say yes, it was too soon. “Tell me… tell me about us in your time.”
“Liz, I don’t think--.”
“Please Max.” Those eyes. They could bring him to his knees even to this day. And they were breaking his heart right now, staring at him, filled with such sorrow that he wanted to shout: Forget about what I said. I could never be without you. Never. But he couldn’t erase the memories of seeing the lifeless bodies of his sister and best friend. And knowing he was the cause of it.
“Please Max.” It was said so softly that he had to strain to hear her.
“We’re… we’re married.” And I still love you more than life itself. But that love cost me two of the people closest to me.
Her head snapped up. “Married?” A light, pure and brilliant, shined in her eyes for a few brief seconds before it flickered out and his heart broke a little more. Liz got up and walked to the other side of the chair. Her eyes flickered away from his, breaking the tenuous link between them, making him shiver.
“Please Liz. You know I wouldn’t ask you this if there were any other way. But I can’t… I can’t have their… blood on our hands.” She was still avoiding his gaze and it nearly ripped his heart out. He had come to depend on that look, so deep into his soul, that she always saved for him alone.
“You will never believe me.” Her voice was quiet. Dead. “You know me too well.”
“That’s why you have to show me.” It felt like his chest was slowly constricting, as if he were dying. When he spoke, his voice was strained: “Be… be with someone else.” A shaking started deep inside his body. A sickness. It was spreading from his heart to the rest of his body. It was the worst thing he could think of. His Liz. Being with someone else.
Her sob shattered the quiet night air and she slowly sank to her knees. He was around the chair in a flash, cradling her against his body. She felt familiar, but so different, this younger version of the wife who had made his life complete for the past 12 years. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he murmured.
After what felt like an eternity, she whispered: “Please kiss me, Max.” And when he started to protest, she put her fingers against his mouth. “One last time. I just… want to remember.”
If she had stabbed him through the heart it couldn’t have hurt more than those words. The words from when he had so stupidly stepped back from her that time so long ago… and wasted so much time they could have had together.
“Please.” It was said against his lips and he gave in. One kiss. Just one more kiss, because this would be the last kiss for him, too. His beloved Liz would not be waiting for him when he got back. Tonight would change everything.
He kissed her softly, gently, because this Liz was still so innocent. His mouth covered hers as he ran his tongue over her bottom lip, hearing the soft sound that was torn from her throat. Something between a sigh and a sob. He cradled her face between his hands, sliding his thumbs over her soft skin and deepened the kiss slowly.
The connection between them opened abruptly, and Max reeled from living the pain she was in right now. Their tears mixed on their lips as Liz saw snatches of the life she would never have. Getting married. Being with Max. Being gloriously happy.
He pulled away from her suddenly, not able to take the pain any more. Swinging away from her, he thrust his hands through his hair. “Call Kyle.”
The silence behind them stretched for endless minutes before he heard, felt, her leave and crawl back through the window. He clenched his fists at his sides, concentrating on breathing deeply. If he let himself feel now, he would crumble. He squeezed his eyes shut, but it only made his memories clearer.
“Max, you have to do this. For everyone.” They had been standing in front of the swirling granolith, he and Liz. His beautiful, courageous, loyal wife “And we’ll always love each other, even if we’re not together. Nothing can change that.” She touched his face, connecting with him.
“Liz.” It was torn from him.
“Go, Max.” Blinking back the tears, she had kissed him one last time, their lips clinging together. “I love you. Always.”
He was suddenly ripped from her grasp by the wind. “Me too.” But he never knew if she had heard him.
“Kyle is coming.”
He turned around. Afraid to look at her. Afraid to completely break down. Ha, some leader he was! “I’ll wait in the bathroom. ‘Til it’s done.” But he stopped before closing the door between them. “I love you, Liz. Always. Remember that.”
Liz sank down on her bed when the door clicked shut softly. She was dazed, numb. She couldn't afford to think or feel or care. Her future was hidden on the far side of that wall, but it wouldn't be her future for long. She was going to destroy it–intentionally. She was going to ruin her own life to save who knew how many others. Perhaps she should have felt noble, but she all she felt was lost, lost in a dark abyss of hopelessness.
Footsteps on the stairs snapped her back to the mission at hand. She wasn't sure how Kyle would handle her request. He peeked through her slightly open door.
"Liz?" He entered tentatively, nervous about the strange tone in her voice when she had summoned him with no explanation. He stopped short when he saw her. She was pale, trembling, frightened. "Liz! What's wrong? Are you hurt?" He sat by her and instinctively put his arm around her. She looked as if she could faint at any moment.
It was a steady pair of eyes that turned to him, though. They looked haunted, but determined. "Kyle, I need you to do me a favor. It's a bigger favor than I have ever asked of anyone, but I beg you to hear me out."
Kyle drew back, skeptical, but nodded. "Go on."
Liz drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her nerves and stop her shaking. Her eyes darted toward the bathroom but returned to Kyle immediately. "Kyle, Max has been here."
"This Max came from 14 years in the future, Kyle, to warn me that our relationship, Max's and mine, is dangerous to the future of Isabel and Michael, and his whole planet."
Kyle frowned, wondering if Liz was playing some weird joke on him, but the intensity of her face and the force of her words convinced him to just listen.
"Kyle, the only way to change that future is for Max to believe I don't love him any more. He must give up on me and go on with his destiny, the way things were intended." She paused and took Kyle's hand. "That's where you come in, Kyle."
"What do you want me to do, Liz? He won't believe anything I tell him."
"No, Kyle. And he wouldn't believe me either, if I just tell him." Her eyes bored into his. "I have to show him. We have to show him."
Kyle stared at her face, grim with the pain she was forcing down into her very depths where she wouldn't have to deal with it . . . at least not yet. He was sorting through what she had said, trying to understand what she was asking of him. Then it hit. She wanted him to help her convince Max that Liz and he were back together. What was she thinking? Evans would never buy that. Kyle had given up on Liz long ago, overwhelmed by the depth of emotion that electrified the air whenever she and Max were together. It would have been a fool who continued to pursue her in the face of such a love.
"Liz, what makes you think that seeing us together will make Max believe you don't love him? I thought you two were stronger than that."
"Not if he sees us together together." She looked directly into his eyes, pleading, yet dreading his answer.
"Liz!" Kyle couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Kyle, you have to help me. We just need to make it look like we . . . you know, like we've been intimate. Just long enough to make him believe . . . ." The tears started to come then. Saying it out loud had turned this wrenching concept into a vile reality and it was too much.
Kyle reached for her, knowing this was killing her and hating having to be a part of it. "It's okay, Liz. I'll do it. I'm sorry it's come to this, but I'll do it."
Max opened the door to the bathroom and stepped into the room. Kyle jerked around, not recognizing him at first, and panicked that someone had overheard their conversation. He relaxed slightly as he realized who the intruder was, but his eyes were wide at the changes in his old rival.
"Thank you, Kyle," he said softly. His gaze turned to Liz, still crying silently into Kyle's shoulder. He longed to take her into his arms and hold her and tell her this was all for the best. But she knew that, and holding her would just make it harder on both of them. "I'll plant the idea in Max's head to come here to talk with you, Liz. How much time do you need?"
"Let's just get this over with," she said from between clenched teeth. She lifted her face to Kyle. "Thank you."
Kyle just nodded. Max closed his eyes and concentrated on planting the need to see Liz in the mind of his younger self–an easy sell considering that that idea was never far from Max's mind anyway. Meanwhile, Kyle self-consciously removed his shoes and shirt and stood, waiting for Liz to take the lead.
"Turn around," she told him, conscious of the ludicrousness of her modesty in the face of their intended "tryst," but she would never feel comfortable in anyone's arms but Max's again. She took off her sweater, and slipped her arms out of her bra straps, tucking them out of the way. She climbed into her bed and looked up at Kyle. "Okay."
He turned back around and saw she had left room for him to join her. He climbed in beside her and, seeing her discomfort, did his best not to touch her. Within minutes, they heard Max climbing the ladder toward her roof, and a whimper of anguish escaped Liz's lips as she reached for Kyle and pulled him on top of her, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Kiss me, Kyle," she demanded, a chill in her voice. Kyle leaned in toward the lips he had kissed so often in the past and had dreamed of since, but their contact was awkward and cold. There was nothing there for him anymore. He had known there wouldn't be. God, when would this be over?
"Oh, Kyle," Liz crooned, almost choking on the words. She could hear the footsteps stop outside the window and wanted to scream into the heavy silence that followed, No, Max! It's a lie! It's you I love!
But she didn't. All that she heard was a strangled sound that went through her like a knife, and the retreating footsteps that spelled the end of her life, her world. Nothing would matter again.
She pushed Kyle off of her and stood, not caring anymore about Kyle watching her redress. She went immediately to the bathroom door and pushed her way through. "It's done," she sobbed, tears streaming down her face, and she collapsed to the floor.
Max stumbled to his knees when he reached the bottom of the ladder. It felt like his insides had been ripped to pieces. His Liz. With Kyle. Doing things he had never gotten to do with her. He felt nauseous. Faint. Nothing could hurt more than Liz’s betrayal. Liz! His mind was screaming at him to go back up there and tell her that he never wanted to see her again. But his heart was whispering something else. This is Liz. This does not make sense. Go back there and find the truth. He leaned his forehead against the cool bricks and remembered all the times they had spent in this café. Up on her balcony. With her looking at him with those big doe eyes of hers like he was the center of her universe. Her love for him had never wavered. Not during the most trying of times. She had even believed in him when it looked like he had been cheating on her with Tess.
Tess! Maybe this was one of her mind games!
Jumping up, he got back up to the balcony as fast as he could. He reached her window just in time to see Kyle putting on his shoes. What was going on?
Kyle felt awful. He could hear Liz sobbing in the bathroom and wondered why the heck the other Max didn’t do something about it. It was just too painful to hear. He knocked softly. “Liz? Are you okay?” There was no response. “I’m going now. You … just call me if you need me again…” He waited for a few seconds in front of the door, but gave up when it remained resolutely shut, leaving with his head hung low.
Max was stunned. What had happened here? Kyle didn’t look like a guy that just got lucky and Liz… well, she had apparently locked herself in the bathroom.
Liz couldn’t stop crying. It took her awhile before she realized she was alone in the room. What had happened to the other Max? He just seemed to have vanished. Renewed fear gripped her heart. That could mean only one thing. Their plan had worked. Max hated her now and… she was never going to be married to the love of her life. But worst of all, she was going to have to keep up this charade with Kyle tomorrow.
Leaning against the side of the tub with her eyes closed, she heard the soft click of the lock. Furiously scrubbing at her eyes in a futile attempt to try and hide the tear tracks, she turned around to face her mother. Only to find Max. Her Max. Looking at her with a strange expression on his face. She had expected hate, anger, pain… not this mixture between curiosity and protectiveness.
She just stared at him dumbly. He was back. He saw everything and he came back! Her heart soared at the thought, but came plummeting down immediately. No, he shouldn’t be here. It was dangerous.
“Uhm, Max,” she had to swallow past the lump in her throat, “I need… to tell you something. It’s about Kyle. I… we--.”
“Don’t even try, Liz.” His voice was calm, determined. “Why are you doing this?” He came closer, his eyes boring into hers, trying to find the answer to her behavior.
“What… what do you mean?” She turned away from his penetrating gaze, but he caught her arm and turned her back to him. “Me and Kyle… we’re… we’re…” But she couldn’t say it.
“Liz, please. Let me help you. What is wrong? Has someone threatened you?”
“No!” Her voice sounded sharp even to her own ears. She was doing this for him. She had to do this for him. “I’m in… in love with Kyle.” She heard him inhale sharply, but he didn’t let her go.
“No, you’re not.” His voice was sure.
“Max, I--.” He cut her off by kissing her. Kissing her desperately to try and find an answer to her strange actions. He had to fight her every step of the way. She was holding herself rigid in his embrace, not kissing back or touching him. Max kept going, silently begging her to let him in. Finally, when she let out a small pained whimper, he gained access to her mouth… and her mind.
As first, all he could do was endure wave after wave of her utter grief and despair. He faltered, barely able to withstand the pain and hopelessness he felt. But he knew he had to learn what had triggered her display with Kyle--and he was convinced that's what it was: a display. He forced himself to calm down and concentrate on Liz. It wasn't so hard; loving Liz and sharing that love this way had become second nature to him in the not-so-distant past. It would be easy to lose himself in her taste and warmth and passion. But soon he was feeling his own sense of shock as he watched an older version of himself begging Liz to turn from him and deny their love.
Max pulled back from Liz and searched her eyes. She knew he'd seen the truth and she was flooded with relief and dread at the same time. In being true to Max, had she betrayed Max's people? His family? His friends?
"Liz, you did this to save us--Isabel, Michael, my people," he whispered incredulously. She could only stare mutely back at him, not knowing how to feel. He could read the confusion and struggle behind her eyes. He was deeply moved by her sacrifice. He had felt what it had cost her to grant what his future self had asked of her. This was love beyond measure; she had put herself through such pain to save them. Suddenly, his arms were around her and he took her mouth again, this time with no motive other than to revel in the depths of feeling coursing through him--gratitude, humility, respect, love. She was so brave. And she loved him beyond reason.
When he released her, he smiled. "Maybe we could go somewhere other than the bathroom to talk?"
Liz nodded, still terrified that she had just condemned a planet full of people to a long conflict, not to mention two of her closest friends to death. Max led her back into her room, and gently helped her to lay down. Then he stretched out beside her, wrapping her in his arms once again, stroking her hair, tracing her face, all the familiar intimacies that he had missed so much.
"Have you ever heard the expression, 'Forewarned is forearmed'?"
Liz hesitated and then nodded tentatively.
"Liz, now that we know what can happen, we can change it. Without changing us. Don't you see? Tess couldn't accept you, but we know that now and where it will lead. We have dozens of options for changing that future." He smiled warmly into her eyes where he finally saw a ray of hope. "We can do this, Liz. It doesn't have to be the way he . . . I . . . said."
Liz could feel herself relaxing in the warm, familiar confines of Max's arms. This was where she always felt safe and loved. It was where she belonged. For the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, Liz smiled at Max. A sense of confidence and determination began to grow within her, and she opened herself up to him and the possibilities that awaited them.
They talked all night about what to do. How could they change the future? Of course, it would have to include changing Tess to some degree. If she were capable of killing Michael and Isabel in the future, it said a lot about how stable she was. By daybreak, they still hadn’t found a workable solution. Max was sitting at the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, getting despondent. All he knew for certain was that he would NEVER let Liz go again. Not if it killed him.
“Max?” Liz’s voice was hesitant as she rubbed her hand soothingly over his back. Her idea was a wild one and she was not sure how Max would take it. “Maybe we could, you know, get Kyle to help with Tess . . . .”
Max twisted around so he could see her. “Kyle?”
“Yeah, uhm, I think he’s sort of smitten with her . . . and he knows about tonight, so . . . .”
His eyes were starting to shine. “Maybe. But it’s going to take a while.”
Liz nodded. She knew what he was trying to say. They couldn’t be together openly until Tess was firmly with Kyle. “We have forever. I’ll wait for you.”
Alarm ripped through Max. “No!” he cried. Taking a deep breath, he tried to talk more calmly. “I mean, no. We’re not going to stay away from each other. I couldn’t go through that again. We’re just going to . . . you know, not let everyone else know we’re together.” He watched her anxiously, waiting for her response. “If… if that’s okay with you?”
“So . . . you want to sneak around with me behind everyone’s back?” Her voice was neutral, and Max felt like a heel for asking her.
“Liz, I’m sorry, but I . . . .”
Her brilliant smile silenced him. “Max, don’t you know by now that I would do anything you asked of me? And if it means I get to be with you, then so much the better.” She cupped his face in her palm. “I love you, Max Evans.”
“I know,” he answered quietly, pushing her back on the bed gently. Max covered her body with his, needing to feel every inch of her against him. He devoured her mouth, his passion leaving them both breathless. He tangled his hands in her hair, holding her face as he slanted his lips over hers, tasting her, making her his. He gloried in every little sound coming from her throat, every restless movement of her body against his.
The future was theirs for the shaping. Her unselfish love had made it so.
“I know,” he repeated against her lips.
A tired, emotionally drained Max Evans stumbled out of the granolith in 2014. He felt dead inside. Liz’s heartbroken sobs were that last thing he had heard before he was pulled back to the future. He wondered briefly why he didn’t get sent back after his younger self had seen Liz betray him. Instead, it had only happened while Kyle was talking to Liz through the door. He stood motionless as the whirling of the granolith died down behind him, his eyes closed in an effort to block out the pain in his heart.
Max’s head whipped up. Michael! And next to him, Isabel. They were alive! It worked. He gave two steps forward, engulfing them in a hug. Not caring that Michael was squirming uncomfortably in his arms. “Thank God.”
Isabel had tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Max. For being prepared to give up so much for us.”
“What happened? Where’s . . . Tess?” He was too afraid to ask what he really wanted to know. Where’s Liz?
Isabel gave him a sympathetic glance before answering. “Married to Kyle. Living in Texas.”
Max was confused. “Kyle? Texas? But I thought . . . .” His gaze was snagged by warm chocolate eyes, watching him with so much love from the entrance of the room. “Liz!” he choked out. He moved towards her as if in slow motion, and as he did, his memories of their changed past came back. They flooded his mind. Seeing Kyle talk to Liz that fateful night through her door and realizing something was seriously wrong with the scene of betrayal he had just witnessed. He and Liz hiding their love and relationship from everyone else. Kyle wooing and finally breaking down Tess’s resolve to be with Max. Getting married to Liz in the bright sunshine not long after graduating. How their love grew. How peace reigned among his people. And in every frame of memory, there was Liz–at his side, supporting him, loving him.
Then he reached her, hauling her into his arms as the tears ran down his face. She kissed them away, her lips warm against his cheeks and eyelids. “I love you, Liz Evans.”
“I know,” she said against his mouth.
The future was still theirs. His unselfish love had made it so.