posted on 30-Sep-2002 3:54:06 PM
Author: Deejonaise aka Dee aka Boy

Category: M/L

Disclaimer: I do not own it, yadda, yadda, yadda... (The dialogue from the 285 South episode is cited verbatim in a portion of this story. All other add ins are original.)

Rating: PG to NC-17

AN: This fiction contains several graphic and disturbing images as well as a scene that can be construed by some as rape. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

Summary: Season One AU fic that takes place following the Leaving Normal episode.



Contemplating Normal

Chapter 1

At the gentle knocking on her door, Liz Parker hastily shoved her journal beneath her pillows and plastered a welcoming smile on her face just as her father swung open her bedroom door. He smiled at her fondly as he sat the box he’d been carrying with him on her dresser. “I’m not bothering you, am I? You’re not busy?”

Liz returned her father’s smile, patting the empty space beside her on the bed in invitation. No, she hadn’t been busy at all. She had only been doing what was becoming embarrassingly frequent of late, daydreaming about Max Evans.

Max Evans. Max Evans. Would she ever get him out of her mind? She thought back to the words that she’d just written in her journal. It's October 19th. I'm Liz Parker and this is what I've been thinking. Can life ever go back to normal? It was a question she had been contemplating endlessly since her grandmother’s death one week earlier. No, Liz mentally amended; she had been puzzling over that question long before Claudia Parker died. Normality had ended for Liz the day Max Evans brought her back from the dead.

“You look lost in thought,” her dad commented, startling Liz out of her reverie.

Liz tried to laugh off her discomfiture. “No, not really,” she said, absently chewing at her lower lip, “Just wondering when life will go back to normal again.”

Her father hugged her about the shoulders lightly. “I know exactly how you feel.”

No, no he didn’t, Liz thought sadly. She knew that he was referring to the very real grief both he and Liz shared at losing Claudia Parker, but for Liz it was much more. Simply stated, her life was utter chaos and it wasn’t solely due to her grandmother’s unexpected death. Liz was simultaneously torn between feelings of extreme exultation and feelings of utter despair. And the reason for her emotional limbo? Max Evans.

When she thought about it logically she couldn’t understand what had changed so drastically. It was true that finding out your long-time secret crush was an alien could cause some general panic, but honestly the knowledge hadn’t served to change her relationship, er non-relationship with Max Evans at all. He was as untouchable to her as he always had been. So why, after years of unrequited pinning for him, did the thought of life without him now twist her stomach into excruciating knots?

“Lizzie, you’re drifting again.” Her father’s laughter-tinged voice broke through her thoughts yet again.

Liz felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Dad,” she replied in chagrin, “I’m not ignoring you, really, I’m just…off in space today.”

“It’s understandable,” Jeff Parker agreed, “This last week has been hell.” Liz responded with a noncommittal shrug. “Maria and Alex have been asking about you, you know. How long do you plan on avoiding them?”

Liz pressed her chin down against her chest, pulling her knees against her. “I’m not doing it on purpose,” she admitted quietly, “I just don’t feel like talking to anyone right now.”

“Sometimes it helps to talk out your grief,” her father advised wisely.

“Not this time,” Liz mumbled. Because it wasn’t her grief that Liz had a problem talking about. It was, of course, Max Evans.

Liz knew Maria all too well not to expect to be bombarded with questions on what had happened with her and Max after he’d taken her home from the hospital. And what could she say? That she felt as if that night her heart had spoken to Max Evans and vice versa. That she now, truly knew what the term soulmates meant. That as long as she lived she would never forget the simple joy, the absolute wonder of being held in Max Evans’ arms. Liz laughed to herself. Maria would absolutely freak. The realization freaked her out as well, but she couldn’t help it. She did feel all of those things and much more.

It was actually quite ridiculous, this insane desire she felt to be close to him, to smell him, touch him. She had known Max Evans since the third grade and in all that time they had never spoken more than polite greetings to one another. But he had always fascinated Liz, his gentle smiles, the unconscious way he had of peering at her through his lashes, the fullness of his lower lip…

When she had learned that he would be her partner in Biology that year Liz had thought, Finally, finally a chance to really know him! The prospect had filled her with an excitement that she didn’t understand. She had envisioned chatting with him in class, passing notes, long hours of study in the evening and the anticipation had almost caused her heart to burst from her chest. But Max Evans hadn’t spoken to her then either.

Again Liz had to redirect her thought from obsessing over Max Evans’ disinterest and asked her father with only passing curiosity. “So what’s in the box?”

“Just some things we found in Mom’s attic, old pictures and journals and stuff. I thought you might want to have it.”

Liz looked towards the box in interest and then tossed her father a curious look. “Wait, wouldn’t you want to keep those things for yourself?”

“It’s too painful for me right now,” he said in explanation.

Liz understood his words all too well. Even while she had the burning desire to talk to Max, to even look at him to do so would be too painful. Liz didn’t know what was worse, wanting to be with him and feeling alone or being with him and still feeling alone. She wanted to believe that he would come around, that he would stop insisting that they couldn’t be more than friends. But apparently not. He’d not called her once, not in an entire week. Liz tried to ignore the gnawing ache the knowledge caused her. Which was exactly why she had proceeded to lock herself away in her bedroom everyday since she’d returned to school. She might yearn for Max Evans with everything inside her but she’d be damned if she let him know it.

“…so if you want I can leave it here for you.”

“Huh?”

Jeff Parker smiled at his daughter, knowing that she’d missed every word he’d just said. “I said that if you want to go through the box I’ll leave it here for you.”

“Yeah…sure.”

Her father left a short time later leaving her to further brood over her thoughts. She retrieved her journal from under her pillow and on impulse flipped back to the words she’d written the day after Max Evans saved her life. I'll never look at anything the same way again. What did Max Evans mean when he said, "I'll see you in school?" Was it "I won't be able to breathe until we meet again" or was it just something someone says to, like, fill space? And what is he thinking right now? Is he also obsessed, tortured, going through one sleepless night to the next, wondering what's going to happen between us?

Her days hadn’t changed much since she’d anxiously penned those words three weeks earlier. Her nights continued to be obsessed, tortured with her endless thoughts of Max Evans. Did he think about her? Did he get those same fluttery feelings in his belly like she did every time he was near? Did the sound of her voice make him shiver like she shivered whenever he said her name in that soft, flowing Max Evans’ tone?

Liz slammed her journal closed with a frustrated growl. That’s it, she thought, I refuse to moon over Max Evans anymore! Again she placed the journal beneath her pillows and then bounced from the bed to retrieve the cardboard box her father had brought for her.

Heaving the somewhat heavy box to her bed she dumped the contents right in the center. A jumble of papers, pictures and books scattered across the expanse of Liz’s blue and purple comforter. She scooted back onto her bed, crossed her legs, and began to pick through the pile. I’ll just look it over, she thought to herself, and then it’s downstairs. It was way past time she came out of her self-imposed funk.

As Liz gazed at the endless pictures and papers that chronicled various times in her grandmother’s life she wondered vaguely why Claudia Parker had kept these things stored away in her attic. There were tons of pictures some in black in white and others in color. Among the pictures there were also several small, leather bound journals all with the initials C.A.L. stenciled in gold across the front. Claudia Anne Lewis, Liz realized, her grandmother’s maiden initials. Liz traced the looping letters lovingly before setting them aside.

They were her grandmother’s private thoughts, books probably no other person had ever seen and Liz wanted to leave them for last. It would be like sharing a final intimate conversation with her grandmother. She fingered through the stacks of papers, mostly notes her grandmother had taken while writing her book. Liz stared at the papers in confusion, again wondering why her grandmother would keep such things stored away in the attic. With painstakingly slowness Liz began separating the notes and pictures.

Before she was aware of it nearly an hour had gone by mostly spent with Liz smiling over her grandmother’s photos. Liz hadn’t thought of Max Evans once, she had been much too involved in experiencing the flashes of her grandmother’s life in the pictures spread before her and the part that Liz herself had played in it. She grinned fondly at the wedding photo she held in her hand now, her grandmother’s. But as she studied it closely her smile began to fade.

Claudia Parker appeared unsmiling, stoically serious, hardly like a blushing bride at all. Her delicate lace veil fell freely over her slender shoulders; hiding her long, dark hair, save for the curling tendrils that framed her face. But it wasn’t the uncanny resemblance between Liz and her grandmother that puzzled her. It was that, although her grandmother could be described as many things in that photo, beautiful, mature, lovely, content…she did not appear to be in love.

Liz had shrugged away the thought as quickly as it had surfaced. She was letting her own romantic notions cloud her judgment. Of course her grandmother had been in love with her grandfather, Liz reasoned sensibly. Jeff and Claudia Parker had been married for nearly thirty years before he died, exactly one year after Liz had been born.

Deciding she’d had enough of memory lane and the sadness remembering brought with it Liz scooped up the piles of pictures and began dumping them back into the box. As she did one of the photos slipped from the pile and fluttered down to the ground. “Dammit,” Liz muttered in frustration before bending over the side of the bed to retrieve the fallen photograph. It was one of the few she’d missed. She had only intended to glance at it briefly before tossing it back into the pile, but when she looked at it her hand went still.

It was black and white, so old that it had faded almost to brown. There was a young man pictured, grinning widely as he shielded his laughing eyes from the sunlight with one hand and held a smiling, young Claudia Lewis against his side with the other. Her arms were locked about his waist, her cheek pressed against his naked shoulder. Their feet were bare and they looked to be standing on a wooden platform. But it was her grandmother’s expression that made Liz’s breath catch. Liz recognized it as her own whenever she looked at Max Evans. Her grandmother was looking up at the young man with an adoring expression that could only be described as…love. Liz flipped the photo over and read what had been written on the back. Conner Douglass and Claudia Lewis, 1945.

Who was Conner Douglass, Liz wondered almost hysterically, but more importantly, why the heck did he look like Max Evans?




[ edited 2 time(s), last at 30-Sep-2002 5:44:58 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 3:55:36 PM
Chapter 2

Liz had gotten only a few hours sleep and it showed. There were intense purple smudges beneath her eyes and her face was pale and drawn. Her clothes were hopelessly wrinkled and mismatched, probably because she’d rolled out of bed only to pull on the first thing she snatched out of her closet. She had taken only a few, cursory moments to brush her hair before banding it back into a ponytail. In short, she looked like a wreck. That morning, as she climbed into the passenger seat of Maria’s waiting Jetta, Maria had remarked in her typical tongue in cheek fashion, “God Liz, you look like utter and supreme crap.”

“Way to stroke the old ego, Maria,” Liz had retorted with more exhaustion than sarcasm as she settled her backpack into her lap. She needn’t have bothered with a comeback, however, because Maria had already launched into a monologue on the “damned Czechoslovakians” and how they were ruining her life. Liz only half heard her as she mulled over all the revelations she’d learned the previous night.

On closer inspection of her grandmother’s photos Liz had discovered two more pictures of Conner Douglass. The first picture he had taken alone. He’d been wearing a black tuxedo with the trousers legs rolled up to his shins. Again he had been barefoot and standing on the wooden platform she’d seen in the earlier picture. He had his tuxedo jacket slung over one shoulder and his bowtie was hanging loose around his collar as he smiled jauntily at the person taking the photo. From the inviting, come-hither expression on his face Liz could only guess that the photographer was her grandmother.

The second picture had been taken on a lake. From a distance you could see a boy in a small wooden boat, waving fondly at whoever was snapping his picture as he rowed past. Liz would not have known that the young man was Conner Douglass at all if she had not turned to the back and read his name scrawled across the back in her grandmother’s girlish hand. Still, Liz couldn’t fathom it. Who was Conner Douglass and what had he meant to her grandmother?

But that wasn’t what was weighing most heavily on her mind. What really gave Liz the wiggins was the uncanny likeness both Conner Douglass and Max Evans shared. This was no mere resemblance as the one Liz shared with the younger version of her grandmother for even in their features there had been slight differences, the curve of their eyebrows, the slant of their eyes, the width of their mouths, subtle differences yet distinct.

But there were no differences between Conner Douglass and Max Evans. Their features were completely identical as if they were mirrored reflections of one another. And that was impossible. Yet there was no explaining it, no denying the reality and Liz had been unable to shake the unease that had gradually begun to unfurl in her belly since finding that first photo. She had to know who Conner Douglass was and so she turned to the most logical place she could think of to find the answers she sought. Her grandmother’s journals.

The first journal had started off in typical girlish fashion with a young Claudia describing even the most mundane things, the dress she’d received for her birthday, the day she’d spent at the pond with her father. Liz read page after page of her grandmother’s romantic rhapsodizing before closing the first journal. There would be no answers found in that one, Liz had surmised.

Liz glanced back at the picture her grandmother had taken with Conner Douglass. She looked no older than sixteen in that photo, the same age that Liz was now. Liz began quickly flipping through each dusty journal, scouring the pages for a specific year. After five minutes of searching she finally found what she was looking for.

“1945,” Liz had breathed aloud, smoothing the pages flat with a trembling hand. It was several moments before she could work up the courage to read what her grandmother had written:

February 14, 1945. It’s St. Valentine’s Day! It seems like I’ve waited forever for it to arrive. This will mark my and Conner’s two year anniversary. Conner says he has a surprise planned for me, but I have no idea what it could be. Knowing Conner it will probably be perfectly romantic. In any case I’ll have to wait for Daddy to fall asleep before I can get it. I feel bad sneaking out the house and going behind his back, but he didn’t leave me with much choice. He still hasn’t come around about Conner and me…

April 21, 1945. Conner has asked me to marry him and I’ve accepted. Of course, it’s been done without Daddy’s blessing. He refuses to consent, damn him! I just hate him so much for forcing me to choose! Love him and hate him, for putting me in such a dreadful position. Didn’t he know, couldn’t he see, that as much as it would kill me to lose him, that I would choose Conner, that I would always choose Conner…

May 23, 1945. Oh God, oh God, my hand is shaking so fiercely as I write this. Conner is gone, vanished. I haven’t heard from him in three days, no one has. He planned to go camping in Fraiser Woods, but it was the last anyone’s heard. I should have gone with him when he asked, but I had been so concerned with what was proper. Daddy’s been giving me the “I told you so” look for days now. He says I should have known better than to put my trust in a no-account drifter. But I know Conner has not left me, I know it. He will come back, he will…

Liz read page after page of her grandmother’s despair, which continued on as the days blended into months and the months into a year. By the summer of 1946 Claudia Lewis had abandoned all hope of her young lover returning. Her journal entries had become sporadic then and Liz suspected that her grandmother had fallen into a deep depression during that time. By October of 1946, however, the journal entries stopped completely, but not because Claudia had stopped writing. Someone had deliberately torn out the subsequent pages. Liz ran her fingers along the missing ridges. A lot of them.

“Earth to Liz, earth to Liz,” Maria said obnoxiously, waving her hand before her friend’s face, “You haven’t, like, heard a word I’ve said, have you?”

“What?” Liz asked, becoming aware that she had zoned out completely. They had already made it to school, but Liz didn’t even remember making the trip.

“Okay Liz, that’s it!” Maria cried in annoyance, throwing up her hands, “This dark, despondent thing you’re going through has got to end! I mean, I thought things were getting better when you called this morning but-,”

“Things are getting better,” Liz assured her with as much feeling as she could muster. “I just have a lot on my mind right now.”

Maria’s irritation quickly dissolved to piqued interest. “Like what? Like Max Evans?” Liz managed a small smile. Max Evans was on her mind all right and for more than the usual reasons. “Liz, I think you should just go for it, you know,” Maria advised sagely, “It shouldn’t matter that he’s…well…Czechoslovakian…you don’t seem to care. It’s obvious that you two are totally digging each other.”

“Maria,” Liz snapped in impatient annoyance, “I told you…Max just wants to be friends…that’s all, just friends. God!”

Maria leveled her with an unconvinced stare, her expression stony. “Yeah, whatever.” She settled any further debate on he subject by grabbing up her books and exiting the car. Liz watched Maria flounce away, too distraught to contend with her best friend’s histrionics. The journal and photographs burning a hole in her backpack, Liz hurled herself from the car and began stalking towards the school like a determined soldier.

Once inside the halls of West Roswell she made a beeline straight for Max Evans’ locker, ignoring the appraising looks she received from her fellow classmates as she did. Max was just closing his locker when she reached him. “I need to talk to you,” she said, slightly out of breath from her half run down the hall.

Max cast an incredulous look down the length of her rumpled person before finally lifting his eyes back to her face. His expression clearly asked the question, “What the heck happened to you?” Liz ran her hand down the length of her tangled ponytail in a self-conscience gesture. “I know I must look like death right now…,” she began by way of excuse.

“Are you okay?” Max asked in gentle concern, acutely aware of the students who had begun to mill curiously about them.

Liz was aware that they were drawing a crowd as well. “Can we go somewhere quiet and talk,” Liz asked in an underbreath.

“What? Now? We’ve got English in ten-,”

“Max, this is important!”

Max took one look at her determined face and knew that Liz wasn’t going to be shrugged away easily. As he assimilated her pale face and the dark circles under her eyes he found the desire to do so repugnant. The guilt he had been stamping down over the past week for avoiding her began to bubble its way to the surface once more. He had wanted to call her, instinctively knowing that she wanted to hear from him as badly as he wanted to talk to her. But Michael and Isabel had warned him against it. They had insisted a clean break was what he needed from Liz Parker. In the end, he had listened to them only because he had been too tired to argue further.

As he gazed down at her now he realized that Liz looked as if she’d been to hell and back. And why shouldn’t she, Max asked himself, derisively, she just lost her grandmother a week ago. She deserved more from him than insistent avoidance. Liz had put her integrity on the line to help him, Michael and Isabel. He could at least repay her by being a halfway decent friend. “Okay,” he said finally, “Meet me in the Eraser room in ten minutes.”

Liz went straight to the Eraser room, finding the door thankfully unlocked. Once she’d shut herself inside she paced the expanse of the small room while mentally formulating what she was going to say to Max. She was so preoccupied with the reason for their upcoming meeting that she didn’t even give a casual thought to the fact that she, Liz Parker, was meeting Max Evans, the object of her affection, in the infamous Eraser Room, the place where innocence was lost. Her mind was still trying to reason out why Max Evans was a duplicate of her grandmother’s first love.

She jumped in startled surprise when the door opened a few minutes later and Max slipped inside. For a moment, having him stand in such close proximity, coherent thought fled Liz’s mind. In those endless seconds they both stared into each other’s eyes wordlessly, only their own rapid breathing to feel the silence.

Finally Max said quietly, slowly, “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“So this is the Eraser room, huh,” Max whispered, his breath fanning her face slightly as he spoke.

“Yeah,” Liz responded just as breathily.

“I’ve never been inside here before,” Max admitted, stepping marginally closer. His lips were only inches from her forehead.

“Me neither,” Liz replied, captivated by his mouth and his pink, pink tongue which darted out to wet his lips.

Liz would have been content to stare rapturously at Max Evans’ mouth until the end of her days, but his voice broke in reminding gently, “You wanted me to meet you…”

Liz’s brain began to function once more. “Oh yeah,” she said, giving herself a mental shake as she whipped around to grab the journal and pictures from her backpack. When she turned back to face him he had stepped away from her and was regarding her with a curious expression. It was time to get down to business, Liz reminded herself sternly. “Max, before I show you what I have I need to ask you a question.” Liz took a deep breath before forging on, “Do-Do you remember anything that happened to you, you know, before the crash, anything about your past?”

“No, Liz, I told you,” Max responded patiently, somewhat uneasy with her line of questioning, “The first memory I have is coming out of the pods and seeing Isabel and Michael…nothing before. Why are you asking?”

“I found this,” she stated, thrusting the picture at him, “in some of my grandmother’s belongings. His name is Conner Douglass and…” Max looked down at the photo she handed him, his eyes slowly widening as he stared down at the likeness of himself captured in black and white. “…I think he may be your grandfather,” Liz finished.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Feb-2003 12:23:47 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 3:56:49 PM
Chapter 3

Liz’s final statement reverberated eerily in the small confines of the eraser room, accentuated further by the tense silence that followed. After what seemed like an eternity Max finally thrust forward the picture Liz had given him, shaking his head in denial as he pushed it into her hands. “That’s not possible,” he whispered hoarsely, refusing to look at the picture again, “I’m not human. You know that.”

“You look human,” Liz insisted, pushing the picture back at him.

He shoved it right back in return, folding his arms across his chest in a defensive action. “But I’m not,” Max retorted sharply, resolutely.

“But there’s got to be some explanation why,” Liz persisted stubbornly, “This Conner Douglass may be the key to your past.” His expression remained aloof, his usually expressive eyes vacant of emotion. It was obvious that he didn’t want to pursue the discussion any further and part of Liz wanted to accommodate him. She suspected that he had never been this close to discovering his past before and perhaps he found the prospect daunting. Liz considered dropping the entire matter based strictly on his discomfort. But she couldn’t do it. She had to discover the truth and not just for Max’s sake, but for her own as well.

Liz reached forward and tentatively laid her small hand against his forearm. His stony expression crumbled at her gentle touch. She could see the fight deflate from him with the slump of his shoulders. He lifted his conflicted amber eyes to her resolute brown ones. “Haven’t you ever wondered why, Max?” Liz inquired softly, “Don’t you want to know about the part of you that’s human, too, not just the alien side?”

Yes, Max thought, silently answering her question, yes, he had wondered. All those nights Michael had come over and they’d lain awake contemplating which star was their home Max had also wondered about his human bloodlines. He wasn’t in denial. Max had long since accepted that he was a different life form, but his intelligence balked at the idea that his alien race had a human appearance as well. He had only to look at the earth for proof of his theory. The planet was rampant with diversity, with peoples of every race, color and creed. Wouldn’t the Universe itself be 100 times as diverse? It was clear that he’d inherited his otherworldly abilities from his alien bloodlines and his human form from his human ones.

So yes, he had wondered. The questions had plagued him since his boyhood. Was he the product of a human father and an alien mother? Or was he the result of some alien research, a human experimented upon with alien DNA? Could this man, this Conner Douglass possibly be his grandfather like Liz thought? A number of seemingly endless questions filtered through Max’s mind and he knew he would be unable to rest until he’d found the answers. “Where did you say you found that picture again,” Max asked quietly when he finally snapped out of his reverie.

“It was in a box of stuff my grandmother had in her attic.”

“Why would she have it?” Max wanted to know.

“Because…she was in love with him,” Liz explained, holding out the journal towards him, “Oh Max, she wrote all these things about him in her diary, about where they first met and how they fell in love…”

“So he was normal then,” Max surmised slowly, “He wasn’t like me?”

“No, he was completely human except…”

“Except?” Liz told him quickly about how Conner Douglass had disappeared in May of 1945 and how her grandmother’s journal pages had been torn out. “Why would anyone tear the pages out of your grandmother’s journal?” Max asked in puzzlement.

“I don’t know,” Liz replied, “All I know is that in the last entry Grandma Claudia made she’d implied that she believed the government knew more about Conner’s disappearance than they were revealing.”

Max silently mulled over this newest revelation before asking, “Where did he disappear?”

“Fraiser Woods.”

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

“Where the hell have you been?”

Max glanced up from the papers he had spread across the cafeteria table to find his best friend and his sister towering above him. They looked fairly pissed off, too. Calmly removing his pencil from his mouth, Max regarded them with an even stare. “What’s up?” he asked simply.

“What’s up,” Isabel repeated in a huff as she sat down on the bench across from her brother, “Is that all you have to say?”

Michael took a set next to her, his expression irate. “Yeah Maxwell,” he gritted, leaning across the table towards Max, “isn’t that a question we should be asking you.”

Max’s answering look was genuinely blank. “Is something wrong?”

“Uh yeah, you could say that,” Michael retorted sarcastically, “I might have a small problem with you spending time in the ERASER ROOM with Liz, as in Parker.”

“And then you skipped the three classes after,” Isabel added coolly, “God, Max I would have figured you’d have more class.”

Max dragged his hand down his face in a long-suffering gesture. “What, is the whole school talking about it?”

“You can’t expect to take a girl into the eraser room and not get noticed, Maxwell,” Michael clipped ominously, “Do our agreements mean nothing to you? No attachments, remember, we said NO attachments.”

“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Max assured them quickly; acutely aware that Michael’s temper had reached a boiling point. “Liz had some information for us.”

“What information could Liz Parker possibly have that we would want,” Isabel asked offhandedly, studying her freshly done manicure.

Max slid the picture Liz had showed him earlier across the table towards them. “This.” Their intakes of breath were simultaneous. Max bit back his amused smile as he watched them look with comical incredulity from the photo to his face and back again.

“God, Max,” Isabel breathed in awe, “This guy could be your double.”

“And Liz gave you this?” Michael asked, picking up the snapshot and examining it closely. “Where did she get it?”

“It was in a box her grandmother had in her attic,” Max answered as he reached across the table and plucked the picture from Michael’s fingers. In one fluid motion he slipped it back inside the jacket of the journal and then stuffed the journal into his backpack. He didn’t notice Topolsky hidden in a darkened corner of the cafeteria, watching his every movement with a trained eye. “His name is Conner Douglass,” Max continued, folding his hands across the top of the table, “and I think he may be able to help us unlock the key to our past.”

“Unlock the key to our past,” Michael scoffed derisively, “Maxwell, come on. That guy is human! As much as you want it to be true, we are not.”

“Come on, Michael!” Max retorted in a furious underbreath, “Look at us! You can’t believe our alien counterparts looked like this do you?” Michael’s mouth snapped shut, but his eyes continued to leap fire. Max reigned in his temper, his tone becoming even once again. “We have a human genetic line,” Max said softly, “If this guy isn’t a relative I don’t know who is.”

Michael grudgingly admitted the logic in Max’s reasoning by demanding, “So how do we find him, this, what’d you say his name was, Conner-,”

“Douglass,” Max supplied, “It’s going to be somewhat difficult.”

“Difficult,” Isabel repeated blankly, “Why is he dead?”

“No, he’s not dead,” Max answered hesitantly, “He’s crazy.”

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

Liz craned her neck in order to keep a close watch on what was unfolding across the cafeteria with the Czechoslovakians. After their meeting in the eraser room Liz hadn’t seen Max in Biology or any other classes they shared together. Liz was anxious to learn how Michael and Isabel were reacting to the news, while simultaneously feeling miffed that she had been left out of the loop, which wasn’t fair really since she’d provided the information... She was so involved in snooping that she hardly noticed Maria as she slid into the seat next to her.

“So what are we looking at?” Maria asked in a conspiratorial whisper.

Liz jumped in startled surprise. “God, Maria! You nearly gave me a coronary!”

Maria popped a french fry into her mouth and favored Liz with a bland look. “You’d have to be deaf not to have heard me with all the noise I made,” she grumbled good-naturedly, “So are you still in a mood or what?”

“Oh, Maria,” Liz groaned, remembering her earlier behavior that morning. She quickly enfolded her friend in a contrite hug, “I’m so sorry about this morning…I just had a lot on my mind. I’m much better now,” Liz added with a wide smile.

Maria munched another fry, shooting Liz an appraising sideways smile. “Yeah, I guess all that cuddle time in the eraser room with Mr. Behind the Tree did you some good, huh?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb, babe,” Maria replied glibly, “Everyone knows about you and Max Evans in the eraser room including…Kyle Valenti.” She hitched her chin and Liz glanced up just in time to see her ex-boyfriend stalking towards their lunch table.

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

“A whackjob,” Michael sighed acridly, “The first clue we have to our past and he’s A. Friggin’. Whackjob. Unbelievable!”

All things considered Max thought they were taking the news a lot better than he’d expected. Immediately following his meeting with Liz, Max had ditched school and headed straight for the public library. He thought the most logical place to start his search for Conner Douglass would be in the newspaper archives. Liz had said that he’d disappeared in May of 1945; surely such a thing would have been covered in the local papers.

It had only taken Max thirty minutes of searching to find what he was looking for. News of Conner Douglass’ disappearance had made the front page. At the time of his disappearance he had been a freelance writer, specializing as an investigative reporter in the paranormal, specifically aliens. Max filed that crucial bit of knowledge away.

Conner Douglass had been just nineteen at the time of his disappearance and supposedly on the verge of some major breakthrough concerning a government cover-up, but the details as to what that was had been left completely to speculation. However, that hadn’t been the eerie part. It was an hour later when Max found an updated story on Conner Douglass’ miraculous return. He had been found wandering in the desert absolutely naked only nine short days after the crash of 1947, babbling on incoherently about “bright sky lights” and alien spaceships. It had only taken the local doctors a few days to label him as certifiable and ship him off to an unnamed sanitarium.

“This isn’t a setback, Michael,” Max stated simply, “Conner Douglass was going on and on about aliens when they found him so maybe he wasn’t as crazy…” Max trailed off; his thought suddenly leaving him as he spied Kyle Valenti roughly grab hold of Liz Parker’s arm and begin to drag her across the cafeteria. “What the h-,” he muttered, moving slowly to his feet. Max felt anger and a fierce need to protect rise up in his chest and before he’d thought out his actions he was marching across the expanse of the cafeteria towards Kyle Valenti, his fists clenched at his sides.

“God, here we go again,” Isabel muttered as she and Michael followed close behind him.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 3:58:06 PM
Chapter 4

“Let her go, Kyle.”

Everyone froze. Maria stopped beating at Kyle’s back. Liz stopped struggling to free her wrist from Kyle’s iron grip. And Kyle actually stopped in his tracks. Liz might have laughed at he incredulous expression on his face if the situation weren’t so dangerously serious.

Liz took one look at the stormy facade clouding Max’s face and all hope that she could settle the confrontation quietly died a quick death. Moments earlier they had already drawn a small crowd, but by the time Max, Isabel and Michael reached them that crowd had doubled in size. Could these possibly get worse, Liz asked herself mournfully. Oh yes, she answered as Kyle slowly swung around to face Max, it could.

“Beat it, Evans, this doesn’t concern you.” Kyle shoved Max’s shoulder angrily, his jaw set like granite. Liz could tell from his stance he was just waiting for a reason to pick a fight.

Max held his ground, not the least bit intimidated by Kyle’s tough man act. His face remained impassive as he replied evenly; “It concerns Liz so it concerns me.”

“Thank you, Evans, thank you for finally giving me a reason to fuc-,”

“Kyle, no!” Liz snapped sharply, stepping quickly between Max and Kyle and grabbing hold of Kyle when he would have thrown a punch. She tossed a pleading look over her shoulder to Max, silently begging him to remain calm in the face of Kyle’s blatant provocation. Only when she saw his features relax did Liz turn her attention back to Kyle. “We need to talk,” she stated succinctly, surreptitiously spying the crowd that had gathered around them, “In private.”

Liz half hauled, half dragged Kyle into one of the empty classrooms and only when she had securely shut the door did she let him have it. “What’s the matter with you, Kyle!” she demanded, rounding on him angrily, “You’re like this whole other person that I don’t even know.”

“Me!” Kyle retorted in righteous anger, “What about you, Liz! The whole school is talking about you and Evans in the eraser room. God, Liz he’s trashing your reputation and you don’t even care!”

He caught her off guard with the comment about the eraser room and Liz felt her anger dissipate only to be replaced with a hot embarrassment. Liz could well imagine the rumors and speculation flying around school about exactly what she and Max Evans had been doing in there. She imagined that Kyle must have been hurt by the conjecture even if, officially, they had broken up. “Uh, Kyle, it’s not like that with Max and me-,”

“Save it!” he snapped, holding up his hand to silence her, “I cared about you, Liz,” he continued almost bitterly, “I care about you. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

“Max Evans would never hurt me, Kyle,” Liz whispered with absolute certainty.

“My dad thinks Evans is bad news.”

“Your dad doesn’t know him,” Liz countered softly.

“Neither do you,” Kyle replied.

They faced each other in a stubborn standoff, too much anger and denial between them to allow any real animosity to be resolved. Kyle finally broke their stare, choking out a bitter laugh. “He’s gonna take you down with him and you don’t even give a shit.” Liz could only stare back at him with an emotionless expression. “Whatever,” he said suddenly, pivoting on his heel and walking from the room. He left the classroom door to yawn wide as he did.

When Liz might have given into her sorrow then, Max suddenly filled the empty space in the door, his eyes dark with concern, banishing her tears for the moment. “Liz, are you okay?”

Unconsciously, Liz chewed on her bottom lip and wrapped her arms about her middle protectively. “I’ve known Kyle for like forever,” she admitted forlornly, “I guess this means he hates me now.”

“I’m sorry, Liz,” Max whispered regretfully, “I feel like knowing me is screwing up your life.”

“Max, you’re not screwing up my life,” Liz assured him quietly. As they spoke they gravitated closer and closer, as if being pulled together by some invisible string.

“I’m screwing up your relationship with your boyfriend,” Max insisted, almost choking on the word “boyfriend.” They were inches from each other now, their eyes locked in wordless exchange. His eyes said: I want to be your boyfriend, Liz. I don’t want anyone else to have that title, especially not Kyle Valenti, only me.

Her eyes said: Do you want me, Max, because I’m yours if you do. I’ve always been yours. But when she actually spoke it was these words that came out instead: “Kyle’s not my boyfriend anymore…we broke up.”

“Oh,” was Max’s only response. He hoped she didn’t see his joy over those three words reflected on his face.

“Yeah.”

“Was that because of me?” he asked softly, his eyes imperceptivity drifting lower to her pretty, pink mouth.

Liz, aware of where his eyes had fallen, wet her lips provocatively. “What do you think?”

“Maxwell!”

Michael Guerin’s bellowing tone abruptly startled them out of their hypnotic daze, breaking the enigmatic spell that had weaved around them temporarily shutting out the outside world. They hastily stepped back from one another, composed once again, as he sauntered into the room. “Hey, Michael,” Liz said politely, trying to cover her disappointment at his interruption.

“Hey Liz,” Michael responded, trying to cover his elation over his interruption. If that scene in the Caf had proven anything it was that being involved with Liz Parker would be bad news for all of them, but especially for Max. They didn’t need the kind of attention she brought with her, and from the sheriff’s son no less. No, Michael would prefer to see her bat those big, brown eyes at someone else, preferably Kyle Valenti or Tommy Hilligan, hell anybody but Max. “I need to speak to Max alone,” Michael said, rather rudely shouldering her aside, “Do you mind?”

Liz passed an uneasy look between Max and Michael, silently appealing to Max to give permission for her to stay. He didn’t. “Um-okay, I guess I’ll just talk to you later, Max.” She left the classroom feeling more despondent than she did after her argument with Kyle if that was possible.

“You’re a dick, Michael,” Max gritted in irritation when Liz was out of earshot.

“Yeah, well you’re thinking with yours!” Michael responded with equal heat, “Can you pull your head out of your crotch long enough to focus on our situation for a change? We’re supposed to be finding this Douglass guy, remember?”

“I haven’t forgotten, Michael.”

“Isabel and me have decided to take off for the day, see what we can dig up on where this guy had been taken,” Michael said, his tone having lost some of its edge, “Maybe you can think of a cover story, that way if we find something we can take off for the weekend.”

“I’ll just tell Mom and Dad I’m going camping and that Isabel is staying over at a friend’s,” Max replied, unconcerned, “What about Hank? Do you think he’ll give you a problem?”

“You’re kidding, right?” Michael scoffed bitterly, “That drunken son of a bitch only keeps me around for the monthly check…he doesn’t give a damn what I do.”

“Then we’re set.”

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

It was ironic that Liz Parker had begun and both ended the day at Max Evan’s locker. She leaned against it anxiously, waiting for him to materialize from his sixth period class. Acutely aware that her presence at Max’s locker would only serve to generate more gossip she leaned against it casually in an attempt to be as inconspicuous as possible.

When Max finally emerged from the dense crowd of students flooding the hall he was brought up short by the sight of Liz Parker slumped against his locker. His immediate reaction at seeing her there had been instantaneous, but fleeting. He had not been able to help the excited smile that immediately spread across his face when he saw her, but he had been quick to guard his welcoming expression when he came into her full view.

“Hey Liz,” he said curiously as she straightened upon his approach, “What’s up?”

“I-I was wondering if you’d had the opportunity to speak to Michael and Isabel, you know, about what I showed you earlier.”

Max dropped his gaze to the floor, suddenly finding it painful to look at her. Even rumpled and suffering from sleep deprivation Liz Parker was a glorious sight. “Yeah, I want to thank you for-for your help.” He forced himself to meet her eyes then and quickly regretted the decision. It would be easy to drown in those chocolate eyes especially when she was looking at him as if he were the only person in the world she could see. “We’re handling everything,” he reassured her.

“Well just-uh-keep me posted then,” Liz replied absently. At the moment she was too fascinated by the small smile she saw tugging at the corners of his beautiful mouth to form a coherent thought.

“Yeah.”

“Max, what you said about us just being friends…I don’t--,”

“Max!” Isabel’s voice suddenly exploded behind them anxious and rushed, “We found the information! That guy….” she trailed off into silence when she saw Liz Parker standing only a few feet from her brother. “Oh hey, Liz.”

“Isabel,” Liz responded simply. She tried not to be hurt that she was being deliberately shut out of their conversation. Again.

Mentally dismissing Liz, Isabel turned her attention back to her twin and said cryptically, “Michael and I worked out that problem we discussed earlier and it’s a go.”

“Is this about Conner Douglass?” Liz interrupted, more than mildly irritated that Isabel would try to conceal information that Liz herself had supplied them with. “Cause if this is about him, I deserve to know.”

“Look, Liz, this isn’t some school field trip we’re planning,” Isabel retorted with impatient sarcasm, “What’s going on now has nothing to do with you.”

“Isabel don’t,” Max ordered quietly before Isabel could do more damage with her razor tongue. Isabel leveled him with a betrayed glare before walking off, a muttered “Whatever.” trailing behind her. “Liz, Isabel is right,” Max said when they were semi-alone again, “You can’t be involved with this.”

“But I am involved in this,” Liz insisted tenaciously, “If you’ve learned new information about Conner Douglass I deserve-no, I demand to know what it is.”

Max heaved a sigh of resignation. Why had he never noticed how tenacious Liz Parker was before now? “Apparently Conner didn’t disappear after all. He was found in the desert wandering and delirious just nine days after the 1947 crash.”

“You think he might have been on the ship?” Liz speculated softly.

“That’s a possibility,” Max admitted, “We found out that he was committed to a psychiatric facility shortly after he reappeared.”

“You’re going to visit him this weekend, aren’t you?” He didn’t confirm or deny her accusation but his returned silence was all the answer Liz needed. “I’m going with you!”

“No!” Max exclaimed much louder than he intended. In a quieter tone he continued, “Liz, this is our journey and it may be dangerous. You can’t be a part of it.”

“Conner Douglass is a part of my past, too!”

“No,” Max contradicted, “He’s a part of your grandmother’s past, a past she obviously buried. This has nothing to do with you.” He saw her expression close off at his words and he regretted the loss of warmth reflected in her eyes. Still he pleaded anyway. “Please understand. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t make a reply, but merely walked away like he hadn’t said anything at all.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:00:07 PM
Chapter 5

“Hey Maria, how about taking a road trip?”

Maria looked at her best friend’s bright, smiling face and immediately sensed that Liz was up to no good. “There’s something about the way you’re grinning at me so maniacally that’s really giving me the wiggins, Liz.” Liz’s only response was to shrug noncommittally, her expression smugly satisfied. “Uh-uh,” Maria said, shutting off the Jetta’s ignition, “We’re not budging from this spot until you tell me what you’re cooking up in that mad scientist brain of yours!”

Being unable to keep a secret from Maria for too long Liz broke down and told Maria everything that had transpired from the previous evening up to Liz’s flinging herself into the car just ten minutes earlier. “Whoa! That is sooo freaky,” Maria said when Liz had finished, “That Grandma Claudia’s first true love is a Max double…Yikes! But hey, maybe it explains why you’ve been attracted to Max Evans all this time and vice versa…you know, maybe you guys are, like, meant to be…or something.”

Liz tossed Maria a “have you completely lost it” look, shaking her head in chagrin. “And you think I’m the one with the mad scientist brain…”

“Okay, let’s focus here,” Maria replied flippantly, “Why would this turn of events piss you off? I’d think you’d be happy that Max is learning something about his past. I admit the connection to your grandma is sorta weird but-,”

“That’s not the problem, Maria!” Liz huffed as if the answer were obvious; “Max left me completely out of the loop. He practically told me I wasn’t invited to go along with them.”

It was apparent that Maria still didn’t sympathize. She continued to favor Liz with a blank look. “I still don’t know why this surprises you, Liz. You know those Czechoslovakians have always had their own little clique. They think we’re the outsiders, remember?”

“Yeah, but not this time,” Liz grumbled in frustration, “They would have never even had the information to look for if it hadn’t been for me! Talk about ingrates.”

“So what should we do for payback? Sugar in their gas tank, superglue their pencils to their desk, what?” Maria asked eagerly, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

“Follow them to wherever they’re going tonight.”

“What?”

“Hence the road trip, Maria,” Liz clarified triumphantly, “We are going to tag along on their little adventure whether they want us to or not.”

Maria was not keen on the idea, in fact, she was adamantly against it. “Couldn’t we just stay here and attempt to heal our crumbling relationship with our other best friend,” Maria whined plaintively, “You do realize that Alex is no longer speaking to us, right?”

“I can only deal with one thing at a time, Maria,” Liz replied pragmatically.

“You’re obviously very disturbed. What are we supposed to do, Liz? Stalk them for the next two hours!”

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

Two hours later Maria DeLuca realized that her mother had been right. Her mouth did always get her in trouble. But then again how was she supposed to know that Liz would have her sarcastic comment seriously? How was she to know that after Liz had made them rush home to throw several articles of clothing and other toiletries in an overnight bag that she would be camped in her mother’s care outside Max Evan’s house watching his every move like a spy?

Unbeknownst to Liz and Maria there someone else was watching Max Evans, too, and them as well.

Liz lowered the binoculars she been peering through and abruptly ordered Maria to duck down in her seat. “They’re leaving,” she whispered, “Don’t start the car to follow them until they’re at the stop sign down the street, okay?”

“I have told you today that you’re seriously disturbed, right?” Maria whispered back mockingly.

“Just drive already.”

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

“The name of the place is The Amberhurst Psychiatric Facility,” Isabel told Max as he started out on the road. “It’s in Caliente, Nevada.”

“Who the hell ever heard of Caliente, Nevada?” Michael muttered to himself.

“It’s about 120 miles north of Vegas,” Isabel clarified, “Probably smaller than Roswell.”

“Did the information you found mention if he had any living relatives?” Max asked.

“Yeah, his younger sister and her family live in Caliente as well.”

Max digested the last of that information before lapsing into silence. He was still brooding over his earlier disagreement with Liz. He had tried to call her several times before he left the house but he kept getting her machine. Max didn’t know her cell number so that was a hopeless cause as well. He hadn’t liked the way he’d left things with her, but short of combing the streets of Roswell looking for her Max couldn’t do anything about it.

Maybe the real reason he felt so bad had more to do with his own rampaging conscience. If not for Liz there would be nothing for him, Isabel and Michael to investigate, yet they had deliberately shut her out. Max knew he should have said something, spoken up in her behalf and insisted she be taken along. But he hadn’t and as a result Max was kicking himself for his cowardice now.

For so long it had been just the three of them and Max was a little leery of letting someone else in. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Liz, because he did, explicitly, but he didn’t want to burden her with the uncertainty that had plagued their existence since they emerged from the pods. Liz was so sweet, so innocent…gentle, Max wanted to shelter her from all the ugly realities of his world. He only wanted her to know only the parts that were good and fine and pure.

But from the way he’d left things with her it was looking as if she wouldn’t know any part of his life at all. Max heaved a regretful sigh. Before Michael had come and ruined it all he had suspected that Liz was about to suggest that they be more than friends. Max wanted to be, God he did. But in retrospect he supposed it wasn’t the wisest decision in the world. What Michael had said about Liz was true; she did attract attention wherever she went. How could she not, Max thought dreamily, being so breathtakingly lovely, inside and out? But still, attention was the last thing a guy like Max Evans needed.

“So are we driving straight through or stopping for the night?” Isabel asked suddenly, breaking through his thoughts.

“It’s nearly a sixteen hour trip,” Max answered, “If we try to do it in one night we won’t make until 9 a.m. in the morning and by that time we’d probably be too tired to do anything about Conner Douglass.”

“So we cut off tonight and continue early tomorrow morning,” Michael prompted, his impatience apparent.

Max bit back a wry smile. “Yes, Michael.” Max returned his attention back to the road, a frown crinkling his forehead when he tossed a glance in his rearview mirror. The same pair of headlights had seemingly been following them for the last two hours. Either he was being extremely paranoid or they were being trailed. Just to test his theory he changed lanes and sped up his mileage to 80 miles per hour. Sure enough he saw the car change lanes in a frantic effort to catch up to him and then slow to a more sedate speed once they were in sight. “I think we’re being followed,” Max calmly informed Isabel and Michael as he accelerated the gas, “Hold on.”

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

“Oh. My. God,” Maria uttered as she weaved in and out of traffic wildly in an effort to keep up with Max, who had suddenly begun driving quite erratically. “What is he, a friggin’ psycho! How did this boy get a license, he’s driving like a lunatic!”

“I think he knows we’re following him,” Liz stated serenely, grasping the armrest in a death grip as they swerved left, then right, and then left again. It was obvious that Maria’s car would be unable to keep at with them at the speed that Max was going and Liz realized that it was probably better to make their presence known. “Flash your lights and try to get him to pull over.”

From the back of the jeep Michael watched the car following behind them with a stunned look. “I don’t friggin’ believe it…they’re actually signaling us to pull over, Maxwell.”

“Don’t do it, Max,” Isabel warned, the fear apparent in her tone, “It might be a trick.”

“I doubt the FBI would be flashing their lights at us, Isabel,” Max reasoned, “It’s probably just somebody who knows us from school.” Even as he said this he was pulling the jeep onto the shoulder of the road. Maria steered her car onto the shoulder after him, grateful that her brief experience with a high-speed highway chase had finally come to an end. After switching on her hazard lights and putting the car in park she and Liz exited the vehicle.

“This just gets better and better,” Michael spat out sarcastically when he saw them emerge. Max and Isabel swiveled around just in time for him to comment, “It’s Liz Parker and that Maria girl she always hangs out with.”

At the mention of Liz’s name Max was out of the jeep in an instant, meeting Liz as she came around to the driver’s side. He could hear Isabel’s snort of disgust as he did. Max ignored her; his attention was focused solely on Liz. “What are you doing here,” he asked her. His tone wasn’t angry, rather surprised and inordinately pleased. No matter Liz’s reasons for being there he was still happy to see her.

Liz had expected his anger, she had prepared herself for it, but to be greeted instead with his boyish delight at her unexpected arrival filled Liz with guilt. “I know you said I shouldn’t come and-,”

“I was wrong to tell you that,” Max began and he could hear Michael’s long-suffering groan as soon as the words were voiced, “You were right. We wouldn’t even know what to look for if you hadn’t helped. You deserve to be here.”

“And you’re not mad at me?” Liz asked timidly.

He gave her a slow, languid smile. “No,” he said softly, “I’m not mad.”

“Oh, I think I’m gonna hurl,” Isabel muttered from the jeep, “Max, do you think we can get a move on now?”

Again Max ignored his sister’s rudeness, his eyes never once leaving Liz’s face. “Do you still want to come with us?”

“I-uh-brought Maria and-uh-is that okay?”

Max glanced over her shoulder, noticing Maria for the first time. She stood a few feet from the jeep’s fender, shooting death rays with her eyes at Michael. Max turned his attention back to Liz. “It’s okay. We don’t have any secrets from her.”

“And we both know who’s fault that is,” Michael called out in acrid disgust.

“Oh, shut up, you ungrateful moron! Liz saved your asses!” Maria snapped, quickly leaping to her friend’s defense.

“Our asses would have never needed saving if it hadn’t been for her in the first place,” Michael retorted menacingly.

“It wasn’t like Liz asked Max to save her life, Beavis!”

“But she was the one to let her uniform get stolen and turned over to the FBI, Butthead!” Michael retorted with equal resentment.

Before a full-fledged argument could develop Max exclaimed in exasperation, “God, can everybody just shut up!” That was all it took to achieve silence, the characteristically quiet, demure Max Evans raising his voice. Only when he was absolutely sure that the bickering was at an end did Max look at Liz again, his prior dreamy expression returning when he looked into her beautiful face. “Do you want to ride in the jeep with me? Michael and Isabel can ride with Maria so it won’t be so tense.”

“What!” Michael, Maria and Isabel cried out in unison. At Max’s quelling look they didn’t launch into an outright argument but each one contented themselves with grumbling under their breath.

Liz had to bite her lip to keep from giggling at their obvious resentment. “Maybe we should leave the traveling arrangements the way they are for now,” she said and Max reluctantly agreed.

“We’ll be stopping in a few hours for the night,” Max told her quietly, “Maybe we can talk more then.”

“Yeah,” Liz breathed with a soft smile, “I’d like that.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:01:35 PM
Chapter 6

A taut silence had settled in the jeep after Max pulled back onto the road. The only sound that could be heard was the rush of the wind as he sped along the highway. Max wanted to be indifferent to their frosty attitudes, but the innate peacemaker within him was fighting to be released. After ten minutes Max couldn’t stand it any longer. “She deserved to come with us,” he said simply.

“Why is that, Max?” Isabel snapped angrily, flashing him with irate brown eyes, “Because you say so? Because she’s Liz Parker and always the exception to the rule?”

“Isabel, we would have had nothing if not for Liz’s help.”

“Then tell her ‘thank you’ and leave it at that.”

“You’re not being fair-,”

“No, Max! You’re not being fair,” Isabel countered coldly, “Since that day at the Crashdown your priorities have been all screwed up. You need to decide…will it be us or Liz.”

Max glanced at Isabel, stunned that she was actually giving him an ultimatum. He darted a look back at Michael. “And what about you, Michael.”

“I’m 100% with Isabel,” Michael replied flatly and Max wasn’t at all surprised by his response.

The distress their attitudes caused him was written plainly on Max’s face. “You know how I feel about her,” he finally said after a long pause.

“Is that your decision then,” Isabel responded without pity, “Are you choosing Liz?”

“What do you want me to do?” Max all but wailed, “I’m just trying to make the right decision, Isabel, for everyone!”

“Then cut her loose, Max,” Michael advised, laying his hand atop Max’s shoulder.

In those moments Max felt like a cornered animal, wanting desperately to run but having nowhere to go. He actually shook with the emotion waving through him before resentment and frustration caused him to go rigid. He brusquely shook off Michael’s hand, his face becoming an unreadable mask. “Fine.”

At Max’s concession Isabel finally lowered her emotional wall of ice and allowed herself to pity her brother and the heartbreak meeting her and Michael’s demands had caused him. “Oh Max,” she said tenderly, “it really is for the best.” He didn’t even look at her.

They stopped at a Motel 6 two hours later. Max, Michael and Isabel rented one room while Liz and Maria took the one next door. Max and Liz had only met eyes briefly before retiring to their separate rooms for the night. Max had taken great care to avoid Liz in light of the promise he’d made to Isabel and Michael. He had seen the questions in her eyes, the confused pain his indifference caused her and to witness it caused his stomach to twist in guilty knots.

Though Max was doing his utmost to keep his word, he couldn’t help but hate his sister and best friend for forcing him into a position to choose. What Max hated even more was how torn he felt. His mind told him to choose his family, but his heart compelled him to choose Liz.

As he lay on the bed, that he absolutely refused to share with Michael, his hands stacked behind his head while he contemplated the ceiling, Max wondered if tonight’s events had only set the precedence for his life. Would he never have what he wanted? Would he always be expected to sacrifice his happiness for the group? It wasn’t fair, he thought sullenly. Isabel dated and often, but no one had ever accused her of jeopardizing the group. Michael was a hothead and troublemaker, but no one had ever accused him of bringing undue attention.

But it wasn’t the double standard alone that had Max grinding his teeth. Michael and Isabel were both well aware of how he felt about Liz. They knew that his feelings were not just a passing fancy or a mere crush. He had adored Liz Parker long before he even understood what adoration meant. They knew that he had always been inexplicably drawn to Liz, that just watching her from a distance was enough to bring him happiness. They knew that more than anything in the world, more than even discovering his origins, Max wanted Liz Parker in his life. Which was why it tore at him that they would deny him the one thing he desired most. But why?

Yes, it was true he had broken the rules when he’d healed Liz in the Crashdown that day, but they couldn’t have expected him to just let her die, could they? Didn’t they realize that he would have never risked their existence for anything less than the direst of circumstances? Yet, it was obvious that Michael and Isabel resented Liz and resented Max’s burgeoning friendship with her. That was exactly the reason they were trying to blackmail him into ending his relationship with her now. It didn’t have anything to do with the safety of the group, Max realized, they were simply jealous.

Yes, they were jealous and Max knew this, but it still didn’t change the fact that they’d given him a choice. Isabel and Michael had both made it very clear that if he chose Liz he would lose them. He didn’t want to lose them and he wanted to lose Liz even less. Frustration and anger gripped him. Max had a mind to tell them where they could shove their crappy ultimatum, but he knew that he would never do so. He had too much loyalty and he, Michael and Isabel had been through too much for him to simply trash their friendship without a second thought. Still he couldn’t stop the burning flames of resentful bitterness that flared in his heart.

Max didn’t know how long he lay there, staring sightlessly at the ceiling above, brooding and seething, but it was the sudden, gentle knock at his hotel room door that brought him back to reality. It was then that he realized that the room was now pitch dark. Michael and Isabel had long since bedded down for the night, with Isabel taking the remaining bed and Michael curled up on a pallet on the floor.

As quietly as he could Max swung his legs over the side of the bed and crept around Michael’s prone form to the door. He knew before he opened it that Liz was on the other side. Before she could say anything he stepped outside with her, into the cool night air, and shut the door softly behind him.

“I-I thought you were going to come and see me,” she said tentatively, her forehead creased with uncertainty, “D-Did you change your mind?”

Max looked down at her, her face open and sincere and so hopeful and he knew he would be unable to keep his promise. Obviously, he wasn’t as loyal as he thought because the sight of Liz Parker, standing there with her hair flowing to her shoulders like a satin waterfall dressed in her cute little red tee shirt with red checkered pajama bottoms, was all that was needed to crumble his resolve. He smiled down at her. “I was just waiting for Michael and Isabel to fall asleep,” he told her quietly.

Liz self-consciously tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “They don’t like me much, do they?”

“They have a hard time trusting people,” Max said as a way of explanation.

“Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Have a hard time trusting people?”

“I trust you.”

Liz didn’t know why but the soft, emphatic way he said those three words filled her with a warm, languid joy. “Why don’t we go for a walk, Max?” Liz suggested.

As if by mutual, silent consent they clasped their hands together and fell into step beside one another, walking with no particular direction in mind, the very picture of new, young lovers. Liz could hardly contain her pleasure as she walked along side Max, close enough to smell the tangy cologne and feel the heat radiating of his skin. I’m actually holding Max Evans’ hand, Liz thought giddily. And it felt wonderful, too. Their hands fit perfectly together as if they had been fashioned for one another.

They didn’t talk much as they walked along but mainly just drank in one another’s presence. Max idly stroked the back of Liz’s hand with his thumb, marveling at her skin’s softness. Her hand was small and cool, feeling fragile in his grasp and yet the fit was perfect, so very perfect. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt more content, more at peace than at that moment, walking through the courtyard of a Motel 6 with Liz Parker pressed at his side.

“I’m glad you came,” he said, finally breaking the comfortable silence between them.

“I thought you’d be mad.”

Max shook his head. “I was surprised…I never had you figured for the rebellious type.”

“Yeah, that’s me…Liz Parker, rebel without a cause,” Liz quipped dryly. They laughed together softly at her joke before falling into companionable silence yet again.

“Were you mad at me?” Max asked suddenly after a long pause, “You know, earlier, when I told you not to come.”

“At first,” Liz admitted, “But then I saw you and you were all happy to see me and I felt…bad. I realized this isn’t a game for you, Max…you came here to find your past.”

“How does it make you feel?”

“I’m glad for you. I know how important it is to you to find out who you are.”

“I’m not talking about that,” Max clarified, “I mean, how do you feel knowing your grandmother was in love with a man who might be my relative somehow.”

Liz shrugged. “I don’t know really…I guess I like the idea of having a connection to you, no matter how obscure.”

Her confession startled a smile from Max. She was glad to see it. Max hardly ever smiled. “You do?” he asked with boyish pleasure.

Liz looked up at him, her expression solemn. “Yes, I do.”

The intense way she was staring at him incited a blush from Max and his eyes skittered away and contemplated the ground beneath his feet. The sudden intimacy between them both exhilarated and frightened Max. He was once again struck by the depth of his feelings for this small delicate girl beside him and he knew, that even if he had to give his own life to insure it, he would never allow anyone or anything to hurt her. And that, Max realized, was the very reason they couldn’t be together. Not because Michael and Isabel had dictated so, but because Max couldn’t protect her, he couldn’t guarantee that knowing him, loving him wouldn’t eventually destroy her.

His thoughts having suddenly taken a morose turn towards reality Max reluctantly pulled his hand from Liz’s. He stopped and turned to face her, his mouth pressed into a grim line. “You know this can’t go any further between us, Liz,” he whispered regretfully.

“Because you’re afraid,” Liz replied, saying aloud what he’d left unspoken.

A soft, staccato sigh escaped his lips. “I couldn’t stand it if anything ever happened to you.”

Liz gave him a confident smile. “You wouldn’t let anything happen to me,” she told him with absolute conviction, “You’ve proven that a million times.”

“That might not always be true, Liz.”

Liz’s eyes fluttered over his handsome face, loving the concern she saw there and cursing it as well. “But I don’t understand,” Liz told him, longing to reach forward and smooth the frown of worry from his forehead but too frightened of possible rejection to do it. “Why now? Why are you pulling away now? I thought you wanted what I wanted…I thought you wanted more… Is it because of Michael and Isabel?”

“I do want what you want, but what I’m telling you now has nothing to do with Michael and Isabel and everything to do with my feelings for you,” Max explained quietly, “I don’t know, I just have this feeling that after tomorrow everything as we know it now is gonna change…and not for the better.”

Liz didn’t question him. She too, had been filled with that same sense of foreboding ever since discovering her grandmother’s journal with its pages torn out. Whatever this mystery was with Conner Douglass Liz suspected that they had only just scratched the surface in their quest to discover the truth.

Max’s thoughts mirrored Liz’s. He, too, was aware that this quest for Conner Douglass would inevitably lead them into the unknown, a place he suspected they would be unable to turn back from. And in that moment Max was suddenly desperate to have Liz know how he felt before it was too late, before he lost his chance completely.

He reached forward, his hand coming in contact with her smooth cheek and caressing it tenderly. Liz closed her eyes, reveling in his touch. She turned into his palm, nuzzling her face against it. “Liz, I want you to know,” Max whispered breathlessly, “that no matter what happens…what changes that I…” love you. Max broke off suddenly, stunned into silence by what he’d almost confessed. He loved her, Max realized with astonishing surprise. He was in love with Liz Parker. He always had been.

Liz looked at him expectantly. “…that you what, Max?” she prompted when he had drifted off into silence.

That I love you, Max answered silently. But even as his heart sang out the words Max knew that he would never be able to voice him aloud. Liz would never let him go if she knew his true feelings. He dropped his hand from her cheek, decision made. “That I was glad to have you as my friend,” Max said instead and he meant the words sincerely.

Liz managed to smile, fighting down her mild disappointment. “Me too, Max,” she said finally, “Me too.”

As they resumed their walk a camera clicked ominously in the darkness again and again, capturing their dejected profiles on film.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:02:48 PM
Chapter 7

Max’s belly clenched with disappointment at the sight that greeted him. He had expected many things but even in his worst imaginings he had never expected this.

The dilapidated trailer before him had long since seen its share of better days. Its weather worn façade, which Max assumed had once been white, had now faded to a dingy yellow which was cracked and peeling in several places. The screen door hung crookedly on its hinge, the cheap aluminum metal dented and faded, the weather screen completely missing from the door’s windows. Even the rickety, wooden steps that had led them up to the front door were warped.

And the land surrounding the trailer wasn’t in any better shape. The yard was overgrown with weeds and littered with broken beer bottles, candy wrappers and aluminum cans. An old, rusted Chevy Impala sat parked on the front lawn, its insides completely gutted and lying out alongside the vehicle. In short the place rather resembled a garbage dump and it didn’t smell much better than that either.

Isabel moved closer against Max’s side in skittish nervousness. She, too, was shocked by what she saw. “Is this really it?” she muttered to Max, nudging his shoulder.

Max glanced down at the address he’d scribbled down half an hour earlier in the motel. “1254 Crisfield Rd.,” he read aloud, “This is the address.”

“Jeez, what a dump,” Maria grumbled from her place at the base of the wooden steps. She ignored the quelling look Liz sent her.

“I have to agree with her there, Maxwell,” Michael added with a low whistle as he surveyed the surroundings, “This place makes living at Hank’s seem like the Ritz Carleton.”

“Maybe Maria and I should wait in the car,” Liz suggested quietly, sensing Max’s unease though she could not see his face.

“Fine with me,” Maria muttered, already heading back for the jeep, “I hate to think of what could be scurrying around out here.”

Max turned to face Liz, giving her a brief smile. “Thank you, Liz,” he said before turning back to the door. He was aware that they had been standing there for quite awhile and had yet to knock. Gathering up his courage, Max took a deep breath and rapped solidly on the door. His disconcertion grew, however, when no one answered his knock or the two subsequent ones after. “Maybe no one’s home,” he suggested to Isabel, but just as they was about to turn away the door abruptly swung open.

“Who the hell are you?” a wiry, old woman with thinning white hair and faded amber eyes demanded gruffly, squinting up at them.

“Are you Anita Douglass-er-Raymond?” Max asked quickly, searching her face for any signs of familiarity.

“Who wants to know,” the woman demanded, but before Max could answer her she suddenly gave a sharp intake of breath, her eyes opening wide. “Well, I’ll be damned…Connie?”

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

The inside of the trailer was surprisingly clean. Though the confines were small and definitely modest, the trailer possessed a homey air that served to put Max, Michael, and Isabel at ease, at least as much as possible. They sat on the small green sofa shoulder to shoulder while the old woman studied Max at close range.

“You know, you could pass for my brother’s twin in his younger days,” she remarked in awe, “Damnedest thing I ever saw. What’d you say your name was again, boy?”

“Max Evans from Roswell, New Mexico, maam.”

“Well, Max Evans from Roswell, New Mexico,” she said, easing herself into the recliner across from them, “Suppose you tell me why you’ve come all this way to look for an old woman.”

“I was hoping you could help me answer some questions,” Max said, reaching into the back pocket of his khaki cargo pants and pulling free the picture Liz had given him earlier. He passed it to the woman. “A friend of mine gave me this picture…my similarity to your brother is quite uncanny.”

“My word,” Anita Raymond uttered as she fondled the photograph lovingly, “Do you have any idea how old this is? I can still remember how hot it was that day…and how happy Connie had been.”

“You were there?” Isabel breathed out in surprise.

The old woman favored her with a wistful smile. “I was the one who snapped the picture. He and Claudia were so happy then…I thought for sure they’d get married. But life don’t always work out how you plan.” She paused for a moment, thoughtful. “You kids ain’t no relation to Claudia Lewis, are you?”

“No maam,” Max clarified, “The friend who gave us the picture…Claudia was her grandmother.”

“Was?” Anita Raymond burst out, “She’s not…”

“Yes, maam,” Max confirmed sadly, “About a week ago. I’m sorry.”

Anita Raymond appeared genuinely grieved to hear of Claudia Parker’s demise. She closed her eyes, her lips compressed into a tight line while she held the photo against her breast. When she opened her eyes again some time later she asked, “But this ain’t the reason you came, is it…to tell my poor brother that the love of his life is dead?”

“No maam.”

“You see Max and I are adopted, Mrs. Raymond,” Isabel joined in, eager to ask questions but just as nervous as Max was to get started, “We were hoping that you might be able to help us discover who we are…who our people are…because we think maybe…that…”

“Well, there ain’t a doubt in my mind that you kids are Douglasses,” Anita replied candidly, “Besides your brother being Connie’s very own twin you’re the spitting image of my mama, God rest her soul.” She motioned to the coffee table before them, indicating they should grab the photo album that was stored beneath it. “Look on through it,” she encouraged them.

Max and Isabel exchanged an anxious look between one another before slowly opening the photo album, which Isabel had positioned in her lap. Although they had come there with the main purpose of discovering the truth behind Conner Douglass’ disappearance Max and Isabel were also curious about this new family they’d never known.

As they flipped gingerly through the faded photographs Max and Isabel felt mixed emotions ranging from exhilaration to bittersweet regret. Now they knew from whom they had inherited their height. Now they knew why Max’s hair did that funny little flip in the back when it got too long and where Isabel had gotten her nearly unnoticeable overbite. Occasionally, they broke their awed silence to ask Anita Raymond, “Who is this?” and “Who is that?”

From the far end of the sofa Michael watched his two best friends with a mixture of envy and sadness. His secret hope that he might somehow share this connection with them, too, died in his heart. He kept his face impassive, however, even as the void within his chest yawned even wider. And so, in typical Michael fashion, he hid his heartache behind terseness. “What can you tell us about your brother’s disappearance?” he demanded suddenly, causing three pairs of startled eyes to jerk to his face.

The warm, inviting expression on Anita Raymond’s face was instantly replaced with one of cold resistance. “I don’t discuss that…with anyone,” she replied coolly in a tone that warned Michael to drop it. He didn’t.

“We read in the newspaper that he had been missing a little over two years,” Michael continued as if she’d said nothing at all, “Do you have any idea where he was all that time?”

“You got something wrong with your ears, boy?” Anita Raymond snapped out frigidly, “I said I don’t want to discuss it.”

Max closed the photo album, shooting Michael a glare of displeasure as he did. “We don’t mean to bring up unpleasant memories for you, Mrs. Raymond,” he began tactfully, “we just really need to know where your brother was all that time. What was he doing in Fraiser Woods in the first place and what happened the night he disappeared?”

“I said no.” She struggled up from the recliner, her face impassive. “Perhaps you kids should get going now.”

Max, Michael and Isabel stood as well. This time it was Isabel who attempted to call the truce. “We know speaking about this must be painful for you, maam, but we’re just trying to find out the truth about where we come from.”

“You kids leave well enough alone. My brother didn’t know how to do that and look where he ended.” Her mouth snapped shut quickly, as if she’d realized she said too much. Her expression closed off even more. “Go on and get out of my house.”

“Wait!” Max protested, “What did you mean about your brother not knowing when to leave well enough alone? What did he know?”

“I said get out.”

“How can you just ask us to leave…just like that and with all we’ve learned… We’re family for God’s sake!” Isabel cried.

For one brief moment Anita Raymond’s eyes softened with compassion and her voice lowered to an almost bare whisper. “Believe or not girl, I’m trying to protect you. The truth destroys. It destroyed my brother and it destroyed our family…don’t let it destroy you, too.” And then she raised her voice back to its normal tone, her face implacable once more. “Now I said I don’t want to talk anymore…so get!”

With one last reluctant look Max shuffled off for the door a dejected Isabel and an indifferent Michael following close behind. After they were gone Anita Raymond leaned back against the door, closing her eyes in relief and regret.

“You very did well, Mrs. Raymond.” Her eyes popped open at the intruding voice. The two FBI agents who had been listening in her back bedroom had emerged, their eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, their expressions inscrutable. “We’re very pleased,” the one agent continued, removing his glasses and sweeping his eyes about the room.

“You didn’t offer me much choice now, did you?” Anita snapped bitterly, hating them and hating herself for complying with them. “Now where are my son and his family? You said if I helped you you’d let them go…that you wouldn’t hurt them.”

“They’ll be returned to you shortly, Mrs. Raymond…you have my word.”

Anita Raymond snorted, clearly telling the agent what she thought of his “word.”

“You should be proud of yourself,” the shorter agent praised evenly as his partner swept up the photo album with Max and Isabel’s fingerprints and deposited it in a plastic Ziploc bag, “You very well might have saved those children’s lives. It would be a shame if something were to happen to them…being family and all.”

Anita Raymond shook intensely from fear, recalling the brutal hell her family had endured fifty years earlier at the hands of their government; she knew that these men were not making idle comments. Their thinly veiled threats were impossible to miss. And although she regretted turning those children away she knew that she’d made the right decision in doing so. Anita remembered all too clearly what men like these were capable of. She wouldn’t want anyone to ever have to endure that kind of terror.

Yes, that would be a shame indeed.


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 18-Nov-2002 11:27:22 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:04:17 PM
Chapter 8

“Well, that didn’t accomplish a damned thing!” Michael spat out bitterly when they were headed back to the motel.

Max was rather inclined to agree with Michael on that score. Although, he was grateful to have glimpsed even a small portion of his origins Max still knew as little about Conner Douglass as he did before. Except… My brother didn’t know how to do that and look where he ended. Her words continued to haunt Max. Obviously, Anita Raymond had believed her brother to be involved in something he shouldn’t, something she believed he was paying for now. But what had it been? What could Conner Douglass have done to land himself in a mental institute?

The questions swirled about in Max’s head. It was true that Anita Raymond had been very closed lip about her brother’s disappearance but Max suspected that her hedging was born more out of fear than reserve. There was just something about the pleading way she looked at them before they left that kept nagging at Max’s brain. But if his instincts were correct and Mrs. Raymond’s motivation had been fear, who had made her afraid? Max wanted to discuss his thoughts with Michael and Isabel, but neither seemed talkative.

Isabel sat beside him, rapidly blinking back the tears that kept threatening to spill over. She wouldn’t cry, Max knew, no matter how badly she wanted to. Her pride wouldn’t allow her to disgrace herself in front of him and Michael, but especially when those she viewed as outsiders were present. Michael, on the other hand, was in the very back of the jeep, his knees pulled up against his chest, muttering curses to himself. No, Max realized in disappointment, an attempt to shoot theories with them in their current moods would be a complete waste of time.

They pulled into the hotel parking lot a few moments later. Maria slid out the jeep first, addressing Liz as she did. “I guess there’s no reason to stick around…” she said, “I’ll just pack our stuff into the car.”

Max could see from the expression on Isabel’s face that she agreed with Maria’s idea of leaving, although she would never admit it aloud. “We can still stick around,” Max suggested softly, “Maybe we can find something out from Douglass himself.”

“He’s in a mental institute, Max. Just forget it,” Isabel sighed, defeated, “This is a dead end…we both know it.” She fell out the jeep before he could reply and headed for their hotel room with Michael behind her. Max watched them disappear through the door and close it behind them. He sighed and turned to face Liz, who had not yet left the jeep. He imagined that she had plenty of questions for him.

“You’re not ready to leave, are you?” she guessed softly.

Max favored her with a wry smile. He couldn’t help but marvel at her ability to know his mind even without him saying a word. “Just how do you know me so well?” he asked warmly.

“You didn’t just see into my soul when you healed me that day,” Liz told him, “I saw into yours, too.” Their eyes met for an emotional moment before Liz finally dropped her gaze to her lap. “So what exactly did you learn?”

“Nothing,” Max sighed in frustration, “And everything. She showed us all these pictures of grandaunts and uncles and cousins and…for the first time in my life I felt like…I belonged, like I finally knew who I was.”

“And then?” Liz prompted, her heart aching with the longing and disappointment she heard in his resonant voice.

“And then Michael asked her about the disappearance and she just completely shut down.”

“That’s weird. Do you have any idea why?”

Max shrugged. “I don’t know why but I got the impression that she was scared or something. She told Isabel that she was just trying to protect us.”

“Protect you from what?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Max drifted off into silent, in momentary reverie. “Whatever was going on…she definitely knew more than she was saying.”

Underneath the confusion and frustration tightening Max’s features, Liz could see the determination as well. That afternoon had not discouraged him as it had Isabel and Michael. He still wanted answers. “What do you want to do?” she asked.

“I would like to visit that mental facility and see Conner Douglass in person. Maybe he’ll be willing to answer the questions his sister wouldn’t.”

Liz looked up at him squarely. “Then let’s go.”

What was it about Liz Parker that brought out the irresponsible side in him, Max wondered vaguely as he pulled the jeep into Amberhurst’s massive parking lot.

Upon Liz’s suggestion he hadn’t even gone into the room to let Michael and Isabel know he was leaving, but waited only for Liz to climb into the passenger seat of the jeep before he sped off. Along the drive he’d told himself constantly how what he was planning was futile. Conner Douglass was in a mental facility for a reason and it was highly unlikely that he would be able to tell Max anything of value.

Still, every time Max might have considered dismissing the idea he would glance across the jeep at Liz, her silky brown hair tossing in the wind, her creamy complexion pink with anticipation, and he would forget all the logical reasons that it was a bad idea. All that mattered was that he was going after the answers he sought and Liz was with him, supporting him the entire way.

“Are you nervous?” she’d asked him as he sped down the highway.

“A little,” Max admitted, “I have no idea what I’m going to say to him and not just about the crash, you know.”

Yes, Liz did know. Conner Douglass was probably the closest Max would ever come to having a grandfather. “We’ll just play it by ear,” Liz told him with a jaunty smile.

And now they had arrived and Max could feel queasy pains of nervousness begin in his belly. He gripped the steering wheel hard and leaned his forehead against it, exhaling a massive sigh. Liz reached across the distance to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be with you the entire time,” she assured him.

He smiled at her gratefully. “Thanks, Liz, I mean really…thanks.”

Max had expected to meet some difficulty in attempting to see Conner Douglass and was surprised speechless when all he had to do was sign in under the name “Max Douglass.” The nursing attendant didn’t even ask for his identification but simply provided him with the directions to Conner Douglass’ room. He and Liz walked side by side down the long, white hallway, ignoring the agonized moans and deranged mutterings coming from the patient rooms they passed.

When they finally reached Conner Douglass’ door Max stopped and turned towards Liz in blind panic. “I can’t do this, Liz.”

“Yes, you can,” Liz replied firmly, “You’ve waited your entire life for this, Max.”

“That’s right I have,” he whispered nervously, “And after I walk into that room everything I know as my reality now is going to change, Liz. There won’t be any turning back.”

Liz gingerly took hold of Max’s hand, pressing it gently between her own. “Not everything will change, Max. You’ll still have Isabel and Michael…and me.”

Max stared down at their clasped hands and threaded his fingers through hers. “Will you come in with me?” They walked into the hospital room hand in hand.

Conner Douglass was seated before the window in a rocking chair, seemingly staring out into the courtyard below. He didn’t turn around at their entrance although he must have heard them. Max swallowed convulsively, concentrating on the details of the man before him while he gathered his courage to speak.

The first thing Max noticed was the afghan draped across the back of his chair. It was black with little embroidered sunflowers all over it. Max had seen similar creations at Mrs. Raymond’s house and she wondered vaguely if she’d made that one as well.

Tugging his eyes from the afghan Max forced himself to study the man as well. From what Max could see of the back of his head his hair was a silvered gray and appeared to be thinning slightly. Shoulders that might have once been described as broad were now fragilely bowed forward with age. Conner Douglass rocked back and forth in his chair every so slightly in a motion that seemed repetitive. Max, once again, found himself questioning his logic in coming there.

Max took a deep breath and stepped forward, clearing his throat as he did. Only then did Conner Douglass speak. “They never clean the windows,” he declared suddenly, “Dust so thick…Dust so thick…but they never clean the windows, they never do…” His words were agitated and rushed, although he never turned to face Max as he spoke them.

It wasn’t an auspicious beginning, but still Max was determined to persevere. “Mr. Douglass,” Max began tentatively, “My name is Max Evans and I’m here-,”

Conner Douglass swiveled around suddenly in his chair then, piercing Max with eyes eerily like his own. “I know who you are…” the old man whispered seriously, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Max went to kneel beside his chair, his heart jolted with hope by the other man’s words. “You do?” Max asked anxiously, “You know who I am.”

Douglass leaned forward, his voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper, “You’re Peter Piper…you picked the peppers.” And then he leaned back in his chair, laughing almost maniacally. “Picked the peppers!” he crowed, “Picked the peppers, hah!”

Max felt his heart crumble, his hope flickering out like a candle flame. The old man was crazy after all, Max recognized glumly. His head fell forward against the chair’s armrest in misery. “No,” he muttered, “That’s not who I am.” Max was actually on the verge of sobbing when he suddenly heard above his head, “Christ Almighty, Claudia!” He jerked up his head, following the line of Douglass’ stunned gaze.

Liz fell back against the wall, startled, and pressed her hand against her pounding heart. Conner Douglass had suddenly pinned her with an accusing stare. She shot Max an anxious glance. “What the hell are you doing here?” Douglass demanded, his features bordering on irate. He struggled to his feet, hobbling around Max as if he weren’t even there. “How many times have I told you not to come back here, dammit!”

Liz’s panicked gaze darted apprehensively from Max to the old man limping towards her, while stammering an explanation of who she was, and back again. Max gave an imperceptible shake of his head, silently asking her to play along for the moment. It was the most recognition the old man had displayed since they’d arrived and Max wanted to take advantage of it. Liz swallowed past the lump of fear in her throat, nodding her consent. What harm could a seventy-three year old man possibly cause her anyway, Liz reasoned dismissively.

She revised that thought a moment later, however, when he took hold of her shoulders and shook her fiercely. “What are you doing here?” he seethed.

“I had to see you,” Liz burst out mindlessly, trying to shrug out of his surprisingly tight grip, “I wanted to make sure that you were okay.”

“They will kill you if they find out, do you hear?” Suddenly, he released her and moved away to shut his heavy, hospital door. He turned and looked at her fearfully, his face suddenly devoid of anger but now white with terror. “It’s too dangerous for you to be here,” he muttered as he began tearing about the room, tossing his various belongings to the floor. Liz and Max watched him flip up his bed sheets helplessly, torn between stopping him and allowing his demented scene to play out til its end.

Finally, Liz cried out, “My God, Conner what are you doing?”

“This place might be bugged, Claudia,” he explained quickly, “They’re always listening…always watching…”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t be stupid, Claudia!” he snapped harshly, “You could have easily been followed. They’re still looking for the key. It was foolish of you to come here.”

Liz took a tentative step towards him and reached a trembling hand forward to still his frantic movements. “Conner, what’s happened to you?”

He speared her with eyes that appeared incredibly lucid. “You still think I’m crazy, don’t you?” he accused softly. Liz didn’t know how to respond to his question. She shook her head in denial although she wasn’t quite sure what she was denying. “I’m not crazy, Claudia. What I saw was real,” he continued on adamantly, “It was real. And no matter how long they try to convince me otherwise, no matter what they do to me…I know what I saw…I was there!”

“What did you see, Conner?” Liz asked slowly, the fine hair at the back of her neck prickling. She slid a glance towards Max. He was watching Conner Douglass with intense expectation.

“The silent world,” he whispered shakily, “…Antar.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 30-Sep-2002 4:08:36 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:05:32 PM
Chapter 9

No one so much as blinked for a full minute. Douglass stood, wide-eyed and stunned, lost in his own private hell. Max watched him carefully, trying to decide if what the old man had just revealed was fact or fiction that he’d created in his mentally imbalanced mind. Liz was reeling, staggered to discover that her grandmother had obviously visited Conner Douglass several times after he’d been committed.

After a few moments Douglass finally sank down to his rumpled bed. “I can still hear them speaking to me,” he muttered, “speaking with their eyes…” He looked up at them with luminous eyes. “The sun always shined there…”

It was those softly spoken words that reequipped Max and Liz with the power of speech. But before they had the chance to voice their questions a nurse suddenly came bustling inside. “Why is this door closed?” she demanded, swinging her displeased eyes over to Douglass, “Mr. Douglass, you know the rules…we do not close our doors.” And then she surveyed the room. “What happened in here? This place is an absolute disaster.”

“He was upset,” Max provided in quick explanation, “We just now got him settled down.”

“This room is a disgrace,” the nurse muttered as she bent to pick up some of the broken items from the floor.

Max stared at the nurse suspiciously. There was something about the way she looked at Conner Douglass that gave him the creeps. As she straightened Max caught the name on her nametag. “Leslie,” Max observed silently as he filed the information away.

Douglass dropped his head forward like a contrite little boy. “I was only visiting with Peter Piper and his friend Ms. Poppins and I had a little accident,” he explained seriously. And then he looked up at Max and Liz for confirmation. “We were discussing who made the best tea and whether or not it went well with peppers.” The madman was restored.

“Well, okay,” the nurse grumbled, unconvinced, “But visiting hours are over. It’s time for your medication and someone needs to come in and clean up this mess.” She trained her colorless blue eyes on Max and Liz. “You kids need to leave now.”

Max wanted to growl in frustration. Just when he was absolutely sure that he was getting somewhere he was knocked back to square one all over again. Liz knelt down before Douglass, squeezing lightly the hands of the man her grandmother had loved so dearly. “Thank you for visiting with us, Mr. Douglass,” she whispered.

“Anytime, Mary,” he replied with an absent smile. But it was when Max started to move past him that Douglass suddenly grabbed hold of the younger man’s wrist and regarded Max with amber eyes suddenly devoid of madness as he whispered clearly, intelligibly, “Max, I remember when they formed you…both of you.”

Max’s eyes widened with the shocking implication, but before he could say more or even express his joy the nurse was already pushing he and Liz from the room. “Wait!” Max protested, struggling in her arms, “I have to ask him something! Wait, please!”

“Visiting hours are done, young man,” the nurse stated crisply, “Now will you leave quietly or must I call security to escort you out?”

Max shook his head slowly before swinging his eyes up to find Conner Douglass standing solitary in his doorframe. His eyes connected with Max’s for one telling moment before he dropped his gaze, turned and shuffled back inside his room. With the nurse still considering a call to security, Max and Liz wisely removed themselves from the building.

Only when they were outside in the jeep again did each finally speak. “Wow,” Liz breathed, “that was intense.” And then she looked over at Max. He was trembling, shaking so violently that it was visible. “Max, what’s wrong? What did he say to you?”

Max slowly turned to look at her, his eyes glassed over with tears. “He said he remembered me.”

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

“He remembers us?”

Immediately following her excited question Isabel burst into tears, the heightened emotion she’d experienced that day finally reaching its breaking point. To be truthful, they were all a little on edge. Max was still shaking himself from what Conner Douglass had told him. The insinuation was not so much that he remembered Max, but that he remembered both of them, Isabel and Max. If that weren’t true Douglass would have had no knowledge of Isabel at all, but he had. He had been present at their beginning.

There had been more than a few angry words exchanged when Max and Liz had returned from Amberhurst Psychiatric Facility. They had only just pulled into the parking lot when Maria, Michael and Isabel had come barreling out the hotel room, irate and firing questions. Under the circumstances Max understood their justified anger but in his stunned state he could do little to explain himself.

“Just what the hell are you trying to pull, Maximillian!” Michael had demanded when he reached the jeep. “You’ve been gone nearly two hours!”

Max held his hands up in surrender. “I know you’re upset, but let me explain-,”

“Explain,” Isabel spat, “I’d like to see you explain running off with Liz Parker and without a word to us either.”

“And you didn’t even say anything to me, Liz,” Maria accused hot on the heels of Isabel’s statement, “Not a ‘good-bye’ or a ‘see ya’ or even a ‘screw you’! I come out in the middle of friggin’ nowhere with you on some alien goose chase and how do you repay me? By leaving me alone with Stoic Boy and the Ice Princess from hell, that’s how!” Both Michael and Isabel glared at Maria as the last of her tirade drifted over to them. At the time Maria was too angry to care.

“Maria, I know you’re mad,” Liz had stammered, “And I can explain.”

“Please,” Maria remarked, “Spare me the details of your little getaway tryst! I’m going home right now! You can stay with Moe, Larry and Curly if you want to!”

“It wasn’t a tryst!” Max protested obstinately, his cheeks growing warm at the accusation. “We just went-,”

“What’s the big idea?” Michael bit out menacingly, shoving his face inches from Maria’s, fed up with her insults and wild dramatics.

“Well, if it looks like a Stooge and talks like a Stooge…” Maria sang out insultingly.

“Maria,” Isabel interrupted with deadly calm, “Michael might have a problem with zapping you because you’re a girl, but I can assure you that won’t be the case with me.”

Maria swallowed audibly at the implied threat. Max recognized quickly that the situation was spiraling out of control. “You guys are making this into a much bigger deal than it is,” he said rationally.

“Do we look like a bunch of suckers to you, Maxwell?” Michael countered, deadpan.

“Will everybody just shut up!” Just as it had worked with Max earlier Liz’s unexpected bellow immediately caused a hush to settle over the group. “Max has something important to tell you.”

Now that he had everyone’s attention Max insisted that they go inside, that way their conversation wouldn’t be overheard. It was a wise decision, but at the time Max didn’t have a clue how wise a decision it was. Once they were all situated in the room and secure Max told them everything that happened with Conner Douglass and it was after that Isabel broke down.

Max wrapped his arms around Isabel, rubbing her shoulders gently. “I c-can’t believe this,” she sobbed into his jacket, “A-After s-so long we finally know…we finally know…”

“Know what exactly?” Michael bit out tersely.

Isabel glared up at him, tears momentarily forgotten, her brown eyes dubious. “Michael, are you kidding. We finally have some idea where we come from.”

“No, we don’t,” he scoffed derisively, “All we have is the ravings of a lunatic old man. He didn’t even know who Max and Liz were half the time.” Michael knew that he was being unfair, but he couldn’t help but resent that Max had chosen to take Liz on his little quest and not him. “He didn’t really say anything we could use,” Michael continued dryly, “I’m surprised you believed him at all, Max, from what you’ve told us it sounds like the guy’s a complete crackpot. I mean, come on, the silent world…?”

“I know what he said sounds far fetched, Michael,” Max admitted, “But he did offer us some very real clues.”

“Like what?” Michael demanded.

Max opened his mouth to defend his view, but then snapped it closed when he realized he had nothing to rebut with. Although Conner Douglass had said many things none of them had made any sense. He had seemed completely sane when he told Max that he remembered him, but then he had also mistaken Liz for her grandmother only moments earlier. Seen from that perspective Max could see why Michael believed Conner Douglass’ ramblings only to be the delusions of a madman. “I don’t know, Michael,” Max conceded weakly, “I just felt like he was trying to tell me something.”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed with a caustic smirk, “that he was a nutcase. Face it, Maxwell, this trip was a wash.”

“No, Max, it wasn’t,” Liz contradicted gently, knowing Michael would resent her for speaking up yet doing it anyway. “I’ll be the first to admit that Conner Douglass is not a sane man, but he’s not completely insane either.” Michael opened his mouth with the clear intention of telling Liz to mind her own business but she held up her hand for his silence. “Just hear me out a minute.” She turned her earnest gaze to Max. “It’s true that Conner Douglass wasn’t in his right mind when we spoke to him, but he did give us clues, Max.”

“For one thing,” Liz continued as she began to pace the floor, “my grandmother had apparently come to see him several times after he was committed. From the things he said I think he must have told her the entire story of what happened to him. Max, think about it,” Liz prompted, snapping her fingers in dawning realization, “The pages torn out of my grandmother’s journal…why would anyone do that unless she’d written the truth there, hmm?”

“So your grandmother knew the truth,” Michael conceded, “Big deal. She’s dead so that doesn’t help us now. We still don’t know who took Conner Douglass and why.”

“We know they weren’t human,” Liz countered softly, “We know they came from a place called Antar.”

“What is she talking about, Max?” Isabel asked her brother in agitated confusion.

He started to shake his head when he finally began to comprehend what Liz was trying to tell him. “The silent world…” he murmured to himself and then to the group he added, “Conner Douglass said that in the place where he was taken that there was silence, that whoever had him ‘spoke with their eyes.’ Humans don’t do that,” he finished quietly.

“But aliens might,” Liz told them, saying aloud the thought everyone had finished in their minds. “We should go back early tomorrow morning, Max, and see if we can find out more.”

“No,” Michael interrupted stubbornly, “If anyone goes with Max tomorrow it will be me. We should compose a list of questions this time,” Michael told Max in an uncharacteristic show of planning, “I want us to find out all we can.”

They stayed awake nearly til two o’clock in the morning composing their list. The list was filled, not only with questions concerning Max and Isabel’s origins, but Michael’s as well. But in the end their list and all their planning proved to be in vain. Conner Douglass had been unable to answer any of their questions, after all. When they arrived at the Institute bright and early the next morning he was sitting in his rocker just as he had been the previous day with only one significant difference.

He was dead.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:10:45 PM
Chapter 10

“This is getting way weird, babe,” Maria DeLuca remarked as she sauntered back behind the counter of the Crashdown Café, her arms loaded down with the dirty dishes she’d just bussed from Table 15.

“Maria, I told you,” Liz whispered out the corner of her mouth as she nonchalantly refilled her customer’s fountain drink, “there’s no reason for you to panic.”

Maria did a shocked double take, dumping the dishes into the bus tub behind the line whirling to face Liz. “No reason to panic?” she repeated in rising anxiety, “That old guy just up and croaks, just like that,” she rambled, snapping her fingers for emphasis, “right when Max, Isabel and Michael are about to find out some great truth about themselves and you think there’s no reason to panic? The guy is dead, Liz! D. E. A. D! Doesn’t that seem a little too convenient to you?”

“Maria, can you lower your voice, please,” Liz begged through gritted through teeth spread into a false smile. “You’re overeating again. It was just a weird coincidence, nothing more.” But she didn’t sound any more convinced than Maria felt.

“I’m not overeating,” Maria whispered in insistent stubbornness, “I’m getting sucked into the alien abyss with you and I don’t like it.”

“You don’t like what?”

Maria jumped in startled fright then whipped around to find Alex Whitman grinning down at her with a wolfish expression. “Long time no see, gorgeous,” he quipped, wiggling his eyebrows at her.

“Alex!” she exclaimed in relief and guilt, “Don’t sneak up on people like that!” She began batting at his shoulders in mock anger. “Never, never, never, never do that again! God!” she finished, turning away in disgust.

Liz proved much better at retaining her composure. She deposited the refilled drink in front her customer and fixed her friend with a smile. “Hey Alex, how’s it going,” she said with genuine pleasure, “Can I get you something, an Alien Blast maybe?”

Alex shook his head and plopped down onto one of the counter stools, his expression gradually changing from teasing friendliness to open curiosity. “I’d much rather know where you and Maria have been all weekend,” he said simply and before they could open their mouths to lie to him he added, “I called you, Liz. Your mother thought you were over to Maria’s. And when I called Maria’s…”

“…My mother said we were over to Liz’s,” Maria finished glumly.

“Bingo!” Alex replied, “So what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Liz and Maria muttered simultaneously.

“Oh yes, the ‘nothing’ game again.”

“It really is nothing, Alex,” Liz told him but even she knew she didn’t sound very convincing.

Alex regarded her in silence for a moment before asking, “Liz, how long have I known you?”

“Since the sixth grade when Maria and I helped stopped your nosebleed when you got smacked in the face with the dodge ball,” Liz said, smiling.

“That’s right. It’s been a long time.” Liz nodded. “That being the case don’t you think I can tell when you’re lying to me by now?” Liz and Maria exchanged anxious glances. “Tell me what’s going on,” Alex insisted.

“We went out of town-,” Maria began tentatively, her brain frantically working to think of an appropriate lie.

“…with boys!” Liz prevaricated wildly. Even Maria gave her a strange look.

“With boys?” Alex repeated, skeptical.

“Yes, with boys,” Maria quickly confirmed, “And you know our mothers would just have a fit if they knew.”

“What boys?” Alex asked in suspicion, unable to decide whether Maria’s wild gesticulating was due to her usual flighty nature or to the fact that she was possibly lying.

“Max Evans and Michael Guerin,” Maria retorted, tossing out the first names that popped into her head. Besides it wasn’t entirely a lie.

Alex was stunned. He swiveled around to stare at Max and Michael, who were occupying their usual booth with Isabel, and then swung back around to face his two best friends. “You two are dating Max Evans and Michael Guerin?” he burst out incredulously. “When did this small miracle happen?”

“It’s not impossible,” Maria argued, relieved that he’d believed her falsehood.

Alex grinned. “I mean, yeah, I can see Liz and Max, you know, cuz she’s-uh-loved him like forever, but you and Michael “I never come to school” Guerin is a little hard to swallow.”

“He grows on you,” Maria protested feebly.

“Yeah, like peat moss,” Alex snickered.

“Or fungus,” Liz added, joining in on the fun. She and Alex shared a laugh at the priceless expression on Maria’s face.

“Hey, Maria,” Alex said, still snickering, “If I’d known unwashed miscreants were your type I would have fixed you up with Joey Andolini in my band.”

Liz shuddered at the picture, thinking of Joey Andolini, who played percussion in Alex’s band “The Whits,” with his long, greasy hair and grunge clothing. “Eww,” she uttered with a renewed shudder of disgust.

“Yeah, you’re real funny, Alex,” Maria grumbled without the smallest amount of amusement. “Like I’d be interested at all in Joey Andolini. He’s like human flypaper. Yuck.”

“What can I say, I’m a just wit, I know,” Alex joked with a wide grin.

“More like a nitwit if you ask me,” Liz teased him, feeling lighter than she had in days. She was glad for the ease of tension between Alex and her even if it was probably only temporary.

“Hey, so do you girls think you could put in a good word for your old bud Alex with Isabel Evans, huh? Huh?”

Max lowered his eyes from a laughing Liz Parker, guilt and remorse making his heart heavy. He hadn’t seen her laugh like that in weeks, really even laugh at all and he knew exactly why she hadn’t. Her life had been nothing but one crisis after the next since he’d healed her. And now this thing with Conner Douglass was just plain weird. It had them all spooked, but Max knew especially Liz and Maria. After they’d returned to Roswell the previous night neither girl had spoken a word, but Max had known what they were thinking anyway. There was no way Conner Douglass had died of natural causes and they all knew it, even if no one had the courage to voice it aloud.

“We should go to Utah,” Michael was suggesting now in his usual impatient impetus. “It’s the only way we’ll find the truth.”

“Wait, what’s in Utah,” Isabel wanted to know.

“Claudia Parker’s house,” Max clarified darkly, “Michael thinks we can find our answers there.”

“Look, Maxwell, it’s not a delusion! I know we can find what we’re looking for…I know it!”

“Michael, don’t you think that whoever…” He couldn’t finish the sentence; he couldn’t say out loud what they already believed…that Conner Douglass had been killed for what he had almost revealed to them. Max paused to rephrase, “Whoever wants to keep all this a secret has probably already been there. Besides the house is being sold…except for a few boxes it’s completely empty now.”

Max knew this because he’d already run the idea of going to Salt Lake City to search her grandmother’s house past Liz. She had seemed uneasy with the idea of him, Michael, and Isabel going through her grandmother’s personal belongings, no matter how meager. She also didn’t seem overly convinced that they would find anything either. After Max had thought about it later he found himself agreeing with that possibility. Besides he didn’t want to involve Liz anymore than he already had. “No, Michael,” Max said once he’d resurfaced from his thoughts, “it’s a bad idea.”

“Is that because you think so or because Liz Parker does?” Michael bit out caustically.

“Both.”

Max’s blunt answer angered Michael incredibly but he held his fury at bay, deciding to switch to another tactic. “Maxwell, I can’t let this thing go and I know you can’t either. We’re on the verge of discovering something major.” Michael reached into his back pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “I went to the library today and did some more research,” he explained as he unfolded the paper.

“You did what?” Isabel exploded in shocked surprise. Michael at the library, and without any encouragement, was almost incomprehensible.

“Look at this,” Michael ordered; ignoring Isabel’s disbelieving stare and pointing at the paper, “Three different people disappeared from Fraiser Woods in May of 1945. Conner Douglass was just one.”

Now it was Max’s turn to be stunned. “What? Three people?” He scanned the paper quickly reading aloud as he did, “’The case concerning the mysterious disappearances in Fraiser Woods one year ago has now officially been closed. Local newspaper reporter Conner Douglass along with Preston Grainger, a local machine shop owner, and his girlfriend, Margaret Wright, mysteriously disappeared while camping in the woods on May 20th 1945. Authorities were unable to generate any leads concerning the three campers’ disappearances and have recently presumed them dead…’ Geez, Michael, Isabel do you know what this is saying?”

“Exactly, my point,” Michael clarified, “We already know that Conner Douglass was your and Isabel’s human donor. I found a picture of Preston Grainger in the archives…I look exactly like him.”

“But if…whoever…already had Conner and Preston, why take another person,” Isabel demanded in confusion.

“Maybe they didn’t want a witness,” Max suggested.

“Or maybe they needed another donor,” Michael countered ominously.

Isabel stared at him gravely. “Wait, what are you saying, Michael? You think there’s someone else out there,” she lowered her voice to a bare whisper, “someone like us?”

Michael looked her squarely in the eye. “Yeah, I do.”

Max was visibly rocked by the speculation although he struggled to remain neutral. “Michael, this is all just conjecture right now. We don’t know anything for sure.”

“Which is exactly why I want to go to Utah,” Michael clarified, “Douglass told Liz’s grandmother everything and she wrote it down in her journals…maybe those books weren’t the only place she wrote it.” Max and Isabel fell silent as Michael’s wild theory began making soul-shattering sense. “Salt Lake City, Utah. That's where the answers to all our questions are, Maxwell. I'm going there.”

“Have you completely lost it?” Isabel burst out, “You can’t go to Utah! You don’t even know what you’re looking for.”

“No, Isabel,” Michael contradicted succinctly, “I've found it and you guys are too scared to admit it. Gimme the keys to the jeep, Max, I’m going to Salt Lake.

“Let’s just wait until we have more information, Michael,” Max advised cautiously, “We need to find out if what happened to Conner Douglass was simply old age or if somebody was trying to shut him up.”

“Max, I'm connected to this thing, all right?” Michael argued in frustration, “I mean we’re so friggin close I can practically taste it. I dream about it when I go to sleep at night. The answer’s in Utah and it's not letting me wait, no matter what you guys say.” He angrily slid himself from the booth without another word and stalked out from the restaurant. Isabel looked at her brother in helpless frustration.

“Don’t worry. He won’t get far without a car,” Max assured her, but in the face of Michael’s blatant determination even he had his doubts.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:12:17 PM
Chapter 11

Maria DeLuca stood on the outskirts of West Roswell High’s football field, mentally cursing her history teacher, her history teacher’s children, and his children’s children. He deserved no better after the bogus assignment he’d given earlier in class. But it wasn’t the assignment itself that was truly eating away at Maria. It was whom she had been partnered up with. Michael Guerin. She supposed she deserved it, Maria thought grimly, it served her right after the outrageous lie she’d told to Alex about her and Michael being together. Maria mentally rolled her eyes when she thought back to her reaction in class when Mr. Sommers had called out for her and Guerin to be partners.

“Excuse me,” Maria had said, not even bothering to raise her hand she’d been so shocked, “Did you just say Guerin, as in Michael…Guerin?”

“Yes, Michael Guerin,” Mr. Sommers repeated as if Maria were mentally incapacitated.

“No, no,” Maria protested, too freaked to ponder over the fact that she was back talking her teacher, “that is just unacceptable.”

“I beg your pardon, Ms. DeLuca?”

“Come on, Mr. Sommers,” Maria had whined, belatedly realizing her error, “The guy’s not even here.” He’s never here, she finished mentally.

Mr. Sommers obviously had no pity or at least none for Maria because he said, rather flippantly, “Well, then I’ll guess it will be like true fieldwork for you, Ms. DeLuca, tracking down your subject and all. Enjoy.”

Maria’s mouth fell open in the face of her teacher’s blatant indifference. She swung around in her seat to face Liz, who sat directly behind her. “Did you just hear Sommers?” Maria demanded in affront, “I swear this is like cruel and unusual education. I mean, aren’t there, like, Geneva convention rules against this sort of thing?”

“He paired Max and Kyle together, too,” Liz informed her friend unhappily. They both looked across the room to spy Kyle snapping his teeth obnoxiously at a stoic Max. Liz groaned and dropped her head forward into her hands, “God, can my life possibly get any worse?”

“Hey, cheer up. You could have been paired up with the human equivalent of a chimpanzee,” Maria quipped dryly.

“But Kyle’s been acting so weird since we broke up, Maria,” Liz protested uneasily as she lifted her head, “I’m afraid he’ll say something to Max…or vice versa.”

Maria patted Liz’s head and started to say something reassuring when she heard their teacher bark suddenly, “Ms. DeLuca, don’t you think you’ve interrupted the class enough for one day!”

And so here she was, waiting with dreaded anticipation, if you could call it that, for Michael “I’m a loser” Guerin to show up. It was really ridiculous the lengths she’d had to go to in order to find him. She’d found out from Max that he liked to hang out in the gym when he cut class. Since he cut virtually all his classes Maria thought it was a pretty safe bet that he’d exit through the gym and across the football field to avoid his teachers.

She’d just make it short and sweet, Maria said to herself as she picked her nails in boredom. Just ask him the questions and get out of there. It wasn’t like Michael Guerin was a real conversation maker so Maria would definitely have no problems there. Hot on the heels of Maria’s thought the last school bell for the day rang. She quickly pulled out her homework assignment and a pen from her backpack. There was no need to go somewhere to sit down, she thought caustically, that would just prolong the torment.

A few moments later she spotted Michael Guerin sauntering across the football field. She relaxed, figuring that because he’d seen her (he couldn’t possibly miss her waving arms), and leaned back against the chain link fence to wait for him to come to her. He emerged from the football field…and stalked right past her. Maria’s eyes widened in shock and insult.

“Hey Guerin,” she called after him loudly. He kept walking and Maria found herself running behind him to catch up, humiliation pounding her with each step. If she weren’t so desperate for an “A” she might just tell Michael Guerin what he could do with his rude attitude. Not that Maria was a whiz kid or anything of the sort. It was just this was too easy of a grade to pass over. “I just need a minute of your time,” Maria told him breathlessly.

He didn’t even spare her a glance. “Beat it.”

“Look, it won’t take but a second,” Maria persisted, following him along into the student parking lot. There was no way in hell she was failing this assignment because of him. “Come on, three minutes,” she cajoled, “We have to do this completely queer history project for tomorrow and Sommers paired us-,”

“I’m busy,” Michael cut in rudely, not tempering his stride one bit.

“Wait! Will you just answer these questions, okay? What’s-uh-your favorite ice cream flavor?” she rushed out, “Uh, um…who’s your favorite relative?”

“Get lost, all right,” Michael said, waving her off in irritation. His mind was too preoccupied with Salt Lake City, Utah and how he would get there without a car. “I’ve gotta…” Michael trailed off, a thought suddenly occurring to him. He stopped walking so abruptly that Maria ran smack into his back. He ignored the grunting impact she made and turned to face her, his face sly with mischief. “You’ve got a car, right?”

Maria frowned at him blankly, wondering just where the hell that question had come from. “Yeah,” she confirmed with a roll of her eyes.

“So you driving anywhere?”

“Well, I usually take Liz home after school, you know, cuz our shifts are usually around the same time, but today she was, like, ‘Oh, no Maria, I don’t need a ride cuz-,’”

“I don’t need your whole life’s history, okay,” Michael interrupted rudely.

Maria seriously considered walking off and leaving him there, but that would mean conceding an “F” on her assignment and that she would absolutely NOT do. “I’m going to the Lift-Off gas station to drop off a box for my mom,” she said flatly.

“The one near the highway?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So give me a ride and I’ll answer your stupid questions.”

If all she had to do was give unwashed boy a ride to get an “A” Maria thought it was a minute price to pay. “Okay.”

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

Liz tried valiantly to pay attention to the questions Isabel was asking her but she couldn’t stop her attention from drifting over to the booth where Max and Kyle sat only a few feet away. She had been an emotional mess since learning that Kyle and Max had been paired for their history assignment and it hadn’t gotten any better when they walked into the Crashdown after school to work on the assignment.

Why, oh why, Liz mentally lamented, hadn’t she taken Isabel up on her offer to study at her house instead of the Crashdown? At the time Liz had been comfortable with the idea of studying at the restaurant, but now the only thing she wanted was for the floor to open up and swallow her whole. Now she was stuck at the counter with Isabel, pretending to do homework when all she could do was obsess over what Kyle was saying to Max.

It drove her absolutely crazy to know that her ex-boyfriend and…and… Liz drifted off in mid-thought. Come to think of it, what was Max to her anyway? Was he her friend? Her protector? Her would-be boyfriend? Liz didn’t know and she had to admit that the not knowing was where a big portion of her anxiety was coming from.

Liz liked to think that she and Max had done a great deal of bonding during their impromptu trip to Caliente, Nevada. He had been so devastated after learning of Conner Douglass’ death and when it mattered he had turned to her for comfort. Liz could still remember how it felt to hold him against her, his tears leaking onto her shoulder. He had confided in her just how much the death had shocked and hurt him because he suspected that despite everything Conner Douglass had cared about him. He knew what Max was and he had cared anyway. To lose such potential for unconditional love had been devastating to Max. When he had come to her motel room that night she had held him wordlessly while he cried. Liz could still smell his fresh, clean scent, feel the silky softness of his hair sliding through her fingers…

Okay, she was drifting. But she couldn’t help it. Everything about Max Evans intrigued her, even the smallest details about him she found endearing. Like even now, as he sat there chatting with Kyle, he was gnawing on his pencil, something Liz knew he did only when he was deep in thought. She felt the habit was just too cute. She thought everything about Max Evans was too cute. It was just too bad that he didn’t seem to feel the same way about her.

Ever since they’d come back from Nevada he’d been standoffish, more so than usual. He would barely mumble “hello” when he saw Liz in the hall and when she would try and engage him in longer conversation he always had someplace else to be. Liz was by no means stupid. She knew damned well when someone was avoiding her and Max Evans was definitely avoiding her. The only thing Liz didn’t understand was why.

“….favorite ice cream flavor?”

Liz swiveled around sharply. She was suddenly aware that Isabel had asked her a question but she had no idea what it was. “Huh?”

“I asked,” Isabel repeated with mounting irritation, “what your favorite ice cream flavor was.”

“Oh, vanilla,” Liz replied, offhand, before returning her attention back to Kyle and Max. She wondered what Kyle was saying because Max was starting to appear uncomfortable.

“Your favorite flavor is vanilla,” Isabel uttered in flat distaste. When Liz didn’t respond to her comment she heaved a disgusted sigh and snatched a bottle of ketchup from the counter. She shoved it towards Liz. “Oh, why don’t you just take them some ketchup or something!”

Liz was too grateful for the excuse to recognize the disgusted sarcasm in Isabel’s tone. She took the ketchup bottle and hopped from her stool, skipping over to the booth where they sat. “Just bringing you guys some ketchup,” Liz chirped brightly, “So, how’s the homework coming?”

Max looked up at Liz with a knowing expression, his lips twitching with laughter. “Great,” he replied simply.

Kyle looked from his ex-girlfriend to his homework partner and felt himself begin to seethe. You’d have to be blind to miss the goo-goo eyes they were making at one another. He forced a tight smile. “Yeah, we’re just getting to know one another, aren’t we, Evans?”

Max nodded, although he appeared just as uncomfortable with Kyle’s curt reply as Liz was. She could hear the annoyance in his tone and sensed now was the time to make her exit. “Well, that’s good,” she said, smiling, “I’ll just get back to my-,”

“Actually, I’m glad you came over, Liz,” Kyle said with a wide, feline smile, “cuz I was kinda hoping we could skip on down to question number 8, you know. How ‘bout it, Evans? Have you ever been in love?”

Max didn’t look at Kyle as he asked the question but had his eyes trained on Liz. He could see the expectant expression on her face, see the hope brightening those beautiful brown eyes of hers and he wanted to sing the truth out loud. Wouldn’t it be so perfect if he could tell Liz the truth and then they could live happily ever after? But life wasn’t a fairy tale, Max reminded himself, and his life was an uncertain jumble of events. Beyond his love he had absolutely nothing to offer Liz. And she deserved more, so much more.

He dropped his eyes because he didn’t want to see the look of devastation on her face when he answered Kyle’s question. “No,” he lied quietly as he took up his pencil, “No, I’ve never been in love. What about you?” He focused hard on Kyle’s answer because he didn’t have the courage to watch Liz walk away.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:13:43 PM
Chapter 12

By the time Maria pulled into the Lift-Off gas station she was tired, frustrated and more than a bit angry. Despite their deal Michael Guerin had been his usual obnoxious self, refusing to answer any of the questions she’d asked him honestly. After fifteen minutes Maria didn’t know whether she wanted to kick him or herself.

She glared at him, her teeth set tightly. “Do I look stupid to you?” she demanded flatly, “Cuz you can’t just make up answers.”

Michael just shrugged, barely looking at her. A small part of him acknowledged that Maria DeLuca was actually kinda cute when she was mad. The realization made Michael very uncomfortable and was enough to make him more insufferable than usual. He picked at his fingernails. “Who says I’m making them up,” he challenged.

Maria rolled her lips inward and closed her eyes, mentally counting to ten. When she opened her eyes again she stated as calmly as she could manage, “You do not watch ‘The View’.”

“Keeps me in touch with my feminine side,” Michael smirked irreverently.

Maria didn’t know how she refrained from strangling him on the spot. Belatedly, she realized that this trip with him had been a total waste of time. “Fine…you know what?” Maria told him, waving her hand dismissively, “Forget it! I will just make up the answers for you, okay. You might not care about failing but I do.” She waited for some sort of response from him, but he only continued picking at his nails. Maria growled in frustration. “Can you at least help me with my box?”

Michael slid her a disinterested, sideways glance. “Sorry, I can’t,” he replied without an ounce of remorse, “Bad back and all.”

Maria glared at him for a moment, knowing full well that he was lying. “You know,” she said thoughtfully after some silence, “I think I might actually hate you.” She got out the car before he could respond and moved around to the back seat to grab her package. With one last disgusted glare at Michael she walked over to the gas station attendant to conduct her business. It didn’t take more than five seconds for her to make arrangements for the package but by the time she had turned back around Michael Guerin was sliding into the driver’s seat of her car.

“Hey! Hey!” she cried in panic, running towards the car, “He’s stealing my car!” she screamed to no one in particular, “He’s stealing my car!” She reached the passenger door just as Michael cranked the ignition. “You’re stealing my car,” she accused hotly, as she slid inside and closed the door.

“I’m borrowing you car,” Michael corrected calmly, “Now get out.”

“Wait a minute,” Maria said with a slight shake of her head, “You’re telling me to get out? This is my car!” Maria reminded him obstinately, “Actually, it’s my mother’s car and if anything happens to it, life as I know it, is going to come to a painful end. So wherever it goes…I go.”

“Fine,” Michael replied stoically as he jerked the car into drive, “You had your chance.” He didn’t fully like the idea of taking her along but she hadn’t left him with too many options. “Just try not to talk too much,” he ordered, stamping the gas pedal.

“Oh my God,” Maria squealed in mindless panic as he sped away from the gas station, “You’re kidnapping me…no wait, you’re abducting me!”

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

Although Liz had managed to refrain from watching Max and Kyle after going over to their table her mind still continued to be occupied with thoughts other than homework. Max had never been in love. To hear him admit it aloud had been crushing. She had whirled away quickly afterwards, too frightened that the tears suddenly filling her eyes would spill over right in front on them. By the time she’d gone back to Isabel she had managed to blink them back but the damage had already been done. Liz felt as if her heart had been broken.

At first Liz had tried to reason it out in her head. Maybe Max had denied being in love because he didn’t want Kyle to know the answer to such a personal question. That explanation had almost been enough to buoy Liz’s spirits until she considered that Max could have easily admitted to having been in love without sacrificing anything personal about himself. Kyle wouldn’t have had a clue to whom Max referred. Which obviously meant that Max had been telling the truth when he answered Kyle’s question.

The realization thoroughly depressed Liz and when she resumed her homework with Isabel her demeanor was lackluster. Both were eternally grateful when Liz’s cell phone suddenly rang after what seemed like hours of glum silence between them. Isabel made a mental note to herself as Liz answered her call. She would drink hot lead before she ever again allowed herself to be partnered with Liz Parker for a school project.

“Hello,” Liz said once she pressed the call button. She didn’t get an immediate response but she could hear Maria talking in the background. “Maria, is that you? Where are you? I thought you’d have made it to the Crash by now.”

Still, Liz received no direct answer but she heard Maria say, rather cryptically, “It feels kind of strange, you know? Being alone in a car with you.”

“In a car alone with who?” Liz demanded in confusion, “Maria, what are you talking about? Have you been stiffing oil again?”

“I mean…not knowing where we’re going,” Maria continued, still not addressing Liz directly, “or when we’ll be back…it’s just…weird.”

Suddenly, another voice intruded. “Do you always talk this much? I thought we agreed you were going to shut up during this trip.” He sounded rude and irritated.

“Was that Michael?” Liz asked, “Maria, what on earth are you doing with Michael?”

She heard Maria’s voice again. “Liz says I talk a lot with I’m nervous and I can tell you that being alone with you on the highway is making me very, very nervous.”

“You’re nervous about being in the car alone with Michael,” Liz repeated. She was beginning to feel the first tendrils of concern.

“So how far will we be going on this little road trip,” Maria asked, “North on US-285, huh? I wonder where that could be taking us…”

And then Liz heard Michael’s voice again, stunned with bewilderment and suspicion. “Hey, what the hell are you-,” His words were abruptly cut off by a brief rustling sound and then static.

“Maria! Maria! Hello, hello? Maria?” Liz said over and over into the phone, but it was obvious Maria was gone. She clicked off her cell phone and glanced up at Isabel who had suddenly begun watching her with panicked interest. “That was so bizarre…”

“What’s going on?” Isabel demanded bluntly.

“Maria,” Liz explained in a daze, “Apparently she’s with Michael in a car. I don’t know, she sounded really weird.”

Without warning Isabel jumped up from the stool with an expression of shocked alarm on her face and marched straight for her brother with Liz close at her heels. “Isabel, wait,” Liz demanded, alarmed by Isabel’s reaction and suddenly sure that Maria was in some kind of danger, “Tell me what’s happening!” But as expected she was ignored.

“Max, we have to go,” Isabel told Max when she reached him.

“But things were going so well,” Kyle commented smugly only to be thoroughly ignored. Max slid himself from the booth without a word of excuse to Kyle and followed his sister outside. Liz was close behind them as they left and Kyle close behind her.

“What is it?” Max asked Isabel urgently as they headed towards the jeep.

“He found a car.” She didn’t need to explain anymore than that, Max knew exactly who she was referring to. He felt his head begin to pound with a major tension headache.

Liz burst out of the Crashdown and came running towards them as they climbed into the jeep, not realizing that Kyle was directly behind. “Can someone please tell me what’s going on here,” she demanded breathlessly, “Where are you going?”

“The less you know right now, the better,” Max responded cryptically.

Oh, here we go again, Liz thought mentally grinding her teeth. Well, she wasn’t going to let herself be shut out this time, not again. “No, Max! This concerns me, too. Maria’s involved so I have a right to know what’s happening.”

“Maria?” Max’s perplexed gaze zigzagged over to Isabel for explanation. “It would be her car with her in it,” Isabel clarified crisply, “Going North on 285.” Max mentally shook his head in frustration. Yeah, this just keeps getting better and better, he thought.

“Okay, then I’m going,” Liz decided, starting to hoist herself into the back of the jeep.

Max swiveled around to face her. “Liz, you can’t come…don’t you remember what happened last time?”

“And what exactly happened last time,” Kyle Valenti asked dryly from his place on the sidewalk, “Don’t tell me there’s trouble in paradise already?”

Rather than argue further with Liz and incur Kyle’s suspicion even more Max conceded reluctantly to Liz, “Get in…we don’t have much time.”

Across the street an agent watched them furtively as they drove away, from the confines of his dark, shiny sedan. After shifting his car into drive, he flipped open his cell phone and quickly dialed a number with one hand, while pulling out into traffic with another. “I’m outside the Crashdown as we speak,” he said when the call was picked up, “It looks like Parker and the Evans kids are making a move.”

On the other end of the line, Kathleen Topolsky leaned back in her chair, satisfied. “Tail them…whatever information they find make sure it stays buried,” she ordered quietly, “My superiors didn’t have Conner Douglass eliminated just so all our hard work would simply go up in smoke. Remember your orders,” she reminded him coolly, “Destroy the evidence with as few causalities as possible.”

“And the specimen? Are Agent DeVoe’s orders still the same?”

“Yes, but he and the girl are to be taken alive,” she confirmed, “But use extreme caution…we have no idea what these creatures are capable of.”

“And if the others prove to be a problem,” the agent prompted quietly.

“Make them go away.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:16:04 PM
Chapter 13

Liz sat crouched in the backseat of Max Evans’ jeep doing a stellar job of lying to her mother. She fed Nancy Parker the same fabrication she’d given Amy DeLuca moments earlier. “…well, yeah, Mom, it’s a big test otherwise… Yeah, but I told you-um-how much trouble Maria has in-um-U.S. Government….no Ms. DeLuca’s totally cool with it…so I’ll just-um-spend the night, k? And mom, if you need me, just call the cell, okay…yeah, I love you, too…bye.” Liz felt awful after she’d hung up. If lying to her mother weren’t hard enough, knowing that Nancy Parker trusted her implicitly made Liz feel even lower.

Up front in the passenger’s seat Isabel Evans smirked as she eavesdropped on Liz’s conversation with her mother. “The perfect Liz Parker lying to her mother?” she mocked acerbically, “I think I just might faint from surprise.”

Having had her fill of Isabel’s chilly demeanor and bitchiness Liz snapped out, “Yeah, well at least my mother knows what species I am.”

“Touché,” Isabel replied, lifting her shoulders in an unruffled shrug.

“Come on, you two,” Max rallied, not at all in the mood for their girlish bickering, “Let’s just work together and find Michael and Maria.”

“Um-yeah, that’s what I’ve been meaning to ask you about, Max,” Liz responded in aggravation, “Why, exactly, would Michael kidnap Maria in the first place. He can’t, like, stand her, and vice versa, and, like, Maria goes about, like, admitting her hatred for him openly…”

“He’s going to Utah,” Max replied simply, seeing know point in attempting to keep the truth from her. He waited in dread for her to explode.

“Utah?” Liz repeated blankly and then seconds later understanding penetrated, “He’s going to check out Grandma Claudia’s house,” Liz surmised, “and after I specifically told you I didn’t want anyone to go there.”

Isabel leapt to Michael’s defense even knowing full well he was in the wrong. “Well, Michael doesn’t always do what he’s told,” she retorted acidly, “You’d know a whole lot about that, wouldn’t you, Liz?”

Liz knew Isabel was referring to the fact she and Maria had followed them to Nevada last weekend. “That was hardly the same,” Liz protested.

“No, it was exactly the same,” Isabel argued stubbornly.

“Who cares,” Max interrupted, heading off their argument, “It’s all in the past now. All that matters is finding Michael before he gets himself into trouble. We still don’t know for sure what happened with Conner Douglass. Michael’s taken a big chance.” Both Isabel and Liz shuddered at the tone of dread in his voice.

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

“Utah,” Maria repeated dryly, “You’re taking me to Utah? That’s, like, a completely different state.”

“Good, you know your geography,” Michael quipped.

“This is not a joking matter!” Maria exploded, “I’m not going to Utah!”

“It’s only fourteen more hours,” Michael said as if that would reassure her, “Try to sit back and enjoy the ride in the meantime. Take in some scenery…anything…just talk as little as possible.”

“Where are we going in Utah that takes fourteen hours?” Maria demanded and then her eyes widened in shock, “Ohmygod, ohmygod! You’re going to raid Liz’s grandma’s house, aren’t you?”

“Shut up,” Michael ordered tightly.

“I will not!” Maria retorted, “You lying, sneaky…snake…I should have known you were up to no good!”

“God, will you stop freaking out!”

“No, no, this is unbelievable,” Maria muttered to herself, “You…you’ll probably get arrested before all this is over anyway.”

“What are you yakking about now,” Michael sighed irritably, “I’m just driving to Utah…who gets arrested for driving to Utah?”

“Think about it, genius,” Maria prompted sarcastically, “You’re traveling across the state line with a minor, in a stolen vehicle! There are laws you know…you can’t just break em when you feel like it.”

“You’re overreacting,” Michael told her condescendingly.

“And that cell phone you tossed a while back? That’s vandalism of personal property, buddy.” Maria clenched her fingers reflexively into the material of her pants. “God, I just…I knew you had criminal tendencies. You even drive erratically.”

Michael exhaled a long sigh, praying to the gods of patience for strength. “What’s wrong with my driving?”

“I’ve told you three times already not to go over 80. The engine won’t take it.”

“Maybe it’s just tired of hearing you flap your chops, you ever think of that?”

Maria’s mouth snapped shut and she swallowed her would-be retort. She wasn’t going to allow him to bait her into an argument she told herself calmly. He had pushed her buttons enough on this trip. However, after several seconds of silence Maria could no longer resist the urge to talk. “So what is it exactly that you think you’ll find at Claudia Parker’s old house?”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Michael replied tersely, “You don’t understand anything about us.”

“Listen, I already know way more about you than I want to, okay, buddy?”

“See that’s the problem with you?” Michael retorted, “You’re too self-absorbed to see anybody but yourself! This could be the most important day of my life and all you care about…” Michael abruptly trailed off as the sound of police sirens sounded behind him. He glanced in the rearview mirror. Sure enough, bright blue lights were whirling in the distance. He rounded on Maria in unjustified anger. “Are you happy now?” he snapped, as he pulled the car over.

“Go ahead, tell em I kidnapped you and stole your car. I mean, what’s one more arrest in a long line of arrests, huh?” And then he ruined his attempt at indifference by banging his fist against the steering wheel. “Dammit!”

Maria glanced behind them. The cop had pulled over as well, but had yet to exit his vehicle. “What do you mean, ‘this could be the most important day of your life’?” she asked quickly.

“Forget it.”

“You have 20 seconds to convince me,” Maria informed him obstinately.

Michael looked at her. She was utterly serious. He wisely abandoned his pride. “I found out who my human donor was…a man named Preston Grainger. I’m hoping to find information in Utah as to his whereabouts…He may be the only person left who can tell us where we’re from. And if I don’t get there soon someone else might get to that information before I do.”

He had just finished his emotional explanation when the officer approached the car, his eyes shielded by a pair of Aviator sunglasses. “Where you going in such a hurry, son?” he asked Michael casually.

It was obvious Michael was having trouble coming up with a lie, but that wasn’t a problem for Maria. “I’ve really gotta pee,” Maria burst out suddenly to the officer, “See…I-I’ve…I have this, like, really weak bladder condition and I drank a Big Gulp at the last service station and it was a Mountain Dew, you know, so the caffeine, like, really aggravated my condition and made me have to go even more…so he was just driving really fast so I could get to the next rest area and pee.”

Unbelievably, the officer bought her story, asking only to see Michael’s license. He glanced at it for a moment, before handing it back, satisfied. “There’s a drive thru about three miles up,” the officer told Michael dryly, “It has nice clean rest rooms…you can take your girlfriend there. And watch your speed.” When he was gone Michael looked at Maria in speechless gratitude.

“You owe me big,” she told him simply.

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

Liz decided to call a truce with Isabel, if not for the sake of peace then for the sake of Max’s sanity because their constant bickering was beginning to take a toll on him. By the time they stopped at a convenience store for gas and food Max had dark circles under his eyes and his shoulders were drooping with exhaustion. And so in a gesture of good will, while Max pumped the gas, Liz decided to buy Isabel a cup of coffee.

As she walked up behind Isabel, who was securing the cover on the jeep, Liz was having a hard time squelching the butterfly sensation of nervousness in the pit of her stomach. She wanted desperately to get along with Isabel and not just because she wanted to put the moves on Isabel’s brother, though that was a big, Big, BIG part of her motivation, but she did sincerely want to know Isabel better. She had suffered the same fearful isolation that Max had suffered growing up. If that fear left Max feeling cut off and lonely, it stood to reason that Isabel very probably felt the same way. Liz pitied her for that.

Standing behind her now with two steaming cups of coffee in hand, Liz took a deep breath and whispered Isabel’s name. She turned around…right into Liz. Liz’s gesture of goodwill was sloshed between them, warm coffee soaking into their shirtfronts, staining them brown.

Isabel rolled her eyes in exasperation, brushing futilely at her ruined clothes. “That’s just great, Liz! What were you trying to do, scald me?”

“I was just trying to be nice,” Liz mumbled. This was not working out how she’d planned.

“Well, don’t be, okay,” Isabel replied in a cool tone, running her hand down her shirt and using her powers to make the stains dissipate. “Don’t be nice.”

Liz smiled in amazement as she watched her. No matter how many times she saw them use their powers it would never cease to fill her with awe. “No wonder you always look so perfect.”

Isabel couldn’t help but smirk at her comment. Who didn’t smile; even a little, when their ego was being stroked? “You think so?”

“Please…you’re like the Elle McPherson of the sophomore class,” Liz teased, relieved to see Isabel smile, “All the girls at school are always trying to copy your look.”

“Well, I guess that answers question number 12, huh, Liz, about who you envy.”

Liz could feel her cheeks redden, but she was too ecstatic over having an actual conversation with Isabel to end it because she was embarrassed. “What about you?” she asked, “Who do you envy?” Right away Liz recognized that it was the wrong question to ask. Isabel’s engaging grin disappeared and was replaced by her usual Ice Princess façade.

“No one,” Isabel stated implacably, “I envy no one.” But she did. In her secret heart she envied the connection her brother had with the girl in front of her, she envied the part of her brother’s heart that had been touched by Liz’s love and now sparkled in his eyes.

As if Liz suspected her thoughts she whispered tentatively, “Isabel…I’m…I’m not trying to take him away from you. I mean…I could never do that. You’re a part of Max and always will be no matter…no matter what happens, you know…between us.”

“I know that,” Isabel replied, but something in her tone made Liz suspect that she didn’t.

“But what if you guys do find the truth at my Grandma’s, what then? Would you take him away from me?” Instead of answering Liz’s question, Isabel waved her hand over Liz’s shirt, taking away the coffee stains. For Liz that was answer enough.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:17:34 PM
Chapter 14

“Did you pull on the chokey thing?” Maria demanded. But it was useless and she knew it. Her car was dying. The loud racket it was making as they rumbled down the interstate was god-awful.

“Yes, I did pull on the chokey thing!” Michael retorted as he steered the Jetta off onto the shoulder of the road. He had hoped that the car would at least take them as far as Utah, but as it coughed and sputtered loudly Michael realized it probably wouldn’t last another two minutes, let alone another two hours. And he was right. No sooner had he pulled over than the car shuddered twice and then fell still. “Your car’s dead,” Michael informed Maria flatly.

“Well, do something,” Maria exclaimed, quickly assimilating that they were alone on a stretch of highway in the middle of the night. The thought of psychopaths and axe-murderers creeping around in the woods sent her into a frenzy. “Hurry up!” she ordered Michael, “Don’t just sit there like a useless lump! Do something!”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Come on, Michael, this is no time to be an ass!” Maria retorted, “Wiggle your nose, blink your eyes, do the Samantha-Jeannie alien thing, I don’t know, just get us out of here!”

His reply was flat and noncommittal. “I can’t.”

Maria fell perfectly still. “You can’t?” And then she grabbed hold of Michael’s arm, shaking him emphatically. “Now’s not the time to be a jerk! If ever there was a time for secret powers this is the time!”

“They’re not secret powers,” Michael argued.

“I don’t care what you call them!” Maria exploded in panic, “Just use them and get us out of here!”

“I’m not that good at it, all right!”

Maria slapped her palm against her forehead, her shoulders shaking with hysterical laughter. “Oh, that figures, that just figures! Hah!”

Mistakenly believing that Maria was laughing at him he snorted rudely, “Yeah, well your car sucks.”

Maria glared through narrowed eyes at him, laughter forgotten. “And so do you.”

Michael returned her glare before abruptly hurling himself out the car. Maria scrambled after him and met him around the front where he was lifting the hood.

“You want me to fix it, Ms. MouthAlmighty,” he muttered under his breath, “I’ll fix it.” He stretched his hand forward, concentrating all his powers on what was broken in Maria’s car. After a few tense moments the engine suddenly exploded, startling them both backwards.

Maria gaped at him in disbelief. “You just blew up my car.”

Michael dropped his head forward and took several deep breaths. “Now that I’m humiliated and the battery’s fried, I’m gonna take the back seat,” he stated with as much dignity as he could. And then he marched forward and climbed into the back of the Jetta.

“Wait a minute,” Maria exclaimed, charging after him, “Okay. Let me understand this. You kidnap me, trash my cell phone, blow up my car and now you expect me to spend the night with you? I don’t know why I never thought to ask you before but, are you on crack?”

“It’s not my idea of a fantastic fantasy filled evening either,” Michael cracked sarcastically, “Hey, can we move this box to the trunk,” he demanded, shoving at a box that was crammed in the back seat with them, “It’s taking up too much room.”

“Don’t touch that!” Maria ordered sharply, “It’s sensitive!” But it was too late. The inflatable green alien had already sprung to life and was popping his head through the top of the box. Michael favored her with a look of distaste. “Well, that’s nice.”

“What? My mother makes them!” Maria defended hotly.

Michael threw himself from the car for the second time in ten minutes. He leaned down in the door and said, “I’m gonna walk down the highway and see if I can find a motel. You can come with or stay here…I don’t give a damn which one,” before slamming the door.

“And they say chivalry is dead,” Maria muttered to herself before leaping from the car to trot along after Michael. “Hey, wait up!” she called, but he didn’t slow his stride and she was forced to run after him to catch up. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re not a gentleman,” she remarked breathlessly when she fell into step at his side.

Michael shrugged. “I’ve never tried to be.”

“You’re intolerable.”

“And you talk too much!”

“Well, at least I have friends…and I’m clean!”

“I do have friends and…what are you trying to say, I’m not clean?”

“Well, look at you.”

Michael cast a glance down his rumpled length. “What about me?”

Maria looked at him then. He really wasn’t as bad as she made him out to be. It was true that his clothes were always hopelessly wrinkled and he wore his hair in those weird spikes, but other than that he was fine. He smelled clean and on close inspection his hair, though styled strangely, was glossy and thick. And he had nice eyes. They were a rich, velvet brown. Sloe eyes. Maria slapped herself mentally. What the heck was she doing? “Okay, I guess you’re clean,” Maria conceded with a grumble.

“Gee, thanks.” But his tone wasn’t at all grateful. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. No sooner had he taken a drag than Maria opened her mouth to comment. “So you’re into cancer sticks, too, huh?” she observed.

Michael detected the censure in her tone and it irritated him. “Do you always comment on things that are none of your business or am I just special?”

“Your secondhand smoke is my business,” Maria retorted, “And I was just being concerned for you, God, next time I’ll just let you drop dead without a word.”

Michael found himself regretting his harshness toward her. When had anybody, besides Max and Isabel, been concerned for him? It had been a long time. Michael found himself really looking at Maria DeLuca for the first time and what he saw caused a funny little ache in his chest. She was actually very pretty. He took the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it to the pavement, grinding it out with his boot. “I’ve been trying to quit,” he explained not understanding at all why he felt the need to, “it’s just when I’m really stressed…”

“It’s okay,” Maria replied sympathetically, “I know it’s hard…took my Mom three years to quit.” Maria smiled with the memory. “For awhile she was popping that gum like it was Tic Tacs.”

That actually made him laugh. She was so startled by the sound that she actually stopped short, staring at him. “What?” he demanded when he realized she’d stopped walking. She was looking at him strangely. “Have I sprouted horns or something?”

“No, you were laughing…I-I didn’t know you could.”

“Of course, I can laugh,” Michael sighed mockingly, “I just don’t have reason to do it often.” And then, as if sensing he had revealed too much about himself, Michael reverted into jerk mode. “Look, Maria, we’re not friends. You’re not my confidant or anything.”

The words hurt, especially because they seemed to come out of nowhere, but Maria was good at pretending to be bouncy and bubbly when she wasn’t. “Well, that suits me just fine Space Boy, because I never considered you to be my friend in the first place. Kidnapper…definitely, criminal mastermind…maybe, but never a friend.”

Michael tried to ignore his reaction to her words because they made him sad, unusually sad. Instead he snapped, “Good! So we’re clear?”

“Crystal!”

“Good!”

“Good!”

“Fine!”

They trudged along in silence together, each one trying to reason out their respective feelings for one another. They had been thrown together by circumstance but that wasn’t at all what was drawing them to each other now. Maria didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to consider how Michael Guerin was suddenly changing in her eyes, going from an unkempt loser to a misunderstood, lonely little boy. Michael didn’t want to think about it either, didn’t want to consider how Maria DeLuca had gone from being Liz Parker’s whacky friend to his whacky friend, his whacky Maria.

“I’m hungry,” Maria grumbled ten minutes later, unable to bear the silence another second.

“Me, too.”

“I don’t see any burger joints nearby,” Maria commented dryly as she squinted into the darkness, “Maybe we should do something to take our minds off of it.”

Michael sent her a lecherous, sideways glance. “Like what?”

Maria didn’t miss the look. “Not if you were the last alien on earth and my only other option was a goat…the goat would win hands down.”

Michael sighed. “What did you have in mind?”

“We could finish our homework questions,” Maria suggested.

He obviously found the idea lame because he favored her with a bland expression. “You want to do homework, now?”

His tone clearly transmitted that he believed it to be a stupid idea. “It’s just to pass the time,” Maria replied in defense.

Michael stared at her for a long moment before finally shrugging. “Fine. Whatever.”

“Okay, then,” Maria chirped, “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?”

“Pistachio.”

“Pistachio...,” Maria repeated, making a mental note, “Favorite TV show?”

“Win Ben Stein's Money.”

“ Okay, what’s your favorite book?”

“James Joyce...Ulysses.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, Michael, don’t start that again. You have not read Ulysses.”

“What incensed him the most was the blatant jokes of the ones who pass it all off as a jest, pretending to understand everything and in reality not knowing their own mind,” he quoted flawlessly, favoring her with a superior look, “Page 655...told you that you wouldn't understand. Next question.”

Maria was impressed, though she fought hard to hide it. It was well known around school that Michael’s GPA was in the toilet. It always caused a stir in class if he actually deemed to show up. “All right, if you're so smart, then how come you fail every class in school?”

“What number is that?”

“It's my own personal question, okay?”

“I don't answer personal questions, okay?”

“Okay, fine then, it’s number 16,” Maria prevaricated wildly, “What are you so afraid of Michael Guerin?”

She must have hit a nerve because he closed off completely. “I hate this. It’s stupid.”

“No, Michael,” Maria countered, “I think we’re starting to get somewhere. Why is it so important for you to find out where you come from?”

“Just drop it, okay!” he shouted.

“No, tell me,” Maria demanded just as loudly, “I want to know why!”

“Because I want to belong!” he yelled in confession and then his voice dropped, defeated and sad, “I want to belong…do you understand what that’s like?”

Maria smiled sadly, thinking of all the times when she was younger when she’d yearned for her father. Like Michael, she’d believed that linking with her past would give her a sense of belonging but in the end she’d been left feeling unwanted and unloved. Yes, she knew what it was like to feel out of place, to have children shun you because you were different. She, too, had been on the outside looking in and Maria knew very well just how much it hurt.

She looked at Michael now, pity and empathy for him unfolding in her heart. “Yeah, I understand what that’s like,” she told him quietly, “All of my life.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:18:49 PM
Chapter 15

“Oh my God! That’s Maria’s car.” Liz’s softly spoken exclamation broke the thoughtful silence that had permeated the interior of the jeep for nearly half an hour. The impromptu road trip had given the three occupants some things to think about. In addition to the very real worry they had over what sort of trouble Michael may have gotten himself into they were each also analyzing the new feelings that had surfaced during their search.

Isabel, for instance, was torn. She had no idea whether she should hate Liz Parker or befriend her. Liz had proven her loyalty to their group time and time again and yet Isabel continued to hesitate. Isabel knew that much of her indecision rested with her brother’s unexplainable pull to Liz. She didn’t understand it. When Liz Parker was involved her normally cautious brother turned completely reckless, exposing secrets he would have never divulged before. Isabel couldn’t help but be uncomfortable with that change.

It wasn’t that she had expected her brother to just let Liz Parker die…that would have been cruel. But Isabel couldn’t believe that he hadn’t had any other options beyond healing Liz Parker right in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Bottom line, Max hadn’t thought about his actions. He had responded out of pure emotion and because he had the FBI was now onto their existence. And because she loved Max so much everything inside her rebelled against laying the blame at his feet…so she had laid it at Liz’s.

Now Isabel was beginning to feel guilty over that fact. She had wanted to keep Liz on the outside, adamant that because Liz wasn’t like them she couldn’t possibly understand the fear and loneliness that they battled every day. But Liz did understand. Isabel had seen the dread and loneliness that had been plain on Liz’s face when they had stopped at the convenience store. It was there every time she looked at Max and was met with nothing but his stoic indifference. Liz wanted Max’s love and acceptance, just as Isabel yearned for her mother’s. And that’s when Isabel realized that she, Max, and Michael were doing the same thing to Liz and Maria they feared would happen to them if ever the truth were exposed.

She, Max and Michael were rejecting these loyal, trustworthy would-be friends and all because they were different. Wasn’t the fear of rejection the very thing that kept her and Max from revealing the truth about themselves to their parents? Was it then right for them to reject Liz and Maria based on their differences? Even though Isabel wanted to ignore the glaring questions her conscience evoked, she couldn’t help but agonize over them.

Max, however, was caught between brooding over Michael’s latest stunt and despairing over his latest misunderstanding with Liz. By taking off alone Michael had probably put them in more danger than any of them could possibly comprehend. Max couldn’t explain it, but he’d had a sense of unease ever since that day he and Michael had found Conner Douglass dead in his rocking chair.

There had been much commotion after their shocking discovery. Michael and Max had basically been shoved aside while the doctors and nurses scrambled to find out what was happening. One thing Max had been aware of; the nurse from the previous day had not been present.

He had confided his suspicions to Michael and he’d agreed that it was weird. Together they had gone to the front desk and Max gave the receptionist a description of the nurse, her name, and what time he had seen her. “I’m sorry,” the receptionist told them fifteen minutes later after she’d checked out Max’s inquiry, “But no one named Leslie fitting that description works here. We have two Leslies, however, one on the third and one on the sixth, but neither looks like you described.”

At that point Michael and Max had exchanged anxious glances. “Maybe we should pay Anita Raymond another visit,” Max suggested.

They did, but what they found shocked them even more than finding Conner Douglass’ dead body. The lot was deserted. Everything was gone, the trailer, the car…all that remained behind was the trash buried in the too long grass. He and Michael had milled around the lot, searching for any left behind clues as to Anita Raymond’s whereabouts. All that was left were the indentations in the grass where the trailer had once sat. It was as if Anita Raymond had simply been erased.

He and Michael had agreed not to tell Isabel because they knew how much the knowledge would freak her out. And why wouldn’t it? It freaked Max out. In fact, he had been so emotionally turned around that he had actually gone to Liz’s room that night and broken down into tears. He had been grateful to have her hold him, just hold him without questions, and let him cry.

It had been fairly late when he arrived. He’d only knocked once before she opened the door. She had taken one glance at his pale face and glistening eyes and known at once that he needed her. Maria had tactfully withdrawn to the bathroom as Liz led him towards one of the beds and sat down with him.

“Max, what’s wrong,” she had asked him, her eyes lovingly scanning his face, “Did you and Michael find out what you needed? Was it bad?”

He had only managed to shake his head negative before he broke down into sobs. When Liz had taken him against her heart it had felt to Max like coming home and his tears were as much from grief as they were from thankfulness that he had Liz. He hadn’t felt any awkwardness, any regret over going to her. He had known instinctively that, more than anyone, she would understand him.

Later when his tears had died away she had gently sponged away the wetness from his cheeks with the pads of her thumbs. In that moment, Max was caught by the rare purity of her expression, the naked display of caring he saw there and it made fresh tears well in his eyes. He was again assaulted and bewildered by the knowledge that Liz Parker, straight A, all-American girl, actually cared about him, Max Evans, the alien freak show. “He was dead when we found him,” Max had told her then. He had not made up his mind to tell her the truth at that moment; rather he had felt obliged to do so.

“Who, Max? Conner? He’s dead?”

Max nodded slowly. “They said he died in his sleep during the night.”

“Oh-oh, Max…I’m so sorry.” She strummed her fingers along his cheek in a feather light caress. “I know how important it was for you to know him…and not just for the answers.”

“I thought I’d finally have a family who knew me…really knew me and loved me anyway.” Max bit his lip, trying to control his rampaging emotions. “I really think he could have loved me, Liz.”

She had offered him a bittersweet smile, taking him against her once again. “I know you did, Max…I know you did.”

Max had felt better afterwards. Liz had listened silently as he shared with her his deepest regrets and fears. She had held him tightly as if she were never going to let him go. Max couldn’t imagine that he could ever love her more than he loved her at that moment. Which was the very reason he’d begun pulling away from Liz. He knew that she was probably confused and hurt by his actions and, if her demeanor of late were any indication, angry as well. But Max couldn’t, wouldn’t back down in his decision to keep his distance from her.

Max suspected that he, Michael and Isabel were in very great danger. He didn’t want Liz to be in the middle. Which was why could beat Michael senseless for pulling Maria off to Utah with him. And because Michael had done that Liz had also become a part of this ever-widening mess. Max could gradually feel his control over his emotions, the situation, just everything…slipping away.

Liz sat in the back of the jeep staring out into the darkness. She was worried about Maria. Since that first weird phone call Maria hadn’t called back. Liz had tried calling Maria several times after but she would only get an automated recording by the wireless company that Maria used. Though she doubted seriously that Michael would hurt Maria she was still worried that they might have fallen into some sort of trouble. Michael was reckless and Maria was…well, Maria and it was no telling what would happen with a combination like that.

In addition to her apprehension over what had become of her best friend Liz was also obsessing over the situation with Max. The entire trip he had been polite and courteous to her. But that was all. He treated her as if they were only acquaintances, definitely not like the girl whose arms he’d wept in just days earlier. Liz didn’t understand how he could share something so amazingly intimate one moment and then be so coldly distant the next. She wondered if perhaps he was embarrassed and that was why he was being so remote.

That night Max had seemed inexplicably drawn to her. It wasn’t that he just needed comfort, but that he needed her comfort. Liz had been sure that night would mark a turning point in their relationship, but instead they had only stagnated. Max kept sending her mixed signals, figuratively pulling her close with one hand and then pushing her away with the other. Now Liz’s could feel her initial irritation begin to give way to a quiet, burning anger. She was actually sitting there simmering when she spotted Maria’s broken down Jetta.

Max immediately veered off onto the shoulder and the three of them quickly jumped out. “It looks as if they had car trouble,” Max observed as he walked around to the front on the car. He peered closer inside the hood. “I think Michael might have tried fixing it…the insides look totally fried.” Isabel gave a low whistle under her breath when she surveyed the damage.

“Can you fix it?” Liz asked anxiously, looking around for some sign of Maria or Michael.

“Yeah, I can,” Max answered and, correctly reading the expression on Liz’s face, he added, “I’m sure they just hiked up the road to the next exit or maybe hitched a ride.”

Liz looked up at him, her eyes hopeful. “Yeah, I think so, too.”

They held eye contact for a moment longer before Max stretched out his hand and waved it over the engine and battery, a brilliant, white light emanating from his palm as he did. A few seconds later he was done, the engine and battery restored to working condition. He closed the hood. “It should work fine now.”

“Good,” Liz said, “I’ll just take the Jetta and follow you and Isabel to the next exit then.” She started for the Jetta.

“Why don’t I drive the Jetta,” Isabel suddenly suggested, surprising not only Max and Liz, but herself as well. Isabel tried not to be too aware of the startled glances she received from them. “You two can ride together that way…maybe talk or something.” Maybe you can work out the tension that’s been building between you for the last five hours, she added silently. Isabel didn’t give either of them a chance to protest but simply slid into the driver’s seat of the Jetta and cranked the ignition.

Flabbergasted, Max and Liz gingerly walked back to the jeep, pondering Isabel’s strange emergence of goodwill. When they were once again on the road Max brought the silence by remarking in dazed wonder, “Well, that was weird…what Isabel did, I mean.”

“Yeah…” Liz replied, somewhat offhand, “I mean…I wonder why she would think we needed to talk or anything.”

The bitter edge to her tone was impossible to miss. Max swallowed; deciding now was as good a time to address their problems as any. “Liz, are…are you mad at me or something?”

Liz opened her mouth to tell him exactly that and then quickly closed it. Now was not the time to be venting her anger. Max had enough on his mind with Michael’s latest fiasco without having to deal with her issues as well. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it,” she stated flatly.

“But I want to talk about it,” Max insisted, “I…I don’t want you to be upset.”

“Well, maybe if you stopped running hot and cold, Max, I wouldn’t be,” Liz snapped, her sudden anger and frustration causing her to revoke her earlier resolution.

“Wait, Liz, I’m not running hot and cold with you…I’m promise…I’m just…I don’t want to hurt you.”

“News flash, Max, you are hurting me! You’ve been hurting me for awhile now!”

“I just want you to be happy, Liz,” Max insisted softly.

“Then stop treating me like I’m a puppet,” Liz retorted in frustration, “You can’t control every little thing, Max…you can’t control how I feel and you can’t control me.” Liz massaged her aching temples, her anger suddenly depleted, her body her exhausted and her spirit disheartened. “Let’s just find Michael and Maria and put an end to this miserable night, okay?”

She turned her gaze out the window then, not bothering to give Max his chance to respond. He was left with no other recourse but to nod in despondent acceptance.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:20:58 PM
Chapter 16

They drove for half an hour more but they didn’t find Michael and Maria. Left with little choice Max pulled off at the next exit where there was only a Waffle House, a ramshackle motel and a grimy gas station. They checked the Waffle House first. No Michael and Maria, although the waitress had said that she vaguely remembered a kid with spiky hair coming in earlier to pick up a To Go order. Encouraged, the group set out across the street for the motel.

As Max pulled the jeep to a stop he looked across the space at Liz. She hadn’t spoken to him since their argument earlier. He understood why she was angry. Under similar circumstances Max knew that he would be as well, which was why he didn’t even attempt to explain his side afterwards. She had called him on it. He had been running hot and cold with her and Max knew that it was long past time that he stop. “I’m gonna go inside and check to see if their name is on the manifest,” he told her quietly.

Liz nodded in response. “Probably when we find Maria…she and I will just head home.”

Max’s countenance fell dejectedly. The entire time he had been telling her that it wasn’t a good idea that she come along and now that she was suggesting going home Max discovered it was the last thing he wanted. “But I thought you wanted…it’s your grandma’s house, Liz. We can’t go without you.”

“Yes, you can,” Liz insisted tenuously, “I can tell you where you need to look.”

“Liz, I don’t want you to go home,” Max burst out suddenly.

Finally, Liz looked at him, her eyes full of astonished surprise. And then they slowly resumed their previous blankness. “Why, Max? Why should it matter to you if I stay or go?”

“Because it just does,” Max said but when her expression remained implacable he added with a dejected sigh, “At least wait until morning if you’re going to leave.” He alighted from the jeep then, his shoulders slumped. Liz climbed out as well and leaned against the jeep door to await his return.

Liz watched him go, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully. She realized that she couldn’t make it easy for Max anymore. If he was going to come to her he was going to have to do it with no encouragement from her. Yet, Liz still felt uneasy in her attitude towards Max. She didn’t like being cold and distant to him, but she didn’t see any other way of protecting her heart either.

Max came back a few minutes later. He stopped briefly to speak with Isabel before jogging over to Liz. “They’re here,” he confirmed grimly, “…In room 217.”

“One room?” Liz remarked in surprise.

“Michael’s cheap,” Isabel commented from behind them, “It’s his way of saving a buck. Now let’s go find them already.”

They found the room five minutes later. Once outside the door Max and Liz found themselves in a whispered debate over whether they should knock or not. Knowing they could very well be standing outside for the next twenty minutes while it was decided whether Michael deserved courtesy or not, Isabel settled the discussion by using her powers to open the door. When she stepped inside Max and Liz followed behind her.

The room was dark, but in the dimness Isabel could still make out the figure in the bed. Maria, she surmised. Michael, however, was situated in far corner to the left of the motel door, curled up in a chair. Both were asleep. Michael was snoring soundly. “They’re obviously wiped,” Isabel whispered to Max, “What do we do?”

“We’ll rent another room,” Max said quietly, turning to exit, “and straighten this all out first thing tomorrow.”

They were all in agreement. No one seemed particularly anxious to wake Maria and Michael, especially when they seemed so exhausted. Max supposed that the morning would be soon enough to deal with Michael.

They ended up fourteen doors down in a room with double beds. The hotel clerk had shot Max a dubious look when Max requested it and spied Liz and Isabel standing behind him. He’d actually given Max the thumbs up sign as they walked away. Max was still chuckling to himself about that when they walked down to their room.

After opening the door, Isabel clicked on the light and then clicked it off again. She turned to Max with a pained expression. “I would rather sleep in the jeep,” she declared crisply.

“Come on, Isabel, it can’t be that bad,” Max replied and clicked back on the light. He stood there speechless.

“My god,” Liz breathed as she pushed past him into the room, “It’s the porno version of Aladdin.”

Max took a deep breath. “We can do this,” he rallied, “It’s just one night.”

“I’m heading for the jeep,” Isabel insisted. She started to do just that but Max grabbed hold of her forearm lightly.

“Is, come on. You don’t want to sleep in the jeep besides it’s dark outside…who knows what lunatic is lurking…”

“Fine! But I’m sleeping on top of the comforter,” she told Liz as she breezed into the room, “I plan to have as much barrier as I can between my skin and these nookie laden sheets as possible.”

In unspoken agreement, they decided that Max should have one bed to himself while Liz and Isabel shared the other. It felt strange to Liz to be sharing a bed with Isabel Evans. Isabel had always seemed so perfect and pristine to Liz. She couldn’t imagine Isabel flailing about or snoring or drooling. But some of that must have been probable because minutes after she and Isabel had settled down, Isabel tossed a look over her shoulder at Liz saying as she did, “What happens in this bed tonight stays between us,” she warned, “if not…I know where to find you.”

Liz gave her a jerky nod of consent and discovered a few moments later why Isabel had made such a threat. The Elle McPherson of the sophomore class snored. Not obnoxiously, mind you, but just enough to be considered indelicate. Liz smiled to herself. She couldn’t wait to share her newest discovery with Maria.

Liz was just on the verge of drifting to sleep when Max called her name softly through the darkness. She didn’t answer immediately, but waited, holding her breath expectantly.

“I’m sorry,” he said after a long pause. He sensed she was awake despite her having not responded to his calling her name.

Liz tried to ignore how those two little words made her heart start beating like a jackhammer. “About what, Max,” she whispered back with careful deliberation.

“I’ve been a jerk to you,” Max replied ruefully.

Liz smiled, exhaling a relieved sigh, and swung upright. “You’ll get no argument from me there.”

Max sat up as well, facing her in the dimness. “So you do think I’ve been a jerk, huh?”

“That’s putting it sorta mild,” Liz replied candidly.

“No-ted,” Max said and Liz imagined he was smiling because she could hear the laughter in his voice. “Will you come over here with me?” he whispered a moment later.

Liz felt her beginning smile falter slightly, not from disapproval, but from giddiness over the prospect of being so close to him. “Why?”

“Because I have something important to say to you and I feel weird whispering it across the room.”

His cross tone elicited a laugh from Liz and she eased from the bed, careful not to wake Isabel, and tiptoed over to his. “What is it?” she demanded in a tone that was meant to be surly but came out rather sultry. If she had been surprised by Max’s apology she was further astonished when he playfully grabbed her hand and pulled her into his lap.

“Do you mind?” he whispered, his nose only inches from her own.

Liz swallowed past the lump in her throat. “No,” she croaked, “No, I’m just wondering what it means.”

“It means that I’m done with running hot and cold,” he told her, deliberately using the words she had thrown at him earlier. “I want to be completely honest with you about my feelings.”

“That would be nice,” Liz replied, trying not to be distracted by the fact that she was sitting in his lap, her legs slightly entangled with his.

Max traced the curve of her chin with his index finger. He looked deep into her eyes and said sincerely, “I have never felt about anyone the way I feel about you, Liz.”

“And how is that,” she breathed, melting at the light touches he was trailing across her chin and cheek.

“Nervous, dizzy, weak…and amazingly strong at the same time…protective and protected, confused and yet absolutely sure, insane and wonderful…and…in love.” He left the last part deliberately at the end, watching her expression become increasingly tender with each adjective he uttered. When he said “in love” her eyes widened slightly.

“You’re in love with me?” He nodded slowly, nuzzling his nose against hers as he did. “But when? How long?”

“For as long as I can remember.” Max skimmed her cheekbones with his fingertips, threaded his fingers through her silky hair. He loved the way the strands fell between his fingers like liquid satin. He didn’t think he’d ever get enough of touching her hair.

“But you’ve been pushing me away,” Liz pointed out breathlessly, her eyes slipping closed in pleasure as his fingers began to massage her scalp lightly.

“Protecting myself,” Max moaned against her throat. Liz’s fingers were unconsciously caressing his earlobe, tracing the sensitive outer rim tenderly.

“Against what?” Liz whispered haltingly as Max began to brush his lips against her throat, placing tiny little kisses up its length.

“Against this,” Max replied before he tangled his fingers in the hair at her nape and brushed her lips in a brief, but stunning kiss. Their lips had just barely touched, but when Max pulled away a few seconds later they each felt the loss keenly.

But the resulting passion between them was immediate and electric. Their eyes connected in an intense, sensual stare before they drifted back together, sealing their lips in a more passionate kiss. Max’s eyes drifted closed as he slanted his mouth fiercely over Liz’s again and again, sucking languidly at her bottom lip as he did. Now that he’d had a sample of her intoxicating taste he was helpless against the sudden hunger that seized him.

He caressed her lips with his own, coaxing them to part, opening his mouth wider against hers when they did. But it was Liz who sent him her tongue, slowly dipping it into the warm recesses of his mouth once…twice. Max pulled back for a moment in speechless surprise, somewhat shocked, but definitely aroused by her boldness.

Liz forced her gaze to meet his as she wet her lips in self-conscious nervousness. “Didn’t you like it?”

Max nodded slowly, his eyes drifting deliberately to her mouth. “Do it again,” he ordered hotly. But before they could ignite the passion that had begun to smolder within them both Isabel suddenly coughed in her sleep, startling them out of their sensual induced haze.

Liz stared at Max with glassy eyes. “I should…maybe…uh…go back…to, uh…bed,” she stammered huskily.

“Maybe…yeah,” Max agreed softly, but he didn’t release her, neither did he untangle his fingers from her hair. He started to nuzzle her chin with his mouth, inching his way toward her lips, but Liz reared back remorsefully.

“Max, if I stay in your lap, we’re going to go someplace that neither of us is ready for.” Her words penetrated the fog of arousal surrounding Max and he nodded in understanding, putting up no resistance when she slid from his lap and stood up. “So we’ll talk more in the morning?” Liz prompted, her head beginning to clear now that she had put some distance between them.

“Yeah,” Max confirmed hoarsely. His lips were still tingling from their kiss.

She turned and took the few steps back towards her bed, tossing him a look just before she climbed between the sheets. “Max?” she called as she climbed into bed.

“Yeah, Liz?”

“I’m in love with you, too.”

When Max flopped back against his pillows, a smile of satisfied happiness was ghosting his lips. He closed his eyes in blissful contentment, anxiously awaiting tomorrow.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:22:13 PM
Chapter 17

Isabel emerged from the bathroom and suppressed the urge to roll her eyes at the sight that greeted her. Max sat on the edge of the bed, lacing up his sneaker and giving Liz sweet gooey looks from beneath his lashes. Liz, likewise, sat on her bed, pretending to study the coverlet while sending Max equally gooey looks. However, the moment Isabel walked fully into the room all looks ceased. Isabel swallowed back her scoffing laugh. As if she didn’t know what was going on already. She had just been a cough away from knowing her brother and Liz Parker in a way that may have very well scarred her for life. But she’d play along if that was how they wanted it.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked Max casually, striding over to the mirror to check her hair and make-up for the umpteenth time that morning, “By the way…thanks for the shampoo and stuff. Now if you’d gotten me a new outfit as well that would have been perfect.” In an unusual show of perkiness Max had risen early that morning and had gone to the store for toiletries for them and picked up breakfast as well.

“Oh no, Iz,” Max teased with a light heartened smile, “I know your taste. You accept nothing but the best and unfortunately my pockets aren’t that deep.”

Isabel swiveled around, surprised to find her brother in a good, if highly unusual mood. In fact, he had been grinning all morning. “Someone sure had a good night’s sleep,” she observed airily, “or had some amazing dreams at least.” She bit back a smile when her brother turned a brilliant shade of red, rivaled only by the hot pink that colored Liz’s cheeks.

Max coughed. Her comment about the dreams had been almost too close. He had indeed spent the night dreaming of Liz, her sweet lips, and other delectable parts of her body. “Yeah, well the bed was…uh….er…really comfortable,” he stammered, his blush deepening.

Isabel smirked at him. “I’m sure it was,” she replied mischievously, deliberately settling her gaze on Liz. Until that morning Isabel would have never believed it was possible to blush the shade of cherry. Though, she could have contented herself with ribbing them all morning, she was well aware they had other business to attend to. “What are we going to do about Michael?”

“I’m sure he’s waiting for us to show up,” Max told her, “Let’s not disappoint him.”

Max was right. Michael was expecting them. The moment he opened the door and found the three of them standing there his lips quirked into a derisive half grin. “8:45? Maxwell, I expected better from you,” he scolded with mock affront, “I was sure you would have arrived hours ago.”

“We were actually here last night,” Max replied, shrugging past him into the room. Isabel and Liz followed him inside. Liz immediately ran over to her best friend’s side no doubt eager to discover how Maria had come to be kidnapped.

Michael closed the door behind them. As he turned around he said, “I already know what you’re going to say, Max. I’ve heard it a million times…so please, spare me the usual lecture.”

“So you’re willing to admit that you messed up, then?” Max inquired evenly.

“Messed up!” Michael exploded, “I’m searching for our history or is that not important anymore?”

“Michael, we agreed that we would wait until we were sure about what was going on before we went digging for answers.”

“No, we didn’t agree,” Michael contradicted stubbornly, “You decided and we followed like sheep…as always.”

“Don’t act like I make you do anything, Michael,” Max returned coolly, “If that were the case we’d still be at home in Roswell right now.”

“Yeah, I meant to ask about that,” Maria interrupted meekly, “We’re supposed to be in school at this very second. Won’t they call our parents when we don’t show up?”

“I think we’ve got bigger issues on our hands,” Michael said tautly.

“This coming from a guy who attends school once a month,” Maria muttered under her breath, “Brilliant!”

“Maria’s right,” Max said softly, “We should go back before we’re missed. As it is we’ll have a lot of explaining to do.”

“And what about the truth, Maxwell!” Michael demanded, “After what happened the other day I’d think you’d want to find it even more.”

Up until that moment Isabel had only been half listening to their argument. They fought too many times for her to pay attention to every single detail, yet something in Michael’s tone, that secretive edge, caused her ears to perk. “Happened?” she repeated sharply, “Wait, what happened? What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Michael muttered dismissively, “It’s between me and Max.”

Isabel felt the first stirrings of anger. “Since when did the two of you start keeping things from me?”

Max knew that she was about to lose her temper and he tried to calm her down by replying mildly, “Since we knew that some things might upset you and we didn’t want that.”

“I’m not a child, Max,” Isabel gritted frostily.

“I know you’re not.”

“Then tell me what the hell is going on.”

Max reluctantly told them about the weirdness concerning Conner Douglass’ death and how his nurse had actually not been a nurse at all. He further shocked them when he shared the news of Anita Raymond’s disappearance. Sometime during his story they had all sat down, with Isabel and Michael in chairs while Liz and Maria huddled close on the bed. Max leaned back against the dresser as he spoke. “…and that’s not the weirdest part of it,” Max continued in a low whispered tone, “Well, apparently Anita Raymond had a son. He was married with three children. Michael and I checked it out…he and his family have disappeared as well.”

“And when were you going to tell me all this?” Isabel asked stiffly, “Did you ever have any intention of telling me the truth?”

“I wanted to be sure what was going on before I worried you.” Max dragged his hand down over his mouth. His voice lowered to a hissing whisper when he said, “I mean, we’re talking about possible murder here…and who knows what else. We’re in it up to our necks, right now.”

“No wonder you were acting so strange,” Liz remarked aloud, finally understanding the reason for Max’s 180-degree turn. And then she thought for a moment. “Max, wait. I know a lot of weird things have been going on, but murder… Conner Douglass was an old man…we don’t know what kind of medical history he had. He just might have died from old age.”

“Those doctors and nurses sure didn’t act like they’d expected him to kick it any time soon,” Michael commented blandly.

Max agreed. “When we told them that we thought he was dead, the reaction by the staff was complete shock. Definitely not the way they would have reacted if his death were expected.” Liz still remained skeptical, but only because her mind refused to accept that she had somehow become entangled in a murder. “I think Michael is right, Liz,” Max said, “Maybe we should go on to Utah and check it out.” In his heart, he had believed that to be the right thing all along, but as usual his caution had prevented him from acting too quickly.

“What about school, Max?” Liz reasoned, “Our parents are bound to notice that we’re missing soon enough…what do we do about that?”

“It can’t be helped. We’ll just have to deal with the fall-out when it comes. That is, if we have your blessing to go. We won’t…not if you don’t want us to.”

“Wait! Don’t I get a vote?” Maria exclaimed, raising her hand. She jumped to her feet and began pacing the room. “I’ve been kidnapped, starved, mentally assaulted, and now you’re telling me that you actually intend to go through with this craziness! You think that old guy was murdered and you still want to pursue this! Are you nuts! I don’t want to be a part of it! Not one single bit!”

“You don’t have to stay,” Liz told Maria gently, “I understand if you want to go home, Maria, but I…I have to stay with Max.”

The tender loyalty Max heard in her voice touched his heart and he felt himself smile at her adoringly. “So then we’re going?” His smile didn’t escape Michael’s attention, who rewarded Max with a displeased scowl for his trouble.

Maria skidded to a stop and whirled to face Liz. “Chica, you can’t be serious?” But Liz’s expression was set in absolute determination. Maria kneeled before her friend, pleading with her. “Liz, I can’t leave you here. What they are getting involved with is dangerous. People are disappearing…dying… Please, come home with me.”

Liz looked over to Max before bringing her gaze back to Maria’s earnest face. “I-I can’t,” she whispered miserably.

“Fine!” Maria replied, moving to her feet, “If you’re not leaving then neither am I!”

For a moment her words didn’t register on Liz, she had been so sure that Maria would leave, but when she finally realized the import of Maria’s words she jumped up from the bed and hugged her. “Oh Maria, you’re the best friend ever!”

“I must be,” Maria grumbled good-naturedly, “I’m almost positive we’re going to get ourselves killed.” When she and Liz broke apart she turned and addressed Max. “We need to go and get my car. The Michelin Man here,” she paused to gesture at Michael, “fried the engine.”

“Already taken care of,” Max said, “We found it and fixed it already.”

“Well, aren’t you the efficient one,” Maria muttered somewhat sarcastically and then realizing that Max had done her a favor by fixing the car she added a half-hearted, “Thanks.”

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

A man with sandy brown hair reached forward to turn down the volume on his headset and then removed it before swiveling around to face his partner in the small confines of the van. In addition to temporarily serving as a residence for the two agents the van was also the home of some very high tech listening equipment, along with a pricey set of surveillance monitors. As the monitors revealed the goings on inside the motel room, a videotape and audiotape of the teenagers’ conversation was being made as well.

The man reached up to rub his temples, tired from a long evening of being cramped inside the van. It looked as if he weren’t going to get any relief any time soon either. “It looks like we’re going to Utah,” he remarked tiredly to his companion. “Our orders remain the same as before, but this time DeVoe himself will be heading up the operation.”

“DeVoe! The big man himself?” his partner exclaimed, “You’re shitting me!”

“I’m dead serious. DeVoe doesn’t tolerate screw-ups. We’ve got to follow our orders to the letter.”

“I know…I know, ’Retrieve any incriminating evidence, eliminate any interferences’,” his partner recited flawlessly, “’and acquire a specimen’.” He shrugged. “I still don’t know what the big deal is…they sound like normal teenagers to me. All this surveillance seems pointless.”

“Only they’re not normal teenagers,” Sandy-brown reminded him, “They’re creatures, human-alien clones or something…whatever they are, we’ll find out shortly, I guess.”

“Creatures,” the partner scoffed, “They look just like you and me, man.” He shook his head in chagrin. “And if they’re so dangerous why were we instructed to just take the one and that girl he likes so much?”

Sandy-brown shrugged. “I just follow my orders. They pay those guys in the expensive Perry Ellis suits the big bucks to figure out the rest.”

His partner chuckled then, realizing Sandy-brown didn’t have any better understanding of what was going on than he did. “Right. Just following orders,” he laughed, favoring his partner with a mock salute before spinning around in his chair to retrieve his headset.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:23:30 PM
Chapter 18

“Max, stop,” Liz giggled helplessly as Max stepped behind and slipped his arms around her waist. H dropped his head forward to nuzzle against her ear.

“I’ve been waiting to do this all day,” Max whispered in complaint, obviously unwilling to let her go. He closed his eyes, inhaling her fresh scent, content merely to bask in her warmth and love.

Waiting all day could only be described as an understatement. They had only just arrived at Liz’s grandmother’s house five minutes earlier and it was the first time in nearly eleven hours that Max had been able to touch Liz at all. He’d only been able to sit beside her that morning when they stopped for breakfast at a nearby diner. But he hadn’t had a moment alone with her and there had been no other opportunity for confidential talk. The group had been so preoccupied with coming up with a game plan that there had been little time for anything else.

At the motel they had been well aware that their parents would eventually be ringing their cell phones in an effort to ascertain their whereabouts. They decided to come up with a special ring to alert one another and thereby avoid uncomfortable calls from their distraught parents. It went against Liz’s better judgment, however. She knew how worried and upset her parents would be, but in the long run it seemed simpler to merely avoid them rather than fabricate some convoluted lie.

It had also been decided, much to Michael’s displeasure, that only Max and Liz would go inside to check out her grandmother’s house while Isabel, Michael, and Maria kept watch from Maria’s car. It was a safe and logical plan really. Only Liz really knew the secret places her grandmother might have hidden things and they were sure to be in and out quickly because Liz knew where she was going. That is, if they could manage to pry themselves from each other’s arms.

Liz turned in Max’s arms, nuzzling her nose against his chin. “So what is this?” she asked breathlessly, “Is it going somewhere or what last night some kind of fluke?” She still couldn’t believe that he had gone from barely speaking to her to…well, this…in just one day.

Max smiled down at her, lost in her liquid brown eyes. “Oh, it’s definitely not a fluke,” Max whispered with a languid smile right before their lips met in a deep, equally languid kiss. When he pulled away he was loath to stop touching her, her nose, her cheekbones, her sweet, voluptuous mouth. He strummed at her lower lip with his thumb. “I think maybe…when we get back to Roswell we should go out to dinner or a movie…or something…whatever you want.”

Liz smiled up at him prettily, perfectly content to be in his arms. She didn’t think she would ever grow tired of simply looking at him. “You mean like a date?”

“Yes, definitely like a date,” Max confirmed, pressing an affectionate kiss to her forehead.

“You might want to watch your enthusiasm about that…people might assume that we’re together and that you actually like me,” she teased sweetly.

Max nipped at her nose, enjoying her banter. “That is exactly what I’m hoping for.” They kissed once more, their tongues dancing together, their breaths mingling in laughing joy.

When they broke apart again the teasing grin gradually faded from Max’s face to be replaced with an expression of earnest fervor. He framed her face between his hands, reverently stroking her cheeks with the pads of his thumbs. Liz looked up at him with adoring eyes. “So what changed Max,” she asked before she could stop herself, “Why did you suddenly decide to stop running from me?”

He smiled boyishly. “I didn’t decide, really, I just knew I didn’t want to hurt you anymore.” He threaded his fingers through her hair with gentle reverence. “I never wanted to hurt you, Liz. I just want you to be happy…and safe.”

“Being with you makes me happy,” Liz whispered softly, “And as long as I’m in your arms, nothing can touch me, Max.”

He hugged her against him tightly, loving her all the more for her unconditional love and the intense faith she had in him. “I don’t want to keep us a secret,” he told Liz suddenly, “As soon as we get this mess straightened out I want everyone to know that we’re together.”

“But Michael and Isabel,” Liz protested weakly, “They won’t like it…”

“To hell with them,” Max burst out, surprising them both with his passion.

“Max, you don’t mean that.”

“I do,” Max insisted, holding her even closer, “And if they can’t accept us being together then it’s their problem…not mine and certainly not yours.”

Liz couldn’t help it. She had to kiss him again. If his sweet, sincere words weren’t enough to compel her then the boyish candor reflected in his beautiful eyes was. She slipped her fingers into the silky, curling hair at the base of his neck and kissed him with all the tender love blooming forth in her heart. The kiss was gentle, aching…beautiful and full of promise for the future they would share together.

Eventually, Liz broke away, trailing her lips down his chin and throat until her head finally came to rest on his shoulder. “We should really get started,” she reminded Max, heaving a regretful sigh, “As much as I’d like to…we can’t make out all night.”

“I know…I just don’t want to let you go…not yet.” He held her even tighter then, rubbing his lips tenderly across the top of her head. “I can’t wait until all this weirdness is behind us and we can just be normal,” he sighed.

“What’s so great about normal, Max?” Liz asked sweetly, “You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life. I thank God everyday that you’re not normal.”

Max had to blink back the tears, not just because of her words, but also because of the tender way in which she’d uttered them. “Thank you, Liz,” he whispered hoarsely, “Thank you for accepting me…for loving me…” And then realizing he was on the verge of bawling like a baby Max added gruffly, “Come on, let’s get started before Michael decides to forget our deal and comes barging in here anyway.”

There wasn’t much left in Claudia Parker’s home, only a few U-haul boxes and a trunk of old clothing. The house was eerily silent. Liz and Max took opposite ends of the downstairs with Max searching the living room and Liz situated near the kitchen.

Liz knelt down before the trunk and flipped it open, rummaging through the clothing inside, looking for clues. “I think Grandma had been planning to give these clothes to Goodwill since I was six,” Liz remarked with a gentle smile of remembrance, “I guess she never got around to it. God, they still smell like her and everything.” She held one sweater against her cheek, closing her eyes and trying to feel her grandmother.

Even from a distance Max couldn’t miss the anguish in her voice and he was at her side, kneeling beside her, in moments. “Liz, are you okay?”

Liz courageously blinked back her tears as she put away the sweater. She felt somewhat foolish but was unable to stop her face from crumpling in grief. “It’s just so strange,” she choked hoarsely, “Everything in your life can change in an instant. In one week I lost my grandmother…and the next week, we’re finally together when I thought that it might never be possible. I just don’t think I can take losing anyone else right now, Max.” Liz couldn’t help it, she was still half expecting Max to tell her that last night was a mistake and they couldn’t be together after all. She didn’t think she could take another rejection from him.

“You’re not going to lose me.”

Liz licked at the tears gathering in the corners of her mouth. “That’s just because you haven’t had to face Michael and Isabel’s reaction yet.”

Max cupped her face with his palms, forcing her gaze to his. “I don’t care about that, Liz, I mean it. We’re together now…and no one, nothing can come between us. I love you so much…so much I can’t breathe sometimes. We’re gonna be okay.”

“What about what you find here? What will that mean for us?”

He knew what she was asking even if she didn’t address the question directly. “Nothing is ever going to make me leave you, Liz. Now that I have you, it would take an act of Congress and an intergalactic war to tear me away.” Liz couldn’t help but giggle, which induced Max to brush her lips softly with his own. “God, I love you so much,” he murmured against her cheek, “I wish we were away from here…just alone together…and I’d show you, Liz…”

He began nibbling at her earlobe and Liz had to bite back her moan of pleasure. “We’re doing it again, Max,” she groaned when he traced the rim of her ear with his tongue, “We…We-uh-We’ll…never get anything-uh-accomplished…mmm…at-um-this rate…”

“Do you care?” he whispered, his breath stirring against her cheek in the most arousing manner.

Liz gathered what little strength she had left and pushed lightly against his shoulders. “Yes, I care,” she enunciated reasonably, “And so do you.”

Max sighed, for the moment, giving up his attempt at seduction. “Liz, we’ve checked every box down here. There’s nothing to find.”

“We haven’t gone upstairs yet,” Liz reminded him and then her eyes widened as something suddenly occurred to her, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I forgot about that!” she uttered, grabbing hold of Max’s hand and jumping to her feet, “Come on, there’s one more place left to check!”

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

“How long does it take to search a near empty house?” Michael Guerin grumbled moodily from behind the steering wheel of Maria’s Volkswagen Jetta. He moodily contemplated Claudia Parker’s deserted house less than a mile ahead of them. “How long has it been?” he demanded impatiently.

Isabel glanced at her watch. “A little over half an hour,” she answered. She was starting to become a little anxious as well but refrained from telling Michael that knowing that he would only use it as an excuse to go barging into the house. “Thorough searching takes time,” Isabel added, more for her own peace of mind than for Michael’s.

“Yeah, sure, if ‘searching’ is what they’re actually doing,” Michael muttered under his breath. His comment incurred Maria’s glare of displeasure as well as a wicked pinch to the forearm. “Owww! That hurt, dammit!” Michael exclaimed, rubbing the tender spot.

“Well, stop implying that Liz and Max are doing anything more than searching that house, asshole,” Maria warned crisply. She opened her mouth to say more when she noticed something that filled her with sudden alarm. Several dark sedans along with a couple of army jeeps had begun pulling up along the curb in front of Claudia Parker’s old house.

Michael straightened from his slouched position in rising alarm. “What’s going on?”

“Oh my God,” both Isabel and Maria uttered simultaneously.

Isabel reached into her purse anxiously pulled out her cell phone, shoving it at a frantic Maria. “Call Liz now,” she ordered evenly. Maria didn’t waste a second punching in Liz’s cell number.

“Sonavabitch!” Michael gritted, thumping the steering wheel in agitation, “It’s the fucking feds!.”

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

“My grandmother showed me this hiding place when I was just a little girl,” Liz explained as she and Max huddled into the small confines of her grandmother’s bedroom closet. Max used his powers to illuminate the small space. “I’d completely forgotten about it until a few moments ago,” Liz continued as she struggled to pull the carpet away from the floor. “There should be a place here where it’s loose,” she muttered to herself.

Suddenly, Max shushed her and quickly extinguished the light that had been radiating from his hand. For several seconds they were perfectly still, not even breathing. Gradually, however, Max began to relax. “I thought I heard something outside,” he said with a relieved sigh.

“Well, I think the neighbors have a cat,” Liz provided helpfully as she returned to her task, “Maybe that’s what you heard. Aha!” Her exclamation brought Max kneeling down beside her, his hand glowing with light once again. He saw then that she had pulled back the carpet to reveal a tiny compartment in the hardwood floor beneath.

Liz quickly flipped back the latch and pulled up the small wooden door. Buried inside the tiny hideaway was a small tin box that was dented and slightly rusted. With loving care Liz carefully lifted the box out of the floor. She had only just pried open the latch when her cell phone began to ring shrilly.

“Don’t answer it,” Max warned suddenly when she would have clicked the “on” button, “That’s not our secret ring. It could be your parents.”

Liz nodded in afterthought before returning the phone to her back pocket.


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

“Oh my God, she’s not answering!” Maria cried out frantically, her heart leaping in her throat as she watched agents and military types begin to swarm all over the lawn and take covert positions to surround the house. She hung up the cell and dialed Liz’s number once more. Again her call went unanswered. “This is bad…this is sooo bad…”

“They must have been following us the whole time!” Michael muttered in angry self-contempt, “Dammit!”

“Well it doesn’t matter now,” Isabel told him before quickly turning her attention towards Maria, “Are you using the secret ring,” she asked anxiously, struggling to keep a cool head, “Remember two rings, hang up and call back. Hurry up!”

“They’d better get out of there soon,” Michael muttered grimly, nervously beating his hand against the top of the steering wheel, “There’s no way we can take on all those feds alone.”

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

“So now we know where all the torn journal pages went,” Liz whispered to Max as she held up a stack of yellowed pages tied neatly with faded blue yarn. “Grandma must have torn them out herself.” In addition to finding the journal pages, there was also a small, safe deposit key which Max slipped into his jacket pocket, a copy of a letter that Claudia Parker had written to the government only two weeks before her death and various newspaper articles chronicling the disappearance of at least fifteen other people across the United States.

“We don’t have time to read any of it now,” Max advised her wisely, “The sooner we get out of here the better.”

Liz’s cell phone rang again, but this time she was sure it was Maria. Her parents would not call three times in rapid succession like that no matter how worried they were. “Maria, what’s going on?”

“Liz, listen to me,” came Maria’s breathless, hysterical voice, “you’ve got to get out of that house now! Right now!”

“Maria, what’s wrong…what’s going on?” The phone suddenly went dead. “Maria? Maria?” Liz glanced up at Max. “She hung up.”

Instinctively, knowing that something was about to go down Max quickly removed the safe deposit key from his jacket and dropped it on the carpet on the inside of the closet door and used the tip of his shoe to push it into a darkened corner. Max grabbed hold of Liz’s arm and pulled her to her feet. “We need to get outta here,” he said quietly. But no sooner had he said the words then the room was suddenly filled with the blinding glare of many flashlights, all trained on him and Liz. They stood frozen, realizing they were caught yet still wanting to run and having no place to go.

At the very front of the group, a tall, shadowy figure spoke, his words cultured, clipped and immensely satisfied. “You’d think this was Vegas instead of Salt Lake, boys, because I swear we just hit the jackpot.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:25:10 PM
Chapter 19

It was the day that Max Evans had dreaded most of his life. Subconsciously, he had always expected it. He couldn’t have really run forever, now could he? However, it was supposed to happen far down into the future, in some distant number of years. Not now, not today. Why, when he’d just found his ultimate happiness with Liz, did it have to happen now? And oh god, Liz…he had never meant for her to be a part of this. He had wanted nothing more in the world than her safety.

Max had never used his powers for anything other than helping those in need. Unlike Isabel he had actually used them quite infrequently and when he did it was usually to someone or something else’s benefit, never his own. Now, for the first time in his life, he considered using his gifts to do harm. He would blast away every damned agent present if it meant getting Liz the hell out of there. But even as he raised his hand to do so every M-16 in the room was suddenly trained directly on Liz.

“Do it,” the shadow warned smoothly, “and I’ll kill her without so much as an afterthought.” Max wisely reigned in his energy and lowered his hand. “There now,” the shadow commended pleasantly, “How did I figure you’d be a smart young man, Max?”

When nothing else had made him quake this man’s familiar use of his name caused Max to tremble with fear. Men with machine guns surrounded Max, but he sensed that this unarmed man speaking to him in soft deceptive tones was the most dangerous. Intuitively, he grabbed hold of Liz and pulled her behind him in a protective gesture. “You know my name,” Max stated in a tone he prayed wasn’t shaky, “but I have no idea who you are.” Max knew his tactics were obviously stalling, but it his panic he could think of little else, but to talk to the man as way of distraction.

“Don’t worry about my name, Max…where we’re going we’ll have more than enough time to become acquainted. Take them now.” Just like that his tone had gone from one of pleasant agreeableness to businesslike coldness.

As the soldiers moved forward both Liz and Max sank back further into the closet. “Wait!” Max cried out in agitation right before they reached them, “Please let Liz go…she has nothing to do with this. Please, just let her go. I’ll come with you peacefully…just let her go.”

The shadowy man actually chuckled at his pleading. “Max, Max, haven’t you figured it out already? You don’t have a choice. You’re coming with us, regardless. You both are.”

Max held out his hand to stave them off. “I won’t let you take her,” he said. He began cautiously inching around the outskirts of the room, carefully keeping Liz hidden behind him as he did. He could feel her body trembling behind him, knew intuitively every once of strength it was costing her not to make a run for it right then.

“Do you really believe for a single second that I’m going to simply allow you to walk out of here,” his nemesis asked silkily.

“I’m just asking you to let Liz go,” Max insisted. They were only a few feet from the door. There were two guards posted there but Max supposed that he could stun them and then he and Liz could make a break for it.

Suddenly the man decreed, “I’ve had enough of this,” and snapped his fingers. Before Max had time to react Liz was snatched from behind him and thrown over to the soldier nearest the shadow man. She let out a frightened yelp when the soldier coolly leveled his M-16 at her head, his eyes never blinking once. Try as she might Liz couldn’t staunch the hysterical tears of pure terror that coursed down her cheeks and to see them made Max feel physically ill.

The man leveled Max with a triumphant smile that was impossible to miss even in the darkness. “You were saying, Max?” He quirked an eyebrow. “Now are we done with these childish shenanigans or must I spill your pretty little girlfriend’s brains all over the floor to make my point?”

The image his words evoked in Max’s mind caused a shudder to run through his entire body. He lowered his head in dejected defeat. “I’ll come with you…just please, please don’t hurt her.”

The man stepped forward and caressed the top of Max’s head almost lovingly. “There’s a good boy. I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.”

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

One block down the street, Michael, Maria and Isabel watched Claudia Parker’s house from the interior of the Jetta with bated breaths. Maria threw down Isabel’s cell phone in disgust. “I still can’t get through…all I get is static. Who knows what those bastards are doing to them right now!” She buried her face in her hands. “Oh, this is bad…this is really, really bad.”

“Michael, I’m worried,” Isabel admitted, no longer concerned with trying to remain calm, “We have to do something! We just can’t sit out here and wait!”

“Shh, shh,” Michael whispered, waving her away, his eyes focused on the house, “I think they’re coming out now.”

Several agents filed out the front followed by Max and Liz, whose hands were up behind their heads. They were being held at gunpoint by four different soldiers and escorted towards one of the black sedans parked on the street.

“Are we just going to sit here and let them take Max?” Isabel burst out incredulously. She grabbed for the door handle, obviously intending to leap from the car but Michael detained her.

“What are you gonna do? Just waltz up to the feds and demand they release Max and Liz? Those guys aren’t exactly the negotiating type! Isabel, they have guns…we don’t know what they’re capable of!”

“Oh my God, a word of caution from Michael Guerin?” Maria muttered from the backseat, “I know that the end of the world must be near.”

“Maybe we can wait awhile,” Michael suggested as calmly as he was capable, “We can follow the agents once they leave and find out where they plan on taking Max and Liz.”

“Michael, that’s it? That’s your brilliant plan?” Maria asked dryly before gesturing firmly towards the windshield, “They are an entire fleet of FBI Agents…we are three teenagers in a stolen Jetta. It’s not a match in our favor. Oh god,” Maria suddenly groaned, “I knew I should’ve made Liz come home with me when I had the chance.”

Michael was fresh out of ideas. He would be the first to admit that he wasn’t cut out to be the decision maker. The only recourse he had was to play things out, as Max would have wanted. He turned to face Isabel. “You know Max wouldn’t want us to interfere. He’d want us to get the hell out as fast as we could.”

“What Max wants is all fine and good,” Maria muttered sarcastically, “But what about Liz. Don’t tell me you guys can’t do anything! Get out there and blast those bastards to kingdom come!”

Isabel glared at Maria with mixed annoyance and anger. “That would only serve to draw attention to ourselves. You don’t think there’s more where those guys come from? We’d be guaranteeing a life on the run if we did what you’re suggesting.”

“And what about what your lack of action is guaranteeing Liz, huh?”

“Look, I doubt they’ll hurt Liz!” Isabel snapped, far too stressed to attempt being civil any longer, “Liz is a human…she’s one of them. Max is the one they want to carve open like Thanksgiving turkey!”

“Then why are they taking them both?” Maria ground out.

“Enough already!” Michael exploded suddenly, “All this fighting is getting us nowhere. We have to come up with a game plan or we’re dead in the water.”

Isabel didn’t miss a beat. “All right…follow them then.” Before Maria could open her mouth to argue Isabel was already voicing her plan. “I can morph the Jetta to look like one of their sedans complete with tinted windows and everything. They’ll never even know that we’re following them.” Isabel didn’t wait for unanimous agreement for her idea but simply crept from the car and began the transformations in the evening’s darkness.

“Okay, two questions,” Maria said, “Number one…what makes you so sure that we’re not going to get killed tonight and number two…she will be able to undue these changes to my mother’s car, riiiiight?”

“Do you want to get Liz back or don’t you?” Michael demanded shortly.

“I do.”

“Then we do what we gotta do to make that happen, okay.”

After that there was no further communication between them until Isabel climbed back into the newly altered car. Together, they waited anxiously for the agents to get on the move. It wasn’t long before the three cars and two military jeeps passed them going down the street after which Michael made a smooth U-turn to follow them.

Although they had altered the outside of the car underneath its hood it still remained a lemon and it was nearly impossible to keep up with the V-8 engines of the cars they were following. “Do you think you could go just a little faster, Michael?” Isabel demanded anxiously, growing increasingly nervous with the distance that was between them and the cars ahead.

“This is a Jetta, Isabel, not a Jag,” Michael replied, “I’m going 80 as it is!”

But that didn’t matter a bit to Isabel. All she knew was that she wanted her brother back and that they were never going to accomplish that goal at the speed they were traveling. In an uncharacteristic show of impatience, she used her powers to accelerate the car. If Michael wouldn’t do it then she for damned sure would.

“Isabel, what are you doing?” Michael yelled, aware that suddenly he was no longer in control of the car. He watched helplessly as the speedometer climbed to 85, then 90, then 95… “Isabel, you’ve got to stop this! Dammit, you’re going to burn up the engine!” He tried compressing the brake, but it seemed frozen in place.

“How else are we going to catch them?” Isabel exclaimed wildly.

“Does anyone care that this is my mother’s car you’re driving into the ground!” Maria cried from the back.

“Isabel, cut it out! Now!”

“No!” Isabel was past caring. All she knew was that the distance between them and the cars ahead was closing. That was all that mattered to her.

“Isabel, I mean it! Now fucking stop!” The speedometer continued to climb, the increased speed pushing even past the Jetta’s limited capacity. The car began to vibrate threateningly.

“Michael, watch out!” Maria suddenly screamed out in terror.

By the time Michael looked up it was already too late. The man had seemingly come from out of nowhere and simply materialized on the highway. The headlights briefly illuminated his resigned features as they approached him, but Michael didn’t have time to break. He hit the man with a sickening thump a split second later, causing the entire car to jerk from the force. Michael screeched to a stop, his heart pounding.

“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,” Maria moaned in a litany, rocking back and forth in mindless panic.

“God, Michael, did we hit somebody!” Isabel burst out in sickened horror, swiveling around in her seat to see.

“Christ, yeah, we hit someone! I fucking told you to stop and…Jesus!” He squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “There’s no way that dude’s alive,” he muttered.

Michael lifted reluctant eyes to the rearview mirror, dreading the sight of the dead body he knew would be lying on the highway behind them. But when he looked there was no dead body. Instead, he watched in speechless shock as the man he had just run down slowly pushed himself to his hands and knees before moving with surprising grace to his feet. Michael’s mouth went dry. And that was before he saw the man’s eyes. They were a complete inky black, whites and all, fathomless, devoid of emotion…and completely nonhuman.

“Holy fuck are we in trouble…”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:27:11 PM
Chapter 20

Following Michael’s terrified utterance pandemonium erupted inside the car. Maria swiveled around in her seat, casting a desperate look at the “dead man” who had suddenly stood up. A moment earlier she didn’t think she could be any more panicked but when she saw the man that they had hit at 100 miles per hour come walking towards the car as if nothing at all had happened she began to scream, “Oh, oh, oh, hell, what is it! What the fuck is it!”

“I don’t know,” Michael said dramatically, “and I ain’t waiting around to find out either.” He stomped the gas pedal. Nothing happened. The tires spun but the car remained uselessly in place.

“What are you doing?” Isabel burst out, her panicked gaze ricocheting between Michael and the man stalking them. “He’s almost here, Michael! Stop fooling around!”

“Yes, yes, yes!” Maria chanted, beating against his shoulder with a frantic hand, “You must go now, you must go now, you must go now!”

“I’m trying…it’s not doing anything!” Michael cried out, ineffectively pressing the gas pedal over and over, “Oh crap, crap…come on, you worthless piece a shit!”

“I think he must be holding us in place somehow,” Maria surmised with a frantic glance behind her, “Make him stop!”

Do not fear me, Michael.

The words came from nowhere. Michael froze in response. “Huh?”

“I said make him stop! Do whatever, zap him with your alien death ray…I don’t care,” Maria clarified in near hysteria, “Just get us outta here, Spaceboy!”

Do not fear me, Michael.

“Do you friggin hear that?” Michael exclaimed again, glancing around frantically for the source of the voice.

“Hear what?” Isabel demanded blankly, “Michael, now is not the time to be clowning around!”

“I’m not,” Michael insisted, “Someone is talking to me.”

“I can’t believe this,” Maria uttered, massaging her temples gingerly, “He chooses now of all times to crack up…when there’s a psychopath alien killer after us.”

“Listen, I’m doing the best-,” Michael never finished his thought. Again he heard the voice drift through his head. Do not fear me, Michael. Seconds later Michael’s entire body stiffened and he began to jerk awkwardly, as if in the throes of a epileptic seizure. From a distance he could hear Isabel and Maria crying out in hysteria, could hear the terror in their voices, but he couldn’t stop the jerky movements of his body, couldn’t speak to reassure them.

And then he saw the symbols. They reminded him of Egyptian hieroglyphics and they came at him slowly through black space, one at a time, all in the same order. They rotated over and over, coming through the darkness at greater and greater speed. Michael instinctively knew that the symbols meant something, that there was a reason for their particular order. He felt he should understand their meaning. But the symbols were foreign to him. He didn’t remember seeing them ever in his life, but they seemed innately familiar as well.

But before he could even begin to ponder the reason for their presence or what they were trying to make him understand he was hurtling into space, surrounded by billions and billions of stars. It was beautiful to Michael, like free falling through a light show. The stars seemed to pass him quickly; namelessly until he was brought to a single formation that he knew must be of great importance. In the vee constellation before him there was a star shining at its apex, more brilliant than all the others. Michael knew without needing to be told that it was his home.

Abruptly the star began to spin. The other stars within the constellation fell away as the main star, his star spun faster and faster and grew bigger and bigger until it was enormously large, glowing red…pulsating…pulsating…. A split second later it exploded and Michael was hurled from space into the atmosphere. Suddenly, he was crashing towards earth’s surface at top speed and he knew that the impact would be bad.

His eyes snapped open at that very moment he would have crashed. With consciousness came the awareness that Isabel and Maria were trying to pull him free from the car and without much success. He saw that the man was nearly upon them now, but Michael was no longer frightened. He knew that the man would not hurt them. “Don’t run,” he whispered hoarsely, trying to reassure his frantic friends, “He’s here to help us.”

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

Max regained consciousness in gradual stages. As he did he became agonizingly aware of the intense throbbing in his head. It was unlike any pain he’d ever experienced, increased ever more when he opened his eyes to partial slits. The aching in his head caused a wave of nausea to overtake him and he almost gave up the fight for lucidity as a result. Almost. Max knew he couldn’t fall back into the darkness, not until he discovered what had become of Liz.

Max darted his eyes around the room. It was then that he realized he was lying on the floor. His cheek was pressed against cold, unyielding tile in a white room he didn’t recognize at all. He didn’t remember how he’d come to be there. His last clear memory had been of being forcibly shoved into a car and then…blankness.

With a groan he pushed himself up on all fours, swaying slightly. He felt drunk and his vision was fuzzy. He collapsed back against the floor, completely taxed of strength. He very nearly succumbed to oblivion once more when a voice intruded.

“That would be the drug we administered to you kicking in, Max. That’s why you feel so weak and drained.” Max lifted his head at the sound but one torturous glance around revealed that he was to only person in the room. “It’s really quite amusing actually,” the voice continued in cultured nonchalance, “The amount you were given would hardly incapacitate a two-year old much less someone full grown…I suppose that’s something new I’ve discovered about you, eh, Max?”

It was imperative that Max push himself to his feet. There was a menacing quality to the voice that permeated the room and it made Max all the more anxious to find Liz. When he was finally upright, he swayed slightly on his feet but with Herculean effort he remained standing. “Where’sliz?” His demand had come out in a disoriented slur.

“Now, Max, I think I’ll be the one asking the questions this evening,” the voice responded smoothly, “Why don’t we begin with you telling me who you really are?”

Max felt his agitation grow by the second. “I want to know where Liz is now!” he shouted, rotating the room as he did. The action made him even dizzier. He bit down against the urge to throw up.

There was a life-shattering pause before Max finally heard, “Your Liz is unharmed…for now. Whether or not she remains so is entirely dependent upon you and whether you cooperate with me. Now then answer the question…who are you?”

Max swallowed, fighting back the wave of vertigo that threatened to collapse him. “I’m Max Evans,” he answered, “from Roswell, New Mexico.” He blinked slowly, fighting to keep himself oriented. “Who are you? Why don’t you show yourself to me?”

“Perhaps I didn’t explain this clearly enough to you,” the voice stated implacably, “I am the one who will ask the questions. Furthermore, when I ask you a question you are to respond with the truth.”

I’ve told you the truth!” Max insisted earnestly, but the effort cost him dearly. He fell to his knees. “I’ve told you the truth,” he weakly muttered once more before crumpling face first into the tile floor.

Agent Marcus DeVoe lifted his finger from the intercom and stepped away from the two-way mirror, which allowed him to see plainly into the observation room without being seen himself. He made a mental note to himself to cut the creature’s drug dosage in half for future purposes. Obviously, his tolerance for controlled substances was substantially low.

DeVoe strummed his chin thoughtfully. He hadn’t really acquired any of the answers that he had been so desperately seeking, but then he hadn’t expected to either. It had spent its entire life hiding what it really was. DeVoe wisely realized that it would take more than a few hours to drag the truth from Max Evans, maybe even months. But Marcus DeVoe could wait. He had learned to long ago.

He had waited for years to obtain his current position, had he not? Patiently, reapplied again and again until he’d finally been awarded with the prize he most coveted. It had been his acquisition of the position as Special Unit Chief Officer that had laid the groundwork for his master plan. Marcus DeVoe was now in a prime position to have his revenge…and the taste of victory was sweet indeed.

He turned away from the mirror completely, exiting the room and striding down the pristine, white hallway towards his own private quarters. “The time is almost here, Grandfather,” he muttered to himself along the way, “and I’ll make them pay, I promise you…I’ll make them all pay.”


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

“Michael, how do we know we can trust this guy?” Isabel muttered into Michael’s ear twenty minutes later. Michael had, seemingly without question, given the strange man control of Maria’s car and he was driving them to….Isabel didn’t have a clue where. She now sat in the back with Maria, who was as ignorant to what was going on as she was. In addition to that Michael didn’t seem at all concerned with where they were going. Nor did he seem overly alarmed that the stranger still had yet to explain who he was, correction what he was and what he had been doing in the middle of the highway. Isabel wondered if the seizure Michael had suffered had somehow damaged his brain. He seemed to have recovered quite well, but with his bizarre behavior Isabel couldn’t be so sure.

“He’s on our side, Isabel. Please, just trust me on this,” Michael replied mildly, leaning his head back against the seat and closing his fatigued eyes.

“I trust you just fine…it’s the weirdo driving the car I’m having a problem with. Do you even have any idea where he’s taking us?” Isabel demanded irritably. Her voice had been barely above a whisper yet the stranger had heard her anyway.

“Somewhere to rest…for now.”

He had finally spoken and when he did his voice was like a low rumbling of thunder. It even shook the car slightly. The air had actually crackled in response, as if his words were made of pure energy. The unexpectedness of it pitched Isabel back against her seat. She was left trembling. “God, he speaks,” she uttered breathlessly.

“But is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Maria muttered, not having missed the strange vibrations in the car or the thick electric current left in the air. She fell back against her seat in frustrated exhaustion, too tired and too scared to try and figure out what was happening. “I’m gonna try and get some sleep. Maybe when I wake up I’ll find out that this whole thing has been one big nightmare. This has got to be the road trip from hell!” she exclaimed before weariness finally overtook her and she fell into a fitful sleep.

Isabel was inclined to agree with Maria’s statement. This trip wasn’t working out at all the way she had anticipated. No, she had expected that they would be on their way home to Roswell by now not being driven to who knew where while her brother and his would be girlfriend had been kidnapped by the FBI. Isabel wanted nothing more than to hug her mother and smell her sweet flowery scent, have a decent meal and fall into her own warm bed. However, it was beginning to look as if it would be a long while before she saw her mother or her bed again.

She wished fervently that Max were there. He would know implicitly what to do. It was ironic that she had never appreciated her brother’s knack for sound judgment until she was suddenly deprived of it. And more than anything, Isabel was afraid. She didn’t know what was happening or how they were ever going to untangle the awful mess they’d fallen into. She definitely didn’t see the benefit in putting their trust in a complete stranger. And it didn’t matter whether he was an alien or not.

I am not a stranger to you.

The voice came to Isabel unbidden. She glanced up certain that someone had spoken to her. But Michael and Maria were sound asleep and the weirdo definitely couldn’t have said anything. There was no way to ignore a voice like that. She must be tired…that was it. She was tired and hearing things.

Rest then…Isabel.

When Isabel would have closed her eyes and settled into sleep the voice intruded once more. She snapped into a sitting position, certain she was losing it. “Who is that?” she whispered aloud to herself.

I am Zrei. You must trust me, Isabel.

“Where are you?” Isabel asked shakily but she already knew the answer to her question. The stranger turned to face her, his black eyes were glittering…speaking to her in a soft whisper that produced a strange, calming effect within her body. When she heard the voice again she knew exactly who was speaking to her. I am Zrei. I will protect you, Isabel. And then he wordlessly returned his attention to the road, staring out into the darkness ahead once more.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:28:23 PM
Chapter 21

Liz couldn’t recall how she had come to be there. Her last clear memory had been riding in the car with Max after they’d been taken captive. She vaguely remembered a struggle erupting inside the car and then…utter blankness. Now that she had regained consciousness it was to find that she had been strapped to a table, her wrists and ankles placed in restraints. Despite that Liz’s first conscious thought had been of Max. She lifted her head, and it took some effort because she was quite woozy, and searched the room for some sign of him.

Only when she saw that the room was completely empty did Liz begin to panic and struggle against her fetters. With awareness of her surroundings also came other realizations. Firstly, her clothes were gone. She was on the table, completely nude, with only a thin linen sheet to cover her. The room itself was white, devoid completely of furniture save the table she was strapped against.

As she struggled the sheet shifted lower, exposing her breasts to the frigid air. Liz felt sick humiliation rise inside her. The knowledge that someone had undressed her and tied her up was unbearable enough, but her inability to even lift her arms to cover her shame was spirit breaking.

Liz fell back against the table, exhausted and scared, hot tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. She didn’t know what the hell was going on. Where was Max? Why was she strapped to a table? And why did she feel as if she’d taken a Benedryl cold tablet, all spacey and vacant, like she had medicine head? Her eyes felt heavy and not even the freezing temperature of the room was enough to liven her. However, she was determined not to fall asleep…at least not until she had some answers. Definitely not until she found out about Max.

“Somebody!” Liz called out weakly, “Can…can somebody hear me?” She couldn’t believe how tired just voicing those five words made her. Her breathing came in deep labored pants. Her mouth felt dry. She blinked against the desire to pass out.

Liz was barely clinging to consciousness when they began to file in, three men all clothed in white Biohazard jumpers that more resembled spacesuits than anything else. One of them approached Liz, leaned down over her. “Ms. Parker, do you remember me?” he asked casually as if she weren’t lying confined to a table naked and exposed.

Liz forced herself to focus. She looked up at the man, shuddering at the coldness she saw reflected in his metallic gray eyes. “You…you were the one…who…who took us.”

“That’s right,” he commended lightly, “I see you been struggling against your restraints.” He fingered the bruises that ringed her wrists lightly. “It’s a futile effort, you realize, and you’ll only end up hurting yourself.” In one fluid motion he ripped away the sheet revealing Liz’s naked length completely. His eyes raked over her in an impassive once over. “Impressive.”

Liz felt humiliation and shame pour through her like hot acid. “You’re…you’re a bastard!”

Marcus DeVoe leaned down close to Liz’s ear and whispered so low she barely heard him, “Perhaps…but then you’re a traitorous little bitch so that makes us perfect company, does it not?”

The blatant hatred in his tone caused Liz’s heart to hammer with renewed alarm. The only thought that seemed to permeate her mind was what this madman had possibly done to Max. “Where’s…Max?” Liz ground out, “Where is he? Where have you taken him?”

“You’ll know your answer soon enough, Ms. Parker,” Agent DeVoe promised, straightening, “But first I want to ask a few questions of my own. Not yet, however,” he added as his other two companions stepped forward, “We’ll talk more once your examination is finished.”

“My…examination?” Liz repeated in confusion.

But her bewilderment was short-lived. It became obvious exactly what they had in mind when the one of the two men unfastened her ankles and grabbed hold of her legs and began forcing them apart and fastening them into stirrups. Liz tried to fight against them, but her legs felt leaden and she could do nothing more than flail against her attackers ineffectually. She was left with little choice but to lie back against the table and sob quietly while they performed a pelvic exam without her consent. Liz turned her head aside, swallowing against the lump of nausea that rose in her throat.

And that was before one of her “examiners” inserted two fingers deep inside her while pressing against her belly with his free hand. Liz swallowed back her moan of mortification, stoically enduring his clinical touch while praying to God that he would be done soon. She closed her eyes, trying desperately to picture Max’s smiling face as he had been earlier that morning, so happy and in love. But try as she might, Liz could not successfully block out what they were doing to her.

A few moments later he confirmed to the man who seemed to be in charge that she was still a virgin, which for some reason seemed to surprise and please the man. After they were done with the pelvic exam they took a tissue sample, a blood sample and a urine sample. When they were done Liz wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball and die, but they were far from finished with her.

Next they tested Liz’s vitals, her blood pressure, reflexes, her eyes and ears. It seemed to go one forever before one of them finally concluded the humiliating ordeal by pulling the sheet back over her naked body. After gathering together the samples to two men exited, leaving Liz alone with the man who’d spoken to her earlier.

“Who are you?” Liz demanded woodenly when he came to stand over her. “Why are you doing this to me?”

He smirked down at her coldly, idly stroking her hair away from her forehead. “I can be your greatest ally, Ms. Parker, or your worst enemy…it’s your choice…”

“What do you mean?” Liz croaked out in a thready whisper.

“Tell me what I need to know about Max Evans and I’ll let you go free.” Suddenly, his face softened, seemed almost regretful. “Don’t you miss your family…your friends? Is he really worth the agony you’re suffering right now? He’s the cause, you know…but you’re the one who can end it.”

Liz could see plainly what he was doing. He was trying to turn her against Max. He was hoping that if he frightened her enough, degraded her enough that she would betray her boyfriend. Liz steeled herself mentally. Obviously, this man didn’t comprehend at all how strong her bond to Max Evans was or just how much loyalty she had towards him. Liz glared up at him hatefully. “Don’t think for a moment…I don’t know exactly who…is responsible for my suffering…”

She watched the false compassion on his features relax into his usual expression of indifferent chilliness. “If you think this is suffering…you don’t know a thing. We haven’t even begun.” He grabbed her by the jaw, squeezing her face between his fingers tightly, causing her teeth to cut painfully into the soft flesh inside her cheeks. Liz whimpered, her mouth filling with the metallic taste of blood.

DeVoe abruptly released her jaw and brought his face within inches of hers, speaking his words through clenched teeth, “Ms. Parker, we can do this the easy way…or we can do it the hard way. The choice is simple. Now tell me…who is Max Evans?” Liz didn’t hesitate, didn’t think. She spit directly onto the plastic mask that covered his face. The implication was clear.

Marcus DeVoe straightened calmly, mechanically wiping the spittle from his mask. He regarded her with glittering eyes. “The hard way it is then,” he replied thoughtfully before turning on his heel and exiting the room.

Liz barely had time to breathe an exultant sigh over his abrupt departure because seconds later another suited man was striding into the room, pushing a medicine cart ahead of him. He came to stand over her. Unlike the man before him his expression was not callous, but instead implacable and oddly determined. Despite that, Liz thought she saw just a glimpse of pity in his brown eyes.

“Ms. Parker,” Dr. David McCormick began gruffly, “I’m here to administer a drug to you…it’s one that I’ve developed myself. It is a truth serum of sorts.” Liz stared at him unblinkingly. He tried again. “You could make this easier on yourself if you simply cooperated.” Again Liz responded with silence. “It’s your choice then.”

He turned away from her and deftly began to prepare the syringe while explaining to her in clinical terms what the serum would do. “This drug reacts to your body temperature,” he explained, “When you lie your heart rate becomes elevated and, as a result, your body temperature rises. This drug is designed to create a stinging sensation within your body if your internal body temperature rises above 98 degrees.” Liz almost laughed aloud at their idea of torture. If a “stinging sensation” was all Liz had to endure she had absolutely no doubt she could bear it. “However,” the man added, correctly interpreting Liz’s smug expression, “for every half degree your temperature rises above that the will intensify.”

Liz swallowed nervously, averting her eyes. She suddenly wasn’t as sure as she had been moments before. “I’ve seen grown men who have lost consciousness as a result of the pain,” he told her mildly, “You can avoid this.”

Liz compressed her lips into a grim line of determination. They would have to kill her because she would never, never betray Max. “Do whatever you have to do,” Liz stated emotionlessly. A few moments later she heard the man expel a frustrated sigh and then he was pressing the needle into her arm. Liz felt a slight sting as the needle pierced her skin and a burning sensation as the medicine entered her bloodstream.

“What is your full name?” the man asked her.

“Elizabeth Anne Parker,” Liz responded.

“When were you born?”

“May 21, 1983.”

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen.” So far so good. Aside from being slightly woozy Liz felt fine.

“What is your affiliation to Max Evans?”

She felt it then. The sensation was like a slight itching under her skin. It was aggravating but not exactly painful. “He’s…he’s my friend,” Liz answered calmly.

“Is that all he is?”

“My boyfriend…it’s new,” she felt compelled to add but she didn’t understand why. Her head was starting to spin and her surroundings beginning to blur slightly. She darted out her tongue to wet her dry, cracked lips. “I’m…I’m in love…with him.”

The man paused for a moment before asking, “Is he in love with you?”

Liz’s eyes sank closed as she fought to remained focused. “Y-Yes.”

“Ms. Parker, is Max Evans an alien?”

“Y—ah… What did you ask me again?” Liz caught what she was about to say just in time, shaking her head slightly. What was wrong with her, she wondered. Why did she feel as if she couldn’t lie to him? Had he said the drug was a truth serum, she couldn’t remember. In fact, what had they been talking about before? “A-Ask me again,” Liz requested feebly.

“Is Max Evans an alien?”

“No…no, he isn’t.” The inching below her skin became a sudden burning and Liz twitched in response it. It felt rather like alcohol being poured on an open wound. Panic was beginning to spread through her chest, which only served to deepen the sting inside her skin. Her eyes glazed over with tears of pain.

“Ms. Parker, you’re lying to me,” the man accused softly.

“No,” Liz denied, thrashing her head back and forth. The burning intensified further, causing her to cry out and buck against her restraints. “I’m not lying…” she sobbed, “I’m not…I’m not…”

“What sort of powers does Max Evans have?”

“He…doesn’t….have powers!” God, it hurt, to breathe, to think, it was as if she were on fire from the inside. A fine sheen of sweat began to cover her body and she trembled violently, obviously on the verge of shock.

“Ms. Parker, where you shot on the afternoon of September 19th, 1999?”

“No!” she cried out and her body twisted in near agony with the inferno raging in her blood.

“Ms. Parker, you’re obviously in a great deal of pain,” the man soothed, “I can ease it for you…if only you’ll tell me the truth.”

Liz speared him with unfocused, pain-dazed eyes. “I am…telling you…I am,” Liz gasped, her entire body beginning to shake ever more erratically.

“Are there others besides Isabel Evans and Michael Guerin, Ms. Parker?”

Liz’s eyes rolled to the back of her head and she arched violently against the table. “I don’t know…I don’t know…”

“What do you know about the alien in 1959?”

“I don’t believe in aliens!” Liz gasped.

“Where is the one who killed Charles Atherton, Ms. Parker?” Dr. McCormick persisted as if she’d not responded at all, “Who is he?”

“I…don’t…know,” Liz gurgled one last time before her body jerked violently once more before finally falling still.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:30:32 PM
Chapter 22

Maria awakened shortly before dawn. She stretched in the small confines of her seat, momentarily disoriented about where she was. And then abruptly the memories of the previous night came flooding back and she bolted upright, her eyes ricocheting to the car window. The view hadn’t changed all that much from the previous night, but she supposed they must be near the Utah state line by now. She flicked a surprised look over at Isabel, who was also awake. “Have we been traveling all night?” she asked, her voice husky from sleep.

Isabel nodded gravely. “Apparently, he doesn’t need sleep or food…or anything. I’ve been watching him most of the night and he hasn’t stopped once.”

Maria peered at Isabel closely. She did look tired, nothing at all like her usual perfect self. She had pulled her long, blond hair back into a ponytail. Isabel’s peaches and cream complexion had given way to a sallow pale and with no make up to cover it over the contrast was emphasized dramatically. “Well, he’s going to have to stop soon,” Maria quipped tiredly, settling back against her seat, “I’ve got to pee. Where are we going anyway?”

“I don’t know really…we’ve just been driving all night. He,” she hitched her chin towards the driver, “isn’t what I’d describe as a communicator.”

Maria half snorted, half sobbed. “Yeah…I got that vibe last night.” Last night she had felt forlorn, exhausted and lost. She had been too tired and too frightened to argue over where they were going and why. But now that she’d slept and was looking at the day with new eyes the questions Maria had suppressed were beginning to bubble their way to the surface. However, what she felt most, at the moment, was homesick, and it was plainly evident on her face.

“Hey, Maria, I know you’re scared,” Isabel reassured her with uncharacteristic gentleness, “I’m scared, too.”

“I just wanna find Liz and end this nightmare. I wanna go home,” Maria sobbed hoarsely. She quickly brushed away the tears that fell on her cheeks. “I just don’t get it…why is Michael trusting this guy?”

Isabel could do nothing more than stare at Maria because she honestly didn’t have an answer. She had yet to understand what sort of pull this man, this Zrei had over them. The night before she had been on edge, only a hairsbreadth away from demanding that he pull over the car and let her out. But then he had spoken to her, had reassured her with those opaque eyes of his and Isabel had no longer been uncertain. She couldn’t explain it, but she just instinctively knew that she didn’t have anything to fear.

It hadn’t mattered that Zrei had not yet made a formal explanation of who he was or that they knew absolutely nothing about him. Both she and Michael were inexplicably drawn to him and they trusted him implicitly despite the odd circumstances. Isabel knew with every fiber of her being that he would help them find Max and Liz. Her absolute conviction in that belief had allowed her to fall asleep without any anxiety over how they would get Max back. She just knew that they would.

However, Isabel knew she couldn’t expect for Maria to feel the same. In fact, Maria might even believe that Michael and she were foolishly trusting this stranger solely based upon his nonhuman status and Isabel freely admitted that Maria would be justified in that belief. Justified, but wrong. There was something deeper there than simple alien commonality. She knew Zrei and she was absolutely certain of his loyalty to her, Michael and Max even though he had yet to express it.

Isabel looked at Maria now, realizing that she was still waiting for an explanation. “Michael knows what he’s doing,” Isabel assured her, but she could see from the expression on Maria’s face that the reassurance didn’t satisfy her. “I think we should trust him on this, Maria,” Isabel tacked on stubbornly.

“And I think that seizure Michael had last night scrambled his brain,” Maria gritted in return and then she lowered her voice to a grim whisper, “Isabel, we hit this guy last night. I know we did. I saw it. He should be dead right now!”

“Maria,” Isabel began slowly as if Maria were mentally delayed, “he’s not human.”

“I’m not an idiot!” Maria snapped in irritation, “I’ve figured out that part for myself. Geez.” She expelled a disgusted sigh before beginning again. “What I’m saying is just because he’s an alien doesn’t mean that we should trust him.”

“But we do.”

“Do what?”

“Trust him.”

Isabel expected an explosion of epic proportions and Maria didn’t disappoint her. “YOU WHAT! Are you and Michael unhinged or something? What am I, in the twilight zone because this can’t be happening!”

“Maria, calm down.”

“You’re telling me to calm down? You’re telling me to calm down?” Maria grabbed hold of the door handle and began wiggling it wildly. “Stop the car!” she ordered angrily, “Stop the fucking car now!”

Isabel looked towards the front seat and just as easily as that the stranger began pulling off onto the shoulder of the road. By the time the car stopped Maria had regained some of her composure. However, the ruckus had awakened a sleeping Michael in the front seat and he had begun grumbling about what was happening. Maria ignored him. “Get out…all of you,” she commanded quietly, “You three can go gallivanting across the countryside or whatever you want, but this is the part where me and my car exit.” There was little doubt that Maria was perfectly serious.

“What the hell is going on?” Michael asked again, this time wide-awake.

“Maria’s upset because she doesn’t know what’s happening,” Isabel explained simply.

“You’re damned right I’m upset! I’m beyond upset!” Maria confirmed irately, “Now get out of my car.”

“Maria, come on, don’t be like this,” Michael cajoled with a pout, “I thought you and me had become closer than that.”

Michael had greatly overestimated his charm because Maria was not impressed. “You said it yourself, Michael. We’re not friends or confidants or anything like that.”

Michael scowled, quickly losing his sweet and innocent expression. “How are we supposed to find Max and Liz without a car?” Michael queried in annoyance, “And how do you plan to find Liz without us?”

“Oh, is that what your priority is, finding Max and Liz? Because I really don’t see how letting that weirdo up there drive my car is furthering that goal.”

“He’s going to help us find them.”

“Is that what he told you?”

“No! It’s what I know!”

Maria pinched her eyes shut, feeling like the only sane person in an insane world. Why had she ever allowed for herself to become mixed up in this mess, Maria wondered wildly. She couldn’t believe that Michael and Isabel were trusting this man to help them and not even because he’d told him that he would but simply because they had a feeling. When she opened her eyes, she took several deep breaths and asked evenly, “Don’t you see what this guy is doing? He’s worked some kind of alien mojo on you both. He’s using you like puppets!”

“That’s ridiculous!” Isabel bit out.

“Is it? Look at him. He sits up there, staring out the window like a moron, not speaking, not moving, nothing! And yet, you and Michael are following him without question.”

“We trust him, Maria” Isabel insisted quietly.

“Well then, by all means, trust him, Isabel,” Maria conceded magnanimously, “But just leave me the heck out of it.”

“Maria, we need you,” Isabel argued reasonably.

“No, you need my car,” Maria clarified.

“We need your car and we need you. We have to stick together on this if we’re going to find Max and Liz.”

“How can we stick together if I don’t agree with what you guys are doing?” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I don’t trust this freak and I don’t understand why you and Michael do.”

“Truthfully, Maria, neither do we, but…I just know, I know he won’t hurt us.”

“I’m not knocking your instincts, Isabel, but I really need more to go on than that.” Maria ran a shaky hand through her short, blond hair. “We can not be putting our trust in strangers right now. Max and Liz need us…we need to go to someone who can actually help us get them back.”

“What are you suggesting?” Michael asked with narrowed eyes.

“I think we should go to Valenti or, at the very least, let our parents know what’s going on…someone who has our best interests at heart.”

“No way,” Michael retorted. His expression became stony; transmitting clearly that he believed the discussion was closed.

Isabel, however, was more pragmatic. “Maria, you know we can’t do that. Valenti has been against us since day one…he won’t help us and as for our parents…even if they believed us…what match would they be for the FBI?”

“And this speechless wonder is?” Maria burst out, stabbing her hand towards the driver’s seat.

“He’s the best shot we’ve got right now,” Michael returned tightly.

“Then fine, you take him,” Maria replied sweetly, “I already told you that…again just leave me and my car out of it.”

Isabel massaged her forehead with the tips of her fingers. “We’re going in circles and getting nowhere,” she told them both sharply and then she looked at Maria, her expression pleading, “Maria, we really need you with us. What can I say to make you okay with this?”

“I need to know what’s going on or I’m not going any further than this point.”

“And by going on you mean…”

“I mean I want that guy to tell us who he is…what…what he is, how he plans to help us get Liz and Max back, where he’s taking us, what he was doing on the Interstate in the middle of the night, what kind of mojo he’s working on you two…”

Isabel held up her hands in surrender, chuckling slightly at Maria’s ramblings. “I get it…you want to know everything.”

I will tell you, young one, if you wish to know.

Isabel and Michael were used to hearing his voice in their head by now, but for Maria it was a new experience. She jumped, her eyes darting from one corner of the car to the other. Maria pointed a shaky finger towards Zrei. “Did he just speak to me?”

As in response to her question, Zrei turned about in his seat slowly and regarded Maria with his shining, black eyes. Maria stared at him as if hypnotized. It was the first she had seen of him in the light of day and other than those frightening extraterrestrial eyes he looked, for the most part, human. Blond hair, curved jaw that was slightly jowly, a blunt nose…normal and plain, save for those black voids that were his eyes. Maria shuddered as she heard his voice in her head once more. I am Zrei.

“What the heck are you?” Maria breathed, feeling herself being caught in the same spell that had trapped both Michael and Isabel.

I am Zrei was the refrain right before he reached forward and took her hand.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:32:44 PM
Chapter 23

The moment he touched her Maria felt a cold sensation settle over her and she fell limp, her mind slipping into a trance. She could feel herself being transported through space, traveling through nameless galaxies and star systems until she finally came to an abrupt stop. She was suddenly in the middle of a vast desert, surrounded by rocky mountain peaks and jagged valleys.

The scenery seemed surreal, as if it were a merely painting into which Maria had been inserted. She stooped down, running her hand along the craggy edges of the boulder near her hip, testing for herself to see if it was real. Maria rubbed the grainy residue left behind on her fingers curiously as she straightened. At first glance Maria was sure that she was back home again in New Mexico, the terrain was so reminiscent of the desert, but when she tipped back her head and stared up at the sky she knew better.

The sky was a deep indigo, so dark it was nearly purple and completely cloudless. At the high point in that purple wash of color a single sun shined palely while another was beginning to set just over the horizon. And that’s when it hit Maria fully that she wasn’t home at all. She looked to her left to find Michael and Isabel standing along side her, their faces awash with amazement. They, too, were roaming their hands over the rocky surfaces as if to ascertain for themselves that they weren’t indeed dreaming.

“What is this place?” Maria asked them, rotating slowly to drink in the odd sights surrounding her.

“I don’t know,” Michael answered, stumbling forward a bit. They were all standing at a cliff’s edge overlooking a valley where a river flowed freely below. Michael peered over the edge, his eyes widening at what he saw. He whirled to face Isabel and Maria in sputtering astonishment. “The water is blue…I mean really blue,” he told them in excitement, “Come and see!” The girls breathlessly glanced over the cliff’s edge down into the valley.

Blue wasn’t the word to describe the quick, rolling waves below. The water reminded Maria of Raspberry Blue Kool-Aid, dark and crisp, the bluest of the blue. She had never in her life seen water that color. Maria lifted stunned eyes to Isabel and Michael. “What the hell is going on?” she whispered.

“You demanded answers…now you shall have them.”

The three of them spun around at hearing the soft statement behind them. Maria knew it was Zrei who had spoken, but when they turned he didn’t look at all like before. Before them stood a being whose skin radiated pure, golden light. In the face of such brilliance Maria, Michael and Isabel had to squint in order to look upon him. He seemed to hover before them, angelic and celestial…beautiful. Never had any of them seen a figure more breathtaking. The mere sight of him had robbed them of speech.

Zrei continued, seemingly unaware of their awed silence. He swept his arm wide, creating a golden arc of light as he did. “This was the home world,” his eyes explained gently, “This was where you came into being.”

“The home world,” Michael repeated reverently, “You mean…”

“…this is our planet?” Isabel finished breathlessly.

“It was your beginning,” Zrei acknowledged wordlessly, “and my beginning.”

Michael slowly rotating in a circle, unable to fully comprehend that he was actually seeing his home planet, that he was standing on its soil. And then a thought suddenly occurred to him and he regarded Zrei with anxious suspicion. “Wait…why do you keep saying ‘was’?”

As if on cue the rocky terrain gave way from beneath their feet and suddenly they were all standing out in open space, surrounded by the blinking stars and Zrei’s mellow voice. “Our world was called Antar…it existed eons ago even before the human planet Earth. We were among the earliest of the Great Being’s creations, perfect and well made in His eyes. Our civilization was comprised of two distinct races, the Jnui and the Trsa…the protectors and their masters. We were once centuries before our time in technological advances, in war efforts, in creature comforts… We were conquerors…we were superior and we knew it and perhaps that was why the Great Being sought to humble us.”

As Zrei’s retelling of history flowed over them they saw for themselves the Antarians development, their extent of knowledge and power. Amazingly his words, even as he spoke them, created pictures and provided visual aid for the story he told. “It was prophesied by our world’s soothsayers that Antar would stand no longer…the Great Being had devoted us to destruction for our defiance, because we had dared to trifle with the most sacred of his creations…human beings. It was our written law that we were never to go near the humans or interact with them in any fashion…but the temptation was too great and the lure of the human world too magnetic.”

“Our planet was gifted with two suns which rose and set in succession to one another. We had never in our lives known a moment of darkness and reveled in our gift of light. That very light was our undoing, however. It was predicted that a time would come when those very suns would stand together in an eclipse like no other and obliterate our planet…afterwards Antar would cease to exist. Many Antarians listened to this prophecy and took heed and made preparation, but others were foolish and it resulted in the death of their line and heritage.”

“Are you saying that our planet is destroyed?” Michael asked impatiently. He had so many questions swirling about in his head and he didn’t know where to begin. Who was this Great Being? Was it God? Did the Antarians believe in God as well? And they had been forbidden to interact with humans…but why? He wanted to ask them all.

In the end it didn’t matter. His question was ignored for the time being and Zrei continued on as if Michael had said nothing at all. “The fate of our planet was not all that was at stake, our culture, our traditions, our very way of life were set to die along with us. We could not accept that, not the proud Antarians…never would we accept such an outlook. So the hybrids were formed…”

“Hybrids…?” Isabel breathed in astonishment, “Are-Are you saying that we’re hybrids…?”

“The perfect mixture of Antarian and human DNA, a wondrous creation that would have incited even the Great Being’s pride. It was necessary…in order to live, to further our race and preserve our traditions. For the Jnui there was no conflict. We were shapeshifters, as you say on earth, we could be what we wanted when we wanted… The Trsa were not gifted as we and were in danger of extinction. Had it been left to my people we would have gladly perished with our masters, but that was not to be their plan for us and we ultimately did as they commanded…”

“But the genetic process took many years and time did not prove to be our ally. In the earth year 1947 the eclipse began and our world began to splinter apart.” As he spoke Maria, Michael and Isabel saw for themselves as the suns aligned themselves creating a brilliant power that rocked Antar. They watched as the cracks and fissures began to appear in the planets surface, breaking it apart. Earthquakes and volcano eruptions began happening with alarming frequency. “Although, hundreds had fled Antar with their hybrids decades prior to the eclipse many still remained. In the chaos, massive plans for evacuation were made …and a mass exodus from our dying planet was the result.” They watched in silent shock as myriads of spaceships began to stream from the crumbling Antar, their pilots in an obvious dash for their lives. Some of the ships were pulled back by the planet’s gravitational force and exploded on impact.

Zrei continued on, as if unaffected by the horror unfolding. “We had no choice but to leave our masters behind to face death. They could not adapt…could not survive on earth as we. The remaining pods were evacuated as well.

“Your pods were unfinished. My master had waited too long, believing there would be plenty of time to complete your DNA sequencing. He had been too concerned with others to make his own preparations priority until it was too late. On the eve of the planet’s disintegration he entrusted your lives, your well-being to me….six of you total and my lifemate and I were to carry you safely to earth and serve as your guardians and protectors. And so we left the home when had known for two centuries, my lifemate and I with three humans and six unfinished incubation pods.” As he finished speaking the stars surrounded them suddenly winked out and they hovered out in the open space of earth’s bright blue sky. Zrei materialized before them, this time in his human form, and regarded them in silence.

Isabel was visibly shaken. For so long she had wondered about her origins, had yearned for the truth and now she had it and it had only served to generate more questions. “You said there were six of us,” she commented softly, “Why were there six? What happened to the others? Why weren’t they with Michael, Max and me when we emerged from the pods.”

“There was a sibling pair formed for each human donor.” He looked towards Michael his tone emotionless, practical when he said, “Your sibling did not survive the journey and ceased to be before we reached earth. The two remaining pods were damaged in the crash and they perished as well…so that left just the three.”

“So if our pods were unfinished…is that the reason it took so long for us to emerge,” Michael reasoned aloud, “Is that why my sis…my sibling died?”

“It is. If all had been completed you would have emerged in just five short years.”

Michael smirked inwardly at that. To a being who had lived to be two hundred years of age five years would seem like a short time. “But why did we crash,” Michael asked urgently, “Was there a malfunction on the ship…what happened?”

“We were detected,” Zrei stated flatly, “And when we refused to identify ourselves to the government officials they saw fit to shoot us down out of their airspace. To my knowledge we were the only ship to be detected in the U.S. that nigh although hundreds of us landed.”

“Excuse me,” Maria interrupted, speaking for the first time since Zrei’s unbelievable tale began, “but did you say in the U.S.? Are you saying that your kind are all over the country?”

Zrei regarded her with laughing onyx eyes. “All over the world,” he corrected wordlessly.

“Oh…my…God…”

“If it were our will we could conquer this miserable planet if wished it and we would have done it long before this day…” Zrei told Maria, correctly interpreting the horror-filled look on her face, “but we only seek to live among the humans in peace.”

“If peace is what you sought then why do you kill,” Isabel asked with quiet suddenness, “We saw an autopsy photo of a man named Charles Atherton…on his chest was a silver handprint. He had been murdered.” She swallowed convulsively several times before she could work up the courage to ask her next question. “Did you do that? Did you kill him?”

“I did,” Zrei admitted remorselessly. It was that very lack of regret that caused Isabel to stumble against Michael in ashamed agony, her hand pressed against her mouth to stifle her sobs of disappointment. “He is not to be mourned,” Zrei continued callously, “He betrayed my trust…he would have exposed me and you as well. He left me with no choice.”

“Is that what happened to the humans on your ship?” Maria asked woodenly, “Did they leave you no choice and you had to kill them, too?”

“The two were killed in the crash…I was not responsible for their deaths.”

“And the third,” Michael prompted, “Conner Douglass? What did you do to him?”

“I hid the three remaining pods in a rock formation in desert…that is where I left the human.”

“Didn’t you care what happened to him or…or about his safety or anything?” Maria burst out incredulously.

“He was no longer my concern,” Zrei responded indifferently.

“’No longer your concern’,” Maria exploded irately, “You took the man from his home, held him hostage on an alien planet, ruined his life and he was no longer your concern?”

“I preserved him alive as were my master’s wishes. My chief concern was for the pods and their safety. I had already failed in my duty to protect them and I did not wish to compound my error.”

“What about your lifemate,” Maria demanded sarcastically, “Or was she no longer your concern as well?”

Zrei’s expression didn’t waver an inch. “Bwan perished in the crash. She is no more.”

“Oh, Geez, I’m sorry,” Maria stammered in apology, suddenly feeling like the biggest bitch on the planet. She didn’t understand why either because in all respects the guy deserved the treatment. He had killed without compunction and obviously had no tender feeling towards humankind at all. And yet, he felt he had failed in his duty to his dead master, lost his planet and his lifemate all in one night. It was somewhat difficult not to feel sorry for him.

Zrei regarded them silently before waving his arm in a golden arc once more. A moment later they were all three once again inside the Jetta, feeling groggy and tired from the mental trip they had just embarked on. “You have the truth now,” he stated with his eyes, “Now we must fulfill our purpose. Time is running short.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:36:36 PM
Chapter 24

Four white walls and a cot with restraints…that’s all he had to look at.

Max tried not to let the extreme silence drive him insane. It was a constant struggle to remain awake as it was and the dead quiet didn’t serve to help matters. It seemed he’d been waiting hours for the man to return…the one with the cold eyes. But he hadn’t come. Max awaited his return almost desperately…after all he was the only one who could tell him where Liz was and if she was okay.

He couldn’t put his worry into perspective. With each moment that passed he became increasingly convinced that Liz was in danger. He found himself sluggishly pacing the length of the small room like a caged animal. He had to get to Liz. She was all he could think of. It didn’t enter his mind to worry about Maria, Michael or Isabel because he was sure they were safe. They had gotten away, just as he had wanted. But Liz… Max hadn’t seen her since they’d brought him to this place. He didn’t even know for sure if she was still alive.

Max feared that possibility even more than he feared the men who came in and gave him daily injections, even more than he feared the electric shock treatments they were so fond of inflicting. He had been systematically beaten, terrorized and drugged since he’d arrived. There was no definitive way to even determine how long he’d been there. He only knew that it was the first time in…forever, it seemed…that no one had come for him. Besides the person who administered his daily sedative Max had been alone.

The realization was a relief and yet frightening all at once. Without the constant pressuring for answers he could not give Max finally had time to think. His existence was no longer reduced to an hourly quest for survival. But with that much needed time for thought came anxiety and a rising fear as that Liz was not okay.

Max always asked the man about Liz whenever he made the daily stop to taunt him. Of course, Max was never told. The man seemed to delight in Max’s ignorance. He liked that he knew everything about Max and Max knew absolutely nothing about him. But he was wrong. Was it the other day or just hours ago, Max couldn’t know for sure. But when he had supposedly been unconscious, after a beating for his “willful stubbornness,” he had been, in actuality, listening carefully to the men above him as they secured his limp body into the arm and leg restraints. He knew the name of his captor now. DeVoe.

Yes, he had a name but what could he do with it. He wasn’t even entirely sure that those who had taken him were indeed the feds. The name didn’t mean anything to him now, couldn’t do anything for him. And even if it could the fog of Max’s brain could only produce a hazy image of DeVoe at best. Max might know the man’s name, but ironically would be unable to describe his features if asked. The drugs they were giving him made life appear almost surreal.

No he didn’t know what DeVoe looked like, but what Max did remember, and with startling clarity, was his eyes, cold, unyielding slate gray eyes. If ever there were eyes of a killer, DeVoe definitely had them. Max shuddered involuntarily and quickly found a corner and folded himself into it, still shaking a little.

He had recognized the ruthlessness in DeVoe’s eyes immediately and it was now, when he was finally free to think, that he began to consider the possibility that Liz might be dead. Max pressed his hand over his mouth and rocked back and forth, fighting back the wave of nausea that overwhelmed him. Liz couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t. If she was he would feel it…know it. If she were dead then he would die himself.

Max realized that he had to find a way to make DeVoe tell him where Liz was without getting them both killed. The not knowing was going to drive him crazy. Max needed to know that she was safe. He needed to hold her in his arms and touch the silken strands of her hair and know that she was alive and whole. And then he needed to thrust her as far as possible out of his life.

It was completely his fault that she was there. They would have never taken her were it not for him. And Max already knew the terror and uncertainty he had suffered at their hands…he couldn’t imagine what they would do to Liz…or what they had already done.

Max ground his head back against the white tiled walls. He had to get out of this place. He had to. But even as his brain hammered the urgency of that need Max had no idea how to begin to put a plan into motion. His powers were useless. Whatever drugs they were giving him had rendered his concentration ineffective and that was the basis for his abilities.

He remembered with a shudder the one time he had attempted to use his powers. As DeVoe had leaned over him, whispering evil threats into his ear, Max had grabbed the sides of his head between his hands and tried valiantly to gather his powers. He would have crushed his head like a coconut had he been able. It hadn’t been Max’s intention to kill DeVoe at first, but the instant Max touched him the desire overwhelmed him. But could he do it? In that moment he wasn’t sure. He only knew he wanted the pain to stop.

But DeVoe had only laughed and shrugged off Max’s weak hold before straightening. “Now Max,” he had tsked in that cool, smug tone he always used, “you don’t think I would keep you here without being absolutely certain that I had your powers under control, now do you?”

“Just please tell me where Liz is,” Max heard the desperation in his plea and he tried to strengthen it by adding, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Hurt me?” DeVoe had repeated silkily, “Hurt me? I believe your kind has hurt me more than enough…I’d say it’s my turn to do the hurting now.”

He had left then but Max knew better than to expect his terror to be over. A few moments later the men filed into the room, dressed in orderlies uniforms. Max knew immediately that they weren’t there to administer drugs. They had beaten him until he couldn’t stand anymore and when he finally crumpled to the ground they given him a few hard kicks in the kidneys for good measure.

When it was all over Max lay in a small pool of his own blood for a long time. He couldn’t move, didn’t want to, his body was in such agony. He didn’t need a mirror to know that both his eyes were swelled completely shut. He suspected that his nose was broken. He’d heard the crunch as one of the orderly’s fist made contact with his face. Fluid, that he could only assume was blood, dripped onto his swollen lips.

His arm was also broken. He only realized that because it hung awkwardly at his side when he tried to sit up. That’s when the pain hit him. Max had cradled the forearm against his belly in an agony he had never known before, not even when Kyle’s friends had beat the crap out of him outside the Crashdown.

He had huddled in a pitiful ball, moaning in pain and outright fear, his broken body trembling uncontrollably. Later, when he had regained his composure some, he tried to heal his wounds but with no success. It wasn’t until Max was due for another sedative that one of his captors finally took pity on him and set his broken arm and nose. It was the last time that Max would threaten DeVoe.

DeVoe had sought to teach Max a lesson and Max had learned it. From that moment forward Max had tread cautiously about the man. He continued to ask after Liz but now with considerable meekness as opposed to his earlier rebellious demands. It wasn’t so much that Max feared what DeVoe would do to him if he became defiant again, but what he would do to Liz. DeVoe had made it plain time and time again that it would not bother his conscience to hurt or kill Liz, if it meant bringing Max under his control.

And so it was an endless cycle of terror. Max wanted to escape, wanted to save Liz, but feared that any move on his part would result in their deaths. What made the situation ever more unbearable was that his and Liz’s sufferings had gained them absolutely nothing. The evidence he, Michael and Isabel had all been so hard pressed to attain had been taken from Liz before they’d even had the chance to gauge its importance. It was now in the hands of the men who’d taken them and that was a sure guarantee that neither Max nor Liz would ever learn what Claudia Parker had been hiding beneath her bedroom floor all those years. There was only the key now, and Max couldn’t be completely sure these men hadn’t found it as well.

Max was startled from his thoughts by the unexpected swooshing of the automatic door to his cell, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound as it automatically locked after his visitor entered. He folded himself even tighter into the corner when he recognized who that visitor was.

Agent DeVoe strode inside dressed in his usual expensively tailored, dark suit. He was always impeccable in his appearance, always perfectly groomed, perfectly controlled. Max regarded him warily. “I see you’re healing quite nicely. My men tell me that you’ve suddenly refused to eat,” he remarked as if Max were a guest in his hotel, “Is there a problem with the food?”

Is there a problem, Max silently screamed, is there a problem? Of course, there’s a problem! You’re holding me hostage and terrorizing me and my girlfriend! That’s the problem! But Max didn’t say any of the things he was thinking, instead he mumbled, “I’m not very hungry.”

DeVoe strode over to the discarded tray Max had left near the door, retrieved it and brought it back over to Max, setting it before him. He crouched down low, so that he and Max were at eye level. “You should eat, Max,” he advised with a frosty smirk, “I wouldn’t want you dying of malnutrition.”

“Isn’t that your intention?” Max ground out before he could stop himself, “To kill me? Isn’t that what you want?”

“It’s never been my intention to kill you, Max,” DeVoe countered smoothly, “No, I’ve got much more interesting plans for you.”

Max cringed inwardly at the delight he saw displayed on DeVoe’s face, however, he schooled his expression to remain impassive. DeVoe wanted to see his fear, Max realized. He reveled in it. Max was determined not to give him the satisfaction.

After staring at him for a prolonged, intense moment DeVoe finally shrugged lightly. “I thought I might drop by and bring you a bit of happy news,” he told Max.

“You’re releasing Liz and me,” Max guessed sarcastic glumness, knowing full well that was not the “happy news.”

“Sadly, no,” DeVoe rebutted but without a hint of regret, “You and Ms. Parker are probably destined to spend the rest of your lives here serving as glorified lab rats for me and my associates. However, I have arranged for you to see her…,” Max perked up, his eyes filling with hope, “…for a price.”

Max slumped back against the wall. He should have known. Max had learned quickly that nothing came for free with this man; there was always a price to be paid. “Why should I believe you?” Max asked tentatively, “You told me before if I answered your questions you’d take me to Liz…but you haven’t.”

“I said if you answered my questions truthfully,” DeVoe corrected, “Which you have not. But I’m willing to give you another chance.” He reached inside his suit jacket and produced a small manila envelope and a remote like device. For the moment he set the strange device aside and opened the envelope, pulling free the photograph inside. DeVoe passed the photo to Max, but Max only stared at it mutely, unwilling to touch it. It was the autopsy photograph of Charles Atherton.

“You know who this is,” DeVoe prompted tersely. Max nodded, too frightened to lie, and lowered his eyes. “Take it!” DeVoe barked, his eyes glittering. Only when Max lifted his shaking hand to take the photo did DeVoe’s features soften. DeVoe moved to his feet and stared down at Max, watching him carefully for any reaction, “Notice he has the same silver handprint on his chest that you left on Liz Parker when you healed her?” Max said nothing. DeVoe was undaunted. “I know you didn’t kill Charles Atherton, Max…but someone like you did,” his voice lowered to a tense whisper, “I want to find him.

When Max didn’t respond DeVoe lost his composure and he suddenly lunged at Max, hauling him to his feet and slamming him back against the wall with such force Max grunted. He bit his lip to keep from crying out at the pressure DeVoe exerted against his bruised ribs. “Do you have any idea what was done to him?” he demanded, jerking his head toward the fallen photograph, “His vital organs were liquefied…as if a bomb had exploded inside him! Whatever killed him had reduced his innards to jelly!”

“I don’t know about that,” Max responded calmly, but his stomach was turning at the picture that DeVoe had painted for him.

“You fucking little liar,” DeVoe hissed menacingly, pressing Max ever more painfully against the wall, “I’d kill you this instant if I thought it would give me a bit of satisfaction! Charles Atherton wasn’t just another body…he meant something to me. I’ll find his killer…if I have to break you inch by agonizing inch to do it.” Without warning, he released Max, letting him collapse to the floor. He then bent to retrieve the remote, clicking it once.

A gentle whirring sound filled the room and Max watched in horrified amazement as a portion of his cell wall began to lift away, revealing a two-way mirror. On the other side of the glass was Liz. Max struggled to his feet and staggered over to the mirror. He fingered the glass, drinking in the sight of her. “Liz,” he whispered. She was strapped onto a cot similar to his. At first glance she looked as if she were only sleeping, but then Max noticed how still she seemed. He pounded the glass with his fist. “Liz!” He pounded the glass harder. “Liz! Liz!”

“She can’t hear you,” DeVoe commented softly from behind him, “That glass is sound proof.”

Max spun to face him, his expression feral. Never in his life had he hated someone so much or had such an innate, instinctive desire to kill. He clenched his fists so tightly his nails made crescent crease marks in his palms. “What have you done to her?”

“I could do a great deal worse if I chose to.” When Max would have launched himself at DeVoe, his captor held up his hand with a smirk of amusement. “If you do it, I’ll have you beaten to the floor before you’re within two feet of me. Relax, Max, she’s not dead…just unconscious. She doesn’t have as strong a constitution for shock therapy as you do. Four zaps and she was out,” he added almost laughingly.

Max’s features crumpled at the mention of Liz being tortured because of him. “Please don’t hurt her anymore,” he begged brokenly, his tears falling freely onto his cheeks, “I’ll do whatever you want…just don’t hurt her anymore.”

“You really do love her, don’t you?” DeVoe breathed thoughtfully, “I hadn’t considered that you creatures would be capable of such emotion.”

“I’m a human being,” Max stated mutinously, “If anyone’s a creature, it’s you.”

“That’s debatable, Max.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Tell me where to find the fourth alien,” DeVoe ordered intensely, “Tell me and I’ll make sure the Parker girl is kept safe. She’ll never be hurt again.”

Max felt sick. In that moment, he would have gladly given DeVoe the information if he had it. Anything to keep Liz from being harmed further. “I don’t know where he is.”

“You’re lying to me.”

“I’m not!” Max insisted desperately, “I don’t even know who he is! I swear it!

“Just like you swear you’re human,” DeVoe countered coolly.

Max could feel his chance to save Liz slipping away. “The murder happened in 1959…I…I didn’t even exist then. I can’t tell you what you want to know.”

DeVoe’s expression became remote, his gray eyes chilly. “I don’t like being made a fool of, Max. I’ve given you chance after chance and you’ve yet to show any appreciation,” he said and then he sighed, “I suppose you’ve left me with no other options.”

He turned to leave and Max rushed after him in a panic, chilled thoroughly by DeVoe’s words. “Wait! What are you saying! I told you the truth, damn you! I told you the truth!” DeVoe hadn’t exaggerated. Max hadn’t gotten within two feet of him before two medics came rushing in and roughly wrestled him to the ground. “No! No more drugs! No! NOOOOOO!” But it was too late. They were already pressing the syringe into his arm. The medicine flowed warmly through Max’s veins and he sagged in their arms, powerless against the sedative’s effect.

Outside the cell, DeVoe leveled his implacable gaze on the uniformed soldier guarding Max’s cell door. “I want the Parker girl disposed of immediately,” he ordered dispassionately, “Come to me when it’s done.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:39:00 PM
Chapter 25

“…I didn’t see her standing there until it was too late. She had witnessed the killing and transformation as well. I might have eliminated her then, but she began to scream. Instead, I fled the house. I did not look back,” Zrei finished his emotionless monologue and clasped his hands together atop the table. Unlike the previous night, his voice did not cause the dreadful shaking it had before when he spoke aloud, but sounded curiously normal. His eyes were normal as well. Blue, non-descript, ordinary eyes. Michael, Isabel and Maria wondered over the change, but hadn’t had the courage to question him about it.

After spending the night in a remote cabin Zrei had in the woods they had all risen shortly before noon that morning and stopped at a local Denny’s to eat, reenergize and strategize Max and Liz’s rescue. Although the cabin hadn’t had much in the way of modern comfort the girls had been grateful merely to have a hot shower and decent bedding for a night. It was only after they’d eaten and showered that anyone considered the possibility of Isabel dreamwalking Max. Using a picture of him that she kept in her purse, Isabel tried to communicate with her brother in a dream walk. An hour had gone by without results before she finally decided to call it a night.

Isabel absolutely refused to believe that Max had come to harm. Instead she had focused valiantly on the positive. Max was strong and he was smart, he would definitely be able to keep his head cool until they rescued him. And the chances were limited that he had come to any dire harm already. The feds would probably want to study him initially and run tests. It wouldn’t serve any real purpose to kill him directly. At least, Isabel hoped not.

Eventually, however, exhaustion had pretty much overtaken her and sleep became an issue that Isabel could no longer ignore. But now it was a new morning and with it came worry for her brother. She was clean and her stomach was full. Now she wanted answers.

And now the three of them all sat crowded together on one side of the booth, listening and staring across the table at Zrei as he told them the story as to how he’d come to murder Charles Atherton. Michael frowned at him in shock and anger. “So you mean to tell me that not only did you kill Charles Atherton in cold blood all those years ago, but you had a witness to it as well?” Michael massaged his temple. “God, I need a smoke.”

“It was not my intention,” Zrei responded remotely, “I did not realize his daughter was present at the time.”

“Well, it’s too damned bad you didn’t realize,” Michael gritted, “We’ve got Roswell’s sheriff breathing down our necks because of what you did!” Michael now understood that the FBI was watching them not only because of what Max had done for Liz in the Crashdown, but also because of their possible connection to Zrei, an alien killer they had been hunting for over forty years.

“But did you have to kill him,” Isabel asked softly, “Wasn’t there another way?”

“I had trusted Charles with the truth about myself. I believed him to be my friend…but he was not. I had to protect myself…and you.”

“Yeah, what about us, Zrei,” Michael demanded in an underbreath, “If you were so busy thinking about us where were you all those years before we came out the pods? Why didn’t you protect us…from the feds…from everyone who might hurt us?” From Hank, Michael finished silently. “You were our protector…that’s what you said, so why didn’t you protect us! It’s your fault that Max and Liz got snatched!”

“After Atherton’s murder I tried to run away, but I was soon captured and…my brief time in captivity was extremely damaging, but eventually I did escape. I ran to a colony and hid there.”

“A colony?” Isabel repeated blankly.

“I told you that there are others,” Zrei reminded her gently, “We band together rather than scatter. We are stronger in large numbers. They hid me…healed me.”

“And then?” Michael prompted.

“When it was safe I would journey to New Mexico to ascertain your condition. For many years you did not emerge and I began to fear you never would.”

“Well…why didn’t you move us…take us to the-the colony, then?” Isabel asked.

“It was too dangerous,” Zrei replied, “I could not risk your being damaged further.”

“So what? You didn’t think we were going to hatch and you just never came back?” Michael demanded, “What?”

“I did come back,” Zrei stated, “But you had already emerged. I had no idea where you had been taken or where I could find you. I was not entirely sure that you were alive. But then Max saved the human in the café and I knew where to find you…so I watched you from afar. I meant to come to you when the time was right and tell you of your past.”

“How did you know about what Max did for Liz at the Crashdown?” Isabel asked, suddenly realization the deeper implication of what he’d just revealed.

“I was there that day,” Zrei replied laconically, “It was what humans call a ‘coincidence’.”

“It too damned bad you didn’t do anything about our situation then, when you found us, instead of waiting,” Michael countered bitterly, “Maybe Max and Liz would be with us now and not captives of the Federal Government.”

Zrei calmly reached into his pocket and retrieved a packet of Tic Tacs, shaking two into his hand before tossing them back casually. “I have told you that I will retrieve them…and I will. I will take you to them tonight once we have formed a plan,” Zrei responded with calm indifference.

Maria, finally at the end of her rope with FBI conspiracies, alien killers, and being on the run, finally snapped. “Okay, that’s it! I’ve had it. I want to know why you’re stalling!” she demanded loudly, “Right now!”

Isabel grabbed hold of her elbow, gently pulling Maria back down in her seat. “Maria, calm down,” she said from the corner of her mouth, “You’re drawing attention.”

“I don’t care,” Maria ground out, but her words were infinitely softer this time, “I want to know why we’re sitting here instead of going after Liz and Max. I have, like, a million questions and I want to have some answers not cryptic alien mumbo jumbo!”

“What sort of questions?” Zrei asked serenely.

Maria narrowed her eyes, finding his lack of emotion distasteful. “For one thing why are you popping those Tic Tacs like there’s no tomorrow? For the last eight hours I’ve watched you go through a pack and a half. No one’s breath can be that bad!” Maria drew in a breath before continuing; “Secondly, what makes you so sure you can find Max and Liz. You say you can, but the truth is you don’t know where the feds have taken them anymore than we do! And another thing…what’s with all the shifting and changing and stuff…I mean, one minute your eyes are all black and you’re vibrating the car and then the next…presto…you’re normal…it’s, like, freaking me out!” Maria could feel Michael and Isabel’s icy glares of disapproval but she mutinously ignored them.

“I do know where they have been taken,” Zrei countered quietly, “because I have been there before…many years ago. It will require strategy to retrieve them.”

Maria threw up her hands in annoyance. “Oy, again with the cryptic responses.”

Zrei pointedly ignored her, focusing instead on Isabel and Michael, who were his chief concern. He tolerated Maria in deference to their feelings but were it left to him he would have abandoned her long ago. She was mercurial and flighty and such a person was dangerous to their well-being. Besides that he couldn’t fathom at all how they endured her endless chatter.

Zrei reached into his breast pocket and laid the packet of Tic Tacs on the table and lowered his voice to a whisper. “These are not Tic Tacs,” he informed Michael and Isabel, eyeing Maria in distaste, “Look closer.” The three teenagers leaned over the table for closer inspection of the packet, realizing its contents were the little white mints they had assumed, but silver caplets instead. They seemed incandescent, almost liquid.

“What are they?” Isabel breathed.

Zrei smoothly pocketed the packet before answering Isabel’s question. “They help me to maintain my form. I must take them frequently or I lose the ability. It is why I was unable to maintain my metamorphosis the previous night, the night you hit me. Without them I would resume my Antarian form in a matter of hours.”

“You can’t maintain your shape automatically,” Isabel asked.

“Once I could…but no more. A result of my brief stay in the federal government’s custody as one of the lab rats to their many experiments. These people who have your brother are dangerous…it is the reason I must be cautious. I cannot risk being captured a second time.”

“What sort of experiments?” Michael demanded gruffly, but he already suspected the answer and the realization scared the hell out of him.

Zrei leaned across the table, his voice barely audible when he said, “Max and your friend are in jeopardy. The FBI is trying to hide much more than you realize. We must get to them…and quickly.” He sat back in his seat, surveying the faces of the three teenagers before him with the utmost seriousness. “I have a plan.”

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

“I’ve rescinded your order to have the Parker girl killed.”

Marcus DeVoe swiveled around in his desk chair to find his old college roommate and associate, Dr. David McCormick, standing in front of his desk. At the moment, however, he was not pleased to see him. “You did what?” DeVoe repeated in fury. “Since when do you have the authority to override my direct orders?”

“Since you began letting your personal feelings interfere with your job, that’s when,” McCormick informed him rationally, bracing his hands against the gleaming wood of the oak desk, “You’re jeopardizing your position as head of this unit.”

“How exactly am I jeopardizing my position by doing what I’m paid to do,” DeVoe responded impassively.

“Dev, this is me, okay. I know how important it is to you to find your grandfather’s killer…but this isn’t the way.”

DeVoe gave up the pretense, his glacial eyes losing their innocence. “This isn’t just about finding the bastard alien who killed my grandfather. It’s about much more. My mother spent her life in and out of mental institutions because of witnessing what that psycho freak did.” His jaw hardened in remembrance. “She couldn’t even be a mother to me, dammit. Whoever killed my grandfather didn’t just snuff out his life, but destroyed my mother’s and mine as well.”

“Dev, I know this already,” McCormick reminded him soothingly, “And I told you…once we get everything squared away with the Project I’d help you track this psycho down personally. But it has to come second to our mission. You never should have taken Parker in the first place. It wasn’t part of the plan. Besides murdering a teenage girl is not going to accomplish your goal.”

“I took her to use as leverage against, Evans. However, my plan hasn’t been as effective as I had hoped…and when is doing my job suddenly considered committing murder?”

“There’s no good reason for you to have the Parker girl killed.”

“It is when she’s a threat to national security,” DeVoe countered icily.

McCormick snorted. “Threat my ass! That girl has no idea the real reason she’s here and you know it!” He straightened suddenly, dragging his hand down the length of his face. “You know I don’t like this. My misgivings about involving the Parker girl have steadily increased since we took her and especially since you insisted I give her that damned serum.”

“But she was lying, Mac, or did you forget?” DeVoe reminded derisively.

“She was just trying to protect her boyfriend…that’s no reason to kill her.”

“You’re always reminding me of my duties, Mac,” DeVoe smirked unsympathetically, “Now let me remind you of yours. Our job is to break Max Evans, pure and simple. I’ll do whatever’s necessary to accomplish that goal.”

“By terrorizing teenage girls?”

“I’m accomplishing our orders, doing my job. That should please you,” DeVoe corrected with a shrug, “Besides it’s not the first time we’ve had to sacrifice human life. It comes with the territory.”

“Parker and Douglass were different,” McCormick argued, “They were a threat to national security and besides that they were old…it wasn’t like they had years to live anyway. We were doing them a favor. This girl…Liz Parker…she doesn’t know anything. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I honestly don’t think she knows about any of the secrets her grandmother was hiding, despite the evidence she had when we found her.”

DeVoe choked out a laugh. “My God, she’s gotten to you, hasn’t she?”

“I happen to have a heart…unlike others I know,” McCormick retorted pointedly.

“What is it about this girl, I wonder,” DeVoe mused aloud, “You’d think her snatch was made of gold.”

“Shove it up your ass, Dev! It’s called compassion…you should try it,” McCormick ordered flatly, “We both know that this has nothing to do with that girl and everything to do with your frustration with Max Evans. You can’t hurt him, not really anyway…so you hurt her instead.”

“He’s holding back on me…I know it,” DeVoe muttered, more to himself than to his friend. And then he glared up at McCormick. “Which was the precise reason I issued my order to have her killed. If her death doesn’t get him to talk to me I don’t know what will.”

“Well, then you owe me a debt of gratitude because killing Ms. Parker would have been a colossal mistake for two reasons.”

“And what reasons would those be,” DeVoe bit out sarcastically.

“Number one…I don’t believe Evans is lying to you,” McCormick began reasonably, “You’ve got that boy scared shitless…he wouldn’t piss without your order. Besides that, he loves that girl…there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to protect her. If he knew about the fourth alien he’d tell you.” DeVoe was silent for a moment, contemplating his friend’s logic. And then he nodded, encouraging him to go on. “And number two…Liz Parker’s test results came back today.”

“And?”

“And…she’s what’s gonna save our asses and this Project,” McCormick announced triumphantly, “It’s happening just like I suspected from the beginning. She’s mutating, Dev.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:40:05 PM
Chapter 26

“Are you sure there’s no other recourse?”

“I just received the orders this morning by fax. They want her terminated today. There was really no point in keeping her on life support anyway…she’s hasn’t shown any brain activity since those first few minutes after she emerged. You know how impatient they’ve been with your progress.”

“What do they expect of me?” Marcus DeVoe snapped furiously, “She’s in a damned coma! I can’t wish her out.”

“It doesn’t matter,” McCormick replied brusquely, “They’ve decided to go with Parker instead.”

“Parker? What has she got to do with this?” DeVoe repeated in confusion, “How do they even know I have her in the first place?” McCormick averted his eyes guiltily. “Thanks so much, Mac,” DeVoe bit out sarcastically.

McCormick heaved a defensive sigh. “I faxed them her test results last night, as I should have. I have a job to do here, Dev, and so do you. I’ve told you time and again that your personal agenda has got to come second.”

“Don’t remind me!” DeVoe barked in interruption, “I can’t believe it,” he muttered further, “Parker? Christ!”

“You should be grateful,” McCormick said to him, “If it weren’t for the fact Parker is useful to them your career would have been ruined by now. You’re already on thin ice for the stunt you pulled with the Raymond woman as it is.”

“I’m protecting their precious anonymity…isn’t that what they want? This latest order is their way of reminding me who’s in control.” And if it was one thing that Marcus DeVoe absolutely detested, it was being controlled.

DeVoe now stared down at the experiment he’d been struggling to maintain for the last sixteen years of his life, reluctant to end it. He had never expected the development to begin with, but it had been just the thing he needed to catapult him into his current position. And now it was slipping away.

He traced his finger along her pale face, watching with wonder and sadness as the oxygen machine pumped air in and out her lungs. Her small chest rose and fell in erratic beats, jerky and unnatural. DeVoe had only seen her eyes open once, in that one brief instant after she’d first emerged from the pod. They were blue, the startling color of pansies in the sunlight. He had never seen eyes so brilliant, but then she’d gone into cardiac arrest and those brilliant eyes closed…never to open again.

“I don’t understand how you can feel such compassion for this poor misbegotten creature, yet be devoid of even an ounce of sympathy for Liz Parker, a fellow human being. It’s obscene, Dev,” McCormick remarked, staring down at the small face that held his friend so enraptured. He didn’t understand the pull. All he saw was a malformed girl who looked no older than six but whose chronological age was actually nine.

“You don’t understand, Mac,” DeVoe remarked softly, “She was a fighter. They had put her away in the lab, for God’s sake, for experimentation and dissection! She had been filed away, forgotten… When she broke out of that pod the lab techs almost shit a brick.”

“You don’t have to remind me…I was there.”

DeVoe looked at him then, his face actually softened with tender feeling. “Then I don’t have to tell you how much I don’t want to bag her. It’s like admitting defeat.”

McCormick clapped his hand onto his friend’s shoulder. “I don’t mean to sound heartless, Dev, but she’s probably worth more to us dead than alive.”

DeVoe shrugged off McCormick’s hand, his expression becoming remote once more. “You do sound heartless. This is an alien life form, Mac. She’s been federal property for over fifty years…how do you let something like that just die?” he mused aloud, “This being launched my career. She’s the reason I even have this job. ”

“No, you have this job because you kicked ass to get it,” McCormick argued, “Not because you kept this sickly little creature alive for the last ten years.” At his friend’s granite hard expression McCormick relented somewhat. “For what it’s worth, medically speaking, even if we had been able to successfully impregnate her I don’t believe she would have carried the fetus to term or even if the pregnancy would have been viable.”

“There’s no reason-,”

“It’s a waste of time and money,” McCormick interrupted, “Liz Parker is our best hope right now. Besides you’re not focusing on the positive. This might finally be our chance to clean up the mess that began in 1930 and finally get control of that insidious menace we found.”

DeVoe sighed his consent. “Fine. But I’ll be the one to take her off life support, is that clear? No one else is to touch her.”

“It’s for the best,” McCormick advised sagely, “She was never a practical candidate fore the Project to begin with.”

“I’ll take care of it,” DeVoe replied stonily.

He almost did a double take when he spied the abnormal sheen in DeVoe’s eyes. “I guess you’re not as heartless as you’d have us all believe,” McCormick smirked.

DeVoe favored him with an icy glare. “So when shall we begin the experiment with Evans and the Parker girl? What’s the time table?”

“They want results as soon as possible,” McCormick told him, “The drug is being primed for use as we speak. But remember that it’s untested. I have no idea what sort of side effects it might have so we need to be prepared.”

“As long as it doesn’t kill him…I don’t give a damn,” DeVoe replied with his usual lack of concern, “All that matters now is that Liz Parker becomes pregnant, after all, those are our orders, aren’t they?”

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

Max instinctively cringed when the door to his cell swooshed open. Nevertheless, he shot to his feet when Liz was suddenly and unexpectedly carried into his room. Max barely noticed as the orderlies made their quiet exit because his eyes were focused solely on her. He ran over to her crumpled form and gathered her next to him, laying her back against his immobile arm. As he gently brushed her hair away from her face he rained small kisses over her cheeks, her forehead, her eyes. He didn’t notice any marks or bruises so her lack of consciousness doubly alarmed him. “Liz,” he whispered, “Liz, can you hear me? Liz, it’s Max.” He kept speaking to her, calling her name with gentle insistence until her eyes finally fluttered open.

“Max?” she groaned groggily.

Max almost sobbed with relief and cradled her head closer against his chest. “Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been about you?” he admonished tearfully.

Liz gradually became more alert, realizing with dawning clarity that Max was there with her. “Oh my God, Max!” She lifted her trembling hand to his battered face, cradling his cheek with her palm. “God, I thought I’d never see you again,” she sobbed with a tearful smile.

“No such luck,” Max joked brokenly, “You’re stuck with me now.”

“Are we out? Are we free?” Liz asked suddenly, lurching in his arms as she struggled to sit up. However, she quickly realized that the scenery had not changed that much since before she’d lost consciousness the previous evening. Liz felt a tremor run down her spine with the memory of those electrical currents coursing through her body. Never in her life had she known pain like that. She hoped she never would again.

While she was unconsciousness, she had dreamed that they’d finally found a way to escape. She had awoken with the full expectation that she and Max would be free. But reality was something altogether different. The four white walls remained the same, but with one significant, welcome difference. Max was there. She looked at him then, for the first time through lucid eyes and what she saw caused her throat to constrict.

He looked like a survivor of The Hundred Year’s War or more aptly, the hundred year’s beating. His face was discolored with bruises, some had faded to a sick green, while others still a brilliant purple-blue. Dark blue bruises darkened the delicate skin under his eyes, which were slightly puffy and bloodshot, but even that couldn’t distract from the joyful light shining in those honey colored depths as he looked at her. Her eyes traveled downward and she saw that his arm was in a sling and that he was dressed in the same white scrubs that she’d been given. Fresh tears welled in Liz’s eyes as she beheld him and she gently reached forward to trace the bruise at the corner of his mouth. “What have they done to you?” she whispered in agony.

Max grabbed hold of her hand, placed a fervent kiss to her palm. “Nothing that won’t heal,” he told her gently.

Liz smiled into his eyes, miserable and joyous all at once. “I can’t believe I’m here with you…it seems like I’ve waited forever.” She paused to take several deep breaths, fighting to control her tears. “I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry, Max.” Liz couldn’t help but feel that all this was her fault. If she had never taken him that damned picture…

But Max knew where her thoughts were going and he brought his finger against his lips as if she’d spoken them aloud. “Don’t do that, Liz,” he said softly, “What’s happening now is not your fault.”

“Then whose fault is it,” Liz countered morosely, “I’m the one that began this wild goose chase, remember?”

“You didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to,” Max insisted and before she could argue further he added, “What’s done is done. It’s counterproductive to dwell on what we can’t change anyway.”

“I guess,” Liz mumbled. She looked at him from beneath her lashes, unable to suppress her grimace of pity. She couldn’t imagine all the injuries he possibly had that she couldn’t see, but from what she could see she supposed he must be in a great deal of pain.

Her look didn’t escape Max’s notice. He lowered his head and emitted a self-deprecating laugh. “I know I must look like hell.”

“Not like hell…actually,” Liz hedged gently, “but…not so good either. Why haven’t you healed it, Max? And your bruises, too? They look pretty raw.” She skimmed her fingers tenderly across his broken arm.

“I tried that,” Max explained, “Whatever they’re dosing me with is suppressing my powers. I barely have the strength to lift a spoon to feed myself much less heal my broken body. I definitely can’t get us out of here. Some knight in shining armor I am…”

Liz heard the shame and defeat in his tone and it broke her heart. She rapidly blinked back her tears, knowing the last thing Max wanted or needed from her was pity. “It’s okay, Max. These people obviously know more about you than you know about them.”

“I know one thing,” Max confided in a hushed whisper, “I know the name of the man who’s taken us.”

“Who is he?”

“His name’s DeVoe and for some reason it’s his number one goal in life to find the alien who killed Charles Atherton.” Liz went perfectly still, a hazy memory triggered in her brain.

“Where is the one who killed Charles Atherton, Ms. Parker? Who is he?”

“I…don’t…know!”


Liz snapped herself from her momentary reverie. “Do they think you know something, Max? That’s so ridiculous!” Liz exclaimed, “God, you weren’t even born…hatched yet.”

“Hatched?” Max repeated teasingly, “That’s an interesting way to phrase it.”

Liz swallowed back a giggle. It was the closest she’d come to laughing in days. “You know what I mean. I couldn’t think of a better word.”

Max’s smile abruptly faded and he was serious once more. “It may be ridiculous but DeVoe does think I know something. In fact…” He trailed off into silence, unsure of just how much he should reveal to her.

“In fact what?” Liz pressed.

Max sighed, his eyes skittering away. “He questioned me about it today. He…He thought I was lying to him and I…I thought for a moment he might kill you…but instead he brought you here…to me…” Max fell into thoughtful silence, for the first time wondering exactly why that was the case.

He could tell from Liz’s expression that she’d reached the exact same conclusion. “That is weird,” she mused aloud, “I’ve been asking after you for days and no one ever told me anything. It’s like they wanted me to think you were dead or something.”

“It’s been the same for me,” Max admitted.

“So then why would they suddenly put us together…just out of the blue?”

It was a valid question. One that Max definitely wanted the answer to. But at the same time, whatever reason Liz had been brought to him, whether malevolent or benevolent, he was grateful. “I don’t know,” Max said aloud, reaching out to caress her hair. It was hopelessly tangled and in disarray but to Max it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever beheld. “And I don’t care…I’m just glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Liz didn’t want to think about reality. She would have been content to sit there and nuzzle her cheek against his hand for the rest of her life. But she knew that, too soon, they would both be facing the terror once again. “How long, Max? How long will we be okay?”

Max regretfully dropped his hand, swallowing hard. “I don’t know.”

“Do you think they’re going to kill us?”

“No, I don’t think that,” Max stated with certainty, “If they wanted us dead they would have done it by now. All the mind games and the torture and the fear…that’s just to break our spirit.”

“For what?”

“I don’t have a clue,” Max remarked with a frustrated shrug, “But I do know this…DeVoe has an agenda. He wants something from us, Liz…you and me…I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. But I will.” He stared at her earnestly, his eyes transmitting his determination in a way words could not express. “I promise you, I will.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 10-Feb-2003 8:09:44 AM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:41:15 PM
Chapter 27

“Since when do they serve us grilled chicken and red skinned potatoes?” Max poked suspiciously at his chicken with his plastic fork. Liz laughed. She was glad from the change of the usual frozen dinners of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, which were never completely thawed. She might actually enjoy this meal for a change. “It seems a little suspect how they’re being so nice to us all of a sudden, but I guess food is food,” Max muttered under his breath.

Liz smiled at him, finding his paranoia oddly endearing. They had settled into a mild sense of comfort since she’d been brought to his cell earlier that morning. Afterwards they had known a quiet that neither of them had experienced since their capture. No one had come, in what seemed like hours, to administer drugs, run tests, or even randomly terrorize. They had been served breakfast shortly after Liz arrived and were subsequently left alone until lunch. And even then the orderly merely came inside, set down their trays and left. Max had called it the quiet before the storm.

“Well I don’t know about you,” Liz remarked as she removed the lid from her plate, “But I’m relieved not to have someone poking and prodding me at all hours of the day.”

Max took a bite of his chicken, chewing it thoughtfully. “Is that what they did to you all that time…poke and prod you?” Max knew he was treading on sensitive ground. Liz hadn’t been all too eager to discuss what had been done to her while they were separated. Max didn’t feel she was keeping quiet to shut him out, however, but he sensed that she was trying to spare his feelings. She probably suspected the guilt Max was already experiencing and she didn’t want to compound it. That was his Liz, always thinking of his happiness without giving a thought to her own. Max made a mental promise right then that if they ever escaped he would spend the rest of his life making it up to her.

Liz lowered her eyes, seemingly absorbed in smashing her small, round potatoes to mush with her fork. “Some…” she answered vaguely, “It’s…It’s not that important.” Then Liz shook her head in afterthought and amended, “No, no, it is and I know we’re going to have to talk about it sooner or later…I’d just rather it be later if that’s okay.”

Max offered her a gentle smile. “It’s okay,” he murmured. He deftly cut another piece of his chicken breast and popped it into his mouth.

“You’re getting good at that,” Liz noted aloud as she watched him close his eyes and savor the grilled chicken as if it were filet mignon.

Max finished chewing his chicken and asked after swallowing, “Getting good at what?”

“You know…doing things with one arm.” Max’s smile faltered slightly at her observation and Liz immediately wanted to kick herself for being so thoughtless. She expelled a self-deprecating sigh. “Oh, I am such an idiot, Max! I’m sorry. I have a tendency to speak first and think later…it’s an annoying habit of mine.”

He actually laughed at that. “It’s okay,” he assured her, patting her hand lightly, “In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened.”

“You’re glad I put my foot in my mouth or you’re glad your arm was broken?” Liz asked in bewilderment.

Max chuckled over the puzzled frown that wrinkled her forehead. “What I meant was I’ve lived most of my life in a bubble. Never getting sick, never really knowing what pain was like… I guess this has been a wake-up call.”

Liz flicked a sympathetic look towards his broken arm. “Some wake-up call.”

Max shrugged. “On the bright side with all the sedatives they pump in me…I hardly feel the pain. It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not,” Liz disagreed in quiet fury, “What kind of monsters are we dealing with that they would break a teenage boy’s arm?”

“That’s just it, Liz. I’m not a ‘teenage boy’ to them. I’m an it, a thing, a creature to be studied…that’s all.”

He tried to seem indifferent about the situation but Liz could see plainly how it tore him up inside. It was his worst fear come to life. To be viewed as a monster. Max had worked his entire life to achieve normalcy and now he had come to the realization that the effort had all been in worthless. Apparently, nothing he did or said, no matter how hard he wished, would make him acceptable. He would always be an outsider, an alien.

Liz watched as a myriad of emotions chased their way across Max’s face; anguish, shame, despair. She wanted desperately to hurt the people who had put them there. But that wasn’t an option so she did the next best thing. Liz did her utmost to make those emotions go away and replace them with good feelings. “These people, Max…they don’t mean anything, what they think or what they say. They don’t know you…not like I do.” She traced her fingers over the back of his hand, grazing his knuckles lightly with her fingernails.

Watching Liz’s hand play over his own, Max felt the first stirrings of inappropriate, but undeniable arousal. The desire to touch Liz had come so suddenly, so unexpectedly that Max shook his head lightly as if to clear it. He pulled his hand away, feeling both ashamed and confused by his impulsive feelings.

“What is it?” Liz whispered in concern, noting Max’s abrupt loss of color with rising apprehension, “Max, what’s wrong? Are you sick?”

“No,” he denied, rising to his bare feet and stepping a few feet away from her, “I’m…I’m just feeling a little dizzy.” But dizziness wasn’t at all what he was feeling. His skin was suddenly hot, sensitive. The soft cotton of the scrubs he was wearing was oddly irritating, scratchy against his flesh, but strangely arousing at the same time. He cleared his throat, fighting against the panic that threatened to rise in his chest. Something odd was changing in his body. He could feel it, something more than desire, something primal. Something alien. “Maybe I should lie down,” he said absently, stumbling over for the bed.

Liz moved gracefully to her feet and followed him, helping him to lie down on the cot even when he insisted he could do it alone. “You didn’t really eat much at breakfast today,” she reasoned, sitting down beside him so that their hips almost touched, “Maybe you just need to eat some more.”

“Maybe,” Max answered, but honestly he’d barely heard her. He was too fascinated by the faint outline her nipples created in the cotton material of her shirt. Her breasts, so tantalizingly close, were suddenly all he could focus on. Were they as soft as they appeared, he wondered. Max gritted his teeth and shifted onto his side, presenting Liz with his back. He huddled into a tight ball, hoping to hide his unanticipated erection.

Liz laid an alarmed hand against his shoulder. “Max, what is it? Why are you acting so strange? Should I call someone?”

An involuntary moan escaped Max as Liz’s hand came in contact with his shoulder. It was pleasant and yet maddening at the same time. His skin felt as if it was being pricked all over with tiny pins and the sensation was only amplified with her touch. “It hurts,” he moaned, curling himself into an even tighter ball, “My skin hurts…”

“Your skin hurts…” Liz repeated blankly and then her gaze drifted over to their trays. She had yet to take a bite, but half of Max’s chicken and potatoes was already gone. “Oh my God, Max! I think they must have poisoned our dinner or something!”

“Poison?” Max moaned, setting his teeth against the tide of sensual heat suddenly coursing through his body.

“Max, you need a doctor!” Liz told him urgently.

“No, no…,” Max groaned into his pillow. He didn’t need a doctor. He needed, he needed…god, it was so hot. Why was his skin so hot?

“I’m going to get someone,” Liz cried, jumping to her feet, but Max caught her arm in a surprisingly strong grip and spun her back to face him. It was then that she saw his eyes. They were burning with a light that was almost feral, roaming over her body in a manner that was hungry and desperate. Liz swallowed convulsively. “Max, what’s wrong with you?” she asked again, twisting her arm uneasily in his grasp. His hand only tightened further. “Max, you’re scaring me.”

That snapped him back to his senses. He saw the panic fluttering over her features and felt self-loathing eat through him like acid. Max quickly released her and scrambled upright, scooting himself to the opposite end of the cot furthest away from Liz. “A doctor can’t help me,” he told her warily. He shivered, trying to control the suddenly uncontrollable clamoring of his body. “I don’t think you should come near me.” He could feel himself spiraling; feel the power over his sanity slipping with each second. If she didn’t stop cornering him he’d lose his fight against touching her and then, God help them both…

“Come near you? Max, you’re talking crazy.” Liz slid closer to him, meaning only to brush away the strands of hair that had begun to cling to his perspiring forehead, but he reacted as if she’d electrocuted him.

Don’t touch me!,” he snapped out harshly, twisting away from her.

Liz flinched, but made no move to run away from him. “Max, you’re sick,” she said reasonably, “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I’m not sick,” Max gasped, his body trembling with each word, “I know what I’m saying and I want you to leave me alone!”

“Max, I just want to help you,” Liz whispered tremulously.

“You can’t,” Max moaned. He pressed his head into the wall almost in agony with the intense throbbing of his body.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Liz insisted gently. Her eyes were luminous with worry and so eager to please…

“I-I…I want…”

“You want what, Max? Tell me how I can help you.”

“I want…I want you.”

Liz went perfectly still, staring at Max as if he’d just sprouted a horn in the middle of his forehead. Her hand fluttered up to her throat. “You…you what?” she stammered hoarsely.

Max swallowed deeply and edged closer to Liz, his eyes hungrily drinking her in. “I don’t understand what’s happening to me, Liz. I just…I need to…to…”

“Max, I think you’re sick and you need a doctor,” Liz interrupted, rising cautiously to her feet, “I’m going to get you some help.”

Max moved with the quickness of a striking serpent. One moment he was on the cot staring up at Liz with glassy eyes, the next moment he was pressing her against the wall with his body, his arousal digging boldly into her hip. “You can help me, Liz,” Max whispered huskily, his eyes fastened on her mouth.

Liz’s throat worked spasmodically. Ignoring the dread filled hammerings of her heart, she fought to reason with herself. This was Max, gentle, sweet, shy Max. He would never hurt her. In fact, everything he had done for the last few weeks had been to protect her. She had to believe he wouldn’t hurt her now, no matter how weird he was acting. Still, when he pressed his erection against her she couldn’t suppress her moan, born partly out of fear and partly out of excitement. “Max, what are you doing?” she whispered slowly.

“I don’t know,” he whispered in return and it was the genuine confusion Liz heard in his voice that kept her from pushing him away. He lifted his hand and began sensually stroking the juncture of her shoulder. His fingers inched along the exposed skin before being replaced by his mouth.

Liz’s eyes involuntarily rolled closed for a second at the warm feel of his tongue playing over her sensitive flesh, before she remembered that what was happening between them was all wrong. She pushed lightly at his shoulders as his nibbling became more insistent. “Max, you have to stop.” But her order sounded weak, even to her own ears.

“I can’t…” Max moaned, slipping his hand beneath the thin cotton of her shirt to caress her bare breast. He stroked her nipple lightly with his fingertips. “I can’t stop.” He suddenly removed his sling and threw it to the ground, leaving his broken arm unsupported. And then he framed her face in his hands and captured her mouth in a breath-stealing kiss.

He devoured her, dipping his tongue into her mouth again and again, making her dizzy with each sweet foray. Max’s hands slid from her face, down to her shoulders, skimming once again over her breasts, cradling her hips against him without ever once breaking contact with her mouth. He lifted her legs and wrapped them around his waist, grinding his erection against her in aching want.

Liz was helpless to stop her body’s response to him. Between her legs she grew wet and sticky. Liz opened her mouth wider to his kiss, unconsciously meeting the gentle thrusts of his body against her sex.

And then the world tilted for Liz and she became aware that he was laying her against the cot, settling between her legs. It was the weight of his hard body bearing down between her thighs that jerked Liz from her sensual haze. She suddenly realized what they were doing and that they should stop.

“No, Max, what are you doing?” she burst out breathlessly, pushing firmly at his shoulders, “We can’t do this…not here…not this way…”

But he wasn’t listening to her. He was off in a world of his own, his eyes glassed over with determination for his purpose. Instead he grabbed her arms and pinned them above her head, holding them immobile with the weight of his cast. But Liz didn’t feel her first stirrings of panic until he reached between their bodies and began pushing her pants down her hips. “No, Max! Please, wait!” she said firmly, bucking against him, “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

“Please, Liz,” he panted against her cheek as his fingers played lightly at the sensitive juncture between her thighs, “Please don’t fight me…please…please don’t…”

Liz didn’t know if it was his unmitigated pleading or the knowledge that he truly didn’t want to hurt her that made her go limp beneath him. Whatever the reason, she stopped struggling, allowing her knees to fall apart freely for him, swallowing back her involuntary moan when she felt his fingers plunge inside her. She pulled her hands from beneath his imprisoning arm and wrapped her arms about his neck. With one hand she cradled his head down against her neck and closed her eyes, lying motionlessly as Max deliberately pushed her pants down past her knees.

“It’s okay, Max,” she gasped thickly against his throat when his body penetrated her deeply, “It’s okay.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:43:43 PM
Chapter 28

Liz couldn’t hate him.

She supposed she should after what he’d just done, but she couldn’t. It was strange, but she knew that somehow he had done more harm to himself than to her. In those few minutes he had only taken her innocence, but he had destroyed his own. But the knowledge only incited Liz’s pity, but not hatred, never hatred. She couldn’t hate him. Not when she knew the truth. Not when she knew that he would have never conceived of such a thing of his own volition. It was their fault. The monsters who had taken them hostage. They had violated them both, her and Max. They were both the victims.

Liz didn’t need anyone to tell her that Max regretted what happened. The moment it was over he had looked down at her and known instantly the enormity of his actions. His eyes had been shiny with tears of remorse and self-hatred. His face had been colorless and his entire body had trembled as he lifted himself from Liz’s still form. He had stumbled away from her to a distant corner of the room without a single sound and immediately become sick. Even long after he’d emptied the contents of his stomach onto the floor he had continued to dry heave, huddled on his knees while bracing his hands against the floor.

At first Liz had just watched him from the cot, blindly witnessing his silent anguish while completely lost in her own. The shock of what happened was still penetrating her brain. Between her thighs there was a painful burn, otherwise she might have been able to convince herself that she had dreamed the last surreal moments. She sat up gingerly and swung her legs over the side of the bed. A wave of vertigo washed over her and it was a long time before she made any further movement.

But eventually Liz wiped the tears from her cheeks and lifted her shaking body from the bed, pulling up her pants as she did. She carefully avoided looking at the bloodstains that marred the pristine white sheets and inched her way cautiously over to Max. Now that she had maintained something of a handle on her emotions, her chief concern was to comfort him. But she hadn’t even gotten within a foot of him before he begged her gruffly, “Please don’t come any closer to me, okay?”

“You’re sick, Max.” Hadn’t she uttered those exact same words to him only half an hour earlier and look where it had led? They both flinched in painful memory. Max averted his face, too ashamed to look at her. “I know it wasn’t your fault,” Liz said, moving cautiously closer, “They put something in your food…I know you didn’t mean to…”

A long, anguished groan tore from Max’s chest. “I raped you, Liz,” he moaned aloud and then instantly regretted it. Because saying the truth aloud made it real, made it so earth shatteringly real. He ground his forehead against the wall, hoping that the pain he inflicted upon himself would somehow ease his guilt and shame. “Oh god, oh god…”

“Max, please…” Liz begged plaintively, but she didn’t exactly know what she was asking for. She was so confused. Liz wanted so desperately to wipe away his hurt, while wishing just as desperately that he could soothe her own. Rape was such a harsh word. It sounded so ugly and cruel and there was nothing ugly or cruel about Max. He was one of the gentlest persons she had ever known, which was why she knew he was being torn up inside at that exact moment. He would have gouged out his eyes before he ever consciously hurt her.

No, rape was too harsh a term to describe what had happened between them. He hadn’t been brutal at all. He had whispered apologies in her ear the entire time, even as he drove his body into hers again and again. And she had wanted him, at least subconsciously. She had stopped fighting ultimately, had even found herself responding to him near the end. Maybe because she knew he wasn’t in control of his actions or maybe because she greatly wanted to give him what he craved so much.

His skin had been so hot, as if he had a fever. It had been reflected in his eyes. They had glowed like polished marble, shimmering and unseeing. He had looked at her and looked through her. He hadn’t been responsible. It was clear that he wasn’t in control at all. How could Liz possibly blame him when she knew that for the truth?

She swallowed her hesitation and knelt beside him, laying a tentative hand at the small of his back. “Let me help you,” she whispered.

He stiffened immediately at her touch and shook her off. “I don’t deserve your help,” he replied stonily, never once lifting his eyes to look at her face. He was afraid if he did he would see loathing and hatred reflected in her eyes, those eyes he loved so very much, and it would kill him. “Please, Liz, please…just leave me alone.”

“Are…Are you still feeling…you know…are you…” Liz trailed off in humiliated embarrassment. She wanted to help him, instinctively she did, but she didn’t have the strength to discuss the drives of his body, not so soon after…

“I’m under control now,” Max mumbled, turning his face aside. His body was still reacting to whatever drug they’d given him, his skin tingling yet, although with much less potency than before. But it didn’t matter, though. Max would die before he touched her like that again. “I’m all right now,” he assured her, “You can go to bed…I won’t…I won’t come after you again.”

Liz purposely ignored the last of his reassurance. “I-I don’t want to leave you like this.”

“I don’t want to talk anymore, Liz.”

“We have to,” she insisted, leaning down to see his face. She just needed to look in his eyes. She needed to know that he still loved her. Then everything would be all right. Liz could deal with anything as long as she knew that Max still loved her. “Will you please look at me?”

“I can’t,” Max sobbed, his tears trickling heedlessly to the floor.

“Max, I told you…I don’t blame you…I don’t,” Liz insisted tearfully. She pressed her forehead against his temple and whispered, “I love you…I love you so much.”

“Stop it!” He flinched away from her, curling himself into a tighter ball. “Just go to bed, okay.” He could feel her staring at him and he prayed that she would leave before he crumbled and turned to her for comfort. He didn’t deserve her comfort, her love, her decency…none of it. Because of his own weakness he had ruined them both and now there was no going back to the way things were before.

But in the end she didn’t leave him, but fell asleep, leaning against the wall, waiting for him to open up to her. Max didn’t sleep, however. He remained wide-awake, staring blindly ahead just shaking and shaking and shaking like he would never stop.


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

They came to get him a few hours later. He was routinely bathed, tested and returned to his cell. They had made no attempt to drug him afterwards, but Max had noticed that with only passing interest. He had already made up his mind. The next person to come near him with a syringe was dead. He didn’t care if it made him a cold-blooded killer, he was already a rapist so what did it matter? Nothing at all, that’s what! After what happened that afternoon nothing mattered anymore.

When he was returned to his cell, Liz was awake. She sat on the edge of the cot, waiting for him. The moment he was shoved inside she shot to her feet, her hands twisting nervously in the cotton material of her pants. She offered him a tentative smile, but despite that Max regarded her with dull eyes. “They-uh-came to change the sheets and took a urine sample…I hate those.” Max didn’t say anything, but merely sat down against he wall, drawing his knees up against his chest. “They cleaned up everything from earlier, too,” Liz pressed on valiantly, “It’s almost like it never happened.”

Max averted his gaze. “But it did,” he replied flatly.

Liz’s gaze pleaded with him, though he wouldn’t look at her directly. “We can pretend it didn’t if you want to,” she suggested desperately, “Just go on like before and forget it ever happened. I’d like that, Max. Let’s just forget it ever happened.”

Max swallowed painfully. “I’ll never forget it.”

Liz closed her eyes, blinking back her tears of frustration. “Max, I’m really trying here…”

“Just stop, okay. Let it go.” He rested his chin atop his knees and lowered his eyes. “I raped you. There it is…plain and simple. There’s no forgetting that.”

“Then…let’s just talk about something else!” The conversation wasn’t going as she had intended at all.

“What do you want to talk about?” His tone was dull, lifeless, defeated.

“Well, for one thing I don’t think we should eat anything else they serve us,” Liz told him; trying courageously to reclaim the camaraderie they had shared just a few hours before.

“I already figured that would be wise,” Max replied, “Whatever was in that food this afternoon was powerful stuff. We should definitely skip dinner.” The description “powerful stuff” was a definite understatement. He had felt as if he were outside his body, witnessing the horrifying things he was doing, but powerless to stop himself. It was an impotent feeling and Max never wanted to experience it again. “For some reason they wanted us to…” he took a deep breath before forcing himself to continue, “…to have sex this afternoon, otherwise they would have never slipped us a drug to promote…arousal.”

“So if I’d have eaten my food I would have felt like you?” Liz surmised aloud.

“Probably,” Max responded dully.

Liz frowned, irrationally angry with herself that she hadn’t eaten the chicken. She shook her head to free her mind of the ridiculous thought. “But why…why would they do that?”

“Because they want us to make a baby,” Max told her quietly, “I can’t think of any other reason they would have done that…except for the possibility that they’re sick perverts who get off on that sort of thing.”

His words made Liz’s heart lurch. She stumbled backwards and collapsed back onto the cot. “A baby?” she repeated in horrified wonder, her fingers playing nervously at her bottom lip, “Is that even possible? I mean…can I have your baby?”

“Maybe that’s what they’re trying to find out,” Max said, extremely uncomfortable with where the conversation was heading.

“How would you feel about that?” Liz asked him softly.

“About what?”

“If I were to get…you know…pregnant?”

Max’s stomach turned at the idea. Hadn’t he caused her enough pain already? The possibility that he might have saddled her with an unwanted child, an alien sideshow made him feel physically ill. “I doubt it’s likely,” he replied woodenly.

“But what if?” Liz insisted.

“You’re not, okay, so just drop it!”

Liz jumped at his sudden outburst and chewed nervously at her bottom lip. She could feel him pulling away from her, becoming even more remote than he had been before. The thought agonized and terrified her. Even after all that had happened she didn’t want to lose Max. She had to make him understand that she forgave him, that there was nothing really to forgive. Otherwise, his guilt and shame would only serve to drive a wedge between them forever.

“Have you tried using your powers at all?” Liz asked him, unable to bear his sullen silence any longer. Maybe if she kept him talking she could break through the emotional wall he was building against her.

He nodded morosely, averting his gaze once more. “Shortly before they came for me today…” Max replied, “They’re still gone…maybe they’re never coming back.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Like I’ve lost a part of myself,” Max admitted gruffly. The same way I feel over losing you. More aptly, he felt hollow inside, dead. The awful ache that had begun in his heart that afternoon had spread over his entire body, numbing him.

“They might still come back,” Liz told him optimistically.

“Maybe.”

It was his monosyllabic answer to her question that finally pushed Liz over the edge. She realized that they needed to straighten matters between them whether Max was ready or not. “Max, we need to talk about what happened between us earlier. If we don’t we’re never going to get past it and it will always be between us!”

“We’re not ever going to get past it, Liz!” Max exploded, “Even if you can forgive me, I can’t forgive myself!”

“Why not?” Liz retorted, her anger and hurt and humiliation finally bubbling to the surface, “You were as much as victim as I was! God, Max, I know you didn’t mean to do it, but instead of trying to work through it with me you’re just shutting me out!”

“Liz, I just can’t go on with you as if nothing happened,” Max groaned in anguish.

Liz went to kneel before him then and placed her hand under his chin, forcing his gaze to hers. “Don’t you realize that it would have always been you? No matter what happened. You didn’t take anything that wasn’t already yours.”

“Don’t say that,” Max whimpered shamefully.

“I wanted you to have it, Max,” she told him tearfully, “Even when I fought you…I wanted you to have it…if you wanted it that bad.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” he denied, struggling to turn away.

“Yes, I do,” Liz stated, holding his face captive between her hands, “If you turn away from me now, Max, it will kill me.” His tears spilled over at her words, his shoulders shaking with the sobs he could no longer hold back. She took his hand and brought it to her lips, kissing the back of it gently. “We have to get out of here, Max, and we have to work together to do it. Please don’t shut me out anymore.”

Max shook his head and pulled his hand away. “You should hate me,” Max choked out hoarsely.

“How can I?” Liz asked him sadly, “You already hate yourself enough for the both of us.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:45:22 PM
Chapter 29

DeVoe wasn’t surprised to find the two of them sitting on opposite sides of their cell when he visited them later that evening. He had witnessed the unfolding of their little drama earlier that afternoon on the monitor in his office. Now as he stepped fully into the room they each sent him incensed glares of seething hatred, which he pretended to be unaware of.

“Come now,” he began with feigned innocence, “why the long faces? For the last two days you two have been begging to be put together and now that you have been you act as if it was the last thing you wanted.”

Max could no longer contain the intense hatred he felt for the man before him. DeVoe had terrorized him, threatened him, and now had ultimately ruined his life. His and Liz’s life. It took every ounce of restraint Max had to keep from launching himself at his tormentor then and there. “You are one sadistic son of a bitch,” Max said, calmly rising to his feet. He ignored the apprehensive glance Liz sent in his direction.

“Is there a problem, Max?”

“You drugged us this afternoon,” Max accused him vehemently.

“I did,” DeVoe conceded with an unconcerned nod. At Max and Liz’s incredulous expressions he said, “Did you expect me to deny it? The two of you are here for a purpose. I’ve made that clear from the very beginning.”

“You just can’t use us like we’re guinea pigs!”

“I can’t? And who’s to stop me?” DeVoe taunted, “Your sister and that spiky haired friend of yours?” A cold smile spread across his lips. “We’d take them just as easily as we took you. You should be grateful for the mercy I’ve shown you thus far.”

“You’d better not do anything to hurt them or I’ll…”

“You’ll what, Max?” DeVoe prompted, obviously not intimidated, “You couldn’t even control yourself this afternoon. Driven to assault, I would have never conceived such a thing…but what can I expect from a creature such as yourself.”

“Max didn’t do anything wrong!” Liz spat out, hating the man with a virulence she had never felt for another human being, “He never would have done anything at all if you hadn’t plied him with your drugs!”

DeVoe leveled her with cold, amused eyes. “Is that what you tell yourself to justify it, Ms. Parker?” he taunted, knowing full well how his words were lacerating Max’s beaten self esteem, “Or maybe it’s something else…maybe you just like it rough…”

“You bastard, I’m gonna fucking kill you for that!” Max exploded and then he lunged for DeVoe, his expression enraged. As expected the guard outside Max’s cell burst into the room within seconds, brandishing his M-16. Liz screamed in fear and horror as he clubbed Max to the chest with the butt of his weapon. Max crumpled to the ground like a felled tree and the soldier quickly moved to straddle Max, adeptly flipping him onto his stomach and grabbing hold of his injured arm and twisting it up behind Max’s back painfully. Max’s face twisted in agony, but he bit down against his lip and didn’t make a sound.

“Don’t hurt him!” Liz screamed hysterically over and over as the soldier roughly twisted Max’s arm to keep him pinned against the floor, “Don’t hurt him!” She threw herself at Max’s assailant, beating against his shoulders with her tiny fists, but he merely swatted her aside as if she were an insignificant insect. She fell backwards into the wall, crashing with such impact that the contact momentarily rendered her breathless.

DeVoe stooped down to where the soldier had Max brutally pressed into the ground. He grabbed a fistful of Max’s hair and yanked his head upright. “Didn’t I tell you what would happen if you ever threatened me again?” Max only groaned in response. DeVoe flicked a glance over his shoulder to the orderly who had suddenly materialized in the doorframe. “Sedate him heavily and move him to the isolation chamber. I’ll deal with him there.”

“NO!” Max screamed, struggling to toss the soldier from his back. He’d die if they drugged him again. “Please, no! Please, nooooo!” But the orderly was preparing the syringe while DeVoe looked on with satisfied eyes. “No more drugs…no more!” He could only squeeze his eyes shut in terrified horror as the orderly advanced upon him.

“Nooooo!” There was suddenly a blinding flash of light that illuminated the room. The orderly was tossed back from the force of it and slammed into the adjacent wall. When his hapless body slid to the ground it was obvious that he was dead. Glassy eyes stared sightlessly ahead while the syringe still dangled from his lifeless fingers. The front of his white t-shirt had been burned away, revealing the charred flesh of his chest.

Silence dominated the room and no one moved so much as a single muscle. And then, almost simultaneously, three pairs of startled eyes slid from the orderly’s dead body over to the direction where the beam of light had come from. Liz stood alone, pale and shaking, her eyes wide with shock and fear, her outstretched hand still crackling with the energy she’d only sent forth a few seconds earlier.

And then DeVoe retrieved rational thought. He knew it was imperative that he get out of that room immediately. DeVoe barked swift orders for the soldier to retrieve the dead man’s body and then they took advantage of Max and Liz’s speechless shock to back from the room. Only when they heard the buzzer sound for the locking of their cell did wither of them realize that DeVoe had left.

Max gingerly pushed himself to his feet and limped over to Liz. She hadn’t moved an inch, but continued to stand there with her hand stretched out, staring blankly ahead. Max laid a tentative hand against her shoulder. “Liz? Liz, are you okay?”

She slowly turned to look at him, her eyes glimmering with tears. “I killed that man, Max,” she gasped shakily, “I killed him.” Her tears spilled over, tracing down her pale cheeks in torrents. “I couldn’t let him hurt you, Max. I couldn’t let them hurt you anymore.”

Max didn’t think about it. He pulled her into his arms and held her shaking body tightly against his own.

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

“Lock down the floor, dammit!” DeVoe barked into the phone, while pacing the length of his office, “I want all military personnel on the highest alert!” He snapped the phone closed and then hurled it across the room.

“What the hell is going on!” McCormick demanded as he stepped inside his superior’s office only to have a cell phone sail past his head as he did. However, he was further surprised to find his usually composed friend pacing the confines of his small office like a caged tiger. DeVoe had removed his jacket, which had been dropped unceremoniously on the floor, and loosened his tie as well. Definitely not like him. He was a man who almost never lost his composure. McCormick felt tendrils of apprehension trickle down his spine. “What’s happened?”

DeVoe stabbed him with irate eyes. “You said her cells were mutating, her DNA changing, but you never said anything about her developing powers!”

“What?” McCormick stumbled fully into the office, his stomach suddenly paining him.

“Liz Parker,” DeVoe clarified, raking all ten fingers through his hair in frustration, “she’s suddenly developed powers. She killed an orderly right in front of me, dammit!”

“Killed an orderly,” McCormick repeated blankly as he sank down into a chair, “That’s impossible.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” DeVoe gritted, gesticulating wildly, “I might have been able to anticipate this! As it is the entire Project may be compromised!” He stopped pacing abruptly and slammed his fist atop the bookshelf beside him. “Sonavabitch!”

“Where is she now? Is she contained?”

“For now. I left her in the observation cell with Evans,” DeVoe told him. He rubbed at the aching muscles at the base of his neck. “Dear God, there’s no telling what she’ll do if we can’t get her under control.”

McCormick shifted uncomfortably and dropped his eyes to the floor. “Well, as it is, she’s not our biggest problem right now.”

DeVoe rounded on him. “What?

“I told you before that the drug was untested,” McCormick began defensively.

“For God’s sake, David, it was designed to promote arousal! From what I saw this afternoon it worked brilliantly…what harm could it possibly have done?”

McCormick steadfastly ignored DeVoe’s awful tone and continued on as professionally as he could. “Do you remember when I told you that there were a number of cells in Max Evans’ pituitary gland that were dormant?”

“Yes, but what has that got to do with anything?” DeVoe snapped impatiently.

“Well, I just received his test results from this afternoon,” Mac said quietly, “Those cells are no longer dormant and they are now dividing at an alarming rate.”

“And this means?”

“It means that up until this point we had been dealing with an adolescent alien with undeveloped abilities…and now we’re dealing with a full grown one…and we have absolutely no idea what he’s capable of.”

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

“How much longer til we get there?” Isabel asked Zrei as she stared out the window at the scenery along the highway. She inquired more from the need to break the monotonous silence that had settled in the Jetta than for any real desire to know the answer.

Per Zrei’s request they had been patient in working out the details of Max and Liz’s escape. He had told them of an underground sewage system that led straight under the floor of the facility. While Maria and Isabel retrieved Max’s jeep and waited on the other side, Zrei and Michael would sneak through the pipes in order to reach the observation chambers where Liz and Max were likely being held. From that point onward Zrei warned Michael that they would face guards, dozens of them, all trained to kill intruders on sight. Zrei had opted for disposal of those guards, quick, painless and efficient, but Michael had been determined that no one else would die on their behalf. They decided on knocking the guards unconscious instead.

Afterwards they would find Max and Liz, rescue them and escape back through the underground pipe system without being detected. With Maria and Isabel waiting with the idling vehicles on the other side they would make a quick dash for freedom. Zrei said the key to their success would be speediness and efficiency.

It sounded like a rock solid plan to Maria and Michael, especially in light that Zrei had spent most of the day while they traveled planning it, but still Isabel had her doubts. Could they really pull it off so smoothly? What match, really, were three aliens and a human against an entire facility of feds motivated by the need for secrecy?

Zrei, himself, had said that gaining entrance into the facility would be the easy part, but finding a way to Max and Liz would be prove the real difficulty. If their presence in the facility was leaked in any way, they all ran the risk of being captured. Zrei had stressed over and over that they absolutely must not let that happen.

So now Isabel sat there, wanting desperately to take her mind off the rescue and the horrid nervousness that came along with it. But there was no one to talk to. In the back seat, Michael and Maria had fallen asleep nearly an hour before. She had glanced back earlier to find Maria curled up against Michael’s side, her head resting against his shoulder. They looked suspiciously comfortable together and Isabel made a mental note to grill Michael about it later.

Isabel had hoped they’d be awake by now, but the lack of sleep and constant movement of the last two days had taken their toll. If Isabel weren’t so wound up about Max’s safety she might have fallen asleep herself. She desperately needed Maria’s inane chatter to distract her from her thoughts.

Zrei wasn’t any help. He only spoke when asked a question and his replies were always given in the same emotionless tone. However, Isabel was desperate. She couldn’t stop imagining the endless tortures her brother might be experiencing at that moment and she urgently needed some form of distraction. She supposed Zrei would have to do.

“Twenty minutes more,” Zrei replied, before lapsing back into his characteristic silence.

But Isabel was determined that she would endure the silence no longer. She looked across the distance separating them and studied him closely for the first time. The form he had taken was an ordinary one. She probably would not have looked twice if she’d passed him on the street. It was obvious that his intention was to be as inconspicuous as possible. And yet, he had admitted to killing without compunction when threatened. He didn’t go out of his way to hurt others, but he would not hesitate in exterminating those who might cause him harm. Isabel wondered uneasily if that was an Antarian instinct.

“For my race, it is. I am a warrior,” Zrei answered quietly, as if she had spoken her musing aloud.

Isabel glared at him. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“It is you who lay your thoughts bare to me,” Zrei countered evenly, “I only see what you put in plain sight.”

“I’m not inviting you to read my mind,” Isabel snapped back angrily.

“You are not shielding your thoughts, either.”

Isabel stared at him through narrowed eyes before her anger suddenly gave way to curiosity. “How do you do that…read minds, I mean?”

“Humans are so reliant upon words…so verbal…it is tedious,” Zrei commented dryly. He glanced over at Isabel. “You could hear as well…if you stopped speaking long enough to listen.”

“Are you saying I talk too much?” Isabel gasped in affront.

“It is no fault of your own,” Zrei soothed, “You were raised by humans, after all.”

Isabel studied him curiously. “You sound like you don’t care much for humans.”

“In my experience I have found that they are a cruel and foolish species,” Zrei replied laconically.

Isabel couldn’t help but be offended by his words. Although, logically she knew that she and the man across from her were of the same genetic line, Isabel had been raised as a human. And because she had been, it was her first instinct to become defensive. But then she caught herself at the last minute before voicing her acid retort, remembering that Zrei had only had close human contact twice in his life. Isabel knew one human had betrayed him and now she found herself wondering about the other instance.

“You said you know this place they’ve taken my brother to,” Isabel began tentatively, “Is that because you’ve been there?” He was silent for so long that at first she thought he might not answer and then he finally inclined his head in a stiff nod. “Is that why you hate humans so much…because of what they did to you, the…the experiments?”

“Antarians do not hate…that is a human emotion.”

“Then what do Antarians feel,” Isabel demanded sarcastically.

“Duty. Loyalty. Honor,” Zrei stated deeply, “These are the emotions that give one purpose and give life meaning.”

“But what about love…what about regret…don’t you feel those things as well?”

“Love?” Zrei seemed to ponder the word before responding. “There is devotion, for example, the bond I felt for my lifemate. I would have given my life for her…I suppose that is what a human would call love. But this word ‘regret’…I do not understand what you mean by that word.”

“You know…to be sorry for things,” Isabel explained carefully, “To wish you could go back and do things differently…like I sometimes wish I had told my mom the truth about me and Max. That’s regret.”

Zrei was thoughtful before shaking his head definitively. “No, there is no regret. What has happened in the past cannot be changed. Regret seems a pointless, wasteful emotion.”

“But what about your lifemate?” Isabel persisted, “Don’t you ever find yourself wondering if you had done something different on the ship that she might be alive? Don’t you ever second guess yourself?”

Zrei frowned, plainly confused by her questions. “I had no control over the ship’s being shot down. There was nothing more to be done. It was Bwan’s time to be with the Great Being. I could not change that.” He could see that his words made Isabel uneasy. He shook his head dismissively, finding her reaction somewhat repugnant. “You are much too human…Isabel.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:46:43 PM
Chapter 30

“No…nothing. I think maybe it was just a fluke earlier.”

Liz lowered her hand in frustration and flopped back against the cot with an exhausted huff. She and Max had been trying for nearly an hour to duplicate the power she’d displayed earlier with no results. Liz looked down at her hands. They looked normal enough. It was hard to believe that there was some awesome force lurking beneath her skin. And yet, she’d seen the evidence of it. Liz shuddered in memory. As long as she lived she didn’t think she’d ever forget the glassy stare of the dead man’s eyes. She looked up at Max in hopeless despair. “I wasn’t thinking about it before…it just sorta happened. I don’t think I can do it again.”

“We have to keep trying, Liz,” Max told her determinedly, “If you did it once, you can do it again.”

“Max, I’m tired,” Liz said, dropping her head forward into her palm, “Besides I’m not entirely sure I want to try again. You see what happened last time.”

Max dropped down beside her, understanding her frustration and guilt, but feeling also the urgency to escape. After what had happened between them that afternoon he didn’t think he could stand another second there without going crazy. He clasped his hands together and pressed them between his knees. “Liz, that was an accident. You would have never intentionally killed anyone.”

Liz glanced at him in confused misery. “I don’t understand it, Max…why do I even have powers in the first place?”

“Maybe it has something to do with when I healed you,” Max sighed, “I’m not sure…but somehow…I must have changed you on the inside or something.”

The idea shocked Liz. She didn’t know exactly how she felt about such a thing. On top of everything else, the knowledge just seemed like too much to bear. She’d have to ponder the meaning of it all later, when her head was clearer. Still she couldn’t keep herself from asking, “Do you think that’s why they took me?”

“No,” Max answered, leaning back on the cot to rest his head against the wall behind them, “I saw the look on DeVoe’s face…he had no idea what was going on. The fact that you have powers was as much a shock to him as it was to us. I think the reason you’re here is to provide leverage for DeVoe to use against me.”

“Leverage…me? Why me? Why not Isabel or Michael?”

“Maybe he figured that since I exposed my secret once to save your life…that I’d do it again. That was probably why he was always threatening to hurt you…to make me talk…” Their eyes met for a long telling moment before Max finally looked away. “Anyway that doesn’t matter now…we have to find a way out of this place and right now you’re our best chance.”

“Please don’t say that, Max, I don’t think I can deal with that kind of pressure,” Liz moaned, turning on the bed to face him, “There’s got to be another way.”

“We don’t have a choice, Liz. No one’s been back here for over an hour, but when they come back they’ll be prepared and there’s no telling what they will have planned. We won’t be able to take them by surprise again.” Max heaved a frustrated sigh and pulled his knees up against his chest, wincing slightly as he did.

“You’re still hurting!” Liz exclaimed when she saw his grimace of pain.

When she would have touched him he deftly twisted out of her reach, avoiding her worried gaze. “My ribs are aching,” he said dismissively, rubbing his hand over his chest. It was the only time, besides when he’d healed Liz, that Max had actually wanted his powers. He supposed that saying was right about never wanting what you’ve got til it was gone. He’d have to remember never to take his abilities for granted again, that is, if they ever came back. His mentally dismissed his dire thoughts and said further, “It’s nothing I can’t live with.”

In the face of everything she’d endured thus far Max’s rejection was the final straw for Liz. She had tried being brave, but the effort was beginning to wear her down. Finally, the enormity of it all hit her, losing her virginity in the way she had, killing a man and discovering new alien powers, and her tenuous thread of control snapped. The tears of frustrated anger she had managed to blink back for the last hour began trickling from her eyes. She could almost stand for anything…except Max pulling away. Because if he pulled away then she would have to face all this madness on her own and Liz wasn’t sure she could handle it.

“I can’t believe you’re still acting this way, even after what I told you!” She had mistakenly thought that the situation was better when he’d comforted her earlier, but now Liz saw clearly that Max’s feelings had, apparently, not changed.

“This isn’t the time, Liz,” Max replied flatly, “Right now the only thing we should be focusing on is getting out of here.” He hopped from the bed. It was his way of putting an end to the conversation. “We should practice some more.”

“I don’t want to fucking practice anymore,” Liz gritted, too emotionally raw to care about what they should or needed to do. “I want to talk about what’s going on between us. You’re acting like we did something wrong! Newsflash, Max! DeVoe’s the only wrongdoer here, he’s the one you should be hating!”

It was the swear that grabbed his attention. He couldn’t recall ever having heard Liz curse before, at least not like that. Max knew then that he had pushed her to the breaking point. She was actually yelling at him. He couldn’t remember her ever doing that either, especially not to him. And she was visibly trembling, convulsively grabbing the linen sheets of the cot and bunching them in her fists. Max took several calming breaths. The last thing he wanted was to send her over the edge. “Liz,” he began tentatively, “I know you want to fix things between us and I’m not trying to shut you down--,”

“Then what are you trying to do, Max?” Liz interrupted.

“It’s just not the time to talk about what happened between us, that’s all.” But the truth was Max never had any intention of talking about it at all and he suspected that Liz knew it.

“When is the time, Max?” Liz asked angrily, proving correct Max’s theory, “When we get out of here? And what if we never get out of here, Max? You’re not the only one who’s torn up about what happened, okay! I’ve been living through this nightmare right along with you! There are things that need to be said now and to hell with everything else!”

“I don’t agree with that, Liz.”

Well, you don’t get to decide this time!” she exploded and then, a split second after her outburst, the bolted door to their cell shattered. The resulting explosion was nearly deafening and they both jumped in frightened shock. They cowered against one another as they were showered with tiny bits of metal and dust. The room began to billow with smoke and debris. Liz looked up at Max with wild eyes. “I didn’t do that,” she told him frantically.

“No,” Michael confirmed as he suddenly burst through the cloud of smoke, “He did.” He cocked his head back towards the man who followed him inside. At first Liz and Max could only stand there staring at him in speechless shock. Michael, however, wasted no time making his way over to Max and bearing his friend’s weight against him. “Feels good to be rescuing your ass for a change, Maxwell!” he quipped as he looped Max’s arm about his neck.

His shock finally beginning to wear away, Max favored Michael with a relieved grin. “You sure took long enough!”

“Yeah, and you look like crap,” Michael retorted, “Let’s get the hell outta here, the alarms are going off like crazy! Zrei, grab Liz and let’s move.” Max watched with confused apprehension as Zrei effortlessly scooped Liz into his arms before turning his questioning eyes toward Michael. “I’ll explain later,” Michael replied quickly, “Right now we need to go.”

They weaved their way out into the darkened hallway, which was eerily deserted. The guard lay sprawled a few feet from the threshold, his gun laid haphazardly across his chest. Max stabbed Michael with panicked eyes. “Is he…?”

“He’s unconscious,” Michael reassured him quickly, “But that’s not gonna last. We’ve got to get out of here now.”

They moved quickly down the maze-like hallways, despite the hindrance created by Max’s injuries. As the made their way towards freedom they passed the unconscious bodies of numerous agents that seemed to litter the hallway. “Your handiwork?” Max inquired as he limped along side Michael.

“His,” Michael clarified, nodding ahead to Zrei, who had somehow made his way in front of them.

A few moments later they made it to a small janitor’s closet with a large grated drain in the floor. Michael instructed Max to lean against the wall as he pulled up the heavy metal grate. After he was finished he nodded for Liz and Zrei to go through first. Then he indicated that Max should follow. Max eased himself down into the opening and Michael followed after him, pulling the grate back over their heads.

They shimmied through the tight space and emerged into a large basement with several with a number of sewage pipes running through it. They followed Zrei closely as he winded his way through the mazelike underground tunnels. Max felt like they had been inching along forever when they finally came to a small tunnel-like pipe to which the metal gate sealing had already been removed. “We’re going to have to climb through,” Michael told them breathlessly.

It was necessary, in order to progress through the tight confines of the pipe, to pull themselves forward along the inside on their bellies. Max clamped down his jaw tightly, trying hard not to think about the muck they were sloshing through or allow the putrid smell to gag him. Just when Max thought he couldn’t possibly go on he literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. When he, Michael, Liz and the stranger had finally pushed themselves free they dropped into a larger, cave-like tunnel, but this time Max could see his sister waiting for them on the other side.

When Max finally burst out into the cool evening air and he almost wept with joy as the gentle Fall breeze caressed his face. He looked up at the setting sun like a man starved even though to do so was killing his light sensitive eyes. There had been times when he thought he would never see it again. But before he could even become accustomed to the fresh air his sister suddenly flung herself against him, hugging him tight. Max grunted in pain and surprise. “Max! Thank God, you’re alive! You look terrible…what the hell did they do to you?” And then she ripped away from him with a disgusted grimace. “Geez, you stink!”

“Wow, thanks, Izzy. Mucking through sewage seems to do that.”

Isabel barely heard him. She lifted her hand to touch his bruised face, but thought better of it because she was afraid she might hurt him. “Oh god, I kept imagining that something horrible happened to you! I tried to dreamwalk you over and over--,”

“Yeah, yeah,” Michael interrupted, glancing around apprehensively, “Save the family reunion for later.” He grabbed hold of Max’s arm and dragged him over towards the jeep, which Maria and Isabel had successfully reacquired while he and Zrei were executing the rescue. Zrei waited patiently in the passenger’s seat while Michael shoved a slightly disoriented Max into the backseat with Liz before hurling himself into the driver’s seat.

Meanwhile, Isabel ran back to the Jetta where an apprehensive Maria was waiting with the engine running. “Did they get them?” Maria demanded as soon as Isabel was in the car.

“They got them,” Isabel confirmed breathlessly, “Let’s get out of here!”

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

“So there’s nothing? They confiscated everything? This is fucking unbelievable!”

Max periodically watched Michael pace the hardwood floor of Zrei’s cabin; only half listening to his tirade while Zrei went through the meticulous business of healing his wounds. He found himself marveling at this stranger, who took such excellent care of him, but had yet to utter a single word. Reluctantly, Max tore his attention away from Zrei and leveled Michael with a steady gaze. “They didn’t get everything,” he told him calmly, “There was a key. I dropped it on the floor when they came in…it might still be there.”

Michael and Isabel had decided previously that Zrei’s cabin would be the safest place to go once they’d retrieved Max and Liz. Though it took them over half a day to get back there the trip was well worth it. It was isolated and nearly impossible to find and the time they spent there would afford them with a moment to regroup and plan their next move. Truthfully, there was no other place they could have gone. It was certain, however, that returning to Roswell at the moment was not an option. The situation disappointed almost everyone except Michael.

However, it was still refreshing to have a moment to relax and after nearly three days in constant movement it was necessary. Upon arriving Max and Liz had gratefully showered and changed into clothing Zrei had provided them with. Afterwards they all congregated together before a leaping fire, listening as Max recounted to them the events that had transpired two days earlier. Liz sat off to Max’s left, watching him closely as he spoke, only half hearing his words. She was impatiently waiting for the opportunity to speak with him alone. Maria, meanwhile, had long since fallen asleep, her head lolling limply against Liz’s shoulder. Only Michael and Isabel seemed to be paying any real attention to what Max was saying.

“A key?” Isabel said, leaning forward on the wooden she had placed in front of the fireplace, “A key to what?”

“That’s what we have to figure out,” Max replied.

“So then it might be completely worthless!” Michael exploded in disgust.

“But then it might not. Whatever information Claudia Parker was keeping secret the feds wanted bad,” Max countered, turning his attention to Zrei who had just healed his broken arm. Max flexed his fingers experimentally and marveled at the curious warmth spreading through his arm. He stared in stunned silence as Zrei merely touched his cast and caused it to fall away from his arm like dust. “Thank you,” Max told him quietly. He had yet to recover from his shock at discovering this stranger was a fellow alien.

“Your powers will return soon,” Zrei responded simply, shifting upright, “and with greater strength than before.”

Michael stopped short. “Wait a minute, you don’t have any powers? I just thought you were too weak to heal yourself. Are they completely gone?”

Max gaped up at Zrei. “How did you--?” he began.

“Zrei can read minds,” Isabel provided smugly.

Zrei only shrugged before turning away. “You did not bother to hide your thoughts from me. They were fairly simple to read,” he said, taking a solitary stance in the far corner of the room.

Max stared at his back uneasily. However, when Zrei was out of earshot, Max rounded on Michael and Isabel in an immediate search for answers. “Who is this guy?” he demanded in a furious whisper, “How did you find him?”

“He’s our foster dad,” Isabel quipped.

“What?”

“He was the one piloting our ship when it crashed,” Michael clarified impatiently, “Apparently, he’s our alien guardian. Now tell us about what happened to your powers.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:48:09 PM
Chapter 31

“I thought I might find you out here,” Liz whispered quietly as she eased into the porch swing beside Max.

When she had found him he had been staring out into the darkened woods sightlessly, as if lost in thought. Her step had faltered at the last minute and she had stared at him, suddenly too nervous to confront him. She dreaded what he might say. Liz realized she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t seem to help herself. Here she had lived through the horrendous experience of being tortured and experimented upon and yet the only emotion she could manage to feel was the raw fear of being shut out by the man in front of her.

She studied his profile for a moment. His jaw was set hard. Liz wondered what he was thinking about at that moment. She hated that…not knowing what he was thinking. For such a long time now they had seemed connected, she and Max, and she had understood him without words, but now he had closed off from her. It was in a way different than before her shooting, he had never looked through her before.

Liz started to turn back, to leave the porch before she forced them both to go places they weren’t ready for. And yet, she sensed the abject misery that was coming off him in waves and she couldn’t leave him. And so, reluctantly, she made her presence known.

He jerked his head around at the intrusion of her voice, suddenly snatched from his thoughts. For an instant his eyes locked with hers in silent appeal and then they darkened inexplicably and skittered away. Max took several calming breaths, praying that his emotions would not get the better of him.

Max had been thinking of her just then. Just then. That was almost funny. He had done nothing but think of her his whole life. But the last two days had been different entirely. Before he had yearned for her with the knowledge that he could never possibly have her. Now he yearned for her with the knowledge that he would never deserve her. Now the very thought of wanting her was accompanied with an immense feeling of shame. Because of what he’d done…

She had been so forgiving of him and, in a way, that increased his guilt rather than alleviated it. He couldn’t understand how she could be so compassionate towards him, so damned loving after what he had been driven to do to her. For Max the matter was different entirely. He could barely look her in the eye now. The more he was around her the more guilt he felt the less he liked himself. And she was there, everywhere he turned, pleading with her eyes for his love, for his comfort, for his friendship. But she couldn’t see, didn’t understand that he could no longer give. How could he possibly be capable of giving love to another human being when he could barely tolerate himself?

“It’s late, Liz. Everyone’s asleep by now,” he sighed, hoping she would take the hint and leave him alone once more. She didn’t.

Instead she sat down close beside him, apparently impervious to the internal battle Max was waging on her behalf. “You’re not,” Liz observed astutely, “Even though it’s obvious you’re tired.” And it was. His eyelids were fairly drooping, but he was fighting sleep. Liz knew why even before he mumbled, “Nightmares.”

She nodded, fixing her mouth in a tremulous smile. “I can understand that.” It had been “nightmares” that had awakened her as well, that had driven her out in search of him. Her dreams had been tortured with images of DeVoe’s evil face, the dead expression of the orderly, and Max’s anguished eyes when he had looked down at her that afternoon and fully realized what happened between them. The shock of everything was finally starting to penetrate her heart and she ached with it. “So what are you doing out here,” she asked him casually, wanting to distract herself and him, “Just thinking?”

“A little bit.”

Liz didn’t allow herself to become discouraged by his laconic tone. Instead she pressed on bravely. “So did you find any answers?” Liz inquired softly, willing him to look at her, but finally dropping her eyes when he wouldn’t.

A soft grunt rumbled from Max’s chest and his lips quirked in a derisive, half smile. He nudged the porch boards with the tip of his toes, rocking the swing slightly. “I looked in the mirror a while ago and I…I still look the same. It surprised me really…because…” he began, his tone lost and despaired, “…I saw the same old me…Max Evans. But not me really…cuz…on the inside…I’m someone else totally.”

“That’s completely understandable, Max, you, both of us really, have had a tough two days. You just don’t spring back from something like that.” Liz laughed at herself inwardly. Listen to her, sounding so wise and so put together, but inside she was a wreck. Inside she was screaming, begging for someone to reassure her that things would be alright and one day she would move past it.

Unaware of Liz’s inner turmoil and feeling oddly comforted by her words, Max found himself teasing dryly, “Since when did you become, Dr. Parker, headshrinker?”

Liz blushed and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “You know what I’m saying. I’m probably the only person alive who understands exactly what you’re going through right now.” She dared to cover his hand over with her own. “We…We can talk about if it you want.” But what she was really asking was if she could talk about it. The words were inside her just waiting to explode from her chest.

But her tentative touch seemed to snap him back to attention. He ended their teasing game all too soon by withdrawing his hand from beneath hers and rebuilding his emotional wall, becoming serious once again. “I don’t think I’m ever going to ‘spring back’ from what happened in that room, Liz. Talking about it will just rehash things that are best forgotten, okay.”

“Max,” Liz said softly, swallowing past the lump of tears that had suddenly formed in her throat, “You’ve got to stop torturing yourself about what happened. It was not your fault. I don’t blame you for it. I blame DeVoe. He’s the one who should suffer, not us.”

“Do you have any idea how deluded you sound sitting there and defending actions that are indefensible?” Max gritted angrily, “I should have been able to control myself…or…or something. I should have known better, been more alert. I failed you, Liz…and I failed myself.”

“I’m not deluded, Max,” Liz argued stubbornly, “And you didn’t fail me. You were drugged. You couldn’t help what happened…I know that, why don’t you?”

Max stabbed her with his angry gaze then. “What I know is that I raped you, Liz. You fought me…you said no and I did it anyway,” Max retorted furiously, hammering them both with his every word.

“Oh, I was raped, Max,” Liz conceded in a voice made tremulous with anger and tears, “but it wasn’t by you.”

That cracked his mask of cold hostility. The passionate fury in his eyes died away, leaving behind a remorseful and confused teenage boy. “I know what you’re saying, Liz…that it never would have happened if not for that drug and…and it wouldn’t have, Liz, I swear that to you. I never could have done anything like that to you…never…and I understand that in here,” he told her, tapping his index finger against his temple, “But in my heart I just feel so guilty because I couldn’t control myself. It’s my fault for not being strong enough. Do you know how that makes me feel, Liz?” he continued rhetorically, “Worthless. I feel like…like I’m just worthless.”

“You’re not worthless, Max!” Liz replied feelingly, “You were strong enough. You were strong for me and I wanted to be strong for you.” What she didn’t say was that she needed him to be strong for her now, that she was falling to pieces inside and she urgently needed him to help put her back together. But Max was in his own emotional hell right now. He was ill equipped to deal with hers at present.

“I think you’re having a hard time admitting that you’re in over your head with me, Liz,” Max argued quietly, “It’s okay if you feel that way.”

“I’m not ‘in over my head,’ Max!” Liz countered in soft fervency, meeting his eyes squarely, “You’ve twisted the truth in your head and you’re too busy hating yourself to see what’s clear in front of your face.”

He suddenly broke their stare and dropped his head forward, as if conceding defeat. “I know one truth for sure, Liz, you and I have changed way too much to go back to the way we were before,” Max whispered glumly, giving the swing another nudge, “Right now the only emotions I can feel right now are shame and hate…there’s no room inside me for anything else.”

“I don’t believe that, Max,” Liz denied, her voice hoarse with unshed tears.

“It’s true.”

Liz was suddenly frantic to change the subject, anything to silence the hopeless edge she heard in his voice. It frightened her to see him this way. The sight of the shame in his eyes tore her apart. She could understand regret. That very emotion permeated her every thought and deed now. It disgusted her that she and Max could never look back on the first time they made love with fond feelings of tenderness, but that it would always be a subject between them considered taboo…and shameful. Liz could feel her hatred for DeVoe double with that morbid realization.

And now Max was slowly drowning in his own guilt and right before her eyes. He spoke, but his eyes remained dull, devoid of emotion, as if he were merely saying the words, but feeling absolutely nothing. He had done it earlier with Isabel and Michael when he told them about losing his powers and he was doing it to Liz now. “So I wanted to thank you for not telling Michael and Isabel everything,” Liz said to him in an effort to redirect the conversation, “You know…about my powers…and that man…”

Max pinned her with expressionless eyes, wise to what she was attempting. “I might have…if I weren’t so ashamed…that you actually saved my life and after what happened between us--,”

“Max--,”

“Sometimes I wish you hadn’t done it,” he whispered.

Liz deliberately chose to ignore his last statement, forging ahead as if he’d said nothing at all. “I’m just glad you didn’t…tell them about my powers, I mean. I don’t think I’m ready for anyone to know…”

Liz trailed off into silence, stunned by what she saw in his gaze, her words lodging in her throat. Max’s eyes were suddenly dark with compassion and sympathy and in that moment he didn’t try to mask his feelings for her. In that moment she could see the truth clearly. He still cared for her, despite everything he’d just told her, he still loved her even though he probably wished he didn’t. But for now, as he was looking at her so tenderly, he was suddenly her Max again and everything finally felt okay. “Are you going to be okay about that?” he asked her softly.

She shrugged with more pretense than real indifference. “Maybe someday…I hope.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong…I wish you could accept that, Liz,” Max murmured tenderly.

“I will when you will,” Liz countered, unblinking.

Max swallowed hard in the face of her direct and challenging gaze, eventually lowering his eyes. “And what about…your powers…,” he hedged miserably, “…do you hate…do you hate me for changing you?” But Max supposed he already knew the answer. If she didn’t hate him for forcing himself on her, then she definitely wouldn’t hate him for that either. Still Max needed, desperately, selfishly, to hear her say the words aloud.

She didn’t disappoint him. She waited patiently for him to meet her gaze before she whispered, “I don’t hate you, Max. I could never hate you.” Liz gulped back the tears gathering in her throat. “You saved my life that day in the Crashdown…nothing you do is ever going to make me forget that.”

Max looked away from her then, overcome by the emotion pouring from her brown eyes, and stared back into the dark night before them. He wanted so much to lose himself in her, to give in to the comfort she so obviously wanted to give him. It would be so easy to turn in her arms, kiss her and let himself forget. But Max knew that was the coward’s way and he had been coward enough with her already. “Tomorrow, I think you and Maria should take off. Don’t go home, but maybe lay low somewhere until things have cooled down. It’s too dangerous for you to stay here with us.”

Liz could feel her heart crumbling at his words though she made an attempt at bravado. He was erecting that damned emotional wall against her yet again. “That’s really my decision to make, Max,” Liz countered softly, “This fight against DeVoe isn’t just yours anymore.”

“Yes, it is, Liz. DeVoe only took you to get to me. There’s no reason for you to be involved any further,” Max contradicted flatly, “Isabel, Michael and I have decided to go after that key in the morning…I…I don’t want you with us.”

Liz felt as if she’d been socked hard in the chest. In the rational part of her brain she realized that Max was reacting typically in consideration of what they had both endured the past two days. But it wasn’t her rational brain she was thinking with. Her mind could only resound with the painful knowledge that Max Evans didn’t want her. It was as if he were belittling her feelings, belittling her.

She sat there, concentrating intently on breathing, in and out, in and out, while rapidly blinking back the tears that blurred her eyes. “Please don’t do this to me again, Max,” she pleaded gruffly, “Not after everything we’ve been through together. I need you too much. We need each other.”

Max shook his head. “You have Maria. She can help you deal with…with everything.”

“But, I need you!”

It was her sobbing reply, which broke through his sullen indifference. He suddenly grabbed her firmly by the forearms, shaking her tersely. “When is it going to be enough for you, Liz? Dammit, this is your chance to get away from me!” he almost moaned.

“But I don’t want to get away!” Liz sobbed, her bravado crumbling, “I want to stay with you, Max! That’s all I want…that’s all I want…”

Max dropped his head forward so that their foreheads were touching, their tears mingling. He couldn’t hold back his sobs any more than she could. “God, Liz, don’t you see…I’m not good for you. I’m only going to hurt you more.” His fingers convulsed reflexively about her forearms, relaxing slightly and caressing her tender skin. “ I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

“Max, please don’t push me away,” Liz begged him shamelessly.

“I’ll just destroy you in the end,” he predicted in misery.

“I don’t care,” Liz cried, suddenly sandwiching his face between her hands for a desperate kiss, but he quickly shoved her away from him and jumped to his feet as if she’d burned him.

“I can’t do that with you…!” he gasped in guilty panic. Max presented her with his back so she wouldn’t see how badly shaken her attempt to kiss him had left him. His entire body was trembling. In those few seconds he had desperately wanted to kiss her and the feeling had been wrong, Wrong, WRONG! He propped his shoulder against a wooden post and closed his eyes against the words he uttered next. “I can’t be anything to you, Liz, not your friend, not anything…not anymore. That’s all been destroyed. It was destroyed today in that room.”

Liz rose on shaky legs, her hurt and anguish suddenly hardening into rage. “This afternoon destroyed more than you think, Max, and the only one to blame for it is DeVoe. He didn’t just destroy our innocence, but your faith in yourself as well…your faith in me. I’ll never forgive that…and I’ll never forget it either,” Liz gritted in shaking anger, “If that key helps us take him down, no one, not even you, is going to stop me from being there to see it!” She furiously brushed at the tears falling over her cheeks before turning on her heel and slamming into the cabin.

Max didn’t turn to watch her go. He didn’t think his heart could withstand the further pain of watching her walk away from him yet again.


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 30-Sep-2002 9:37:32 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:49:42 PM
Chapter 32

Marcus DeVoe hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. He had been on the phone with his superiors for two of them, struggling to save his ass and his job, while uttering empty assurances that he had the situation well under control. Another hour and a half had been spent coldly dressing down Mac for his sloppy work with Parker. And then his day had been made dramatically worse upon the discovery that someone had shut down her life support without his permission.

Of all the things that had gone wrong with his morning, it was that one final dig that had sent him into a fury. In an unprecedented loss of control he had trashed his office with the wildness of an animal. Afterwards, when he had destroyed nearly everything of value he had proceeded to seat himself in the middle of the debris, his eyes fixated coldly ahead. They had finally taken away the one thing from him that he’d truly cared about and destroyed the last of his soul in the process. Now they would have to deal with the monstrous result.

He had wanted to be the one to end her life since he felt, in retrospect, that he’d been the one to begin it. From the first he had felt a connection with her, that forgotten alien being that no one had given a second thought. She had reminded him of the boy he had once been, that young Marcus Atherton, the one no one ever seemed to see, the forgotten, the unimportant. But then she’d shown them all that day she tore from the pod, just as that little boy had shown all who had taunted him when he had become head of an elite unit in the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

DeVoe had shared with that unconscious being facets about his life he had never voiced before. Where he never allowed himself the luxury of feeling with anyone else he had relaxed his guard with her. She had never demanded, never expected and had always given him a listening ear. Only she knew his darkest secrets. In some odd, unbelievable way he thought she might actually understand him. And now she was gone.

He wasn’t a stupid man. He was well aware of who had betrayed him and why. But the victory would be short-lived for him, just as it would be for all of his enemies. DeVoe had not lost control yet, no, it was much too early in the game to consider him finished. No, he had only just begun.

He thoughtfully stroked at his unshaven chin, plotting his next move with cold calculation. He had strategically placed agents along Roswell’s city limits as well as within. Evans and his bitch would go home eventually and when they did he’d be waiting.

And this time…he wouldn’t be nearly so merciful.

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

“I’ll go in alone this time.”

Max expected an argument to erupt following his statement and he didn’t have a long wait. “If you think we’re going to let you go in that house alone after what happened before you’ve obviously lost more than your powers,” Michael told him mutinously, grabbing hold of the door handle to keep Max inside the jeep.

Max sighed. Truthfully, he was not up for a confrontation with Michael, not after the night of hell he’d endured. He hadn’t gotten a single second of sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he saw DeVoe’s cold, unyielding face. And while he was awake the aching sound of Liz’s tears had tortured him. There had been no respite for him.

What Max really wanted most was a simple moment of peace. Not just a mere break in their seemingly endless quest for the truth, but he yearned for a real moment of reflection. He needed time to untangle the train wreck that had become his life.

He was fast becoming numb to the angst, which was suddenly plaguing his existence. It was a curious feeling. He said what was expected, he did what was expected, but he felt…absolutely nothing. Even now, looking into the concerned faces of his sister and best friend, he could not connect with their anxiety for him, could not bring himself to empathize with their fear.

The one resounding emotion he did feel was annoyance. He didn’t feel like being detained and he didn’t feel like coming up with some diplomatic excuse as to why they shouldn’t come. He was past the point of caring. “Michael, are you going to move or am I going to have to break your arm to get out of here?” he demanded threateningly, his eyes coldly serious.

Michael wavered a bit, although his hand remained where it was. “You shouldn’t go in alone, Max.”

Max swallowed back the torrent of curses that sprang to his lips. “I’m the only one who knows where to find the key…do you want me to get it or not?”

Michael stared at him intensely, wondering were the usually quiet and reserved Max Evans had gone. And then he sat back in his seat and allowed Max to climb over him. He and Isabel exchanged concerned glances behind Max’s back. “What the hell’s eating him,” Michael muttered to Isabel, “He’s been a complete asshole all day.”

“I think something must be going on between him and Liz,” Isabel presumed offhandedly. In her experience any mood change her brother exhibited could always be traced back to one primary source: Liz Parker.

Only Zrei knew the exact truth about what was happening with Max, but he remained silent. Without Max’s permission, it was not his place to voice Max’s thoughts.

Max was halfway up the walk when he heard a car door slam behind him. He didn’t have to look around to know that Liz had jumped from the Jetta and was bounding up behind him. He gave her a look that clearly transmitted his displeasure at her joining him, but he said nothing. They crept around the side of the house, pressing their faces close against the side window to peer inside.

“It looks the same as before,” Liz sighed in relief, casting a cautious glance over her shoulder to make sure they weren’t being watched, “Apparently, my dad hasn’t found a buyer yet.”

“He’s probably too worried about his missing teenage daughter to be concerned with selling a house right now,” Max reminded her gently.

“Oh yeah…” Liz said in afterthought, “… forgot about that.”

“Yeah…whatever,” Max said, stooping to retrieve a fist sized rock from the ground, “It serves our purpose anyway.” He trudged around to the front of the house and covertly glanced about him before using the rock to break the glass window that flanked the front door. Liz gaped at him in shocked bewilderment as he squeezed through the new entrance he’d made. Once he was inside the house he flicked her a brief glance. “My powers haven’t returned yet, okay, so I’m improvising.” Liz continued to stand there and stare at him in open shock. “Are you coming or not?”

Liz mentally shook herself from her stupor and followed him inside. She made it to the upstairs bedroom just in time to find Max emerging from the closet, key in hand. “I can’t believe it’s still here,” he said in wonder.

“Here let me see it,” Liz told him, stretching out her palm. He dutifully passed it to her and Liz turned it over in her hands for close inspection. “There’s no indication of what bank this key belongs to or if it’s actually a safe deposit key. We’re just assuming,” she observed pessimistically, “There could be any number of safe deposit boxes that this key could unlock, how are we possibly going to find the right one?”

“We will,” Max determined, holding out his hand for the key. The moment Liz’s fingers came in contact with his palm Max felt as if a stiff wind had passed through his body. And then a white light was exploding behind his eyes and he was only aware of a falling sensation… When Max opened his eyes again he was sprawled across the floor, his head cradled in Liz’s lap. As he stared up into her anxious brown eyes he slowly became aware that they weren’t alone. Just beyond Liz’s shoulder, Maria, Michael, Isabel, and Zrei hovered in a semi-circle.

Max sat up abruptly and the sudden movement made his head swim. “What’s going on?” he inquired gingerly, his eyes slowly roving over the concerned faces before him.

Michael reached forward to assist Max to his feet. “That’s what we’d like to know,” he informed Max grimly as he did.

Max’s question filled eyes rounded on Liz’s pale face. “I don’t know,” she began, rising to her feet, “One minute we were standing there talking and the next…you just passed out.” Despite Liz’s apparent calm as she recounted the facts to Max, her heart was still racing from the fear that had gripped her heart when he suddenly lost consciousness. In those first few seconds she had thought that he was dead. However, after she realized that he’d only fainted, and that she couldn’t revive him, she had run back outside to get the others.

“I didn’t pass out,” Max replied, his brow furrowed in confusion, “I…had a vision.”

“A vision?” Isabel repeated blankly.

Max shook his head slightly, searching for the right words to explain. “Not a vision…exactly, but something like an out of body experience, I guess. It was like I was someone else,” Max said. He realized he wasn’t doing a good job of elucidation at all.

“Maxwell, what are you talking about,” Michael demanded, looking at Max as if he’d gone insane.

“When Liz touched me…when she gave me back the key…” he said, unfurling his palm to reveal the small metal piece, “I suddenly became someone else. I was standing in a small room in the back of a bank.” Max closed his eyes; trying desperately to recapture the emotions he’d felt moments before. “I felt nervous, anxious… I was paranoid about something; I kept glancing over my shoulder and I had something clenched in my fist that was very important. But more than anything I felt…heartbroken and betrayed.”

“What are you saying, Max?” Liz asked breathlessly.

“I’m saying that I think I was experiencing the memories of the last person to touch this key before us,” Max clarified in wonder.

“That’s not possible,” Liz whispered, shaking her head in denial.

“I don’t know what’s possible and what’s not,” Max admitted softly, “But I do know where this key belongs…just like I know it isn’t the key Conner Douglass told us about in Nevada.”

“Wait a minute,” Maria burst out in skepticism, “What are you saying? That you became Liz’s grandma in a past life or something?”

“I know I did,” Max clarified with rising certainty, “I must have. She was in that bank to hide something…something that Conner Douglass gave to her.” His eyes surveyed their shocked faces. “And I think it’s still there.” Max could tell that they were all torn between astonishment and disbelief.

“Max, you just told us that this isn’t the key that Conner Douglass gave Liz’s grandmother,” Isabel said slowly, “So why take this search any further? This just sounds like a dead end to me.”

“Because the key he gave her is in the safe deposit box this key unlocks,” Max explained.

“How can you know that, Max?” Isabel asked, “I don’t understand how what you’re saying is even possible.”

“Isabel,” Max explained calmly, “I know that Conner Douglass gave Claudia that key to hide. He told her that his life depended on her keeping it secret. She was so worried that she traveled to Conner’s hometown the night before her wedding and applied for a safe deposit box in a bank there so that the key wouldn’t easily be traced back to her. I know that she kept that box for the next forty-six years.”

His words filled Liz with uneasy amazement. It was remarkable to think that Max had channeled her grandmother’s life simply by touching something that once belonged to her, but at the same time it was extremely weird as well. Liz didn’t know how to feel about Max knowing private thoughts about her grandmother that even Liz wasn’t privy to. For the moment she set those feelings aside, however, and asked, “So where is this key…this safe deposit box then?”

“First National Bank in Durango, Colorado,” Max revealed.

Maria rolled her eyes in exasperation. “So in other words this hellish road trip has been scheduled to continue?”

“I’m sorry, Maria,” Max apologized sincerely, “I really wish there was another way.”

“Well, I guess you don’t have much choice,” Maria conceded with a sigh of frustration, “It’s not like it’s safe for any of us to go home right now. I’m going to have a helluva time explaining away the mileage on my mom’s car,” she muttered in afterthought.

“Wait, am I the only one who thinks this might be another wild goose chase,” Michael spoke up in mild irritation, “Maxwell, you’re mentally exhausted and sleep deprived…this vision could be all in your head. How do you know what you’re seeing is even real?”

“It is real,” Zrei said, speaking for the first time since they began, “What Max sees is the truth. He has deepened his connection and is becoming one with the Collective.”

“The collective?” Michael grunted, scowling at Zrei, “What the hell is ‘the collective’?”

“Our race is telepathic,” Zrei explained simply, “We speak collectively, as through one mind. It is how I am able to hear your thoughts, Michael,” he slid a deliberate look in Maria’s direction, “and the thoughts of others,” he continued, clearly letting Maria know that he was fully aware of the unflattering opinions she’d had about him in the past few days. Maria blushed deeply under his stare before Zrei mentally dismissed her and turned his attention back to Max, Isabel and Michael. “By his touching something that belonged to Claudia Parker, Max has become one with her thoughts. He has absorbed her in a sense, experienced a small piece of her life.”

“Is that normal?” Isabel exclaimed anxiously, “He’s never been able to do that before! None of us have.”

“Max has come of age,” Zrei responded unanswerably, “As someday you all shall.”

Max was too tired to puzzle over the endless mysteries of their alien guardian, he was too filled with urgency to find that key and what it unlocked. “Whatever,” Max said dismissively, “I don’t understand how I’m seeing these things or why I just know we need to find whatever information Douglass’ key leads us to before the feds do.” He took a step forward and swayed, his exhaustion suddenly overtaking him, making him dizzy. Michael and Liz wasted no time rushing forward to support him, flanking his sides and looping his arms about their necks when he would have collapsed.

“Well, we’re not going anywhere tonight,” Michael told Max as they lead him towards the door, “You need to rest now. We’ll figure the rest out tomorrow.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 30-Sep-2002 9:52:31 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:51:19 PM
Chapter 33

Liz eased opened the door and peeked through the crack she made. Max lay sprawled face down in the bed, his arm dangling over the edge. He had collapsed into bed shortly after arriving back at the cabin that afternoon. He hadn’t even bothered to remove his shoes and jacket, but lay atop the covers fully dressed and fast asleep. Max had been so for nearly six hours, but Liz wasn’t surprised. She was well aware that he had spent the entire night awake. She was aware because she had spent most of the night watching him.

Now as she peered inside the room she found herself disappointed to discover he was still asleep. The others had suggested she go back and check on him and Liz had been more than happy to be volunteered. Liz had been waiting for the opportunity since earlier that afternoon to have some private talk with Max. That morning he had avoided her strictly, not even making eye contact until she had joined him on her grandmother’s walkway. Bearing in mind their conversation the previous night Liz had allowed the distance, not exactly eager to speak with Max either.

Liz had been angry with him and by the morning that anger had become a cold fury. She had been so selfless and so understanding about everything, especially in light of how emotionally raw she’d been rendered. All she wanted in return was reciprocity. She wanted for her feelings to be heard as well. She needed to vent, to cry, to yell and scream at the gods and verbally come to terms with the monumental changes her life had undergone in a matter of days. But Max was too wrapped up in his own turmoil to see hers. Why did it seem she cared more about his feelings than he cared about hers?

She had spent the morning stewing over her bitter feelings and they hadn’t gotten much better when Max went to obvious lengths to avoid her. Liz had actually been quite close to snapping when…he passed out. And in those seconds she had forgotten the reason she was angry with him. Her only thoughts had been for Max, then, as usual, and his well-being.

And then he’d explained about the vision and Liz’s emotions veered crazily yet again. From anger to fear to…curiosity. Max didn’t have any insight into what was happening to him, but fortunately Zrei did not have that problem. He had explained to them all after Max had fallen asleep that what Max was experiencing was called a transition. The newly developed power allowed for Max to touch objects of deep sentimental importance and tap into the mind of the person who owned them. He had said that this ability did not manifest itself in Antarians usually until they were many decades old but for some unknown reason Max’s maturation had been accelerated. He had also wondered aloud if that mysterious reason had accelerated Max’s aging process as well. Neither Liz nor the others had wanted to dwell on the implications of that particular speculation too long.

Instead they had spent some time shooting around theories as to why and how Max had begun this premature development. Liz had her own theories and they centered completely on the unknown drug that Max had ingested the night of their incident. Liz had already surmised that it had been an aphrodisiac that was used and she was almost positive that the drug had something to do with the sudden changes in Max. She was positive, but she had no proof. However, despite her sureness, Liz didn’t voice her theory to the group. What had happened as a consequence of that drug was not up for public speculation and it was an issue that she and Max needed to resolve privately before sharing with the others.

After a while, though, without any real conclusive ideas the gang decided to put their speculation to rest and send Liz into the back bedroom to check on Max. She had fairly run to the back afterwards, not only because she was longing for his company, but also because she was eager to ask him the burning questions that had been beating around in her head since they returned from her grandmother’s house.

Max was now privy to parts of her grandmother’s life that Liz had never known. Since they had begun this fishing expedition Liz had been avidly curious about Claudia Parker’s love affair with Conner Douglass. The very fact that she was apparently still seeing him, even after she was engaged to Liz’s grandfather, was more than enough to spark Liz's interest. What kind of hold had Conner Douglass had on her grandmother? And if she had loved him so much, why on earth had she married Jeff Parker to begin with?

Liz had thought she would never know the answers to those questions. But now the answers were possible. She now had the opportunity to know her grandmother in a completely different way, an intimate way like never before. The prospect was both alluring and daunting. However, her plan was apparently moot now since Max had not yet awakened.

She started to shut the bedroom door softly and then, at the last second, changed her mind and slipped inside, closing the door behind her. Liz crept closer to the bed for a closer look, realizing that Max wasn’t sleeping as peacefully as he’d appeared from a distance. His boyish features were furrowed in fear and small whimpering noises were gurgling from his throat. The hand, which dangled over the bed, reflexively clenched into a fist before relaxing and ever so often he would tremble in his sleep.

Liz stooped down before him, gently brushing his hair away from his forehead. “You can’t seem to find any peace, can you?” she whispered softly, “Not even in your dreams.” She slid her hand down his stubbled cheek, stroking his skin gently.

As if he sensed her touch Max’s features relaxed and he actually turned his face into her palm, nuzzling it slightly. “Liz,” he moaned softly in his sleep.

To hear the sheer longing in his voice pulled at Liz’s heart and before she had completely thought it through she was climbing into the bed and stretching out along side him. The moment she looped her arm around his waist and snuggled against him he turned over onto his side, burrowing his head against her breast before settling back down into a restful sleep. For a few moments Liz lay there with suspended breath, torn between waking him and remaining where she was. She stared down at his sleeping countenance and opted for the latter, exhaling slowly, careful not to wake him.

After a few minutes she was able to relax against him completely and even threaded her fingers through the soft hair at his temples. By the time Maria skipped back to discover what was holding her up Liz had already fallen asleep.

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

The first thing Max became aware of was the sweet smell of vanilla. The aroma surrounded him, engulfed him with a sense of relaxed contentment. He snuggled closer into his pillow, inhaling the scent deeply. It didn’t occur to him to even vaguely wonder why his pillow would smell of vanilla in the first place. And then he opened his eyes.

He hadn’t been laying against a pillow at all, but in fact, had his cheek cushioned against Liz Parker’s breast. Max swallowed as he gradually became aware of her body pressed closely along the length of his, their legs tangled together. As he gingerly moved to extricate his body from hers he realized that his arm had somehow become trapped beneath her and Max had no choice but to remain where he was.

Left with no other recourse Max studied Liz’s sleeping face. She reminded him of a little girl, her thick brown lashes fluttering slightly, her pretty mouth full and pink. Her lips were slightly parted, her breath escaping through the opening in gentle wisps. Across the pillow her hair spread out like a chocolate waterfall. He laid his face against the silky strands and closed his eyes, breathing deep. Vanilla. Max swallowed back his agonized groan of pleasure.

She should not be in bed with him. In fact, what was she doing there to begin with? He had been sure after last night she wouldn’t deem to grace him with a smile much less cuddle up in bed next to him. Yet, here she was. Beautiful, content, and laying in his arms. It was as if heaven had fallen right into his bed. If he had died at that moment Max would have considered his life perfect.

But his life wasn’t perfect, Max reminded himself brutally, and after what happened between them the last place Liz should be was in bed with him. She should be as far from him as possible. He had already proven that he couldn’t be trusted. He should wake her up immediately and order her to go.

And yet, Max made no move to wake her. Instead, he opened his eyes, drinking in her beautiful face once more before trailing his eyes slowly down the length of her body.
Sometime during their slumber her t-shirt had ridden up, exposing the soft, tender skin of her belly.

Max acted before he could stop himself, lifting his hand and strumming the delicate flesh with the tips of his fingers. Max could imagine pressing his lips there, sucking ever so gently… He lifted his gaze, watching her face for her languid responses to his touch. The slight flushed that stained her cheeks caused a gentle ache in Max’s heart. She looked so beautiful lying there, peaceful and lovely and, for a moment, just a moment, he could pretend she was still his.

Liz’s eyes fluttered open and she favored Max with a lazy smile. His fingers ceased their gentle caressing, but his hand remained against her belly. “How long have you been awake?” she asked with a yawn. But what she was really asking was, How long have you been watching me? How long have you been stroking my skin?

“Only a little while,” Max answered vaguely, pulling his arm from beneath her and sitting up. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Liz followed his cue and sat upright as well. “That’s okay,” Liz said, blushing prettily, “I didn’t mind.” There was an awkward silence between them before Liz asked, “Are you feeling better now?”

Max cleared his throat, both saddened and grateful that the intimacy between them had been dispelled. “Much better,” he answered cordially, “I guess two days without sleep just caught up with me.” He really didn’t want to discuss the reasons he had spent those two sleepless nights.

“Yeah,” Liz agreed, sensing the change in his attitude and finding it difficult to mask her disappointment, “I was worried about you. That’s why I’m here…because, you know…I was worried.”

“You were worried about me?”

“Yeah…I figured with everything going on you might be a little overwhelmed right now.”

“That’s a mild way of putting it,” Max replied wryly.

“Well, I thought I might try to help…you know…anyway I could.”

“Is that why you’re in bed with me?” Max asked and immediately wanted to kick himself for his stupidity. He felt excited with the idea of it. The fact that simply sharing a bed with Liz could incite arousal in him filled Max with guilt and shame. He couldn’t understand it. Max thought surely that he would never think of her in such a way again, especially so soon after… And yet, he couldn’t help yearning for taste of her sweet lips. He couldn’t stave the desire to hold her against him and snuggle close.

Their gazes met for an electric moment before Max looked away, afraid his thoughts would be revealed through his eyes. “You shouldn’t be here with me like this, Liz,” Max whispered hoarsely, determinedly stamping down the desire which had awakened within him in response to her nearness.

“You were having a nightmare,” Liz explained lamely, “I just…wanted to help you.”

“My entire life is a nightmare. There’s no helping that.” The dread and defeat was back in his tone and Liz could literally see his emotional withdrawal from her. “I really should get out of here.” He started to climb from the bed but Liz grabbed hold of his wrist in sheer desperation.

“Please don’t leave it like this between us, Max!” she pleaded, despite the resolution she’d made to herself to leave him alone about it. “I don’t want to end up hating you…and I think that’s exactly what you’re trying to do…make me hate you.”

Max stared down at her fingers curled tightly around his wrist before bringing his eyes slowly up to hers. “I’m trying to do the right thing, Liz.”

“But you’re doing the wrong thing,” Liz insisted, “and you’re just hurting us both.”

“I’ll hurt us more if I stay,” Max replied, finally shaking his wrist free. He stepped away from the bed with the obvious intention of leaving. Just as he made it to the door Liz burst out suddenly, “Did my grandmother really love Conner Douglass as much as she said she did?” Liz thought about her grandmother’s endless romantic ramblings in her journal, finding the naïve, idealistic Claudia Lewis a bit hard to reconcile with the shrewd, opinionated Claudia Parker.

Max’s hand froze against the door handle, but he did not turn to face her. “He was a part of her soul,” Max answered quietly, “He was the only man she ever loved…all her life.”

“Her soulmate,” Liz murmured aloud. Max nodded slightly, his voice too raw with unshed tears to speak aloud right then, and opened the door. “Max?” Liz called after him, halting his departure once more.

He still didn’t turn to look at her. “Yeah, Liz?” he asked past the painful lump in his throat.

“That’s exactly how I feel about you…you’re my soulmate.”

Liz thought she might have seen him shudder at her words. However, he had simply walked away afterwards, without even offering her a glance. His rejection smarted.

Liz started to turn onto her side and give into her abject misery when the bedroom door abruptly slammed. She swiveled around, hoping that Max had returned only to find Maria leaning back against door, her arms resolutely folded across her chest. “All right, chica, you’re going to tell me what the heck’s going on,” she stated implacably, “and neither of us is leaving this room until you do.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 30-Sep-2002 10:09:23 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:52:57 PM
Chapter 34

Liz’s attempt at coyness was weak. Although she replied with a blank, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Maria,” it was obvious that she was miserable. Her eyes were shimmering with tears and her words were so hoarse that Maria could barely understand them. She looked about three seconds away from a major emotional meltdown.

The sight of her tears sobered Maria immediately. She had expected some scoopage on major kissing but not tears. She instantly made her way over to Liz’s side, concern banishing the teasing smile she’d had earlier. Her voice had lowered to a whisper when she asked, “Liz, oh my god, what happened?” She reached forward to wipe away the tears that tracked Liz’s cheeks. But it was a futile effort. The tears she dried were quickly replaced with fresh ones. “Did you and Max have a fight or something?”

At Maria’s question Liz choked out a teary laugh that diminished into racking sobs. “God, God, Maria…it’s all…all a m-mess! My…My l-life is c-completely screwed u-up!” There, she had said it. The world famous control she’d had on her life was gone. Chaos, confusion, and outright despair had been ruling for weeks now and Liz didn’t have the strength to put on a happy face any more.

Maria rubbed at her friend’s shaking back in elevated concern. “Liz, you’ve got to calm down and tell me what’s wrong,” she whispered urgently, “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

Realizing that she was scaring the hell out of Maria, Liz bravely tried to get her emotions under control. When her sobs had died down to hiccups, Maria said, “Max barely glanced my way when I met him in the hall. At first I thought it was because he was embarrassed that I caught him coming out of the bedroom, but seeing you I’m beginning to wonder… Did…did Max hurt you in some way, Liz.”

That was a good question, really. Had Max Evans hurt her? God, yes he had hurt her. He hurt her every time he rejected her offers for comfort. He hurt her every time he turned away at her silent pleading for his friendship. He hurt her every time she looked into his fathomless eyes and only found self-loathing there. He hurt her every time he told her that it was impossible for them to be together because he didn’t feel worthy. Yes, yes he was hurting her. Just not in the way Maria might suspect.

Maria waited patiently for Liz to answer her question but Liz remained silent, sniffling quietly and brushing at her tears. “Does this have something to do with what went on with you guys at that place?” Maria asked softly, “Because the two of you have been acting weird ever since we got you back.” Liz again said nothing. “Liz, come on. Talk to me. I thought we were best friends. If you could tell me that Max Evans was an alien surely you can tell me this…whatever it is.”

Maria was right, of course. And Liz wanted to tell her. She needed to unburden herself to someone and it was becoming increasingly apparent that Max wasn’t able. Liz didn’t doubt that Maria would understand, but what she did fear was Maria hating Max at the end of it all. It would be Maria’s natural reaction to be on Liz’s side because she was just loyal like that. But Liz didn’t want that. Max was so alone right now and the last thing he needed was to have people ganging up against him.

Liz caught herself. She was doing it again. Lately, she had made Max’s feelings and Max’s needs so paramount in her life that her own needs and feelings had gone repressed and now she was a wreck as a result. Liz realized she could no longer avoid her emotions by hiding behind Max and his problems.

Although, Liz’s concern for Max’s tender feelings did continue to be an issue for her, she knew that didn’t negate her own need to talk. She needed to share her turmoil with someone aloud, to free herself from its hold before it ate her alive from the inside out. She looked up at Maria with glistening eyes and whispered, “You can’t say anything about what I’m about to tell you…”

And then she proceeded to tell Maria the entire story. She had expected to be in tears by the time she finished recounting her tale of torture, terror and despair but she felt surprisingly calmer afterwards. She deliberately left the parts about Max and the orderly she had killed for last. When she was done, she curled onto her side and tucked her hands beneath her cheek. “So that’s it…that’s the reason I’ve been acting so weird.”

Maria scooted closer to Liz’s prone form, folding her legs behind her. “Liz, I’m not an expert about these things,” she murmured tremulously, shaken and dismayed by what she’d learned, “but it sounds like you might need a lot more help than I’m able to give you.” From all she’d just heard, Maria wouldn’t have been surprised if Liz needed therapy for life after all this was over.

“That’s not true, Maria…just talking to you made me feel a whole lot better.”

“I don’t know, babe, I’m still worried for you…I mean…God…I don’t even know what to say. I can’t believe how strong you are. It’s amazing, really, cuz I probably would have completely freaked days ago.”

“I’m not strong at all,” Liz protested, lowering her eyes, “Inside I’m a basket case. I mean…I killed a man. He might have had a wife…a family…he definitely had a mother and father and I took him away from them. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for that.”

“Don’t torture yourself about that, Liz,” Maria advised decisively, “You acted in self-defense…you have nothing to feel guilty about. If anyone should have felt guilty it should have been that orderly…who was systematically helping those people terrorize you. He was the bad guy, not you, Liz.”

Maria’s loyalty brought fresh tears to Liz’s eyes. “Thanks for being on my side, Ria.”

“Who else’s side would I be on?” Maria quipped with mock crossness. But then the teasing light faded from her eyes and she asked, “So how do you feel about having powers? Do you feel different…or weird or anything?”

“It’s almost unreal,” Liz replied honestly, “I mean…I haven’t been able to use them since that day and I haven’t really wanted to. I guess I’m having a really difficult time accepting that they’re real. I’m just trying not to think about it right now. I don’t know…maybe someday. All I know is I already have a ton of stuff to worry about without adding that to the mix.”

“You mean Max,” Maria guessed astutely.

“I mean Max,” Liz confirmed in misery.

Maria sighed, cautious to choose her next words carefully. “Liz, I know that you and Max have this whole look into my eyes, soulmate thing going on but what’s happening between the two of you now is just so very beyond comprehension, okay.”

Liz could tell from her tone that Maria was blaming Max for the current state of his and Liz’s relationship. As a result, Liz felt compelled to defend him. “Maria, you don’t understand--,”

“I know, I know…it wasn’t his fault, the drug made him do it, yadda, yadda, yadda, but is that drug also giving him a license to treat you like shit now?”

“Maria, he’s really torn up about what happened,” Liz defended softly.

“And you’re not?”

It was true. Liz hadn’t let herself dwell on the circumstances of what happened between her and Max in the cell, but she was, in fact, having a difficult time dealing with it. The awful reality could not be denied. She had lost her innocence in that place. All her expectations for her first time had been washed away in one simple act that had been beyond her control, beyond Max’s. She hated that. Her special moment, the time she should have remembered for the rest of her life as beautiful and wonderful was now something she tried not to think of too often, something she sometimes wanted to pretend had never happened.

Liz had wanted to talk her feelings over with Max, especially because she sensed he felt the same as she did. But he wouldn’t talk to her. That’s what hurt the most, Liz supposed. That Max was unwilling to share his pain with her or even listen to her feelings about it. He had just shut down completely. He was acting as if he’d been the only person present in the room that day.

She was well aware of the horror and disgust Max felt for himself over what happened. And, logically, she knew it wasn’t his fault…she knew it wasn’t hers. But the self-doubt always crept in. Hadn’t he asked her over and over to stay away from him? Why hadn’t she just done that? Why didn’t she just go over to the opposite corner of the room and stay there? Or why didn’t he? He could have continued running from her, couldn’t he? Couldn’t he? Liz mentally slapped herself.

The facts were the facts. The circumstances in that room had been beyond both their control. Max had not wanted it to happen…but it did. She had not wanted it to happen…but it did. Now it was just a matter of sorting out the emotional mess that had followed and making the appropriate parties responsible pay for what they’d done.

At present, however, Liz couldn’t help but smile over Maria’s fierce loyalty. In a way she needed it, needed Maria’s anger and confusion. It was as if Liz were feeding off Maria’s fury because she wouldn’t allow herself to give into her own. Maria wasn’t voicing any question aloud that Liz hadn’t already asked herself silently a dozen times over.

Max’s indifference towards her had incited more than hurt, Liz could feel herself growing increasingly frustrated and angry as well. But she had been religiously guarding her resentful emotions, keeping them bottled tightly inside. She was so afraid that if she really let go, if she revealed to Max the true depth of her hurt and anger he would withdraw into himself completely.

Max was, at the moment, on an emotional precipice and one slight push would send him hurtling over. He was barely keeping it together. He didn’t eat, he didn’t sleep, but merely went through the motions of day to day living. There was no joy in him, no expectation. He handled himself like a machine, going from one task to another with the single-mindedness of a worker bee.

He was hiding, running away from himself, Liz knew. He had to believe that what he’d done in the cell was unforgivable. Liz suspected he might have been able to deal well with everything that transpired before and afterwards if only that afternoon had never happened. But it had happened. And afterwards something inside Max just seemed to die. Liz knew he could heal, if only he would let down his guard and talk to her. They could both heal. But Max was too frightened and too ashamed to accept the comfort she offered.

And Liz couldn’t possibly heap on more hurt, not when she knew what sort of mental and emotional hell he was going through. And so she swallowed her anger, unwilling to compound Max’s emotional burden. Now she found herself explaining away his actions to Maria and, in a sense, it helped her get a better handle on Max’s recent attitude and ease her resentment somewhat. “Don’t blame Max, Maria,” Liz pleaded sadly, “Please don’t. Just for one second imagine how he feels…imagine if you had hurt the person you loved more than anyone alive in a way you could never take back…how would you feel?”

“Like grade A double crap,” Maria answered glumly.

“Exactly--,”

“But I also wouldn’t make it worse by shoving their gestures of forgiveness back in their face,” Maria tacked on defiantly.

“Maria, you don’t understand--,”

“I understand fine,” Maria interrupted smoothly, “Max has got to be feeling like hell. I mean, I’m sure he wanted the first time between you guys to be really special not an uncontrollable assault induced by some Viagra like drug, but,” she emphasized when Liz would have opened her mouth for an “I told you so,” “He’s still hurting you for no good reason. Hasn’t he considered how hard it must be for you, continuing to try and be his friend even after what he did to you?”

“Maria, it wasn’t like that…not really,” Liz protested softly, “It wasn’t as bad as you or Max seem to think it was…at least...no, not the way you seem to.”

The look she gave Liz clearly stated that Maria thought her friend was in denial. “Liz,” she began carefully, “This wasn’t some wayward romantic encounter. You said ‘no’ and he pretty much did it anyway. Drug or no drug, that’s still got to create some major issues between the two of you.”

“No, Maria, I’ve never once held Max accountable,” Liz denied, “I let him do it. I let him do it because I understood that it wasn’t him…that it was the drug and that he didn’t want to hurt me.”

Maria bit back her frustrated retort and instead replied with tolerable reason, “Liz, it wasn’t like you had much of a choice in the matter. You’re not built like a linebacker, you know…Max outweighs you by a good forty to fifty pounds.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Liz clarified, feeling a blush heat her cheeks, “I’m saying I didn’t fight him off the entire time…I didn’t want to. He was still Max, he was still the boy I loved and he was hurting so much, Ria…I just didn’t want to make it worse.”

Maria stared down at Liz blankly as the realization of what Liz was implying finally began to sink in. And then her eyes widened. “Oh my god, Liz,” she gasped out in disbelief, “what are you saying? Are you saying that you are okay with what he did…is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

Liz’s eyes skittered away guiltily. “I didn’t want to him to have to force me, Maria…” Liz murmured quietly, “…and he might have if I’d fought him… I think he was afraid of doing just that. It was like he realized he was absolutely capable of doing so and it terrified him. I could see it in his eyes. And so when he begged me not to fight him, I didn’t.”

Maria digested this new tidbit with relative calm. “Does Max know that…that…you know…that you were okay with it? Does he understand that he didn’t force you?”

Liz shook her head slowly, rubbing her cheek against her pillow as she did. “I don’t think he remembers much from that night and…he absolutely refuses to talk about it with me. Every time I mention it he completely freaks out.”

“You’ve got to tell him, Liz.”

“I’ve tried,” Liz cried out in frustration, “Over and over again, Maria, he doesn’t listen to me. He says he wants me to leave him alone…that he can’t be around me without feeling ashamed.”

“Maybe that’s what you should do, Liz,…just leave him alone,” Maria suggested tentatively, stunning them both. Maria knew that Liz had expected her to be a cheerleader. Liz had hoped Maria would encourage her to go after Max and part of Maria wished that she could do it. But she couldn’t. The situation was just way too complicated for any quick fix. “You should really back off, Liz.”

Liz sat up, staring down at Maria incredulously. “How can you say that to me after…after everything I just told you!” she burst out.

“Liz, for as long as you’ve known Max he’s come with, like, a ton of baggage,” Maria reminded gently, “You’re always running around turning yourself inside out trying to help him solve his problems.” She laid a consoling hand against Liz’s forearm. “You can’t help him solve this one, babe.”

“But he needs me, Maria,” Liz whispered miserably. And I need him, she added mentally.

“This is one time you’ve got to focus on your own needs, chica,” Maria advised with uncharacteristic wisdom, “and let Max work through his current issues on his own.”


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 1-Oct-2002 6:56:40 AM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 4:55:16 PM
Chapter 35

They arrived in Durango, Colorado, Max, Isabel, Michael, Maria, Liz and Zrei, a little after three in the afternoon. As Maria pulled the Jetta into the parking lot of the First National Bank, backing it into the empty space beside the jeep Liz couldn’t squelch the butterflies of nervousness that suddenly took flight in her belly. “Now remember what I told you,” Maria reminded her, watching as Max emerged from the jeep and passed the front of the Jetta to make his way over to the passenger’s side, “this is just business between you two now…don’t let it get personal.”

Liz responded with a jerky nod. “I got it,” she said, already turning her attention to Max who had just pulled open the car door.

“Are you ready?” he asked her, only mildly curious about the secretive glances she and Maria were exchanging.

Liz slid one more desperate glance in Maria’s direction before swallowing her nervousness and alighting from the car. “I’m ready,” she told Max with more conviction that she actually felt.

“Let me see your I.d,” Max commanded as they began walking together towards the bank entrance.

Liz reached into her small handbag and fished out her driver’s license, handing it to him. “What are you doing with it?” she asked as he pressed the small plastic card between him palms. After a few moments an incandescent, silver light began seeping through his fingers. And then it was gone and he handed her identification back to her.

“I made you 21,” he explained at her look of confusion, “It might seem less suspicious since you’re trying to close out your grandma’s account on behalf of your father. Here’s her account number, by the way.” He handed Liz the small slip of paper onto which he’d scribbled her grandmother’s bank account number.

Liz absently plucked it from his fingers. Her mind was currently preoccupied with a sudden apprehension. “You got your powers back?”

“Yeah, last night.”

Temporarily forgetting her promise to Maria not to get involved in Max’s issues, Liz asked, somewhat hurt, “Were you going to tell me?”

Seeing the upset on her face, put there once again by him, made Max’s stomach clench in guilt. It seemed easier to take refuge in his irritation. “Does it matter?” Max asked crossly.

Liz dropped her eyes, in that moment hating him and hating herself for caring about him. “I was just worried…I know how freaked you were about losing them.”

“Well, don’t worry about me, okay,” Max ordered shortly, “I’m a big boy…I can take care of myself.”

“Fine,” Liz bit out in anger, “You do that.” She stalked away from him then and angrily pushed through the entrance of the bank.

Max hissed out a curse, restraining the strong urge to call her back and apologize. It was better that she be angry with him, he told himself in resignation. In the end, he would find it much easier to deal with her anger than her endless love and compassion. Still, the thought of her angry with him gnawed at his gut and made him feel physically ill.

Last night, when he’d realized that his powers had returned it had been his first thought to share the news with Liz. He had even gone so far to rush back into the cabin to wake her. However, once he was inside and he saw her sleeping so peacefully next to Maria Max changed his mind. The enormity of the havoc he’d wreaked in her life hit him at that very moment.

She had been away from home for five agonizing days, during which she’d been held at gunpoint, tortured and physically assaulted. She had killed a man and, though her actions had been self-defense, Max knew her self-esteem had taken a beating. He also knew that she was homesick. She hadn’t mentioned her parents in days, but it was obvious that being away from them for so long was killing her. And her parents, good God, Max thought, her parents were probably going out of their mind with worry.

And it was all his fault. His life, his damnable desire for answers had led her to this, to sleeping on the dusty, wooden floor in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. The realization made Max sick and for a moment he feared that he might actually become ill. He didn’t feel worthy of her, not her love and definitely not her friendship. That she was still the only person he wanted to confide in was added torture. He still yearned for her like a fire under his skin, but he didn’t deserve her and God knew she deserved better than him. He was determined that she would have better.

When Max finally entered the bank Liz had already taken a seat with one of the bank’s representatives. As Max dropped into the empty chair beside Liz the bank associate excused herself to gather closing paperwork for Liz. After she was gone, Liz said, “You were right…my dad hadn’t gotten around to closing grandma’s account here yet.”

“I’m not surprised,” Max said, “You grandmother never told anyone about it so it will probably take some time before your father becomes aware of it.”

“There’s still money in her account,” Liz whispered nervously.

“I know,” Max replied.

Liz swallowed back an ironic laugh. “Oh, I’d forgotten…you’re one with my grandma’s thoughts now.”

Max didn’t miss the bitter edge in her tone. “I’m not trying to take her away from you, Liz. She’s still your grandmother.”

“Yeah, and you know things about her that I couldn’t even imagine,” Liz muttered jealously, “It doesn’t seem fair.” Max found himself unable to respond to her statement because it was true. And it wasn’t fair at all. “So you know so much,” Liz quipped with false lightness, “how much money is left in the account.”

“Over ten thousand dollars.”

Liz’s eyes bugged out of her head and she gaped at him. “Ten thousand dollars!” she bleated loudly and then cringed when she realized she’d drawn the attention of other bank patrons. Lowering her voice she gritted out in an intense whisper, “You knew we were withdrawing ten thousand dollars today and you didn’t say anything.”

“Actually there was more at one time,” Max explained calmly, “Your grandmother took a portion of your great grandfather’s life insurance policy and invested it here. She used the money to hire several private investigators.”

“But why would she do that?”

“I don’t know,” Max answered, “All her thoughts aren’t completely clear to me. There are some things I know with absolute certainty…like how to find this bank and how much money was here and other times all I have is impressions and feelings. I don’t understand it really.”

“Have you spoken the Zrei about it?” Liz asked, aware that Max, Michael and Isabel had spent the better part of the previous night bombarding Zrei with endless questions about their background. Liz and Maria had, understandably, felt left out of the situation and had excused themselves for a walk. Now Liz found herself wishing she’d stayed. She was just as curious about Max’s new powers as Isabel and Michael. She also secretly wondered if learning about Max’s latest abilities would give her insight into her own.

“He explained that it’s like an adolescent boy’s voice change,” Max said with a smirk of remembrance, “the more the boy matures the deeper his voice becomes. He said as I continue to mature my powers will deepen and I will be able to control them better.”

It was when he stopped talking that Liz realized she’d been smiling at him and vice versa. Her grin immediately faded and she said haltingly, “Well, that’s…I’m glad for you, Max.”

They lapsed into an awkward silence which was, thankfully, interrupted by the bank associate’s return. The woman took her seat across from them, eyeing Max curiously. “He’s my friend,” Liz clarified quickly in answer to her silent question.

The bank representative nodded her understanding before asking Liz pleasantly, “Ms. Parker, were you aware that your grandmother had over ten thousand dollars in her checking account with us?”

Liz feigned a blank look. “She did? Well, I had no idea,” Liz said. It was partially the truth. “Ms.,” Liz slid a look to the banker’s nametag, “Ms. Newberry. I really wasn’t aware that my grandmother would have such a substantial about of cash here because this wasn’t her primary bank. I came here only to empty out her safe deposit box as I told you before.”

“I understand perfectly, Ms. Parker,” Ms. Newberry said, “Which was why I spoke to my supervisor and he said it would be perfectly fine to transfer your grandmother’s account over into your name so that you may avoid closing it at this time.”

Liz glanced uneasily at Max before returning her gaze to Ms. Newberry. “What do I need to do?” she asked.

“Just fill out a few forms…it won’t take very long.”

It took nearly an hour and a half. Whenever Liz thought she was finally finished with the last of the forms, Ms. Newberry would produce another that absolutely needed her signature. By the time she was done Liz was visibly annoyed. “Do you think it’s possible for me to open the safe deposit box now?” she asked Ms. Newberry in irritation as she signed her name on the final document and shoved it towards the bank associate.

A few minutes later they were led to a bank room in the bank to wait patiently for Ms. Newberry to return with the box. “I’m sorry it took so long,” Liz told Max sheepishly as they waited, “Is everyone still outside waiting.” While Liz had filled out the endless papers Max had excused himself briefly to go and check on his sister and friends.

“It’s okay, Liz,” Max replied, “When I went outside earlier they were getting a little restless. I told them to go and grab some lunch. They’ll be fine.”

He started to say more but Ms. Newberry had already returned with the box. She set it down on the table in front of them before graciously excusing herself. Liz found herself regretting her earlier rudeness towards the woman.

Max retrieved the safe deposit key from his pocket. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered as he slid it into the lock. Both he and Liz held their breaths as Max lifted the long, metal lid of the box. Inside was a small envelope that was slightly worn and yellow. With shaky hands Max lifted it from the box, gingerly lifting the flap. Nestled inside was a single key. “This is it,” Max said, shaking the key out into his palm, “this is the key that Conner Douglass gave your grandmother.”

“Are you sure?” Liz asked anxiously, “Can you see…feel anything?”

Max clenched the key tightly in his fist, concentrating hard but with no results. “I’m not getting anything,” he grunted in frustration. Max wanted to pound his fist against the table. They had come so far, finally finding the key that Conner Douglass had held in such importance and they could do nothing with it. Max propped his elbows against the table and cradled his head in his hands. “I was hoping this would be the answer we were all waiting for,” he sighed dejectedly.

“It’s not over yet, Max, don’t give up,” Liz rallied softly, reaching forward to rest her hand reassuringly on his shoulder. The moment she touched him the world went whirling for them both and they were suddenly back in the Amberhurst Psychiatric Facility in Caliente, Nevada witnessing a conversation that had taken place forty years earlier.

“You look beautiful,” Conner told her with a smile, “I’m glad you came…I was beginning to think you wouldn’t.”

“You’re the one who told me to stay away, remember,” Claudia Lewis replied warily as she eased herself down onto the bed beside him, “I don’t like visiting you here, Conner.”

“Better here than the cemetery, love.”

Claudia looked away from him then. She hated when he became all morbid and sullen like that. It was as if he really believed all those wild stories he’d been telling her for the last four years. In those instances Claudia could really believe that he was crazy. She had even told him so, which was the very reason he’d barred her from visiting him again. This was the first time she’d seen him in nearly a year.

He looked different now. He’d grown a beard in the time since she’d seen him last. She wondered curiously if it felt as scratchy as it appeared. Claudia wanted to reach forward and touch him, as she had hundreds of times in the past, but that time of easy camaraderie between them was long gone. She couldn’t help but feel nervous in his presence now. “Why did you send for me, Conner?” Claudia demanded, “Why now after so long a silence between us?”

“Nita came to visit me yesterday,” Conner replied carefully, “She said you were getting married next week…and to a salesman, no less.”

“His name’s Jeffrey Parker,” Claudia revealed uneasily, nervously twirling her engagement band on her finger, “I met him last spring when I was volunteering at the shelter. He’s a really good man.”

“That’s good,” Conner said, his words strained with emotion, “I’m…I’m very happy for you, Claudia.”

She wasn’t at all pleased with his well wishes. “Is that why you asked me all this way…to wish me congratulations?”

Conner suddenly hopped to his feet and moved quickly to his door. He glanced out in the hall suspiciously, assuring it was empty, before pushing it closed. Claudia watched his nervous darting with pity and sadness. And then he turned to face Claudia, briefly stopping at his bookshelf to retrieve a book before he did. He joined her back over on the bed and handed the book to her. Claudia glanced down at the cover. “The Odyssey?” she asked in blank confusion, “You asked me to drive all the way up from Roswell, New Mexico so you could give me a book?”

“Open it,” Conner ordered her softly. Claudia did as he asked only to find that the inside of the book had been hollowed out and taped carefully in the impression that had been fashioned was a small key. “It unlocks my family safe back home in Durango,” he told her when she looked at him questioningly, “There’s information there that will help you understand why I’m here.”

“I already know why you’re here, Conner,” Claudia replied in mild irritation, “because you believe you were abducted by aliens and taken to another planet.” She sighed resolutely. “Because you’re crazy.”

He swept up her hand, pressing a fervent kiss to her palm as his eyes met her earnestly. “Claudia, I’m not crazy,” he insisted firmly, “Look at me. Look at my eyes.” She lifted her gaze to his. “Do you really believe that I’m crazy?”

His gaze was lucid, straight-forward, honest, but not crazy. He appeared to be just as sane as she was. Still… “Conner, aliens do not exist,” she whispered, pulling her hand away, “It’s like believing in leprechauns and fairies…they’re not real.”

Conner knew it would be a waste of time trying to convince her right then, but he still wanted to assure that she took the key. “Please just take it,” he urged quietly, “When you’re ready…go to the house and see for yourself.”

“Conner, I--,”

“Claudia, I love you,” he interrupted suddenly. He caressed her dark, heavy hair back from her temple. “I never stopped…never. If you ever loved me at all…please, please don’t dismiss what I’m telling you.”

Tears slipped down Claudia’s cheeks, falling silently onto the book that rested in her lap. “I want to believe you so much, Conner, I really do.”

“Then believe me,” he told her, his eyes dark with insistence and truth, “I’ve never lied to you, Claudia, and I never will. Go to Durango.”

Claudia curled the key in her hand, nodding slightly. “I will.”


Both Liz and Max simultaneously snapped out of their daze as if being suddenly awakened by a hypnotist. “Oh my God,” Liz gasped as she stared at Max breathlessly, her entire body trembling, “Max, what’s happening to us?”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:00:20 PM
Chapter 36

“This is my last loop on this alien roller coaster ride that you call a life, Max,” Maria announced firmly as she brought her car to a stop in front of Conner Douglass’ childhood home. She swiveled around in her seat to level Max, who sat in the back beside Liz, with a serious stare of impatience. “I mean it…after this I’m heading home…danger or no danger and Liz is coming with me. Comprende amigo?”

Max’s mouth slanted in a small smile, the first he’d had in days. “I got it,” he said, schooling his face to remain scrupulously straight and then he reached forward to squeeze her forearm lightly and added honestly, “I do appreciate all you’ve done for me and my family this week, Maria. I won’t forget it.”

Max sincerely meant the words. After the way that Isabel and Michael and, yes, even he had treated Maria Max wouldn’t have been surprised if she turned them in at the first possible moment. But she hadn’t. She had gone to great lengths to keep their secret. Max wasn’t so deluded to think she was doing it solely for their benefit, however. Maria was keeping their asses out of hot water out of loyalty to Liz. Still, it spoke a lot about Maria and a lot about Liz as well, to be the inspiration of such loyalty.

Maria found herself gaping at Max in response to his display of gratitude and Max took advantage of her speechlessness to slide from the car completely. Liz offered her a small smile, which widened considerably when Maria’s jaw began to work but no sound came out. Finally, she managed to sputter, “Why did…where did…and how…and just…when…uh, he…I don’t know what to say.”

“Now you know why it isn’t so simple to write him off,” Liz told her sadly, “Not as easy as you thought.”

Maria glanced out the window and watched as Michael and Max talked quietly on the sidewalk beyond the cars. “No,” she conceded in a soft whisper, “I guess not.”

Outside on the sidewalk Michael and Max surveyed the old, two-story house before them. “So this is it?” Michael remarked thoughtfully, casting Max a questioning sideways look, “You think you can handle any truth we find in there?”

“Can you?” Max countered quickly.

“I don’t know,” Michael sighed, “I mean we already know our origins. We know why we’re here and how we came to be so what else is there for us to know?”

“Whatever it is the feds don’t want us to find out,” Max stated.

“Isn’t that simple? We’re aliens…they’re humans,” Michael provided concisely, “We don’t mix and they want to exterminate us. End of mystery.”

Max shook his head in denial. “I don’t buy that. If the feds wanted us dead then why didn’t they kill me when they had me? Or Zrei, for that matter? They want something from us.”

Michael had to admit that Max made sense. He shrugged. “Yeah, but what?”

“I think we’re about to find out.”

They used the dimness of the falling evening to slip inside the deserted rancher. Inside the house was pitch black and the only sound to be heard was the mice scurrying behind the walls. Max sent a burst of light from his palm, filling the room with a silvery glow. It was obvious that no one had lived in that house for a long time. Gossamer cobwebs stretched across the furniture and the corners of the faded blue walls.

Michael wrinkled his nose, resisting the urge to sneeze. All the furniture in the living area had been covered over with white sheets that were laden with dust. When was the last time someone had been there, he wondered. One thing for sure he found the place extremely creepy and he was beginning to regret his insistence that he accompany Max into the house. This was one privilege that Michael would have gladly given over to Liz. To take his mind off his unease Michael decided to ask Max about the ball of light he’d just tossed into the air.

Max shrugged. “I don’t know…I just did it. It’s no big deal.” He thought he heard Michael mutter something like, “Yeah, it’s not a big deal cuz you can do it.” Max turned to face him. “Did you say something, Michael?”

“Nothing at all,” Michael lied smoothly.

Again Max shrugged. Max couldn’t understand why he heard envy in Michael’s tone. For what, really? Max didn’t want or need his new powers to begin with, but for some reason Isabel and Michael thought what was happening to him was special.

His sister and best friend might be completely impressed with his new powers; however, Max found them burdensome and somewhat frightening. Max could actually feel his alien side opening up, becoming mature and Max wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to know about that part of himself. He couldn’t help but wonder if the human side of him had assaulted Liz, the woman he cared about more than air, what would his alien side be capable of?

Max didn’t want to think about that now. He forced his mind to focus on the task at hand and finding the safe. “I think we should split up,” he suggested to Michael after he’d briefly scanned the room, “we’ll cover more ground that way. I can take the upstairs while you stay down here.”

Michael didn’t care for the prospect of digging around downstairs with only mice and night crawlers for company, but he would have endured Chinese water torture before admitting to Max that he was afraid. “Whatever you think is best,” he replied casually.

“Don’t be fooled by the décor,” Max warned as he headed for the stairwell, “Remember to look behind all the pictures.” He bounded up the steps, illuminating his path along the way. It wasn’t until he was upstairs that Max slowed his gait. Now that he was finally alone he found himself thinking over the vision he’d shared earlier with Liz.

He didn’t understand it. In that moment when she’d touched him, Max had felt his powers surge and open as if Liz were a conduit of some sort. His energy seemed to flow from her and through her and Max could feel himself gaining an impressive strength that was almost too much for him to control. He felt like he might pass out and at first believed he did because only seconds after Liz laid her hand against his shoulder his world went black. It was only after he’d come back to himself and Liz asked her question that he realized that he’d had a vision and that Liz had seen it too.

Afterwards, they didn’t talk about it. Liz wanted to, but Max had staved her off. Though he had been exhilarated at first to know that he and Liz could share such an intimate connection once the knowledge truly sank in Max’s exhilaration quickly gave way to feelings of unworthiness. He didn’t feel he deserved such a bond with someone as good and pure as Liz.

Through no fault of her own, Liz reminded Max of everything he wasn’t and never could be after DeVoe. But he wanted to reach out to her, God knew, he did. Everything inside him wanted to explore the reason Liz seemingly strengthened his powers. He wanted to understand why, even after all he’d done, he still felt this magnetic pull towards her, this instinctive certainty that they belonged together, but he couldn’t allow himself to pursue it. Shame and guilt were masterfully holding him back.

In the end, it didn’t seem to matter if Max shared a connection with Liz or not. Nothing could ever come of it anyway. He loved Liz enough to want her to have better than him. But Max wasn’t so magnanimous that he didn’t feel the sting of bitterness that came with his selfless act. It was one more reason for Max to hate DeVoe utterly.

It was ironic that this trip had begun for Max as an innocent search for Conner Douglass, a man who might have been his relative, but had progressed to a burning sense of hatred for the man Max suspected of murdering him. That was the emotion that was truly driving Max at the moment. Max wanted to make DeVoe pay for what he’d done to Conner Douglass, to Liz…and to him. Revenge. It was the one thing motivating Max to get up in the morning. Besides that…he was dead inside.

Max drifted into the first bedroom he came across. Hatred, he scoffed mentally, that was too mild a word to describe the absolute loathing he felt. Zrei had told him that hate was not the Antarian way and that Max should release the fury he held locked inside. Max had responded angrily to Zrei’s prying, telling him that he didn’t need advice from a cold-blooded killer. He had regretted his words later and apologized for all the good it had done. Zrei, being ever practical, hadn’t seemed affected either way.

But despite Zrei’s apparent indifference Max suspected his guardian had spoken out of concern and wisdom as well. The wrath Max felt inside was eating away at him constantly, obliterating every other emotion in its path so that there were times when Max could feel nothing but his anger. He found the fact oddly comforting, however. Because with DeVoe and revenge to occupy his thoughts Max didn’t have to think about Liz and he could momentarily forget how much he hated himself.

But now that it looked as if his quest for the truth was coming to an end Max recognized that he could no longer run from his thoughts. And the realization scared the hell out of him. The very thought of going back to the life he had before seemed surreal. He cringed when he thought about seeing Liz everyday at school, passing her in the hallway. Every time Max looked at her face he saw her as she had been beneath him that afternoon, begging him to stop. The mere memory of the horror on her face made him want to die. More often than not lately he’d contemplated doing just that.

Forcing his morbid thoughts from his head Max turned his attention to searching the bedroom. He did so half-heartedly before exiting and moving on to the next. He surveyed the next room without really seeing it, his mind continued to torture him with thoughts of Liz.

He wondered if she hated him. He wouldn’t blame her if she did. And if she hadn’t before she definitely did now with the way he’d been treating her the last few days. Ironically, her hatred was the very thing Max wanted and didn’t want, if he was honest with himself. On the one hand, he felt he deserved her hatred, that somehow it would be easier to live with himself if he knew she no longer loved him. But on the other hand, the prospect that she might hate him was devastating, made him wonder if there was any point to his life without Liz’s love.

Max silently cursed himself. What was done was done! He couldn’t change it. He couldn’t make it better, no matter how many times he apologized. He had ruined his chances with Liz for good and ruined himself as well. Maybe it would just be better if he disappeared, if he went away and never came back. Then Liz could be happy again and, maybe, just maybe, he could learn to respect himself once more.

Max whirled around; intent on leaving the current bedroom and his search behind, beyond emotionally exhausted, when he noticed something peculiar that stopped him in his tracks. In all the rooms of the house the dust lay thick and untouched, but in this particular room the dust was lighter in several places. It was as if someone had been there before and disturbed it. Max frowned at the unbidden thought.

He scanned his eyes about the room, brightening the light that pulsated from his hand. There were no pictures on the walls. He knocked against the wooden fortification experimentally. It seemed solid and Max doubted that there was anything hidden behind it. He sighed, continuing to stare at the wall. This was obviously the master bedroom, Max realized belatedly. It was much bigger than the other three he’d searched earlier. If there were a safe in the house this would be the likely place, that is, if Michael hadn’t found something downstairs. Max called out for him.

“Yeah, what is it?” came Michael’s yelled reply a few seconds later.

“Have you found anything yet?” Max called out.

“Not if you don’t count a jar of peach preserves that’s about four decades old!”

Max sighed again. That meant it had to be upstairs somewhere and it was most likely in the bedroom where Max stood. Max thought for a moment, turning slowly to carefully study the covered furniture as he did. There was the bed, side tables, and a writing desk as well if the outlines under the sheet were any indication. There was also a wide tall object that Max assumed was a dresser and mirror and a heavy oak bookcase that was left exposed.

Wait, exposed? Duh, Max thought as he stared at the bookshelf. His mind had been so preoccupied with Liz and his own misery that he’d completely missed the fact that the bookcase was the only uncovered piece of furniture in the house. As he moved in for closer inspection he realized that the sheet that had once been draped over it had now been stuffed into a box that sat on the lowest shelf. Max suspected that the safe must be somewhere behind the shelf.

Max grabbed hold of the bookcase on either side and tried to slide it out the way, but without much result. It wouldn’t budge. That’s when Max noticed that the bottom of the shelf was nailed into the wooden floorboards. Max pondered that for a moment. If there were indeed a safe behind the bookshelf it would have to be accessing without actually having to move the furniture. Max ran his hands experimentally over the back panels.

He was only mildly surprised when the second panel near the bottom shelf gave way to reveal a large square hole cut out of the wall. Max ducked down and reached inside the hole with both hands lifting out a heavy metal safe that was the size of a small computer. With shaking fingers Max retrieved the key from his pocket and inserted it into the lock. He half expected to find yet another key, but instead, stuffed inside the tight confines of the safe were piles and piles of file folders.

Max grimaced his disappointment. This was what they had come across four states to find, he asked himself grimly. Still scowling, he reached pulled out the stack of folders, flipping open the first one disinterestedly. However, as Max examined the information before him his eyes slowly widened with shock. He picked up another folder and another, scanning the contents in quick disbelief.

Fifteen minutes later he drifted to his feet, realizing finally that this was bigger than any of them had imagined.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:02:59 PM
Chapter 37

“I can hardly believe what I’m reading,” Isabel breathed in shock, surveying the documents in her hand, “The whole thing seems completely diabolical.”

They had finally decided to stop for the night, pooling the last of their money (Liz had refused to withdraw even one penny from her grandmother’s account), and purchasing a single motel room. Max had been jumpy ever since leaving Durango, staunchly refusing to tell anyone what he’d found in the folders he clutched so desperately against him. Only when they were in the private confines of their room did Max finally share with them the information he’d found.

Back at Conner Douglass’ old house Max had been consumed only with the thought to run. The moment he had realized the import of the documents he’d found, he’d gathered them awkwardly against his chest and fairly tripped down the steps in the darkness to make it to Michael.

Michael took one look at Max’s anxious, flushed face and had burst out, “What happened? What’s wrong?”

“We have to get out of here,” Max told him vaguely, striding for the door with the folders clutched tightly against his chest.

They had sped off a few minutes later in the jeep with Isabel and Zrei while Maria and Liz followed behind them. Max insisted that they drive most of the night, stopping only for gas and restroom breaks, until they reached Albuquerque, New Mexico and only then, under threat of mutiny, did he agree to stop for the night. They all were impatient for an explanation to his strange behavior as well as what he’d found.

So finally when they all were gathered together in the tiny motel room Max dropped his bombshell. “The government knows that aliens exist.”

The reactions he received from the group ranged from confused disappointment to outright disgust. “Are you telling me that’s the reason you just made us drive over two hundred miles nearly non-stop,” Michael demanded in irritation, “to tell us something we already know? Of course, the government knows aliens exist, Max…there’s the 1947 crash, remember?”

“No, Michael, I’m talking about before then,” Max clarified softly, “The U.S. government knew about alien existence long before 1947, in fact they knew as early as the thirties.”

Michael deflated right before his eyes, stunned into speechlessness. “What? How is that possible?”

Max slid his gaze from Michael’s shocked features to Zrei, who had suddenly just turned his back to them and stood, staring rigidly out the window. “In the summer of 1930 a spaceship crash landed in a small town in Kansas called Cornwallis.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Where the hell’s Cornwallis?”

“If there was another ship why didn’t we know about it before now?”

The questions were fired at Max simultaneously, but he merely pointed to the files stacked beside him. “The answers are all in here,” he told them quietly.

“Don’t tell me you plan on taking us to this place in Kansas, Max, cuz my days of adventure are just about over,” Maria stated tiredly, “All I want is a shower and my own bed. To hell with everything else.”

“Is that where we’re going next?” Isabel asked, ignoring Maria for the moment, “To this…what was the name again?”

“Cornwallis,” Michael supplied.

“No, we’re not going there, Isabel,” Max told them, never taking his eyes from Zrei’s ever stiffening figure.

“But you just told us an alien ship crash landed there,” Michael protested in confusion.

“There is no point in going there,” Zrei spoke quietly from his place over near the window, “The town of Cornwallis no longer exist.”

“What?” Michael burst out.

“But you told us that our ship was the only one to crash land in the U.S.,” Isabel reminded him, feeling betrayed that he had lied to them, “You never mentioned any others.”

“I told you that our ship was the only one to crash that night,” Zrei corrected, “That was the truth.”

“So you didn’t lie outright, but you lied by omission,” Michael accused hotly, hopping to his feet and pacing the room like a caged animal, “It’s the same thing! So what aren’t you telling us…what happened to this town.”

“It was nuked,” Max revealed quietly, “That spaceship wasn’t only carrying passengers that night, but a killer alien virus as well.”

The scientist in Liz perked up. “A virus,” Liz repeated, speaking for the first time since they’d arrived, “What sort of virus?”

Max lifted his eyes from Zrei briefly to toss Liz a glance. “That kind of virus that shuts down organ function in human and Antarian in a matter of days,” he said ominously, “By the time the government had figured out what happened nearly 2/3 of Cornwallis’ population was dead and the virus had mutated. It had only taken the virus a week to kill off nearly 1500 people.

“The virus was fast moving, nearly unstoppable. The military was left with no choice but to nuke the entire town and then they proceeded to spend the next twenty years covering up what they’d done.”

“So that’s what this is all about?” Maria asked blankly, “Because the government nuked some Podunk town to keep a killer virus from spreading. It sounds like they were heroes.”

“You won’t think they’re so heroic after I finish telling all of it,” Max contradicted mildly, “Not everyone in Cornwallis died immediately. Those who survived were taken into military custody and studied like lab rats until they died. Then their bodies were autopsied and dissected for further study. You see, the government didn’t want to cure the virus at all…they wanted to control it…for use in biological warfare.”

“Oh my God,” Liz whispered, “They covered up those people’s death just so they could have a weapon?”

Max nodded. “But you see, they didn’t know how to control their foreign virus. By the time they realized that it had mutated it had spread to several military personnel and compromised the facility where the experiments were being conducted. Eventually it was nuked as well and only a sample of the original virus, as well as its mutated form was saved from the destruction.”

“So then that was the end of it?” Isabel concluded.

“Not exactly,” Max hedged, “The real breakthrough didn’t happen until the military caught themselves one real, live alien.”

Four pairs of eyes drifted over to the window where Zrei stood. “Zrei?” Isabel whispered in confusion.

“They used me, experimented on me to find an antidote,” Zrei reveled without ever turning to face them, “I spent many months in the facility under constant supervision and study.”

“He was given a dozen different drugs to keep him under control,” Max explained when Zrei trailed off into silence, “They didn’t know the extent of his abilities. He frightened them and so they did all they could to keep him incapacitated.” Max shuddered as he spoke, remembering his own experiences and knowing personally what sort of hell Zrei had lived through. Max continued, his voice shaking slightly as he spoke, “Eventually, through a series of tests the military was able to develop an antidote to the original strain of the virus via Subject A’s, as they referred to Zrei in their files, DNA.”

“So now they have this biological weapon and the means to control it,” Michael prompted impatiently, “Then why are they continuing to hunt us down? Why take you and Liz hostage?”

Before Max could open his mouth, Zrei interrupted to explain, “When I escaped I took all the evidence I could find proving my existence with me and eliminated any witnesses that might have proved a problem.”

“He killed over 20 military agents and the doctor assigned to his case,” Max clarified. His tone wasn’t judgmental, however, but softened with pity, “Shortly after his escape a division of alien hunters was implemented in the FBI ranks. They’re referred to as the Special Unit and their sole purpose is to hunt down our kind.”

“So that’s why they took you? They wanted to make another antidote to replace the one that Zrei took when he escaped,” Liz said aloud. And then her eyes widened in further horror. “Or they wanted to create one from the mutated strain.”

“But that just leaves the question of how Conner Douglass fits into all this,” Isabel stated blankly, “Did the feds just want him simply because he was on that ship, because he knew aliens existed or what?”

“From what I’ve read in the reports there was a leak to the press about what really happened in Cornwallis by military personnel,” Max replied quietly, “This guy was ‘terminated’ shortly after and I have to assume that’s just a nice way of saying dead. And remember Conner Douglass was investigating the existence of aliens long before he got abducted. The fact he did saved his life, actually. They were planning to ‘terminate’ him as well three days later.”

“So obviously this military guy fed Douglass his information and then got himself promptly axed,” Michael surmised, “Unbelievable. This is almost too much. I need to read those files myself.”

And he did, along with everyone else. They soon learned together that the files only covered events through 1965. Apparently, after Conner Douglass was institutionalized Claudia Parker had eventually taken up where he had left off. It also became apparent to Max, Michael, and Isabel why Anita Raymond had been so antsy when they began asking her questions about her brother. Her family had been terrorized for quite awhile before and after her brother’s disappearance. However, it had all seemed to end three months after Conner’s return when his father was ultimately “terminated” to serve as an example to his family. The officials involved were careful to stage the murder as a suicide, however. But it was quite possible that Anita Raymond had known the truth about her father’s death all along.

It was awhile before anyone spoke again and when the silence was finally broken it was by Isabel’s softly spoken utterance. “What are we going to do, Max?” she asked, raising brown eyes filled with fear to her brother’s resolute ones, “If we weren’t deep in it before we most definitely are now.”

“We’re going to go home,” Max stated firmly.

“It is a fool’s decision,” Zrei advised him tersely, “They will kill you.”

“No, they won’t,” Max contradicted with absolute conviction, “You won’t let that happen. Besides the information we have could ruin a lot of lives. DeVoe and whomever he’s working for won’t take that lightly.” He sighed deeply, bracing himself for what he was to face in the very near future. “I have to face him again…and put an end to this once and for all.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Oct-2002 9:38:51 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:04:13 PM
Chapter 38

They returned to Roswell the following morning, a mass of fear and nerves. Zrei insisted that they all take the files to the pod chamber and hide out there until after Max had confronted DeVoe. He explained that because only an alien could access the chamber, DeVoe would have no means of getting to them. They had just barely adjusted to the shock of finding it again when Max began preparing himself to face DeVoe.

They argued with him, as he’d expected, but with little results. Max had already decided that he would see DeVoe alone and no one would change his mind. As he left them behind in the rock formation Liz had run up behind him and grabbed his arm.

“I don’t think you should go alone, Max,” Liz told him haltingly, “DeVoe’s a crazy man…he’ll kill you.”

“I think I’ll be able to convince him that’s unwise,” Max had replied.

“At least let me come with you. It’s not a good idea to face him alone.”

“And it’s not a good idea for you to come with me,” Max countered firmly, “I don’t want you to be hurt anymore. DeVoe used you once to get to me and I know he’s not beyond doing it again.”

His arguments were sound, but still Liz had persisted. “How do you plan to find him, Max?” Liz demanded, “You don’t even know where to look.”

Max stared down at her, watching the breeze tease at her hair. Soft brown tendrils blew in gentle wisps across her face and Max thought that if this was to be the last time he saw her he wanted to remember her exactly the way she looked at that moment. “I won’t have to find DeVoe,” Max told her quietly, “He’ll find me.”

He had gone to wait in a seedy diner right on the edge of Roswell’s city limits. And that was where he was at present, seated alone in a booth waiting anxiously while choking down a greasy cheeseburger he could barely taste. And even with the fear prospect of facing DeVoe again in view, Max could only berate himself for leaving things unsaid with Liz.

“Another cherry coke?” his waitress asked for what seemed like the hundredth time. Max waved her off, staring out the window expectantly. “You waiting for somebody?” she inquired brashly, snapping her gum loudly.

“Yes…” Max replied absently, “Yes, I am.”

“She gonna eat?”

Max forced himself to look at her then, belatedly realizing that she must think him the queerest sort of freak. “He,” he corrected with a sigh, “and no, I don’t think he’ll be eating. You can go on and bring me my check now.” As Max watched her walk away he unconsciously strummed his fingers against the table while lamenting his conversation with Liz right before he left.

He hadn’t really told her any of the things that needed to be said between them. He had wanted to. The words had been fairly bursting from his chest as he stared down into that gorgeous face of hers bathed in the sunshine. But the moment he opened his mouth the words stuck in his throat and he couldn’t manage to push them past his lips. And in the end he’d walked away without saying goodbye.

The waitress finally came back with his check and he mumbled a thank you in response. Max cast another anxious glance out the window but all he saw was a long stretch of desert cut through with the empty highway. Maybe expecting DeVoe to find him hadn’t been such a brilliant plan after all, Max considered in afterthought. He supposed he might well have to come up with a plan B.

As Max placed his money for the check on the table a hand suddenly covered his own. Max froze, his eyes traveling up the brawny length of the man who’s hand clenched his own. He was dressed in blue jeans and a simple red t-shirt. His aviator sunglasses shielded his eyes from view and when Max stared into them his own reflection stared back. The man’s casual dress didn’t fool Max, however. He knew an agent now when he saw one, no matter what he was wearing.

“Agent DeVoe would like to see you now,” the burly agent stated deeply, looking as if he might haul Max forcibly to his feet any second.

However, when he would have grabbed at Max the younger man jerked from the agent’s grasp. “I’ll go of my own volition, okay,” he said, leveling the taller man with steely amber eyes. He slid from the booth sedately and quietly followed the man outside.

There was a limousine waiting out front for them where two armed agents decked out in suits were waiting. Max stared at the coldly, his jaw tight. “I’ve learned quite a bit since the last time fellas. Don’t mess with me, today.”

The two suited agents exchanged wary looks before climbing into the limo without a word. The burly agent flicked indicated that Max get in after them. “I’d prefer to drive my jeep,” Max told him stubbornly.

“Agent DeVoe prefers that you to accompany us in the limo,” the agent argued.

“I don’t care what DeVoe prefers,” Max gritted in hostility, “Either I drive myself or I’m not going anywhere.”

Something on Max’s face must have said that he meant business because the agent didn’t argue with him further, but only nodded and climbed into the limousine. His body shaking almost uncontrollably, Max stumbled over to his jeep.

He seemed to follow them for hours going in the opposite direction of Roswell. The further Max got from home the uneasier he became; the more determined he was to do whatever was necessary to protect himself. By the time they finally stopped Max’s palms were slick with perspiration. As he climbed from the jeep he could make out a figure standing in the distance.

Max shielded his eyes against the glare of the sun for a closer look. It was DeVoe. Max made his way across the sandy stretch of desert towards him. Once he had closed the distance between them Max noticed the dramatic change in DeVoe’s appearance. Gone was the polished, well dressed man who had tormented and terrified him, in his place was a wild haired demon, complete with the wrinkled suit and five o’clock shadow.

“So Max, we meet again,” DeVoe quipped. He wagged his finger at Max in disapproval. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused me?”

“Not nearly as much as you’ve caused me,” Max replied stiffly.

“You sound bitter, Max. That’s never a good thing.”

Quickly growing weary of his tiresome sparring Max demanded, “What do you want from me? Why am I here?”

DeVoe compressed his lips in a derisive smile. “I was under the assumption that it was you who wanted something from me, Max. After all, isn’t that why you were sitting in plain sight, hoping I’d find you?”

“You don’t know me half as well as you think.”

“On the contrary, Max…I believe I do.”

He seemed so unshakable; so untouchable that Max wanted badly to rattle his indifferent composure. “I know about Cornwallis, Kansas,” Max said loudly, “and the great lengths the government went through to cover it up.”

That hit a nerve. Max could see it in the way DeVoe’s left eye twitched almost imperceptibly. But that didn’t prevent him from trying to brazen his way out of Max’s accusation. “Is the name Cornwallis supposed to mean something to me?”

“You know exactly what it means,” Max spat, “And if you don’t want me to go public with what I’ve found and ruin you and your businesses partners lives I suggest you back off!” It was a wild bluff, but Max hoped DeVoe didn’t realize that. There was no possible way he could expose the information in those folders without exposing himself as well.

DeVoe dropped all plays at pretense. “You’re threatening to ruin me with something that took place in the 30’s?” He barked a scoffing laugh. “I wasn’t even with the FBI then.”

“You might not have had anything to do with it directly, but you’ve definitely been covering up the truth since then.”

“What makes you so sure I wouldn’t acquire this evidence as easily as I acquired you?” DeVoe countered. The silky threat in his tone was unmistakable.

Max trembled in response to that tone. It was the voice DeVoe always used before he did something absolutely horrifying to him. Max feared that tone just as much as he feared the man, but he forced himself to stand his ground. “The evidence is in a place you’ll never find…I guarantee that.”

“And what if I were to torture it out of you?” DeVoe inquired.

“I’d kill you first.”

Instead of frightening DeVoe, Max’s words seemed to amuse him. “I believe you would, Max,” he chuckled, “I believe you would.” He casually reached into the breast pocket of his suit to pull free his nine-millimeter. He’d barely pulled it clear before Max sent forth a bolt of light, singeing his hand and causing him to cry out and drop his gun to the ground below. DeVoe held his blistered hand against him protectively, gritting his teeth against the pain.

“I know you pretty well also, DeVoe,” Max said flatly as he lowered his hand, “You’re too prideful. That’s why you had your men escort me here to you…because your pride rebelled against anyone other than you having the privilege of killing me.”

“You’ve ruined my career, you little fucker!”

Max flinched, unnerved by the feral light that glowed in DeVoe’s soulless gray eyes. To see DeVoe so animalistic reminded Max that he must never forget that the man before him was a killer. “What career is that?” Max asked him softly, “Terrorizing the innocent, taking their lives?”

“There’s nothing innocent about you!” DeVoe spat out.

“Maybe not,” Max conceded sadly, “but Liz was…and I’ll never forget what you did to her, not ever. You’ve been warned, DeVoe. Come near Liz or me or anyone I love, for that matter, and I swear I’ll make you regret it for the rest of your extremely short life.” Max turned and walked away then, praying that his legs didn’t tremble too much as he did. Once he made it back to his jeep he cranked the ignition and then pulled back onto the highway, not breathing easy until DeVoe and his men were finally out of sight.

DeVoe trudged up to the highway, cradling his injured hand against his belly while watching the cloud of dust kicked up by Max’s tires. “This is far from over, Evans…,” he muttered malevolently, “…so far from over.”

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

“They’re locking down the Unit,” David McCormick informed Marcus DeVoe the moment he cleared the threshold of DeVoe’s office, “All incriminating documents are to be destroyed or confiscated.” It was then that he realized DeVoe was packing, shoving the very “confidential documents” he’d just mentioned into a black briefcase. “What are you doing?” he asked DeVoe carefully.

DeVoe glanced up at McCormick from his seat behind his desk. “I’m packing,” he stated coldly, “or can’t you tell?”

“You can’t take those files with you, Dev.”

“I can’t?” DeVoe remarked with feigned innocence, “And why is that? Oh, I remember now…I’ve been terminated as Special Unit Chief Officer, but then that should come as no surprise to you seeing as how you’ve been appointed as my successor.”

McCormick lowered his eyes guiltily. “I was hoping for the opportunity to tell you in person.”

“It doesn’t matter,” DeVoe responded without ever pausing in his task.

It was then that McCormick noticed the bandage on his right hand. It was completely covered over with raised white blisters and the skin was an angry red color. “What happened to your hand?” he asked, hitching his chin towards where DeVoe’s hand lay against his desk.

“Is that an official question?”

“I’m concerned.”

“I’m sure you are, but I’d bet your promotion helps to take away the sting.”

“It isn’t as if I can benefit from it. The Project has been temporarily suspended,” McCormick informed him, “and as a result the Unit is being forced underground. This security breech didn’t just affect you.” He paused to take a deep breath. “Besides it was your own lack of professionalism that lost you your job.”

DeVoe slid his blistered hand from the table to stroke the nine-millimeter pistol that lay in his lap. “Tell me, Mac, exactly when did you sell me out?”

“I was only doing my job,” McCormick insisted stonily.

“Was it also your job to fondle the Parker girl while she lay naked and unconscious in the observation room?” DeVoe needled ruthlessly, “Don’t deny it…you dawdled far too long with her, you know.”

“You fucking sick bastard,” McCormick whispered in disgust, “What kind of twisted son of a bitch are you to turn genuine compassion into something lewd? You’ve obviously gone completely insane!”

“No, not completely,” he responded mildly, lifting the gun from his lap. He moved so quickly that McCormick had no time to protect himself. DeVoe fired once, placing a neat hole right in the center of his forehead. The exit was quite messy, however, spraying blood and tissue all over the adjacent wall. His face frozen in a death mask of surprise McCormick’s limp body crashed face first into DeVoe’s desk.

DeVoe didn’t even flinch, but regarded McCormick’s dead body dispassionately. “Looks your job description just became available again, Mac.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:05:20 PM
Chapter 39

“Thank God, you’re back,” Isabel cried when Max ducked into the pod chamber, pale and shaking but otherwise unharmed. She ran to him, wrapping her arms fiercely about his neck. Max allowed her embrace but left his own arms dangling at his sides. “God, we were so worried for you,” Isabel whispered, “You were gone so long…we didn’t know what to think.”

“I just needed a little time to be by myself,” Max said, shrugging from her arms. He noticed that Michael, Maria, Liz and Zrei were all hovering behind her, waiting to hear how his meeting with DeVoe had gone. “It’s over,” Max told them simply. At least, for now, was the silent refrain in his heart.

“It’s over?” Maria repeated as if shell-shocked, “Just like that…you talk to the guy and poof we go home.”

“We go home,” Max confirmed.

The three words should have caused elation and unmitigated celebrating, but they did not. Instead they seemed to fill the four teenagers, Max included, with a curious sort of dread. “I suppose it’s back to reality,” Liz said softly, speaking aloud what was beating about in everyone’s brain.

“It feels weird,” Maria whispered, “This entire trip all I’ve wanted is to go home and now that I’m finally able to…I’m scared.”

“You’re nervous about your parents,” Max advised, “We all are.”

“No, it’s more than that,” Michael protested thoughtfully.

“It’s, like, we’re not even the same people anymore,” Maria added.

She was right. They had gone away innocent teenagers but had returned young, world-weary adults. Max had always believed that he was the watchful sort and that because of who he was he would pay more than the usual attention. But he hadn’t. And, as a result, he’d changed his life forever. No, Max knew that he would never be the same again.

He turned his attention to Zrei, who stood watching them all impassively. “Where will you go?” Max asked him gently.

“I will remain here,” Zrei stated, “I am your protector. There is no other option.”

“Where will you stay,” Max wondered, “I mean…I, uh, we don’t have a place for you.”

“The chamber will suit me well.”

“O…okay.”

“I’m staying with him,” Michael suddenly announced, startling everyone. Though he realized he now had an audience Michael continued on boldly, “I’m not going back to Hank…I’ll die first.”

“You can’t stay out here in the pod chamber, Michael,” Max protested reasonably, “Zrei’s acquainted with this sort of lifestyle…you’re not.”

“He may remain here with me,” Zrei announced placidly, wisely putting an end to the argument that surely would have erupted between Max and Michael.

Despite that, Max stared at Michael and Zrei for a long while as if he might still object, but then he sighed heavily. “We’ll just bring you some sleeping bags and clothes later tonight.”

“And some food,” Michael added grudgingly.

Max turned his eyes to Zrei, questioning whether or not he had the same requests. “I do not need food,” Zrei replied haughtily, “The sun is all the nourishment I need.” Zrei had explained to them earlier that although he could eat food it wasn’t necessary for his well-being. He was an energy feeder and was nourished by the sun’s ultra violet rays.

Max smiled inwardly when he thought about it now. At the time that when he’d revealed this Maria had thoughtlessly burst out, “Like a plant?” Max was surprised she hadn’t melted under the intense glare Zrei shot her. God, how complicated their lives had become and just in a week’s time, too. At present, Max returned his attention to Michael. “We’ll be by in the morning to pick you up for school then.”

“Fine.”

“It is foolish and redundant to attend school,” Zrei remarked in thoughtful confusion, “The knowledge you seek is within…you need not attend a human school for it.”

“Don’t say things like that to Michael,” Isabel quipped almost teasingly as she playfully pinched Michael’s arm, “He doesn’t need any more excuses to ditch.”

Zrei did not smile. Obviously, a sense of humor he was sorely lacking. “Very well then.”

“I guess we should be going then,” Max said, reluctantly bringing them back to the reality that they all must return home. He turned towards Maria. “Would you mind taking Isabel home for me?”

Maria nodded her consent even as Isabel swiveled around in surprise and confusion. “What? You’re not coming with me?”

“I have to take Liz home,” Max said quietly, looking at Liz for the first time since he’d stepped inside the pod chamber. This was the first that Liz had heard about him taking her home. As her heart began to flutter wildly at the prospect Liz vaguely wondered when Max had made his decision.

“So I’m just supposed to face Mom and Dad without you?” Isabel demanded, quite angry at his sudden announcement, “What am I supposed to say to them? How am I supposed to explain why you’re not with me?”

“Just tell them the truth,” Max replied calmly, “that I went to take Liz home and I’ll be back. I’ll be grounded as it is so it can’t get much worse.” Max didn’t explain further but turned to exit the pod chamber, nodding for Liz to follow him as he did.

The drive to the Crashdown was tense and silent. Liz wanted desperately to bombard Max with questions about his apparent change in attitude but she was afraid that if she pressured him he would only withdraw into himself once more. And so she waited, not so patiently, for him to begin. He didn’t. Not until he had pulled into a parking space across the street from the café and cut the engine. Only then did he speak to her. “I thought you should know that DeVoe may still be a threat.”

It wasn’t exactly what she’d been expecting him to say and her disappointment was evident. “What?”

“I’m telling you DeVoe’s still out there,” Max clarified, not looking at her, “He’s dangerous. You need to be very careful.”

“I thought you said you took care of him,” Liz whispered.

“I did,” Max admitted, “I told him that if he ever came near me or anyone I loved again that I would kill him. I meant it, Liz. But the man is deranged. He blames me for ruining his life…there’s no telling what he’ll do to get to me.”

“You think he’ll come after me again,” Liz deduced in fear, correcting guessing what Max had left unsaid.

Max neither confirmed nor denied her statement. “I just want you to pay more than the usual attention to your surroundings. Just be careful like I said” he warned, “I’ll ask Zrei to keep a watch on you as well. I trust him to keep you safe.”

“What about you?” Liz asked meekly.

“What about me?”

“Can’t you keep me safe?”

At last, Max’s mask of indifference melted away and his features twisted as if in pain. “You know I can’t do that, Liz,” he groaned.

“Why not?” Liz persisted, “It’s your protection I want…not Zrei’s.”

“It’s all the same,” Max replied.

“No, it’s not,” Liz rebutted.

“It doesn’t matter! I’ve made up my mind. It’s final!”

His harsh words ricocheted within the interior of the jeep, reverberating softly. There was a long moment of tension before Liz spoke again. “And what about us, Max? Are we going to talk about that?”

“There is no us.”

Liz had expected a response along those lines but expectation had done nothing to dull the pain caused when he said the words. Tears sprang to Liz’s eyes but she courageously blinked them back. “You know, you don’t just get to decide--,”

“You can’t force me to be in a relationship I don’t want,” Max interrupted brutally. He knew he was hurting her and the knowledge pummeled what was left of his heart. But it was the only way he could insure her happiness. She’d never turn away from him unless he could incite her hatred.

Liz sat there stunned, her breath coming in harsh pants. “You don’t want me?” she wheezed.

Max gathered up his strength to face her and say the hateful words he needed to say. “You know what I want, Liz?” he snapped, “Do you really want to know? I want you to leave me the hell alone! I don’t want your love; I don’t want your pity! I just want you to get the fuck away from me! If you see me in school just walk the other way! Don’t acknowledge me, don’t say my name, don’t even think--,” He didn’t have to finish because Liz was already jumping from the jeep and slamming the door behind her. She didn’t look back at him. As Max watched her disappear into the Crashdown he felt his sobs gurgle up in his throat and he didn’t bother in the attempt to hold them back. “Damn…I’m sorry, Liz,” he sobbed to himself, pressing his forehead against the steering wheel, “I’m so sorry.”

Inside the Crashdown Liz was doing an excellent job of retaining her composure even as Max’s hateful words hammered in her brain, I want you to leave me the hell alone! I don’t want your love; I don’t want your pity! I just want you to get the fuck away from me! If you see me in school just walk the other way! However, it was the sight of her mother a few moments later that cracked through the icy shell numbing her heart. Max’s rejection hadn’t done that but the sight of the gut wrenching relief on her mother’s face had.

As the bell to the Crashdown jingled with Liz’s entrance Nancy Parker glanced up from the counter she’d been mercilessly scrubbing. Her features had been pale, drawn with grief and lack of sleep. And then she saw Liz. Her eyes had flooded with tears of relief and the sight of them had caused Liz’s own sobs to bubble from her lips. “Mommy?”

“Oh my God, Liz!” her mother cried, rushing from behind the counter to clench her daughter in an emotional embrace. “Oh my god,” she whispered over and over, stroking her hands down the length of Liz’s hair, cradling her daughter’s face between her palms. “We thought you were dead,” she sobbed, pulling Liz against her once more, “We thought you were dead.” It was the guilt at the utter grief she’d caused them shook the sobs from Liz’s chest in heaving gasps. But her mother only held her closer, whispering sweet assurances. “Jeff! Jeff!” Nancy cried out for her husband, “Come quick! Lizzie’s home…our baby’s home.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Feb-2003 12:20:34 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:06:33 PM
Chapter 40

The shock of Liz’s return eventually wore off from her parents and when it was gone they demanded answers. She fed them the story that she, Isabel, Michael, Max and Maria had cooked up together days before. That she had gone with Max in search of his biological parents. It was half the truth, sort of. But it still wasn’t explanation enough to keep Liz’s parents from grounding her for an entire month. They said the length was mainly based on Liz’s blatant neglect in informing them of her whereabouts and deliberately ignoring their many calls to her cell phone. She couldn’t very well tell them that she’d been kidnapped and her phone confiscated and that was the reason for her lack of response, so she merely accepted her punishment. It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing mattered.

Liz presently curled herself into a ball on her bed, curiously wondering how she could be in such absolute pain and still be alive. It was singularly surprising that heartbreak couldn’t kill a person. Lord knew, Liz felt like she was dying.

Max didn’t love her anymore. The refrain played endlessly in her head. Liz couldn’t understand what she had done, what she had said to turn him away from her. Even as her parents had doled out their endless lecture about responsibility and consequences Liz had been racking her brain for the reason that Max Evans suddenly hated her.

He hated her? The very thought made her chest ache. But he had to; otherwise, he would have never been able to say such ugly things. And the look of his face as he’d said them, twisted with anger and disgust. Liz had little doubt that he meant the words utterly. So then she began to wonder what could she have possibly done to make him detest her?

It occurred to Liz that he might blame her for that afternoon between them. She knew that Max hated himself for it, but now he apparently hated her for it as well. Liz sniffled into her pillow. Maybe she deserved it. Maybe if she’d fought him off harder, longer, no of this would have ever happened. Maybe if she didn’t love him so much, even now, her heart wouldn’t feel as if a paper shredder had been taken to it.

She hadn’t slept any of the previous night, but had lain awake torturing herself with Max’s parting words. I want you to leave me the hell alone! I don’t want your love; I don’t want your pity! Now it was morning and she hadn’t slept at all. Her stomach turned at the idea of returning to school. Hated Monday. And Max then wanted her to act as if she didn’t know him, to walk in the opposite direction if she saw him. Liz didn’t have the strength to rouse herself from the bed; she didn’t know how she was going to find the energy to ignore Max.

She was still lying there, staring listlessly out her window with her tears leaking into the pillow beneath her cheek when her mother bustled in with the laundry. “Liz, it’s time-,” she stopped short, realizing that Liz hadn’t yet gotten out of bed. “Liz!” she said sharply, “It’s 7:15, you’re going to be late.”

Liz flopped onto her back, revealing her red-rimmed eyes and swollen face to her mother. “I don’t want to go to school today,” she groaned.

Immediately concerned for her daughter, who had obviously been crying, Nancy dropped her laundry basket and went to sit on the edge of Liz’s bed. “What’s going on, honey?”

“What’s the point,” Liz sighed dejectedly, “I’ve been away from school for a week. I’ll most likely be suspended today, if I’m not given over to the truancy office first.”

Nancy reached forward to smooth Liz’s hair away from her cheek, repressing the pity she naturally felt for her child. “Well, you realize that this is a consequence of decisions you’ve made, Liz,” she told her reasonably.

“I know that.”

“Then why are you crying?”

Liz closed off then, turning over onto her side once more and presenting her mother with her back. “I don’t really want to talk about it,” Liz whispered.

“Are you really just upset about school or did something happen between you and Max?” Nancy guessed astutely.

Liz was silent for a moment, considering the wisdom of confiding in her mother. God knew she needed someone to talk to and with her parents screening her calls it definitely couldn’t be Maria. Liz sighed. What could it hurt? It wasn’t as if she would be telling her mother anything Nancy wouldn’t eventually find out on her own. “We broke up,” Liz admitted in a tearful voice.

“I didn’t realize you were ever together,” Nancy replied.

Liz turned back towards her mother. “We weren’t together long…just a couple of days really.”

“And?”

“And Max decided that being together was a mistake and he called it off.”

“Now when you say being together you mean…”

Liz rolled her eyes. “Mom! I mean like a couple, being together like a couple! God!”

Nancy repressed a smile of relief at her daughter’s reaction. “So Max decided that you two were better off apart.” Liz nodded miserably. “Did he tell you why?” Liz averted her eyes and shrugged. To see her daughter in such helpless pain made Nancy wince inwardly. She gave Liz’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I’m sorry he hurt you so much, honey.”

“I think I could actually hate him, Mom,” Liz whispered in a suffocated little voice, “If I didn’t love him so much already.” Wisely realizing that this was no time to explain to her sixteen year old daughter that she couldn’t possibly understand what love means, Nancy contented herself with patting Liz’s hand. “Now do you understand why I can’t go to school?” Liz moaned in anguish, “I can’t face him…I can’t.”

“Lizzie, you can’t run from your problems,” Nancy told her gently.

Liz was skeptical. “Why not? It seems extremely doable to me.”

Nancy smiled at Liz’s grumble. “You don’t solve your problems by running away, baby.”

“Who says I want to solve anything,” Liz replied petulantly, “I just want to hide in my room and cry until I stop hurting or I die, whichever comes first.”

“Don’t you think you’re being somewhat melodramatic?”

Liz pouted, surveying her mother with an irreverent glare. “No.”

“Well, what about Alex? Have you thought of him?”

“What about him?” Liz asked uneasily.

“He’s been calling day and night since you and Maria disappeared,” Nancy explained, “Don’t you think he deserves an explanation about all this?”

Liz sighed in defeat, rolling her eyes for the second time that morning. She hated when her mom appealed to her conscience.

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

Liz was over two hours late for school. She and her mom had stopped off at the local bakery for crescent rolls and coffee. Liz had been surprised to find that her mother had an excellent sense of humor in addition to being a great listener. By the time Nancy had dropped her off at school Liz had felt infinitely better. It hadn’t hurt that she’d missed Biology, however, and would be spared from seeing Max again until her lunch period.

She stood at her locker now, methodically working the combination when a tall, dark haired figure came to stand beside her, leaning his shoulder against the row of lockers. Liz didn’t have to look up to know it was Alex. She smelled his cologne from two feet away. “So you’re here to grill me, huh?” Liz surmised without turning to face him.

“I haven’t seen Maria yet, so yeah…you’ll have to do,” Alex replied seriously.

Liz slanted him a look, noting his slightly narrowed eyes. “You’re mad?”

Alex appeared thoughtful for a second. “You could say that.”

“I’ll explain,” Liz promised.

“Will it be the truth or just more lies?”

Liz frowned at the bitterness in his tone. “What are you asking me?”

“A lot has happened in the week you’ve been away,” he said carefully, scrutinizing her expression, “Did you know that the FBI had Max, Michael and Isabel under surveillance?”

“Why would you say that?” Liz asked in feigned ignorance, her heartbeat quickening.

“After you guys left Topolsky was all over me…asking me all these questions about you and your relationship to Max,” he explained, “At first I thought she was just concerned about what happened to you, but then she started asking me about weird stuff…like if I’d ever seen Max display telekinetic abilities and stuff like that.”

“And what did you tell her,” Liz said breathlessly.

“I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about,” Alex snapped in annoyance, “because I didn’t. I thought she was whacked. Then a few days later, after school, I saw her breaking into your locker.”

“Oh,” was all Liz could say.

“So I got suspicious,” Alex continued, “and I illegally tapped into her email.” His voice lowered to a tense whisper. “She was with the FBI, Liz. She was never a teacher at all.”

“Are you sure?”

“She left a few days after I found out…something about being transferred to another school, but I knew better.” Alex stared down at Liz, noting the slow drain of color from her face. “You want to tell me what the FBI wants with Max Evans and how it involves you and Maria?”

Liz made up her mind then to tell Alex the truth. He deserved to know and she was quite tired of lying to him. She was already carrying numerous burdens on her shoulders and she certainly wanted to lighten herself of at least one. And besides that she knew that she could trust Alex with the truth. “Meet Maria and me in the Eraser room today at lunch…I’ll explain everything to you then.”

Alex gaped at her. He had prepared himself for a fight to get her to tell him the truth, but he had never imagined that she would simply volunteer to do so. “You’re going to tell me the truth,” Alex said skeptically, “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” Liz confirmed.

“Is this some sort of trick?” Alex asked blankly, “Because you and Maria have been keeping secrets like it’s a matter of national security.”

“In a way it is.” Alex’s half smile faded from his face when he recognized that Liz was completely serious. “We’ll explain everything today at lunch…and Alex, what we tell you, you can never breathe to another living soul, okay?”

“Okay,” Alex sighed offhandedly.

“No, Alex, I’m serious! You have to swear on this,” Liz insisted.

“Okay, okay!” Alex exclaimed, holding up one hand while placing the other over his heart, “I swear! There, are you happy?”

Liz smiled grimly and nodded. “I’m late for U.S. Government,” she told him, “I’ll see you at lunch.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:08:43 PM
Chapter 41

Alex took the news much better than Maria had. He didn’t run screaming from the Eraser room but he did collapse onto the small, wooden bench as if his knees would no longer support him. “So you’re telling me that Max, Isabel and Michael are aliens,” he breathed in stunned disbelief.

“Exactly,” Maria confirmed.

“As in…from outer space?” Alex went on, “Not the illegal kind…not Canucks?” Liz bit her upper lip, shaking her head slowly. “Liz, please don’t take this the wrong way, but are you and Maria doing drugs?”

Liz leaned back against the Eraser room door, folding her arms across her chest. “You wanted to know the truth, Alex,” she told him grimly.

“You guys can’t possibly believe this,” Alex denied in exaggerated disbelief, “Both of you are reasonable, intelligent young women…I never thought you’d buy into this alien garbage. The 1947 crash is just a myth.”

“No, Alex,” Liz corrected firmly, “It was real.”

Alex sighed in mounting frustration. “Liz, you’re way too smart to be this stupid,” he told her with quiet compassion, “Max, Michael and Isabel are sixteen years old…I know I’m no math whiz, but if they were in the ‘47 crash, wouldn’t that put them in their fifties?”

“Okay…see…they were, like, in these incubation pods,” Liz explained with as much seriousness as she could manage based on Alex’s comical, incredulous expression, “When they emerged in 1989 they looked just like normal, human six years olds.”

“Well, that’s convenient,” Alex quipped sarcastically, “It’s not too late for a self-help program, you guys. The first step is admitting you have a problem.”

“What problem?” Maria burst out.

“The two of you are obviously on crack-cocaine…that’s the only explanation I have for this utter crap you two are telling me right now.”

“Okay, Alex, I get that you think we’re screwed in the head. That’s just what I thought at first,” Maria said with sage serenity, “I thought Liz had completely flipped out, too, when she told me, but, Alex, it’s the truth.”

It was one thing for Maria to believe this wackiness, Alex would have expected such from her, but Liz, dependable, levelheaded, logical Liz. That was implausible! Alex looked up at Liz in speechless wonder. “So that day…in the Crashdown…you were shot just like Maria said?”

Liz nodded. “And Max healed me. He saved my life.”

That’s when Alex became conscious that he was beginning to actually believe everything they were telling him and the realization caused him to start babbling nervously. “This…this…this is phenomenal, this is…is incredible…this…this…”

“Must remain a secret at all costs,” Liz finished for him dryly. She crouched down in front of him, regarding him with sad brown eyes full of earnest feeling. “I’m serious, Alex, you can never tell anyone about this.”

Alex nodded as if finally realizing he’d been sucked into something he could not pull himself out of. He gulped. “So what about the rumor going that you guys just hitched a ride with Max and Isabel to find their biological parents…was that the truth or just a cover?”

“It was more like running from the feds,” Maria established grimly.

“That’s the real reason Topolsky was here to begin with, Alex,” Liz explained gently, “She was here to spy on Max, Michael and Isabel the entire time.”

“And all because they're aliens?” Alex whispered, “I mean…I don’t understand, are they dangerous?”

“No, they’re not dangerous,” Maria clarified dryly, “at least not physically. Emotionally they can tear you to bits…so if you’ve got designs for Isabel Evans I’d suggest you stay clear.”

Alex batted his lashes innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Alex,” Liz said, “Getting involved with them is dangerous. You can’t take something like that lightly, believe me.”

“Did you?” Alex asked, picking up a note of sadness in Liz’s tone.

“I suppose I must have,” Liz muttered absently, “Now there are things that I’ve done that I can’t change…things that have changed me forever.”

“Liz, what happened while you and Maria were gone?” Alex asked in whispered concern.

“Not anything I’m ready to talk about,” Liz replied. She straightened. “Are you going to be alright with what we told you?”

Alex flashed her a grim smile. “Do I have much choice?”

The girls each offered him wry smiles. “Nuh-uh.”

The three were still smiling when they emerged from the eraser room a few seconds later. As Alex brought up the rear he noticed Tony Culpepper standing off to the right of them, his mouth gaped open in shock. Alex didn’t need the mind of Einstein to figure out what conclusion his classmate had jumped to. Under different circumstances Alex might have been amused by such an assumption, however, at the moment it only annoyed him.

“Way to go, Whitman,” Culpepper praised, giving Alex a thumbs-up, “Didn’t know you were such a babe magnet. Two girls at once…now that’s sweet.”

Alex grimaced at him in disgust. “Just shove it up your ass, Culpepper,” he growled before stalking off after Maria and Liz.

Tony Culpepper stared after him in confusion, scratching his head dully. “Hey, what did I say?”

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

When Liz spotted Max at his locker she resisted the impulse to turn and run in the opposite direction. She had thankfully managed to avoid him for the better part of the day, but now she could do it no longer. Besides she had a responsibility to let him know about Alex and Topolsky. She imagined he’d be angry, but Liz figured it was just one more thing he could hate her for.

As Liz moved closer towards him she noticed that his expression was tight and he was shoving his books into his locker in grim determination. Liz supposed, if her day had been any indication, that today had not been a good day for him. She could only assume that he had met with the principal upon arriving at school that morning just as she had and received a two-day in school suspension. The good news, she would be able to make up all the work she’d missed the previous week. The bad news, the suspension was recorded on her permanent record and she would have to take zeros in all her classes during that time.

That part didn’t worry Liz. Although, a zero could well decide whether you passed or failed a course for the semester Liz’s teachers were benevolent enough to allow her to complete extra-credit work to make up for the zero. So, in the end, everything would balance itself out and Liz’s grades wouldn’t suffer unnecessarily. But had Max received a similar deal?

Though he was a good student he wasn’t nearly as well known or well liked by his teachers as Liz. Having to deal with the prospect of failing in addition to everything else that was going on with him had to have him stressed to the limits. Liz could feel a flower of pity begin to bloom forth in her heart that she quickly crushed. No way she was going down that road again…not after the way he’d treated her.

Max had a headache the size of Texas. He’d thought that his life had reached an all time low after the intense fight he’d had with Liz and the extreme meltdown his father had once he returned home. Even thinking about the barely leashed fury Philip Evans had directed at him made Max cringe. Furious did not even begin to describe his father and in the end both Max and Isabel had been grounded for three months.

As a result, Max would have to spend the next three months as his father’s personal errand boy. Before him was stretched endless days of cleaning the gutters, mowing the lawn, washing his dad’s car, and any other menial chore his father could dream up. He also had no car, no phone, no computer…no life. That morning their mother had dropped off him and Isabel at school no less. Max might have been able to concentrate on the utter humiliation of that fact if he hadn’t been so nervous about the prospect of seeing Liz again.

Biology, second period. Though Max had spent most of the night awake diligently planning his strategy of avoidance a big part of him was anxious to see Liz. Those few minutes in the jeep when he had said all those awful things to her had played over and over in his mind. He had wanted to take back the words immediately and that was before he saw the color drain from her face. After she’d gone inside he had sat there long after, crying like a baby. And he’d been weak.

That weakness drove him from the jeep toward the entrance of the Crashdown. Maybe it was Fate or cosmic coincidence but when he opened the door he could see Liz and her parents standing near the counter, pressed together in a tearful family hug. In that moment, Max had never felt more like an outsider. Max had backed out of the café without ever being seen. It was better anyway; he told himself on the drive home, he would have never been able to truly make her happy.

So he had endured his father’s wrath, a sleepless night, a morning of humiliation that was promptly followed by a trip to the principal’s office where he received a lovely two-day in school suspension all the while stressing over the prospect of seeing Liz. And she didn’t show up. At first Max was annoyed. He had spent most of the night psyching himself up to resist her melting stare and exquisite smell and she didn’t show up?

But after ten minutes, realizing how utterly ridiculous his irritation was, Max began to worry. What if her absence was because of him? What if he’d hurt her so badly that she decided not to come to school? Or worse, what if she’d done something foolish as a result and couldn’t come to school? It would be entirely his fault.

He had tapped his pencil nervously against his desk for the duration of class, anxiously glancing towards the door for a sight of Liz. Fifty-five minutes went by with the speed of pouring molasses and by the time second period was over Liz still hadn’t come. Max had looked for her in the halls, telling himself that the principal had probably held her up and that was the reason she’d missed class. But when he didn’t see her for lunch period either, Max felt his worry escalate to panic.

“What’s wrong with you?” Isabel and Michael asked constantly as Max sat there, chewing his food mechanically while staring off into space. Max didn’t answer them because he didn’t have an answer. He had driven Liz away and now God only knew what had happened to her. By the time lunch period was over Max had made up his mind to ditch school in order to find her, but then he saw Liz in the hall with Alex and Maria.

She was safe. They all appeared to be deep in conversation because they walked through the halls as if they couldn’t see anyone else. Liz’s face was unsmiling, slightly miserable. She had her hair pulled back into a ponytail secured at her nape. Her clothing, baggy blue jeans and a Tommy t-shirt, were slightly wrinkled as if she’d rolled out of bed and pulled on the first thing she found. It wasn’t like Liz to be unkempt, Max thought as he turned away to head for his next class, but that particular change was probably due to him.

After that his day had circled the bowl before finally washing down the drain. He was tired, he was miserable, and he wanted nothing more than to lock himself inside his room and listen to the Counting Crows until he lost consciousness. He would have probably done just that…if his father hadn’t confiscated his stereo. Damn and double damn!

He shoved his history book into his locker. That’s when he saw her walking towards him from the corner of his eye. Max began stuffing his books into his locker with the frenzy of a madman. He couldn’t see her now! Not now, when he was a nervous wreck! If he had to look in her face, to see firsthand the damage he’d done he would break down right there in the middle of the hallway. He slammed his locker closed shortly before she reached him then slung his backpack over his shoulder with the intention of walking away.

The fact that he intended to leave without even speaking to her hurt Liz considerably, but she decided to take a page out of Max’s book of indifference. “I just thought you should know that Topolsky was a plant and I told Alex the truth today,” she announced at his back.

Max stopped in his tracks. Liz started to breeze past him only to have him jog up behind her and grab hold of her arm, spinning her to face him. The betrayal she saw shimmering in his eyes made Liz want to sink through the floor. For the moment, he ignored the first of what she’d revealed and zeroed in on the latter. “Liz, why would you do that?”

“I didn’t do it to hurt you,” Liz whispered, “I was just so tired of lying to him… He didn’t deserve that, Max.”

Max’s expression softened and he contritely released her arm. “I understand your wanting to be honest with him, Liz, but you’ve put him in danger. What you just told me about Topolsky being a plant…we can’t trust anyone outside our circle right now.”

“Alex is a part of my circle, Max. And sometimes the truth can’t be circumvented,” Liz replied softly, “no matter how good the reason. He won’t tell anyone, I promise you, so you don’t have to worry.”

“That’s not why I’m upset,” Max told her, his eyes glistening, “I’m afraid of ruining yet another person’s life, Liz. I couldn’t stand to do that again.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 3-Nov-2002 12:53:19 AM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:09:59 PM
Chapter 42

“So she looks like refried crap in a can,” Alex remarked to Maria as Liz walked away to put in their orders for two Alien blasts and an order of Saturn rings. They huddled in a booth near the Crashdown’s entrance, eyeing their friend with concern.

Maria was more than inclined to agree with Alex’s blunt assessment. Liz did look like shit. Although, three weeks had passed since their return home Liz had remained a virtual wreck. Liz went about in dark, wrinkled clothing with unkempt hair and listening to depressing music whenever she was able. Even dressed in the bright blue teal of her waitress uniform Liz managed to look miserable. Maria chewed at her lip thoughtfully. “Maybe her father’s still giving her a hard time,” Maria suggested dully, “Can you believe he’s actually put Liz and me on alternating shifts? He says so that we can’t influence each other. What is that?”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine where he would get that idea,” Alex rejoined with a sarcastic roll of his eyes, “But somehow I don’t think Liz’s depression has so much to do with the fact you two aren’t working the same shifts.”

“You’re saying you think she’s still upset about Max,” Maria guessed.

“Exactly.”

Together they looked up at Liz once more. She was currently serving a customer his order. As she all but slammed his plate down in front of him her expression was cold and unsmiling. She didn’t even bother to ask if the man wanted a refill before walking away and his glass had been bone dry. Alex gave a low whistle. “Did the temperature just suddenly drop or is it me?”

“That attitude of hers cannot be good for her tips,” Maria commented sadly.

“We’ve got to do something,” Alex said, “This has got to end before someone gets hurt.” They both winced as Liz accidentally spilled Coke into a customer’s lap, barely giving any notice to him at all when he jumped up sputtering. “It’s like she’s off in La-La land.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Maria told Alex, “Every time I even mention Max’s name she shuts down and won’t talk for me for days. Come to think of it…she’s not speaking to me now.” Maria tunneled her fingers through her hair in mounting frustration. “We should just leave it alone.”

“Well, what about talking to Max,” Alex persisted determinedly, “Maybe we’d have better results.”

“Been there…done that, it’s like talking to a wall.”

Actually it was worse, Maria reminded herself, thinking back to just the day before when she had cornered Max in front of the school while waiting for his mom.

“Hi!” Maria had chirped brightly, popping up in front of him. If Liz had been looking like hell lately, Max was definitely reminiscent of its lowest level. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, like he’d just spent days smoking reefer. And he didn’t look at all happy to see Maria. In fact, he ignored her, occupying himself with scanning the parking lot for his mother. But Maria, being Maria persisted doggedly. “So your parents took your wheels, huh? That’s got to be a bummer.”

He finally looked at her then, clearly frustrated and annoyed by her presence. “Does this conversation have a point, Maria?”

“Exactly how long do you and Liz plan to avoid each other?” As expected his expression became stony, his lips compressed in a tight, thin line. However, Maria didn’t plan on being dismissed that easily. “I know what happened between you guys that day,” she told him quietly.

Max flinched, his cheeks flushing with shame. He actually looked as if he might cry at that moment. “Oh God, she told you,” he choked, wanting to crawl under the nearest rock and hide.

Maria couldn’t help but feel pity for him at his obvious mortification and remorse. “She doesn’t blame you, Max,” Maria reassured him, “She stills loves you.”

“Well, she shouldn’t,” Max mumbled hoarsely.

“So you’re going to break both your hearts because you can’t forgive yourself?”

“I can’t break something that’s already in a thousand pieces, Maria.” He whispered that with so much misery that Maria felt like she might actually start crying. But then the wall was back and he was cold and stoic once more. “I don’t want to talk about this again. Ever. So just leave me alone, alright?”

Maria shook her mind clear of the memory, focusing on Alex once more. “I really think we’ll just make things worse if we get involved.”

Kyle Valenti sauntered up to the Crashdown To Go counter while studying the top of Liz’s head as she scribbled down the order she’d just received. He had been planning to approach her for days now to apologize for his behavior before, but every time he’d tried she always seemed to be flanked by Alex and Maria. And when she was alone…well, he got the impression that she didn’t really want to be bothered. But now that he was here to pick up an order for his dad he didn’t see much point in avoiding her any longer.

“Hey there, gorgeous,” he quipped charmingly as she reached to hang up the To Go phone. He gave her springy antennae a playful thump. The moment she saw him her expression became guarded. “Geez, I really hate that look,” Kyle said.

“What look?” Liz asked him warily.

“The look you give me every damned time you see me,” Kyle clarified, “The look that asks ‘Oh God, what has this moron got planned now,’… you know, that look.”

Liz’s features relaxed into a tentative smile. “I don’t think you’re a moron, Kyle,” she said, not bothering to deny that she was quite uncomfortable with his recent unpredictability. “But you have been a jerk these last few weeks.

Kyle had the grace to appear chagrined. “I know and I have actually been meaning to apologize to you about that. When you dumped me…I was jealous, especially cuz I knew it was because of Evans, no matter what you said.”

“I guess that’s become fairly obvious,” Liz commented morosely, “seeing as how I ran away with him and all.”

“So then congratulations are in order,” Kyle offered in tentative disappointment.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Liz replied mockingly.

“You and Evans aren’t together then?”

“Kyle,” Liz said with a bitter laugh, “we’re not even friends.”

Maria and Alex watched the tête-à-tête between Liz and Kyle with avid interest and rising apprehension. “That can’t be good,” Alex said, shuddering when he actually saw Liz smile, “Tell me she’s not rebounding with Super Jock.”

“Well, Kyle is steady and loyal and he appreciates her,” Maria remarked, directly quoting what Liz had told her about Kyle once. “Maybe he’ll be good for her this time.”

“Yeah and maybe I need a hole in the head,” Alex muttered.

They were interrupted from commenting further on their friend’s prospective love life by the unexpected arrival of Isabel Evans. She slid across the booth from them, uninvited, her lethal brown eyes trained directly on Alex. “So my brother tells me that you know our little secret,” she began crisply, cutting directly to the chase, “And so I realized that this might be the time for you and I to have a heart to heart.”

Alex gulped and mumbled under his breath, “How do I know that this will not be a good thing.”

“This is not some elementary school secret you’re keeping, Whitman,” Isabel continued coolly, narrowing her eyes for emphasis, “This means life and death, our life and your death if you ever breath a word of it.”

“Just hold on a minute, Isabel,” Maria interrupted, jumping to the defense of her intimidated friend, “You just can’t come over here threatening Alex for no reason. He’ll keep your damned secret, just like Liz and I have…no matter what it costs us. You might try being grateful for a change.”

Isabel’s steely expression wavered guiltily. “I just don’t want what happened with Max and Liz to happen again…to any of us,” she said quietly.

“Alex won’t tell,” Maria stated, “Will you, Alex?”

“No, no,” was all Alex could stammer.

“So you see,” Maria continued as if Alex’s stuttered “no” was reassurance enough, “You have nothing to worry about.”

“We’ll see,” Isabel replied skeptically, noting the spasmodic way Alex’s Adam’s apple bobbed in the base of his throat. He didn’t seem at all steady to Isabel and on top of that he was staring at her, too. “What are you gawking at?” she demanded after a few uncomfortable seconds.

“You’re beautiful,” Alex blurted, closing his eyes in mortification when he realized his error. His attempt to cover only made things worse. “Wh-What I meant to say was…I’ve never known an alien who looked like you do.” He didn’t catch the grimace of incredulity Maria sent him or even notice when she dropped her face behind her hand in embarrassment.

“Really,” Isabel asked in sarcastic interest, “And just how many aliens have you known?”

At the To Go counter Liz was finding that talking to Kyle was beginning to greatly improve her spirits. If fact, he was making her laugh, something she hadn’t done in weeks. “So you’re really working that grunge look at school, Liz,” Kyle teased, enjoying the smile that brightened Liz’s face, “Now all you have to do is dye your hair purple and you’ll complete the look.”

“My clothes are a reflection of how I feel inside,” Liz replied, but she was smiling. “Besides isn’t that what people do when their depressed…walk around in dark clothing while quoting bad poetry?”

Suddenly, Kyle’s expression turned serious. “Don’t be like that, Liz,” he told her quietly, “It doesn’t suit you at all. Liz Parker is supposed to be naturally perky.”

“Yeah, that’s me…perky, perky Liz.”

“I’m serious,” Kyle insisted, “If Evans can’t see what a treasure you are then he’s a fucking idiot. And you shouldn’t waste your tears on idiots.”

“Yeah…well…I’ll think about it,” Liz said, uncomfortable with the subject of Max and quickly changing it, “So I saw you in the hall today with Vicky Delaney. You looked pretty intense.”

“Yeah she’s alright,” Kyle conceded with an impish smile, “and she’s got a rack that would put Dolly Parton to shame.”

“Arghh! Eww, Kyle!” Liz laughed.

Max and Michael entered the Crashdown a few moments later, with Max nervous to be there, yet feeling compelled. He’d been having some rather intense dreams lately and they were all about Liz. Being in such close proximity with her now was making his stomach bubble. “I don’t understand why you just couldn’t get Isabel yourself,” Max muttered to Michael under his breath.

“I told you…I’m here to fill out a job application. No way I’m staying in that cave day in and day out…no matter how comfortable Zrei says it is.” He scanned the restaurant and spotted Isabel occupying a booth with Maria and Alex. “Hey, there she is,” he told Max, flicking him against the shoulder with the back of his hand. But Max wasn’t listening.

He was staring across the restaurant where Liz stood with Kyle Valenti laughing. In that moment his world froze. Max felt his stomach drop and suddenly the air in his chest felt constricted. He rapidly blinked back the tears that were suddenly stinging his eyes. He had told himself over and over that he wanted her to move on and now that it appeared that she had Max felt as if his heart had been sliced from his chest. “I just remembered I’ve got something to do,” he mumbled hoarsely to Michael, blindly turning away and stumbling quickly out the door.

“Hey, Max, wait!” Michael cried, running after him. But by the time he was outside Max was already tearing down the street.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Oct-2002 2:10:34 AM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:11:46 PM
Chapter 43

Maria clapped her hand down on the surface of the table loudly, startling Michael so badly that he dropped the pen that he’d been using to complete his application. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” he demanded, glowering up at her.

“Why are you staring at Liz as if she’s road kill,” Maria asked, countering his question with one of her own.

Michael grimaced, retrieving his pen to resume filling out his application. “She’s just over there laughing it up with Valenti…it’s disgusting.”

Maria covered his application over with her hand, halting his furious scribbling. “Why?” Maria inquired blandly, “It’s not like she’s attached or anything. She can talk to whoever she wants.”

“Yeah, but why Valenti?” Michael spat, “She knows what his friends did to Max. She knows that Valenti hates him, too. You’d think she’d have more loyalty toward the guy she claimed to love.”

“Are you accusing Liz of being disloyal,” Maria demanded in seething fury, “Because if you are I swear I’ll knock every tooth in your mouth down your throat.”

Michael held his hands up in surrender. “Hey, take it easy.”

“No, you take it easy,” Maria ordered tersely, “Liz has been nothing but loyal to Max, sacrificing everything she is and believes in to protect him. She let her parents go wild with worry about her for days just because Max asked her to. She’d walk through fire for him and how does he repay her…by treating her like shit that’s how.”

“Look,” Michael sighed, leaning back in the booth and grabbing Maria’s hand to pull her down beside him, “I don’t pretend to understand the weird dynamic of Max and Liz’s relationship, but I saw him just now when he saw Liz and Kyle together. He looked as if he’d just taken one to the gut.”

Maria forced herself to remain impassive. “That’s his doing…he’s the one who cut Liz loose, not the other way around.”

“He’s hurting, alright, Maria,” Michael whispered thickly, “He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep. He refuses to tell Isabel and me what’s going on and we can’t help him.” He looked at her then, a realization dawning in his eyes when he witnessed her guilty expression. “You know…you know whatever it is that’s happened that’s making Max act all weird.”

Maria looked away uncomfortably. “It’s not my secret to tell.”

“Not even to your own boyfriend.”

She gaped at him in surprise. “Oh, is that what you’re calling yourself now?”

“We’ve been making out these last three weeks, haven’t we?”

“That’s just sucking face,” Maria dismissed casually.

“Is that all it is to you?”

“Maybe.”

“Liar,” Michael breathed into her ear seductively.

“Stop it,” Maria protested furiously, batting him away, “Someone might see you!”

Michael shrugged. “So are you going to tell me or not?”

“I told you I can’t,” Maria repeated in mild frustration.

“You told Alex our secret,” Michael reminded her pointedly, “And without our consent either.”

“That was different,” Maria argued weakly.

“How?”

“Alex was asking questions…he was going to keep at it until he had the truth.”

“Well, I’m asking questions,” Michael said stonily, “and I’m not going to stop until I have the truth. So you might as well tell me now or would you rather I go looking for the truth on my own.”

Maria well knew the disaster that could result with Michael’s independent search. It was almost an omen that he would get into trouble. She heaved a disgusted sigh. “Fine, I’ll tell you,” she snapped out, “but I swear, if you breathe a word of this to Max or Liz I’ll strangle you with my bare hands...that is, if Liz doesn’t kill me first. And just so you know, I’m only telling you cuz you seem concerned.”

Half an hour later Maria finished retelling the story Liz had told her that night they were at Zrei’s cabin. When she was done Michael was left blinking in stunned silence. “God,” he breathed shakily, “he’s got to hate himself right now.”

“But the thing is that Liz forgave him,” Maria replied in confusion, “She’s not holding a grudge or anything so why is he still acting this way?”

“It’s a guy thing…you wouldn’t understand,” Michael mumbled.

“It’s a guy thing…you wouldn’t understand,” Maria repeated in a mocking baritone, “What is that? Neanderthal speak for ‘Men are asses, get over it,’?”

Michael swallowed back his irritated retort. “It means that Max loved Liz more than his own life and it’s killing him to know that he destroyed something between them that he can never get back.”

“But he didn’t destroy it,” Maria protested, “Liz still loves him.”

“Can you honestly tell me that Liz doesn’t have even the slightest doubt about Max now.” Maria was thoughtfully quiet. “Think about if I were to do that to you, no matter the reason, could you really, truly trust me 100% afterwards.” Maria glanced away mutely but the uneasy darkening of her eyes was answer enough. “And that’s exactly the reason Max is pushing her away…if he’d stayed the doubt in her eyes would kill him an inch at a time.” Michael picked up his pen, his jaw hardened with sympathy for his best friend. “A clean break was the best thing.”

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

It was a hell of a way to start the morning.

Liz swung her legs over the edge of her bed, stunned by the wave of vertigo that passed over her. She barely made it to the toilet before her stomach erupted and she became violently ill. For several moments afterwards her body convulsed with the strength of her dry heaves before her stomach finally settled. Liz slid down beside the toilet weakly, breathing heavily as she pressed her face against the cool porcelain base. I guess that clandestine binge on Taco Pete’s last night with Maria wasn’t such a good idea after all, Liz thought as she shoved herself upright.

Liz pushed her hair from her eyes and reached up to flush the toilet, careful to avoid looking at the mess she’d made. As Liz steadied herself on her feet another wave of dizziness assaulted her but this time Liz didn’t throw up. She briefly considered staying home from school that day but then quickly discarded the notion. Last night, she’d made the resolution with Maria to start anew and she wasn’t about to let an upset stomach keep her from that goal.

Imbued with a new sense of determination, Liz showered and washed her hair, afterwards taking great care to lotion and perfume her body. Instead of settling on her usual ponytail she curled her hair in springy ringlets them swept them back from her face, clipping them in place so that her hair formed a curling waterfall down the middle of her back. Next Liz picked out her clothing. Instead of the black shirt and black pants she’d been sporting for the last few weeks, Liz picked out a sleeveless blouse made of light pink linen and a knee length blue jean skirt. She completed her assemble with a pair of strappy, brown platform sandals that Maria had convinced her to buy three months before.

After applying a small amount of lipstick and gloss Liz surveyed her reflection in the mirror with satisfaction. “Not bad, Parker,” Liz said to her likeness, blowing it a kiss. Kyle and Maria were right. She had moped over Max Evans long enough. It was time for her to rejoin the living. Feeling lighter than she had in weeks, Liz grabbed hold of her backpack and bounded off for breakfast.

“Good morning,” Liz sang as she breezed into the kitchen.

Upon her sing-song entrance her parents did a surprised double take, noting her made up face and pastel clothing. The change was both relieving and confusing. “You seem chipper this morning,” Nancy Parker observed as her daughter retrieved the orange juice carton from the refrigerator and poured herself a glass.

“I am,” Liz confirmed, gulping down her juice, “The birds are singing, the sun is shining and I have officially made up every last assignment I missed.”

Liz’s good mood was contagious and Jeff Parker found himself smiling in the face of her buoyancy. “I suppose I could give you something else to celebrate then,” he remarked causing Liz’s eyes to widen in interest, “Your mom and I have been talking it over and we’ve decided that it’s time we ended your punishment.” Liz squealed in delight, throwing herself into her father’s arms. “You’ve more than paid your dues, Lizzie.”

Liz gave her mother an excited hug as well. “I won’t make you regret it, I promise you,” she gushed, happy that she’d finally been emancipated.

“See that you don’t,” her father warned with a grin.

Outside a horn honked obnoxiously. “That’s Maria,” Liz said, grabbing for her pack, “I gotta go.”

“Liz, wait, you haven’t had breakfast!” her mother called after her.

“I’ll catch some at school,” she cried out as she ran through the door, “I’ll see ya this afternoon!”

When she jumped into the Jetta a few moments later with Maria her friend twittered an appreciative whistle. “Now that’s some improvement,” she praised, noting the change in Liz’s hair and clothes, “Is it permanent?”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning…are you finally done moping over Max Evans?” Maria clarified.

“I’m sorry,” Liz laughed in teasing confusion, “but Max who?”

Maria joined in her laughter. “Now that’s my girl.”

However, some of Liz’s bravado faded somewhat when she was faced with second period. She couldn’t help but wonder if Max would notice the new change in her and what he would think of it. Nothing, Liz told herself brutally at the thought. Max hadn’t spoken two words to her since that day in the hall three weeks before. He didn’t give any indication that he even knew she was alive, much less noticed her clothing.

He was already seated at their desk when she and Maria arrived. His head was bent over his Biology notebook, shielding his face from view. He wore an olive, long sleeved shirt and those yummy cargo khakis that Liz loved so much. Her mouth went dry. Beside her Maria squeezed her hand reassuringly. “You’ve made so much progress,” she whispered into Liz’s ear, “don’t backtrack now.”

They parted ways then, Liz walking to her desk and Maria walking to hers. It was the part that Liz always hated. Walking up to Max, praying, hoping, wishing that he would look up at her, and feeling nothing but crushing disappointment and misery when he didn’t. However, today she approached him with no expectations, just walked up to him and took her seat beside him and then…he looked at her. For the first time in three, agonizing, soul-destroying weeks he looked at her.

“Hey, Liz,” he said softly, deeply, as if it meant so much more than a casual greeting.

And suddenly Liz felt sick again. It came from nowhere, one moment she was there staring at him in tearful astonishment, the next moment she was bolting from the room with her hand clamped over her mouth. This time, however, Liz didn’t make it to the toilet and had no choice but to become sick in the sink of the girl’s bathroom.

She was still bent over it racking when Maria skidded into the bathroom. “God, Liz, are you okay?” she asked, grimacing at the picture Liz made.

Liz forced a nod, taking several deep breaths before turning on the faucet to wash her vomit down the drain. She doused her face with cold water. “That was absolutely disgusting,” Liz mumbled, turning to face Maria, leaning her shoulder tiredly against the wall of a bathroom stall.

“Did Max upset you?” Maria demanded irately, “Is that why you got sick?”

“No,” Liz denied in mortified embarrassment, “He said ‘hey’…he said ‘hey’ and my only response was to turn green and go running from the room.” She dropped her head forward. “God, I’m so humiliated.”

“So you just got sick?” Maria said suspiciously, a strange look settling over her face.

“Yeah,” Liz mumbled, “I don’t think that Taco Pete’s agreed with me last night. That’s the last time I’ll ever eat a double chili cheese enchilada.”

“Liz,” Maria began slowly, “I hope this question doesn’t totally freak you out but…uh…when was the last time you had your period?”

Liz actually laughed out loud at that. “Maria, I’m sick…I’m not pregnant.”

“When?” Maria persisted.

Liz heaved a disgusted sigh. “This is ridiculous,” she muttered, thinking back, “Okay, okay…it was a week before we followed Max to Nevada. Happy?”

“And when are you due again,” Maria asked obstinately.

“What’s today?”

“The twenty-second,” Maria supplied, watching as the color drained out of Liz’s face with her answer. “When were you due, Liz?”

“This past Saturday.” Liz sank to the floor, resting her forehead against her palms. “Oh my God, Maria, I’m late.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:14:48 PM
Chapter 44

“You know it just might be a coincidence,” Liz called from Maria’s bathroom as she snapped to cover shield onto her home pregnancy test, “I’m always late anyway.” Following her episode in the bathroom Maria had run back to class to tell Ms. Hardy two things. One, Liz was sick and was going home for the day. And two, Maria was going to be the one to take her home.

Everything inside Liz had burned later to ask Maria about Max and how he’d looked when she told Ms. Hardy that Liz was sick. But she didn’t. Maria would definitely not see her desperate questioning as progress. She would also probably admonish Liz about focusing her mind of the bigger issues at present. But even if Liz were able to get a straight Liz from Maria she still wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted to know what Max’s reaction had been. It was more than likely he hadn’t had one at all.

Maria poked her head inside the bathroom curiously. “Always?” she questioned Liz skeptically, “Since when, Liz?”

Liz’s cheeks heated with a sheepish blush. “Well, there was that one time last summer when I had mono.”

Maria regarded her friend anxiously. “How long does it say to wait?”

“Two minutes,” Liz said, “Arghh! Two minutes…that’s like an eternity!”

“Well, hovering over the test isn’t going to make the results come quicker.”

Maria grabbed hold of Liz’s arm and led her down the hall to her bedroom. After forcing Liz to sit down and stop her frantic pacing she sat down beside her. When Liz looked at her then, Maria saw tears glinting in her friend’s eyes for the first time. “God, Maria, this is a nightmare. I can not be pregnant.” Liz covered her mouth with her hands. Nightmare was an understatement. And with all the weird things that had been happening to her lately, the night sweats, the bizarre visions, the dreams she could never remember, the possibility of pregnancy, and by an alien no less, was all Liz needed to make her life a perfect freak show.

“Well, you did have sex,” Maria reminded her reluctantly, “And it wasn’t exactly like you guys had protection on hand.”

“But it was just once,” Liz moaned, “And save me the ‘it only takes one time to happen’ speech, Maria, because I already know that. Just let me lament my teenage angst here a moment, okay?”

Maria patted Liz’s back reassuringly. “What are you going to tell Max?”

Liz was silent. She had never considered telling Max anything. Today was the first time in three weeks he’d even spoken to her and that was only to say “hey.” Liz doubted seriously that he would give a rat’s ass to know she was pregnant. He would probably just feel burdened, as if Liz were trying to trap him emotionally. She still hadn’t forgotten what he’d said to her that night outside the Crashdown. If Liz were pregnant the situation would definitely NOT thrill him.

Liz shrugged. “What’s to tell?”

Maria knew Liz was responding more out of hurt feelings than logic but still she had the insane urge to shake her. “Liz, this is an alien baby we’re talking about here! Of course, you’re going to have to tell Max!”

“Why? What is he going to do about it?” Liz snapped, “It’s not like he gives a damn about me anyway.”

“Liz, you know that’s not true. Max is just feeling guilty right now and that’s why he’s acting like an ass. Michael even said--,” Maria broke off, realizing what she’d revealed too late. She clamped her mouth shut but Liz was already zooming eyes, narrowed with suspicion on her guilt-ridden features.

“Michael said what, Maria?” Liz demanded angrily.

“Nothing…nothing…he said nothing!”

Liz grabbed hold of Maria’s forearm, tweaking it painfully. “You are lying to me, Maria,” Liz announced through clenched teeth, “Now what does Michael have to do with this? What does he know?”

“He…He was concerned about Max, arghh, god, Liz, let go…that’s attached,” Maria yelped, batting away Liz’s hand and twisting out of her reach.

“Maria, you blabbermouth!” Liz exclaimed, jumping to her feet, “You told Michael what happened? I can’t believe you did that!”

“He was worried, Liz!” Maria cried out defensively, “I never would have told him otherwise! Liz, I swear to you!”

It was her earnestness that deflated Liz’s anger. She sighed and regarded Maria without heat, sinking down onto the bed once more. “What does it matter?” she moaned in dejection, pitching herself backwards on the bed, “In two minutes my life might very well be over!”

“Liz, I think the two minutes may be up,” Maria whispered.

Liz bolted upright. “Will you check for me, Ria? I can’t go look myself.”

Maria nodded and left for the bathroom, leaving Liz to jiggle her legs nervously in wait. She came back a few minutes later, her face impassively straight.

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

Liz dreamwalked through her shift at the Crashdown. Though she tried to concentrate on being the perky, bubbly server she should be she couldn’t manage anything beyond a lackluster smile. Her stomach was still quite sensitive and just the smell of food was enough to make her nauseous. And to make matters worse she was being watched by an alien weirdo.

Zrei, to be exact. He’d been in the same booth for the last four hours. In all that time he hadn’t ordered a single thing, not even an Alien Blast. So much for being inconspicuous. Liz was quick to realize that if he kept up his behavior her parents were likely to think he was a perv and call the cops.

She sauntered up to his table, a look of annoyance plain on her face when she asked him, “Can you at least order a slice of pie?”

Zrei looked up at her with unreadable eyes, his face unaltered in expression. That was Zrei, always calm, always unaffected, always duty bound. His indifference was beginning to set Liz’s teeth on edge. “I have told you that I do not need--,”

“I know, I know,” Liz interrupted impatiently, “You don’t need food…I get it, I do. But you’ve been staring at me for the past four hours and you haven’t ordered a thing. People are going to think you’re a stalker!”

“A stalker?”

Liz wanted to throw up her hands and growl in frustration. Instead she took a deep, steadying breath and sat down across from Zrei, determined to explain the nuances of human life to him. “Zrei, when you sit here, eating nothing and staring at someone for hours at a time that is considered by humans to be extremely weird.”

“But I am Antarian,” Zrei answered blankly.

At that point Liz did groan. “I know that,” she hissed between clenched teeth, “But you’re among humans now. You wouldn’t want to draw attention to yourself, would you?”

Finally, she had broken through. Zrei appeared to ponder her words. “It is not my intention to be conspicuous, Elizabeth. But how am I to protect and guard you if I do not, at least, look at you?”

Liz sighed. “You can look at me, Zrei. You just have to be subtle about it.”

“By eating pie?” Zrei surmised.

Liz nodded, grateful that he was finally understanding. “Yes, by eating pie.”

“And by doing this I will be made inconspicuous?”

“Not completely,” Liz answered him honestly, “But at least it’s a start.”

She started to leave so that she could retrieve a slice of pie for him when he asked, “Will you be so diligent when the time comes for you to learn the Antarian ways?”

Liz went still and sank back into her seat. “Why would I want to learn the Antarian ways, Zrei?” Zrei regarded her serenely, his eyes knowing. Liz lowered her head in chagrin. “Oh God, you know about my powers,” she whispered and then she lifted her head, adding resentfully, “Did Max tell you?”

“He need not say a word,” Zrei replied, “I have sensed your change since our very first meeting.” That was not all he sensed about her but he was astute enough not to bring up the subject just yet. In order for her to accept her future, she must be allowed to process her life changes as slowly as possible.

“My change?”

“You are changing even as we speak,” Zrei stated in his usual vague manner, “The process has begun and it cannot be stopped. At the end of it you will not be the Elizabeth Parker you once were.”

Liz felt alarm prickle down her spine. “What is that supposed to mean? Of course, I’ll be Elizabeth Parker! What are you saying?”

Zrei closed off from her, folding his hands together and surveying her through unreadable eyes once more. “You are not yet ready to hear these things, Elizabeth…but I will indeed tell you, when the time is right.”

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

Diane Evans didn’t pause in slicing scallions when she heard the reverberating chime of the doorbell. Instead she called out, “Will someone please get the door!” She scraped the scallions off on top of the chili cheese dip she was making for her husband and son. She had just slid the dip into the oven when the doorbell sounded again. “Max! Isabel! Philip! Will one of you please get the door?”

She dusted her hands off on a dishtowel and then set to her next task, sausage-cheese balls. The doorbell rang yet again. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” Diane muttered in disgust, stamping her way through the living room where her son and husband were glued to the football game on television. “Doesn’t anybody hear the doorbell,” she demanded crossly.

Philip looked up for a moment, his absent reply, “I’m sorry, hon, did you say something?” And then he jumped up from the sofa screaming like a madman. “Touchdown! Yeah! Whoo-hoo!” He turned to share a high-five with Max. Diane rolled her eyes in disgust and rounded for the front door.

Liz jumped when the front door was unexpectedly yanked open and she whirled back around at the sound. Diane Evans stood at the door, smiling at her curiously. “I’m sorry can I help you?” she asked Liz sweetly.

“My-my name is Liz Parker,” Liz stammered nervously, “I have Biology with your son Max…I’m his lab partner…may…may I speak with him a moment, please?”

“Of course, come right in,” Diane invited warmly as she swept Liz into the foyer. “I apologize for taking so long to answer the door…Max and his father are watching a football game…I have no idea where Isabel is. You do know Isabel, don’t you dear?” She seemed to ramble on, leading Liz into the living room where Max and his father were screaming at the television set. “Max, Liz Parker is here to see you.”

The moment his mother said Liz’s name Max jumped up as if he’d been burned. His cheeks flamed when he saw her, looking flustered and oh so beautiful, standing alongside his mother. “Philip,” Diane said, smiling, “this is Max’s lab partner Liz.” Philip Evans rose to shake Liz’s hand, introducing himself as he did. “Isn’t she just the cutest thing,” Diane gushed to her husband, more than aware of her son’s heightened blush.

“Mommm,” Max groaned in embarrassment, wanting desperately for the floor to open up and swallow him.

Liz blushed as well but only because she wondered if Mrs. Evans would find her so “cute” if she knew the real reason for her visit. She slid an uncomfortable look towards Max, hoping that he would rescue her. He didn’t keep her waiting long. “Did you come by for your Biology notes?” Max asked innocently, “I figured you would when Maria came back to tell Ms. Hardy that you were going home cuz you were sick.”

“Yeah…the notes,” Liz said weakly.

“There in my room,” Max replied, “Come back with me and I can tell you what you missed.” He looked at his parents, wide-eyed. “That is, if it’s okay with you guys.”

“Don’t be long,” his father told him and then dispelled any notion that he was at all suspicious of them by adding, “you’ll miss most of the game otherwise.”

“I’ll be quick,” Max reassured his father as he lightly grabbed hold of Liz’s elbow and steered her towards his room. He didn’t say a word until they were inside and he had securely closed the door. “Are you okay,” was the first thing he asked her when they had established some semblance of privacy.

“I’m fine,” Liz replied, but it was a wholehearted lie.

“I didn’t know if I’d upset you earlier,” Max whispered, “and that’s why you ran out of class, but then Maria came back and said you were sick… I was worried about you.”

“No, it’s not a big deal,” Liz protested absently, “I just…I thought I had a bug…” She was exhausted, from her shift, from her conversation with Zrei, from obsessively racking her brain for a way to tell Max she was pregnant, from everything really and it showed plainly on her face.

Max resisted the strong desire to pull her into his arms and stroke her rumpled hair. She had yet to change out of her uniform and stood there before him in alien antennae and a baggy sweater. He figured she must have something important to tell him; otherwise she would have taken the time to change. Knowing that, instead of cutting directly to the reason for her visit, he asked, “Are you better now?”

“Am I better?” Liz asked blankly, her mind preoccupied with how she was going to tell him her news.

Max looked at her strangely. “Are you still sick?”

“No, no I wasn’t sick,” Liz corrected.

“But you just said--,”

“Uh, Max,” Liz interrupted, dying to say what she needed to say and be done with it, “I didn’t come over here for any Biology notes, okay. I came to tell you…to tell you…”

“…that you’re pregnant?” Max finished somberly.

“God, how did you know?” Liz uttered, sinking down onto his bed. She looked so miserable sitting there, so forlorn that Max had to look away.

“I didn’t know for certain until just this very moment,” he told her quietly.

“But you suspected?” Max gave a jerky nod. “How long?”

He shoved his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders. “Couple days really,” he revealed softly, “I’ve been having these weird dreams where I’m trying to find you in this maze, and it’s important…like life or death that I find you. And I’m running and running and the entire time I can hear this baby crying in the distance. It’s like the baby’s leading me to you.” It was the first time that Max had spoken about the dreams to anyone. Whenever he awakened from one he was usually in always in cold sweat with his heart was pounding double time and an erection so stiff it could drive nails. But he didn’t see the need to tell Liz those particular things.

“Why haven’t you said anything to me?” Liz cried.

“I tried…” Max stammered, “I was going to say something to you today. I…I was trying to warm up to it, but then you ran out.”

Liz closed her eyes in mortification, recalling her scene earlier in class with burning cheeks. She sighed. “I’ve had a couple of dreams lately myself, but I can never remember them when I wake up.” However, Liz suspected the dreams had to be extremely intense. She’d always awaken from them shaking and terribly aroused. Liz felt her cheeks flame at the idea. Max had been dreaming about their child and she had been dreaming about erotica. It was hardly the same thing. She dropped her head forward and mumbled into her chest, “Well, I guess that answers one question.”

“What question?” Max asked.

“Whether this pregnancy will progress normally or not.” Liz sighed again, pushing to her feet. “I guess I just have to figure out what I’m going to do next.”

Max swallowed past the lump of emotion in his throat, yearning desperately to yank her into his arms and hold her tight yet lacking the courage to do so. “Liz, you don’t have to do this alone,” he said instead, “You know I’ll help you.”

“I don’t want your help, Max,” Liz replied softly, firmly, “But thank you for offering.” She walked towards his door, pulling it open, but when she would have left he called out her name. Liz was surprised to find his eyes glistening with tears when she turned to face him. “What is it, Max?”

“Do you hate it?” he choked, his voice hoarse with emotion, “I mean…do you hate the baby? You know,” he cleared his throat before continuing, “do you think it’s a freak or something?”

A sad smile touched Liz’s lips. “No,” she whispered, “the strange part is I think I might actually love this baby already.”

“So then you don’t hate it,” he sighed in relief.

“No, Max I don’t hate it,” Liz told him quietly. And I don’t hate you, she added silently, answering the unspoken question in his eyes. I’ll never hate you, Max. The words reverberated silently in her heart even long after she’d left Max standing alone in his room.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Dec-2002 5:21:45 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:18:23 PM
Chapter 45

Although Liz had the commendable outward appearance of a student engrossed in her work, diligently jotting down the objective Ms. Hardy had written on the board, her mind was only saturated with one glaring thought. Max Evans was staring at her. He was probably under the impression that he was being completely sly about it. After all, he didn’t look at Liz directly, but instead occasionally slanted sideways glances at her when he thought she wasn’t looking.

It was unnerving. And after spending a night of tossing and turning, trying frantically to figure out a way to break the news to her parents that she was pregnant, (and Liz hadn’t even factored in the intergalactic consideration yet), having Max stare at her was enough to break her fine thread of control. Her hand began to shake uncontrollably as she wrote, so much so that she slammed down her pencil, aggravated beyond her limits.

Setting her teeth tightly, she turned to glare at Max. “Why have you been staring at me the whole period,” she gritted between clenched teeth.

Max didn’t insult her by trying to pretend ignorance. “I just…I thought…I…I…”

“It might help if you tossed in a verb!” Liz hissed in a furious whisper. So she was being a bitch. She knew it. Under the circumstances she felt more than entitled. She was pregnant! Pregnant! She, Liz Parker, straight A student with such potential, perfect All-American good girl, was about to become an unwed mother. It was unbelievable, unmentionable, and unfortunately true.

Liz had tried looking for the silver lining, but even she, the eternal optimist, had to admit that there was none to be had. Besides she was better off facing the facts and those were, if her father didn’t die from heartbreak on the spot, he was most definitely going to kill her. And just thinking of the disappointment and mistrust on her parents’ faces made Liz want to run hiding for the nearest rock.

And that wasn’t in the worst of it. When she had run to Max, the person semi-responsible for her abject misery, he had responded with about as much emotion as a stone. What had she really expected, though, Liz wondered. It was unlikely that he would have fallen all over her at that point, declaring his undying love and protection. After three weeks of dead silence between them such a display would have been ludicrous. Still, Liz didn’t think she would have minded…

Max sighed, wishing that he could soften Liz’s frustrated frown into a smile. She was obviously annoyed with him and with good reason. He hadn’t been overwhelmingly supportive the other night when she’d come to him. But then what had she expected? Cartwheels and handstands?

The very fact she was pregnant was Max’s greatest fear come to realization. If even a small part of him had ever believed that he and Liz could move past that afternoon in the cell that hope was effectively crushed when she told him she was pregnant. There was no way that either of them would ever forget that night, especially with a baby there serving as a constant reminder.

A baby? It sounded to simple a term to describe the complex being forming beneath Liz’s heart. After Liz had gone home Max had returned to the living room to watch the game with his father but with considerably less enthusiasm. He’d thought over Liz’s news all through the game, his dinner, and his homework. By the time he’d gone to bed he was too worked up to sleep. In the end, Max had climbed out of his window and snuck to his jeep to head off for the pod chamber.

Zrei had been waiting for him when he arrived, as if he’d heard Max’s thoughts across the distance. When Max thought about it later he supposed that Zrei probably had. The first thing he said to Max was, “Mating with the human was a mistake. You have changed much, for yourself and for her, but now none of that is an issue. There is a child and he must be protected.”

His words caused tears to sting the backs of Max’s eyes. By Zrei’s acknowledging Liz’s pregnancy Max had no choice but to face reality. “God, what am I gonna do?” he lamented hoarsely, “What am I gonna tell my parents? I don’t even know if this kid will even be normal or not!”

“It will be Antarian,” Zrei replied as if that were answer enough, “Your tears are foolish. You must think of the well being of your child.”

Max bit back his self-pitying sobs and steeled himself. Zrei was right, of course, even if he had been brutal in his assessment. His tears would not solve the monumental problem he and Liz had. He should be focusing his energies of finding a way to make the situation work, not wallowing in self-pity.

When he was calmer he eased down beside Zrei on the rocky face of a boulder. Zrei regarded him thoughtfully. “This place reminds me of Antar,” Zrei began, sounding almost wistful, “The same rocky ledges and cliffs… It is why I hid your pods here…because it was like home.” He paused for a long moment before speaking again. “You must form a lifebond with Elizabeth as soon as possible, Max.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your son will not survive without it. Only by means of his parents will he become part of the Collective and without the Collective he will die,” Zrei continued, “He has been calling to you and you must answer him, Max.”

“Zrei, you’re speaking in riddles,” Max snapped, “and all you’re managing to do is confuse the hell out of me.”

“You are confused because you wish to be,” Zrei replied sharply, “Stop denying that part of you which makes you whole, Max.” Afterwards he moved gracefully to his feet and disappeared back inside the pod chamber. Max had gone home feeling more confused than he had previously. And now he sat here, in class beside Liz, wanting to tell her so much but not knowing at all where to begin.

Liz expelled an annoyed sigh, waiting for Max to snap out of his stupor and say whatever it was he had to say. After a few seconds went by she prompted impatiently, “Well?”

Finally, he spoke and it was to say words she had never expected to hear from him in a million years. “I think maybe you and I should talk.”

Liz felt her anger fizzle out abruptly and she suddenly found herself regarding him with wary hope. “Do…Do you really mean that, Max?”

“Yeah, I think--,”

“Ms. Parker, Mr. Evans,” Ms. Hardy interrupted, her tone disapproving, “is your discussion something you wish to share with the entire class?”

“No maam,” the both mumbled simultaneously.

“Then how about you both direct your attention towards the chalkboard,” she suggested crisply, “instead of each other.”

Max and Liz must have blushed ten shades of red, which quickly became eleven when they heard the snickers of their classmates. Liz immediately picked up her pencil and tried to resume taking notes. A few moments later a small, folded piece of paper floated onto her notebook. Casting a careful look at her teacher, Liz slowly unfolded the note. It read: Meet me after class. We’ll go someplace to talk.

Liz quickly penned her response, You mean ditch?, and quickly passed it back to Max. Seconds later the note landed onto her notebook again. I really need to be alone with you. I wouldn’t ask otherwise, it read. Instead of passing it back, Liz crumpled the note in her fist and nodded imperceptibly.

After that time seemed to crawl by. Liz had never before been so anxious to have Biology end. Not only because it was her favorite subject, but also because she shared the class with Max. Today, however, she just wanted Hardy to stop yakking and dismiss them already. Liz fairly jumped out of her seat when the bell signaling the end of second period rang.

Max and Liz met up with one another in the hall and then made their way to the gym. They snuck out through the back entrance and cut across the football field to reach the student parking lot. Once they were safely inside the jeep and on their way Liz teased Max saying, “I didn’t realize you were so good at ditching.”

“My best friend is Michael “ditch is my middle name” Guerin…I’ve learned a trick or two from him.” Liz smiled at him then and for the first time in nearly a month Max truly felt that everything was going to be okay. “So are you still feeling sick?” he asked her, saddened with her tentative smile suddenly faded.

“It’s not so bad this morning,” she said, “but last night was a killer.” She sighed. “You know this is the first time I’ve been in your jeep in almost a month.”

“Me, too,” Max laughed, “I only just got my driving privileges back this morning.”

“Wow,” Liz commented, “It looks good in here, though.”

“Well, my dad had it washed last week,” Max said lamely, so pleased to be having a conversation with her that he’d discuss whatever mundane topic came up, “I, uh, finally fixed that tear in the roof.”

Liz glanced up at the canvas ceiling, noticing that the tear that had once been there was indeed gone. You could hardly tell that it had been there in the first place. “Impressive,” Liz commended, tracing her fingers over the spot where the tear once was, “What did you use?”

Max glanced at her blankly. “Uh, my, uh powers.”

Liz couldn’t help but laugh at the stupefied expression on his face. “That doesn’t really count then, Max…you cheated.” Max appeared affronted by her accusation but soon his lips were twitching and he joined in her laughter. It was then that Liz realized that she had no idea where he was taking her and so she asked him.

“My house,” he said, jerking his eyes away awkwardly.

“Your house,” Liz parroted, “What your parents have a problem with you and I skipping school.”

“They’re in Clovis on business,” Max explained, “I thought that going to my house would give us the privacy we needed.” Liz nodded, acknowledging that his plan did make sense. Besides they were just going to talk and that was it.

They reached Max’s house a few minutes later and as Max pulled into the driveway he caught the attention of his neighbor, Mr. Delgetti, who was outside watering his lawn. Delgetti watched with avid interest as the Evans boy jumped from his jeep then jogged around to the passenger’s side to assist a pretty little brunette obviously the same age. As they disappeared into the house Delgetti wondered if he shouldn’t call Diane Evans’ cell and let her know that her teenage son was skipping school with a girl. Delgetti dropped his watering hose and hobbled quickly into his house.

“Can I get you something?” Max asked Liz after he’d shut the front door behind them, “We have juice, Pepsi, milk…”

“No, I’m fine,” Liz said with smiling politeness, “I’m much more interested in why you suddenly decided that we should finally talk.”

“Why don’t you have a seat?” Max invited, gesturing towards the sofa. Liz obliged him and sat down, mildly disappointed when he didn’t join her. “I know you told me last night that you didn’t need my help about…about the baby, but I went to Zrei and asked him some questions.”

Liz slumped against the sofa in discontent. Although she was somewhat annoyed at what Max had obviously wanted to discuss Liz couldn’t deny that she was curious as to what Zrei had said as well. “Well, what did he say?”

“Nothing, really,” Max sighed in disgust, “He just said a lot of stuff that didn’t make any sense, but one thing…well, two things I did understand was, one: our baby is a boy and two: we have to start getting along or he won’t survive.”

“What?” Liz exclaimed, bolting upright.

“He said that you and I must form a ‘lifebond,’ his words not mine, if our child is to become part of the Collective,” Max clarified, “because without the Collective he will die.”

Liz frowned, wanting to roll her eyes in response to how convoluted her life had become. “So that’s the reason you suddenly started talking to me,” Liz muttered to herself.

“That’s not the only reason,” Max denied softly. He shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “I’m tired of avoiding you, Liz.”

“But you’re the one who started it!” Liz accused, frustrated, “You told me to stay away from you, remember? I know I sure do!”

Max groaned. “I thought I was making a good decision at the time,” he explained lamely, “I was trying to keep from hurting you any more.”

“By smashing my heart into a billion pieces,” Liz exclaimed, “Stellar job of not hurting me, Max!”

Max tunneled his fingers through his hair in rising aggravation. “Liz, after what happened in the cell I was doing my best to protect you.”

“Protect me from what exactly?” Liz yelled, jumping to her feet.

“From me, dammit!” Max retorted angrily and then more quietly but with just as much emotion, “I was trying to protect you from me.”

Liz heaved a heavy sigh. The source of their problems always came back to that afternoon and the awful sin Max believed he had committed. “Max, don’t you realize? I didn’t fight you at the end. I didn’t fight you at all. You did ask me not to fight you…but ultimately I was the one who decided not to.”

Max shook his head in denial. “Liz, don’t do that. Don’t sugarcoat what happened.”

“I’m not sugarcoating anything,” Liz stressed, “I’m trying to tell you the truth so you can stop punishing yourself for something that didn’t happen!”

“Didn’t happen!” Max whispered painfully, “So what are you saying? That I imagined you pushing at my shoulders that day, that the look of terror on your face was actually ecstasy or that I didn’t see revulsion in your eyes once it was all over?”

“Of course, I was disgusted, Max!” Liz cried, “I had just lost my virginity in a room monitored with surveillance equipment. You weren’t even doing it because you wanted me, but because you had been drugged into doing it! How was I supposed feel…great?”

“I think you’ve been lying to yourself for weeks, Liz” he told her fiercely, “not letting yourself feel any of the hurt or betrayal that would have been perfectly normal to feel. But it’s there Liz, just below the surface and nothing will ever progress between us until you admit it.”

Liz jerked her arms from his grasp. “What do you want me to do…hate you? Is that it?” she whispered achingly, looking at him through eyes glimmering with unshed tears, “Because I can’t, Max. I won’t. It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault.”

He turned away from her and walked over to the fireplace, bracing his hands against the mantel. “But what if it was, Liz,” Max considered gruffly, “That drug didn’t awaken the human desire in me. What I felt was something more primal…something I couldn’t deny, even if it meant I was hurting you.”

“It still wasn’t your fault,” Liz insisted gently. She crept up behind him, dared to lay her hand against his back. It was electric touching him again and right. Very, very right.

Max shuddered beneath her hand. “I still think about that day, Liz, over and over.” His tone was lost, forlorn, and sincerely ashamed. “And do you know what the worst part of it is?” His voice dropped to a bare whisper. “The worst part is that I want still want you…I still want you that way.” He began to cry then and Liz laid her cheek against his back, sliding her arms around his waist as she conformed her body against his.

She turned her face into his t-shirt, placing small kisses between his shoulder blades. “Don’t ever be ashamed of wanting me, Max,” she whispered as she nuzzled her cheek against him. She strummed her hands along his corrugated belly. “Max?” she said as she felt his sobs quiet down, “Max, please look at me.”

“If I look at you I’ll do something we’ll both regret,” he croaked in response.

Liz slipped her arms from around him and deftly scooted up between his body and the fireplace mantel. “You might regret it,” she told him softly, “but I won’t.” And then she leaned up on her tiptoes and kissed his mouth.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:21:21 PM
Chapter 46

The kiss was awkward at first, more a meshing of mouths than anything else. Max held himself stiffly in Liz’s embrace, his hands fisted at his sides, refusing to participate. He compressed his lips into a tight, firm line and waited dispassionately for Liz to finish. Finally, she pulled back from him with a little sigh of disappointment. But she wasn’t disheartened by his lack of response but rather encouraged. He wouldn’t be fighting her so hard if he truly didn’t want her. “This would work much better if you just cooperated, Max,” she whispered wryly, smoothing away the wrinkle in his forehead.

Max didn’t crack a smile. “You shouldn’t have done that, Liz,” he told her evenly, “What about Kyle?”

Liz frowned. “What about him?”

“You’re together now, aren’t you?”

Liz bit back her spurt of laughter. “No! Not at all,” she assured him, wondering where he’d gotten such a notion in the first place.

Max’s expression bloomed with hope before abruptly darkening again. “It doesn’t matter anyway…it was a mistake for us to kiss.”

“Then I guess I’ll just have to make another one,” Liz quipped softly, framing his face and taking his lips in another kiss that he was completely unprepared for. Liz seized the advantage of his surprise, darting her tongue into his mouth. His reaction was instantaneous. He grabbed hold of her shoulders and for a moment Liz thought he might try to push her away and then, abruptly, he crushed her against his body, opening his mouth to her kiss.

With his capitulation the kiss spiraled out of control becoming a fierce mating of the tongue and lips. There was more than three weeks of hunger between them and it showed. Max ate voraciously at Liz’s mouth, caressing the pouty fullness of her lower lip with his tongue before sucking against it provocatively. His tender ministrations against her mouth incited Liz to lavish him with the same generous attention, tasting him just as fully.

His fingers tunneled into her hair, holding her captive in his hungry assault, dipping and tasting, nipping and sucking until the both of them were breathless. When he pulled away at last, he slid his mouth across her cheek and bent his head forward to rest against her shoulder. Stop denying that part of you which makes you whole. Zrei’s words sounded in the back of his head, making perfect sense now. Last night he hadn’t understood what his guardian was trying to tell him, but now Max could see clearly, as if a veil of denial had been suddenly been lifted from his eyes.

Liz. It was Liz that made him whole. Only when he was with her could he think, breathe, live. Because she was his reason, his air, his entire purpose for being. He had been a fool in denying her so long. A fool and a coward.

Max lifted his head to look at her, half expecting to see disgust and doubt swirling in the brown depths of her eyes. Instead though, when he looked at her, he found that her eyes were darkened with desire and alive with love abundant. Max swallowed painfully, pressing his forehead against hers lovingly. “I’m so sorry, Liz,” he whispered achingly against her temple, “I’m so sorry.” He rubbed the soft strands of her hair between his fingers, turning her face up to his for another kiss.

He brushed his lips against hers sweetly and for Liz his kiss was the perfect companion to his heartfelt apology. She sighed a soft moan as their mouths settled together once more. As her eyes drifted closed Liz became lost in the thrilling sensations Max evoked in his tentative stroking of her neck and shoulders. Her hands skimmed his back until she reached the hem of his t-shirt. She played at it hesitantly before finally tugging the material upward in a definitive motion.

Breathless, Max stilled against her mouth, staring down at her with wide, surprised eyes. “Liz, what are you doing?” he mumbled against her lips in a heated whisper.

Liz ignored the reflexive urge to lower her eyes. “Don’t you want me to?” she asked him sweetly, seductively. Max nodded mutely. “Then take your shirt off, Max,” she ordered him, sliding his shirt up the muscled sides of his torso and over his head. Max tossed it aside without ever breaking eye contact with her.

Her invitation to undress him had changed the dynamic of intimacy between them. Now the hunger in his eyes was about so much more than anticipation of more kissing. The demand darkening their liquid beauty was unmistakable. He would not be satisfied with just awkward kisses and caresses. He was ready to escalate their relationship to the ultimate closeness.

Liz recognized that look immediately and she was glad for it. She wouldn’t be satisfied with just kissing either. Provocatively, deliberately, she slid her eyes from his face down the lean expanse of his corrugated chest. She reached forward and experimentally trailed her fingers down his satiny skin, marveling at how his muscles flexed in response to her touch. “You’re so beautiful,” Liz whispered in wonder.

Max took up his own exploration as well, smoothing his fingers down the bare skin of her forearm. “You’re the beautiful one, Liz,” Max whispered in return, “so soft,” he moaned, lowering his head to taste the column of her throat, “so pretty.”

His kisses made her dizzy, excited. Liz grabbed against his shoulders to steady herself, pressing her body against the hard expanse of his chest. He sucked gently against her neck, using his tongue to caress her tender flesh. “Max…Max…let’s lie down,” she gasped into his ear.

Max broke the contact between them to sweep her up into his arms before devouring her lips in a hungry kiss. He stumbled towards his bedroom blindly, knocking into the coffee table and the reading lamp as he did, but hardly noticing because he was too lost in the sensation of kissing Liz, of tasting her sweet mouth. He made it to his room without ever breaching their kiss. Once there, Max closed the door behind them with his foot and laid Liz down atop the bed and then stretched out over her, settling himself eagerly between her parted thighs.

Max slowly ground his erection against Liz in an effort to feel more, to get closer, a task that was maddening and impossible through the thick confines of his blue jeans. Liz, too, was frustrated with the limited contact and opened her legs wider to allow Max more access. In response to his desperate need to be closer, Max slid his hand beneath the thin cotton of her shirt, playing over the soft material of her bra. He sighed contently, groaning as the warm fullness of her breast filled his palm.

Liz arched her back to allow Max access to the snap at the back of her bra. Only then did he lift his mouth from hers. He undid the clasp gratefully, moaning with relief and desire when he was finally able to caress her bare skin. Max nuzzled his face against the crook of her neck; his moans becoming a soft cry ecstasy when Liz suddenly broke contact with him peel off her shirt and bra and fling them across the room.

Max stared down at her naked torso reverently. Her flesh was so creamy, so smooth, her small, tan nipples puckered with desire. He bent his head to touch his tongue to one stiff peak before sucking it hungrily into his mouth.

The feel of his warm, warm mouth surrounding her sensitive skin made Liz cry out, made her grasp his head and pull him tighter against her, never wanting him to stop. The grinding of her pelvis became more forceful, more insistent. She craved the closeness that could not be found through a barrier of clothing.

But when Max would have reached down between them to unsnap Liz’s jeans the sudden sound of the front door slamming halted all movement. Liz’s horrified eyes ricocheted to Max’s frozen face. “I thought you said your parents were in Clovis!” she accused in a whisper as Max scrambled off the bed in a frantic search for their discarded clothing.

“I thought they were!” Max said, finding Liz’s shirt atop his computer and tossing to her. In that second his bedroom door began to yawn open. Max didn’t think. He sent a bolt of energy from his hand, slamming door closed and sealing it shut. “Get dressed quick and hide in the closet,” Max hissed, as he searched on his hands in knees for Liz’s bra. His shirt could not be helped, he realized, it was still in the living room. “It’s my mom,” he told Liz as she quickly slipped on her shirt.

Outside, Diane Evans had begun pounding on the door. “Max! Max! Are you in there? You open this door this instant! Do you hear me? Right this instant!”

Max pushed Liz into his closet, pressing his finger against his mouth to indicate that she remain as quiet as possible. Impervious to his mother’s pounding for the moment, he grinned and placed a quick kiss on her lips before closing the door. He gave up the search for Liz’s bra and instead quickly rumpled the sheets of his bed and acquired his most convincing “I just woke up and I don’t know what the hell is going on” face.

After Max was satisfactorily composed, he rumpled his hair a bit more and then used his powers to unseal the door. He feigned jerking it open with difficulty and faced his mother with an exaggerated yawn. “Mom! I thought you were in Clovis today.”

Diane shoved past her son in wordless suspicion barging into his unkempt bedroom. It was messy and…empty. Max quickly snatched up Liz’s polka dotted bra from his desk chair when his mother’s back was turned and stuffed it in his pants. “Why were you holding the door shut just now?” she demanded after turned to face her.

“I wasn’t!” Max exclaimed innocently, “It must have been stuck…it does that sometime.”

Diane narrowed her eyes in mistrust, noticing immediately that he was shirtless. Also his face was flushed and his lips slightly swollen and very pink. Of course, that could have been the result of his just being awakened but Diane couldn’t be sure. “What are you doing home from school?”

“I had a stomach ache earlier so I came home to rest,” Max lied, feeling uncomfortable under his mother’s intense stare.

“No one from your school called me,” Diane informed him slowly.

“I thought you were in Clovis, remember? I asked the secretary to let me check myself out,” Max replied with as much indignance as he could muster, “Why are you grilling me anyway? You’re acting like I committed a federal crime or something.”

“Mr. Delgetti from next door called me on my cell phone to tell me that my teenage son, who was supposed to be in school, had just snuck into the house with a girl.”

Max frowned in teenage annoyance and anger. Mr. Delgetti had been watering his lawn when he and Liz arrived. That nosy old fart! It would be a cold day in hell before Max ever rescued that mangy cat of his from the roof again. However Max hid his emotions behind a blasé attitude. “Mom, come on! Mr. Delgetti is like 85! He has cataracts, for crying out loud! He can hardly see his cat Missy when she’s right in front of him. I’ve seen him almost step on her twice!”

Diane was quiet for a moment, considering the truthfulness of her son’s words. And then she sighed. “I thought Mr. Delgetti must have been mistaken…that didn’t sound like you at all, Max.” She reached forward and felt his forehead, suspicion gone now and replaced with motherly concern. “You don’t feel warm, but you do look flushed, honey. Maybe you should lie down a little longer.” She then ushered Max back into bed, pulling his sheets up to his chin. “I’ll close the door so you won’t be disturbed.” On her way out she said thoughtfully, “Maybe I’ll have your father take a look at this door when he comes home tonight.”

Max expelled a sigh of deep relief when she was gone. He crept out of his bed carefully and turned the lock on his door. By the time he’d turned towards for the closet Liz had already poked her head through the small crack she’d made in the door. “Is she gone?”

“No,” Max answered with a grin, “She’s probably in the kitchen whipping up a batch of chicken noodle soup for me as we speak. But it’s safe to come out the closet now.”

Liz emerged from the closet, her cheeks burning with acute embarrassment. “I couldn’t find my bra,” she mumbled to Max lamely, her eyes downcast.

Biting his lip to keep from laughing out loud, Max slowly removed her bra from his shorts. He passed it to Liz, his lips twitching anew when she accepted it with a grimace of distaste. “It was the only place I could think to hide it,” he told her.

“Thanks…I think.” He only stood there, grinning like an idiot, waiting in anticipation for Liz to put back on her bra. But having his mother interrupt their make-out session had put a serious damper on Liz’s earlier mood. She stared up at Max painfully. “Would you mind turning around, please?”

Max found her modesty mildly ridiculous under the circumstances. After all, he had been caressing and kissing her bare breasts just ten minutes earlier. Her naked body was not a secret to him. Still, he understood that she was probably nervous and embarrassed with his mother in the house, so he obligingly turned his back to her. He listened to the rustling of clothes behind him and in order to take his mind off the possibility that Liz was, at that exact moment, standing behind him with her torso exposed, he said, “You know, I didn’t bring you here today for…well, you know.”

“I know,” Liz acknowledged quietly, “You can turn around now.”

Max did as she ordered. He saw that the pinkness had faded from her cheeks but she still appeared uneasy. “Do you need to sit down?”

“I think maybe I should go,” Liz reasoned shakily, “Your mother…”

“…doesn’t suspect a thing,” Max concluded, “She thinks I’m in here sick with a stomachache. We’re not in trouble.” He grabbed hold of her hand and led her over to the bed they had been making out in just minutes earlier. Now they sat side by side, Liz nervous and guilty, Max contented and completely at peace.

“Max, maybe this isn’t such a good idea…that I stay…”

“You might as well,” Max suggested, glancing at his watch, “Besides school will be over in a couple of hours anyway. Why don’t you lay down…you look really pale.” She started to protest, but Max insisted, “Come on, Liz, please. I’ll take you home later when the coast is clear, I promise.”

Liz finally nodded and curled up on the bed. Max stretched out behind her, contouring his body against hers. “I can’t believe what just happened,” Liz muttered into her arm, “I’m so mortified.”

“About my mother walking in or about us almost making love?” Max inquired softly.

“About your mother, of course!” Liz clarified, slanting him a look, “I probably won’t be able to look her in the eye again. I wonder if she’d think I was such a nice girl if she knew what I was doing with you today.”

“Liz, she’d love you,” Max assured her as she turned to face him, “just like I love you.”

Liz kissed his lips softly, closing her eyes. “It feels weird hearing you say that…” she murmured, “…it’s been awhile.”

“I know,” Max said, feeling renewed guilt at the sadness in her voice, “I’ll make it up to you…promise.”

“Are you going to make a habit of this?”

“Habit of what?”

“Breaking my heart and then putting it back together again?”

Max threaded his fingers through the hair at her temples. “I’m never breaking your heart again,” he vowed with naïve sincerity.

Liz chuckled ruefully. “Famous last words…”

“I’m serious,” Max insisted and then he asked, “Are you sure you’re okay…you know with everything…that day and…you know…the baby?”

Instead of answering his question Liz asked a question of her own, voicing a suspicion she’d long had. “Max, what do you really remember about that afternoon?”

His eyes darted away. “I remember being inside you…” he whispered shamefully, “…and the look on your face afterwards.” Just as she suspected, he’d never had a clear memory of all that happened that afternoon at all.

“You want to know what I remember?” Liz said to him softly, cupping his cheek to turn his gaze to hers. When he finally looked at her only then did she continue. “I remember how you kept whispering apologies in my ear. You kept saying, ‘God, God, please help me not to do this…please help me not to hurt her.’ And you were so gentle, Max, you didn’t hurt me at all, I promise,” she assured him softly, her eyes full of earnest feeling, “It was just a shock…losing my virginity in that place and under the circumstances. I was just overwhelmed and that was the reason for the look on my face.”

“I felt so ashamed…because I couldn’t control it,” Max explained haltingly. He was uncomfortable with discussing that night, however, he had denied Liz her catharsis long enough and he was determined to talk out their issues no matter how painful he found it. “I felt like I had failed you.”

“You didn’t,” Liz told him, “The only thing I hold you responsible for is your asinine behavior afterwards. As far as I’m concerned that’s all you have to make up for.”

Max hugged her against him tightly. “God, Liz, do you know how much I love you?” he moaned into her hair.

Liz smiled through her tears of joy and relief. “I don’t know…but it’s always nice to hear.”

“You’re my world. Please, don’t ever leave me,” Max implored fiercely.

Liz laughed, despite the emotion clogging her throat. “If I haven’t up until this point I never will, Max,” she whispered against his throat, “I never will.”

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:22:43 PM
Chapter 47

“Do you want to go home?” Max asked Liz after they had finally managed to sneak from his house after waiting for the opportunity to do so nearly two hours.

However, Liz was far from being disappointed with her afternoon. She had spent the better part of the day cuddled up against Max just listening to his beautiful voice. She had finally been able to discuss her feelings about that day with him and have him share his in return. They were close again, the misunderstandings and regrets finally put behind them where they should have always been. Life didn’t get much better than that. At present, Liz smiled at him across the expanse of the jeep, her happiness aglow on her face and sparkling in her eyes.

The last place she wanted to go was home. Now that she was finally with Max and all the resentment and doubt between them had finally been put to rest, she found the prospect of ending their time together repugnant. Liz shook her head. “No, I don’t want to go home.”

“Where then?” Max asked her over the rushing wind, loving the way her hair billowed and whipped across her face in the frenzy. Liz’s sweet smile slowly widened into one of provocative sexiness. Her meaning was quite clear. Max pulled off at the next exit for the Holiday Inn.

They registered as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Liz couldn’t staunch her uncontrollable giggles and blush as the desk clerk eyed them knowingly as she passed Max the electronic key to their room. They both laughed together, their arms looped around each other’s waists as they tripped from the lobby in search of their room number.

Marcus DeVoe watched discreetly from his dark blue Lexus as the two teenage lovers emerged from the hotel kissing and giggling. He felt his anger gather in his chest with stunning force when he watched Max Evans slowly pull that Parker bitch into his arms for a more serious kiss. They stood entangled on the sidewalk, kissing with all abandon, impervious to any passerby. So they had forgotten all about him, hmm? Well, he’d see if he could refresh their memory. And soon.

Max reluctantly lifted his lips from Liz’s, staring down into her luminous eyes, smiling. “You have no idea just how much I’ve missed doing that,” he whispered, kissing her nose.

“Me too,” Liz replied, slipping her hands into the back pockets of his jeans and cupping his buttocks to bring him closer.

“Are you trying to give me a hint, Ms. Parker?” Max teased against her mouth.

“Maybe, Mr. Evans! It depends on what you think I’m hinting at,” Liz flirted sweetly. She gave his bottom a playful squeeze for good measure. “I’ll race you,” she told him suddenly, already tearing out of his arms to make a dash for it.

Together they raced for the hotel room with the abandon of children, laughing and squealing the entire way. Max won the short-lived race, slamming against the door with a thud and flashing Liz a triumphant smile. “I beat you,” he bragged breathlessly.

“Only cuz your legs are longer,” was Liz’s equally breathless, but impertinent rejoinder.

After fumbling with the key, Max and Liz fell inside the hotel room all smiles and laughter. Max walked Liz up against the door, pinning her against it with his body. “So?” he prompted, his breath stirring against her face sensually.

Liz lightly bumped her middle against his. “Sooo…”

“Did you want to talk or anything?” Max asked, already stooping down to kiss the underside of her jaw. Liz shook her head negative. “Good,” Max declared, scooping her up in his arms and carrying her over to the bed, “Neither do I.”

As he laid her down against the bed they shared a rapacious kiss, made hungrier by the knowledge that there would be no interruptions this time. When she had settled into the mattress Max reluctantly ended their kiss, his eyes lingering on the perfect loveliness of her face. With exquisite gentleness he reached forward to comb his fingers through her hair, spreading the silken strands out over the bed coverlet like a fan. “Whenever I imagined us making love it was always with your hair spilling out across the bed just this way,” Max whispered sweetly, “God, you’re beautiful, Liz.”

Liz reached up to caress his cheek, sliding her hand upwards to thread her fingers into his thick hair. “Kiss me, Max,” she implored, bringing his face down to hers, “Kiss me again.” He gave her what she craved, opening his mouth widely over hers, sending her his tongue. She fed him hers as well, intoxicated by his minty taste, aroused by it. Their tongues mated, danced, tangled together with the abandon of new lovers.

Max circled his hips against Liz in a motion that was definitively sexual. For so long he had not allowed himself to think of her in such a way. The idea only brought shame. But that time was over. Now Max was driven by an innate need to possess her, to fill her up with his body, to be nestled deep inside. He groaned at the thought, his erection stretching ever more painfully inside his jeans.

Liz, too, felt Max’s same intense desire. Her hands skimmed the smooth skin of his back beneath the soft jersey of his t-shirt, slipped lowered into the seat of his jeans to caress his buttocks. She lifted her center closer against him, using the heels of her feet to push herself higher and harder against his arousal. A throbbing ache had begun between her legs. She whimpered with it.

Reluctantly, Max left her mouth, trailed his lips down the length of her sweet smelling throat, across the delicate skin of her collarbone. He lifted his head then, his fingers playing lightly at the collar of her shirt. “Let me see you, Liz,” he implored hotly. He rose up on his knees pulling Liz along with him.

She knew what he was asking and she was glad to give it to him. Without ever taking her eyes from his face, Liz whipped her shirt up and over her head, tossing it aside as she’d done earlier that afternoon. Next, she unclasped her bra, letting it fall down her shoulders, gradually exposing the top of her breasts to Max’s view.

But Max was too impatient to see her and he reached forward and slid the wispy material down her arms, his eyes sliding downward only after he’d thrown her bra aside. She was breathtaking, Max thought, as he beheld the perfect splendor of her creamy skin. He’d thought so earlier that afternoon, but seeing her now, under the dusky golden light of the hotel lamps, she seemed almost ethereal.

Max bent his head, brushing gently across her hardened nipple with his mouth, sponging it with his tongue. “Tell me what you want, Liz,” he ordered thickly against her fevered skin, “Tell me. I’ll do whatever you say.” His hands stroked the small of her back lightly as he nuzzled against her breast, tasted it ever so lightly.

Liz could hardly breathe, could hardly think, but instinctively she understood what he was asking. He needed to know that she wanted him. He needed to hear her say the words aloud. “I want you, Max,” she beseeched him, tunneling her fingers into his hair and bringing his face closer against her, “I want this.”

He didn’t need any further encouragement. Max opened his mouth wide over her nipple, tugging it into his mouth with gentle insistence, wanting, wanting so much… And somehow they fell back against the bed without Max ever pausing in his tender ministrations. He stroked his hand up the smooth skin of her midriff to cup the underside of her breast. He tenderly massaged her flesh, opened his mouth to take in more…

Liz skimmed her hands over Max’s body in a desperate need to get closer. She alternately tugged at his t-shirt and grabbed at his head to hold him against her. “Max…Max,” she moaned between gasps of pleasure, her head twisting fitfully against the bed, “Take off your clothes…take them off…I want you naked…us naked…”

Her words inflamed him. When Max pulled away the look on his face was primal, hungry…determined. He pulled at his clothes like a man possessed and when he was finally naked he began working at freeing Liz of her jeans. Liz didn’t bother to do so herself, she was suddenly stunned into gaping speechlessness at the sight of Max’s naked body. She propped herself onto her elbows for a closer look.

Beautiful seemed too mundane a word to describe the absolute perfection of his body. Every thing about him was hard and muscled, his chest, his arms, his thighs, his…penis. And oh God, what a penis, Liz thought with a crimson blush! His organ seemed to be made alive by the veins that coursed through it, throbbing erotically in the nest of dark, lustrous curls at its base.

Max only became aware of Liz’s keen attention when he finally freed her of her jeans and panties. He smiled softly before stretching out beside her on the bed and taking hold of her hand. With bated breath, he guided it to his aching erection. “Touch it,” he invited hoarsely.

“Will it hurt you?” Liz asked, already leaning up on her elbow to trail her finger tentatively along the sensitive head.

Max shook his head, swallowing almost painfully. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, Liz,” he murmured. His eyes sank closed as Liz’s caresses became bolder, more intense. “God, that feels so good,” he moaned as her hand closed around his penis tightly, slowly stroking the length of him. Max arched against her hand, quickening the strokes against her palm. His hands roamed ceaselessly over her back and shoulders, reveling in the silky smooth feel of her skin.

Liz watched in wonder as tiny beads of moisture began to appear at the head of his cock. Fascinated, she leaned forward, her breath stirring against him provocatively. Before she had thought the idea through Liz was darting out her tongue and licking away the sticky droplets at the tip. Max’s reaction was instantaneous. He groaned and bolted upright, lightly knocking her aside when he did.

He stared at her, his eyes glittering. “Why did you do that?” he asked in a thready whisper.

Liz licked her lips, tasting his semen there and oddly aroused by it. “I just wanted to make you feel good, Max,” she said quietly.

Her words actually made him groan. “You don’t have to, Liz,” he told her hoarsely, “I…I don’t expect it.”

Liz pushed him back against the mattress insistently. “I want to,” she whispered in return right before she began kissing her way down his torso to take him fully into her mouth.

She used her tongue to stroke the entire rigid length of him. Up and down. Up and down. Her motion insistent, demanding until Max lost complete control. He tangled his fingers into her hair, holding her head captive as he speared into her mouth again and again. The heat from her mouth was exquisite, permeating the silken skin of his penis, causing him to harden even more.

Liz knew the very instant when Max was prepared to come. He gasped and his entire body began to tremble. He tried to push her away then but Liz stubbornly refused to be moved. She wanted to taste him completely, all of him. She sucked hard, using her tongue to caress the very tip of him and seconds later Max bunched his fingers into her hair and cried out in hoarse repletion, flooding her mouth with the hot jets of his semen.

For a moment Max lay there breathless, stunned by his body’s unprecedented reaction to Liz’s touch. She leaned up over him then, draping her naked body over his chest. “So did you like it?” she asked him shyly.

He didn’t answer her. Instead he grabbed the back of her head and jerked her down against him for an intense kiss, filling her mouth with his tongue. The taste of his body inside her mouth drove Max over the edge with desire. He reached down between them, finding the liquid center of her, easing his fingers in and out in the same rhythm with which he thrust against her body. He couldn’t believe how incredibly wet she was and so, so small. Her flesh conformed around his fingers like a tight rubber band.

Liz gripped his forearms, digging her nails into his taut flesh as she lifted her hips to meet the quick, piercing stabs of his fingers. “Please, Max…” she gasped, “please…inside me…I need you inside me.”

Max didn’t hesitate. He flipped her fully onto her back and settled over her, quickly positioning himself between her thighs. And then he was thrusting inside her, filling her up, driving as hard as he could. Liz gasped at the unexpected force of his entry, excited by the feel of him stretching so deep within her.

The wet walls of her cleft closed around him, squeezing him tightly. The pressure was almost enough to make Max come right then, but he was determined to prolong the pleasure for them both. He began stroking steadily at first and then faster and faster until he had no discernable rhythm. Max was just consumed with the desperate need to plunge inside, losing focus as Liz’s body swallowed his again and again. “Oh, yes…oh, Liz, yes,” Max whispered mindlessly, the words tumbling from his mouth uncontrollably, “oh, god, yes…you’re so wet…you’re so, so wet… Liz, you feel so good…I can’t believe I’m inside of you…I can’t believe…oh god…and you’re…so…fucking…hot…so hot…please…please help me not…oh please…help me not to come…not yet…please…please…not yet…”

Each heated word he mumbled against her cheek only served to heighten Liz’s desire, her desperation to bring him to fulfillment, her fierce need to find her own. She tightened her vaginal muscles, meeting his thrusts wildly, urging him to plunge even deeper than before. Liz ground herself against Max, causing a fine sheen of perspiration to dampen her skin. Her world was suddenly reduced to that one spot below her belly where Max was driving into her over and over. And then it exploded causing her to emit a long serrated moan and her body to stiffen with the sheer force of it. Max followed soon after her, the searing liquid of his orgasm spurting from him with enough force to collapse him against her slick body.

For a few seconds, Max could only lay atop her, breathing heavily, his body numb. But all too soon he lifted his weight from her and withdrew from her body, causing Liz to convulse anew with shivers of pleasure. He stared down into her drowsy eyes and lifted his hand to smooth away Liz’s sweat dampened hair from her face. “Thank you for doing this with me,” he whispered reverently, bending his head to gently kiss her mouth, “I never thought I’d have this chance with you again. Thank you for loving me, Liz.” He shifted onto his back then, taking her with him so that she lay sprawled across his chest.

Liz drew lazy circles around his nipple with her index finger and said in a voice content with exhaustion and satisfaction. “I love you, Max Evans.”

“Not half as much as I love you,” Max responded softly, kissing the top of her head. But Liz didn’t hear him. She was already fast asleep.

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

It was the same dream as always. He could hear the baby crying, could hear them both beckoning him. Max ran through the maze in a panic, searching and searching… The fog that always engulfed him was finally starting to clear, however. And then he found them. He burst into the clearing and there they were bathed in sunshine. Liz knelt in the grass, holding their child nestled against her breasts. He gasped her name breathlessly, gratefully as he fell down beside her, pulling her against him and caressing the tiny face of his son.

“We’re complete now, Max,” she whispered against his ear, “We’ll never be apart again.”


Max abruptly awoke with a start to find Liz leaning above him, lightly brushing his hair away from his forehead. His dream immediately forgotten upon waking, he smiled up at her lazily and grabbed her hand, sucking lightly against her fingertips. “How long have you been awake?” he asked her with a sleepy yawn.

“Long enough to know you have the sexiest body ever created,” Liz quipped with a sexy smirk. She trailed her finger down his chest and down to his groin to trace gingerly over his waking erection. Liz bent her head to lap at his nipple.

“You’ve been staring at me all this time?” Max marveled hoarsely, caressing the silky top of her head, closing his eyes with the pleasure her flicking tongue created. He was unable to fathom how she could find his body so interesting. Now her body, on the other hand…

“Mmm. I’ve been touching, too…as you can see,” Liz added huskily, moving upward to kiss his lips.

“My turn,” Max replied, sliding his hand down between her thighs and finding the warm silky center of her with his fingers.

Liz groaned in responsive desire but reluctantly pushed his hand away for the time being. “As much as I would love to continue lying here kissing you,” she kissed him softly on the mouth, “touching you,” she trailed her fingers provocatively down his chest, “and loving you,” she fit her hips against his, rubbing his stirring penis against her sex, “I’m afraid I need to eat something. I’m starving.” As if on cue, her stomach rumbled.

Max frowned in disappointment. “Why didn’t you mention that earlier?”

“Because we were otherwise occupied,” Liz reminded him, tweaking his nose.

“Well, I’ll just go and grab us something to eat then,” Max said, starting to move from the bed.

Liz playfully grabbed his arm. “No!” she protested, pouting prettily, “I won’t allow you to leave this spot.” Again her stomach growled loudly. She released Max with a smile of chagrin. “On second thought…”

She propped her pillows against the headboard and watched with passionate interest as Max began gathering up his clothing. She couldn’t help but admire how his buttocks flexed and hardened with each move he made. The grin that graced her face would have rivaled the Cheshire cat’s. “Leave off the underwear,” she ordered Max when he would have slid on his boxers. He gave her a questioning look. “They’ll just get in the way later,” Liz explained with an irreverent shrug.

Max grinned and pulled on his jeans, sans underwear, and his t-shirt. When he was dressed he bent to kiss her forehead gently. “What do you want to eat?”

“I want a double cheeseburger,” Liz said, smacking her lips in anticipation, “with extra, extra grilled onions, a side of chili-cheese fries with extra cheese, and a cookies and cream milkshake…no wait, make it chocolate. And pie…I could really go for a slice of warm apple pie with ice cream.” And then, as if to excuse her desire for so much food she patted her belly and added cheekily, “I am eating for two, you know.”

Max bit back a smile at her expression. “All that and extra, extra onions, too, huh?”

“Mmm hmm,” Liz nodded with a gamin grin.

“Don’t plan to do any kissing any time soon?” he inquired breezily.

Liz’s eyes widened in mock horror. “Of course I do,” she gasped in affront, “Lots and lots and lots of kissing.”

“In that case I’d better stop off at the drug store for some Altoids on my way back,” Max teased sweetly, “You know, ‘the curiously strong mint’.”

“Max!”

“Liz!” Max mimicked her squealing tone. And then his expression changed and he leaned forward to press a lingering kiss to her mouth, mumbling against her lips. “Do you have any idea how horny you make me?”

“The sooner you get back here the sooner you can show me,” Liz told him seductively. With one last kiss he was out the door, smiling the entire way. Liz settled back into the bed after he was gone, inhaling his smell from the sheets. She smiled contentedly and began fumbling around on the bed for the remote when a knocking sounded suddenly at the door.

Her smile widened and she climbed from the bed, wrapping the sheet around her nude body. She pulled open the door, laughing as she did, saying, “Have I got you so turned around that you forgot the--,” She never finished her thought. The last thing she saw was a fist flying towards her face at alarming speed before her world suddenly went black.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:26:30 PM
Chapter 48

Max returned to the hotel room to find the door slightly ajar. He pushed against it lightly, causing it to yawn wide. The room was empty. Alarm bells began clanging in his head immediately. His teasing smile immediately left his face and he absently dropped the food in his hand on the table before rushing throughout the room, calling Liz’s name.

Everything was as he’d left it. Except no Liz. Her clothes were gone, but curiously her shoes were still beside the bed, her underwear crumpled on the floor near the television. Her purse, also, lay on the floor, it’s contents scattered. It didn’t make sense that Liz would go anywhere without her purse and shoes or leave the door half open for that matter. Max’s eyes were frantically scanning the room for clues when he saw it. Scrawled across the mirror in that pale, pink lipstick that Liz always liked to wear were the words: I have her. If you want her back alive bring me the fourth alien. You have 8 hours. Max knew without question that it was DeVoe.

He stumbled over to where the tube of lipstick lay discarded. The moment he stooped to retrieve it, his hand barely brushing the tube, a flash suddenly assailed Max. For the moment he was DeVoe. He could hear the man’s thoughts and feel his feelings. Max convulsed to the ground, helpless to stop the possession that overtook his body.

He was losing control and he could feel it. He didn’t like losing control. He hadn’t felt this torn up inside since… No, he wouldn’t think about those days in the foster home…the daily beatings…the…the other… Now those days were done. He’d promised himself that he would never be helpless again, that he would always be in control. But he had lost everything and he was once again helpless. And it was thanks to this bitch lying face down in the bed. Her and her fucking lover.

He stared down at her naked body with dispassionate eyes, noting with curious detachment how her hair spread over the bed like inky silk. Did Evans like her hair like that? A cold smile touched his lips. He grabbed hold of Liz’s naked legs roughly and used them to flip her limp body onto her back. He should have a taste of her. That would serve that little fucker Evans right. Let him die with the knowledge that Marcus DeVoe had sampled a piece of his girl.

But he didn’t do it. He was much too fastidious. Max Evans was still an unknown life form, a creature, a thing. He might as well be fucking the leavings of a dog. His upper lip curled in distaste. No, he’d find another way to make Evans pay without compromising himself. But then, because he couldn’t resist, he backhanded her across the mouth. He snorted a gleeful laugh. Just because he’d decided not to fuck her didn’t mean he couldn’t get his jollies knocking her around a bit. After all, he was the one in control now.

He picked up her purse, rummaging through it, spilling some of its contents onto the floor before finding what he sought. Taking the tube of lipstick he walked over to the mirror that hung above the dresser. He’d leave a message for Evans…see how long it took him to find his whore…and bring him the fourth alien.

Yes, he was once again in control.


Max came back to consciousness shaking. He pushed himself upright, feeling dirty and frightened by such intimate contact with DeVoe’s black soul. There was a great deal of hatred stored in the man and Max realized, with an ever increasing sense of fear, that a large portion of that hatred was directed towards him and Liz.

He jumped to his feet, ignoring the tendrils of dizziness that floated around him, and ran back outside, racing for the parking lot. Maybe if it had only just happened he could catch them before… He searched the parking lot until his chest was aching. But there was no sign of Liz. DeVoe had probably waited until right after Max had left to snatch her. His heart hammering with dread and fear, Max pulled out his cell phone and pressed his sister’s number on speed dial. She picked up on the second ring. “Isabel?” Max said, trying to imbue his tone with calmness he didn’t feel.

“Max, is that you?” It was clear from her tone she was agitated. “Where are you? Mom and Dad are going ballistic right now! The principal’s office called this afternoon to let Mom know that you ditched--,”

“Isabel, I don’t have time for that right now,” Max interrupted impatiently, “Liz is in trouble! I need you to go out to the pod chamber and get Zrei. Have him meet me at the Holiday Inn right next to the Interstate. Room 207.”

“The Holiday I--? Max, what are you doing there and what do you mean Liz is in trouble?” Isabel fired at him, “What’s going on?”

“Isabel, please just do what I asked,” Max pleaded, hanging up the phone. He trudged back to the hotel room to wait. In the meantime, he busied himself with straightening up the room. He had to do something. If he just sat there waiting the worry would drive him crazy.

He knew firsthand what a sadistic bastard DeVoe could be, not just from experience but also from his brief walk in the man’s head. Marcus DeVoe got off on hurting others. It was his way of punishing those who had inflicted pain on him when he was a boy, his way of maintaining control.

The horrifying experiences Max had suffered at his hands were still fresh in his memory and he knew they must be fresh in Liz’s as well. God, she had to be terrified right now. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. The situation was made even more precarious because Liz was pregnant! Damn! If DeVoe hurt her, hurt his baby…Max would kill him. He made the decision with automatic coldness. If he had to hunt DeVoe down to do it, he would make sure that sick bastard never hurt Liz or him again.

Max had been waiting nearly twenty minutes when the group finally arrived. He wasn’t even surprised when Isabel, Michael, Maria and Alex trailed Zrei inside. Somehow he had expected that they all would show up. At the moment, however, he didn’t care. His one priority was getting Liz back. Ignoring the rest, Max focused his attention solely on Zrei. “DeVoe has Liz. He wants you as a trade.” The verbal explosion that took place in the room next was highly anticipated. Michael, Maria, Isabel and Alex all began firing questions at him simultaneously.

“Wait, what?” Maria exclaimed, “How did DeVoe get Liz?”

“Weren’t you with her?” Alex fired.

“What are you doing out here in the first place,” Isabel demanded.

“How can you know for sure that DeVoe’s the one who has her?” Michael wanted to know.

Max chose to answer Michael’s question first, gesturing towards the mirror where DeVoe had left his message. “He wasn’t exactly subtle,” Max commented tensely, “I don’t have much time…I have to get to Liz.”

“What does Zrei have to do with that?” Michael asked, “Why would DeVoe want him in the first place?”

“That’s the reason I’ve been trying to reach you today, Max,” Isabel spoke up, commanding the attention of the room, “I asked Alex to do some research for me to see if we could get some information on this mysterious DeVoe.” She took a deep breath before announcing, “Apparently, DeVoe is Charles Atherton’s grandson.”

“What!” Max exclaimed, “His grandson? But how--?”

“There was a witness when your guardian here killed Atherton,” Alex explained haltingly, “Atherton’s daughter, Constance. She spent years in and out of psychiatric facilities as a result. She eventually ended up pregnant, the father was probably a one night stand or something because she raised her son alone for the next eight years until he was taken away from her on charges of neglect and put in foster care. He didn’t see her again until he was 21.”

“Apparently, DeVoe didn’t have a happy childhood before or after that,” Isabel included, picking up where Alex fell silent, “He was moved in and out of foster care for years before he finally just took off one day when he was sixteen. There’s really no record of him during that time and I have to assume he was on the streets. And then in 1985 he legally changed his last name from Atherton to DeVoe. He joined the police academy in Marathon, Texas and then set his sights on finding his mother.”

“He found her three years later, during which time he was in school studying forensic medicine. She was in a mental facility in Kentucky,” Alex chimed in, “She must have told him what happened to her then because after that he made it his life’s mission to track down his grandfather’s killer. He’s dug up tons of information about that night and by all that I’ve seen I’d say the guy is pretty obsessed. After that he joined the FBI, which I supposed he used as a way of gathering more information.”

“And that’s why he wants revenge,” Max breathed, recognizing now how his vision tied into DeVoe’s past and how they had yet to experience the true depths of the man’s hatred, “He blames Zrei for ruining his life and he blames Liz and me for his losing his job with the FBI. Don’t you see…he’ll kill Liz if I don’t get to her soon!”

“Do you know where to find them?” Zrei asked, speaking for the first time. Unlike everyone else present, he seemed calm and unaffected by the commotion unfolding around him.

“When we got back into town, DeVoe asked me to meet him out in this remote spot in the desert. I know now that there’s an abandoned mine out there somewhere nearby,” Max told him, “I think that’s where he’s taken Liz. We have to hurry.” He was already rushing towards the door when Michael suddenly grabbed hold of his arm, detaining him.

“What are you going to do? Just trade Zrei for Liz,” Michael demanded, “You can’t just do that, Max! He’s one of us!”

“Are you saying that he’s more important than Liz,” Maria burst out incredulously, “Of course, that’s what Max has to do!”

“No, I’m not saying that!” Michael snapped, “But we just found Zrei for crying out loud! He shouldn’t have to sacrifice himself to appease a madman!”

“But Liz can?” Maria countered angrily.

“Enough!” Zrei boomed loudly, silencing the room, “Max and I will go to face this DeVoe. If I am what he wants I am what he gets.”

“But he’ll kill you,” Isabel exclaimed, “Zrei, this man wants you dead! There has to be another way.”

“We can not risk it,” Zrei replied, “It is my duty to protect you all…it is what I must do. Come, Max, we do not have time to waste.”

Zrei and Max started for the door with the others following behind them. Max knew better than to try and talk them out of coming. It would have been futile anyway and the clock was already ticking away precious time.

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

Max stared out into the vast darkness just beyond the abandoned mine in his vision. He had convinced the others to hang back near the highway. Although it had taken a fair amount of swearing on his part they had reluctantly listened to him. It was better if DeVoe didn’t see them anyway. He might freak and kill Liz, thinking that Max was trying to set him up. Max rubbed his damp palms against the legs of his jeans. God, let Liz be alright, he thought as he surveyed the miles of desert and tumbleweed that stretched out before him and Zrei. But there was no sign of DeVoe.

“Are you sure that he will be here?” Zrei asked him in a whisper, his eyes easily adjusting to the darkness, scanning the denseness thoroughly.

“This is the place I saw in my vision,” Max replied tensely, “He’s here…I know it.” And then he turned slightly towards Zrei, his eyes unreadable in the darkness and added in a quiet voice trembling with rage, “I didn’t ask you to come with me so that I could trade you, Zrei.” He paused for a moment. “I want you to kill DeVoe for me.”

“I know,” Zrei replied, “I knew even long before you called Isabel.” He laid his hand against Max’s shoulder, the only comforting gesture he had ever made. “You must not feel guilty…for it must be done. For your lifemate’s sake and for your child’s as well. It will be better after we leave this place,” Zrei assured him.

Max nodded and stared back out into the darkness, stiffening when he saw a figure begin to materialize. DeVoe’s scoffing laughter drifted over towards him. He clicked on a flashlight, illuminating Max’s face with the shining beam. “Why am I surprised by your early arrival, Max?” he observed airily, “I give you eight hours and you arrive in two. Bravo!” He brought his hands together in mock applause.

“Where’s Liz? I want to see her right now!” Max demanded, noticing immediately that DeVoe was alone.

“She’s alive. You’ll get what you want when I get what I want,” DeVoe replied, abruptly swinging his flashlight over to Zrei. “So this is the one…the fourth alien. I’ve been searching for you nearly half my life.”

“Then your search has ended. I am the one you seek,” Zrei responded steadily.

“Show me your form, you bastard,” DeVoe barked sharply, “Your true form! The one my mother saw right before you murdered her father.”

Zrei did as he commanded without a hint of emotion. His human skin began break apart away revealing brilliant points of light through the gaps before falling away completely, breaking into dust before hitting the desert floor. Zrei was left standing, a perfect being of light, breathtaking, magnificent, illuminating the dark, desert night for miles. For a moment, even DeVoe couldn’t quell the awe he felt at the sight of him. “You don’t deserve to be so beautiful,” he breathed bitterly to Zrei. And then he swallowed, visibly struggling for his composure. “Come to me.”

“Where is the human girl?” Zrei demanded, his voice crackling through the air, causing the ground beneath their feet to shake. “I will come to you only when I know that she is safe.” He began to gather his concentration, focusing all his powers on breaking through DeVoe’s mental wall in order to find the truth.

DeVoe could feel what he was doing, knew that he could waste no more time. “You will come to me now!” DeVoe cried, suddenly pulling out what appeared to be a stun gun from his pocket and sending out beams of electrical blue currents that entrapped and immobilized Zrei. Max lifted his hand, instinctively ready to blast DeVoe away when his tormentor screamed, “Do it and you’ll never find your precious Liz!” With a grimace of helplessness Max hung back, watching painfully as the light from Zrei’s ethereal body was slowly dimmed, sucked away.

“Isn’t ironic that one of your own weapons would be your undoing? You’re not so powerful now, are you?” DeVoe taunted as Zrei fell to his knees, “You’ve greatly underestimated me and your mistake was a fatal one. I’ve had years to study you…years to discover the hundreds of ways to make you die! You’re nothing but pure energy in your original form. You feed on it, absorb it into every pore of your body…but if it’s taken away…well, I’m sure you know what happens.” He laughed maniacally, watching as Zrei’s body finally blinked out the last of its light and he fell forward, leaving only a small, shriveled gray figure in the dust.

DeVoe spit on his still form, kicking his body over to reveal the front of the small gray body whose face was dominated by a large pair of lifeless, luminous black eyes. “That was for my mother and my grandfather,” he whispered to the alien, “And this is for me,” he added slowly, pulling free his Glock and aiming it at Max’s head. “I haven’t forgotten what I owe you, Evans,” he told Max coldly, “Now it’s time for you to die.”

The moment before he pulled the trigger DeVoe was suddenly tackled to the ground by a small figure catapulting into his back. He hit the ground with a grunt just as the air was rent apart with the echoing of his shot. DeVoe quickly scrambled to his feet, grabbing hold his gun as he did. Liz was still sluggish from the blow she’d received earlier, her movements clumsy as she struggled to her feet. The moment Max saw her he began running towards her.

However, her slowness had given DeVoe the upper hand. He easily grabbed hold a fist full of Liz’s hair and yanked her back towards him when she would have run straight for Max. Liz cried out, struggling against the tight hold. Max stopped in his tracks; afraid to attack DeVoe for fear he would hit Liz when he did.

DeVoe pressed his unshaven cheek against Liz’s face, breathing into her ear, “Why, Ms. Parker, your arrival makes things so much better. Now I can kill you first while your lover watches.” He trained the gun at her temple.

At that moment Isabel and Michael burst upon them unexpectedly. They had come running immediately at the sound of the gunshot and barely had time to process the situation before all hell broke lose. Liz took advantage of DeVoe’s momentary distraction with their arrival to elbow him in the ribs and make a run for it. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion afterwards.

Liz began running towards Max, never realizing that DeVoe had his gun trained on her back. DeVoe cocked his weapon, prepared to fire. With dawning horror Michael screamed out a reverberating “no,” already gathering forth his energy to retaliate. In that moment, Max didn’t think. He dove at Liz; shoving her out of the way at the very second DeVoe fired his weapon. The bullet slammed into Max’s back seconds later, ripping through his body and exiting through his torso. Michael blasted DeVoe the instant his weapon fired, sending him flying backwards five feet before his body landed somewhere in the darkness beyond with a hard thud.

When the dust settled two people lay dead and one hovered near death.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:28:03 PM
Chapter 49

Following the shot, Liz’s scream of terror rent the air. She and Isabel rushed over to where Max’s unconscious, bleeding body lay sprawled in the dirt. Liz gathered him against her chest, shaking with the force of her racking, hysterical sobs. His blood, warm and sticky, soaked into her jeans and the front of her shirt as she rocked him back and forth mindlessly. “No, Max, no, no, no, no, no,” she sobbed out the words in a prayer, kissing his bloodied face, holding him close. God, if only she’d gotten loose of those ropes sooner, if only she’d run faster, maybe, God, maybe….

“Oh God, there’s so much blood…there’s so much blood!” Isabel cried out frantically, her hands hovering over her brother’s limp body in helplessness. Her face was wet with tears as she screamed at Michael, “For God’s sake do something! Heal him, dammit! He’s bleeding…oh God…he’s bleeding so much!”

“You know I can’t do that, Isabel,” Michael said sadly, his own eyes glistening with tears. One look at Max told Michael that he was dead. His head hung off to one side limply, his open eyes were flat and unseeing. That was the hardest part. Max had always had the most expressive eyes.

Michael came to kneel beside them, gently, but insistently prying Max’s dead body from Liz’s tight grip. He had to literally uncurl her stiff fingers from the blood soaked material of his shirt. “He’s gone, Liz,” he told her quietly as he laid his friend flat on the desert floor and carefully closed his eyes. He sniffed back his own sobs of remorse before taking a hysterically sobbing Isabel into his arms.

Liz stared at them with wide eyes full of frenzied grief and shook her head wildly. “No,” she sniffed in denial, “He’s not dead…he’s not.” She sprawled across Max’s prone form, her hand moving unconsciously to cover the wound that had ended his life while she caressed his face with the other. “Max, Max,” she whispered brokenly against his cheek, “Please, please open your eyes…open your eyes and tell them you’re not dead…please, Max, please…we have our whole lives together…” she choked on a sob, “…it’s not supposed to end this way…it’s not…I need you so much, Max, please…please, don’t leave…You said you wouldn’t break my heart again,” she begged pitifully. But his eyes remained closed, his face remotely still. Liz buried her face in his throat, her heart dying in her chest as her sobs tore from her with violent force. “Oh God, Max…God…” she sobbed against his neck, “…how am I supposed to go on without you…how am I supposed to raise this baby alone…I can’t do it, Max…I can’t…”

Max hovered somewhere in a dream plain. He could feel the weight of Liz’s body against his chest, could even smell the faint vanilla fragrance of her hair. But he couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t lift his hand even to cup her cheek. And she was crying. God! The sound was tearing his heart apart. She was weeping as if she’d lost everything and Max wanted so much to reassure her that she hadn’t. She hadn’t lost everything. She hadn’t lost him.

As Liz cried out her grief into his throat, praying to God that he would take her as well, a curious white light had begun to emanate from the hand she’d placed on Max’s chest. Michael and Isabel froze, stunned by into silence by what they were seeing. Liz lifted her head slowly, her breath coming in slow, disbelieving pants.

And then the flashes began. They tumbled through her mind in disjointed images. He and Isabel walking alone and naked through the desert, the very first time she ever saw him, looking so scared and alone as he followed his sister off the bus, seated alone in the cafeteria watching with longing as she laughed with Maria three tables down, hugging her the night of her grandmother’s death, watching her sleep that terrible afternoon in the cell, wanting to touch her so badly, but feeling so unworthy to do it, and even that very afternoon when they had made love. The pictures assaulted Liz’s senses; made her feel dizzy and she closed her eyes against the sensation.

When she opened them again she found herself staring into the honey-colored eyes that had watched and adored her nearly all her life. “Liz?” Max croaked, slightly disorientated. He lifted his hand, wiping curiously at the tears that wet her cheeks. “Liz, why are you crying?”

Liz was too overcome with emotion to answer him. She threw herself against his chest once more, wrapping her arms around him tightly as if she would never let him go.

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

They limped back towards the highway an hour later, after they had mechanically disposed of DeVoe’s corpse, carrying Zrei’s unconscious form along with them. Maria and Alex were pacing anxiously alongside the cars and immediately shined their flashlights towards them as they approached. “Oh my God, what the hell happened!” Maria exclaimed, running towards them the moment she saw Max and Liz’s blood encrusted clothing and Liz’s bruised face, “God, Liz are you okay?”

Liz shook her head, assisting Max into the jeep. “Max was shot,” she explained, not taking her attentive gaze from Max once. She smoothed his hair back from his forehead and smiled into his eyes. They both sensed that something monumental had changed between them.

“And Liz healed him,” Isabel finished as she and Michael emerged from the darkness heaving Zrei’s body along with them.

Maria opened her mouth to demand exactly how that happened when she suddenly became aware of what Michael and Isabel carried. She grimaced in repugnance and jumped back while Alex just went pale. “What is that!” he asked in mild panic.

“It’s Zrei,” Michael explained stonily, as he and Isabel carefully laid their protector in the back seat of the Jetta, “He was hurt.”

“I can see that,” Maria said, hovering, “but how? What’s wrong with him?”

“He needs the sun,” Max said, tearing his attention away from Liz for the first time, “DeVoe had this device that drained away all his energy. He needs to have sunlight in order to counteract the damage.”

“But it’s 11:00 at night,” Alex cried, “The sun won’t rise for another six hours so what do we do in the meantime?”

“We’re taking him to Vasquez Rock,” Michael explained as he climbed behind the Jetta’s steering wheel, “Maybe he can hold on until the sun comes up.”

The twenty-minute drive to Vasquez Rock was quiet and fraught with tension. Maria rode with Michael while Isabel followed behind them in the jeep with Max, Liz and Alex. She had a million questions to ask Michael, especially because she sensed that there was something he wasn’t telling her. However, Maria forced herself to leave it alone. She wanted Michael to be compelled to talk to her; she didn’t want to have to badger it out of him.

Back in the jeep Max was skimming over Liz’s face with his fingertips. “He hurt you,” he whispered tenderly, healing the small bruise at the corner of her mouth and the larger one just beneath her eye, “God, Liz, I’m so sorry.”

Liz kissed his hand, his lips. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” she said, nuzzling against him, “You’re alive and you’re here with me and that’s all I care about.”

“Liz, you saved my life,” Max breathed in wonder against her lips, “I can never thank you for that…never…” Max took her lips in a deep kiss, more as an affirmation that what was happening between them was reality than any real burst of passion. “I love you, Liz…so much,” he whispered into her mouth, “…so much.”

“And I love you,” Liz whispered in return, giving herself over to his kiss.

Alex shifted uncomfortably in his seat up front, somewhat embarrassed to be privy to such an intimate exchange. He slanted a glance towards Isabel. She seemed just as uneasy and though her gaze was fixated straight ahead her cheeks were apple red.

The reached Vasquez Rock ten minutes later. By then Max had regained some of his strength and was able to assist Michael in carrying Zrei’s body to the highest possible spot, so that he could benefit from the rays of the sun the moment it rose. The six teenagers gathered around his motionless form, their expressions ranging from exhaustion to outright despair.

“What do we do in the meantime?” Maria asked aloud.

“We just wait,” Max replied, sinking to the ground and pulling Liz down beside him. The others followed his lead, forming a half circle around Zrei.

“Are you sure this is gonna work, Maxwell?” Michael wondered doubtfully, his gaze pinned to Zrei’s lifeless form, “How do you know he’s not really dead, you know, and beyond our help?”

“I can hear him speaking to me,” Max explained, squinting in the dark, “He’s weak, but he’ll be alright when he has the sun.”

“Okay,” Isabel agreed with a nod, “Then we wait.”

“And what? Do we just stay out here all night?” Alex asked.

Michael stabbed him with a look of distaste. He still had not fully adjusted himself to Alex knowing the truth about them. “You can leave if you want,” he told him flatly.

Alex met Michael’s stare without a waver of intimidation. “No way I’m leaving Liz and Maria out here alone after all that’s happened tonight.”

“They won’t be alone,” Michael argued with a grimace, “We’re here with them.”

“That’s exactly what scares me,” Alex muttered. For a moment everyone fell silent, knowing full well that Alex had more than enough reason to feel as he did. And when it seemed that the tension couldn’t possibly become thicker, Alex asked, “So that guy…DeVoe…he’s dead right?”

Michael lowered his eyes, contemplating the toe of his boot. “He’s dead,” he affirmed laconically. He tried not to concentrate too hard on how the knowledge made him feel. He had killed a man. It was a sure guarantee that his life would never be the same again. Liz watched the expression of agony play over Michael’s face when he thought no one was watching. She well knew that he was torturing himself at that moment, just as she’d been torturing herself since that day that she’d killed the orderly.

“So does this mean that this nightmare is finally over?” Maria sighed, morosely picking up a rock and pitching it over the cliff side, “Can we finally go back to normal life?”

“We still have the FBI Special Unit to deal with,” Max said reluctantly, “Just because DeVoe is dead doesn’t mean that they’re no longer a threat to us. They’re going to keep coming after us, especially now.”

“Maybe they won’t,” Michael theorized, “I mean, we’ve got some explosive evidence in our hands. I don’t think they want it exposed any more than we do.” He fell quiet for a moment when something he’d heard in Max’s tone earlier caused his brow to furrow suspiciously. “What do you mean ‘especially now’? What’s happened to change things?”

“Liz is pregnant,” Max announced quietly. He had expected some sort of uproar at his statement but the reaction he received was rather mild. “You already know,” he guessed flatly.

“Maria told us while we were waiting for you and Zrei,” Isabel explained, “She also told us about how it happened. You don’t have to be ashamed, Max,” Isabel added when her brother’s eyes skittered away.

Liz took hold of Max’s hand and squeezed it in her own, silently beseeching him to meet her eyes. When he did his eyes were devoid of the anger she’d expected but swimming with sadness and remorse. “It’s okay, Max,” she whispered, reaching forward to pull his head against her shoulder, “No one here blames you.”

“Liz is right,” Michael added fiercely, “It’s that twisted fuck DeVoe who’s to blame.”

Max nodded uncomfortably, clearly reluctant to discuss his personal life with the group. “So then you already know that Liz and I can’t stay here.”

What!” were the simultaneous exclamations.

“Why not?” Michael demanded, “What are you talking about?”

“The government won’t stop until they have their perfect biological weapon, remember,” Max explained, “They would need our baby in order to bring that about.” He paused for a moment. “You see…our baby isn’t human, at least not inside where it counts. For the most part he will be completely Antarian. That’s exactly why the government wants him. They need a pure blooded alien to make the serum to their biological weapon. Only his system would be immune to the virus, because he has the antibodies for both species. They know their chances of catching another live, full-blooded alien are pretty slim, but a baby won’t prove nearly as hard to capture.”

“And that’s why they took Zrei and why he said it was so important that they not capture him again,” Isabel concluded in shock.

“Hybrids would have been of no use them,” Max explained, “But if they bred us, they could create a pure alien life form and now they have.” He looked at Liz and brought her hand to his lips. “We can’t let them have our baby.”

“So you’re just going to leave?” Maria burst out.

“Not forever…just until after our baby is born,” Liz interjected quickly. Though she had only had the brief time in the jeep to accustom herself to the idea of leaving, Liz knew that it was the right thing to do.

“We’ll leave in the morning after Zrei recovers,” Max told them finally, “He’s coming with us. We plan to go with him to one of the Antarian colonies until the baby comes.”

“And you just decided this when?” Michael demanded angrily.

“Zrei and I talked it over earlier when we were waiting for DeVoe,” Max explained with calm regret, “It’s the only option available to us. This isn’t a human pregnancy, Michael. Liz will carry this baby nearly 28 months and undergo a huge metamorphosis before it’s over. And so will I. Our changes have already started. They can’t be stopped now…we don’t have a choice.”

Maria looked over at her friend before scooting nearer to enfold her in a tender hug, her heart torn with sadness at the thought of Liz’s leaving and the prospect of Liz having to give up her child eventually. “Liz, are you sure this is what you want to do? What about your parents? What about me and Alex?”

Liz blinked back her tears, forcing herself to smile through them. “God, I wish I could stay, Ria, but you heard Max. If I want to keep our son alive…I don’t have a choice.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 3-Oct-2002 9:04:12 AM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 5:29:40 PM
Chapter 50

Max crept up behind Liz where she sat off alone from the group, moodily pitching rocks over the cliff’s edge. She didn’t look up at his arrival, although he knew that she’d sensed his presence long before he was even close to her. He crouched down beside her, studying her profile in the starlit evening.

“Has there been any improvement,” she asked him, meaning Zrei.

“There’s no change,” Max replied, brushing away an errant strand of her hair, “It’s still a few hours yet before the sun comes up, you know.” Liz nodded and for the first time Max realized that there were tears glinting in her eyes. “Liz, what’s the matter?” Max asked, his voice quavering with concern as he pulled her into his arms, “Is something wrong?”

Liz sobbed an ironic laugh into his chest. “What could possibly be wrong, Max? Tonight I’ve been kidnapped…again, I’ve raised my boyfriend back from the dead and a few minutes ago I just told my two best friends in the world that I’m leaving town to give birth to an intergalactic child. You could say that I’m having a really hard time right now.” She snuggled into his jacket, sniffling back her tears. “I just wish our lovemaking could have been followed by something less dramatic, say, a shower, dinner, more lovemaking.”

Despite the mocking humor that she had imbued into her tone Max heard the underlying misery in her words. He his heart contracted with guilt. “I know this wasn’t the plan you had for your future,” Max began tightly, “dropping out of school and taking off for some colony in Woodstone, Nebraska but—,”

Liz placed her finger against his lips, silencing his would be words of self-deprecation. “Don’t start that, Max,” she ordered him gently, “The best thing out of this is that I get to be with you. That makes it all worth it.” She leaned back against him, staring up into the star lit sky. “I wonder what it will be like,” she mused, lacing her fingers through his, “you know, living among your kind. I wonder if they’ll be like you or if they’ll be like Zrei…all serious and duty-bound.”

“Probably the latter,” Max predicted unenthusiastically, “It will be a really big adjustment for both of us I bet.”

“Not that big, I suppose,” Liz whispered, slowly lifting up the edge of her shirt, “Look.” Max shifted her in his arms and looked down, his eyes widening in shocked surprise.

The smooth skin of her belly had turned a glittery silver color that spread just above her navel. Max ran his hand over her stomach, half expecting for the color to peel away. It didn’t. “When did this start to happen?” he asked her softly.

“I don’t know,” Liz replied somewhat apprehensively, “I just looked a few moments ago and it was there.”

“Is it anywhere else?”

“I don’t know,” Liz said again, “I’ve been too afraid to look. Will it happen all over, you think?”

“Let me see,” Max ordered, already pulling her shirt over her head.

Liz undressed quickly, consciously aware that their friends were on the other side of the cliff less than twenty feet away. However, Max inspected her body with an almost clinical detachment, surveying her nakedness closely in the hazy moonlight. At least, his inspection had started off clinical. But as his hands roamed freely over her body, tiny sparks of desire began to ignite between them and innocent caresses quickly became something more.

Max knelt before her now, his hands framing her delicate hipbones. “I don’t see it anywhere else,” he whispered, staring at her belly in fascination. He pressed his face against her skin, nuzzling slightly. His body had a sudden, unexplainable craving for her, an intense desire to be near. Max inhaled her scent deeply, pressing even closer against her. He dipped his tongue into Liz’s navel and murmured sweetly, “It’s just here.”

Liz closed her eyes, her fingers playing lightly in his hair, quivering in response to the intimate caress with his tongue. “I-I…must look like…like some kind of freak-weirdo to you,” Liz stammered out haltingly. But her words were deceptive. Somehow, instinctively, she knew that Max would be intrigued by her change rather than repulsed. She knew the sight of her transformation thrilled him, inflamed him. It was as if the feelings between them were becoming more intense, stronger and neither of them had the will to resist it.

Max pressed fervent kisses against her flesh, running his hands up and down the length of her legs in a sensuous motion. “No, Liz, no” he moaned, grabbing hold her hands and pulling her down before him, “You could never be freakish to me.”

“Really?” Liz questioned, taking his hand and placing it against her breast in invitation.

Max massaged her breasts with loving tenderness, using the pads of his thumbs to circle her distended nipples. “No,” Max insisted in answer to her question. He nuzzled against the crook of her neck, sucked gently at the delicate skin of her collarbone, “It’s beautiful,” he rasped as he felt her hands fall to the snap at the front of his jeans, “you’re beautiful.” Liz pushed his jeans past his hips, freeing his rigid arousal. They both moaned with relief and anticipation.

Together they worked to undress him fully. Once Max was as naked as she, they spread their clothing out against the rocky surface of the ground in a makeshift pallet. Liz reclined back against the thin pile, pulling Max down against her as she did. “We have to be very quiet,” she told him fervently, unable to control her body’s sudden hunger for him. She spread her knees apart with sensual deliberation, inviting him to move between them. Max could only nod in response, incapable of speech.

He brushed her lips in a gentle kiss, framing her small, delicate face between his hands. In that moment he had never loved her more, never craved her more and he knew then that he would never, never let her go again. “Liz,” he whispered against her ear, tracing the rim with his tongue, “will you be my wife?”

Liz halted in her sensuous search for his throbbing penis and her eyes fluttered open to find Max regarding her with solemn honey-colored eyes. “Are you serious?” she breathed in amazement, for the moment, desire forgotten.

“It’s all that I’ve ever wanted…” Max admitted emotionally, “…everyday of my life.” He gently ground himself against her, positioning the tip of his erection against her moist sex. “Say yes, Liz” he urged, nudging himself against her wet entrance, “say yes.” He nudged again, bathing the head of his cock, before thrusting inside her fully, causing them both to gasp aloud with the intense pleasure of his entry.

“Yes,” Liz groaned in gratification as Max began slowly pumping in and out of her creamy, wet center with long, slow strokes, “yes…Max. Yes!”

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

When they returned to the group an hour later, hand in hand, their bodies deliciously limp from their lovemaking, Michael and Maria were curled up in each other’s arms, awake and waiting. Alex, too, was also awake, his arms curled about his knees, watching them.

“Have a good time?” Michael quipped as Liz and Max crept quietly into their camp.

Max was grateful for the night; otherwise he would have only increased Michael’s smug pleasure with the blush that reddened his ears. Obviously, he and Liz hadn’t been as quiet as they thought. Despite his embarrassment, he sat down with Liz and asked casually, “You guys been up long?”

“Yeah, until about the time a couple of coyotes started howling,” Alex teased irreverently causing Michael to erupt into brief laughter and Max and Liz’s blushes to deepen even more.

Maria reached across the distance to pinch Alex for his trouble. And then she turned her attention to Liz, regarding her with hopeful sadness. “So are you guys still planning to leave when the sun comes up?” Liz nodded, although it broke her heart to do so, especially in light of the look of devastation that crumpled Maria’s features. “What should we tell your parents, then?” Maria whispered. Though she was trying to be brave the tears in her voice were evident.

“Yeah, Liz,” Alex joined in, as reluctant to see Liz leave as Maria, “You know they’re gonna freak out. They’ll badger Maria and me until we tell them the truth about where you’ve gone.”

“Tell them I ran away to marry the love of my life…that’s the truth,” Liz replied hoarsely, her own emotions right at the surface. She didn’t mention the baby because that was all too complicated and her parents were yet ready to hear the entire truth about that. Instead she told her friends, “Tell them that I love them…and I’m sorry…” Maria only nodded before turning her face into Michael’s shoulder to cry.

“I’m gonna miss you, Maxwell,” Michael said in an uncharacteristic show of sentiment, “We haven’t always gotten along, I know, but you’ve been like a brother to me always and…well, I love you, man.”

Max blinked back the tears that welled in his eyes in response to Michael’s admission. He cleared his throat. “Me too, Michael,” he replied tightly.

“It’s not like we’re falling off the face of the earth,” Liz told them with tearful brightness, “We’re still gonna call and write and send you hundreds and hundreds of emails…”

“And pictures,” Maria sniffled in reminder, “Don’t forget to send us pictures…don’t forget us.”

“We won’t,” Liz promised her friend solemnly, “I promise you we won’t.”

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

Zrei recovered shortly after dawn. Max and Liz were the only ones awake to witness his rejuvenation and then subsequent transformation back into his familiar human form. They had never fallen asleep. Liz had spent nearly most of the night after making love with Max talking with Alex and Maria and saying her good-byes while Max had said his to Michael. Now Zrei came to kneel before them, his gaze implacable. “You have told them of our plans?” he asked Max simply. Max nodded. “Then we must leave soon. I will wait for you in the jeep.”

Max watched him go before moving to his feet to nudge his sister awake. Her eyes immediately fluttered open at his touch and she sat upright, grasping hold of his hand. “Is it time already?” she asked him anxiously, her grip tightening. She looked to the spot where Zrei had been lying and found it empty. Isabel lifted eyes full of question to Max.

“He’s better…,” Max assured her, “He’s waiting for us now.”

“So then you are leaving?” Isabel surmised sadly.

“Liz didn’t want an emotional good-bye this morning,” he whispered, his eyes glistening with tears, “But I couldn’t leave without saying it to you one more time.” Liz came to stand behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder as he spoke to his sister, his throat hoarse with unshed tears, “You’ve always protected me, Isabel, for as long as I can remember…I’ll never forget that…I’ll never forget you.”

Isabel tried to smile at him through her tears, but it crumbled into a grimace of pain. “Where will you go?” she asked in a small, tearful voice.

“We’ll stop in Vegas first,” Max told her with a sad smile, “I want to make Liz my wife as soon as possible. And then it’s on to Nebraska, I think.”

“Will you come back? Will I see you again?”

Max slanted a gaze over his shoulder at Liz before glancing back to Isabel, shaking his head. “Probably not,” Max answered honestly.

“I knew that you wouldn’t want to leave your baby behind,” Isabel guessed correctly as Max pulled his hand from hers and stood with Liz, looping his arm about her waist.

“Tell Mom and Dad I love them and that I’ll call the first chance I get, okay, Izzy?” Isabel nodded because, at that moment, she was incapable of speaking.

She rose to her feet shakily as Max and Liz turned away, starting down the rocky mountain face arm in arm. “Hey, Max?” she called after him, biting her lip to hold back her sobs, “Try to live a normal life, okay?”

Max paused a moment to consider the possibility. It had seemed that he’d waited all his life to have just that, but he’d been contemplating normal lately and he had long since realized that the concept was not for him. But as he looked down into the beautiful, shining face of the woman standing beside him, his future bride and mother of his child, Max finally understood that normal life was greatly overrated. He’d live happy. That’s all that mattered in the end.

In that second of burning realization Max Evans was no longer terrified of being different. He was leaving normal behind him, walking into the unknown, but it was with an intense inner peace he’d never felt before. He would face the uncertainty of his future, living day to day in a life that would never be typical. But at least he had the satisfaction of knowing that he wouldn’t have to live that life alone.

Max tossed his sister one last look, offering her a small, bittersweet smile before disappearing further down the mountain with the love of his life at his side.



The End


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Oct-2002 7:59:35 AM ]
posted on 3-Oct-2002 8:12:16 AM
Thank you mareli, marteloise, lizzie, and lissa for the feedback because I really do appreciate it. You never know for sure if people like your story unless they tell you and I'm really glad you all liked my story.

On a side note, I hope I didn't depress you too much, lol.

Thanks again.

Dee

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 3-Oct-2002 8:12:35 AM ]
posted on 4-Oct-2002 7:47:23 AM
quote:
Tabasco Liz originally wrote:

SEQUAL TIME *bounce*


Way ahead of you. It's called Revising Normal and it's on the main board.*wink*
posted on 6-Feb-2003 6:59:17 AM
quote:
YonkersMe originally wrote:

If this author is the same as RosDeirdre, then it's doubly thanks, because you always explore the issues that are the deepest essence of Max, and make me think about such interesting ideas.


Nope, I'm not RosDeidre, but I'm flattered by your likening me to her. I can't believe you actually came back and reread this. I'm stunned and flattered all over again. Have I mentioned to you that the sequel is called Revising Normal? Well, if I haven't, this is your first heads up.

Dee

Oh and as for your take on the rape scene, that is EXACTLY how I meant to portray it. I never wanted it to come off as Max violating Liz, but of the both being violated. And you're right, in some sense, the violation was worse for Max than for Liz. Liz had an external antagonist she could blame for the incident and Max's antagonist was strictly internal, strictly himself. Based on your assessment I managed to portray that.

Thank you so much.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Feb-2003 7:04:00 AM ]